People often ask me what the best country I’ve visited is. It’s always hard to answer, but more often than not I say Peru. Why is that…? Well, Peru has an incredible variety of landscapes, from snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes, rolling sand dunes, barren beaches and so much more. There’s something for everyone in Peru, and this two-week Peru itinerary will show you some of the best spots to visit. I’ll also show you some other places to visit if you have a bit longer (we spent a month in Peru all up).
Two Week Peru Itinerary
I’m going to jump straight into this Peru itinerary and leave all the boring details for later. I’ll assume you’re flying into Lima, and from there it’s best to head south towards Cusco and Arequipa.
Lima (1 night)
We only spent a night in Lima and, from what I’ve seen of it, it doesn’t seem to warrant much more. I know a lot of people say Lima is awesome, and that it has one of the best dining scenes in South America, but as we’re not massive foodies and already had so many more interesting places to visit in Peru we breezed through. If you’re massively into your food or want to experience a big South American city then you might want to spend two – three nights there.
Have a Bit Longer? Head to Huaraz
If you only have two weeks in Peru (which most people who are planning a break from work tend to have) then you might not have time to visit Huaraz. You could still fit it in, but it’s a 10-hour bus ride north from Lima, and then you’ll have to travel all the way back. If you only have two weeks and you really want to visit Huaraz you’ll probably need to make a sacrifice somewhere else (or just travel really fast). We travelled overland from Ecuador, so it was on the way, but it’s a hassle for people flying to Lima.
The town itself is nice enough – you can see some of the huge mountains from certain spots in town – but you’ll want to head out into Huascaran National Park for the best views. I’d recommend doing a day trip or two – Laguna 69 is amazing and Pastururi Glacier is also a fun day out.
Paracas (1 night)
Paracas, only three and a half hours south of Lima, is the gateway to Islas Ballestas, a small group of islands which are home to heaps of wildlife. It’s easy (and cheap) to organise a boat trip in Paracas. The trip takes a couple of hours and you’ll likely see sea lions, penguins, thousands of birds and some unique island scenery.
It’s also worth checking out Playa Roja (red beach). It’s a little way out of Paracas town and is a surreal sight to see.
Huacachina (1 night)
For some of the best desert scenery you’ll ever see, head to the tiny oasis town of Huacachina. It’s a short distance from Ica, a decent sized city, which is easily reached by bus. Huacachina is tiny and the main part of town centres on a small lake. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and it’s a relaxing place to hang out.
You’ll also want to get out into the sand dunes. You can take a dune buggy tour, which should include sand boarding, or just walk up some of the dunes close to town to see it from above. If you’re in need of a rest you could easily spend another night or two in Huacachina.
Arequipa (2 nights)
Arequipa is Peru’s second biggest city and is much more suited to tourists than Lima. There is heaps of history to explore in Arequipa, including one of the most amazing monasteries I’ve ever been to. Santa Catalina Monastery is like a small town with streets and everything – it’s a fun place to explore.
In the rest of the old town you’ll find streets lined with old white buildings and the occasional volcano view. There are lots of eating and drinking options in Arequipa as well as museums, galleries and shops. It’s a nice place to hang out – if you have a little longer or want to rest up for an extra day, I’d recommend staying longer than two nights.
Colca Canyon (1 night)
You can organise a tour of Colca Canyon in Arequipa or do it independently. We did a tour and it wasn’t much more expensive than doing it ourselves (and it was much easier). Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and the best way to see it is on an overnight trek. You’ll hike right down into the canyon on the first day, staying in a very scenic small village. The next day you’ll have to walk all the way back to the top, which definitely wasn’t easy. Bear in mind the altitude – the top is over 4000 metres above sea level!
If you’re not up for a hike you can just do a day trip. You won’t get to walk down into the canyon, but you’ll see some of the best views from above and there will be other stops, including some top-notch viewpoints.
Cusco (4 nights)
Cusco is the main city in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas and is a must on any Peru itinerary. You could easily spend your whole two weeks in this area – there is so much to see! The city itself features some nice Spanish colonial architecture as well as a few signs of its Inca past. Head up to Saqsaywaman, an ancient Inca citadel, walk the pretty streets of the city centre or visit the many museums.
You’ll also want to do some day trips from Cusco. The day trip to ruins at Moray, and the nearby Maras Salt Mines is a fun day out, and the other one I’d recommend doing is the day trip to Pisac. These are my favourite Inca ruins in the area after Machu Picchu and it gets far smaller crowds. We had some of these views all to ourselves!
