Do you only have 2 weeks in Peru and are wondering how best to spend it? This 2 week Peru travel itinerary will give you everything you need to know to make the most of your adventure in Peru, including where to stay, what to do and all the little bits you didn’t realise you needed to know.
Whether you’re fresh out of high school and looking for somewhere to find yahself, a young (or old – Peru doesn’t discriminate!) couple on the market for 2 weeks of adventure, a cool and hip parent wanting to immerse your kids in another culture or just somebody who wants to see pretty places and eat good food, Peru is perfect for you.
Seriously. People say it about a lot of places, but Peru really does have something for everyone, and I’ll happily repeat that until I’m blue in the face!
From ancient Inca ruins to the most dramatic countryside landscapes; dense rainforest to arid desert oasis; immense hiking trails to relaxing surfer-style beach towns, I challenge you to spend two weeks in Peru and come back to me saying there was nothing there for you.
To be completely honest with you, 2 weeks in Peru is nowhere near enough time. Period. But it’s a good start at least, and is the perfect amount of time to let you see the highlights of Peru and just that. But in my opinion the longer the better. I’ve spent around 3 months in the country over the years and while admittedly that definitely doesn’t make me an expert, I’ve used my personal experience to compose the perfect two-week Peru itinerary, including where to stay, what to do and how to get from one place to the next. I’ve followed this exact Peru travel itinerary to the tee on more than one occasion. So, ya know, you can trust me that it’s a good one.
How to Spend 2 Weeks in Peru
Lima (1 – 1½ days)
If you’re flying in from anywhere outside of South America, the chances are your Peru trip will start (and end *sob*) in Lima, the capital city of Peru. Much like Marmite, you either love Lima or you hate it. I’m sadly in the latter party: I just didn’t get Lima. Perhaps it’s because the first time I visited Lima signified the end of my 2 weeks backpacking Peru, and the second time I ended up staying in a seedy love motel that served condoms and sex toys as part of their room service. You could say my memories of Lima are somewhat tainted.
Still, Lima is allegedly one of the most exciting, up-and-coming cities in South America so I suppose it’s an okay place to begin your two weeks in Peru. I would suggest spending one full day plus whatever you have left of the day you arrive in Lima before moving on (e.g. if you arrive at 2pm on Monday, spend Monday & Tuesday in Lima), but if you had more than 2 weeks in Peru, definitely consider sticking around Lima a few extra days. There are so many different districts to discover!
TIP: If you’re arriving by air, Jorge Chávez International Airport isn’t exactly in the safest of areas, Callao. If your accommodation doesn’t offer a pick-up service (most do!), definitely consider the Airport Lima Express, which runs more than 30 times a day and offers a direct link between Miraflores and Lima Airport.
What to do in Lima, Peru
If you only have one day in Lima, you can’t miss a visit to the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco and associated onsite Museo y Catacumbas de Lima, situated in the Historic Centre of the city. Yes, on the surface it probably looks like 90% of the churches and cathedrals you’ll come to experience during your 2 weeks in Peru, but the cherry on top of the Catholic cake here is that this particular church (Church of San Francisco, if you’re feeling a bit Anglo) has underground catacombs that you can actually visit. Morbid, but fascinating. Entry to the museum is only S/.15 per person (approx. £3.50) and that includes a guided tour in English or Spanish of the entire complex.
For a taste of Pre-Incan culture, visit the Huaca Pucllana, a staggering great adobe and clay pyramid conveniently situated right in the middle of Miraflores. The Pucllana Temple is said to date all the way back to 500AD and is a shining example of pre-Columbian structures in Peru. Entry to the pyramid is just S/.12 per person (approx. £2.80).
Other things to do in Lima: enjoy the sunset in Miraflores, admire the street art in Monumental Callao, get your first taste of ceviche, try paragliding along El Malecón, take a bike tour of Lima, take a tour of the Palacio de Gobernio, see the cats of Kennedy Park, discover Peru’s best street food on a street food tour, or simply get lost in the streets.
If you’re looking for even more things to do in Lima, check out this guide to Barranco, Lima’s hippest neighbourhood.
Where to Stay in Lima, Peru
With only one night in Lima, the ideal place to stay to get the most out of your time would definitely be Miraflores or, contrary to what a lot of people would suggest, near the Centro Historico. Miraflores is beautiful but extremely tourist-oriented. On the flip side this of course means it has everything you could want or need for your time in Lima (think cute cafes and bars, the beach, over-priced souvenir shops…). The Centro Historico on the other hand is great if you want to feel like you’re in the middle of real, day-to-day Lima. The only downside to Centro Historico is that it doesn’t have the safest of reputations, so you should probably stick to Miraflores if you’re a first-timer in Peru. The hotels near Centro Historico are mostly business hotels, geared towards business travellers on brief visits for meetings etc, but the local architecture seems to be nothing but the old colonial style you commonly associate with Peru, with a few modern-day offices thrown in to the mix.
Best Budget Accommodation in Miraflores:
When in South America, you can’t really go wrong with a Che Lagarto hostel, and Che Lagarto Lima is no exception. Che Lagarto is a vibrant and fun hostel chain which offers dorm and private rooms throughout South America, and an incredible atmosphere guaranteed. With prices as low as £6, do you really need to look elsewhere?! They also do a pretty tasty budget breakfast!
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Miraflores:
No biggie, but I’m just sat here swooning over the incredible looking apartments at Trendy Host, Miraflores. Seriously, this place is a combination of IKEA showroom and hygge hideaway, with added free WiFi and a toaster (who doesn’t love toasting bread in the morning?!). Would I spend my full 2 weeks in Peru hidden away here?! Absolutely yes, just try and stop me. A 1-bedroom apartment for 2 starts at about £60 – that’s just £30 per person, which could possibly even make this place less mid-range and more high-end budget.
