- 1 Week
This strictly greatest-hits itinerary best suits those with only time enough for a first taste of Peru.
Start your journey in Lima; sleep in at cozy Barranco lodgings and find a ceviche restaurant for a leisurely seafood lunch with a touch of pisco. Follow it up by visiting museums in Lima Centro or by renting bikes to pedal the clifftops via the parks of Miraflores.
Fly early the next day to Cuzco, transferring immediately to the lower Sacred Valley to acclimatize for several days. Explore the market and ruins of Pisac, tour Moray and Maras, perhaps by mountain bike or on foot. With ancient Ollantaytambo as your base, take the train to Aguas Calientes for a day of exploration in the world-famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu. From here, take the train to Estación Poroy so you can spend your last day tripping the cobblestones of wonderful Cuzco, with museum visits, arts and crafts shops and great restaurants. If you can, squeeze in an evening visit to the planetarium.
Fly back to Lima for your final hurrah, with perhaps a food tour before checking out the club scene before you head back home.
The Gringo Trail
- 3 Weeks
This trip hits some of the pre-eminent highlights of the continent.
Leaving Lima, journey south to Pisco and Paracas, where you can boat to the wildlife-rich Islas Ballestas, lodging in Paracas. Then it’s on to Ica, Peru’s wine and pisco capital, and the palm-fringed, dune-lined oasis of Huacachina, a good place to overnight, famous for sandboarding. Next is Nazca for a flight over the mysterious Nazca Lines.
Turn inland for the ‘White City’ of Arequipa, with its colonial architecture and excellent cuisine. Lace up your boots to trek the incredible Cañón del Colca or Cañón del Cotahuasi – the world’s deepest – or climb El Misti, a postcard-perfect 5822m volcano. Continue upwards to Puno, Peru’s port on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest commercially navigable lake. From here you can boat to traditional islands and explore the strange chullpas (ancient funerary towers) at Sillustani and Cutimbo.
Wind through the Andes to Cuzco, South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Browse colorful markets and explore archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley, then trek to Machu Picchu via an adventurous alternative route.
The Best of Peru
- 4 Weeks
If you’re set on getting a taste of everything, this whirlwind tour hits Peru’s top must-see attractions. Give yourself a full month to fully take it all in.
Conquer your jet lag by becoming acquainted with the exquisite tastes of Peru in the restaurants of Lima, strolling parks and museums between meals. Head south through the coastal desert for a flyover of the Nazca Lines before arriving in stylish, cosmopolitan Arequipa, with its mysterious monasteries, deep canyons and smoking volcanoes.
Fly high into the Andes to reach the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco for a few days of acclimatization, exploring the cobblestone city and visiting Sacred Valley villages to check out colorful markets selling textiles, talismans and dozens of types of tubers. Then board the train to Machu Picchu, the most visited archaeological site in South America.
From Cuzco, fly to Puerto Maldonado (or brave the 10-hour bus ride) where you can kick back at a wildlife lodge along one of the mighty rivers of the Amazon Basin. Alternatively, take an overland tour from Cuzco to the Manu area, with remote tracts of virgin forest holding diverse animals from kinkajous to caimans; it’s one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet. Another option for exploring the Amazonian selva (jungle) is to first fly back to Lima, then onward to Iquitos, a bustling port that will launch you deeper into the jungle.
Back in Lima, take a bus or fly north to the adventurers’ base camp of Huaraz, where a short trek will take you to the precipitous peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. A day trip to Chavín de Huántar will lead you to one of Peru’s oldest ancient sites. Rumble back down to the coast at Chimbote, then dash north to historic Trujillo, which offers spicy northern dishes, surrounded by a cornucopia of archaeological sites. These include the ruins of the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, Chan Chan, and the fascinating Huacas del Sol y de la Luna. Finish up the journey by taking a seaside break at the bustling surf town of Máncora.
The Inca Heartland
- 2 Weeks
Follow this trail to soak in the most potent Inca sites and the altiplano.
From Lima, fly to Cuzco but travel to the lower Sacred Valley to spend your first few days acclimatizing to the altitude. Visit the bustling market of Pisac, see the ruins and ride horses at Moray and Maras. The best accommodations are in the quaint Inca village of Ollantaytambo, at a swank valley resort or area B&B.
From Ollantaytambo, hike the town ruins in the morning or visit the cool salt pans of Salineras and take an afternoon train to Aguas Calientes. Enjoy a leisurely dinner and tuck in early to take the first bus to the great Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Spend the day browsing the ruins.
The following morning, hop on the train to Cuzco. Now that you’re acclimatized, spend a few days enjoying the charms of this former Inca capital, taking a walking tour, visiting a few museums, admiring the splendors of Qorikancha, the Inca’s most spectacular temple, and enjoying the city’s outstanding cuisine.
Grab a comfortable tourist bus (or take the historic train) to the altiplano (Andean plateau) city of Puno. If you can coincide with a festival, this is the place to do it, with wild costumes, brass bands and fervent merriment. Otherwise, take in folkloric music at a dinner show or adventure to aquatic accommodations on the retired steamship Yavari.
