When I arrived in Peru, I struggled to imagine how I would ever fit it all in. Peru is a country with amazing diversity, from lush lowland jungles to arid coastal deserts to the high mountain ranges of the Andes. Ten weeks later, as I crossed the border into Ecuador, though, I felt I had made a good dent. All I needed was a 3-week backpacking itinerary for Peru… which I have no replicated for you!
I’ve been a perpetual traveler for over two years, but I know that not everyone has the luxury to move as slowly as I do. I wrote this three-week itinerary because I know that so many backpackers want to see it all in a very limited time frame, and I fell so in love with these destinations that it’s hard for me to recommend cutting any of them!
But warning: this a whistle-stop, take no prisoners itinerary that only the most energetic of travelers should take on. My 3-week backpacking itinerary for Peru leaves almost no room for missed buses, hangovers, impromptu side trips, stumbled-upon festivals, naps, or afternoons daydreamed away from the window of a café.
If it is at all possible, I highly recommend doing this same route over the course of a month (or more!), adding an extra day to each destination. Do a biking tour of Lima, stay another night in Huacachina and take a winery tour, and add a day to Arequipa so you don’t have to choose between adventure activities. Do the four-day instead of three-day Adventure Trek to Machu Picchu, and add a day in Cusco after to recover. Viva Peru!
• Days 1-2: Lima
Take a nap after your red-eye flight lands in Lima and you’ve checked into one of the many hostels ringing Kennedy Park in Miraflores. Wake up for lunch at famed sandwich shop La Lucha before heading off to a market tour and Pisco Sour making lesson – there’s no better introduction to Peru. Spend the evening wandering around Barranco (don’t miss the MATE gallery – bring your student ID if you have one!), and treat yourself to dinner in one of its hip eateries.
One Day 2, wake up early to watch the surfers at Playa Waikiki and stroll through Love Park. In the afternoon, do a DIY walking tour around the colonial downtown area (Lonely Planet Peru has a great one mapped out), and stick around for the evening fountain show at Parque de la Reserva.
• Days 3-4: The South Coast
Wake up early on Day 3 to catch a 3.5 hour bus to in Paracas. Check into the Kokopelli Hostel and spend the afternoon ATV riding around the Paracas National Reserve, then sign up for an early morning boat tour of of the Ballestas Islands the next day. After marveling at the penguins, sea lions and pelicans, hop another bus for the short one hour journey to Huacachina, a literal oasis in the desert. Check into Banana’s Adventures Hostel and lounge by the pool until the evening sandboarding and dunebuggying tour begins.
On Day 5, continue down the coast another two hours to Nazca, and splurge on a flight over the famed Nazca lines. In the evening, catch the nightly lecture at the Nazca Lines Hotel before hopping on an overnight bus to Arequipa. As you’re saving on a night of accommodation, splurge on a high-end bus company like Cruz del Sur or Ormeno — if you book Cruz del Sur ahead of time online, you can score major sales!
• Days 6-8: Arequipa
On Day 6, relax by the Wild Rover Hostel’s pool before taking a leisurely afternoon tour of the city’s top attractions: the Santa Catalina Monastery, the Museo Santuarios Andinos, and the Cathedral of Arequipa. On Days 7 and 8, head off for an overnight DIY trek through the Colca Canyon (no need to spend money on a group tour), or stick to the city and take a rafting day trip.
• Day 9-12: Lake Titicaca
On Day 9, relax, do laundry, and catch up on emails in the morning before taking a six hour bus to Puno in the afternoon. It is one of the few times to relax on my 3-week backpacking itinerary for Peru. While a night bus could save time, they aren’t considered safe in this region. When you arrive at your hostel in Puno, make arrangements to leave early the next morning for a two-day tour of Lake Titicaca. Puno’s a dump – you won’t regret spending Days 11 and 12 away from it!
These Lake Titicaca tours typically take in the Uros Islands in the morning and then head to Isla Amanti for lunch before an overnight at a homestay on Isla Taquille.
• Days 13-18: Cusco & the Inca Trail
On Day 13, take the Inca Express bus trip to Cusco, which breaks up the day-long journey with four interesting stops along the way. Cheaper options are available – but trust me, they aren’t worth the $10 savings. Depending on your mood, check into one of Cusco’s many hostels — either Mama Simona’s (for peace and quiet) or Kokopelli (for a bit of a party). On Days 14 and 15, explore Cusco! There are plenty of free walking tours and other cheap attractions to keep you busy while on budget. On Days 16-18, take on the three-day version of the Adventure Trek to Machu Picchu. Shop around, but remember that you do get what you pay for when it comes to multi-day tours in Peru. Be sure to go over the list of what is included and excluded meticulously to avoid surprise charges.
• Day 19-23: Iquitos & the jungle
On Day 19, fly to Lima and then onto Iquitos with a budget airline like Star Peru or Peruvian Airlines. Spend Day 20 exploring Iquitos, starting with a morning tour of the Belen marketplace and ending with dinner on the Malencon. On Days 21-23, head out on the Amazon for a two-night jungle tour. Take the last flight back to Lima on Day 23 and catch a red eye flight home – assuming you can stand to say adios to Peru!
