The Ultimate Travel Guide to Peru
Peru is one of the most visited countries in South America, and it’s no wonder why. Peru is a lively, colorful country that holds on to rich, ancient culture and its nature bestows splendid diversity. You can find all types of fun and adventure in this country — from the Amazon rainforest, to waterfalls, deserts, metropolitan areas, lakes, volcanos, colonial cities, mountain hikes — Peru has it all! Not to mention that it is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the magical and captivating Machu Picchu!
My trip to Peru was an absolute dream and I’m here to share my travel guide and itinerary so that you can easily plan your perfect getaway to this incredible country!
What To Do and Know Before Your Trip
To get you well prepared for your trip, these are some of the things you should do, research, and know before take-off!
Purchasing your Flight Ticket
First things first, you have to purchase your flight to Lima. There’s an airport in Cusco but that will, most likely, be more expensive and a bit more inconvenient since you”ll probably have more layovers. I always go straight to Momondo and/or Skyscanner to get the best deals! I purchased my ticket to Lima for a total of $750, but I have found them as low as $540.
Please be sure to double check the availability of Machu Picchu tickets before purchasing your flight. You can do so at this website. This way you ensure that you’ll be traveling to Peru at a time when you can visit Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Tickets
Now that you have your flight ticket and you checked Machu Picchu ticket availability, you can continue to purchase your tickets on that same website. You will have to enter your personal information exactly as it appears on your passport, the time and type of ticket you want, payment method, and email. After completion, you will get an email with a reservation code. Once you have the code, you will have to go back to the website and click on the “check in” button on the homepage and enter your reservation code. From there you can save and print your tickets, or complete payment if you haven’t already.
I chose regular admission with access to only the main grounds and I chose the morning shift. The other options include entrance to the Machu Picchu main grounds plus Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. These are two steep mountains at Machu Picchu that can be climbed for higher views.
UPDATE: You can now choose the time that you would like to enter the ruins instead of being limited to a morning or evening shift.
Machu Picchu Train Tickets
Next, you have to purchase your train tickets unless you plan on hiking. There are no public roads and the only way you can get to Machu Picchu is by train or by hiking the popular Inca Trail (other trails available). If you choose to ride the train then you must purchase your train tickets in advance as they also tend to get sold out. You can either travel with Peru Rail or Inca Rail. I purchased mine from Peru Rail but they are pretty much the same thing and offer the same services and amenities.
Your train will drop you off at Machu Picchu Town or Village, also known as Aguas Calientes, and from there you are only a short 30-40 minute bus drive away from the Machu Picchu entrance.
Bus tickets don’t sell out because they are continuously circulating, going back and forth from the village to the entrance, all day long. I purchased mine as soon as I arrived to the village and everything was just fine. You can also choose to hike up to the entrance but I’m assuming that if you took the train, you won’t want to do any hiking. You can find the bus ticket office by simply asking the locals or any friendly employee. Sometimes they move the office to a different location but it won’t be hard to find since the village is fairly small.
Prepare for Altitude Sickness
Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca will all be located at high altitudes in the Andes. The elevation range will be anywhere between 7,000 and 13,000 ft. above sea level. This can sometimes make people feel sick and experience any of the following symptoms: nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, and inability to exercise. To avoid altitude sickness, simply inform your doctor that you’ll be traveling to high altitudes and he or she should prescribe the necessary medication.
If you do not want to visit a doctor, don’t worry. The locals will have coca tea, which is an herbal tea made from the plants that create cocaine (don’t worry it’s safe). Locals have been chewing the plant and/or drinking the tea for years and has helped them avoid altitude sickness. They offer coca tea at almost every restaurant and cafe — super easy to find! This is the option that I opted for and I can tell you that I never EVER felt any side effects, nor did I experience altitude sickness.
You especially don’t have to worry if you’re an overall healthy person. I drank the tea very few times and, still, I was completely fine.
My Complete Peru Itinerary
Day 1 – 2: Cusco
You can choose to stay a couple of days in Lima once you land there (most people do) or you can fly straight to Cusco and explore Lima later. Due to our scheduled activities, my cousin, Vanessa (Vane), and I flew to Cusco right after landing in Lima.
Cusco is the heart of the Andes and was also the heart and capital of the Inca Empire. You can find stunning colonial architecture, plenty of artesian markets, a lively plaza, traditional performances, and delicious food! And let’s not forget the alpacas hanging out at archeological sites or the ones being carried by indigenous people. It is such a gorgeous city that you can not miss!
What to Do in Cusco
- Take a stroll around Plaza de Armas
- Step foot into one (or both) of the cathedrals at Plaza de Armas
- Drive or hike up to Cristo Blanco and admire the city views
- Visit Barrio de San Blas and find authentic souvenirs at artisan and craft shops
- Walk along the Twelve Angled Stone
- Shop at San Pedro Square Market
Where to Eat + Cafes
- Jack’s Cafe
- Starbucks (basic, I know, but this starbucks actually has a very unique environment and large balcony windows looking out to Plaza de Armas)
- El Encuantro Vegetarian Restaurante
- Cappuccino Cusco
- Green Points Restaurant
*Please note that I follow a plant-based diet, therefore, all of my suggestions are vegan and/or vegetarian friendly.
