You’re planning a two week trip to Peru, you’ve saved up all your time off from the last year and you’re excited to cross something off your bucket list. You know you want to head up to Cusco to trek to Machu Picchu, but beyond that, you’re a bit lost. Peru is such a big country with so many different things going on, what can you do for two weeks in Peru?
Heres the deal with Peru. It’s huge. It’s diverse. It has a lot going on. I lived here for 8 months. Then I spent 6 months exploring just this one country. Admittedly, on foot almost the entire time but still. It’s a big beautiful country and planning a two week trip to Peru can be overwhelming. But it is possible.
The first thing you need to figure out is what, exactly, do you want to see in Peru? Are you here for the mountains? Do you want to understand Andean culture on a deeper level? Do you love deserts and oceans, or rainforests and jungles? Peru has it all, and if you’ve only got 2 weeks, you’re going to compromise some of it to experience others.
For this itinerary, I’m combining the traditional tour of Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu with the far less traveled city of Arequipa. Arequipa is by far my favorite city in Peru. The architecture is gorgeous, the food is to die for, and it brings together deserts, mountains, trekking, history, and a little bit of ocean flavor. It’s the full Peru package.
Cusco & Arequipa: Two Week Itinerary in Peru At A Glance
Peru: If You love Architecture, Mountains, and Food
- Day 1-2: Lima
- Day 3: Cusco
- Day 4: Sacred Valley
- Day 5-8: Trekking
- Day 9: Machu Picchu
- Day 10: Arrive Arequipa
- Day 11: Volcano Misti
- Day 12: Volcano Misti
- Day 13: Relaxing Arequipa
- Day 14: Fly home
If you want to spend your two weeks in Peru traveling through architecturally gorgeous cities and trekking across stunning landscapes, you should seriously consider adding Arequipa to your two week trip to Peru.
Assumptions about this Itinerary
I’ve made a few assumptions about you and your two week travel plan before I created this itinerary, so if they don’t apply to you, go ahead and add that little grain of salt to your considerations.
- You have the budget to take flights around Peru instead of buses.
- Why this matters: Buses around Peru are considerably cheaper than flights, but also considerably longer. A flight from Lima to Cusco is 1 hour. A bus ride? 24 hours.
- You want to trek to Machu Picchu, not just bus.
- Why this matters: There are shorter, quicker ways to get to Machu Picchu which can really open up your schedule and give you more time to explore Cusco, the Sacred Valley, or the rest of Peru. But, a trek through the Andes is an unforgettable experience. A trek ending at Machu Picchu even more so. Do the trek.
- You have the budget to hire taxis and tour companies, and are not trying to rough this and do it as low budget as possible. It is possible to do Peru on the cheap, but you have to be willing to take risks, miss buses, and speak Spanish. I’ll cover that in a future post. For now, I’m assuming you’re hiring guides and taxis.
Now, let’s get down to the fun part. Over two weeks in this itinerary you’ll travel from Lima to Cusco, through the mountains to Machu Picchu, then over to Arequipa for volcanoes, colonial architecture, and excellent happy hour deals.
Days 1-2: Two Days in Lima
Day 1: Arrival
You arrive in Lima, hopefully in the early afternoon, although if you’re very unlucky you arrive in the evening. Get a taxi to your hotel, and get settled in.
I won’t presume to suggest hotels, because I’m a dirty backpacker and I’ve never stayed in one. Oh, just kidding, I got a free night at the Sheraton Lima once when a flight got canceled and it was beautiful.
But aside from that fancy Sheraton, the best places to stay by far are in Miraflores and Barranco.
Miraflores is the wealthy neighborhood in Lima, with plenty of interesting architecture and nice cars. I can personally recommend the DragonFly hostel here. It was clean, the staff was friendly, and they have a bar on the roof.
For the slightly more adventurous, a stay in Barranco is really charming. Barranco is Miraflores more bohemian sibling. The streets are filled with murals and graffiti, and there is an amazing cafe culture with lots of little hole in the wall places to eat and shop. I stayed at The Point hostel, which was fine, if you’re into party hostels.
Where to Eat: El Chinito. Seriously the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. I’ll just leave it at that. Get the Chincharrones get whatever looks best to you. It’s all incredible.