Have you been to Peru? Did I leave out any of your favorite spots in your 3-week backpacking itinerary for Peru? Let me know in the comments!
You know that feeling you get when it feels as if some kind of sky wizard has just shouted your name from the heavens in rattling thunder, followed by a few moments of silence, followed by angels whispering “Peru, “peru.” Well, that just happened to me.
These photos are intriguing. I can’t wait to visit.
It’s an amazing country Ruann — you won’t regret your time there!
Great pictures and you are so cute… Now I want some fruits from that mini-market 🙂
I was completely spoiled by the fruits in Peru! Fresh, plentiful, exotic, and cheap! I’ve never had so many fresh juices in my life. Thanks for reading!
Ha ha! Within seconds of starting to peruse this post, I knew it was written by Alex because I could tell the photos were hers (and this was before I spotted her in some of them)! 🙂
Great break-neck itinerary. I know I want to make it to Peru some day, but that was honestly as far as I had gotten. At least now I have a roadmap to work off of!
With the luxury of time you typically have Steph, I would definitely advice slowing down (and even adding to!) this itinerary. I would love to see you guys get to Peru!
Peru is a great destination in South America, I’ve been there for 4 weeks backpacking and Couchsurfing.
Machu Picchu is a bit overrated in my opinion and feels like Disneyland when you’re up there – I’d recommend to visit Choquequirao instead if you want to have a more off the path experience. It’s a tough hike up there. But you won’t meed groups of tourists.
Moreover Mancora should be added to the itinerary – the surf spot on the coast is a relaxed place to have some time off.
If you’re going down to the lake titicaca taquile island is a good choice — the bolivian side is better and much cheaper: visit isla del sol and do a hike!
I agree somewhat with your sentiments about Machu Picchu. After days of isolation and enjoying remote sites along the Inca Trail, it was an unpleasant surprise to arrive at the crowds at Machu Picchu. Still, I can’t imagine many backpackers skipping it 🙂
I fell in love with Mancora and spent almost two full weeks there! Lovely destination, though being 18+ hours from Lima I think it would be tricky to stick into a three week itinerary.
Great suggestions for those with more time!
I agree with the itinerary and your photos look amazing. My favourite place was Huacachina, simply WOW!! I took this route with Peru Hop, we covered everything as above except Puno and I absolutely loved it…would love to know why you didn´t think to try it out?
Hey Simon, I can see how Peru Hop would be a great alternative for a new traveler or someone heading out solo for the first time. But as an experienced backpacker (and one heading to stops not on the Peru Hop route, ex. Lake Titicaca) it wasn’t a great fit for me. Glad you loved Peru!
Been twice to Peru. In my experience you are more likely to get robbed in Lima than on an overnight bus in Arequipa/Puno provided you pay out for a major player like Cruz and time your arrival after dawn…never had a problem with the buses (Lima on the other hand…!)
Otherwise great tour.
I LOVE Cruz del Sur… as one of my friends said, “When Jesus returns, he will be on a Cruz del Sur bus!” However, they only have one bus per day along that route, and it is a day bus as well.
Great post! This itinerary reminded me of my own visit to Peru years ago. I missed that south coast bit but the rest was pretty much the same. It’s a wonderful country to travel in. Your photographs are good.
Thank you very much! You’ll have to return someday to check out the South Coast 🙂
This si great! thanks so much for putting the time in to write this up! im hoping to get to South America by the end of the year, first stop Peru so hopfully I can take a little more time and do all of these on the list
Good luck with your trip Rebecca! Like I said, if you’ve got the time I definitely recommend adding a week to this itinerary to space things out.
love that first pic
Although a quick itinerary, that is very doable. Many years ago I had plenty of time to travel but girlfriend only had a two-week vacation and we did basically the above itinerary but without hiking the Inca Trail. We took the train to save time.
Peru is a great country to visit if a person is short on time because the places of interest are easily connected by bus, train and cheap flights.
The country has many things to offer, especially the mountains in the north and the jungle, but your itinerary is a great trip for a first time visitor. Thanks for sharing.
Good point Jeff! Now that I’m in Ecuador I’m really appreciative of the amazing bus and plane connections that existed in Peru!
Very useful tips….
Great tips! I did almost the exact same route, except that I saved the Amazon for Bolivia. My only addition to this would be trying to get to Huaraz. The hiking around there is amazing, and the glaciers are something else. I think the views are actually so good it’s better to do your hiking there and to just visit Machu Picchu in a day if you’re short on time. Or, if you have a bit more time to spare, the Jungle Trail is cheaper than the Inca Trail, more fun (think zip lining, rafting and cycling, as well as some hiking) and you don’t have to book in advance!
I’m bummed I missed Huarez! It was the peak of rainy season when I passed by, and I was told all the trails were closed.
Beautiful photos! I’ve been mapping out a year long trip through Asia for 2015… but so many of the places I’ve pinned lately are in the Americas! Slowly persuading me to reconsider. I’ve saved this site to go back to, great info!