Day 3: Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is a region in Peru’s Andean highlands located only an hour and a half away from Cusco. Here, you can find archeological sites, Inca ruins, huge salt mines, and textile demonstrations hosted by indigenous women and children.
It’s not necessary to book this tour in advance as you’ll come across many tour agencies offering very similar itineraries with plenty of spaces available. My cousin and I booked ours a day prior to our tour with Viajes Cusco.
- Chinchero District – The first stop is in Chinchero District, here you’ll watch and participate in the textile demonstration while sipping on coca tea. You’ll learn plenty about how indigenous people create natural dyes for textiles and how many hours, weeks, and months they have to put into their craft to complete a single authentic piece of clothing made from alpaca wool.
- Moray – Next stop will be Moray. Moray is an archeological site that contains Inca ruins and have a very interesting history.
- Maras Salt Mines – Your last stop will be Maras Salt Mines. The salt mines are located in the middle of the Andean Mountains and it is an amazing site to photograph.
- Pit Stop – Finally, you’ll head back home and only make a quick stop at a local shop in case you’re interested in purchasing salt from the mines, chocolate, or other snacks and souvenirs.
The tour included transportation, the textile demonstration, and a bilingual guide. It did not include the entrance ticket to Maras Salt mines nor the entrance fee for Moray, so make sure you carry enough cash.
Day 4: Rainbow Mountain
My cousin and I had assigned our fourth day on our itinerary to hike up to Rainbow Mountain. Unfortunately, there was a lot of snow at the peak and a lot of tours shut down and weren’t operating as a precaution to avoid accidents. Therefore, my cousin and I had to stay put in Cusco and enjoy the town one last time before heading out to Lake Titicaca. Which was fine because I LOVE Cusco, and we were starting to become familiar with the town so we felt right at home.
We did more shopping, eating, and exploring. But, if you happen to book a Rainbow Mountain tour, please remember that the tour takes off pretty early (around 4-5am) and it is a pretty intense hike, so plan on wearing comfortable hiking gear. I’ve heard it’s super cold in the morning but can get very hot at the peak if the sun is out, so wear layers that are easy to take off and put back on. And don’t forget to carry lots of water and snacks. You can find more information about Rainbow Mountain here.
Day 5 – 6: Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is one of South America’s largest lakes and, at an altitude of 12,507 ft, it is the world’s highest navigable lake. The lake straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru and the waters are known to be still and beautifully reflective.
It is always pretty cold in Lake Titicaca due to its altitude, so make sure to pack warm, comfortable clothes only, and prepare for altitude sickness with coca tea or your prescribed medication.
My cousin and I booked a tour with Peru Hop — we took an overnight bus to the lake and departed from Cusco at 10:30pm.
- Peru Hop Bus Terminal – You’ll have to take a taxi or Uber to get to Per Hop’s private bus terminal (you can find it on Google Maps) since the buses are not allowed to enter into the historic center and they will not be able to pick you up. Their buses are pretty comfortable; equipped with recliner seats, blankets, pillows, outlets, and foot rests. They turn off the lights and let you sleep comfortably throughout the entire ride. Of course, the roads are a little bumpy and the bus drivers can sometimes be a little crazy with the turns, but nothing you can’t ignore (unless you’re a super light sleeper haha).
- Puno – You’ll arrive to a hostel in Puno where they offer restrooms, showers, free baggage storage, and breakfast. Soon after breakfast, you’ll take off in a mini-van to catch your boat ride to Uros Islands.
- Uros Islands – Your first Lake Titicaca stop is the famous man-made Uros Islands — they were built by the indigenous Peruvian and Bolivian people. Each island hosts no more than ten families and they mostly live without electricity and technology. It’s such a humbling experience.
- Amantani Island – Next on the itinerary is Amantani island. Here you’ll be assigned to a family that will welcome you into their home and will invite you to learn about life on the island. They will feed you typical meals made from natural products and then you will hike to the highest part of the island to watch the sunset. At night, your family will provide traditional clothing so that you can partake in a local dance and music event. This was my favorite part of the entire tour.
- Tequila island – On your second day, after breakfast, a boat will transfer you from Amantani to Taquile Island. You’ll stroll through the plaza and see how people make a living on the island. Finally, you’ll have lunch with a view and head back to the boat.
- Puno – Your boat will take you back to Puno where you’ll have the rest of the day to pick up your luggage and shower, or explore Puno on your own. The Plaza de Armas is just down the street from the hostel so you’ll definitely have some time to explore.
- Return to Cusco – Lastly, your overnight bus will pick you up and drive you back to Cusco. You’ll wake up bright and early, ready for your next adventure.
The tour included roundtrip overnight transportation from Cusco, a family homestay in Amantani Island , food, baggage storage, English and Spanish speaking guide, entry ticket to Uros Floating Islands and intercultural activities. This tour was, by far, one of my favorites. I can’t stress it enough, please don’t skip Lake Titicaca when visiting Peru.
