Find out how our popular two-week Highlights of Peru Tour works in this blog post, written by one of our Peru tours experts.
Peru is home to several of South America’s best-loved travel destinations. A country rich in history, culture, world-class cuisine, and natural beauty, Peru has something for everyone.
If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu, consider taking your time during your Peru vacation to get to know this fascinating country. On this itinerary, you’ll see the Highlights of Peru Tour in two weeks – including Lima, Paracas, the Ballestas Islands, the Nazca Lines, Arequipa, the Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, and of course, Machu Picchu.
Start in Lima
Fly into Lima, the capital of Peru, known as the City of Kings since the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro lay claim to the city in the 1500s.
A flag atop San Cristobal Hill in the Rimac district still commemorates the conquistador’s claim. The Spanish colonial heritage of the city is still visible today in the architecture in the historic district, called El Centro, such as the Cathedral of Lima, the Plaza Armas, the Archbishop’s Palace, the San Francisco Monastery, and the colonial wooden balconies scattered about the area.
It’s easy to walk around El Centro if you have a good map, or hire a guide to show you around. There are also several interesting museums, such as the Spanish Inquisition museum and the Museo Nacional.
Dine at a restaurant in Miraflores or Barranco overlooking the ocean, or make a reservation at the posh restaurant Astrid & Gaston. Another excellent restaurant is the Huaca Pullcana, located in a residential part of Miraflores. The restaurant is adjacent to some of the oldest ruins in the city.
The ruins are the remnants of a pre-Inca temple, and at night the ruins are lit up majestically. Order a Pisco Sour, the national drink of choice, with an entree of aji de gallina, a chicken dish that is a Peruvian traditional favorite.
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See the Southern Coast
Next head down the coast to Paracas, a beachside paradise and fisherman’s town. There are a few fine hotel choices, and the beach is an excellent place to take an afternoon stroll. Early in the morning, you’ll want to be at the dock ready to go to the Ballestas Islands, only a short motorboat ride offshore.
The Ballestas are home to thousands of marine birds, including Humbolt penguins, gulls, and cormorants, as well as sea lions. You might see some friendly dolphins along the way. The famous Candelabra geoglyph – a giant drawing of a candelabra etched onto the dry cliffside – is visible from the boat as well.
After a day at Paracas, keep going south to Nazca, where you can enjoy the little town next to the famous Nazca Lines. The hotel Nazca Lines is an excellent place to stay, and it also is worth a tour; it was the lodging place for the famous researcher of the Nazca Lines, Maria Reiche.
There is also an observatory named after the researcher at the hotel – make a reservation to see a show, and you’ll learn about the popular theories about the Nazca Lines, the life of Maria Reiche, and some of the current research concerning the lines today.
Early the next morning, take a short drive to the Nazca airport, where you can catch a ride on an overflight of Nazca Lines. Flights are usually about 30-40 minutes long, showing you a dozen of the famous Nazca geoglyphs such as the Monkey, Hummingbird, and Spider.
Explore Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is the next destination on this Peru travel itinerary, and a beautiful one at that. Arequipa is a high elevation city at the foot of the El Misti volcano. The city has a European feel, since it was along the trade route between Lima and Chile during the colonial era. The architecture is primarily built from volcanic sillar stone, giving the buildings a brilliant white sheen.
Enjoy a leisurely afternoon here, take a tour of the historic district, and be sure to visit the local market. If you have time, you may want to add a day for hiking, biking, or a side trip to see the Juanita mummy in a nearby museum.
About a 5 hour drive from Arequipa is the Colca Canyon, a gaping gorge that is home to the magnificent Andean condors. From the Cruz del Condor lookout point, you can watch these huge birds ride the thermals over the canyon. There are also lots of great trekking routes, small villages, and beautiful scenery to enjoy in this region.
Meet the Locals at Lake Titicaca
Continue to Lake Titicaca, located on Peru’s southern border with Bolivia. The lake is the highest navigable lake in the world, and one of the most beautiful. It’s steeped in legend as well – the Inca god Manco Capac is said to have sprung from the waters of Lake Titicaca, and with his sister, he journeyed north until he reached Cusco and made his capital there.
The lake is home to several indigenous peoples, and the Quechua and Aymara languages are spoken in this region. The floating islands of Uros are marvelous feats of ingenuity – tribes of reed-makers live on these islands and use the totora reeds of the lake to build, maintain, and repair just about every aspect of their livelihood. It’s possible to spend the night with a family on the island of Amanti, but beware, you most likely will have to dress up and dance with the rest of the tribe!
Ride the Train to Cuzco
From Puno, the city at the shore of Lake Titicaca, you can take a first class train to Cuzco. This train crosses beautiful scenery into the highlands of the Andes, and so its highly recommended that you enjoy this leisurely 9 hour train ride. It’s also possible to take a bus or to fly.
Once you arrive in Cuzco, you can check into your Cuzco hotel. There are several excellent Cusco hotels to choose from, but try to get one near the Plaza Armas. Take a historic tour of Cusco, especially of the Cathedral, Korikancha, and the Convent of Santo Domingo.
Cusco was the capital of the mighty Inca Empire until the Spaniards razed the city in the 1500s. Inca ruins are still visible in the outskirts of the city, such as in Tambomachay and Sacsayhuaman, both worth visiting. Spend an evening dining in one of the fine restaurants in the city, and enjoy a folklore show as well with traditional Andean dancing, costumes, and music.
Visit Machu Picchu
Wake up early to get an early start to what might be the ultimate highlight of your Peru tour – a day at Machu Picchu, the city of the Incas that was missed by the Spanish conquistadors and forgotten by the Western world for centuries.
Take an early morning first class train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu, passing the beautiful Sacred Valley and the cloud forest along the Urumbamba river valley. Once you arrive at the Machu Picchu Pueblo at the foot of the Andes, you’ll walk a short ways to a shuttle bus that will whisk you to the top of the mountain and the entrance of Machu Picchu. If you arrive early enough, you’ll be able to enjoy the solitude and serenity as the fog rolls in over the soaring mountains.
After spending a day exploring the site, you can return to Aguas Calientes for the night, or take the train back to Cuzco. It is recommended that you stay in Aguas Calientes so that you can spend the most time at Machu Picchu itself. If you do plan on spending the whole day at Machu Picchu, you’ll want to grab a sack lunch at one of the hotels in the Machu Picchu Pueblo, or at the Sanctuary Lodge near the entrance to Machu Picchu, as there are no restaurants (or restrooms) located within the park. Also bring bug spray!
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The next day you can return to Machu Picchu, spend the morning at your leisure in the Machu Picchu Pueblo, or return to Cusco. The Machu Picchu Pueblo is very small and has limited activities, so you should only plan on spending one night there at the most.
If you have extra time, you might want to spend an extra night or two in the towns of Ollantaytambo, Pisaq, or Urumbamba, since these towns are nestled in the beautiful and tranquil Sacred Valley, and there are plenty of hikes, horseback riding tours, dirt biking tours, ATV tours, and ruins to check out. The Ollantaytambo ruins are not to be missed.
Return to Lima
Once you return to Cusco, you can spend the night, or continue straight to the Cusco airport for your flight back to Lima. When you arrive in Lima, you can transfer to a Lima hotel for another night in the city, or stay at the airport and wait for your flight home or the next destination on your South America vacation.
It can be difficult to see all the highlights of Peru on your own. Contact our Peru travel experts today for a free quote on our highlights of Peru tour!
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