Peru is one of the most magical countries in the world. It’s rich with culture, history, and breathtaking landscapes. Ancient ruins dot the map including the iconic Incan site of Machu Picchu. Natural wonders like the Amazon rainforest, Lake Titicaca, and Colca Canyon provide endless exploring. You could honestly spend a lifetime exploring the wonders of Peru but for the sake of convenience, here is the ultimate two week itinerary to see the best of Peru.
Where To Go?
When I went to Peru for the first time I had a massive list of “must see” attractions. I had a very hard time narrowing it down. I prioritized the things I had highest on my bucket list: Hiking to Machu Picchu and visiting the Amazon rainforest. These both felt like once in a lifetime experiences. If I was going to go to Peru, I needed to see them. So I decided to build my itinerary around them.
The Inca Trail (or Salkantay Trek)
The Amazon Jungle
The Sacred Valley
Fair warning: This itinerary is packed. You could easily modify what I’m presenting to better suit your travel style. The 5 day trek to Machu Picchu is not for everyone and can easily be replaced by other great experiences. If you like slower travel, spend more time in Cusco. Or at a luxury lodge in the Amazon jungle. If you don’t want to go into the jungle, consider substituting Lake Titicaca instead.
This itinerary has a little bit of everything. If you have traveled to Peru and have already been to a lot of these places - or you want to explore different areas of the country - I have made another Ultimate 12 Day Peru itinerary just for you. Here is a breakdown of the itinerary:
Day 1 - Lima, fly to Cusco
Day 2 - Cusco
Day 3 - The Sacred Valley
Day 4 - Rainbow Mountain
Days 5-8 - Hike to Machu Picchu
Day 9 - Machu Picchu
Days 10-13 - The Amazon
Day 14 - Lima
Arrive in Lima, Fly to Cusco
If you are traveling from out of the country you will have to fly into the Peruvian capital of Lima. There are a few interesting things to see in Lima, but I would suggest just catching a connecting flight to Cusco that first day and leaving Lima for the end of your trip.
This should get you into Cusco at a decent hour as the flight is a short one (about 1 hour 15 mins). This should give you enough time to find your accommodation, get settled, and do some exploring of the city if you so choose.
Tomorrow is a free day to explore Cusco, so don’t feel the need to have to see everything the first day. And remember the altitude in Cusco is no joke. It’s going to take a toll on you, so it’s advised to take it easy the first few days at this altitude (11,00 feet!). And yes - that really affects your alcohol intake - I was getting tipsy off one pisco sour! Cheap date!
Today is a full day in Cusco. Wander the streets of San Blas looking for the hippest bohemian cafe. Walk around the Plaza de Armas and visit the Cusco Cathedral (worth it!). Get lost in the unique San Pedro market. Overpay local women dressed in traditional clothing to take pictures of them posing with llamas and alpacas for your instagram. And try cuy (guinea pig) if you dare! - it’s fine.
If you do one thing in Cusco, make sure to visit the Coricancha, the Convent of the Santo Domingo. In addition to being a beautiful landmark, it has a fascinating history. Once a sacred site for the Incas, Spanish conquistadors destroyed most of it and used its foundation to build the Santo Domingo Convent.
There are some ancient Inca ruins nearby the city including Sacsayhuaman and Qenko. There are relatively cheap tours that will take you to them just know that this will take up most of your day. Some people also choose to walk to Sacsayhuaman from Cusco. If you were spending several days in Cusco I would recommend visiting these sites. Given that we had limited time in Cusco, and were already planning to see some major ruins soon, we opted to spend the time in Cusco.
The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is loaded with unique towns and ancient Inca ruins. You cannot possibly explore it all in one day. I would say at least three days are necessary to see all of the best sites. But with this itinerary you are going to have to make some decisions.
The top sites of the Sacred Valley include Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Maras, Moray, and Chinceros. We did not have time to see them all and unfortunately left out Ollanataytambo - I really wanted to explore those ruins on the mountains! We were able to see the rest however. If you bypass rainbow mountain or the hike to Machu Picchu, you can definitely fit these sites in.
We took two day trips: the first one was to visit the town of Chincheros, the archeological site of Moray, and the salt mines in Maras. That was probably my favorite combination and would recommend that. We negotiated with a cab driver in the Plaza de Armas who took us to all three locations.
Chincheros is a beautiful village located at high altitude. It’s a great place to buy hand crafted goods at the market and has a very old and fascinating church to visit. Another highlight was watching craft demonstrations from locals. It’s about 45 minutes from Cusco and on the way to Maras and Moray.
Maras and Moray are close to one another and both relatively quick stops. We spent about an hour at each site which was enough time to take it in. They are both stunning. The salt mines at Maras are still in use today and a very unique sight.
The Incan terraces at Moray are believed to have been used for agriculture, although the true purpose is unknown.
The other day trip we did was Pisac. We found a cab driver to take us there for a good price. He waited for us as we visited the crowded sunday market. I used my limited Spanish negotiating skills to score a beautiful alpaca wool blanket. Our driver then drove us to the top of the mountain where the Inca ruins are located.
The Pisac ruins look over the town of Pisac and out across the mountains. It’s truly a magical setting. We found a tour guide at the entrance who walked us through the site and explained the history. For around $9/person, this was absolutely worth it. We debated giving ourselves a self-guided tour but we all agreed in the end that getting a guide truly made the experience so much better. Plus we had someone to take our picture. Read my in depth look at The Sacred Valley to find out more information about the area.
Rainbow Mountain or Sacred Valley
This is where the itinerary gets tough to narrow down. With only 14 days, I believe it’s more important to spend another day in the Amazon rainforest than in the Sacred Valley. So you’re going to have to make a choice: see more of the Sacred Valley or try to tackle Rainbow Mountain.
If you don’t want to trek up Rainbow Mountain, replace this day with one of the other sites in the Sacred Valley mentioned above. If you aren’t going to do a hike to Machu Picchu, you’ll have plenty of time to see all of this.
Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)
On my trip, I actually hiked Rainbow Mountain after the 5 day Salkantay Trek. I wanted to see how I would be feeling physically, so I didn’t book anything in advance. I ended up booking a local tour the night before for less than $30. This included transportation, a guide, a bag lunch, and dinner cooked by a family on the drive home. If you are considering going, I wrote up a more detailed account of my solo trip to Rainbow Mountain.
This day trip turned out being possibly my favorite part of my whole Peru trip. The scenery was legendary. I was able to capture some of the best photos in my life on that hike. Alpacas were everywhere. The weather was moody. The Peruvians walking their horses along the mountain ridges provided a true sense of authenticity.
Although the hike was relatively crowded with tourists, it felt like you were in the middle of nowhere. Reading horror stories online before my trip, I feared I would have a hard time hiking up this mountain. Maybe because I had just completed the Salkantay trek, but I had no real issues hiking up and only stopped to catch my breath a few times. As you can tell from these photos, rainbow mountain is a must see. Although it’s a long and exhausting day trip, I would try to add it into my Peru itinerary.
Hiking to Machu Picchu
Given my love for hiking and nature, I didn’t want to pass up the memorable experience of walking my way to one of the world’s most iconic destinations. Both the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek are not easy but will immerse you into the true beauty of Peru.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you definitely still have to include Machu Picchu in your itinerary. I mean, c’mon. Look at this.