2 weeks in Peru & how to plan this dream trip

2 weeks in Peru & how to plan this dream trip
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Peru was a dream trip and we share with you our 2 weeks plan. Inspired by movies, documentaries and books around Machu Picchu and the mysterious Inca world. Peru is a place that both of us always wanted to see and felt attracted to. We knew it would be an incredible experience to visit this place. We weren’t expecting though to find so many other treasures in this South American country. When we started researching about Peru, we discovered many other hidden gems. These made this trip a wholesome experience in so many ways.

Why visit Peru?

Peru is a unique place that is full of history, mystery, and dynamism. Apart from Machu Picchu, there are many other reasons why you should visit the country. Strong Andean traditions are still very much present in Peru. These are visible in the vibrant Andean textiles, in the local cuisines (guinea pigs are considered a food delicacy), and in ancient rituals. The country’s culture, customs and way of life reveals a blend of influences. From the native Incas, to the Spanish colonizers, and more recently other immigrant groups coming from Asia, Africa, and Europe. 

Peruvian food is considered the New Nordic Cuisine. There are a lot of different things to try during a trip to this country. The country’s two official languages are Quechua and Spanish, but Aymara is another widely spoken language. The latter is widespread in the south of the country, along the shores of Lake Titicaca. 

Peru is a country with a lot of different landscapes, food, and people living in it. This was the first South American country that both of us visited. We left the country impressed with a sense of pride in its people and how the surrounding nature shaped people’s lives. 

Filled with a rich history, landscapes, and people, Peru is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime

How to plan a trip to Peru?

Planning a trip to Peru is more than just buying plane tickets, booking hotels, etc. Given that parts of the country are located at high altitudes (2,438 – 5,487 meters), you need to get prepared physically. We arranged with a personal trainer to get a training plan for 3 months before our trip. You should also consider altitude sickness symptoms and what to bring with you for that. We brought with us Diamox tablets that were recommended by our doctor, to help reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. These can help decrease headache, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath, which usually occur when you climb quickly to high altitudes (generally 3,050 meters). 

Another aspect when preparing for a trip to Peru is also to learn more about it. We read different materials (literature, articles) and watched documentaries to learn more about Peru and design our own travel plan. This helped us to contextualise our trip, to be more aware of what we were seeing and to ask questions when in Peru.

Are two weeks in Peru enough?

If you keep reading, you’ll see that Peru is much more than Machu Picchu. You’ll also see that 2 weeks is not enough for a country with so much to see and explore. So get some reading done before taking that plane to Lima, check trip itineraries, history books, etc. This will allow you to take the most out of the trip, which for some of us only happens once in a lifetime.

Another important aspect of planning a trip to Peru is to save up. If you are going that far away and you have limited time, you will want to have money to spend. You won’t want to waste this opportunity, to visit such a unique place by not having enough to spend. Peru is an expensive trip, but you can keep it on a budget if you plan ahead. You can check our 7 planning tips to get some ideas like to start saving a couple of months before.

How to plan a trip to Peru? 

There are different options of where to go in Peru, depending on the time and budget one has. The country has a bit of everything to amaze the traveler. You can find surfing spots in the north and ancient ruins in the south. You can experience cold and high altitude mountainous landscapes, but also hot deserts and Amazonic jungles.

We planned our trip around one of Peru’s best-known attractions, Machu Picchu. Situated at an altitude of 2430m above sea level, this historical site is one of the country’s best-known monuments. Machu Picchu is not the only one of its kind though, there are other sacred places alike. These don’t have the same amount of attention as M. Picchu but are equally impressive: Chan Chan, Choquequirao, Caral, Kuelap, Pachacamac. If you are one that wants to avoid crowds, these might be a good alternative you can look into. Stay tuned and follow us on social media for coming articles about these cities! 

Our itinerary centered in the south of the country, one which started in Lima and gradually ended up Machu Picchu. From first to last, we visited Lima, Huacachina, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, and finally Machu Picchu. Travelling by bus was the best way we found to go around Peru. Peru has a very good bus system in place and most Peruvians use it to travel between cities. The bus tickets weren’t expensive and it was very safe.

