2 / 3 weeks for the highlights of Peru

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
9
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
4
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
10
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
9
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
77 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Peru
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 2,300
Time of year visited
May
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
52nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 20% SUMMARY RATING: World Class

Summary

Peru really does have some world class attractions – world beating restaurants in Lima, a wonder of the world with Machu Picchu, the world’s deepest canyon and some of the best preserved ruins in the world courtesy of the master builder Incas.  The below 2/3 week itinerary lets you enjoy these key sites, plus great activities like hiking, paragliding, zip-lining; and gives you those critical ingredients in a great trip – a sense of fun and adventure as you head a bit off the beaten track

As with all such trips, having more time is ideal.  I’m sure you could easily take months on this itinerary, and indeed far longer for the rest of Peru.  But 2.5 weeks felt about perfect for this trip with the right combo of full-on days mixed in with chill-out days in each of the stops to soak up the place and generally recharge the batteries after the travelling and hiking.  Similarly, you could also, if super pressed for time, knock off the 5 chill-out days and blitz through this trip in 2 weeks – and indeed many have done – but just be aware that there are two quite strenuous hikes and the need to acclimatise to the altitude when you land in Cusco

One of the best 2/3 week adventures I’ve been on.  Highly recommend

highlights

#1 Hiking through some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world on the Inca Trail and its surrounding area

#2 Looking across the stunning chasm of the Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest canyon

#3 The world class restaurants of Lima, showcasing the best of Peruvian cuisine

#4 Checking out Machu Picchu - one of the Wonders of the World and in the most stunning setting

#5 Marvelling at the Inca perfection at sites such as Pisac in the Sacred Valley. no wonder they are known as the Master Builders

#6 Soaking up Arequipa, one of the best Old Towns in Latin America, and with hidden little gems such as the Santa Catalina Monastery right in the heart of town

#7 Waking up early on the last day of the Inca Trail hike to the Sun Gate and your first glimpse of Machu Picchu

#8 Soaring off in less than 2mins from decision to being in the air as you check out the Lima coastal areas from the air

#9 Zip-lining through the gorgeous valley near Chivay

#10 Driving through the picturesque small Peruvian villages in the simply beautiful Sacred Valley

#11 Wandering through the countryside right next to Cusco for some gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding area

#12 Finishing your day's exploring Arequipa with sun downers overlooking the volcanoes in Arequipa

#13 Working your way through the busy traffic on the Inca Trail

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1/3 – Lima.  Wander the super cool neighbourhoods by the ocean front, trying some amazingly convenient paragliding over the cliffs, and above all make sure you get booked in for 2/3 of the world famous restaurants (see Lima a weekend of world class restaurants and paragliding for more details)
  • Day 4/5 – Cusco.  Fly from Lima to Cusco (roughly 4 hours), soak up the narrow Cusco streets and spend time walking up to some of the smaller Inca sites within walking distance such as Saqsaywaman, Pukapukara and Tambomachay (more details in A walk around some of the key Inca sites outside Cusco)
  • Day 6 – Sacred Valley.  Leave Cusco around midday to drive through the Sacred Valley, seeing the combination of engineering marvels the Inca left and the picturesque villages dotted all through this gorgeous valley.  Stay the night in Ollantaytambo (see Drving through the Sacred Valley for more details)
  • Day 7 – Ollantaytambo.  Take your time to see some of the Inca sites and rest up before the Inca Trail
  • Day 8/11 – the 3 night /4 day Inca Trail and finish at Machu Picchu.  The highlight of the country with its immense scenery, lasting Inca architceture and finishing at one of the Wonders of the World.  For more details see the travel entries for Hiking the 4 day / 3 night Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.  Make your way back to Cusco to arrive in the early evening
  • Day 12 – relax in Cusco
  • Day 13/14 – fly from Cusco to Arequipa (1.5 hour flight time) and spend a day wandering around what must be one of the best Old Towns in Latin America (see here for more details – A couple of days in Arequipa)
  • Day 15/17 – the Colca Canyon.  Travel from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon and hike down to spend the evening in the canyon itself.  The next day hike back out of the canyon and spend the evening in Chivay.  Final day, zip-line in the early morning and make your way back to Arequipa for sundowners overlooking the 3 majestic volcanoes and to toast your successes over the past 2/3 weeks (see Hiking and zip-lining in the Colca Canyon for more details)
  • Day 18 – fly from Arequipa to Lima

Travel Tips

All of the detailed travel tips for each stop are listed in their individual entries (and you can see the links in the itinerary above), but just a few tips for Peru overall:

    • Altitude – Cusco is 3,300m / 11,150 feet which is high enough to give you altitude sickness (generally feeling a bit like a bad hangover, which isn’t fun).  You can do various things to help, such as take pills (we took Acetazolamide and felt like it helped), drink coca tea, take pain killers to help with the headache etc, but the best way is simply to give your body time to get used to the altitude.  This itinerary gives you roughly 4 days to acclimatise between landing in Cusco and starting on the Inca Trail, which is enough
    • History of the Inca – outside of Lima, this itinerary has a strong Inca theme so it adds a lot to the trip to know a bit about them.   I’d recommend Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams – an easy read as the author re-creates the rediscovery of Machu Picchu and gives enough detail that any first time visitor would need.  For the broader context on the Incas and the other pre-Columbus American civilisations, I’d highly recommend 1491 by Charles Mann which will, I think, open your eyes to just how sophisticated these civilisations were before the arrival, in particular, of Eurasian diseases

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone