Peru is a firm favourite among backpackers recently, and rightly so. The country is a beautiful mix of Pacific coastlines, rainforests and rugged mountains. It is also home to the infamous Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Whenever you travel to a new country, it can be difficult to decide where you should go and what you should see. That is why here I have put together an easy 3 week itinerary for Peru, that shows you some must see sights around the country.
Is 3 weeks enough time for Peru?
In short, no! But you will find that 3 weeks isn’t enough for anyone in any country! I chose 3 weeks because we went were there for around 4 weeks, managed to see a lot but also travel quite slowly. We also met lots of people who were planning to be in Peru from between 2 – 4 weeks. Personally I think 3 weeks is really the minimum you should be spending in Peru if possible!
Is Peru expensive?
It’s a difficult question to answer because it really depends where you are coming from. Many Europeans will find it cheap, however if you have come from another South American country such as Colombia or Ecuador, you may find it slightly more expensive. I don’t mind telling you exactly how much I spent in Peru. In 4 weeks, I spent around £550/$695. Bare in mind that I was with my boyfriend, generally sharing a private double room in hostels or budget BnBs. We were usually spending around 50 soles a night for a double room. The price also includes Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu. We are very budget minded travellers, eat at local restaurants and try to do as many free things as possible.
I can’t afford the Inca Trail
The biggest single expense you will most likely have during your trip to Peru will be your trek to Machu Picchu, if you choose to do it. The Inca Trail starts at around $650 USD per person, and needs to be booked months in advance, which is not great if you don’t know the exact dates you will want to do the trek. We chose to do the Salkantay Trek, which we booked in Cusco a day in advance for $190, and it was amazing.
Getting around Peru
It is really important not to underestimate the sheer size of the country. When planning your trip you need to take into account how much time you will spend sitting on buses or planes.
Bus companies in Peru
There are an overwhelming amount of bus companies in Peru! Walk into the bus terminal in any Peruvian city and there will be dozens of companies, all plying the same route. Choosing a company is down to personal preference.
We used Cruz del Sur a few times, and found it very comfortable. It is almost like flying, you have to check in, there are TVs, and you get food too! We also used Oltursa, which was cheaper than Cruz del Sur, and we actually found it to be the same quality. There are plenty of other cheaper companies, but I like to take caution and use only reputable companies. New company Peru hop also offers hop on, hop off passes. While it is more expensive, it seems that they really help you plan your trip and safety is a priority, so for a nervous first time traveler it could be worth coughing up the extra cash.
Considering all I had heard about air travel in South America being super expensive, domestic flights in Peru are not too bad. Of course, it’s best to book as much in advance as possible for the cheaper fares.
It’s best to start by checking Skyscanner, and then maybe checking on airlines own websites.
LATAM, Avianca, Viva Air, Peruvian and LC Peru all offer some cheap domestic flights around Peru.
If you are sticking to a rigid schedule or are tight on time, I really recommend flying a few times to reduce time and get the most out of your 3 week Peru itinerary.
With all that being said, let’s get to it!
Below is a 3 week itinerary based on what we did, however it is not exactly how we did it. I have changed some things, as hindsight is a beautiful thing! Plus, we like to travel slow!
Days 1 – 2 : Lima
Chances are you will fly into Lima, unless you are coming into Peru overland. The city is worth a couple of days for exploring and easing yourself into Peruvian life. I recommend staying in the Miraflores or Barranco area. We stayed at Wasi Independencia in Miraflores and loved it! Whilst in Lima, I really recommend a free walking tour of downtown, as well as taking a walk along the seafront. We did a great bicycle tour ( 90 soles ) too, you can read about it here in my 3 days in Lima post.
Days 3 – 4 : Huacachina
We took a Cruz del Sur bus from Lima to Ica (48 soles) and then a shared taxi from Ica to Huacachina (3 soles each).
Huacachina is a tiny little desert oasis of just a handful of properties set around a muddy lagoon. It’s surrounded by towering sand dunes, and is probably unlike anything you have ever seen! Walking up the dunes can be tiring but it gives you a great view! You can get driven around in a pimped out sand buggy and dropped off at the top of some hug sand dunes with a wooden board. The only way to the bottom? Slide! We booked at trip in the afternoon to see the sunset over the sand dunes (35 soles).
I would recommend spending one night, and then taking the night bus to Arequipa. It takes around 10 hours (80 soles) with Cruz Del Sur.