Ollantaytambo (1 night)
You can do these next two places as day trips from Cusco if you want, but I’d recommend spending a night in each. First up is Ollantaytambo, a cute little colonial town surrounded by Inca ruins. If you spend a night there you can get up early and explore the ruins without the crowds. Ollantaytambo is also where the train to Machu Picchu starts.
Aguas Callientes / Machu Picchu (1 night)
Again, you can do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, but it’s a good idea to spend a night in the nearby town of Aguas Callientes if you can spare the time. This will again give you the chance to get up early and explore before the masses arrive. This being the most famous tourist attraction in South America, you’re never going to see it completely free of crowds. It doesn’t really matter though – you’re at one of the most incredible places on the planet so there’s no need to be annoyed that other people also want to be there! Visiting Machu Picchu is a little complicated, so check out my post about it for more details.
Cusco (1 night)
If you’re flying back to Lima and then home, you’ll want to spend your last night in the Sacred Valley in Cusco. This is a good chance to do some shopping, get some alpaca selfies and enjoy your last day in this special region.
Have a Bit Longer? Head to Isla del Sol
If you have a few extra days up your sleeve, and you don’t think you’ll be back in this region again, I’d consider hopping over the border to Bolivia. From Cusco the bus to Copacabana, where you’ll catch a boat to Isla del Sol, takes around nine hours. Isla del Sol is one of my favourite places in South America. It’s an island in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and sits at over 4000 metres above sea level.
There are some cool Inca ruins on Isla del Sol as well as some lovely beaches. There’s a hiking trail which takes you across most of the island – definitely one of the best day walks I’ve done anywhere in the world!
Have even longer? Consider a multi-day trek
One of the most memorable ways of getting to Machu Picchu (I assume – we didn’t do it) is to do a trek. The Inca Trail is the most iconic, but the Salkantay Trek looks to be the most interesting. It’s also way cheaper and you don’t have to book months in advance like you do with the Inca Trail.
Have Longer Still?
We spent a month in Peru and saw quite a lot of the country. We arrived overland from Ecuador and explored the northern area, where you’ll find some cool ruins and some of the best beaches in the country (Mancora / Chan Chan). We also went to the Uros Islands, in Lake Titicaca, but it wasn’t as good as the Bolivian side of the lake. You could also visit the Amazon in Peru – it’s a bit of an undertaking though. We did an Amazon tour in Ecuador and it was awesome, so if you have the time and you feel like you might not make it back to this region it could be an option worth exploring.
Getting Around Peru
There are buses between all the places listed above and the standard is generally pretty good. We travelled on local buses in the north and then joined up with Peru Hop for the Lima to Cusco section (we were hosted). Peru Hop is a hop on hop off bus service and it’s a great option if you don’t want to think too much about the logistical side of travelling in this area. They also stop off at places on the way, including the Nazca Lines, which means you’ll see a bit more than if you’re relying on local buses. It’ll obviously cost a bit more than regular buses though, so it depends on how tight your budget is.
Accommodation in Peru
We found nice places to stay everywhere we went in Peru and the costs weren’t too bad. We booked ahead in the big cities (Lima, Arequipa and Cusco) but just found places on the ground everywhere else.
When is the best time to visit Peru?
For the best weather, you’ll want to visit Peru between May and October. This is the dry season – we were there in September and I can’t remember it raining at all. The high season is July and August, so expect bigger crowds and slightly higher prices if you visit then.
Some part of Peru, including Arequipa and Cusco, are well over 3000 metres above sea level. It takes some time to adjust to this, so take it easy for the first few days. The Colca Canyon trek is at quite a high altitude so make sure to acclimatise for a day or two in Arequipa first. If you do that, you should be fine by the time you get to Cusco.
Eating and Drinking
There is some delicious food to try in Peru, including the famous ceviche dish (fresh fish cured in citrus juice). There are also heaps of Chinese restaurants, which we ate at quite a lot. If you’re feeling adventurous you might want to try some guinea pig (cuy) or alpaca.
Getting there / Visas
Most people will fly into Lima, the capital city, or arrive in Peru during an overland trip through South America like we did. An overland trip through South America is one of the great journeys — there is so much to see and it’s quite an adventure!
Did you enjoy my two-week Peru itinerary? Do you have any more questions to ask? Let me know in the comments below!
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