PERU BACKPACKING ROUTE
The southern area of Peru is the most well-travelled area of the country with most backpacker routes starting in Lima, then heading south along the coast to Paracas and Arequipa, before looping back around to Cusco.
Most international flights land in Lima, and whilst the city is an interesting place to spend for a couple of days, Cusco is a better city with a lot more going on, especially for backpackers.
Therefore, if you’re short on time, most people fly into Lima and then straight out on an internal flight to Cusco. From Cusco, you can then make your way in the opposite direction back around to Lima before flying out home.
We’ve outlined a 7 day and two week itinerary at the end of this post for those of you who are shorter on time.
PERU 1 MONTH ITINERARY
We like to keep these big itineraries brief and provide links to our more in-depth blog plots when you’ve decided the places you want to visit so you can dig a little deeper.
We spent a month in Peru and followed the classic route down the coast from Lima. We will lay out our itinerary here which you can cut up, swap out and change as you see fit. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Day 1-3 – Lima
- Day 4-6 – Paracas
- Day 7-8 – Huacachina
- Day 9-13 – Arequipa and Colca Canyon
- Day 14-15 – Puno and Lake Titicaca
- Day 16-23 – Cusco
- Day 24-29 – Salkantay Trek
Day 1-3 - Lima
Although it’s the capital, Lima doesn’t have too much to offer but it’s always good to take a day or two to settle.
Whilst in the city, take a walking tour around the historical centre, wander along the waterfront in Miraflores or head to the bohemian district Barranco to check out the street art, find a hipster café or try fresh ceviche.
Our full Lima guide has everything you need to know.
Optional - Huaraz
Huaraz is the must-visit destination in Peru for nature and hiking lovers.
Avid hikers will want to head to Huaraz for a few days to embark on some of the most famous treks in not just Peru but the world.
Huaraz offers several one day treks that can be completed on your own such as Laguna 69 and Laguna Paron, perfect for those only staying a couple of days but who still want to experience the beauty of the mountains.
Or if you are looking for more adventure, there are multi-day hikes such as the famous Santa Cruz trek or the Cordillera Huayhuash route that will see you climbing above the clouds and camping in the mountains for anything from 5 to 10 days.
Day 4-6 - Paracas
Where rolling desert dunes meet the sea, and high jagged cliffs drop off to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean below, Paracas National Park is an untouched natural landscape perfect for exploration and adventure.
Paracas is a 6-hour bus journey from Lima and usually stop number 2 on traveller’s routes.
You can navigate the park by bicycle or even take an ATV tour. As you speed down giant dunes with the ocean breeze in your hair and an endless expanse of desert in front of you, it will feel like you’re on another planet.
The impressive Playa Roja (Red Sand Beach) and the natural cliff monuments at La Cathedral are all highlights of the park, along with Peru’s version of the Galapagos – the Ballestas Islands.
All the information you need is here in our 3-day Paracas Guide.
Day 7-8 - Huacachina
Visiting in the desert oasis of Huacachina is a necessary stop on any backpacker’s journey through Peru for several reasons; flying across the desert in sand buggies, sandboarding down the tallest of dunes (not for the fainthearted), and partying the night away in the crazy backpacker hostels.
Spend one evening sandboarding and riding buggies and the other watching the sunset sat on top of one of the mountainous sand dunes.
Day 9-10 - Arequipa
Arequipa is an underrated gem of a city bursting with beauty and charm.
With tranquil cobblestone streets, fantastic local cuisine, and great rooftop bars, all surrounded with a backdrop of picturesque volcanoes, the city has much to offer.
On top of this, this will be your starting point for adventures and trekking into Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world.
Once your there, a day exploring the colonial town is a must and then onto the Colca Canyon trek (2 days, 1 night). Our complete Arequipa guide has everything you need to know.
Or for more tips on the city try:
Day 11-13 - Colca Canyon
Trekking down into the second deepest canyon in the world is an experience like no other.
You’ll spend most of your time picking your jaw up off the floor as you walk around in awe of the canyon’s vastness.
You can spend anywhere from 2 to 3 days working your way into the canyon, exploring its beautiful green slopes dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms.
You need 2 days minimum to complete this trek (unless you just do a day tour) and you’ll likely be exhausted afterwards so give yourself a day to rest back in Arequipa after as well.
Day 14-15 - Puno and Lake Titicaca
Again, if you like to break up long bus journeys then spend a couple of nights in Puno, the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
Everyone says it’s not as nice as the Bolivia side of Copacabana but if you aren’t going to Bolivia then it would be a shame to miss the highest navigable lake in the world.