Bonus: There’s also an equally droolworthy Trendy Host in Barranco, Lima. Ooh-la-la.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Miraflores:
If you’re going to spend two full weeks in Peru, you may as well splash out and live a life of luxury for at least one night, right? And what better night than your first one, before you spend the next two weeks slumming it in hostels and *gasp* tents?! There is, of course, a Hilton Hotel in Miraflores, and although my peasant pursestrings haven’t yet stretched that far, I can bet it’s just as freaking incredible as every other Hilton around the world. Miraflores also has all your other standard high-end hotels (Marriott, Four Points by Sheraton, etc.) but the one that I will forever lust over is the Belmond Miraflores Park. With prices starting at the low rate of just a week’s worth of wages at my full-time job (£400, give or take), Belmond Miraflores Park offers world-class service coupled with spectacular views of the city and what looks to be the comfiest beds in the Universe. I would give my right arm to stay there, if I’m honest.
Paracas & Islas Ballestas (½-1 day)
Just a three-hour drive south of Lima, Paracas is a relaxing little coastal town most recognisable for being the launch point for tours around the Islas Ballestas. The second stop on your 14 day Peru itinerary, Islas Ballestas are often affectionately referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos, and for good reason. Though you won’t quite find any Galápagos tortoise on the rocks, throughout the year the Islas Ballestas is home to at least 215 species of migratory birds, seabirds and the occasional mammal or two! True, it’s not quite on the same level as the Galapagos, but it’s a great poor man’s option if you want to see some native Peruvian wildlife.
What to do in Paracas, Peru
Undoubtedly the one activity you should do in Paracas, and one of the wildlife highlights of Peru, is a tour around the Islas Ballestas. Even if bird-watching isn’t your thing, this 2-hour speedboat tour around the three formations known together as Islas Ballestas will bring you up close and personal with Humboldt penguins, bottlenose dolphins, sealions, and countless species of seabirds and migratory birds.
I’ve done a fair few incredible wildlife experiences in my life, in South America and beyond, and I will honestly say that the tour around the Islas Ballestas showed me more animals than any other experience I’ve ever done! It got to the point that half an hour in I’d seen so many sealions and penguins that the rocks were becoming sealions and penguins. You won’t expect it, but a tour of the Islas Ballestas will become one of the highlights of your Peru trip itinerary.
Half-day tours can be booked on the day in Paracas, or in advance from your hostel or online.
Where to Stay in Paracas, Peru
You don’t really need to spend a full day in Paracas, especially if you only have 2 weeks in Peru. Half-day tours of the Islas Ballestas can be booked and arranged from both Lima and Huacachina, meaning you can come in from Lima, see the Islas in all their glory and leave for Huacachina on the very same day. However, if you’d rather slow down, relax on the beach and taste some of the delicious seafood dishes on offer in the town, Paracas does have a fair few accommodation options for all budgets.
Best Budget Accommodation in Paracas
Kokopelli is another small chain of hostels in Peru that guarantees you a safe, comfortable place to stay with a fun and friendly environment. You’re guaranteed to make friends, no matter which Kokopelli you stay in (they have hostels in Paracas, Cusco and Lima). Dorm beds start at £10 including breakfast (bonus!), and the beachside location and beach hut vibes of Kokopelli Paracas are second to none!
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Paracas
If you fancy a little Hawaian break in the middle of your 2 week Peru itinerary, Bamboo Lodge Paracas is for you. Bamboo Lodge Paracas is just 1 minute from the beach, giving the Ocean View rooms some of the best views in the whole of Paracas. A double room with balcony and sea view (make sure you get a room with a sea view!) is just £65 for two people.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Paracas
Another Peru accommodation offering world-class service, another beautiful hotel well beyond the limits of my bank account *sigh*. Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort features not one but two swimming pools, a luxury spa, a kids’ club and absolutely gorgeous views from almost every single room. Prices start at £195 for one person, or £210 for two. Excuse me while I crawl into a ball and cry while thinking about this little slice of Heaven I’ll never afford…
How to get to Paracas
By bus from Lima: You could, of course, hire a car (or a driver!) but the easiest and cheapest way to travel from Lima to Paracas is by bus. Oltursa and Cruz del Sur both have several daily buses travelling from Lima to Paracas. Travel time: Approx. 4 hours.
Huacachina (2 days)
A desert oasis located where you’d least expect to find a desert oasis, Huacachina is an absolute diamond (excuse the bleurgh) of a destination, and the first adrenaline stop on your 2 week Peru itinerary. Even if careening over the edge of a huge dune strapped to a piece of wood isn’t your thing, Huacachina is a great place to just kick back, relax, and enjoy your stunning surroundings.
What to do in Huacachina
Sandboarding. Sandboarding. Sandboarding. And one more time for luck…sandboarding! Although this activity can be enjoyed pretty much wherever you find sand dunes, Huacachina sandboarding really is on a whole other level! Think skiing, but without the snow and freezing temperatures. Sandboarding in Peru was actually the first and only time I’ve suffered concussion and whiplash, but SO worth it!
Most hostels and hotels in Huachachina and Ica will be able to arrange a sandboarding tour for you (the hotel we stayed at arranged it for just £5 per person, which is an absolute steal!), but if not there are a few tour agencies dotted around the oasis. The tours run at 10am and 4pm every day, and most also include the CRAZIEST dune buggying experience. Seriously, you’re going to want to keep your safety helmet on for this! If you opt for the 4pm tour, you’ll also be able to catch one of the most astonishingly beautiful sunsets ever. There’s something about the sun setting over a desert that makes me come upare all tingly…
Other things to do in Huacachina: Take a day tour to see the world-famous Nazca Lines, take a winery tour in nearby Ica, enjoy a pedalo ride on the lagoon (but don’t take a dip!).
Where to stay in Huacachina
Despite its reputation as a thrillseeker’s paradise, and welcoming hundreds and thousands of local and international tourists a year, Huacachina’s hotel industry isn’t exactly booming. Which is a good thing really, as with minimal accommodation options it’s able to keep its friendly, tightknit sense of community.
Best Accommodation in Huacachina
The choice of accommodation for anyone visiting Huacachina is definitely Banana’s Adventure Hostel. Banana’s is an oasis in itself and is such a fun place to spend a night or two during your 2 weeks in Peru. The hostel offers both dorms and private rooms, with prices varying seasonally, but starting at around £16 per person. Expensive for a dorm room, you think? Well, that price includes breakfast and a tour (dune buggy, winery etc.) so it’s actually a steal!
How to get to Huacachina
By bus from Paracas: Small combi buses travel between Paracas and Ica several times a day, from 6am. Your hotel or hostel can help you arrange tickets. Travel time: 1 hour. From Ica you’ll need to either walk or take a local taxi (10 mins) to Huacachina. Peru Hop offers direct buses from Paracas to Huacachina, saving you the taxi.
Arequipa (2 days at least!)
If there’s one city on this planet I would up sticks and move to without hesitation, it’d be Arequipa. Commonly known as The White City due to the sillar (a kind of white volcanic stone) used in most of its construction, Arequipa has one of the most dramatic back drops of any city, ever. It’s surrounded by three colossal volcanoes, the 2 dormant Chachani and Pichu Pichu, and the possibly-active volcano, otherwise known as my arch nemesis, Mt Misti. You really don’t want to miss this city during your two weeks in Peru!
What to do in Arequipa
Although a lot of visitors use Arequipa as nothing but a base for the array of adventure sports and hiking opportunities in the area, the city is more than worth spending a few days to explore! Even with only 2 weeks in Peru, make sure you set aside at least 2 days to explore Arequipa. You won’t regret it!
If there’s one museum you visit during your Peru trip, make it the Museo Santuarios Andinos. Home to the world-famous Mummy Juanita, a visit to this museum is both insightful and heart-wrenching. Juanita was a young girl between the ages of 12-15 who was kiled as an offering to the Inca Gods some time in the late 15th century, and her almost perfectly preserved frozen body was discovered on Mount Ampato in 1995.
Other things to do in Arequipa: other must-see spots in Arequipa are the Santa Catalina Monastery, the Mercado San Camilo and, of course, the gorgeous Plaza de Armas. Learn about all things alpaca at Mundo Alpaca, and for those seeking an adrenaline fix, there are heaps of tour agencies in Arequipa offering everything from rafting on the Rio Chili to sandboarding to rock-climbing. To take in all of the sites in a short space of time, make sure you sign up for the Arequipa Free Walking Tour.
Still looking for inspiration for your trip to Arequipa? Check out this post: The 12 Best Things to do in Arequipa
Where to stay in Arequipa, Peru
Over the years I’ve probably stayed in 90% of the hotels and hostels in Arequipa, and don’t have a bad word to say about any of them!
Best Budget Accommodation in Arequipa
In Arequipa you can forget all about those super cheap and super awesome hostel chains cropping up all over the country. Sure, there’s a Flying Dog in the city, amongst others. But trust me when I say all you need is the unassuming Park Hostel. It’s the only accommodation I’ve gone back to every single time I’ve visited Arequipa. When I first stayed there it was called Hostal Posada del Parque, and I was a slightly terrified 18-year old travelling alone for the first time. The kind owner and every single member of staff went above and beyond to make me feel welcome. They taught me coloquialisms, they made me scrambled egg for breakfast (for free!!) and they checked in on me every night. One of the maids even gave me a bar of chocolate from her daughter. The second time I visited I fell quite sick, and the whole hostal rallied around to make sure I was okay, even offering to call a doctor to the building (which I politely declined, it wasn’t that bad). The third time went without a hitch, thankfully. Since then they’ve undergone a huge refurb, introduced dorm rooms and finally opened up their roof space as a dining area. It’s the most incredible place to stay, and at less than £10 per person you really can’t go wrong!
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Arequipa
The Katari Hotel at Plaza de Armas is one of the most conveniently located and beautifully decorated mid-range hotels in Arequipa. Set right on the Plaza de Armas, just a few doors away from one of the (in my opinion) best little souvenir markets in Arequipa, the views from the terrace are second to none. Imagine having your breakfast while watching the sun come up over the gorgeous cathedral and volcanic backdrop! The reception features a really dramatic decor but I absolutely love it! Prices for a double room start at around £80.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Arequipa
Set in an 18th century colonial mansion, Casa Andina Premium Arequipa will have you feeling like you’re an extra on the set of Game of Thrones. The rooms are minimalistically decorated, and the onsite restaurant serves the most delicious (and fancy!) food. One night in luxury at Casa Andina will only set you back £110 for a twin room including breakfast, which is such a good deal! Another similarly priced luxury option in Arequipa is the world-class Libertador Arequipa Hotel which offers not just a free breakfast but a superb free breakfast.
How to get to Arequipa
By bus from Huacachina: Firstly, to get to the bus stations in Ica you’ll need to take a taxi from Huacachina (10 mins). From there, Cruz del Sur and Civa have several daily buses from Ica to Arequipa. Travel time: approx. 11 hours (do yourself a favour and book cama or semi-cama!).
By plane from Huacachina: If 11 hours on a bus is too much for you, you could alternatively double back to Lima and get one of the many daily flights from Lima to Arequipa. One-way flights cost as little as £35 and take approx. 1.5 hours.
Colca Canyon (1-3 days) or Mt. Misti (2 days)
Way back in 2011 when I first visited Peru, the one thing I wanted to do more than anything (except maybe Machu Picchu) was see the condors at Colca Canyon. I didn’t actually make it until my third visit in 2016! It was definitely worth the wait.
According to locals, (and the occasional print article of Peruvian origin) Cañon del Colca is rumoured to be even bigger than the Grand Canyon. True or not, it’s almost a World Wonder in itself, and a hike here may even make you momentarily forget the main reason for your Peru trip (Machu Picchu, of course).
There are a few different ways you can visit Colca Canyon from Arequipa, and any non-hikers reading this will breathe a sigh of relief when I tell you there’s a way you can visit without having to hike. Heck to the yes.
