If you travel to feel alive and quench that thirst for adventure and unseen things, brush up your best hooded poncho, get yourself a crazy pom pom beanie and book a trip to Peru.
I’m telling you, this country is something else.
Peru really offers a lot, much more than anyone could squeeze into a couple of weeks, but I’ll show you how you can still have meaningful and memorable experiences in only 10 or 15 days. Below you’ll find a full travel guide, with details on how to get from each point to the next and suggestions on what to do at your destination. I also throw in some cost info and useful tips here and there. By the end of this long-ass post I sure hope I have you convinced to book your trip!
Here’s an overview of the full 15-day itinerary, including all the main stops. It is moderately intense and contains a lot of travel days, which by my point of view makes the trip even more adventurous. Relax is for noobs!
DAY 1: LIMA
Vamonòs. Any trip to Peru naturally begins with a visit to its capital, Lima; if your international flight arrives early and you’re not totally knocked-out by the jetlag, you can decide to spend a few hours exploring the area.
HOW TO GET FROM CHAVEZ AIRPORT TO LIMA CITY CENTER
Your best option is to take a taxi, full stop. Public transport system is not at all equipped for travellers and their luggage, and moreover the district where the airport is situated is probably Lima’s most unsafe area, therefore I do not recommend wandering around that part of the town.
Inside the airport, just before the exit, there are various taxi companies offering transfers, like Taxi Green and Taxi Direct. The rate is flat, around 70 Soles (20$), and the ride takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
WHAT TO SEE IN LIMA IN ONE DAY:
Depending upon how much time you have, I would suggest to see three main areas in Lima:
1) The historic center and the beautiful Plaza de Armas. This area is a great place to start your trip and learn about the history of Peru. Check out the Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima and the Municipal Palace.
2) The colorful and lively Barranco. Barranco is a cute Bohemian barrio located south of the city center. Here you can discover all the little art galleries, spend some time instagramming the murals and finally grab your first Pisco Sour at Juanitos – a locals’ favorite bar near the main square.
3) The elegant and hip Miraflores. Miraflores features some of the best views, shopping, parks and restaurants in the entire city. Aside from a very dynamic nightlife, the best part of Miraflores is definitely the coastline. The most popular spot in the entire strip is Parque del Amor (the Love Park), decorated by mosaic walls with romantic quotes printed on it. Check the statue ‘El beso”, a large sculpture depicting two lovers caught in a passionate makeout sesh.
HOW TO GET AROUND LIMA
You have different options. Taxis are very affordable not only for Limeños, but for visitors as well. None of the taxis have meters though, so you should always tell the driver where you’re going and ask for their price before getting in. You’ll find out soon enough that haggling in Peru is an art form, and that taxi drivers are all freaking Picassos. As a reference, going from Miraflores to Central Lima shouldn’t cost you more that 25 soles (7$).
Another option is the Metropolitano bus. Rides cost a flat 2.50 (0.7$) soles no matter the distance, but you have to buy a card (4.50 soles, 1.3$) and add credit first. There are 3 lines (A, B, and C) that are essentially three sections to a single line.
SIT buses and other private buses also connect literally all of the city’s main streets, but they are always very crowded and their full routes and connections stay a mystery for me and even for some Limeños.
Lastly, there’s the Metro. A ride is priced at a flat 1.50 soles (0.4$), but you have to purchase a card (5 soles, 1.5$). Unfortunately, this card is not compatible with the Metropolitano’s card and system. Currently the Lima Metro only has one commercial line, and links the district of Villa El Salvador in the south with San Juan in the northeast.
DAY 2: LIMA → CUSCO
There are four largest domestic airlines that have regular flights from Lima to Cusco: LAN, TACA, StarPerú, and Peruvian Airlines. Flying into Cusco is really an experience itself: to line up for the runway, the pilot has to do some pretty nifty maneuvering and you’ll end up passing veeeery close to the Andean Mountains. The view is truly freaky, but also spectacular. Official taxis from Cusco Airport to the city center are definitely overpriced (30soles, 9$), but necessary.
Need some hotel suggestions for Cusco? I stayed at the Antigua Casona San Blas and I absolutely loved it.
DAY 3: CUSCO
I highly recommend settling at least a full day in Cusco, not only because the city itself is worth a look, but also because it is essential to adjust slowly to the altitude.
