• Zac & Ine

Travel around Peru for 1-month: the ultimate adventure itinerary

Updated: Jun 14

Being home to the Pacific Coast, the Andes mountains, a section of the Amazon rainforest, the sacred Incan city of Machu Picchu, and the desert, Peru is extremely diverse in terms of landscapes, culture, history and beauty. It is no wonder that this country attracts more than four million international travelers yearly. With such great diversity, it can be hard to decide where to go. What makes it even harder is the vast distances between travel destinations. This 1-month itinerary is perfect if you want to explore the highlights of Peru combined with hidden gems and the wealth of diversity the country has to offer.



Destinations Map

Legend: (1) Cusco, (2) Sacred Valley, (3) Machu Picchu, (4) Arequipa, (5) Huacachina, (6) Lima, (7) Marcahuasi, (8) Huaraz, (9) Cajamarca, (10) Chachapoyas



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Day 1-3: Discover historic Cusco & the colorful Rainbow Mountains


Located in the south-east of Peru, Cusco is the ideal start of your trip across Peru. Not only does it have historical importance but it is also the gateway to some of the most impressive sights in the country. These are what makes this city an absolute must-visit. Receiving about 1.5 million tourists yearly, Cusco relies greatly on tourism. This implies that there are numerous travel agencies, souvenir stores, hotels, hostels, and other tourism facilities scattered around the city. Allow yourself at least three days to acclimatize to the altitude (the elevation is 3,350 meters!) and explore this Incan hub.


What to do in Cusco


Stroll around the Historic Center

The best way to get to know Cusco is to stroll around the historic downtown area. The impressive colonial buildings, built on walls of ancient Inca palaces and temples, are mostly within walking distance. Here you can truly feel the fusion of the Andean and Spanish cultures, who have unique customs and traditions. The most impressive sights include:

  • Plaza de Armas: the most central and beautiful square in Cusco. Here you can find the massive cathedral as well as a well-maintained garden and numerous restaurants (a little expensive) and souvenir stores.

  • San Pedro market: filled with juice stalls and food vendors, this is the place to go for a cheap local lunch. Try the empanadas, juices and tamales!

  • San Blas neighborhood: this particular district has a certain charm with its architecture and quaint shops.

If you are keen to learn about the history of Cusco (very interesting!), you should embark on one of the many free walking tours that are offered by various companies. Walking tours are a great introduction to the city. You will walk around the main attractions of Cusco while hearing intriguing facts and myths from a local guide. Most tours depart daily in the morning (around 10 am) from the Plaza de Armas. Even though they are called “free”, you are expected to give a generous tip at the end of the tour. For more information about free walking tours, browse the internet and compare, or simply ask your accommodation!


Historic Center Cusco

Visit Paddy’s Irish Pub

Get a beer or lunch at the highest Irish-owned pub in the world and get rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view over the city!


Learn about the Incan history at the Golden Temple of the Sun & Convento

Located in the center of Cusco, this site is probably most worth visiting (and paying for!). The Golden Temple, also called Koricancha, is one of the most important Incan sites that still remain in Cusco today. If you are interested in the Incan history, this holiest site in the Incan mythology is the perfect opportunity to learn more.

Entrance fee: 15 soles for adults (US$ 5).



Embark on a day tour to Rainbow Mountain

The tour agencies in Cusco offer various day trips to surrounding natural and historical wonders. Excursions are offered to Humantay Lake, the Sacred Valley, the Rainbow Mountain(s), and many more. Our personal favorite are the Rainbow Mountains, as the Sacred Valley is worth spending more than just a day at and Humantay Lake is included in the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.


The Rainbow Mountains are by far the most popular day trip, located a few hours deeper and higher in the Andes (over 5,000 meters in altitude!). This dreamlike landscape, filled with colors, mountains, llamas and alpacas will take your breath away.


There are two different areas with Rainbow Mountains to choose from. The “Classic” Rainbow Mountain opened up in 2015, and ever since it has become a major tourist attraction. Being on everyone’s bucket list, however, this place has become overcrowded with 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per day during the high season. The alternative option (and in my opinion at least as beautiful) are the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains. This valley full of rainbow mountains was discovered back in 2018, and therefore relatively new and undiscovered. With little to no tour groups around, you will feel like a true pioneer!


What is included?

Round-trip transportation, an English-speaking guide, lunch, and snacks are usually included in the day excursions. The ride to either one of the Rainbow Mountains will take approximately 3.5-hours. The time spent at each site varies significantly. The “Classic” Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is higher in altitude and slightly longer to hike up to than the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains. Therefore, you will spend at least 2 hours to reach the summit of the Vinicunca. The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains are located in a valley in which you walk around and explore the different colorful landscapes for about an hour.


All tours depart daily from Cusco in the early morning (pick up as early as 4:00-5:00 am) and last about 12 hours. You can book your tour in any of the tour agencies that are scattered around the center. I recommend checking TripAdvisor for reviews and shopping around for prices before making your final decision. There is no need to book your tour beforehand via the internet, as these are (A LOT) more expensive and basically offer the exact same service.


Read more about the problems of the “Classic” Rainbow Mountains and the alternative Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains here.


Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains



How to get to Cusco


If you are flying to Peru, you will most likely arrive in the city of Lima. From Lima, flights depart to all corners of the country. The most convenient is to book a plane to Cusco a few hours later. The flight only takes about an hour, which is significantly less than the alternative option (ie. the bus) which takes around 20 hours of travel time in total. There are a bunch of (local) airlines to choose from, which are all reliable and relatively cheap. These include Star Peru, Peruvian Airlines, Viva Air, and LATAM. Browse Skyscanner for the best deals!



