I’ve had several people ask me “Mallory, I really want to go to Peru, but I only have two weeks, what should I do?”. Honestly, to me it seems impossible to fit everything in in just two weeks, but it’s definitely possible if you narrow down what you want to do and see.
With only two weeks to see Peru, you’ll obviously want to go to Machu Picchu. With that limiting factor, you will be in the South of Peru and you’ll have to save the North for another trip, I’ll tell you about the North soon enough in another post.
So even though it goes against my long-term slow travel instinct, here’s a two week itinerary with all the must see attraction and activities throughout Peru.
Day 1: Arrive in Lima
Day 1 will be a little tricky since some flights arrive early in the morning, others late at night. Either way it’s probably easiest to spend the night in Lima and leave the next morning. In my opinion, you aren’t really missing anything if you skip seeing Lima. There are so many more interesting cities and places to see. With just two weeks to visit Peru, Lima can be skipped.
I recommend staying in Barranco if you have the whole day to explore. It’s on the ocean and has a bohemian/European feel to the neighbourhood with lots of great restaurants and bars. It’s probably the best neighbourhood in Lima, but it doesn’t feel overly Peruvian compared to the rest of the country.
If you are arriving later at night, then definitely stay in the Historical Center. There is a hostel called 1900 Backpacker’s Hostel where you can get a dorm room bed for 20 soles a night, the cheapest I’ve found so far in Lima. This hostel is close to all the bus stations and you can walk over to them in a couple blocks.
Day 2: Bus To Ica & Sandboarding At Huacachina
As early as you can, catch a bus from Lima to Ica, Peru, about 5 hours. You don’t need one of the fancy expensive buses to do this short trip. Flores is a bus company that makes the trip to Ica hourly for about 25 soles.
When you arrive in Ica, immediately take a taxi to Huacachina, a desert oasis. The taxi should definitely be under 10 soles and is about 10 minutes away from the city of Ica. Huacachina itself is a tourist destination only and therefore is a little pricey for hostels and food.
In the afternoon, you can do a sand boarding and dune buggy tour that only takes a few hours and is quite a lot of fun. If your tour doesn’t stay out on the dunes for the sunset, I highly recommend that you climb up one of the large dunes around the oasis around 5:00/5:30 PM to sit on the top and watch the sunset over all the dunes. It was definitely two of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Hop on the night bus to Arequipa that leaves around 9 PM. Saves you money on a hostel and gets you to your next destination in about 12 hours.
Day 3: Arequipa
Enjoy the day in Arequipa. Try to stay in a hostel near the main Plaza de Armas. The historical center of Arequipa is beautiful. Use this day to find a tour operator with a 2-Day Colca Canyon tour. It’s always better to find the tour in the source rather than getting a more expensive one online first. Often you’ll find the same operator is cheaper in person than online.
We used Colca Trek Adventure Travel 2-day tour because they offered something a little different. The lodge they put you in is spectacular with amazing views of the canyon and you get to go on mountain bikes (all down-hill).
In Arequipa there is a monastery called Monestario de Santa Catalina that is worth checking out, but do beware that they close at 5:00 PM. There are several miradors you can use to look out over the city and the several volcanoes in the distance.
Day 4: Colca Canyon Tour
Contrary to popular belief, the Colca Canyon is actually the deepest canyon in the world, with a depth of over 3,200 meters (10,000 feet).
On most tours you’ll spend the first day driving to the Colca Canyon, stopping in the Reserva Natural de Salinas y Aguada Blanca where you will see the protected wild vicuñas. As you drive to the canyon you’ll see numerous alpacas and llamas, volcanoes, the yareta plant which is one of the oldest living organisms in the world, living over 2000 years if left untouched, and of course you’ll see the canyon.
Day 5: Colca Canyon Tour & Bus To Puno
On the second day you’ll go early to try to see condor’s at the condor pass. Condors are the largest flying birds in the Western hemisphere and are quite magnificent to see if you’re lucky enough. After lunch you will start to make the trip back, arriving in Arequipa around 5:00 PM.
Some Colca Canyon tours offer a drop off service in Puno rather than returning to Arequipa as the Colca Canyon is on the way to Puno. Try to find a tour that offers this option as it’s where you want to go next and you won’t have to backtrack. If not, the tour will bring you back to Arequipa and you can take the 6 hour bus to Puno.
Day 6: Puno & Lake Titicaca
Today you’ll explore Puno and set up your Lake Titicaca tour. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable body of water in the world at just over 3,800 meters (12,000 feet). Lake Titicaca straddles the borders of Peru and Bolivia and tours can be done on both sides. Find a tour operator in the city for a 2-day tour where you will sleep on one of the islands in the lake.
In Puno there is a lot of cheap shopping to be done. A lot of stuff is brought over the border from Bolivia and is very cheap. Many Peruvians make the trip to Puno to buy cheap things. So if you want to do any shopping, now is the time to do it.
Day 7: Lake Titicaca Tour
You’ll get to see the famous floating islands made of totora reeds in the morning of the first day. Then you’ll take a boat out to one of the islands where you’ll do some hiking, watch the sunset, see an unbelievable amount of stars at night and if you’ve selected the option, stay with a local family. The local family will take you and all the others to a little ‘party’ where they will dress you in traditional dress and make you dance.
