When planning our short trip to Peru (yes, 2 weeks is short!) we found it tough to decide what to see. Everyone goes to Machu Picchu, but beyond that there are so many lesser-known (but amazing) places to visit that we really had to cut down our wish list to fit everything into just two weeks.
We went with Peru Hop to get us around the country and this made our lives really easy (read about our bus experience here). I’d definitely recommend that if you want to do a similar itinerary.
Here’s our basic itinerary:
As you can see, we did a lot of travelling and didn’t stay in any one place for very long. It was tiring but so exciting and definitely worth it! We got to see so much and we really made the most of our time. If you’d rather have a more relaxed experience then I would suggest skipping the two days in Colca Canyon.
If you’re after a full, detailed itinerary with hotels, restaurants, and activities, you’re in the right place!
I arrived in Lima early on Saturday morning after hopping on a plane from London after work on Friday night. Although I had heard not-so-great things about Lima, I was determined to give the city a chance so I joined a free walking tour of the old town. I fell in love with the colourful colonial architecture and met some nice travellers to have lunch with. I then spent the afternoon walking from Parque del Amor in Miraflores (by the seaside) to the Bridge of Sighs in Barranco (area with bohemian vibes) before meeting my friends for dinner by the pre-Inca ruins of Huaca Pucllana.
- Stay here: Pariwana hostel has a fun atmosphere, in a nice location. It was easy to meet people there.
- Eat here: Punto Azul or La Mar for ceviche for lunch, and Huaca Pucllana for dinner in an amazing setting.
- Do this: A walking tour is great if you’re short on time or if you’re travelling solo. Lima by Walking starts tours in Parque Kennedy which is close to many hotels in Miraflores.
Read about why I think Lima is massively underrated!
Our Peru Hop bus picked us up in front of our hostel early in the morning and took us to Cristo Pacifico to show us the view of the city and tell us a little bit about the history of Peru. After another quick stop at a bakery for freshly baked bread, our bus took us to a quiet beach where we chatted with friendly coastguards who gave us a list of Peruvian foods we should try. We arrived in Paracas around lunchtime, had some ceviche, walked along the beach and had a few beers while watching the sunset. Nice and relaxing!
- Stay here: Kokopelli hostel is really nice. It has a pool and a great bar right on the beach.
- Eat here: Pukasoncco does good traditional food, including vegetarian options.
- Do this: catch the sunset on the beach and book your tour to the Islas Ballestas.
Day 3Islas Ballestas & Huacachina
I think this was one of the best days of my life!
We met up with our Peru Hop group for the Islas Ballestas tour they organised for us. The tour took about two hours. It took us past the “Candelabra“, a mysterious prehistoric geoglyph, before showing us around the islands that are full of wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a few penguins (!) and many birds and sea lions. I actually felt quite emotional seeing these wild animals up close. We were there at the end of March and there were hundreds of baby sea lions. Amazing!
- Top tip: don’t forget sunscreen and hats for the boat tour.
After the tour we got on the Peru Hop bus to Paracas National Reserve. I really wasn’t expecting much from this stop but the landscapes actually blew me away. We stopped to admire La Catedral, Playa Roja, and Supay Beach.
We arrived in Huacachina in the afternoon and got ourselves booked onto a dune buggy and sandboarding tour. Do not miss this! Even if you don’t want to do the sandboarding you’ll enjoy the views from the desert and if you’re lucky you will catch an amazing sunset. I was a bit scared to do the sandboarding but in the end I did it lying down on my front and it was sooo fun!
After dinner we went back up to the dunes with a group of new friends and had beers by a bonfire, surrounded by stray but friendly dogs. Nothing beats a bit of spontaneity!
- Stay here: Banana’s Adventure is where most people on our bus stayed. It has a great atmosphere, a bar and a small pool. Best breakfast of our trip too!
- Eat here: Banana’s hostel has a varied menu and lots of veggie options. La Casa de Bamboo also has good reviews.
- Do this: you have to do a dune buggy and sandboarding tour! A bit scary but incredibly fun. If you stay at Banana’s it will be included in the price of your stay.
- Top tip: leggings are a good idea for the sandboarding to avoid sandburn (but shorts are okay)
Check out my Huacachina post for more tips and photos!
We spent the morning lazing by the pool in Huacachina, then joined Peru Hop for a Pisco vineyard tour. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy it much because I had a stomach bug at that point! The bus then took us to see the Nazca Lines, a collection of huge mysterious pre-Incan geoglyphs that form animal shapes in the desert sands. We were able to see a few shapes from the viewing platform but if you are interested in seeing the lines better you should stay in Nazca for a night and go on a flight above the lines. Personally I’m not sure I’d trust that the little planes used there are safe, so do your research first!