Day 4-5: Learn about the Incas in the Sacred Valley


A must-visit on your trip around Peru is undoubtedly the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu (next on the itinerary!), and therefore the ideal stop. The Valley runs along the Urubamaba River, filled with picturesque towns and well-maintained Inca ruins, each of which has its own myths and uniqueness. Be prepared to fall in love with the century-old Inca terraces, misty hillsides, cobblestone streets, traditional Andean customs and clothing, and colorful markets.


Best places to visit in the Sacred Valley


Pisac

Pisac is home to impressive Inca ruins that tower above the town. Walk through the agricultural terraces and stone ruins whilst taking in the sweeping views of the valley below. If you are lucky to be visiting on a Sunday, visit the local market where farmers come from all over the Sacred Valley with their local fruits and vegetables.

Pisac Ruins Peru best places to visit in the sacred valley

Ollantaytambo

With its cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and friendly atmosphere, this town is the most charming one in the Sacred Valley. The town is mostly visited for its Inca fortress which is located right at the edge of the town, on a steep hillside. The ruins are well worth a visit, and it is recommended to go with a guide. If you are searching for a little more of a thrill, climb up to the Inca Granaries of Pinkullana. Located on the opposite side of the ruins, this place is a prime sunset spot. However, the path is very steep and narrow, thus not for the faint-hearted.


View from the Inca Fortress onto the Inca Granaries of Pinkullana at the opposite side

Chinchero

This town is one of the highest (3,763 meters) in the Sacred Valley, so make sure to be acclimatized before going! The ruins at Chinchero consists of a series of nested terraces rising up to a plateau on which a church is built.


Salineras de Maras & Moray

Home to two highlights of the Sacred Valley: the hillside salt pools "las Salineras de Maras" that are still in use to mine salt, and the Inca site "Moray", which resembles an enormous green amphitheater. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds at the salt mines, there is the option to walk from the back entrance of the valley. Read more about the walking route here.


las Salineras de Maras

How to get to the Sacred Valley


From Cusco, there are various ways to get to the Sacred Valley. The cheapest option is by public transportation. Buses operate frequently in the area. However, the more convenient and comfortable option is to hop on a day tour from Cusco and stay in Ollantaytambo instead of returning back to Cusco. Other options include going by private transfer through your accommodation, or by taxi.


The advantage of joining a day-tour is that you will visit the ruins in each different town with a knowledgeable guide. Most guided tours stop at the town of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. If you are staying the night in Ollantaytambo, you can go to Maras and/or Chinchero on the second day.


If you are planning to visit at least 2 of the ruins, you should consider buying the partial "Boleto Turistico" for 70 soles (US$ 25). This ticket includes entrance to the ruins of Pisac, Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo. There is also a "full" Boleto Turistico which includes ruins, museums and monuments in Cusco.



Day 6-9: Reveal the mysteries of Machu Picchu


Now it is finally time to reveal the true mysteries of the Incan Empire! The ruins of Machu Picchu, one of the 7 world wonders, will leave you speechless. The archaeological site draws a high number of visitors every day, who are either coming by bus or on foot. I have visited this wonder twice, once by foot (the Inca Trail) and once by bus from Aguas Calientes. By foot was undeniably the more memorable experience. If you are in fairly good shape, this should be an easy choice... book one of the many hikes available!


The Machu Picchu ruins


To visit Machu Picchu you will need a guide. Even though this isn't a requirement, it would be a missed opportunity not to have one! You will learn all about Machu Picchu's historical importance, myths and the Inca culture, whilst walking around the ruins, temples, and terraces. Exploring the ruins will take at least 3-4 hours.


Tickets to the ruins itself must be purchased in advance as there is a limit of 2,500 visitors daily. You can buy your tickets online via the Peru Ministry of Culture website. It is recommended to purchase your tickets as soon as you know when you will go to Machu Picchu!


Entrance fee: US$45 (152 Soles) for adults

The ruins of Machu Picchu

For an additional fee, you may also decide to hike up to Machu Picchu Mountain and/or Huayna Picchu. Hiking the Machu Picchu Mountain puts the ruins into a different perspective as you will be rewarded with an elevated view. This mountain is less crowded, but has no ruins and is a long climb. You must choose between 2 time slots to climb, either 7-8 am or 9-10 am. Huayna Picchu, on the other hand, is a shorter, steeper and busier mountain peak. You will also have incredible views of the ruins, plus entry to the Temple of the Sun and ruins at the top. You must choose between 2 time slots to hike up, 7-8 am or 10-11 am. Both mountains will charge around US$15 to US$25 additionally.

The view from Huayna Picchu


How to get to Machu Picchu


There are three different ways to get to Machu Picchu: by bus from Aguas Calientes, by foot via one of the many hiking trails, or by bus via Hidroeléctrica. In this article I will only discuss the first two options as I can talk to my own experience. Also, the bus via Hidroeléctrica is an exhaustive trip, taking almost 6 to 7 hours.


Bussing to Machu Picchu

If you decide to take a bus to Machu Picchu, you will first need to get to the town of Aguas Calientes. This little town is located at the foothills of Machu Picchu, and therefore often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo. To get to Aguas Calientes, you will need to take a train from Ollantaytambo (or Poroy or Urubamba). There are two different companies to choose from: the Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Both companies offer similar prices, starting from US$140 (459 soles) and increasing depending on the level of service selected.


Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, I recommend to spend the night there and visit Machu Picchu the morning after. Unfortunately, there isn't so much to do in Aguas Calientes except for shopping, eating, and walking around the town. The town's economy is solely relying on tourism, and therefore nothing really gets produced in the town itself.


Once in Aguas Calientes, you will need to take a shuttle bus from the main bus stop in Aguas Calientes (you can't miss it). The ride takes about 35 to 40 minutes and drops you off right at the entrance of Machu Picchu. There are no reservations for a specific bus, which means you will have to queue until you get on. The buses depart when they are full, which is usually about every ten minutes during peak season. The first bus runs at 5:30 in the morning, and you will be surprised how many people will be standing in line around 5:00 am already!