From your base in Puno, the funerary towers of the Colla, Lupaca and Inca cultures can be found at Sillustani and Cutimbo, an easy day trip, and worth combining with lovely Lampa and its historic church. Take a boat tour of Lake Titicaca, visiting the famous reed islands and staying overnight in traditional family lodgings on Isla Amantaní. If you have a few extra days, take a catamaran tour, which also visits the Bolivian islands of Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, landing you in Copacabana, from where you can take a tourist bus back to Puno.
Returning to Puno, explore the rural coast of the Capachica Peninsula, home to places still steeped in the ancient traditions of the altiplano with nary another traveler in sight.
Get ready for the culture shock of big city living, and fly back to Lima.
- 3 Weeks
More than half of Peru is jungle, populated by spectacular wildlife and tribal peoples. Go overland and drop dramatically away from the eastern slopes of the Andes to slip deep into the Amazon Basin, which stretches all the way to the Atlantic. This entire itinerary takes a month, or it can be divided by region into one- or two-week segments.
The most popular excursion starts from Cuzco and heads to the Manu area, itself the size of a small country, albeit one with kingdoms of jungle lodges. Another option is to fly from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado and kick back in a thatch-roofed bungalow with a view, either along the Río Madre de Dios, the gateway to lovely Lago Sandoval, or along the Río Tambopata, where a national reserve protects one of the country’s largest clay licks. The dry season (July and August) is traditionally the best time to return overland back to Cuzco, although the recent paving of this route means it’s now possible outside these months.
Or return to Lima and turn your focus to the north. The easiest way to get there is to fly from Lima to Pucallpa, a city experiencing a resurgence in popularity, and staying in a lodge or a bungalow in the nearby traveler hangout of Yarinacocha. The lovely oxbow lake is ringed by tribal villages. You can visit some of these, including those of the matriarchal Shipibo people, renowned for their pottery. Hardcore overland travelers can opt to reach Pucallpa from Lima via a multiday river trip to San Ramón, a coffee-growing settlement.
From Pucallpa, begin the classic slow riverboat journey north along the Río Ucayali to Iquitos, the world’s largest city with no road access! This northern jungle capital has a buoyant cultural and nightlife scene, a floating market and a bustling port, where you can catch a more comfortable cruise into Peru’s largest protected space, Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria. You can also access Iquitos flying from Cuzco. It’s also tempting to float over into Colombia or Brazil via the unique tri-border zone.
It’s best to fly if your time is limited; if not, lose yourself for weeks on epic river and road journeys through jungle terrain. Bring bucketloads of patience and self-reliance – and a lot of luck never hurts.
- 2 Weeks
Explore beaches and ancient civilizations heading toward Ecuador.
Head north of Lima to Caral, where South America's oldest known civilization arose about 5000 years ago. Further north, spy ancient engravings of human sacrifice at Sechín and continue to Trujillo. Also see the Moche pyramids of Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, the ruins of the once-mighty Chan Chan and the Museo Arqueológico Municipal de Moche.
Off the sleepy beaches at Huanchaco, surfers hit the breakers while local fishers trawl the coast. To the north, surf spot Puerto Chicama boasts one of the world’s longest left-hand breaks. With a major makeover, the tiny town now has a wonderful new malecón overlooking the action.
Then it’s Chiclayo, with world-class museums nearby showcasing riches from the important archaeological site of Sipán.
Craft-market hub Piura boasts great dining, while the witch doctors of Huancabamba are tucked into the Andes. Peru’s best beaches lie further north, with resorts such as Colán, Máncora, and Punta Sal; linger on here to feast on fresh seafood and dance the balmy nights away.
The journey ends at Tumbes, gateway to Ecuador and jumping-off point to Peru’s endangered mangrove swamps teeming with wildlife (mind the crocs!).
The Wild & Ancient North
- 2 Weeks
Go exploring little-known highland ruins, ending up at the wonders of the Peruvian Amazon.
From Lima, head to Trujillo, sampling the fiery coastal cuisine and exploring nearby ruins at Chan Chan and Huacas del Sol y de la Luna. From Trujillo, take the freshly paved scenic old highway to Cajamarca via the magnificent mountaintop ruins of Marcahuamachuco.
The lovely highland town of Cajamarca is where the conquistadors captured Inca Atahualpa. In the dry season, adventure on the slow, spectacular route to friendly Celendín and on to Leimebamba to see the local community museum displaying over 200 pre-Colombian mummies found nearby. Continue on to Chachapoyas where the cloud forest obscures the fantastic monolithic fortress of Kuélap.
From Chachapoyas, journey via Pedro Ruíz to Tarapoto, where you can hike in lush forest to waterfalls. Next, fly to the jungle city of Iquitos or continue via Yurimaguas, where cargo boats make the rugged two-day trip to Iquitos via the village of Lagunas, the western entry point to the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria, for an unforgettable glimpse of the world’s greatest river basin. At Iquitos, you can arrange boat trips that go deeper into the rainforest and on to Brazil or Colombia.