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March 2018, Peru
Going to Peru can be a lifetime dream. You need money, sure. More if you book with an agency, a lot less if you go on your own. But in this case, there are so many things to plan in terms of flight connections, local transportation, accommodation, tours, and still worry if it’s safe. The dream can remain there and never see the light.
Chill, we felt the same way.
After months of planning, going to Peru and having the adventure of our lives, we’ve come up with a step by step guide for you. Here’s how to organize your trip to Peru for 2 weeks.
Part 1: Puno – Cusco – Machu Picchu – Cusco
We set foot in Peru with the satisfaction of a traveler who has gone through a lot to get here. There’s a major celebration on the streets of Puno. And with it, the last part of our South American adventure begins.
Cusco (or Qosqo, as it was called in Quechua) welcomes us with the pride of the eternal city. We’re in an open-air museum. Colonial buildings are built over Inca ruins, and churches rise on the foundation of intact ancient temples.
We are greeted at the hotel with coca leaves to chew for altitude sickness, and advice to take it easy for a few days. There’s even an oxygen tube(!) in the lobby. Amused, we explain we’re coming from Bolivia, and now we’re actually descending from its 5000 meters plateau. Cusco, at 3400 meters of altitude, feels like piece of cake.
Ok, let’s go exploring!
We start with Qoricancha, the most important temple in the Inca Empire. The Spanish conquistadors, unable to tear it down, built the Santo Domingo Church on top of it. We finally realise how advanced the Inca civilization was, after just a one day tour in the Sacred Valley. Immense stone blocks are impeccably joined together without any bonding material. The trapezoidal shape keeps the temples standing, with no crack in the walls for hundreds of years.
We continue with Sacsayhuaman fortress, Qenko temple, Tambomachay baths and Puka Pukara military site. As we move from one to another, we feel humble and astonished by this impressive, advanced civilization.
Local guides never get tired of making fun of tourists by asking: “Have you ever been to Sacsayhuaman?” (pronounced like “sexy woman”). All men respond “Yeees, many times!”
The circular terraces of Moray look like a Roman amphitheater. It’s believed they were used as an agricultural laboratory. The depth, design and orientation lead to a 15°C difference from top to bottom. No wonder Peru has more than 4000 varieties of native potatoes! 😀
Finally, the big moment is here: the reason we started our crazy plan of crossing South America, is less than 100 kilometers from Cusco. Machu Picchu, we’ve been waiting for you all our lives!
Part 2: Arequipa – Nazca – Huacachina – Paracas
The visit to Machu Picchu leaves us speechless, but also with no energy for the last 1600 kilometers to Lima. It’s time to take it slower.
We walk around Arequipa with no specific target, admiring the beautiful colonial architecture of Plaza de Armas. On a restaurant’s terrace, while ordering ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice with spices), and drinking pisco, we get the first view of El Misti standing alone in the distance. The volcano has played a large role in the construction of the White City, as a strong volcanic rock called sillar was used to construct many of the white buildings in Arequipa.
On our way back home we stumble upon Mundo Alpaca. If you want to see how wool is produced and also have fun with the funny alpacas, this is a cool place to visit (for free).
Did you know that the Colca Canyon (maximum depth 4160 meters!) is two times deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA? There’s no way to miss that, if you’re staying in Arequipa.
So here we are, waking up at 3 AM, just to be at 7 AM on the edge of the canyon. As the sun rises over the valley, the hot air currents start blowing.
We’re all eyes glued to the horizon, waiting. We recognize them quickly by the black color, nearly featherless head, with a ruff of white feathers surrounding the base of the neck. With up to 3 meters in wingspan and 15 kilos in weight, these scavenger birds are really impressive. The condor is passing right above our heads, revealing his giant razor sharp claws. I’m getting a cold chill!
Next stop is Nazca, at the huge geoglyphs embedded in desert soil for 2000 years. I had seen them so many times in the Ancient Aliens documentaries, that I cannot believe my eyes when we’re standing on top of the observation tower.
Huacachina welcomes us with a Mad-Max car race, with a crazy driver. We ride the dunes one by one until sunset. What a better way to celebrate we survived, than ending the night with a reggae pool party at the hostel.
A day later, we step on the fine sand of Paracas. Thousands of birds, dolphins, penguins and sea lions are having a good life around the Ballestas islands. And so, we finally meet the Pacific.
Part 3: Lima
At midnight, the bus leaves us in the famous Miraflores neighbourhood of Lima.
Days go by without a specific plan. We both wear red “Hopster” T-shirts, given by Peru-Hop for making the journey with them until the end. They have a cute llama drawing, and a map of Peru imprinted on the back. People think we’re guides, and keep asking us for directions. After a while it’s easier to help them, than to tell the story of identical T-shirts. We blend in now.
We keep walking from the busy city-center, to the relaxing beach.
As the sun goes down, swallowed by the Pacific, we realize it’s time to go home.
Still can’t believe what an adventure this whole trip was.
Peru, thank you for everything! It’s been the time of our lives.
When to go to Peru
Dry season is between May and October, so that’s the perfect time to go, especially if you want to reach Machu Picchu. However, we arrived in Peru at the end of rainy season (November – April) and the weather was pretty decent even for hiking.
What would we have done differently
Stay more! If you’re short on days, at least stay for a week in Cusco, it’s so much to explore around.
When to book
It depends. We visited Peru in low season, so we booked everything on the spot, 1-2 days in advance even for Machu Picchu. Local tours are a lot cheaper like that. Besides, we had the freedom to spend more time in the cities we liked and to worry about the next day only.
If you visit in high season, then book your flights, accomodation and Machu Picchu train&entrance ticket in advance.
Where to stay in Peru
- Puno: Casona Plaza Hotel Centro
- Cusco: Taypikala Hotel
- Aguas Calientes: Andino Hotel
- Arequipa: Los Leones Hotel Boutique
- Huacachina: Banana’s Adventure Hostel
- Paracas: Icthus Paracas
- Lima: Faraona Grand Hotel
- Long distance transportation
Peru Hop 200 USD/pers
We absolutely loved the hop-on hop-off buses of Peru Hop. If you don’t want to worry about how to get from point A to B, you can go with these guys all the way from Bolivia to all major cities of Peru. The ticket is valid for 1 year, so you can stay as much as you want in one place until moving to the next destination.
- Local transportation
~ 60 USD in 2 weeks (10 Sol/taxi or uber ride, 2.5 Sol/pers/bus ride, 25 Sol/pers for Lima Airport express)
~65 USD/night/double room for 2 pers. (ranging from 27 USD/night for private room at hostel, 50 USD/night at mid-range hotels, to even 90 USD/night in Lima, Miraflores)
~40 USD/day/2 pers
- Tours (1 USD = 3.3 Sol)
Inka Museum Cusco 10 Sol /pers
Quechua Museum Cusco is free
Boleto Turistico Cusco partial 70 Sol/pers, or full 130 Sol/pers
Private tour Sacred Valley, 65 Sol/Pers
Coricancha Temple 15 Sol/pers
Colca Canyon 1 day tour 90 Sol/pers
Colca Tourist Ticket 70 Sol/pers
La Calera Thermal waters Chivay 15 Sol/pers
Nazca observatory 2 Sol/pers
Buggy and Sandboarding Tour Huacachina 50 Sol/pers
Ballestas islands Tour Paracas 50 Sol/pers
Step by step itinerary & total costs per city (2 persons)
- Puno (1 night) – 50 USD
- Cusco (3 nights) + Aguas Calientes (1 night) – 960 USD, out of which 500 USD for Machu Picchu expenses
- Arequipa (2 nights) – 350 USD
- Huacachina (1 night) – 130 USD
- Paracas (1 night) – 80 USD
- Lima (3 nights) – 500 USD
- Peru Hop 200 USD/pers
=>Total costs for 2 pers. in 2 weeks: 2500 USD
*without flight cost from preferred origin to Lima and return
In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!
Happy travels and stay safe!