Both the bus to Machu Picchu and the entrance ticket need to be booked in advance. Bus tickets can only be purchased up to 7 days in advance! The bus price (2018-19) is US$24.


Note: If you are visiting Machu Picchu by bus, I would recommend to limit your stay to two days (day 6 & 7) in this area. Instead, spend two extra days (Day 8 & 9) in Cusco and do one of the other day trips they offer! (Humantay Lake being one worth visiting!)




Hiking to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is located high in the Andes mountains, surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest, and subtropical jungle. It is no wonder that some of the best hiking trails in South America can be found in this area. The most popular one that leads up to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail, which is also the one I hiked.


The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail combines stunning nature with Inca ruins, paving stones, and tunnels. This route is known to be the traditional way that the Incas followed to get to Machu Picchu. The trail goes high up into the mountains passing numerous Inca ruins that carry a unique story. The site of Machu Picchu marks the end of the trail, where you will arrive on the last day before sunrise through the mysterious "Sun Gate".

Due to its fragility and popularity, there is a limit of 500 people per day. This means you will need to book the Inca Trail three to six months in advance, which is only possible via a certified company. These companies are not cheap, but they provide a decent service and comfort. The Inca Trail package usually includes the Inca Trail permit, a licensed guide, the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, return transportation from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, porters, cooks, and tents.


Duration: 4 days, 43 km (26 miles)

Cost: US$500-600 per person

Difficulty level: Medium


To check the availability of the Inca Trail, visit the official Inca Trail website

The surrounding mountain peaks

Alternative Trails

If you find the Inca Trail too expensive or the permits have simply sold out, don't worry! There are many alternative trails to choose from that are at least as beautiful.


A popular alternative is the Salkantay Trek. This trail doesn't require a permit, and is therefore a lot cheaper (prices vary from US$230-600 per person). The trail itself is longer (74 km), more exhausting, and reaches higher elevations. However, the landscape is absolutely stunning and you will pass Humantay Lake! The trek takes 5 days and is rated as medium to difficult.

Humantay Lake

The Inca Jungle Trail is another great alternative and more suitable for the adventurous spirit who wants action rather than hiking all the way. This trail combines biking, rafting, trekking, ziplining adventure, and hiking. This "trek" usually takes 3 to 4 days, depending on the company you choose. Accommodation is in hostel or home-stays, with a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. Prices vary greatly, ranging from US$250 to US$700.


In addition to the suggestions above, there are other options available. Read about the Lares Trek, 1-day Inca Trek, the Vilcabamba Traverse Route, the Lodge Trek, and the Chaski (or Cachicata) Trail here.



Day 10-13: Visit colonial Arequipa & the Colca Canyon


Venture off to Peru's second-largest city! The colonial city of Arequipa will lure you instantly with its distinct charm brought on by the cobblestone streets and white buildings. Surrounded by three snow-capped volcanoes, this city is characterized by its rich traditions, laid back lifestyle, thrilling outdoor adventures, and proximity to the second deepest canyon in the world!



What to do in Arequipa


Visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina

This colorful monastery is one of the most impressive and interesting religious infrastructures in Peru! Built in the 16th-century, this convent only allowed women to live in this little "village". The cloistered nuns mostly came from wealthy families, who were often young girls pushed to live the monastic life. Today, you can visit this labyrinthine village with its walls painted in orange, blue, and red, and its small housing units where nuns once lived. Walk around the narrow cobblestone streets filled with plants, pretty plazas, fountains, and chapels. I recommend to pay extra for a guide, as you will get to know the real story behind this incredible complex.


Entrance fee: 40 soles (US$12) per adult

Opening hours: 9 AM - 5 PM



Walking tour of the Historical Center

The historical center of Arequipa is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. With its white and pink volcanic rock buildings, the architecture represents a combination of European and native techniques and characteristics. Impressive sights include:

  • Plaza de Armas

  • Catedral

  • Iglesia de La Compañía

  • Monasterio de la Recoleta

  • Monasterio de Santa Catalina

  • Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo

  • San Lázaro neighborhood

Again, the best way to get to know the city is to join one of the many Free Walking Tours offered. A local guide will show you around the center for 2.5 to 3 hours, while explaining all about the architecture and history of the city. Inkan Milky Way is a personal recommendation, leaving daily at 10 AM and 3 PM from the Calle Santa Catalina #204 (Choco Museo Chaqchao) one block behind the Cathedral.

the Historical Center of Arequipa

Catch a Sunset

With a year-round warm and dry climate, Arequipa is home to one of the clearest skies in Peru. When the sun starts to descend, the White City and volcanoes behind start to color in shades of pink, orange, and purple. The prime locations to watch the sunset include:

Plaza de Armas terraces

You really don't have to go far to find an incredible sunset spot. The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is circled by a dozen of two-story restaurants and bars. Though, the best place is undoubtedly the Terraza Arequipa Suits Plaza Hotel. This third-story terrace is the highest building in the plaza, facing the cathedral. Head straight to the top and order some food, happy hour cocktails, and enjoy!


Yanahuara

This top-rated sunset location is about a 20-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. The Yanahuara Park offers an uninterrupted view of the volcano "El Misti". Expect to see at least a few tourists there during sunset.

Sunset from the Terraza Arequipa Suits Plaza Hotel


Go on a 2 day tour to the Colca Canyon


Visiting the Colca Canyon is an absolute must when you visit Arequipa. Not only is it the second deepest canyon in the world, but it is also the best place in South America to see the Andean Condor up close! With its impressive 3 meter wingspan, you will see them literally flying around you. You can explore the Colca Canyon either by tour bus (with multiple stops) or by trekking into the canyon. The tour bus offers both one-day and two-day trips, whereas the trek requires a minimum of two days. As the trek is quite hard because of its steepness and the heat, it is only recommended for those who have a decent level of fitness.