Cusco is located at an altitude of 3400 meters, which means you’ll find the air somehow “thinner”. Technically speaking, while the oxygen percentage remains the same, there is less pressure and the air is less dense, therefore each breath you take contains less oxygen than what you are probably used to. For some people, this may turn into unpleasant symptoms, like lightheadedness, headaches and nausea. Of course, it also very possible that you will not experience these symptoms at all (I didn’t!), but just in case, you can treat them with specific drugs or with the famous coca tea – it is available literally everywhere, it tastes just like green tea and it does NOT get you high. Only downfall? If you are drug tested within 48 hours, cocaine will show up positive. #funfacts
WHAT TO SEE IN CUSCO IN ONE DAY:
1) Plaza de Armas. This is the main square of Cusco, the most popular attraction of the city and the best starting point to learn a bit of history. You cannot miss the Cathedral, an exquisite example of colonial architecture where, in addition, you can see beautiful works of artists coming from the famous escuela cusqueña.
2) Qorikancha, or the Sun Temple. Cusco’s Sun Temple was once the most important temple in the Incan empire, but unfortunately it was mostly destroyed by a bunch of Spanish assholes conquistadores in the 16th century. The settlers reused the original stonework and foundations to build a church, the Santo Domingo church. The combination of the two constructions is clearly noticeable, and it is still possible to see superb examples of Incan building methods.
3) San Blas neighborhood. San Blas is the patron of the artisans in Cusco, which is why in this neighborhood you will find a wide variety of handicrafts and, as a plus, a nice square in which you will enjoy the best sunset view over the city.
In this area you’ll often see Quechua natives strolling with their fluffy alpacas. These animals are usually very friendly and sociable so they don’t mind us humans approaching, and their owners will usually let you pet them (tipping after is greatly appreciated though). Be gentle!
DAY 4: CUSCO → AGUAS CALIENTES
There are different options to reach Machu Picchu from Cusco but none of them are exactly hassle-free. There is a reason why the colonialists, who pretty much wiped the Incan Empire clean, never managed to find it!
You will have to reach Aguas Calientes first, a town that sits right at the base of Machu Picchu, and that will take around 4 hours if you decide to take the train, or 4 days if you opt for the classic Inka trail. From Aguas Calientes, you will then reach MP either by taking a bus (30 mins) or hiking up to Machu Picchu.
Once in Aguas Calientes, you’ll have two options. You can either spend your afternoon relaxing in this picturesque (and touristic) little town, or you can tighten your shoes and head to Machu Picchu. For a detailed Machu Picchu guide you can refer to my post, but to sum it up from January 1 2019, Machu Picchu can no longer be visited either in the morning or in the afternoon. There are now many different entry schedules available, but there’s also a strict 4-hour time limit for each visit. If you’re a nutcase like yours truly, you can also decide to book two tickets.
DAY 5: MACHU PICCHU
News flash: Machu Picchu is every inch the jaw-dropping beauty it appears to be in all those pictures you can find online – even more so, if anything. There are some facts you should definitely know before your visit and stuff you should book in advance – I’ve gone into all the important details in my Machu Picchu travel guide.
In the evening, once you’ve completed with your visit, hop on a train and choo-choo back to Cusco.
DAY 6: CUSCO, MORAY & MARAS TOUR
On day 6 you’ll start exploring a little bit the Sacred Valley. I highly recommend visiting the area with an experienced guide to get a full understanding of these sites. I arranged my tour with Flashpacker Connect and had an amazing time.
Moray is an impressive Inca site built around the mid-15th century to be an agricultural laboratory. The skillful Incas decided to take advantage of the natural depressions in the ground and build dozens of concentric terraces to create different growing zones. It is 150 meters deep, and from the bottom to the top there’s a difference of 15°C. This large temperature difference is actually able to create totally different micro climates and achieve conditions that are similar to the ones we have in our modern greenhouses. Impressive right?
From Moray you can easily and quickly reach the spectacular Salinas de Maras.
A single small stream feeds all of the roughly 5000 salt ponds through an intricate network of channels. These pans are owned by local families, who are also responsible for their irrigation and the collection of the salt after it dries. This place really makes for spectacular views across the canyon. The admission fees go directly to the co-operative of these local families, so tourism is definitely having a positive impact.
DAY 7: RAINBOW MOUNTAIN DAY-TRIP
Are you looking for adventure? Are you the outdoorsy type? Do you like to make your travel buddy cry and threaten to murder you? ME TOO! Well then, have I got the perfect activity for you!