There are two trek options (a 2 day and a 3 day trek) and two tour options (full-day and 2 day). If you only have 2 weeks in Peru, your best bet would be to go for either the 2 day trek or one of the tours. And don’t think that taking one of the bus tours will mean you miss out, as you’ll still get to bathe in hot springs, see a heck of a lot of alpacas, stay in local accommodation in the Canyon and enjoy local customs and culture, but without the achy legs at the end of it.
I was originally booked on to do the 2 day trek, but fell ill at the 11th hour and couldn’t raise my arms above my head (in my head I had a rare tropical disease, but in reality I’m pretty sure I was just suffering travellers’ burnout) so had to postpone. By the time I was relatively healthy again, I decided to forgo the trek in favour of the 2 day tour instead. And I’m actually really glad I did that! Although a lot of thetime was spent sitting on a bus, we were able to absorb a lot of information given to us by our hilarious guide and could ask the driver to stop for photo ops as and when we wanted.
Be sure to check out my post about the 2 Day/1 Night Colca Canyon Tour, including exactly what you get and how much it cost.
El Misti Volcano
Real talk: climbing Mt. Misti or, should I say, attemptingto climb Mt. Misti was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made (you can read all about how I nearly shit myself right here – go on, I know you want to).
El Misti, also known locally as Putina or Guagua Putina, is one of the 3 volcanoes near Arequipa. Sitting at 5,822m above sea level, its location and the scenery surrounding it makes it one of the most beautiful and worthwhile hikes you could do during your two weeks in Peru. In Quecha (one of the main indigenous languages of Peru), El Misti means ‘the gentleman’ and gentlemanly this hike is not, I can tell you that for free!
I got somewhat coerced into it by my ex, despite knowing full well that I was not in any physical shape to be climbing volcanoes the size of Kilimanjaro. The lady at the tour agency said I looked like I would be fine (lol) but to make sure we take at least 6 litres of water each, and a bunch of high energy snacks.
For anyone contemplating tackling Misti, heed my warning: 2 LITRES OF WATER AND A PACKET OF SKITTLES BETWEEN 2 PEOPLE IS NOT ENOUGH.
The hike is a 2 day affair, starting at around 8am on Day 1, when the tour agency will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and take you to the base of the volcano, around an hour and a half away. Your hike begins at 10am, at 3800m asl, and it’ll take about 6-8 hours of dragging your feet and equipment through the uncomfortable volcanic sand to reach the Eagles Nest base camp. The views from base camp are wonderful, and its easy to lose yourself just staring into the horizon at sunset. Dinner (and breakfast the next day!) for us was soupy noodles and a bread roll each. Seriously, take your own snacks! This is where you’ll spend the night, in tents that may already be set up for you.
Day 2 begins at 4am, and this is the day that I did not complete *sob*. There was another couple in our group who did this day, though, and they told us it was a tough one! Still, the nice French man told us that reaching the crater was absolutely euphoric, and if it weren’t for the fact he couldn’t feel his feet in the cold, and fear of falling into the volcano, then he would have jumped for joy.
We paid $60 per person for our hike, and just popped into one of the many tour agencies in Arequipa the day before. I can’t remember the name of the company but we definitely lucked out with our guide, Alfredo, who made the whole experience absolutely fantastic! You don’t need to book in advance (we didn’t!) and most of the tour agencies share guides, so as long as you book with a reputable company it doesn’t really matter which one. Just make sure you do book with a guide – it seems easy enough for experienced hikers and mountaineers, but South American nature is not something you should mess with.
Despite failing, would I attempt it again? Absolutely! I’d make sure to train properly next time, but the views from base camp alone were more than worth the pain and effort of dragging my feet through volcanic ash for 7 hours.
If you have less than 2 weeks in Peru, or you’re not big into physical activity (just like yours truly), you may wish to pass on both Colca Canyon and El Misti. I don’t blame you. A good alternative for you would be to either stick around Arequipa for a little longer or check out Lake Titicaca and Puno.
Cusco & The Sacred Valley (3 days)
The heart of Peru, Cusco is the most idyllic place to relax and catch your breath before heading to the creme de la creme of Peru, Machu Picchu. With picture-perfect cobblestone streets, the most beautiful Plaza de Armas and some of the best food in Peru, it’s easy to see why Cusco remains a firm favourite for most who walk its streets.
And just a little way out of Cusco itself is the drop dead gorgeous Sacred Valley (El Valle Sagrado), which will take you that one step closer to authentic Peru. A lot of people tend to skip the Sacred Valley altogether, choosing instead to spend more of their time in Cusco. And who can blame them? Cusco is bae, but take it from somebody who lived in the Sacred Valley for 5 weeks it is SO worth visiting, I can’t express it enough.
What to do in Cusco & the Sacred Valley
There’s no end of things to do in Cusco but, if you’re only in Peru for two weeks then you’ll probably find yourself just having just a short few days to cover Cusco and the Sacred Valley combined. Luckily most of the main points of interest in Cusco are either on or within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas, so you can easily cover the Catedral de Santo Domingo, Iglsia de la Compania de Jesus, the Twelve-Angled Stone (very random, very famous, I had at least 5 kids with alpacas asking if I wanted to go see it) and a couple of museums (ChocoMuseo is a great one!) in half a day, leaving the rest of your time to venture further afield. Other must-see points of interest in Cusco are the barrio de San Blas (a quite boho and very pretty little neighbourhood in Cusco), Museo de Arte Precolombiano and Iglesia San Blas as well as the many, many markets around the city.
If you’re looking for more things to do in and around Cusco, check out these 10 best day trips to take from Cusco.
A little way outside of Cusco, en route to the Sacred Valley are the phenomenal Sacsayhuaman ruins. Dating back all the way to Inca times, Sacsayhuaman is an ancient military fortress of the Inca. It’s right at the top of a bloody steep hill so if you aren’t keen on uphill walking I wuld definitely recommend taking a taxi or organised tour! public combis also travel past on their way to the Sacred Valley, but there’s no guarantee the drivers will stop (the grumpy ones don’t!) so unless you have time for an unexpected trip to Pisac Market, I wouldn’t take the risk.
