Creating a 2 week Peru itinerary can seem a bit daunting …
Peru is large, and there’s so much to see (and so many methods of transport). Although most of my trip went to plan, I learned a few things along the way, that I wish I’d been told about before going. Cusco and Machu Picchu in particular were two places I wish I’d done a bit more backpack research for. In this post, I’ve pulled together my ideal backpacking Peru itinerary, I hope you find it useful …
Days 1 & 2: Lima
- Hang out with the cats at the cat Park (Parque Kennedy)
- Eat at vegan El Jardin de Jazmin cafe
- Visit the Parque del amor
- Explore the graffiti and party in Barranco
Days 3,4,5: Huacachina and Ica
Take a Cruz del Sur bus from Lima to Ica, a very pleasant bus trip lasting around 4/5 hours. When you arrive at Ica bus terminal, grab one of the taxis waiting outside/on the road and take the 5-minute journey to Huacachina sand dune oasis. We picked up a driver named Willie, who ended up being our friend for the whole stay, got us discount flights over Nazca, and even brought fresh fruit from his garden to our hostel.
We’d only planned to visit Huacachina quickly, checking out the sand dunes and doing a day tour to the Nazca lines. We were then going to double back to Lima for a night to fly to Cusco. We loved Huacachina so much that we stayed the extra night and took a really early bus directly to Lima airport for our flight to Cusco. Check out my full Huacachina post.
Day 6- Bus to Lima airport. Fly to Cusco
We booked our flights in advance with Star Peru, finding the budget airline reliable and friendly. We arrived in Cusco late afternoon. By the time we got to our hostel it was dark and (as I was warned) I’d gotten a little sick from the drastic change in altitude. Take an evening to settle into the high altitude.
Day 7 – 1 day exploring Cusco
The city of Cusco is like a big beautiful heritage sight in itself. Allow yourself a day to enjoy the main square, explore the little alleyways, and frequent the upbeat bars and nightclubs.
Day 8 – 1 day Sacred Valley tour
With so many Inca sites around Cusco, we felt the best way to see it all was in a one-day tour. We booked a Sacred Valley tour from one of the main square agencies after comparing online and asking around for a good price. Most tours ran similar routes, but just be sure to get one that takes you to see Ollantaytambo (it was a Peru highlight for me).
Days 9 & 10 – Train to Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu and an overnight stay
This is where we got it all a bit wrong. Heed my warnings:
- The Cusco train ticket shop will sell you a return train ride to Aguas Calientes. It’s more expensive than the bus, but it’ll help with time restraints. Don’t let them talk you into a one-day return like we did. It was hell! A one-day ticket involves bussing at 4 am to Ollantaytambo, changing onto a train to Aguas Calientes, arriving there at 8 am, taking a bus up to base Machu Picchu, spending a full day there, going back to base, and then waiting until 11 pm to do the whole the journey again in reverse (to arrive back in Cusco at 3 am). I was really upset (and sick). Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, please!
- Buy the pass for Machu Picchu mountain, not Huayna Picchu. We had no choice after our tour providers told us we should have booked Huayna Picchu passes way in advance. Both mountains sit at the top of Machu Picchu and offer full views of the Inca settlement. Machu Picchu mountain is the higher of the two and will give you the famous overhead shot of Huayna Picchu (that you won’t get if you climb it!)
- Don’t eat the pizza in Aguas Calientes – everyone I’ve met who did was sick!
- Take LOADS of water – we grossly underestimated how much we’d need.
Days 11 & 12 – Cusco & Zip lining
I really feel like you need a little downtime after something as magnificent as a Machu Picchu 2-day itinerary. I loved Cusco so much, that I was keen to get an extra few days there, check out the markets, meet the locals, and do a half-day tour tp one of the world’s largest zip lines. Also, check out Green Point restaurant for amazing Peruvian vegan food.
Day 13 Back to Lima & home
To ensure we were peacefully set up for the journey home, we took an early flight back to Lima on day 13 for our last evening. Enjoy the local bars and nightlife in Miraflores, and visit the city’s magic water show, in the Parque de la Reseva.
Have you created your own Peru itinerary around a short timescale? I’d love to know your thoughts and hear your stories.