Three weeks in Peru:
the first-timer’s itinerary
After we left Peru we realized that we ended up spending a month and a half in the country, almost without noticing. We originally planned to stay only one month.
This is the beauty of travelling slowly, it gives you the chance to take all the time you need to explore a destination and Peru surely had so much more in store for us than we expected.
Besides its famous bucket list items such as Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain or Huacachina, Peru is a land of traditions and vibrant culture which will charm any traveller. During our time there we explored wonderful natural landscapes and ticked off some big items off our must-see list. We fell in love with Cusco and the celebratory side of this city. We ate some of the best meals in South America and discovered a passion for pisco sours. We had a short but enchanting exploration of the immense beauty the Amazon rainforest has to offer. And the most astonishing part is that we only explored the southern area of Peru, which can only make us imagine how many more wonders there are to be discovered in the north!
Three weeks will be a good amount of time if you are visiting for the first time, to be able to get an understanding of the culture while ticking off the main bucket list items. You can definitely do the same route above in two weeks, just spending less time in each place. If you have the gift of time, however, we would recommend also exploring the northern part of Peru.
Lima: 2 days
Lima is not only the geographical capital of Peru but also the culinary one. This eclectic city will conquer you one meal at a time, so make sure to get there hungry! A big, modern and happening metropolis that opens on the Pacific Ocean, Lima is always bustling and offers great entertainment, it's also a great spot for surfing.
Where to stay in Lima
Experience Lima at its best staying at Atemporal Hotelito , in the heart of the chic Miraflores neighborhood. A contemporary, curated and charming boutique hotel with all the comforts and perfect location. For a cheaper solution, we recommend looking for an Airbnb in Miraflores or San Isidro neighborhood.
What to do in Lima
Lima is the perfect place where to learn more about Peruvian art and culture visiting one of the many museums in the city. Our favourite is the MATE by famous photographer Mario Testino. If you are looking for adrenaline, on the other hand, you can have some fun paragliding off Costa Verde, the green coast that overlooks the Pacific. Most definitely leave time for eating! Lima offers some of the best restaurants in Peru.
Arequipa: 2 days (4 with Colca Canyon)
From Lima, we suggest flying to Arequipa. The ‘white city’ will charm you with its unique architecture and its incredible history. We suggest spending two nights in this beautiful city. If you are considering the Colca Canyon hike, you will need another two nights or so.
Where to sleep in Arequipa
Set on a hill in a lovely park is Hotel Libertador Arequipa. A pink-walled hotel that looks straight out of a 70s Miami movie. It comes with a pool, a restaurant serving delicious local dishes and comfortable, spacious rooms. If you are looking for a cheaper option, check out Cozy Hostel Arequipa, simple but comfortable and with a perfect central location next to the convent.
The unmissable sights in Arequipa are the main square, with its majestic white Cathedral and also the Santa Catalina Convent. The latter being one of the most beautiful religious sights we’ve ever seen.
Cusco: 4 days
We definitely left a piece of our hearts in Cusco. This vibrant city is the perfect mix of beauty, history and character, it also serves as the perfect base to explore the surrounding natural wonders of Peru. Give yourself enough time in Cusco to just walk around the city, enjoy the lovely cafes and quaint neighbourhoods and take part in one of the many local festivities.
Where to stay in Cusco
If you want to treat yourself to a five-star stay, with an impeccable service then Palacio del Inka is your place. This historic building was once part of the Inca Temple of the Sun and today is a spectacular hotel with a spa, pisco sour lessons, a wine cellar and the most attentive staff ever! For a cheap, but equally wonderful experience book at Gaia’s House Hostel. Clean, comfortable and with a peaceful indoor courtyard.
What to do in Cusco
Cusco has a lot to offer, so get ready to have a sightseeing filled time. Within the city make sure to visit the Cathedral and la Compania in Plaza des Armes, the church of Santo Domingo, the Inca Walls along the streets of Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc, the Inka Museum and artsy San Blas neighbourhood. From Cusco, you can easily reach the Salineras de Maras - unique salt pods, and Moray - an Inca agricultural research site.