After a pretty awful dinner at a petrol station, we got back on the bus for a long, bumpy night time drive to Arequipa.
The bus dropped us off at our hotel early in the morning and we went off to explore the city straight away. We learned to tell the difference between llamas and alpacas at Mundo Alpaca, checked out the bank at beautiful Casa del Moral, and spent a couple of hours exploring the colourful Santa Catalina Monastery.
- Stay here: Dragonfly hostel was cheap, central and quiet. If you’d like to treat yourself to something a little more special, I think Katari Hotel and Casa Andina Select both look fantastic!
- Eat here: Crepisimo for crepes, Zig Zag for delicious steak or grilled fish. Try queso helado ice cream (literally ‘frozen cheese’) from the corner of Plaza de Armas.
- Do this: visit Santa Catalina Monastery, Mundo Alpaca, Casa del Moral, Mirador de Yanahuara, and Museo Santuarios Andinos.
- Top tip: Again, if you only do one thing, visit Santa Catalina Monastery. Check the opening times before you go as last entry is 4pm on some days.
Read my full guide to Arequipa for more tips and photos.
Days 6 and 7Colca Canyon
Although many people will hike the Colca Canyon, we chickened out and went with a 2 day 1 night guided bus tour. I’m not a fan of guided tours so this was probably my least favourite part of our trip. It involved spending a lot of time in buses and eating in the mostly mediocre restaurants our guide took us to (food is SO important to me when I’m travelling!). I also suffered from the worst headache of my life because of the altitude (3,635m in Chivay). However, we did see stunning landscapes, lovely little towns, and some wildlife – so it was all worth it! We were lucky enough to see many condors, which are way more impressive than you could ever imagine.
Unfortunately I have no idea where we stayed (hotel with no name!) or even where we ate because everything was organised for us.
One thing we did which was pretty hilarious was go to a really basic, tiny hair salon in Chivay to have our hair dried because our hotel didn’t have any hairdryers!
- Stay here: if I could do it again I’d skip the organised tour and stay at the Colca Lodge Spa & Hot Springs. Looks SO lovely!
- Do this: visit Cruz del Condor, go for a dip in La Calera hot springs, look out for vicuñas and alpacas, and pose for a photo with a baby alpaca in Maca village.
- Drink this: coca tea or my favourite, Inka tea, are said to help with the altitude.
After our two days in the Canyon, we returned to Arequipa for a night before getting back on the bus with Peru Hop early the next morning. We stopped once for a delicious breakfast (chicken and avocado sandwich) and again to admire the view from the Lagunillas viewpoint. We made it to Puno around 1pm and went straight to lunch on the main plaza. We did some souvenir shopping by the harbour and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the local market (you should find it if you walk down Titicaca street). I loved spotting colourful classic VW Beetles and pimped up mototaxis.
- Stay here: Posada Kusillos is a centrally located B&B run by a lovely, welcoming family with a friendly dog called Jacinto.
- Eat here: Mojsa for lunch with a view of the main square, and La Casona for delicious trout!
- Do this: book your tour to the islands of Lake Titicaca.
- Top tip: do some haggling at the Feria Artesanal market by the harbour and you can get some really good prices on your typical Peruvian souvenirs.
Day 9Uros and Amantani Islands
We opted for a two day, one night tour of Lake Titicaca including a homestay with locals on Amantani.
Day one started with our tour guide taking us to one of the 42 floating Uros islands. The locals told us a bit about how they live and took us on a short trip on one of their elegant boats. The Uros people make everything with reeds: boats, huts, and even the islands themselves. Kids happily munch on them. Although it was interesting to see how these people live, I have to say the whole thing felt a little bit staged and touristy. The next two islands felt much more authentic.
After Uros, we navigated to Amantani where we were to stay one night. We were divided into small groups of two to four people, with each group assigned to a local family. Our adoptive father Wilfredo took us to his beautiful home, where we had a very basic bedroom with candles for lights. The electric generator wasn’t working while we were there so going to the outdoor toilet in the dark was interesting! Evening activities included hiking up to a temple with a great view and going to a party organised for visitors.
- Stay here: a local’s home on Amantani or Taquile.
- Eat here: your host’s kitchen! We had delicious quinoa soup and local cheese.
- Do this: hike up to Pachatata temple and try on the local traditional outfits.
- Top tip: learn some basic Spanish before you go – the family you stay with will appreciate it!
Day 10Taquile Island
After staying the night on Amantani, we headed to Taquile island where we learned about local customs, including the different meanings of the hats people wear. We walked across the middle of the island, stopping to buy handmade knitted items (traditionally made by men) and snoop around the busy street market. Lunch consisted of quinoa soup and trout in the most beautiful spot with a view of the lake.
After lunch it was time for us to head back to Puno where we explored a little more before spending the night on the bumpy night bus to Cusco.