The floating reed islands of the indigenous Uros people are an impressive sight and climbing up to heights of 4200m on Taquile Island for panoramic views of the lake is an unforgettable experience.
It’s all here in our Puno and Lake Titicaca guide
Day 16-23 - Cusco
The ancient capital of the Inca Empire, known for a wealth of archaeological remains and beautiful Spanish colonial-era architecture, is now one of the most popular backpacker hubs in all South America.
Whether you visit to tear it up in the famous Wild Rover hostel or to spend a few days acclimatising before visiting Machu Pichu or Rainbow Mountain, the city won’t disappoint.
There’s so much to do in and around this city that anywhere between 5-7 days is needed to see it all (which we’ve also broken down into a handy Cusco itinerary post).
For more useful guides on the city:
Day 24-29 - The Salkantay Trek
Laguna Humantay and Salkantay Mountain are just two of the incredible places you will visit on this 5-day trek that eventually takes you to Machu Picchu.
The best part though is the c.120km you’ll walk, the friendships formed, and the sense of accomplishment gained from trekking in the mountains for 5 days with a bunch of random backpackers.
Whilst it may have become a huge tourist destination these days, going to Machu Pichu via the Salkantay trek can be one of the best ways of visiting. You’ll visit the ancient ruins on the final day of the trek, arriving at the top just before sunrise and avoiding most of the crowds.
If you are planning on doing the full 5-day Salkantay trek or Inca Trail then plan in extra days either side for recovering, admin and washing clothes. However, there are also 3 and 4-day options for those of you rushed on time.
Day 30 - Rest, Recovery & Next Destination
After our month in Peru we flew from Cusco to La Paz to start our next adventure in Bolivia.
If you are heading that way then check out all our guides as well, or if you are flying home, then its either a night bus or internal flight back to Lima.
We hope that month long itinerary helps with your planning but if you don’t have that long then scroll down for our 7 days and two week itinerary instead..
Travelling other countries in South America apart from Peru? See how you can cross the border into Bolivia to turn this month into an extended South America backpacking trip:
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN PERU?
There’s so much to see and do in this country that one month really is necessary if you want to tick off everything.
However, we understand time is often the thing backpackers are most short on and spending a month in a country is a luxury.
At a minimum, we would say it’s not worth visiting for anything less than 10 days due to the long journey times between places and the day or two needed for acclimatisation to altitude.
For those of you who are much shorter on time and want to see as much as possible, here are a couple of alternative itinerary suggestions to see the highlights in the most efficient way possible.
PERU 7 DAY ITINERARY
If you are quickly passing through on your travels or are only visiting for a short holiday, then we feel this 7-day itinerary allows you to see the best of the country.
- Day 1 – Land in Lima, fly straight to Cusco
- Day 2 – Travel to Aguas Calientes via train
- Day 3 – Machu Pichu/Return to Cusco (evening)
- Day 4 – Cusco city day/Overnight Bus to Huacachina
- Day 5 – Huacachina Sandboarding/Dune Buggies
- Day 6 – Travel to / Paracas National Park Sunset Tour
- Day 7 – Bus to Lima
But to be honest, it may just be better to extend your stay in Cusco and enjoy the city for one week.
With Rainbow Mountain and the Sacred Valley, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained and you don’t waste any time travelling on long buses. Check out our Cusco itinerary to see whether this is the right option for you.
PERU 2 WEEK ITINERARY
Two weeks is a great amount of time to see almost everything we saw in a month. You will just have to be ruthlessly efficient with your organisation, transport, and timing.
- Day 1 – Land In Lima/ City Day (Miraflores)
- Day 2 – Lima City Day (Barranco)
- Day 3 – Bus to Paracas / Sunset Tour of Paracas National Reserve
- Day 4 – Visit the Ballestas Islands
- Day 5 – Morning bus to Huacachina Oasis / Evening Dune Buggy and Sunset Tour
- Day 6 – Bus to Arequipa
- Day 7 – Arequipa City Day
- Day 8-9 – Colca Canyon Trek / Overnight Bus To Cusco
- Day 10 – Cusco City Day
- Day 11 – Rainbow Mountain Tour
- Day 12 – Train To Aguas Calientes
- Day -13 – Machu Pichu (morning) / Return to Cusco (evening)
- Day 14 – fly back to Lima
To make this itinerary less rushed, you can just cut out the Salkantay Trek from our month long example, and visit Machu Picchu during the week you spend in Cusco. This gives you a more relaxed three week itinerary. Easy.
For more on backpacking in Peru and South America, check out our itineraries and travel routes: