A wonderland of geographic diversity, Peru is one of the most scenic countries in the world. The fourth most visited country in South America is loaded with culture and is home to the oldest civilization in the Americas.
Stunning landscapes vary from the harsh desert of the Paracas National Reserve to the lush, exotic rainforests of the Amazon. Ancient Inca ruins cover the Sacred Valley in towns such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Oh and there’s this place called Machu Picchu.
This itinerary is an alternative if you’ve seen some of Peru’s biggest attractions already like the above mentioned Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, or if you want to explore a different side of the country.
Where To Go?
My top two bucket list experiences in Peru were Machu Picchu and the Amazon jungle, which I was lucky enough to visit in my Ultimate 2 week Peru itinerary. Next up on my list is Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca. The pacific coastline south of Lima has a few gems that are worthy of exploring and can be easily visited in a short trip from the capital. Find a base in Arequipa to visit the white city and spend a few days hiking down into Colca Canyon before flying out to Lake Titicaca to end the trip at the world’s highest navigable lake.
Huacachina Sand Dunes
Paracas National Reserve / Ballestas Islands
Here is a breakdown of the itinerary:
Day 1 - Arrive in Lima
Day 2 - Paracas National Reserve
Day 3 - Ballestas Islands / Huacachina Sand Dunes
Day 4 - Fly over the Nazca Lines
Days 5 - 6 - Arequipa
Days 7 - 8 - Colca Canyon
Days 9 - 12 - Lake Titicaca
Day 12 - Lima
Arrive in Lima
All foreigners will have to fly into Lima, and this is a good base for the beginning of your trip. Find a hotel or airbnb in the Miraflores or Barranco neighborhoods, as they are safest and offer some great dining options as well.
Spend this day at your leisure, taking a walk along the Malecon on the pacific coast in Miraflores. If you have time and want to see more of the city, take a taxi or uber into the Plaza Mayor to visit the Cathedral of Lima or the gem of Lima, the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima (Saint Francis Monastery). Don’t stay out too late however as you will be waking up bright and early to start a 3 day adventure the next morning.
The pacific coast is lined with several amazing stops that offer a unique Peruvian experience. I suggest taking one of the plentiful 3 day bus tours from Lima that will include the best of the coast: the Ballestas Islands, Paracas National Reserve, Huacachina, and a flight over the Nazca Lines. The first day of the tour will take you to the small fishing village of Paracas.
Ballestas Islands / Huacachina Sand Dunes
The second day of your tour is a packed one. You will wake up early and catch a boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands, known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”. Although not the most appealing title, there are tons of unique wildlife viewing opportunities including sea lions, humpback whales, tons of seabirds, and humboldt penguins!
After a few hours at sea, you will get a tour where the desert meets the ocean, the Paracas National Reserve. The coastal desert is one of South America’s biggest protected desert reserves.
To finish the day you will end at the largest sand dunes in South America, the Huacachina sand dunes. You’ve probably seen a million instagram posts by now of someone sitting atop the dunes, looking off in the distance, with a tiny oasis nestled below between the dunes. Well, now is your chance to get that same photo. You can also ride a dune buggy around the sand slopes or try out sandboarding. Stay the night in Huacachina.
Today you get to fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines. A rare and unforgettable experience. The flight is only 35 minutes but offers fantastic aerial views of the ancient artwork. Let your imagination go to work as you decide whether aliens had an influence on these designs. Be wary if you get sick easily as the turbulence of the small aircrafts tends to give people motion sickness. After exploring the town of Nazca, the bus will drive you back to a late arrival in Lima.
While cities like Cusco and Lima get most of the attention, the city of Arequipa is a hidden gem in Peru. Fly into Arequipa from Lima and spend a few days in the city. Surrounded by three massive volcanoes, “The White City” is a great base to explore the natural wonders around it such as Colca Canyon. The city itself has stunning architecture including the UNESCO World Heritage Historic Center. Take your time soaking in the cuisine and culture while adjusting to the altitude (7,661 feet) before taking off for Colca Canyon.
It’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Let that sink in. Home to the Andean condor, Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and offers breaktaking views as you ascend to the bottom. Find a three day trip from Arequipa to get the most of your experience. Walk past picturesque Andean villages, terraced fields and ancient churches en route to the bottom. The hike can be difficult depending on your physical abilities but there is also an option to ride a horse.
Camp in the canyon for two nights or relax in a luxury lodge. Reward yourself by visiting the hot springs, taking in the magical views. But don’t forget, you still need to hike back out! Although there are plenty of tour companies offering trips of varying lengths, Colca Canyon is also something you can hike on your own. Your third day will include the hike out and 3-4 hour drive back to Arequipa. If hiking is not your thing or you’d like to spend less time here, still make the trip to visit the canyon but opt for spending more time in either Arequipa or Lake Titicaca.
One of the most iconic lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca is a bucket list adventure. The highest navigable lake in the world, it belongs to both Peru and Bolivia. Fly to the gateway town of Puno from Arequipa. Opt to stay a night or two on one of the islands in the lake: Taquile, Amantani, or the floating island of Uros. This itinerary gives you two nights, plenty of time to explore the area.
Keep in mind that the altitude is 12,500 feet and can make it very difficult to catch your breath at times. Acclimating at high altitude locations such as Cusco or Arequipa beforehand will help ease the transition. Check out Rob’s post for or a more in depth look at Lake Titicaca. On your third day you will fly back to Lima from the nearby town of Puno.
Lima - Flight Home
This day you will depart from Lima back home.
This is my alternative 2 week Peru itinerary and there are still so many places that haven’t even been touched that command their own trips. These two itineraries don’t even include the Cordillera Blanca region which has some of the best hikes in the world originating from the city of Huaraz. Or the other regions of the Amazon rainforest including Manu National Park and the world’s biggest city not accessible by road, Iquitos.
You can’t go wrong with selecting where to go in Peru. These itineraries were decided by convenience of route while trying to take as much in as possible. Mix and match on your own to find what best suits your travel needs but definitely consider traveling to Peru as it's one of the most beautiful countries in the world.