Jokes aside, If I had to choose my most memorable experience from Perù, right after Machu Picchu the Rainbow Mountain hike would be a really close second. Rainbow Mountain, or the Vinicunca Mountain, is one of the earth’s most amazing natural wonders, or at least I firmly believe so. This part of the Peruvian Andes was only recently discovered when climate change sadly caused the glaciers and snow that used to conceal it to melt, thereby revealing the geological wonder.
To see the rainbow mountains you have to book a tour. A good tour will departure around 3 or 4 am (ouch) for the 3 hour ride (yep!) necessary to reach the base, and then it’s a 2 hour hike to reach the top.
It’s clearly exhausting, but for a real adventure lover this place is awesome in every possible way. You can check a detailed review of the experience I had at Rainbow Mountain.
DAY 8: CUSCO, SACRED VALLEY TOUR
On day 8 you’ll explore the Sacred Valley. There are many good companies that are selling this tour so you have many many options.
1) The day usually starts with Pisac and a tour of the ruins. Despite the excellent condition of the structures, very little is known about the site’s actual purpose. The site is huge (approximately 5 times Machu Picchu!) and is divided into various military, religious, agricultural and urban areas, all built along a thin mountain hill.
2) The following stop is usually the small town of Pisac underneath the ruins and its spectacular market.
3) From here you will continue along the Urubamba River towards the town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is the starting point for almost all Inca Trails to Machu Picchu and it is home to the most important and best maintained Inca ruins after Machu Picchu. Originally built for religious purposes, this place has become in the centuries a giant fortress to defend the city the attack of the invaders.
4) Lastly, a Sacred Valley tour usually ends with the city of Chinchero. Famous for its amazing views, in Chinchero you’ll see a cute little plaza with beautiful stone walls and agricultural terraces which are still in use.
DAY 9: CUSCO → LIMA or CUSCO → PUNO
In case you opted for the 10-day itinerary, unfortunately your journey is almost over. From Cusco you’ll catch a flight back to Lima and then flight back to your home destination on day 10. Don’t worry though, you can always come back and complete the rest of this itinerary, maybe pairing it up with a trip to Bolivia.
In case you opted for the 15 days trip, congratulation! It’s time to get back on the road again, destination Puno, a city you will use as a base to visit Lake Titicaca.
HOW TO REACH PUNO FROM CUSCO:
- Train – The Andean Explorer Luxury trail. As for the Cusco – Aguas Calientes train ride, also this Peru rail train ride is frequently described as the most beautiful in South America. Although 10 hours may sound long, you will have food, a fabulous observation deck, live music shows, and even a bar. Price: $180.
- Airplane. If you are short on time, taking the plane could be the best option. There is no airport in Puno itself but there is only one in Juliaca which is 40 kilometers (1 hour) away. Currently only Avianca and LATAM airlines operate direct flights. Required time: 1 hour flight, but roughly 5 hours for the entire trip. Price: roughly $200.
- Bus. If the Andean Explorer is too expensive for you but you still want to enjoy the view, you can also take the bus. There are a many good companies, but I would suggest Peru Hop or Cruz del Sur. All these buses usually make a couple of stops along the road so you will be able to check out a few sights as well. Required time: 6 – 7 hours. Price: $15 – 50.
Whatever you choose, you’ll probably arrive in the city of Puno in the afternoon. Puno itself can be explored in less than half a day, and honestly the sights are not particularly remarkable. Just stroll around and take in the atmosphere.
DAY 10: LAKE TITICACA
Lake Titicaca. Titicaca. Titicaca. Titicaca. No really, can you say it out loud without giggling?
Alright, alright, back to being serious. Lake Titicaca (hehe) is the highest navigable lake in the world, lying at 12.500ft above sea level up in the Andes Mountains and straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia. It also covers 8.300 square km, which is basically the size of Puerto Rico or Cyprus. Mind-blowing right?
This place is considered to be the origin of the Inca civilization, and even up to these days there are several indigenous communities living here. The most noteworthy are: 1) the Uru in the floating man-made Uros islands, 2) the Quechua of Amantaní Islands and 3) the Taquile people of Taquile islands. All these islands can be visited by speedboat tours (they come as cheap as 25$). I’ll sum up a typical day:
After a 30-minutes boat ride from Puno’s dock, the first stops are the famous Uros Reed Islands. The Uros Islands were entirely man-made using the living reeds that float around the lake. Still to this day they keep rebuilding their island using the same old-school technique that their predecessors employed.
After a 2.5-hour boat ride from Uros Islands, the second stop are the beautiful Taquille Islands. This group of islands is a UNESCO world heritage site thanks the quality of textiles that are produced by the local communities. Both men and women make these intricate textiles – men typically knit “engagement” hats, while women, in exchange, have to weave special belts. A young couple must live two years together before they are allowed to marry, and during this trial-time they both have to finish their weave and make sure that their relationship is happy. Quite the modern arrangement!
After visiting Taquile, your tour will either take you back to Puno or to Amantani for an overnight stay. Add an extra day to this itinerary if you’d like to try this experience. Because of its more distant location, tourism on the island has not really developed yet, and homestays have remained a more authentic practice.
DAY 11: PUNO → AREQUIPA
It’s time to say goodbye to Puno and get back on the road, destination Arequipa.
There are two options to reach Arequipa from Puno:
- Airplane. Juliaca to Arequipa is a direct flight and takes around 40-50 minutes, but unfortunately only LATAM has daily flights scheduled for this route. Outside the arrival hall of the Arequipa airport you’ll find plenty of blue taxis waiting, and the price to get from there to the Plaza de Armas should be a fixed 20 soles.
- Bus. Buses typically leave at 8:30 and 14:00, and the ride takes only 5 hours. Check Cruz del sur for the updated timetables.
DAY 12: AREQUIPA
Known as “La Ciudad Blanca” or “The White City” thanks to its beautiful volcanic sillar stone structures, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and arguably the most beautiful (sorry Cusco!).
WHAT TO SEE IN AREQUIPA IN ONE DAY:
1) Start your day in Arequipa with Mercado San Camilo. This bustling marketplace offers everything you can think of, from breads, pastries, flowers, dry goods and exotic fruits to lunch counters serving quirky local dishes such as cuy (guinea pig). It is open every day from 6am to 6pm.
2) After the market make your way back to the Plaza de Armas. Here you’ll understand why Arequipa was named “the white city”. On a sunny day, the baroque buildings made of beautiful white volcanic sillar will literally shimmer.
3) Around the corner, the Santa Catalina monastery is a fully functioning convent dating back to 1579 where nuns lived completely without any kind of contact with the outside world until 1970, when they decided to open up to visitors. In the ‘60s the monastery suffered a major structural damage due to a very powerful earthquake, and in order to pay for the restoration work (plus the cost of installing the electricity and running water), the nuns elected to open Santa Catalina up to the public. The price for entrance is around $12.
4) Before the end of your day make sure to visit Juanita, the 500-year-old frozen Incan girl discovered in 1995 near the peak of the Ampato volcano. Housed in the Museo Santuarios Andinos, Juanita was sacrificed to the gods at a very young age. This is really a tragic tale of how beliefs can sometimes make the brutal appear reasonable. The entrance fee to the museum is 6 soles.
Tip: if you have a couple of extra days available, I would highly suggest hiking the Colca Canyon. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and can be accessed by tour or, if you’re up to it, on your own.
DAY 13: AREQUIPA → LIMA
On day 13 you’ll hop on a flight and get back to Lima. LATAM, Peruvian, LC Perù and Viva Air Perù operate daily flight for this route.
DAY 14: LIMA
If you haven’t had time on your first day, you can spare another day to wonder around Lima most famous sights.
Or, you know, you could simply spend your last day in Peru relaxing, enjoy all their quirky dishes, sippin’ too many Pisco sours.
DAY 15: GOODBYE PERU
It is time to say adiòs to Peru. Hopefully, you’ll bring home with you some lovely memories and an SD card full of incredible photographs.
Now let’s move on to some practical tips!
Do I need a Visa to visit Peru?
Citizens of the U.S., Canada, and the European Union do not need a visa for stays up to 183 days. For other countries, you can refer to this link.
What’s the best time to Travel to Peru?
The Peruvian winter, which is from May to September is the driest season and therefore the best time of year for your trip. This is also the best time visit Machu Picchu.
What’s the currency?
Peru’s currency is the Sol. At the time of writing (January 2019) the conversion is $1 USD: $3.36 Sol. ATM machines are widely available throughout the country, but take out enough cash when you head into the mountains.
What should I pack?
When packing for your trip, keep in mind that local airlines and trains have luggage size and weight restrictions. Regardless of what is permitted on your International flight, it is better to have your luggage weight reflect what your domestic Peru flights/trains/buses allow.
In general, traveling to Peru involves a lot of excursions and hikes on ancient (and sometimes muddy) Inca trails. Moreover, it can get warm, wet, and extremely cold all in one day. When you’re packing your suitcase, think layers, versatile, and practical.
You’re now ready to book your trip and embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
Did you buy an awkward pom pom beanie yet?