Day 7: Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu Village
The day before you visit Machu Picchu you will most likely be traveling by train to Aguas Calientes. My cousin and I booked our train with a departure from Cusco and we took the following steps:
- Check in at our designated pick-up location — Hotel Costa Del Sol Ramada Cusco
- Wait for the tour agency guides to arrive and assign you to a mini-van that will drive you 1.5 hours to the Ollantaytambo train station.
- Catch the Peru Rail train from the Ollantaytambo train station.
- Enjoy the beautiful 4 hour ride to Machu Picchu Village.
*Please note that the trains have a limit on baggage weight and size (per person), so you might have to leave some of your luggage behind. The Ollantaytambo train station has baggage storage available if necessary.
Upon your arrival to Aguas Calientes, you’ll realize that the village is pretty small and there’s not much to do. You can spend any extra time dining, relaxing, exploring the little village, shopping, or resting and preparing for your Machu Picchu visit.
Day 8: Machu Picchu
If you have morning shift tickets, please make sure you wake up as early as possible. Like 4am early! The bus lines get SO LONG and you’ll be waiting for hours if you don’t arrive early to the bus stop. You’ll also get to enter the site just in time for sunrise, before the crowds get there, and your immediate experience will be peaceful and serene.
Things to Know Before You Visit Machu Picchu:
- Leave any large backpacks at your hotel, they won’t allow them in.
- Tripods are not allowed.
- A guide isn’t actually necessary, but if you want to hear all the history then definitely hire one.
- There are no restrooms inside Machu Picchu.
- You can bring small snacks and a bottle of water (no glass).
- Weather can suddenly change — dress in layers.
- Apply A LOT of insect repellent and thank me later.
- Best times to visit Machu Picchu for best weather is June – August.
- Stay as long as you are allowed to, take as many pictures as you can, but most importantly, soak it all in before it’s over.
You’ll most likely not want to leave, EVER! But it has to come to an end, and when it does, you have to walk back to the entrance to catch your bus ride back to the village. BUT…before you leave, don’t forget to get your Machu Picchu passport stamp. They have a little booth right outside the entrance.
Once you arrive back to town, you can go out for lunch and drinks, or shop for souvenirs before your train departure back to Ollantaytambo.
Day 9: Cusco – Lima
After Machu Picchu, we arrived back in Cusco and we spent the night there, once again. The following day we had breakfast, packed our bags, and flew back to Lima. We arrived to Lima pretty late so on this day we only went out to dinner in Miraflores and then just rested, rested, and rested some more! We were exhausted and we had to be up at four in the morning!
Day 10: Huacachina
Hucachina is a desert oasis and tiny village located near Ica, Peru. Here you will find massive sand dunes, palm trees, dune buggies, sand surfing, and plenty of bars and clubs. So much fun — all within one small, exciting village. We only made a quick one-day visit but, ideally, you should stay at least two days and one night.
Peru Hop, the same tour agency we booked for Lake Titicaca, also offers a trip to Huacachina. The total travel time from Lima to Huacachina is 4 – 5 hours. The trip includes a bilingual guide, all transportation, a boat ride to Ballestas Islands and a dune bugging tour. It does not include food, but you do receive discounts at participating restaurants.
- Paracas/Ballestas Islands – They say Bellestas is a small version of the Galapagos. It’s home to many sea lions, penguins, and lots of birds. Once you arrive to Paracas, a small town by the sea, a boat will take you to the islands. You will get to admire these animals in their natural habitat from your boat.
- Lunch – You will have some time, after your boat ride, to grab some lunch in Paracas.
- Huacachina – Your buss will drive you to the largest sand dunes in South America — here, you’ll have SO MUCH FUN! You’ll ride a dune buggy, sand surf, and experience the thrill ride of your life!
- Pisco Sour – After you have accumulated enough sand in your pants, you’ll have some time to relax and enjoy a Pisco Sour — an alcoholic cocktail of Peruvian origin.
- Return to Lima – After a fun-filled day, you’ll return to Lima where you’ll get dropped off at your hotel/hostel.
Day 11: Lima (Last Day in Peru)
Lima is a huge, bustling city located along the Pacific Coast. Here you can find unique experiences, a gorgeous plaza, and the magical union of the past and the present. Lima has a little bit of everything — beach, skyscrapers, archeological sites, opulent shopping centers, historic neighborhoods, and upscale hotels paired with lavish restaurants.
What to Do:
- Stroll through Plaza de Armas
- Visit the Huaca Pucllana pyramid
- Find all the cute spots in Barranco District
- Paraglide, bike, or walk along the beach
- Takes a Pisco Sour tasting tour
- Shop and dine at Larcomar in Miraflores
- Visit the catacombs in the basement of the Saint Francis Monastery
Please inform yourself about the dangers of the city and any precautions you can take to practice safety. My cousin and I stayed in Miraflores, which is probably the safest neighborhood in the city. We walked a few blocks in the middle of the night to catch our Peru Hop bus and we didn’t experience any threats or sense any danger.
Day 12: Return Home
On our last day we said our farewells, looked back at how incredible our trip had been, and promised to return soon!