A quick overview of the options:

  • The 1 day Colca Canyon tour is the most popular choice, but I don't recommend it. It takes around 4 hours to drive to the canyon, which makes a very long and exhausting day. Trips depart early in the morning (around 3:00 AM!), to make it in time to spot the condors at the famous Cruz de Condor viewpoint. On the way, you will stop at a few points of interest and the town of Chivay, where locals with baby alpacas will be awaiting you!

  • The 2 day Colca Canyon tour is the better option as the slower pace gives you more time to enjoy the scenery. There will be time to observe the wild vicuñas in their natural habitat, learn about the culture and people who live there, and soak in the local hot thermal baths. On the second day you will visit some villages (including Chivay) and spot the condors!

One of the many stops on the 2-day tour

  • On the 2 or 3 day trekking tours you will actually go into the canyon (yes, to the bottom!) and stay overnight there. The 2 day one is known to be long and exhausting, so you should be prepared!

The majority of the Colca Canyon tours offered will NOT include the entrance fee of 70 soles (US$21) to the park. The bus will make a stop at a booth just outside Chivay, where you will need to pay this amount in cash.


There is no need to buy the tour in advance. Basically every travel agency in Arequipa offers these tours and you will even find promoters in the streets!

Condor flying in the Colca Canyon

How to get to Arequipa


From Cusco, you can decide to either fly or take the bus to Arequipa:


Daily flights are offered by most airlines operating in Peru (LATAM, Avianca, StarPeru, LCPeru, and Peruvian Airlines). The flight time is only 45 mins and tickets vary in price, starting from as low as US$30. Check Skyscanner for the best deals.


The bus from Cusco to Arequipa takes around 10 hours and therefore best taken during the night. There is a wide variety of bus companies with varying levels of comfort, price, and services. All buses depart from the main bus station "Terminal Terreste". which is 10 minutes away by taxi from the main Plaza de Armas. There is no need to book in advance as a wealth of bus companies offer the same route and compete against one another. Prices start from US$12.




Day 14-16: Get a taste of the Peruvian Desert in Huacachina


Now it is time for some action and true summer vibes! Huacachina is a small desert oasis that will give you the right dose of adventure! The town boasts some extraordinary adrenaline-filled activities like dune buggy rides and sandboarding. But even if you are not a daredevil, there is much more to do. Go deep into the desert and view the endless and surreal sand dunes, discover Huacachina's rowdy party scene, simply soak in the sun at the pool, go on a winery tour to Ica, or see Humboldt penguins and sea lions in Paracas. One thing is sure... you won't get bored!


The town of Huacachina

What to do in Huacachina

This town is solely built on tourism. With hotels and tour agencies all around you, there are many activities to choose from. These are my personal favorites:


Dune buggy ride

The famous dune buggy tour is what entices most travelers to come to Huacachina. A professional driver will take you deep into the mesmerizing sand dunes. While the driver steers the 4-wheel-drive dune buggy up and down the desert slopes, you will enjoy the ride with butterflies in your stomach. This tour also gives you the chance to try sandboarding on the fine-grained sand. If you are too scared to board down the steep slopes, you can simply lay on your stomach on the board and go "sand sledding" instead. During the tour you will have multiple opportunities to take photographs and to take in the gigantic sand dunes as well.


This tour can be booked literally anywhere in town and departs at multiple times during the day. I suggest to reserve a tour later in the day (around 4 PM) so that you will be able to watch the amazing sunset over the dunes. The tour typically lasts two hours.


Price: US$20-25 per person (excluding the entrance fee of 3.70 soles and tips for the driver)


Sunset in the sand dunes

Sandboarding

When in Huacachina, you should try sandboarding at least once! Generally, the buggy tours include a taste of sandboarding. However, the limited time doesn't allow you to properly try it out. If you are interested in the real deal, you should rent a board for a half day or day (a full day might be exhausting considering the heat). Most rental places offer a range of sandboards that vary in quality and price, from plywood planks to actual snowboards. The basic planks are good for the beginner who just wants to slide straight down the hill without falling. On the other hand, the experienced skater or snowboarder will most likely enjoy renting actual snowboards as these allow you to carve, use technical skills, and board down the bigger slopes!


Rental price: US$15 for a snowboard and US$5 for a cheap sandboard


Winery tours

Ica, about 5km from Huacachina, is the capital of wine growing in Peru. The town is home to various traditional vineyards producing red wine and the all-time Peruvian brandy "pisco". Pisco is the national drink of Peru and all Peruvians absolutely love it. As it is a very strong alcohol, it is often mixed into a cocktail, "Pisco Sour" being the most popular one.


From Huacachina, you can book a tour to the wineries (including transportation). You will visit two distinctive wineries: a small, family-owned versus a large, modern winery. The first one still uses traditional techniques of the colonial era, making it an interesting production process. The second one uses modern techniques to produce and export high volumes of wine and pisco. After learning all about the wine and pisco-making process, the tour will end with an (elaborate) wine and pisco tasting. You will find that the wine in Peru is a lot sweeter than what you are used to, resembling more of a "desert" or "port" wine. Nonetheless, this makes a unique wine sampling experience! This tour is offered anytime between 9 AM and 2 PM, and lasts about 3 hours and 30 minutes.


Price: depends on the amount of people joining, from US$18 (4 or more people) to US$35 (1 person). The entrance fee to the wineries is usually not included (5 soles).


Paracas (stopover on the way to Lima)

On your way to Lima, you can also decide to stop for the day in Paracas. Paracas itself is a dusty, windswept coastal town. However, its nearby nature reserve full of sea wildlife is what makes this place unique. The Islas Ballestas have earned their name of "budget-friendly Galapagos" for a reason... the rocky formations in the ocean are home to hundreds of Humboldt penguins, sea lions, blue-footed boobies and swarms of cormorants. If you are a true wildlife lover, this place should be on your bucket list. A standard tour takes you to the Islas Ballestas by speedboat (and you will be in the boat for the whole tour). Tours depart daily at several times and lasts 2 hours. The 8 AM tour is recommended as later ones are usually affected by strong winds. Booking a tour isn't hard as the pier is full of travel agents trying to sell a spot on their boat.