Barranco Beer Company: The food is decent, but the beer is great. Peru has a sneaky craft brewery scene, and this little tasting room/restaurant is a good introduction to it.
Lima is one of the best cities in South America for gourmet cuisine. I was never lucky enough to experience any of it so I won’t make recommendations. Check out this list if you’re looking for inspiration.
Day 2: Full Day in Lima.
Start the day with a walk along the oceanfront walkway known as the Miraflores boardwalk. If you’re at all familiar with Los Angeles, you’ll feel like you’re in Santa Monica. If you’re staying in Miraflores, you can follow this pathway all the way down to Barranco (you’ll have to use a noisy bridge to cross a highway, but then you can cut back to the ocean). Walk down to Barranco’s central square and spend some time exploring the alleyways. Pop into El Chinito for the greatest lunch of all time.
After lunch, take a taxi out to the Museo Larco. Even if you hate museums, you really need to see this one before you head to the Andes. They have an incredible collection of Andean ceramics from throughout Peru’s history, and downstairs, they have a collection of erotic pottery. It’s even more astounding than it seems. The cafe is supposed to be great, but I never ate there (dirty backpacker and all)
Entrance to the Museo Larco: s/ 30
If, after this museum trip, you’re still feeling adventurous, hop into another cab and take off for the Plaza de Armas of Lima. It’s a beautiful grand old square with gorgeous Spanish architecture. In my opinion, not a must see, but if you have the time and energy, go for it.
Head back to Miraflores for dinner. If you can get a reservation at one of Lima’s top restaurants, more power to you.
Day 3: Cusco
Get up early and head to the airport for your flight to Cusco, arriving in Cusco before noon. Cusco is a tiny city so from the airport to your hotel should take 30 minutes or less.
Spend the afternoon exploring some of the sights of Cusco.
Purchase the Boleto Turistico (3 day Pass, s/70) to get the most out of the next two days. Get a taxi to drive you up to Saqsaywaman in the afternoon, an incredible old fortress that sits on an outcropping over Cusco. Stunning views of the city from up here. There are several more ruins extending back into the mountains from there. If the altitude isn’t getting to you, go ahead and check them out. otherwise, head back into the city and spend your afternoon admiring the large Incan walls and structures that still guard the streets around Cusco’s plaza de armas, and head over to the San Pedro Market for a glimpse into the kind of textiles and food products that make up local life in Cusco.
Where to Stay: The San Blaas neighborhood of Cusco is by far the most charming. Picture white stuccoed walls with bright blue doorways winding off into the distance. There are plenty of charming bed and breakfast type places here.
What to Eat: Cuy, Peruvian for Guinea Pig, is the official dish of Cusco and not to be missed if you are a meat eater. You can get it at most tourist restaurants.
Pollo y Papas: roasted chicken and potatoes. Quite possibly the national dish of Peru, I’ve never had chicken cooked like this. Roasted whole over coals and chopped up to order, the chicken is so succulent and juicy it defies understanding. The potato wedges are good too. Get it with all the sauces, and take advantage of the included salad bar.
Street food: No one would confuse it with southeast Asia, but Cusco has some pretty delicious street food if you know where to find it. Usually around the San Pedro market is the best place to look. Look out for Papa Rellena (potato stuffed with egg and vegetables, served with a spicy chili sauce), Rocoto Rellena (rocoto pepper stuffed with cheese and vegetables), and yucca frita (deep fried yucca with a spicy chili sauce). Yes, most street foods are deep fried.
Day 4: Sacred Valley Day Tour – Pisac & Ollantaytambo
The Sacred Valley is one of the most beautiful places in all of Peru, and you could legitimately spend your entire two weeks here just chilling out, trekking, and enjoying the atmosphere. Trust me, I spent 8 months there. But for the purposes of this two week itinerary, you’ll be taking a day trip.
Lots of tour companies and guides will arrange this for you in Cusco, but here is what I recommend if you have only 1 day in the valley:
Pisac: Get up early and head down to Pisac. It’s only a one hour drive from Cusco, and Pisac is located at the very end of the valley, where it kind of splits off in two directions. Pisac used to be a center of the Incan civilization, and this is evidenced by the massive ruins on top of a mountain near town. If you’re feeling athletic, you can drive halfway up, and then take a stroll through the ruins. Your boleto turístico covers your entry.
If you’re not so into Incan ruins, spend the morning exploring the handicraft market in Pisac’s main square. The goods are overpriced, but what did you expect in a tourist market? The sellers are friendly and the textiles are authentic. It’s not a bad place to pick up some souvenirs.
If you happen to be there on a Sunday, check out the Sacred Sushi Sundays where you can get vegan curry and vegan sushi lovingly prepared by Brian. It’s a gathering place for all of the hippie gringos and Limeños that call Pisac home. Located just above Apu Organics.
After your sacred sushi lunch, head back into the car and make the long drive down the whole valley to Ollantaytambo. Yes, it is a long drive. About 1.5 hours. But if you only have one day in the valley, you just gotta suck it up and do it. The views are incredible, so just enjoy that.
Ollantaytambo is called the last living Inca city, and it lives up to the name. Ollantay was built by the Inca, and the original structures are still standing and lived in today. The ruins standing high about the city are worth the walk, and are the site of the only battle the Spanish ever lost in the war with the Inca. It is a beautiful village and you don’t want to miss it. The boleto tourístico that you purchased in Cusco will cover entrance to this ruin as well.
Then after that, pop into Hearts Cafe for dinner or at least a snack. This cafe is also a social enterprise supporting Andean women and children living up in the remote communities, often without access to hygiene products, electricity, or running water.
If you’ve got extra time and a really jovial tour guide, pop into the Cervezeria del Valle Sagrado, located just outside of Ollantaytambo on your way back to Cusco. They have some of the best beer in Peru, and are open for tastings most days until 7pm.
Spend that night EITHER back in Cusco, or, if your tour company allows it, spend a night in Ollantaytambo. It just depends which trek you are doing. You can easily start the Inca Trail, and the Lares Trek from Ollantay, but if you’re doing Salkantay, you’ll probably want to head back to Cusco.
Days 5-8: TIME TO TREK
It is up to you to decide which trek you want to take to get to Macchu Picchu. There are three treks I’d recommend: The Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or Lares Trek. All three have their strengths, and their weaknesses.
The Inca Trail is the Inca Trail, and if you can afford the prices of the tour companies, you should do it. No questions asked. Obviously. Who cares that its crowded? It’s the goddamned Inca trail. The Inca took this to get to Machu Picchu! There is nothing else like it in the world.
But if you’re cheap or booking last minute, or you just want to be contrarian, you can do the Salkantay Trek. Okay, in all seriousness, the Salkantay trek is also meant to be stunning and will get you extremely close to high Andean glacial peaks. It is beautiful and life changing and while you wont finish your trek hiking through the Incan Sun Gate at dawn, you will get to walk all the way to Macchu Picchu (if you want to), or you can take a care from Santa Theresa to the Hydroelectric Dam, and just walk along the train tracks for an hour to Aquas Calientes.
Last, if you really want to do something different, and don’t mind taking a train or bus to Machu Picchu after the trek, you can do the far less traveled Lares Hot Springs Trek. I’ve done this one not once but two times (you can start from three different places in the valley) and it is gorgeous, remote, and you get to finish at a hot spring! From there, you hop in a car and drive most of the way to Machu Picchu, walking the last hour along the train tracks to Aquas Calientes. I don’t want to tell you too much more because, well, Lares Hot Springs is currently fairly unknown and I’d love for it to stay that way.
If you’re still looking for a tour company to help you set up your time in Cusco and treks to Machu Picchu, I want to recommend Unique Peru Tours. This company knows Peru like the back of their hands, they take the treks, they represent the culture, and they will work with you to give your the tour you’ve been dreaming of. Also, just so you know, I’m not getting paid to write this, but the company is owned by my good friend.
Day 9: Machu Picchu!
Wow! The glory! The insanity! How did they get those huge rocks on top of that big ass mountain? It must be aliens. (It wasn’t aliens, give your own species some damn credit)
Day 9 you arrive at Macchu Picchu, whether by Incan sun gate or by walking up the side of the mountain, or you take a bus. Explore the ruins, enjoy the sheer magnificence of it all. Take a few moments to take it all in and realize that an entire civilization once spanned the Andes, a landscape you just struggled to walk through for 3 days.