Archeaological studies date the earliest occupation of Sacsayhuamn at around 900 AD and it actually pre-dates the Incas, with the Killke culture first building on the site, with it later being continued by the Inca. Sacsayhuaman absolutely comes to life on the 24th June every year, with the celebration of Inti Raymi, a religious Inca celebration in honour of Inti, the God of sun. It’s a celebration of Winter Solsitce and locals descend upon Sacsayhuaman dressed in the most colourful costumes, share fod and play traditional indigenous music.
If you only have time to visit one group of Inca ruins aside from Machu Picchu during your two weeks in Peru, make it Sacsayhuaman. And in case you’re unsure on how to pronounce it (I was clueless!), my Peruvian host brother told me if you try to say “sexy woman” with a Caribbean accent then you’ll be bang on the mark!
Places you must visit in Sacred Valley are Pisac Market on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, Pisac Ruins, Ollantaytambo Ruins, Maras Salt Mines and Moray archaeological site. Honestly, there’s so much to see in Sacred Valley that it’s deserving of a blog post in itself! There are tour agencies that organise full one day tours of all the key places of interest in Sacred Valley and while it’s definitely a little rushed, it could be a good option if you only have 2 weeks in Peru.
Where to stay in Cusco
Cusco is absolutely teeming with competitively priced acommodation for all budgets, you’re honestly going to be spoilt for choice! From cheap hostel dorms to the most luxurious four poster beds, Cusco has everything, and all within walking distance of the must-see sites. The closer to the Plaza de Armas you stay, the closer to the cheaper food , cheaper taxis adn cheaper tour agencies you’ll be, so that’s worth bearing in mind when booking somewhere to stay.
Best Budget Accommodation in Cusco
Pariwana Hostel Cusco is my definite go-to for cheap, safe and comfortable accommodation in Cusco. I’ve stayed there on 2 of my 3 past trips and had the BEST time on both! Except for that night 3 people were having sex in my dorm room BUT they got swiftly removed from the premises as soon as the staff found out… Staff speak fluent English and Spanish as well as some other languages, and the WiFi is bloody good! I’m talking good enough to stream Netflix in 2013 which is mind-blowing, really. Dorm beds start at £9.
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Cusco
For some reason when you reach over a certain price for accommodation in Cusco, the decor starts to look like something right out of one of Shakespeare’s works. And I mean, if you’re into that sort of floral overload then absolutely you will be in your element and Andean Wings Boutique Hotel is where you need to stay! But if you’re after somewhere with a slightly more modern design then Casa San Blas Boutique Hotel is stylish, sleek and has everything you’ll need for a short visit to Cusco. I actually stayed at Casa San Blas the first ever time I got scammed abroad (keep reading for more on that!) so it has a pretty special place in my heart and mind.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Cusco
Just a few hundred metres from the city centre lies yet another Belmond hotel I can only dream about, or lust after from afar. The Belmond Hotel Monasterio is the cheaper of the two Belmonds in Cusco (the other being the slightly more luxurious Belmond Palacio Nazarenos) and offers everything you’d expect for a 5-star stay in the city. Set in a 16th-century monastery, it really is somewhere unique and special for your trip to Peru!
How to get to Cusco
By bus from Arequipa: Cruz del Sur and Oltursa both have twice daily buses from Arequipa to Cusco. Travel time: approx. 9-10 hours.
By plane from Arequipa: Again, if long bus rides aren’t your thing you can fly from Arequipa to Cusco from £45 one-way. Travel time: approx. 1 hour.
By plane from Lima: If you wanted to follow this itinerary in reverse but your international flight comes into Lima, you can catch a one-way domestic to Cusco from £50. Travel time: approx. 1.5 hours.
Machu Picchu & Aguas Calientes (2 days)
My love for Machu Picchu is more obvious than my Welsh heritage when Tom Jones comes on the radio, so it won’t really come as a surprise when I tell you that Machu Picchu will be the absolute highlight of your 2 weeks in Peru. Actually, scratch that… Machu Picchu will be the absolute highlight of your life! To date I’ve made 2 successful and 1 not-so-succesful visit to this breathtaking Wonder of the World, and each time I sob just a teeny bit more than the last.
Aguas Calientes (sometimes known as Machupicchu Pueblo) is the gateway to Machu Picchu, a nice little town that looks more like a village at the base of the ancient Inca Citadel. Unless you’re hiking the Inca Trail or one of the other hiking trails leading to Machu Picchu, you can’t actually get there without passing through this over-priced and underwhelming little town in the Urubamba Valley.
What to do in Aguas Calientes
Call me Captain Obvious but THE thing to do in and around Aguas Calientes is, of course, visit the mighty and magnificent Machu Picchu. The highlight of any Peru travel itinerary, there are two ways to visit Machu Picchu that don’t involve participating in a multi-day hike, both of which start in Aguas Calientes. And if you only have 2 weeks in Peru, one of these would be your best bet!
You can either take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu or you can do the crazy, practically vertical 90-minute hike up steep steps and embankments. As someone who’s done both, the bus is definitely the lesser of two evils. You may find yourself having to line up in epic, Disneyland-esque queues with hundreds of other people for what feels like half of your life, but if you don’t have an Olympic-level of fitness the little hike might just end your life. I kid, I kid, it wasn’t that bad… she says 7 years later.
If you purchase your entry to Machu Picchu far enough in advance, you may have opted to also get entry to one of the mountains – either Montaña Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu. Neither hikes are easy but both will absolutely enhance your experience and I’d highly recommend if you get the chance.
Other things to do in Aguas Calientes: A great way to unwind after a hard-hitting day of hiking and being wowed by one of the New 7 Wonders of the World is to relax in one of Aguas Calientes’ thermal baths. There’s also a nice souvenir market near the train station, but highly overpriced so would suggest window-shopping only.
Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes
There’s no shortage of accommodation in Aguas Calientes but you need to be careful with what you book as, more often than not you end up paying a lot more than you should for what you get. Some of the hotels/hostals advertise themselves as a different one, or overbook, so when you arrive they take you to the ‘other building’ of the hotel. Funny enough, you arrive at the ‘other building’ to find it’s a completely different hotel with a different name, different staff and different amenities. In short, I think I was tricked into sleeping above a brothel.
Best Budget Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
Despite the town being absoltely bubbling over with accommodation options, there are surprisingly few hostels in Aguas Calientes. A lot of the hostals and hotels have 4-bed rooms but, ya know, you have to share those with people you actually know and not complete strangers you’ve never met before. Ecopackers Machu Picchu Hosteloffers decent dorm rooms for solo travellers keen on meeting new people. They offer a good free breakfast, and the WiFi is amazing – what more do you need for one night in Aguas Calientes on a budget?!
Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
For the most comfortable, stress-free stay in Aguas Calientes that won’t hurt your pockets, Gringo Bill’s Hotel is all you need. Beautifully decorated rooms, friendly staff and free breakfast with an omelette station, the hotel has the most beautiful setting and a pretty tasty organic restaurant. I once ate spaghetti there and subsequently threw it up that night while suffering with altitude sickness (#instagramvsreality amirite?!). Gringo Bill’s is seriously the best value for money you’ll get, and is an absolute steal at an average of £60 for a double.
Best Luxury Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
I can’t write about accommodation near Machu Picchu and not mention the opulent and magnificent Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. Located right at the entrance of Machu Picchu (like, seriously, it’s right at the entrance. No shuttle bus or sweating your tits off here!) it’s the absolute ideal place to stay if you want to make it to Machu Picchu for sunrise…if you have a cool £1000 to drop, that is. A gal can dream right?! If you’re after a slightly more affordable luxury, look no further than the Casa del Sol Machupicchu. Double rooms start at around £300, and though it’s not quite so conveniently located as Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, it’s still a pretty great place to stay.
How to get to Aguas Calientes
By train from Cusco
The easiest, and most popular way to get to Aguas Calientes is by train. There are two companies that run the route – Peru Rail and Inca Rail. The train stop for Cusco is actually around 25 minutes outside of the city, easily accessible by taxi or combi. Tickets can be purchased online before travel or in many of the tour agencies in Cusco and the rest of Peru.
By train from Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo, situated in the Sacred Valley, is the second stop on the train route to Aguas Calientes and, as with the train from Cusco, there are 2 different companies running the route, tickets for both can be purchased online or from tour agencies in Cusco and other cities.
There are several different treks you can do to get to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu, the most famous of which is of course the Inca Trail. Only 500 permits are issued per day, so you should always book months in advance through a reputable tour company. Another popular trek is the Salkantay Trek. Again, always make sure you book through a reputable tour company either online before you go or when you arrive in Cusco.
& The Rest of Peru
You’ve come this far in the post and now you’re sat there scratching your head thinking “but what about the Amazon?” And your confusion would be absolutely warranted because yes, the Amazon Rainforest is absolutely incredible adn a must see for anyone visiting Peru. But if you only have two weeks in Peru, do you have enough time to visit the rainforest? You could make a quick 2 or 3 day trip, but you’d end up spending a heck of a lot of money with little return. Because you don’t want to rush the rainforest, trust me on that one. Save it for when you have more than 2 weeks in Peru.
There are also other incredible parts of Peru that are noticably absent from this post – the entire north of the country, for one, and of course Lake Titicaca. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can promise you that after your first trip to Peru you will absoltutely want to go back again and again to uncover more of its treasures! So this is your essential two week guide to Peru, covering the most famous places that would make your first trip to Peru absolutely amazing, but keep your eyes peeled for an extension of this post covering all of the above and more.
Things to know before you go
When to visit Peru
Would it be a total cop out if I said all the time is the best time to visit Peru?! In all seriousness, like most countries near the equator Peru has two “seasons” namely the wet season and the dry season. Wet season runs November through April, and dry season May through October. If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking during your trip to Peru then avoid the tail end of the wet season as the higher level of rainfall causes a lot of the most popular hiking trails to be impassable, or closed down for safety reasons.
To avoid crowds of tourists but still get the best of the weather, consider visiting at the very beginning, or towards the end of dry season. I have always visited during June or July (coincidentally I’ve been in Machu Picchu on its anniversary of rediscovery twice) and although there were quite a few other tourists around, it wasn’t Great Wall of China during peak season level of crowded.
Money in Peru
Peru uses the Nuevo Sol as its currency and this is accepted absolutely everywhere! A lot of the more upmarket restaurants and hotels in the main cities will also accept US dollars, but the Nuevo Sol isn’t a closed currency, so there’s no excuse for you being that turnip trying to pay in foreign bills. Card machines have started popping up more and more in markets over recent years, but you should still take cash with you to markets where possible, to avoid any problems. I’ve used Mastercard and Visa in Peru, and had mixed luck at ATMs. Some accepted my Mastercard but refused my Visa, and some accepted my Visa but refused my Mastercard. There didn’t seem to be any rhythym or rhyme to it, just luck of the draw. So with this in mind I’d recommend taking more than one source of money just in case.
Language in Peru
While Peru is home to fourteen defined language families as well as an unknown amount of isolated and unclassified languages (particularly in the more remote Amazon regions), the three most widely spoken languages, and the “offical” languages of Peru are Spanish, Quechua and Aymara. Quechua and Aymara are both indigenous languages, and while it would be nice for you to learn a few words, you’ll be fine almost everywhere with just Spanish.
Peruvian Spanish (and any other South/Central American variation) is somewhat different to Castilian Spanish, so even if you’ve grown up learning what is known as “European Spanish”, you may want to invest in a phrasebook, or even an in-country crash course, to get over the differences.
Getting around Peru
Travelling between cities and towns in Peru is easy as pie, even with limited Spanish.