Boat tour price: 25-30 soles (US$7-9)

Additional fees: Paracas National Reserve entry fee (11 soles or US$3), and a port tax (5 soles or US$1.5).

Sleepy sea lion - Islas Ballestas

How to get to Huacachina


From Arequipa, you will have to take a bus. There is a direct bus to Ica which departs twice daily. It is a long 11-12 hours driving, and therefore best done overnight. Oltursa is a reliable bus company, and charges between US$20-50 depending on the level of comfort. From Ica, you will have to take a short taxi ride to Huacachina.


There is also a direct bus from Ica to Paracas, leaving around 5 times a day. The stop in Paracas is on the Nasca-Lima bus route, and takes only 45 mins from Ica. A few bus companies offer this route (i.e Cruz del Sur, Peru Bus), departing from different bus terminals in Ica. For more information click here.




Day 17-18: Discover Lima's vibrant city life


Get overwhelmed by the chaos and diversity of Lima, the second largest city in South America. With Peru’s economy being centralized here, Lima is a vibrant city that has a lot to offer. Visit the historic center or the artistic Barranco area. Enjoy the nightlife and liveliness of Miraflores, or go surfing at the Waterfront.


What to do in Lima


Visit Larcomar Mall

Located at the Waterfront area of Miraflores, this mall offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. No wonder this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lima. The Mall has several stores with well-known clothing brands, as well as Peruvian souvenirs and garments made of alpaca or vicuña wool. An afternoon of shopping can be followed by a fancy dinner in one of the many restaurants, a visit to the cinema or a drink in one of the upscale bars or clubs around.

The waterfront area near Larcomar, Lima

Go surfing at one of the beaches

Lima is known for its all-year-round surf (and cold waters!). The beaches of Miraflores and Barranco can be easily accessed from the Malecon. Espcially Redondo Beach, Waikiki Beach and Makaha Beach which are perfect for surfing whether you are a beginner or not! Surf rental shops that provide equipment and lessons can be found along the beach. The Pukana Surf School offers surf classes every two hours 165 days a year. Starting from as low as US$20 for a group lesson, this is the ultimate chance to try it out! If you already know how to surf, you can also just rent a board and wetsuit (this is definitely needed!) from them for US$10 per hour.

 

Explore Huaca Pucllana

Besides the variety of entertainment, Miraflores is also interesting in terms of its history. Only discovered and excavated about a decade ago, Huaca Pucllana is the only remaining pre-Inca ruin in Miraflores. This archaeological highlight is said to be a pyramid of more than 1,600 years old used for religious rites. Today, the site itself can be explored during a guided tour, which runs about every 30 minutes. In addition, the complex is comprised of a museum that exhibits various ceramics, textiles, artefacts and other remains which were found there.


Entrance: 15 soles (US$5)

Huaca Pucclana at night

Stroll around artistic Barranco

Barranco, being home to some of the most famous Peruvian writers and artists, is probably the most trendy neighborhood of Lima. Thus, it is not surprising that you can find an abundance of art galleries, street art and handicrafts here. The colorful and charming streets can mainly be found around the main plaza. Street musicians and little food stalls also found their way to the the main plaza, which make it a pleasant place to spend some time. Strolling around the area will also bring you to “La Puente de Los Suspiros” (translated: the Bridge of Sighs). There is a myth that states that you can make one wish when crossing the bridge for the first time while holding your breath.


Tour the Historic Center

For those interested in Peru’s history and colonial past, the historic center is a must visit! The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, stretching from the Plaza de Armas to Plaza San Martín. A perfect introduction to Lima’s history is to participate in one of the “free walking tours” that the city offers. The tours usually start at one of the main plazas depending on which company you choose. A personal recommendation is the “Strawberry Tour” that runs every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM. The tour departs from the Obelisk in Plaza de la Democracia and brings you to all the historic highlights of the area. These historic, but also architectural highlights, include the Plaza Bolivar, the San Pedro Church, Plaza de Armas, the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral of Lima, and the Church and Convent of San Francisco. The latter is also known for its catacombs where over 30,000 people were buried until the beginning of the 1800s. The crypts can be visited with a guide with whom you wander through the silent tombs covered in human skulls and remain. This is not for the faint-hearted!

Historic Center of Lima

For more information about the different neighborhoods to visit in Lima, read our other article.


How to get to Lima


Lima is the most accessible city in Peru. With uncountable bus stops and the international airport located here, getting to and away from the city is easy.


From Ica, there is a direct bus that takes you to Lima in about 4 hours 30 minutes. There are multiple buses per day offered by a variety of bus companies (i.e. Peru Bus, Cruz del Sur, Oltursa). The same is true for Paracas. Check Busbud for prices and hours.



Day 19-20: Go off-the-beaten path in Marcahuasi


After exploring the majority of touristic highlights in Peru, it is time to discover the hidden gems (which are at least as interesting and beautiful!). Located 90km to the east of Lima, you can find the mysterious Marcahuasi near the town of San Pedro de Casta in the Andes Mountains. Sitting at 4,000m above sea level, Marcahuasi is known for its granite rock formations that resemble human faces, animals and religious symbols. There are many theories about its existence and therefore this archaeological site is such a “mystery”. Some scientists argue that the unusual shapes are formed naturally through erosion, while others claim the sculptures are shaped by ancient people.

Face-shaped rock formation

Explore Marcahuasi


To visit the site of Marcahuasi, you will need to subscribe (and pay a small fee) at the tourist office first (located at the main square in the town). Don't forget to take a map of the site as it shows where the points of interest are!