Day 8: Lake Titicaca Tour & Bus To Cusco
After breakfast with your host family or hotel, you’ll be taken to one of the other islands in Lake Titicaca. Here you will explore, see some more awesome scenery and have lunch. After lunch you’ll be brought back to Puno around 4:00 or 5:00 PM.
You can catch a bus in the evening/night that will get you into Cusco at a silly hour. Buses arriving around 4 or 5 AM is not uncommon throughout Peru. Some of the busiest times in the bus terminals are at 4:30 in the morning. If you want to save some money on a taxi, then walk out of the bus terminal’s main gates where there will be a line of taxis waiting. If night travel makes you uncomfortable you can stay in Puno overnight and take a bus in the morning around 7:00 or 8:00 AM and arrive in Cusco around 3:00 or 4:00 PM.
Day 9: Cusco
Take the day to relax and enjoy the mountain setting of historical Cusco. The Inca’s called Cusco the “Belly button of the world”. Cusco is relaxed compared to most of the other cities around Peru. If you go May – September, there’s almost always something happening in the main square, the Plaza de Armas. So take some time to walk around the city a little, grab a coffee or beer in the main plaza, people watch and soak up that awesome sunshine.
Walk up to Plaza San Blas, to Mercado San Pedro (the main market) and if you’re feeling really up to it in the altitude, walk up to Cristo Blanco. Walking up to Cristo Blanco (the white Jesus statue overlooking the city) is pretty straight forward, but it’s difficult with all those stairs. But the view is fantastic. You can also take a local city bus for 0.70 soles to save your breath.
Also you should head out today to find your Machu Picchu tour. There are numerous places around the main plaza where you can find the 2-day Machu Picchu by bus (sometimes they call it car, but they mean bus) tour. This tour should not cost you more than $100 US. If you want to find your own accommodation and food and get your own Machu Picchu entrance ticket then you can opt to just take the bus and not do the tour for 80 soles ($30 US) roundtrip.
Or if you feel you’re not up to the task physically, then book the train to Aguas Calientes.
Day 10: Cusco & the Sacred Valley
The area around Cusco was called the Sacred Valley (Valle Segrado) and is full of stunning landscapes and ruins. You can hit most of the ruins with a day tour of the valley. It is possible to find the tour for 25 soles. There is a place on Avenida El Sol on the first block closest to the Plaza De Armas, I just cannot remember the name.
But to do the tour you must have purchased your Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket) that will include the sites you will visit on the tour – ruins at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Chinchero. This boleto turistico will cost you 70 soles and you can get it on at 103 Avenida El Sol at Comite de Servicios Integrados Turistico Culturales Cusco (COSITUC).
Or if you’re not feeling the day tour and depending on how much money you want to spend, you can spend the day exploring the Inca fortress ruins of Saqsaywaman for 70 soles a person. Or you can check out some of the various museums around Cusco. Go see Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun, for 10 soles. Or take a city tour.
Day 11: Machu Picchu
The Machu Picchu by bus tour will pick you up early around 7:00 AM. You will take a 6 hour bus through the Sacred Valley to Hidroelectrica Station where you’ll get lunch. From Hidroelectrica you will walk for 11 km along flat train tracks to Aguas Calientes. In Aguas Calientes you’ll get dinner and a night in a hostel and they’ll give you your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu.
Do bring water and provisions with you from Cusco as Aguas Calientes is quite expensive. Water and everything is about double the price in Aguas Calientes and super expensive up at the ruins. Bring some sandwiches to eat with you up at the ruins and for the walk back.
Day 12: Machu Picchu
Today you will wake up super early at 4:00 AM to get breakfast and walk up to the stairs ruins of Machu Picchu (about 45 minutes). The intention is to arrive at the ruins around 6:00 AM to catch the amazing sunrise and to be there before bigger groups of tourists arrive by train. You’ll get a guided tour in Spanish or English until 8:00AM, then you have free time to explore the ruins by yourself.
You must start descending from the ruins by noon to make it back to Hidroelectric Station by 2:30 PM to catch the bus back to Cusco. The bus will probably leave without you if you haven’t made it back in time. You don’t go back to Aguas Calientes from the ruins, so you will be carrying all your stuff with you all day.
Day 13: Cusco
You’re legs will likely be a little sore from all the walking you did the day before at Machu Picchu, but it will be worth it. This is a day for you to relax, see anything in Cusco you didn’t already get to see but wanted to, or to do some souvenir shopping.
There is a store called Asunta close to the 12 angle stone, just down the stairs, that sells all the souvenirs and alpaca clothing for cheaper than all the other stores and they are not the least bit pushy about getting you to buy stuff. Sometimes you have to run them down to pay for something. You can get your favourite alpaca sweater here for just 25 soles.
Day 14: Fly Back To Lima & Then Home
Time to go home, the whirlwind journey has come to an end. Get a flight back to Lima from Cusco. Since the airport in Lima is in a bad neighbourhood and it takes up to 2 hours to get anywhere in Lima, it’s not overly recommended to go out of the airport if you have a few hours for a layover. I’d say don’t bother risking it if you have under 7 hours of a layover.