Puerto Maldonado: 4 days
Take a short twenty-minute flight from Cusco and you will find yourself in the lush Amazonian jungle. The chilly mountain air of the city gives space to the warmth and the buildings to green rain forest that extends further than the eye can see. Visiting the Amazon is an experience that will deeply touch you and open your eyes to a natural habitat that is like no other.
Puerto Maldonado itself is just a sleepy town on the banks of Rio Madre de Dios, but you will need to arrive there to lodge at any of the resorts along the river. Choosing the right resort is key to have a great experience as most of them also provide the daily tours and activities.
Staying at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica
Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica is the ultimate eco-luxury jungle resort which offers a once in a lifetime experience. Nestled in between the forest, a forty-five-minute riverboat ride from Puerto Maldonado. This jungle lodge offers a five-star experience while at the same time respecting the delicate Amazonian ecosystem. While lodging at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica , you will be able to participate in any of the ‘a la carte’ excursions, which include Canopy Walks, Lake Sandoval, Amazon explorations at sunset and more.
Machu Picchu: 2 days
From Puerto Maldonado, you will have to fly back to Cusco to continue the adventure to Machu Picchu. Many travellers will choose to hike to Machu Picchu either with the Inka Trail or the Salkantay Trail (the second one being less expensive).
If you don’t want to hike or do not have the time like us, you can take the train, which is also an awesome experience. We used Peru Rail. It’s expensive, yes, but the ride through the mountains is extremely picturesque!
Where to stay in Machu Picchu
In order to be on the first bus and be at Machu Picchu grounds when the doors open at 6am, you will have to arrive at Machu Picchu Pueblo the day before. We also suggest staying in Machu Picchu Pueblo the night of your visit, as you will spend the whole day hiking and most likely be quite tired. To spoil yourself with another outstanding Inkaterra hotel, book your stay at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. Read about our stay here!
For a simple but cozy sleep and a refreshing dip in the pool (Nazca is hot!), book at La Maison de Lydia.
What to do in Nazca
You will find many agencies offering aeroplane tours of the Nazca lines. We decided to fly with Air Paracas as they are the one with the best reputation. A small 6 seater aeroplane will take you on a guided thirty-five minute flight above the Nazca lines, which are carved into the desert. During the flight, you will be able to see twelve figures. It is a pretty pricey flight, seventy euros per person, but the view and history are fascinating!
Huacachina: 2 days
From the dusty desert take another bus to a desert made of golden sand dunes and uncountable adventures! Huacachina is a real-life oasis set in between a vast desert that starts just ten minutes off the city of Ica. A mirage itself that’s worth seeing with your own eyes.
Where to sleep in Huacachina
In the oasis there are several hotels and hostels, but we opted to stay in Ica as value for money was better. Our simple but comfortable hostel, with a delicious breakfast, was called Sumac.
What to do in Huacachina
Huacachina is all about the fun on the dunes. Dune buggies will take you for an adrenaline-fueled ride up and down the dunes. You can rent sandboards or skis to slide down the soft sand or, if you want to keep it chilled or enjoy a magical sunset, just hike up on one of the tallest dunes for the best view of the little Oasis.
Paracas: 2 days
After several days in the desert, seeing the ocean will be extremely refreshing. Paracas is a placid fishing town adjacent to one of the most unique landscapes in Peru, the Paracas National Park. A place where the desert meets the ocean. Paracas will is the perfect place to relax, have fun and enjoy some local delicacies from the ocean.
Where to sleep in Paracas
To take your relaxation to the next level, book your stay at Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort. This striking architectural beauty on the ocean is your perfect holiday dream. Two pools, three restaurants and two bars all set within the tropical vegetation.
What to do in Paracas
Rent a bicycle and ride to the Paracas National Park where you can admire the orange desert melting into the deep blue ocean. Also recommended is a visit to the Candelabra, another hieroglyphic site carved into the side of a mountain facing the ocean.
From Paracas make your way back to Lima by bus to end your trip in the tasty capital.