When to go?

Consider this, according to the National Meteorology of Peru, the country has 38 different types of climates. These are a result of the interaction between different climatic factors and the country’s unique geographical position in the tropics and the Andes. The 3 main regions of the country also contain the three main climates: the coast has a subtropical climate and very little rainfall, most of it is desert; the mountains (Andes) have quite a lot of rainfall and vary between cool to cold, and the jungle (Amazon region) have a tropical, equatorial climate that’s warm all year round.

The best time to visit Peru weather-wise is during the dry season between May and October, especially if you want to hike. This is however the peak season when everyone wants to go. When we were there, temperatures were generally mild ranging between 21oC in Lima and -5oC in Puno at night. These varied depending on the location, if it was high altitude or not.

Also be aware of crowds, especially around the more touristic spots like Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. When we went, there were large crowds, but that was to be expected.

Part OneItinerary (7 Days)

Day 1 & 2 – Lima

Lima is a massive city consisting of 30 districts, each one with its unique character. The capital has a diverse urban landscape, from imposing colonial mansions in the historical center to the casanas between the apartment blocks in Miraflores and the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco. 

2 weeks in Peru & how to plan this dream trip

Although not a dangerous city, Lima as most capitals has areas that are considered more dangerous than others. It is advised to avoid being there at night or in general. Always be careful not to enter places you don’t know or that are not recommended. In Lima, some of these areas are: Central Lima (Cercado de Lima); San Juan de Lurigancho; Callao; Ate Vitarte; La Victoria; San Martín de Porres; Villa El Salvador; Santa Anita; Villa María del Triunfo; San Juan de Miraflores; Comas; El Agustino.

Free walking tours – Barranco, city center

We recommend visiting the city by going on free walking tours. These are the best and safest ways to explore, and we always join one in every trip we do. We find that these give you info on historical context, but also useful tips and what to be aware of. Also, you can always meet other travelers, learn new things and maybe hang out together after the tour. If you’re curious, you can check Lima’s several walking tours here

We met our guide at a hostel nearby and started the tour in the main square – Plaza Mayor. The tour lasted  3h and gave us a comprehensive look at the historical part of the city and overall influences in the country. Lima is a big city with a historical center that shows the Spanish architecture in its main square (Plaza Mayor), with surrounding tall buildings and a promenade that stretches a good few km along the seaside. At the end of the tour, we tasted a typical drink called Pisco Sour, made from distilled grape, with lemon and other ingredients. Like a cocktail drink, Pisco Sour can have different kinds of fruits added to it, making it an incredibly fresh drink to have. 

2 weeks in Peru & how to plan this dream trip

After eating a delicious Ceviche (one of the typical seafood dishes you should definitely try), we decided to go on an afternoon Free Walking tour in the neighborhood of Barranco. One of Lima’s main hipster neighborhoods, where you can enjoy great street art and a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. 

Where to stay?

During our research, Miraflores and Barranco came up as the preferred neighborhoods to stay in because of safety and location. We booked a room at the Hostel Kokopeli, which is centrally located in Miraflores and we had a good experience. The staff was very relaxed and helpful, the prices were good for the location, and the level of cleanliness and comfort was pretty good alongside the delicious breakfast we had included in the price. We always had fresh eggs made in the morning.

To reach the hostel, we took a taxi from the airport to Lima city center. One thing to keep in mind is that in Peru, you negotiate the price of the taxi beforehand. A good way to find out what is a reasonable price to pay is to ask the hotel in advance what is the price range. Sometimes they also offer pickup service. 

Tip: Inside the airport, you will be approached by taxi drivers offering to take you for a certain price. If you bypass them you will find outside other drivers offering cheaper deals.

In Lima, temperatures were always pleasant and there was a constant mist (garúa), engulfing the city. This is caused by the interaction between warm inland desert winds (Lima is a desert) and cool water streams from the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon lasts for at least 5 months of the year (June-October).