Days 5 – 6 : Arequipa
Arriving in the morning off the night bus, you may not be so full of energy. It’s a good day to just wander around, Arequipa is a really cool city. There are some free walking tours available which can help you get your bearing. There are plenty of restaurants, we absolutely loved the quinoa tabbuleh from Espacio Latin (12 soles). Pasta Canteen was also a special treat, you can choose your fresh pasta, sauce and toppings, effectively designing your own dish. You can easily spend a few hours at Monasterio de Santa Catalina (40 soles) as well as wandering around Plaza del Armas. Here in the plaza you can explore the Basilica too.
Days 7 – 10 : Colca Canyon
The second deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon shouldn’t be missed. The views are simply breathtaking, and hiking in the canyon is super easy to organise. You can do anything from 1 to 4 days in the canyon, and you can take an organised tour or hike without a guide. I did the latter and it was very easy to organise, I go into much more detail in a dedicated post below, including how to get there, where to stay, the route I took, and an exact breakdown of price. Check it out here – Hiking Colca Canyon.
After Colca Canyon, you have a few choices to get to Cusco. There is a very expensive tourist bus from Chivay to Cusco, which I don’t know too many details about. Or you can take the bus back to Arequipa, and then a night bus to Cusco (60 soles, Oltursa company). The easiest option though would be bus to Arequipa and then fly to Cusco ($50)
Days 10 – 13 : Cusco
There are plenty of things to do in and around Cusco, which is lucky because I really suggest you stay here at least 3 days before trekking to Machu Picchu to acclimatise. There are several museums, churches and a statue of Christ up on the hill to visit. Every Sunday there is a military parade in the town square. There are also plenty of places to eat and drink, and many free walking tours which can give you a lot of history and information on Cusco, and how it was such an important Inca settlement. Cusco is also home to our very favourite guesthouse, Inka Hallpa. Run by a friendly and helpful breakfast, this small BnB was a highlight of our trip. The sunny little courtyard, cute kitten and yummy breakfast made us fall in love with this place. We got a double room for 54 soles a night.
If you haven’t yet booked a trek or trip to Machu Picchu, you can usually do it a few days before hand and get a good price. This may not be advisable in high season, however from my own experience in November, I booked one day before leaving and many companies had space and offered discounts.
Days 14 – 18 : Salkantay Trek
Ok so you don’t have to do this trek, but I did it myself and loved it! However, perhaps you have already booked the Inca Trail, which you need to do a few months in advance. I have also heard good things about the Jungle Trek, which includes adventure activities like zip lining and rafting.
Whichever trek you choose, make sure your tickets to Machu Picchu are included, and transport back from Aguas Calientes or Hidroelectrica. I also recommend that you at least do some long hikes or training before hand, as you have both the long days of walking and the altitude to deal with. I have written a more detailed post here about the 5 day Salkantay Trek.
Day 19 : Cusco
Whilst you may be raring to continue exploring around the Cusco area, in reality, after the trek you will just want to rest!spend the day drinking coffee and cafe hopping! PS if you are looking for cheap Peruvian food, check out Quinoa Cafe! Menu of the day – starter, main and juice, all for 8 soles!
Day 20 : Rainbow Mountain
Use you last day to head to infamous rainbow mountain, if you want to see it. For full disclosure, I will tell you I never went. To be completely honest, I hadn’t heard any good reports, and it was moving into rainy season. I fully believe that pictures you see on the internet and posters around Cusco have been heavily manipulated and the real thing would have been underwhelming.
However, many people travel there everyday. Day tours can be picked up around town pretty cheaply, or use the same company you did your trek with for a discount. Tours start early, and you spend 3 hours driving to the trail head. From here it’s around an hour trek to the top.
If you do plan to do Rainbow mountain, I would leave it till after Machu Picchu and time in Cusco. The mountain is at an altitude of 5200m, that is nearly as high as Everest base camp! The chance of experiencing some kind of altitude sickness at this height is high, and the trek shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.
Day 21 : Lima
Chances are you will be exiting the country by Lima if you are flying. I would recommend flying Cusco to Lima (around $50) as the bus ride is long and very bumpy.
If you have extra time…
If you have more days to spend in Peru consider adding –
Puno – The gateway to famous lake Titicaca. many backpackers head here after Cusco to continue their trip into Bolivia.
Paracas – consider stopping here between Lima and Huacachina if you have the time. You can take boat trips to see the seals at Ballestas Islands, often called “Poor mans Galapagos”
Laguna 69 – north of Lima you can reach Huarez, a great town to base yourself for some hiking trips. Laguna 69 is a more popular hike and gives you a beautiful view of a crystal clear lagoon.
Iquitos – this town serves as the gateway to the Amazon. From here, you can organise trips and home stays in the jungle. I would recommend flying to Iquitos.
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If there is anything you would change, let me know in the comments!