Once subscribed, it is time to start your journey. The hike from the town to the stone forest of Marcahuasi is gorgeous as it offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. There are two routes to choose from: the short versus the long one. The long route is recommended as it takes you to the main entrance of the stone forest where the camping site is located. Besides, this path is less steep and can be easily walked in less than three hours (be cautious with the altitude!). For those who don’t like to hike to the site, it is possible to go by donkey or minivan from the town for an additional charge.


Once you arrive at the site, the various rock formations and lakes can be explored, which are scattered around. Take your time to walk around (minimum three hours) as some of the attractions are distant! Towering above the surrounding mountains, Marcahuasi offers spectacular views of the Andes. If possible, watch the sunset as it will be mind-blowing!


Sunset at Marcahuasi Peru

How to get there from Lima?


The first leg of the journey goes from Lima to Chosica by bus or taxi. You have several options:

Take a small bus from the center (Paseo Colón or Vitarte) which can take up to two hours, but only costs 5 soles.


I recommend to take a colectivo bus (probably the easiest and cheapest) from Jr. Chota and Paseo Colón, Jr. Leticia and Abancay, or Ex-Cine Orrantia and Óvalo de Santa Anita. Take an Uber or Taxi (more or less 70 soles from the Downtown area).


The second stretch is by minivan and takes you from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta. When you arrive at the park “Echenique” (center of Chosica), ask the locals about the minivans which leave about 120m north from the park (Jr. Libertad). The cost of the ride will be between 10 to 20 soles, depending on the date you travel. The buses leave daily at 7 am and 12 pm and the drive lasts about three hours.


Read why you should visit Marcahuasi and more mysteries of the rock formations here.



Day 21-25: Discover the highlights of the Andes in Huaraz


Located at the foot of the Huarascán National Park, Huaraz is the gateway to the most impressive mountain peaks in Peru. Sitting more than 3,000 meters above sea level, this Andean village is considered the hiking capital in Peru. Join one of the many hikes or tours offered and get enchanted by the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.


What to do in Huaraz


Witnessing the spectacular mountain vistas and passes of the Cordillera’s is an absolute must. Whether you are going for an easy day tour to the mountains, a climb to one of the challenging peaks, or a multiday trek, you don't want to miss out on the breathtaking scenery that will surround you. These are the best hiking opportunities ranked according to different fitness levels:


Laguna Paron

Laguna Paron makes an incredible and easy day trip for those who want to see a picture-perfect glacial lake up close. The viewpoint over the lake sits at 4,200 meters, offering incredible views of both the lakes and the snow-covered mountains that surround it. There are two tours you can choose from:

  • Easy Option: This tour departs at 8 AM by bus and drops you off directly at the lake. Even though the tour takes 10 hours approximately, the vast majority is spent driving. There will be a few stops on the way and you will have 2 hours to spend at Laguna Paron itself. From the entrance at the lake, you will have to do a short walk up to the viewpoint (45 minutes there and back). This tour varies between 50-80 soles (US$15-24), excluding the entrance fee of 5 soles.

  • Moderate Option: This tour departs at 5 AM by bus and includes a 3-hour hike up to the lake. The trail takes you through a granite canyon towards the lake, taking approximately 3 to 4 hours. The trail is rated as moderate, but be cautious with the altitude! The price is similar to the above option.

Laguna Paron

Laguna 69

Another great day hike goes to the famous Laguna 69! This is undoubtedly the most popular day trip from Huaraz. The hike itself is moderate, but the altitude is what makes it challenging. Sitting at 4,572 meters above sea level, this trail is no joke. However, the phenomenal mountain views of Chacraraju, Pisco, Huascaran, Yanapacha and impressive waterfalls running down the valley make up for it. Add to that the rewarding view of the clear blue Lake 69 at the top. Tours depart daily at 5:00 AM as the drive will take 3 hours to get to the trailhead. The hike up takes about 3 hours, followed by an hour enjoying the lake, and a 2 hour hike down again.


Level of difficulty: Moderate

Tour price: 30-40 soles (US$9-12)

Entrance fee: 20 soles (US$9)


Laguna 69

Wilcacocha

Laguna Wilcachocha is not the most spectacular lake around, but it makes the perfect acclimatization hike. Located in the vicinity of Huaraz, the trailhead can be easily reached by public transportation or a short taxi ride (ask your accommodation or the locals!). Make sure you get dropped off at the bridge across the Santa River, which is where you will start your hike through the countryside. On the way, you will pass small settlements filled with farms, cattle and friendly locals. Once at the top (3680 m above sea level), you will have a fantastic view over the Huaylas Valley and the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. I did this hike the day before starting the Santa Cruz Hike, and found it a perfect hike to acclimatize to the altitude.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Hiking time: 3 hours

View over the Huaylas Valley

Santa Cruz Trek

The Santa Cruz Trek is the most popular multi-day hike in the region. In 3 or 4 days you will hike 50 kilometers in the heart of the stunning Cordillera Blanca. The route is filled with unique mountain vistas and peaks, turquoise colored lagoons, alpine scenery, and incredible valleys. You will camp in tents in the middle of the nature, far away from civilization. It comes as no surprise that this hike is rated as one of the most photogenic routes in the world.

View from the Punta Union pass

You can either decide to do the trek independently (requires carrying all your own stuff) or by joining a guided tour. I opted for the guided trek as I didn't have any camping gear with me neither was I physically ready to do this challenging hike on my own. The guided tour also takes care of the cooking, cleaning, route, setting up the tents, and carrying most of the gear on their donkeys. There are two possible starting points for this trek and you can complete it in either direction. The most common starting point is Vaqueria (3,700m), however, we began at Cashapampa (2,900m). Looking back, I found this the better way as the grueling climb over the pass (day 3) was more gradual and shorter. However, if you are hiking independently, it is easier to end at Cashapampa as there are more transportation options back to Huaraz. Each day you will hike approximately 6-8 hours with moderate to significant elevation gain. The first and last day are fairly easy and less long, whereas the second and third are longer with more elevation gain. Especially day 3 is hard as you will climb over the steep pass of Punta Union at 4,750 m. If you want to know how the trek looks like, watch our YouTube video summarizing the trek


I booked with the trekking company Eco Ice Peru. They had good reviews and offered a high-standard service with good quality food along the trek. After driving back to Huaraz on our last day we were invited to the house of the owner’s mother who served us a phenomenal lunch/dinner with pisco sours. It was a perfect celebration to the end of our trek!


