While travel is mostly on hold in 2020, we now have more time than ever to sit at home and dream about faraway places. One country that should absolutely be on your bucket list is Peru! I’ve been lucky to travel there twice before and have written several articles about my experiences which you can discover here. When it comes to vibrant cities, delicious food and fascinating archaeological sites, there is no better place to visit.
Consider this dream itinerary to Peru where you will easily fall in love with one of the most beautiful countries in South America…
The captivating capital city of Lima is the easiest place to fly into to begin your dream trip in Peru. There is so much to see here and I always recommend hiring local guides to show you the very best of their city. I had a wonderful time with Yampu Tours, who’ve been guiding travelers around the world since 1998.
History buffs will love both the ancient and colonial sites that Lima has to offer. Plaza de Armas is the main square and the heart of the capital city, founded in 1535. While here, I recommend visiting the Cathedral of Lima where you can admire a mix of beautiful architectural styles.
Nearby you’ll find the oldest colonial mansion in Lima, Casa de Aliaga, where you can stand in awe of the ornate interiors. For more ancient history, I’d recommend visiting the Larco Museum and the amazing archaeological site of Huaca Pucllana, located in the Miraflores District. The construction here dates back to the 5th century!
As far as fabulous shopping and award-winning eateries, those places are luckily scattered throughout the city. Larcomar is a modern shopping center located right along the sea with stunning views. When it comes to food, don’t leave Lima without visiting La Tiendecita Blanca, an iconic bistro dating back to 1936. This is a great place to try the classic Peruvian cocktail: a Pisco Sour!
Give yourself at least a few days to get to know Lima (and recover from jet lag), this capital city has something for everyone to enjoy and is a great place to begin your trip.
While Cusco and Machu Picchu are popular destinations to visit in Peru (more on that down below), I’d recommend heading further south first to explore Arequipa. After only a 90 minute plane ride from Lima, you’ll arrive in Arequipa, otherwise known as the White City. This nickname derives from many of the beautiful baroque buildings here constructed from a white volcanic stone known as sillar.
After admiring the architecture, you will quickly understand why Arequipa earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll also notice the beautiful landscape surrounding the city, featuring three nearby volcanoes: Chachani, Misti, and Pichu Pichu.
The most famous and well known out of the three is El Misti. This towering volcano can be seen in the background of most pictures taken of Arequipa’s cathedral. If you enjoy hiking, I highly recommend doing the two-day Misti climb which many Peruvian tour companies will offer.
Being the second largest city in Peru, you will be sure to find plenty to see and enjoy in Arequipa.
PUNO & LAKE TITICACA:
If you love road trips, I recommend driving five hours from Arequipa to Puno. This city is located on Lake Titicaca, one of South American’s largest lakes.
This city might be smaller than Lima and Arequipa, but it’s filled with tons of folklore tradition. Puno is a wonderful place to enjoy festivals throughout the year featuring traditional dancing and music. This is the perfect place to really immerse yourself in the Peruvian culture. If the weather is good, I would head straight to Condor Hill View Point for breathtaking views.
While the historic city center with its cathedral is a must-see in Puno, I highly recommend spending time at Lake Titicaca. Here you will discover over 60 man-made floating islands constructed by the Uro people – known as the Uros Floating Islands. Each island has been built using dense reeds which take an extraordinary amount of effort, skill, and time. They will last for about about 30 years before having to reconstruct!
While you can visit these unique floating islands independently, it is easier to book with an organized tour. Upon arrival, the friendly locals will greet you and guide you around their islands, explaining the history and traditions. During your visit, you can have fun trying on the colorful, traditional clothing and ride in a Totora reed boat as well!
After your visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca, the most enjoyable and memorable way to travel to Cusco is by train! While the train ride is an overnight one, you will ride very comfortably on the Belmond Andean Explorer. This luxury train offers fabulous sleeping accommodations on board, all while admiring the Peruvian Andes outside of your window.
This train journey is fully inclusive, with luxury accommodation, all meals and beverages, onboard entertainment, excursions, and Spanish/English guides.
Once you’re in Cusco, there is just so much to enjoy. The Santo Domingo Convent & Coricancha Temple should be first on your list. You will learn that Cusco used to be the capital of the Inca Empire, and it all started with construction here in the mid 1500s. Plaza de Armas, the main square, is one of the most beautiful in the world, and it especially comes to life when it’s warmly lit up in the evenings.
Cusco Cathedral is not to be missed, as its a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. But if you want to escape the city center, there are many archaeological sites to see nearby in the outskirts. With Yampu Tours, I got to visit Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Sacsayhuamán, Moray, and the Maras Salt Mines!
All of these incredible Inca ruins are definitely worth exploring. There is so much to learn here and a local guide is the best option!
Last but certainly not least is the most bucket-list worthy site in all of Peru: Machu Picchu! From Cusco, you can take a 4-hour train through the stunning Sacred Valley and up to the town of Aguas Calientes. Once there, you can board a bus to Machu Picchu and meet a local guide.
If you prefer to hike, that can take a few days and it’s not for the faint of heart, especially with the elevation. If you’re pressed for time as well, I’d recommend taking the bus like I did. You can stay the night in Aguas Calientes, or at the luxurious Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. This is the ONLY hotel located at the entrance of Machu Picchu and it is absolutely spectacular. Because of the prime location, staying at this stylish retreat means beating the crowds at Machu Picchu by visiting in the early morning or late afternoon.
No matter where you stay, Machu Picchu is a wonderful place to explore for the day. The Lost City of the Incas used to be a flourishing agricultural and ceremonial site. This was the gateway to the beautiful jungle marsh of the Inca Empire. Many llamas currently call Machu Picchu home, they are so adorable and fun to photograph during your visit.
Strolling through the ancient citadel and learning about the magic and mystery of this place is truly unforgettable. Being able to see these famous ruins in person, set amongst the bright green mountain peaks, is the perfect way to end your trip to Peru!