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.
Unless you are doing a tour from Cusco, you should really spend the night prior in Aguas Calientes. I’ll have more on that below on Day 9. Take these extra days to explore more of the Sacred Valley and Cusco. Or opt for an extra day in the Amazon. You won’t regret that decision.
There are many treks that lead to Machu Picchu, but two of the most popular are the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek. Both have options for shorter hikes (2 day, 3 day, etc) but the full 5 day hike was the experience we were looking for.
The Inca Trail is one of the most famous multi-day hikes in the world. For this reason, it is also much more crowded. The terrain isn’t as mountainous or difficult as the Salkantay Trek. But don’t be fooled. Both reach very high altitudes. The Inca Trail has a peak of 13,828 feet and the Salkantay Trek reaches 15,090 at the Salkantay Pass.
The Salkantay Trek offered a less crowded and more challenging hike which was appealing to Nick, Robin, and I when we planned our trip. It’s also a cheaper option than the Inca Trail if you’re on a tight budget. To read more about our 5 Day Salkantay Trek click here. On a past visit to Peru, Rob hiked in Inca Trail and you can read about his experience as well.
Hiking through the Andes and into the jungle is something I will never forget. If you are physically able I strongly suggest getting to Machu Picchu this way. Your guide will lead you past massive glaciers, raging waterfalls, secluded villages, exotic wildlife, and the stunning Lake Humantay all before reaching the grand prize: Machu Picchu.
Alas we have made it. The big day. Machu Picchu. Slightly misleading, when you sign up for a 5 Day Trek to Machu Picchu, the 5th day you aren’t really trekking anywhere. You are exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu. But there will still be plenty of walking.
The fourth day ends in the quaint mountain town of Aguas Calientes. You should stay here at least one night before your Machu Picchu entrance. It’s a beautiful town in its own right and if you have the time, I’d even spend two nights here.
Try to get a bus ticket that leaves as early as possible. People will be lining up starting around 4:30am. Our guide made our entire group get in line at that time and we were some of the first people inside the entrance. This changed our whole experience.
We not only had a knowledgeable guide explaining the cultural importance of the site, but we also had an unspoiled view of Machu Picchu with the soft light of the sunrise. Whether you arrive by a trek or take the train from Cusco, Machu Picchu is a must and even blew away our over-hyped expectations.
You will return to Cusco by train and arrive in the evening before heading off into the rainforest the next day.
The Amazon Jungle
The Amazon rainforest. A childhood fantasy of mine come true. If you like the idea of cruising around on a boat all day looking for animals, you need to strongly consider adding the Amazon to your itinerary. You’ll be surrounded by nature and calmly forget about the rest of the outside world. Sleeping immersed in the jungle noises is a magical experience that you’ll never forget.
The Peruvian Amazon has three main tourist areas: Iquitos, Tambopata National Reserve and Manu National Park. While they all offer different highlights, I decided to go to the Tambopata National Reserve area due to its proximity to Cusco. This also seemed like the best bang for your buck so to speak - you can get closer to the wildlife in a shorter amount of time.
Manu was my first choice but it takes too long to get into the heart of it and you have to take long road transportation which isn’t good if you have limited time. Iquitos would be my go to for a cruise on the Amazon river to search for pink river dolphins and experience more of the native culture. I hope to visit both of the other destinations one day. I took a short flight from Cusco into the tiny town of Puerto Maldonado and was on my way.
Located on the Madre de Dios river, the Tambopata region has a ton of jungle lodges to choose from that will supply transportation, accommodation and guided tours. I stayed at the Inkaterra Jungle Lodge and absolutely loved my experience. It was oddly the nicest place I stayed in my entire Peru trip. Being prepared for the jungle is important, and if you wanna learn more about how to prepare yourself and what to pack for the Amazon Rainforest I talk about that here.
I saw a ton of animals including caiman, capybara, sloths, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, tamarins, bullet ants, a snake, a tarantula, and a ton of birds including the magical looking hoatzin. I dive further into my experience in the Amazon Jungle here.
If the jungle is not your thing, this can be replaced with more days exploring the Sacred Valley and Cusco. Or take a trip to iconic Lake Titicaca. Fly or take a bus down to Puno, your base for visiting the highest lake in the world. To get the best experience, spend a night on one of the islands.
On the fourth day you will depart in the early afternoon, flying back directly to Lima. I always like to get back to the city I’m flying out of at least one night before my flight. This prevents possible delays or unexpected problems that could come up and allows you to take your time at the end of the trip. Depending when you leave the next day, spend the day relaxing at your hotel or set out to explore Lima.
Although overlooked on many Peru trips, largely only seen as a transportation hub, Lima does have a few interesting sights to explore. I suggest staying in the Miraflores or Barranco neighborhoods. They are tourist friendly and have great dining options. Walk down the Malecon coastal boardwalk in Miraflores or check out the ancient ruins of Huaca Pucllana.
I drove through the outskirts of Lima in an uber to get a tattoo and let me tell you the poverty around the city can be pretty shocking. I’d stick to the above mentioned areas unless you’re exploring the sights in the Plaza Mayor like the Cathedral of Lima or the Government Palace. And even wandering a little far off from the plaza can be shady.
If you’re going to do one thing in Lima, you must visit the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima (Saint Francis Monastery). Wow. This place is incredible. Built in 1674, this UNESCO World Heritage Site contains an ancient looking library with child-sized books and an eerie catacombs!
Two weeks is not enough time to fully explore Peru, but with this itinerary you are packing all the highlights into one trip!