Price: Expect to pay between US$150-300 for the 4-day trek.

Level of difficulty: moderate to hard



Huayhuash Trek

If I were ever to come back to Peru, this is the one trek I would definitely add to my itinerary. The Cordillera Huayhuash trek is considered one of the most beautiful circuits in the world. I only heard good things about the trek from fellow travelers. The classic Huayhuash route involves walking for around 10-14 days at high altitudes. This length is what scared me off on my last visit (even though now I regret missing it!) and should only be attempted by those in good shape. However, there are also shorter treks offered nowadays which last 4 to 5 days. The Cordillera Huayhuash is filled with turquoise lagoons, green lush landscapes, snow-capped mountain peaks, and cascading rivers. To learn more about this trek, click here.

Level of difficulty: moderate to strenuous


How to get to Huaraz


It is easy to get from Lima to Huaraz as several bus companies operate services daily (i.e. Cruz de Sur, Movil Tours, Linea and Oltursa). The journey takes between 7-9 hours and therefore I recommend to take a night service that departs in the evening and arrives the following morning. Prices range from US$11.50-23 for a one-way ticket depending on the company, departure time and level of comfort.


You could also choose to travel by air. One airline, LC Perú, currently operates flights from Lima to Huaraz airport, departing at 07:30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The flight only takes 1 hour 5 minutes, but ticket prices are expensive (start from US$150). Huaraz airport is located 23 km to the north of Huaraz, just outside the small village of Anta. Onward travel into Huaraz is possible by either combi or taxi. A combi will cost around 3 soles (about one dollar) while a taxi should be about 30 – 50 soles (about US$9-15).



Day 26-28: Feel like a pioneer in Cajamarca


Another less-traveled destination is the city of Cajamarca. Sitting in a valley between the brawny Andes Mountains in the Northern Highlands of Peru, this city enjoys a mild, dry and sunny climate all-year-round. Cajamarca is home to brilliant Colonial architecture, a beautiful countryside, abundant dairy products and cheeses, and a rich history. This mix of ingredients is what makes Cajamarca an unforgettable destination.



What to do in Cajamarca


Explore the historic sights in and around Cajamarca. For a detailed 3-day itinerary, read here. These are my personal favorite attractions:


Discover the historic center

Cajamarca played an important role in South American history, which is still noticeable today. In this ancient Inca city, the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro imprisoned and killed the legendary Inca chief Atahualpa, which marked the start of the defeat of the Inca Empire. The building where Atahualpa was detained, ‘el cuarto del rescate’, is the only Inca ruin that is still standing in the center. After the Spanish overruled, the city was designed in the traditional Spanish way. These Colonial constructions remained relatively intact thanks to the isolation of the city. Today, you can witness this remarkable architecture all around the city. Especially remarkable are the Cathedral, and the churches of San Francisco, Belen, and la Recoleta. These are all located within walking distance from the main square, or ‘Plaza de Armas’, which is probably one of the most beautiful and well-maintained plazas in the country. With a variety of restaurants, stores and tourist offices around, you can easily lose track of the time!


Enjoy the best panoramic view

The most picturesque viewpoint over the city can be observed from the Cerro Santa Apolonia, a short walk up some stairs from the center. This natural viewpoint is best visited during the sunset hours, when the entire city and its surrounding mountains turn orange and flaming red. Crack a beer or a bottle of wine, buy some local cheese, listen to music, watch the local kids flying their kites, and most importantly… cherish this magical moment.


Sunset from the Santa Apalonia Viewpoint

Get fascinated by the Cumbe Mayo

The Cumbe Mayo is an area filled with giant rock formations that demonstrate a pre-Incan hydraulic system, which is at least 3,000 years old and thus one of the oldest in South America. This fascinating construction was created by the Cajamarcans, who used dark volcanic stones as a tool. However, the Cumbe Mayo represents much more than hydraulic engineering. Massive volcanic rocks are spread around a vast area, which makes it an interesting and impressive site. Allow yourself enough time to walk around and pay attention to the ancient petroglyphs which are carved in the stones!


To learn more about its history, you can opt to take a guided tour. Half-day tours are usually offered in Spanish only, and can be booked in any tourist office in Cajamarca. The tour includes a guide and transportation. The number of Peruvian tourists flocking to the area at the same time can be overwhelming at times. Therefore, I personally recommend to walk back from the site to the city of Cajamarca instead of returning by the tourist bus. This alternative also allows you to spend more time at the site itself, enjoy the peace and natural surroundings, and go back at your own pace. There isn’t a marked or straightforward path back, but just keep following the Cajamarca river (clearly indicated on maps.me). This downhill route takes approximately 3 hours and stays close to the main motorway. The walkway will take you along traditional Peruvian farms, rolling hills, and meadows clothed with flocks of alpacas, sheep and goats. It is recommended to bring a lunch or some snacks as there are no shops along the way.


Price: 20 soles (US$6)

The rock forest of Cumbe Mayo

Explore the Ventanillas de Otuzco

This pre-Incan necropolis is a fascinating archaeological site made up of roughly 200 small ‘windows’ or ‘holes’ carved into volcanic rock by the ancient Cajamarca culture. The old tombs were originally filled with mummified bodies of the upper class along with their valuables, jewels, and sometimes even gold. However, these were eventually plundered and destroyed by the Spanish. Even though the burial holes in the rock are empty today, the history of the Cajamarca culture and their burial practices make this site particularly interesting! It is recommended to take a guided tour to fully understand the importance of this place. A tour usually combines this site with a visit to one of the cheese factories around.