- Top tip: buy something from the Taquile cooperative. The knitted products there were so affordable and much better quality that most of what we saw elsewhere in Peru. You’ll also be helping the local community!
We arrived in Cusco really early in the morning and enjoyed our first shower in two days (!) as soon as we got to our hotel. I was so excited about being in Cusco that I then went straight out to explore with Arina. We wandered around the beautiful Plaza Mayor and had breakfast in the San Blas neighbourhood. We visited Qorikancha which once was the most important temple of the Inca empire, but was destroyed by Spanish conquistadors who used it to build a baroque-style convent.
After stopping for a lovely cheese and avocado sandwich, we explored the old town a bit more, including the colourful San Pedro market. Our final stop for the day was Sacsayhuaman (or ‘sexy woman’ to some!), an Inca citadel/fortress with an interesting story and great views over Cusco. I highly recommend visiting this site as it was a great taster for what we were about to see at Machu Picchu!
- Stay here: Hostal El Peregrino felt almost luxurious after a night on the bus and two days without showers!
- Do this: don’t miss Sacsayhuaman and the view of the city from up there.
Day 12Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes
We joined a small group tour to the Sacred Valley as this seemed like the easiest way to see some of the villages and sights there. We started off by visiting a weaving cooperative in Chinchero, where some local ladies showed us how wool is dyed and weaved the traditional way. Our tour also took us to the impressive archeological site of Moray, which is thought to be where Incas experimented with agriculture on different levels of terraces. The last stop for us was the Maras Salt Mines (Salinas). These beautiful salt pools spread out on a hillside are all managed by different families and the salt produced is sold through a cooperative. It was amazing to taste the salty water that comes out of a nearby spring! After this stop we got a taxi to take us to Ollantaytambo where we caught the train to Aguas Calientes. After dropping off our bags at a basic hotel, we explored the touristy town which is everyone’s stop before Machu Picchu.
- Do this: don’t miss Moray and the Salinas. Get on the Vistadome train for amazing views on your way to Aguas Calientes!
- Stay here: we stayed at Catari’s House which was basic but fine for what was quite a short night. If you plan on spending a bit more time at the hotel, Panorama B&B looks great.
- Eat here: Tree House was a nice escape from all the tourist traps of Aguas Calientes, but it is a bit on the expensive side.
- Top tip: spend a night in Ollantaytambo if you have enough time. I wish we’d had the time to visit the ruins there!
Day 13Machu Picchu
We woke up incredibly early, intending to get the first bus up to Machu Picchu at 5:30. We were at the bus stop at 4:58 and made it onto a bus at 5:37, arriving at the citadel at 6:00, just in time for it to open! Waking up so early was hard but it was 100% worth it. We got to see an empty Machu Picchu and didn’t have to share the best photo spots with too many people.
After exploring for hours, getting soaked while hiking the Montaña, and taking hundreds of pictures, we headed back to Cusco in time for dinner.
- Do this: get there when it opens, I promise it’s worth it!
- Top tip: 1) bring lunch and snacks. 2) go up the stairs to your left when you enter the citadel – the best view can be seen from the ‘Watchman’s Hut’.
On our final day in Cusco, we visited three more Inca ruins: Q’enqo, Pukapukara and Tambomachay. I have to admit that these were not very exciting to see the day after visiting Machu Picchu – I’d recommend visiting them first and combining them with your visit with Sacsayhuaman (see Day 11). We also got drenched in the rain at Q’enqo so I don’t have the best memories of it!
After changing into dry clothes we went to the Museo Historico Regional which is a great place to learn more about Peru’s history. We also returned to San Pedro Market to pick up a few last souvenirs.
- Stay here: Hostel Kokopelli had a great atmosphere, really nice food and was perfectly clean. We had a fun evening drinking piscos there.
- Eat this: street food! We bought some delicious stuffed churros and grilled meat from street vendors and I regretted not trying any before day 14!
Day 15Lima then flight home!
On our last day, we caught an early flight from Cusco to Lima and hopped into a taxi (I’d recommend Taxi Green) to Miraflores. Our number one goal was to eat one last ceviche before flying home to London, and we nailed it. We found our way to Punto Azul which turned out to be super popular with locals at the weekends (go early to reserve a table!). With our bellies full, we wandered around the neighbourhood a bit more and stocked up on exotic Peruvian snacks at a supermarket before heading back to the airport! 🙁
Needless to say, we were sad to have to leave beautiful Peru after only two weeks! If you can, I’d definitely recommend staying longer and taking the time to explore each place a bit more. I would have loved to spend more time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley and maybe even do the Rainbow Mountain hike.
Are you planning a trip to Peru?
Let me know your questions, thoughts, and experiences in the comments!