Roads in Peru are, to put it lightly, more manic than the Crazy Frog on speed, so unless you’re a very confident driver or have experience driving in India (easily the most terrifying roads I’ve been on) I wouldn’t consider renting a car. If you do want to take the plunge, you’ll find that most well-known car rentals operate in Peru (e.g. Hertz, Sixt, Budget etc.).
For those who value their lives, you’ll be pleased to know that long-distance buses in Peru are frequent and, if you choose the right company, a lot more comfortable than Western equivalents such as National Express, Megabus, Greyhound. Most hostels and hotels in Peru would be more than happy to help you arrange your bus tickets for a fee, but otherwise you can just rock up to the bus terminal and ask around for the best deal. Tour agencies will also be able to help you book your bus tickets in English (bonus!) but this will often be a few bucks more expensive than doing it yourself at the terminal.
Be careful which bus companies you decide on. Not all of them are reputable, and not all of them are safe. When it comes to bus travel in Peru, especially if it’s your first time in the country, I would always recommend paying that little bit extra for almost guaranteed safety. Cruz del Sur, Oltursa and Civa are the three most popular. From past experiences, I would not recommend anybody book with Flores, although I know a lot of peope on line have said its a good, cheaper alternative to Cruz del Sur.
If you have a particularly long bus, especially overnight, consider splashing out a little extra for one of themore luxurious, downstairs semi-cama or cama seats. These seats recline into almost completely flatbeds, often have personal TVs and make for a suprisingly comfortable night’s sleep. If you only have two weeks in Peru it’s worth the extra few soles just so you don’t end up wasting a day catching up on sleep.
For shorter journeys between towns or villages (e.g. from Sacred Valley to Cusco and back) there are local combi buses. Combis are basically little minivans that drive a certain route, and will wait until they’re as full as possible before starting their journey, still picking up more passengers on the way. They stop anywhere and everywhere but are SO fun! I’ve shared a combi with some chickens, a goat, and a little girl who insisted on calling me Princesa and plaiting my hair. Depending where you are and where you’re planning on going, the starting point for each bus will be different. If you plan on getting a combi in Cusco to Sacred Valley, Lonely Planet Peru has a great explanation on how to get to the different starting points.
Public transport in Peru is generally very, very cheap by Western standards and you could end up finding yourself paying as little as $1 per hour of bus travel on an executive coach.
Eating out in Peru
The national dish of Peru is ceviche, the culprit of my first (and so far one of only 2!) incident of food poisoning abroad. Ceviche is basically sea bass marinated in lime juice, onion, salt and aji (super hot chillies). It’s occasionally served with some potato or boiled corn on the side, but my one and only time of ever trying it, it was just the ceviche. It’s sour and spicy at the same time and, if I could ever move past the memory of spending 3 nights hunched over the grimmest toilet in Puno, I’d go so far as to say quite delicious.
Ceviche aside other famous peculiarities in Peruvian cuisine are alpaca meat (kind of like a lamb chop but somehow very salty) and cuy, known to us sheltered British folk as that cuddly little rodent some of us had as a class pet… a guinea pig. Skewered and spit-roasted, you’ll never look at poor little Fluffy the same after a trip to Peru!
Street food is a lot of fun in Peru, and favourites include anticuchos de corazon (grilled heart – normally bovine), papa rellena (a delicious stuffed potato normally containing minced beef, olives and egg, although I once had a vegetarian minced veg version which was an absolute delight to say the least), choclo con queso (Peruvian corn with cheese) and pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken).
Most local restaurants offer the standard South American offer of menu del dia – a dirt cheap but delicious set menu typically comprised of a meat broth, main dish of some sort of meat accompanied with boiled rice, some corn, a piece of tomato and bizarrely a fried banana, and occasionally a dessert. Not very vegetarian-friendly but if you say you’re vegetarian you may be lucky and get an extra fried banana in place of meat! Winning.
When I first visited Peru in 2011 travelling as a vegetarian was difficult. Meat was a staple dish in most homes and my host mother struggled quite a bit with providing me with a varied diet (not that I was complaining!) and tended to serve me the exact same thing as the rest of them every night, but replaced the meat with an omelette. Omelette burger, omelette and rice, omelette stew, omelette and mashed potato, omelette and rice pudding – you name it, I had it. Eating out was a bit of an issue as well, adn more often than not I’d find myself tucking into a brocolli and carrot pizza or spaghetti napolitana while my friends enjoyed all sorts of mouth-watering dishes. In 2013 things were slightly easier and by that point most restaurants had added more options than the obligatory margherita pizza and plain pasta. In 2016 it was like a vegetarian dream come true! More and more vegetarian options were available everywhere, and I even came across the occasional vegetarian or vegan cafe.
For comparison, as of September 2018 a meal for one at a cheap restaurant would set you back about S/.10, with a combo meal at McDonalds costing around S/.15 and a three-course meal for two approx. S/.70.
Health in Peru
Common travel ailments
Speaking as someone who has experience both as a traveller in Peru and as somebody on the other end of the phone when other insured travellers get sick in Peru, I’d say the two most common ailments to afflict visitors to Peru are gastroenteritis (or a similar stomach bug), and altitude sickness.
Obviously there’s no failsafe way of ensuring you don’t get sick while on holiday, but the last thing you want is to have your two weeks in Peru shortened even further by spending 3 days in bed recovering from whatever illness caught you out.
I’ve suffered with both altitude sickness and food poisoning in Peru so trust me, I know how much it can suck!
Tips for avoiding altitude sickness in Peru. The most important thing you need to do to help avoid altitude sickness in Peru is to make sure you acclimatise slowly. Spend some time closer to the ground before heading to Cusco (3,399m asl) and Machu Picchu (2,430m asl). Following this two week Peru itinerary will allow you time to acclimatise to the higher altitudes but if Cusco is your first stop, take it easy. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and eating more carbs than you normally would (potatoes are rife in Peru). While on hiking trails consider chewing coca leaves or sucking on coca sweets to keep altitude sickness at bay. Whatever you do, though, don’t shove some in your pocket and forget about it as coca is, like, a drug. And you’ll probs get arrested at the border. If you do find yourself suffering with altitude sickness and no medication seems to be working, try sipping some flat coca-cola. Sounds random but it works a charm!