Price: 20 soles (US$6)

Ventanillas de Otuzco

How to get to Cajamarca


Coming from Huaraz, it is a little challenging. There are no direct buses, so you have to go to Chimbote or Trujillo first where you change the bus to Cajamarca. We caught the bus from Huaraz to Trujillo, which departs daily at 9:30 AM from Jr. Simon Bolivar (with Linea). We arrived at 5:30 PM in Trujillo where we spent the evening. Then, we caught the 10 PM bus to Cajamarca which got us there the morning after at 5:30 AM. There is also the possibility to catch a bus from Huaraz at 9:30 PM (arriving at 5:30 AM), and then a bus from Trujillo at 10:30 AM (arriving at 6 PM). If you want to break up the long travel route, you can decide to spend a full day in Trujillo! The Chan Chan ruins and the beach of Huanchaco are definitely worth a visit!



Day 28-31: Learn about forgotten Chachapoyas


The Chachapoya culture is often forgotten and overshadowed by the Incas. This is unfortunate considering that the Chachapoya culture ruled over a large area of what is now the Amazonas region of northern Peru. Most of our knowledge about them is limited which makes the Chachapoya culture even more mysterious! Today, the town of Chachapoyas is the capital of the Amazonas region, counting around 20,000 people. The town forms the base for multiple tours and excursions exploring the history and land of this former culture. It is still somewhat an off-the-beaten-path destination, making for a unique Peruvian experience.


The best things to do in Chachapoyas


Visit the ruins of Kuelap

The top attraction and main reason why most people travel to Chachapoyas is Kuelap. Also called "the Machu Picchu of the North", this site has over 550 circular structures. Because of its size, it is believed that this was once a city with an estimated population of 3,500 people. A visit to the ancient ruins is a fascinating experience as you will learn about the myths of this settlement. Overlooking the Utcubamba Valley, the site also offers spectacular views of the mountainous agricultural landscape around the area.


You can visit Kuelap from Chachapoyas with either through a tour or independently. The tour is the easiest option and saves you a lot of hassle. Besides, the price difference isn't much (a tour is roughly US$14 more than when going by yourself), which includes round-trip transportation, cable car to the site, entrance fee to the ruins, a guide, and lunch. For a day-trip the total cost would come to 90 soles (US$27).


Keulap ruins Chachapoyas Peru


See the Gocta Waterfall from up close

The Gocta Waterfall is another highlight in the region. With its height of 771 meters, this waterfall is ranked as the 3rd tallest free-leaping waterfall in the world (after the Angel Falls in Venezuela and the Tugela Falls in South Africa). What makes the waterfall unique is its surrounding rain forest environment and tropical jungle feeling. This waterfall was kept secret by the locals for centuries until it was discovered in 2002 by a German explorer. Ever since then this "new" attraction has grown in popularity among international travelers.


From Chachapoyas, you can hop on a tour departing daily in the morning (around 8:30 AM). The bus will take you to Cocachimba, where you will start hiking a trail through the dramatic Amazon landscapes. You can either go on foot or on the back of a horse (for an additional cost). After 2-3 hours of hiking, you will arrive at the refreshing waterfalls. After returning to the town, a tasty lunch will be waiting for you. The tour costs around 70 soles (US$21).

Gocta Falls observed from near the start of the trail

How to get there


From Cajamarca, there is a direct bus that takes approximately 11 hours. Even though the road was windy and at times sketchy, I found this to be one of the most beautiful bus journeys I experienced in Peru. Turismo Vigen del Carmen is the only bus company that operates in this area, and you shouldn't expect much. A few stops are included as well as breakfast and lunch (for the early morning bus), which are rather poor quality. However, the views totally make up for the old, rusty bus full of locals. The bus departs at 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM, but make sure to verify this in Cajamarca. You can also order your bus tickets online via Redbus.


If you are coming from elsewhere in Peru, check flight and bus options. You can fly from Lima to Chachapoyas twice a week (Monday and Thursday) with ATSA, as well as from Tarapoto and Jaén. There is also a bus from Lima, but this takes almost 24 hours. Regular buses also run from coastal cities like Trujillo and Chiclayo, or Tarapoto.


Alternatives


The proposed itinerary provides a healthy balance between hidden gems and touristic highlights in Peru. Depending on how much time you have to travel, you can change, eliminate or add other destinations. There are a few places that weren't included, but definitely worth visiting, such as:

  • The Amazon: Visit Tarapoto (arrive from Chachapoyas), Iquitos (only possible to fly, touristic), or Puerto Maldonado (arrive from Cusco) for an authentic jungle and wildlife experience.

  • The Coast: Go to Mancora if you love the combination of surf and party. It is also a great stop if you are traveling onward to Ecuador.

  • Lake Titicaca: A very popular tourist destination. I simply didn't add it as I liked the Bolivian side more. The Peruvian culture at Lake Titicaca felt a bit fake and unauthentic to me, as well as I really didn't like the town of Puno. Isla del Sol (Bolivia) is absolutely worth visiting.

  • Oxapampa: This small town is a long drive from Lima to the East (9 hours by bus). It is known to be a German settlement as well as the best coffee in Peru comes from this region. Make sure to head to Villarica as well.



What is the best time to visit Peru?


Peru has two seasons:

  • The dry season runs from May to October, which is the most popular time to visit Peru. Skies are mostly clear blue during the day, with barely any rain showers. On the downside, it is colder (especially at night and in the mountains!). Make sure to bring some warm winter clothes with you.

  • The wet season runs from November to April, which is the quietest time to visit Peru. It is warmer considering that it is the Peruvian summer. However, the days can be cloudy and rainy. The site of Machu Picchu is also closed in February.



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