Day 3 & 4 – Ica/Huacachina

On day 3 of our trip, we took a bus in the morning from Lima and left for Huacachina, which is about 265km away. The bus only takes you to the neighboring city of Ica and from there you need to go by taxi to Huacachina. The bus trip was a total of about 5hours and it was a comfortable ride, with some interesting views along the way. It was striking to see the changing landscape from the ocean to the desert. We didn’t do it, but you could consider stopping along the way to visit interesting places like Chincha or Paracas.

2 weeks in Peru & how to plan this dream trip

Built around a small natural desert lake in the 90s and surrounded by sand dunes, Huacachina is located southwest of Lima. It is a hidden small paradise nestled in inland Peru that we had no idea existed. It attracts both foreigners and locals. If you go to Huacachina, you have to try the famous sand buggy tours to explore the surrounding dunes and get a bit of adrenaline pumping in your veins by trying sandboarding or in our case more like sand sliding. At the end of the tour, you get rewarded with a beautiful sunset on top of the dune and the Andes on the backside, far in the distance.

Where to stay?

There are a few options to stay in Huacachina, we stayed at Wild Olive Guesthouse. This was a good choice in between hotels and hostels. It had a nice restaurant with a terrace outside and it was perfect for the time we spent there. In the morning, it was such a peaceful feeling to eat breakfast outside with a view of the lake, the warm air and breeze touching our faces.

In total, we spent 1.5 days in Huacachina and it was a good break to get some sun in our faces and drink some refreshing pisco cocktails. Huacachina was a very relaxing experience. There was something special about being tucked away in such a small desert oasis in the middle of Peru. We still remember the breathtaking feeling from going up and down the 4×4 buggy, grabbing on one of the rims for dear life and within a few seconds, the vehicle would hit the ground creating an oozy vibration in our stomachs. 

Day 5 – Arequipa, “white city”

From Huacachina to Arequipa, we took another bus this time during the night and arrived in Arequipa in the morning. In some cases, it is tiring to travel during the night, and you might be a bit of a wreck the next day, but you are saving time and money by doing it this way. For us, it wasn’t so tiring as the buses were very comfortable and we saw it as another part of the whole experience of traveling in Peru. 

We enjoyed getting lost in the city’s narrow streets, bumped into a local book fair, and bought some cooking books, and before going out for dinner, chilled at the main square (Plaza de Armas). The atmosphere, especially at night was very lively, with plenty of night light, people sitting and walking around, friends getting together and chatting about everything and anything. We sat in the white steps of the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, surrounded by the yellow, dim lights from the old and well-maintained street lamps while absorbing the atmosphere. It was a good break from Lima, and because our hotel was so close to the center, we didn’t feel stressed that we had to leave soon.

5 volcanoes

Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru and is surrounded by four impressive volcanoes: Misti (5,825m high), Ampato Volcano (6,288m), Chachani (6.075m), Pichu Pichu (5,644m). It is dubbed the white city because of its distinctive volcanic stone architecture in the historical center. Many of the buildings are made of volcanic rock, called sillar, a kind of white stone, thus the nickname “White city”. The urban landscape offers a mix of Indigenous and Spanish colonial architecture. 

Arequipa

The air temperature was chilly and we started to feel the altitude as Arequipa sits at 2,328 meters above sea level. Arequipa is different from Lima, because of its size, architecture but also people. The city felt less cosmopolitan than Lima, but more picturesque, at least the city center, in some ways. We were tired from our trip but excited at the same time for this change, it felt like going into a different country.

We had a delicious dinner at a cozy restaurant called Chicha por Gaston Acurio, owned by a famous Peruvian chef, where we tried some alpaca meat for the first time. It had a strong taste but we had to try it. To say that, Peru has plenty of vegetarian options, the local produce is abundant.

Where to stay?

We stayed at a small hotel called Casa Consuelo Hotel. Casa Consuelo offered simple, comfortable accommodation, and it was close to the city center. We enjoyed a tasty breakfast (cereals, bread, fresh fruits, avocado, eggs, etc.) on the terrace, with a great view of the surrounding volcanoes. 

A dedicated article to Arequipa coming soon, so stay tuned for more!