Tips for avoiding food poisoning/stomach bugs in Peru. I’m not going to be that person who tells you to avoid street food because street food is basically the second greatest thing about travelling (the first being getting new stamps in your passport) but I will say to be careful who you buy from. If a bloke drops a skewer of anticuchos (cow heart) on the floor then proceeds to pick it up and give it to the poor sod ahead of you in the queue, maybe look elsewhere for your dinner? Food in Peru isn’t spicy but it can be a bit er, strange. Overwhelming, some may say. For me as a vegetarian, the reason for my food poisoning was without a doubt the ceviche I tried in the name of research at a restaurant in Paracas. I don’t like fish at the best of times, but after 10 years of a quite strict vegetarian diet, this lemoy fishy concoction was more than my stomach could handle. Don’t stick to what you know (because where’s the fun in that?!) but maybe go slowly with the new flavours. Especially if your stomach is a baby like mine.
If you do happen to fall sick in Cusco, Arequipa, Machu Picchu or the Sacred Valley, O2 Medical Network are a high quality, multilingual medical service that I have both professional and personal (remember the whole vomming up spaghetti in Aguas Calientes scenario?) experience with. They’ll sort you out.
In no way whatsoever do I profess to being medically trained in any sense of the word. I think I once did a first aid course with the Brownies when I was ten, and I’m pretty good at telling people to sip Sprite when they’re hungover but beyond that I’m as far from a doctor as you can get. So I won’t go into a long explanation of which vaccinations you do or don’t need to get when in Peru. You can check the Fit For Travel NHS website for that or, better still, speak to your GP.
I do, however, want to talk about what was once the bane of my very existence… the rabies vaccinations. So. Before setting off on a big adventure to far-off places, most travellers have that same internal debate about whether or not to fork out for the series of pre-exposure prophylaxis rabies vaccinations. I can’t speak for other countries, but in the UK I paid a total of £185 for a consultation (£35) and three individual vaccinations (£50 each). For a country spoiled with free healthcare and 12p packets of Paracetamol in Lidl, that’s expensive. And not exactly a welcome expense when you’re about to embark on a 9-month trip around the world on a shoestring budget.
So a lot of travellers brush it off thinking “I won’t be anywhere NEAR animals” or “I’ll be careful not to stroke any stray dogs“. But the thing is, you don’t need to be anywhere near an animal for one to run at you and take a chunk out of your thigh. You don’t need to stroke a stray dog for it to take a liking to you and affectionately lick that open wound on your knee. When I was bitten by a monkey India, I was facing the opposite direction completely minding my own business and not even paying an ounce of attention to it. It’s one of those “It won’t happen to me” scenarios that might just happen to you.
If you have the pre-exposure prophylaxis rabies shots and then get bitten, licked or scratched by a potentially infected animal, unfortunately you’ll still need to get the post-exposure prophylaxis shots (common brand names Verorab and Rabipur amongst others). However, you won’t need the Human Rabies Immuno Globulin (HRIG) vaccination, which is something currently experiencing an extreme global shortage. In fact, a lot of countries (at times Peru included) don’t have any HRIG availability whatsoever. So to avoid that last minute panic of somehow trying to get from Peru to any other country in South and Central America that can give you the HRIG vaccine within 7 days of initial animal exposure, do yourself a favour and get the pre-exposure prophylaxis shots before travel. Even if you don’t visit the Amazon during your two week trip to Peru, there are a lot of over-friendly stray dogs around almost every main town or city.
Peru Travel Essentials
If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip to Peru, check out my DEFINITIVE Peru Packing list, including everything you could need for all regions.
One of the most important things you really shouldn’t leave at home when visiting Peru is a first aid kit stocked with the essentials. We’re talking plasters, bandages, painkillers, Immodium, the lot. There are plenty of pre-stocked kits you can by online or you can fill an old drawstring or zip bag with your own personal must-haves.
A good guidebook is essential for any trip. Even if you’ve planned your two-week Peru itinerary to the very minute, a guidebook is the best way to find hidden gems, hole-in-the-wall places to eat and alternative sites. I swore by my Lonely Planet Peru for each of my three visits, and have loaned it to anyone and everyone who mentioned they were planning a trip.
Short of carrying a full library on your back, a Latin American Spanish phrasebook will do you wonders on your trip to Peru. Even if you’re fluent in Castellano, Peruvian Spanish has its own little quirks so a phrasebook is essential for your trip.
One thing I really wish I had for each of my Peru trips was a small, portable camera – something like a GoPro. Of course, I had my wonderful DSLR and/or an old point-and-shoot for all 3 trips, but being able to capture every day life as well as adventures such as rafting and horse-riding would have been amazing!
Lastly, I found in Peru that a lot of people were interested in how my house and family back home looked like. I didn’t have any photos with me at the time and, in hindsight, wished I had. People (mainly kids) were also curious about British money, so it may be worth taking a small handful of pennies to pass around if you’re asked, as well as some photos of your everyday life.
More articles to help plan your trip to Peru:
- 17 Unmissable UNESCO Heritage Sites in South America
- Machu Picchu Mountain vs. Huayna Picchu: Which one should you hike?
- How to Travel the World for Free
- Colca Canyon 2D/1N Tour
- The 12 Best Things to do in Arequipa
Thus concludes my epic, gianormous, dare I say ultimate guide on how to spend 2 weeks in Peru. Of course, it’s missing a few of the biggies – Lake Titicaca, the Amazon Rainforest, Nazca Lines and Trujillo (my fave!) – but this itinerary is already jam-packed with so much stunning architecture, natural wonders and breath-taking scenery that cramming any more in just two weeks would be overkill and might lead to severe exhaustion and a one-way ticket out.
So what do you think? Was this guide useful for your trip to Peru? Or have you already been to Peru and completely disagree with every single one of my recommendations? I’d love to hear what you have to say!