2-3 Week Itinerary Suggestions & Travel Tips for Peru
Peru is huge and there is a lot to see and do. Here we outline options for a very manageable itinerary for spending 2-3 weeks in Peru.
Unless you plan to fly everywhere (which can be very expensive) we recommend you need to allow some travel time. So slow down and enjoy the trip. Two weeks is the minimum I would plan for a Peru itinerary if it is your first visit to Peru. Keep in mind if you are headed to Machu Picchu it is at altitude and you will need to allow time in Cusco to acclimate.
Map of Our Peru Itinerary
Before we get started here is a map so you can follow along!
Lima (2-3 days)
Lima is a large city with a lot to see and do. Organize this at the beginning or the end of your trip. If you fly internationally this is where you will fly to/from. And Lima to Cusco is a very popular flight as it is really the only way to get to Cusco. Lima is at sea level.
There are some fantastic restaurants, museums and churches. You can read more about the food in:
How to be a Gourmet Chef with this Unique Mashed Potato Terrine
We did a market tour and attended cooking school in Lima. It was a great way to get an introduction to Peruvian cuisine and learn the ingredients.
Sacred Valley (3 days)
You can read all about the Secrets of the Sacred Valley in our much longer post with things to see and do in this area. The Sacred Valley is at high altitude but lower than Cusco, spending a few days here first can give you time to adjust to the altitude, before moving on to Machu Picchu.
If you struggle with the altitude the local remedy is to drink coca tea (tea made from the leaves of the coca tree) and it is very effective.
Cusco (2-3 days)
Cusco is a wonderful city with lots to see and do. You can read more about our trip to the Museo de Pisco and learn how to make a Pisco Sour the national drink of Peru in How to Make a Pisco Sour & What You Need to Know about Pisco
Cusco is the center for most tourist activities and flights. If you are coming from Lima to Cusco you will most likely need to fly, and you can’t get from Lima to Machu Picchu without going through Cusco.
It is at very high altitude and it is recommended if you have not come from the Sacred Valley you allow an extra day or two to adjust to the altitude.
Machu Picchu (3 day train, 5 days if Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu)
To avoid disappointment you need to book your reservations for this as far in advance as possible, especially if you are going during a peak time. You can find out all about Machu Picchu in In the Footsteps of the Incas: The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
If you are taking the train to Machu Picchu, you can leave from Cusco or Ollytaytambo in the Sacred Valley. I would allow 3 days, 1 to get there and 2 at the site.
If you plan on hiking you must have a guide, the classic Inca Trail is a 4 day hike to Machu Picchu and I would allow an extra day at the site. We used a local guide and this was an excellent choice and saved us a lot of money. Find out all about our trek Including costs, altitude, difficulty andwho we recommend as a guide for the Inca Trail in the longer article about hiking the 4- day Inca Trail.
Cusco Overnight (1 night)
Due to the train timetable from Cusco to Agua Calientes (Machu Picchu), you will probably need to spend an extra night in Cusco after Machu Picchu, departing the following day.
Lake Titicaca (2-3 days)
It is pretty easy to get to Lake Titicaca from Cusco. You can fly,take the train or travel by bus. Flying is quick but expensive and you will need to organize transport from the airport to Lake Titicaca. There is a lot to do in Lake Titicaca and you can find out more about it in Do You Know What Makes Lake Titicaca so Special?
There is also a train. This seemed like a great option, but it is slow and doesn’t stop to see anything along the way.
There is a tourist class bus which, even including stops, is quicker than the train. We ended up with this option; it was quicker, more convenient. We made several stops along the way including Raqchi, the site of a large complex of ancient ruins and Pukara, the town famous for making the bulls everyone places on their rooftop for good luck. It also includes lunch. You can book the bus in Cusco. It is also less expensive than the train.
If you Have 3 Weeks in Peru- Itinerary
Arequipa (2-3 days)
If you have longer than two weeks in Peru add this to your Peru itinerary. From Lake Titicaca catch the bus to Arequipa (or fly). The bus is a modern comfortable bus, making several comfort stops along the way.
You can find out more about Arequipa in An Introduction to the Highlights of Amazing Arequipa. Arequipa is a great place to take a cooking class or Spanish lessons as well. Many of Peru’s famous dishes originate in this area including cuy, Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed Red Peppers) and queso helado.
Puerto Maldonado or Iquitos (4 days)
Either of these cities is the gateway to visiting the Amazon Rainforest. You can find more information in An Adventure in the Spectacular Amazon Rainforest of Peru which contains the details of our trip from Puerto Maldonado
It is a bit of travel (and expense) to travel to the Amazon Rainforest and before going I was not sure if it was worth the effort and expense. Having gone, it was definitely worth it!
Puerto Maldonado has a range of accommodation. Some of it is quite far into the rainforest and can be quite rustic.
Iquitos also has some rainforest lodges and the Amazon cruises leave from here. On our second trip to Peru we did a cruise during wet season and it was a fantastic way to see wildlife- including sloths!
Do your research and make sure you know what you are getting. Some factors to consider:
- The travel time to travel to you lodgings; some of these are quite far in and require as much as 5 hours of boat travel.
- Electricity- some have no or little electricity.
- Confirm there are mosquito nets and if possible screens as well. Mosquitoes carry malaria and other diseases.
- Do your research, speak with your doctor and decide if you will take malaria medicine or require any vaccines for this part of the trip.
You can fly to Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado from Cusco. Even if you are coming from somewhere else (Lima, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa) most flights will stop in Cusco.
Tips for Traveling Around Peru
Peru is a rugged country. The Andes and the Amazon Rainforest are both natural barriers which make for few roads and slow travel times. Peru also has a rainy season which can make some roads impassable. Train travel is not plentiful and where it is available it can be quite slow and/or expensive.
The good news is Peru is very tourist friendly. The infrastructure is well developed. Booking transport, tickets and day tours are all very readily available and most hotels will organize it for you. There is no need to rent a car in Peru.
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction and the numbers of visitors are tightly controlled. Demand far exceeds supply. I have said it before but will say it again, you need to organize this in advance. Inca trail permits sell out months in advance and the train is also very popular. You will need your passport to organize tickets and you must bring your passport with you for entry to Machu Picchu.
You can fly within Peru. It is expensive. And it is very expensive relative to the cost of a bus ticket. (And you will see a lot more on the bus.) We flew several legs and took the bus for several legs. If it was more than 6-8 hours drive we flew, if not we took a bus. There is an option to purchase a LAN Pass if you fly from an international destination on a One World Alliance Airline.
Staying Healthy While Traveling in Peru
Most of this itinerary is at high altitude. Try to keep all your travels at high altitude together- Sacred Valley, Cusco, Lake Titicaca and Arequipa then go to sea level. This is much easier on your body and stops you having to adjust to altitude several times.
Altitude sickness is an issue for many visitors. There is medication you can take for altitude sickness; you may want to speak with your doctor prior to travels. Also be aware if you have health issues with blood pressure you may need to adjust medications or it may not be safe to travel. Again speak with your doctor.
Locally within South America, coca tea, made from the leaves of the coca plant, is the local remedy for altitude sickness and it is very effective.
If you are considering or have travel insurance, check the conditions carefully as some companies consider high altitude a “risky activity”. Click on the link to read more about What you Need to Know About Travel Insurance.
Malaria and Other Health Concerns Traveling in Peru
As mentioned above, if you are headed to the Amazon Rainforest, do your research about malaria and decide if you are taking anti-malaria medication.
You can read more about health concerns while traveling in Healthy Travels: What You Need to Know Before You Leave and Healthy Travels: What you Need to Know..
Drink Bottled Water in Peru
Water is not safe to drink anywhere in Peru. You need to be very careful. Use bottled water for everything including brushing your teeth. If you do get sick, head to the local pharmacy or chemist (or bring something with you from home).
Where to Stay in Peru
Peru has very well developed tourism facilities. There are a lot of Inca ruins in Peru. Many in the Sacred Valley and Cusco were reused as the site of Catholic Churches. Many old convents, monasteries and palaces have been converted into hotels. It is possible to find some very unique and luxurious accommodation but there are many budget friendly options as well.
If we have a recommendation for accommodation, we mentioned it in the longer articles about the area.
Where we haven’t made a specific recommendation, we suggest using Booking.com. We use this site a lot. It has a comprehensive selection of hotels from around the world, including many small, family-run establishments. There is something for every budget and taste and you can book directly online.
Also something to note about Booking.com is the more you use the site, the greater the discounts and sales offered to you. If you book your entire trip using the site, you can save a bit of money.
Always read the booking and cancellation details for each reservation. They are set by the individual hotel not Booking.com.
See the note about currency below; many hotels in Peru accept USD as payment.
Peru’s currency is the soles (pronounced soul- Ays) you can get them from any ATM machine. Many tourists related establishments- hotels, tours etc. also accept USD. You can withdraw USD in an ATM.
You will need soles for smaller stores, towns and restaurants. Peru has problems with credit card fraud don’t let your card out of your sight (the waiter will bring the machine to the table). Many places do not accept credit cards. Make sure you carry cash, preferably in smaller denominations as in many places change is an issue.
If you are planning to go, or have been and would like to learn more about Peru, we have a hand picked selection of The Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Peru. If you only read one, we recommend, Turn Right at Machu Picchu.
That’s it. We really enjoyed our travels through Peru; it is a diverse country with very good tourism infrastructure. We still have a few places we would like to see and some other places in the Andes Mountains we would like to hike, so I am sure we will be back one day.
If you have any other suggestions or comments to share with our readers, please feel free to leave a comment. If you have a question we didn’t answer, leave a comment (a URL is not required to leave a comment) and we will answer.
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