All in all, it was a small stop but refreshing and so different from what we had already experienced so far in Lima. The mystic volcanoes called us and we were excited for our next stop going deeper in the Andes.

Day 6 & 7 – Colca Canyon & Andean Condor

Our 2 day-1 night tour that started the next day, (we booked with a local travel agency called Giardino Tours, took us deep into the dramatic beauty of the Colca Canyon and Colca Valley region, which surrounds Arequipa. Colca Canyon is a 3270m deep canyon, located in the Colca Valley, about 160 km from Arequipa, at an altitude of 3500m. The area is protected as a national park and there are several tours you can arrange from Arequipa.

Colca Canyon

We took a bus from Arequipa early morning the next day and it was an exciting feeling of leaving the urban landscape behind and going deeper into the Andean nature. One of the things we liked about Giardino was their focus on respecting the local environment, as well as how informative the tour was. Our guide really tried her best to make us understand what we were seeing in our passing, about the vegetation, the animals, the landscape, the history, and the people living in the valley.

Along the way, we could see the gradual changes in landscape and vegetation as we gained altitude. The land would slowly transform from an arid woodland with several cacti to puna grasslands (typical of the Andean region, also found in Chile), frigid grassland topped with snow-capped peaks. 

We crossed paths with llamas and vicuñas, who were very friendly and stayed around long enough for some pictures. We also stopped briefly in a small cafe, where we had a welcoming coca tea and petted an orphan lama that the owners had adopted. He was very cute and would come to us without us asking. 

Patapampa – 4900m

We reached the highest viewpoint called Mirador de Los Andes in Patapampa, which is at 4,900m. We saw 5 volcanos, with one or two emitting smoke from the top, it was quite impressive. At this altitude, the effects on our bodies were quite obvious. We could feel the shortness of breath, the cold winds in our faces, the slowness in movement, even though we were there only temporarily. After we started descending and chewing some coca leaves, the headaches started to slow down, either because they actually worked or because of the placebo effect. We also had brought pills (Diamox) with us and started taking them. Not everybody in the group felt this way, so it really is a very personal thing, how one experiences altitude.

We ended our day enjoying the sunset at a nearby hot spring. We were very tired and dipping our heads in warm water was the most relieving feeling ever. At night, when we went to sleep, it was very difficult to fall asleep because the pounding headaches didn’t disappear. 

Where to stay?

There are different options you can stay at in Colca Valley, we chose to stay at a very cozy, family-style B&B called La Casa de MamaYacchi. It had a big dining/living room with a cozy fireplace and in front a beautiful view of the canyon and the surrounding landscape. It also had an open area with colorful hammocks to rest and soak up the view. The rooms were very clean and comfortable and the food was also quite good.  

The flight of the Andean Condor

One of the main attractions of the Colca Valley is the famous Condor bird (a type of vulture). To witness the flight of the Condor is quite something. The Condor is a majestic bird that doesn’t really fly as such, but hovers and takes advantage of the warm morning winds. The Condor takes advantage of these warm air currents to help him gain altitude and soar through the sky. We tried to take pictures multiple times, but it was hard to catch one from a good angle, and they were so fast in taking off. 

From the viewpoint called Mirador Cruz del Condor, we stayed a bit afterward and saw some local women selling handicrafts and handmade clothes, beautifully made and very colorful. 

High altitude

For us, being for the first time in the Andes and at such a high altitude, we really felt that the whole experience was very special and unique. The sheer drop of the canyon, with dramatic views from the top to the surrounding valleys, is quite something. This combined with the volcanoes that we could spot in some places along the road makes you feel close to nature and very small (in a good way). The scenery feels wild and harsh, as you see the cactuses around, the symbol of desert and drought, while at the same time having a constant cold breeze in what seems like a barren landscape. Because it was such a different environment from what we were used to, it made it a memorizing and worthwhile experience.

This is how we spent our first 7 days in Peru. As the trip went on, the excitement grew as we had still yet to come to the highlight of our trip, Machu Picchu. In our second part of our Peruvian itinerary, we will take you to Puno and Lake Titicaca, to Cusco where we spent some days before starting our trip to Aguas Calientes and finally Machu Picchu.

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