A quick note about Huayna Picchu: if you’re visiting Peru during the dry season, from May to October, and you want to make that extra climb to get the perfect view of MP, then go for it. If you’re visiting in the rainy season, don’t bother. You’ll only get a view of clouds and it’ll be extremely dangerous climbing up that steep peak in the rain. Save your money for something else.
After visiting Machu Picchu, it’s get back on the train (or hike out along the train tracks to where the taxi’s wait) and head back to Cusco.
Day 10: Arequipa
Wake up in Cusco and head to the airport to fly to Arequipa. Arrive in Arequipa hopefully before noon. Get settled in your hotel and head out to explore!
Arequipa. So beautiful, so charming, it’s an unforgettable city that will get stuck in your heart. Unlike most other towns and cities in Peru, this city has no ancient history. It was built by the Spanish as a symbol of their power in 1540. Perhaps that is why a stroll through it’s streets feels like a stroll through Spain. The streets surrounding the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa are built of this gorgeous white stone that was quarried locally by the
spanish enslaved Peruvians. Take a tour of the amazing cathedral standing on the square, or visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina that still stands nearby (s/10 for a guided tour).
What to Eat: Ask any Peruvian what they love about Arequipa and they’ll all give you the same answer: the food. Even though you may feel that you are still in the high mountain air, you’re quite close to the sea, so time to get down with some ceviche. Ceviche, empanadas, and queso helado (a really funny cheese ice cream) are some of my highlights from the city.
Where to Stay: near the plaza de armas.
Day 11-12: Trekking Misti
Rising up above Arequipa is an incredibly tall mountain. It looms over the city like some overbearing parent, just waiting to explode. And it is waiting to explode, because it is still an active volcano, known as Misti. And although it reaches up to 5825 meters at its peak, you can reach the summit in only 2 days!
On the first day, you’ll leave your hotel early and drive most of the way up the volcano. The taxi lets you out halfway up, and you set out from there. The hike begins at 3400m and you’ll hike for about five hours to get to 4500m. Your tour company will arrange for you to have porters, hopefully, so you just need to carry a small bag. You camp halfway up, preparing for the summit on the next day.
Day 12: The next day is an early start, leaving camp at 1am, you trek through the night, trying to reach the summit by dawn. You’re hiking up above 5000m, and even if you acclimatized during your Cusco trekking, you will still feel this altitude. Take it easy and pay attention to the signals coming from your body. Altitude sickness is no joke. Once you reach the summit of Misti and the sun rises, you’ll get an absolutely breathtaking view of the surrounding mountainous desert landscape, with Arequipa spread out before you. The coastal deserts of Peru and Chili are some of the driest places in the world, and you finally understand that as you are gazing out at its barren expanse from the top of the tallest point around.
Head back down to meet your ride back into Arequipa, where you can collapse gratefully in your hotel room.
Day 13: Arequipa Relaxation
Your last full day in Peru can be spent in Arequipa, if you’ve still got the energy to explore. I recommend checking out La Recoleta. This doesn’t come up high on most people’s lists of “What to Do” in Arequipa, but I stumbled upon it and thought it was truly incredible. It’s an old chapel/monastery. It operates a small museum displaying the old monastic way of life. But the real highlight is upstairs on the second floor (check opening hours): one of the oldest archives in South America. They have texts from the 1500s! You can’t touch many of the old texts, but its still a beautiful space to enjoy and explore, and there is an old illustrated timeline laid out across the room that explains our cultural point of view from a few hundred years ago.
After your visit to La Recoleta, it’s time to visit Juanita! No visit to Arequipa is complete until you’ve taken the time to visit this ancient Incan mummy in the flesh. She was on tour when I was there, and I was unbelievably disappointed I couldn’t see her.
Protip: Celebrate your last day by indulging in the excellent happy hour deals available just off the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa.
Day 14: Head Home
Wake up early in Arequipa and fly Arequipa>Lima>Home.
The Takeaway: Arequipa is a city not to be missed
I hope this little guide helps you make a decision about what to do for two weeks in Peru. If it wasn’t clear, Arequipa was one of my favorite cities that I visited in Peru, and even now, almost two years after my trip there, I’m still dreaming about it. If this itinerary doesn’t sound like the perfect fit for you, stay tuned. I’ve got a few more coming that will include surf towns, Lake Titicaca homestays, and trips to the Amazon jungle.