best ways to get to Machu Picchu

3 Unique Backpacking Itineraries for 3 Weeks In Peru

Peru is a land of alpacas, ancient Inca ruins and towering volcanoes all spread out across beautiful Andean countryside. There’s a lot to see in Peru, from searching for wildlife in the Amazon to hiking high in the Andes mountains. It has something for every type of backpacker from nature lovers to hike enthusiast, so here are 3 unique three-week backpacking itineraries for Peru that suit your every need.

Contents

Is 3 Weeks Enough For Peru?

3 weeks is the perfect amount of time to see the best of Peru. This gives you one to two weeks travelling down the coast and visiting Lima, Paracas and Arequipa. Most travellers then spend a week in and around Cusco.

 

3 weeks is also a good amount of time if you want to include a multi-day trek such as the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. These treks take on average 5 days and usually require a day before and after for preparation and rest so 3 weeks gives you enough time to include this whilst also seeing the rest of the country 

What Is The Best Travel Route For 3 Weeks In Peru?

The best and most popular route for travelling Peru is one that starts in Lima and ends in Cusco. This backpacking route is often referred to as the ‘Gringo trail’ as these are the most visited places by foreign backpackers (referred to as ‘gringos’ in Latin America.

 

All international flights from the US or Europe will land in Lima, so backpackers naturally head south from here and follow the coast down stopping at Paracas, Huacachina, and Arequipa. The trail then heads in land with a stop at Lake Titicaca before heading into the Andes to Cusco (itinerary 1 on this list).

 

However, there are two other popular places in Peru that are off the beaten track that may interest backpackers – Huaraz and Iquitos.

 

For adrenaline junkies, Huaraz is a mecca for climbing enthusiasts. And for nature lovers, Iquitos is the gateway town where adventures into the Amazon begin.

 

If you are interested in getting off the ‘gringo trail’ and seeing something a little different, both cities have been included in separate itineraries below. Here are the three itineraries in this post:

 

  • The Gringo Trail – Lima To Cusco
  • The Hike Enthusiast – Lima, Huaraz and Cusco
  • The Nature Lover – Lima, Iquitos, and Cusco
Machu Picchu (Peru)

#1 The Gringo Trail - Three-Week Peru Backpacking Itinerary

This itinerary is ideal for backpackers who want to see the highlights of Peru whilst also having a mix of experiences, from seeing natural wonders to adrenaline fuelled activities. 

 

Here is a complete breakdown of the three-week Peru itinerary:

 

  • Day 1-2 – Lima
  • Day 3-4 – Paracas
  • Day 5-6 – Huacachina
  • Day 7-11 – Arequipa/Colca Canyon
  • Day 12-13 – Puno / Lake Titicaca
  • Day 14-16 – Cusco
  • Day 17-18 – Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu
  • Day 19-21 – Cusco

Day 1-2 - Lima

Day 1 - Historical Centre Walking Tour & Miraflores

Although it’s the capital, Lima doesn’t have too much to offer for backpackers but it’s always good to have a day or two to settle. Take the first day easy as you have probably just come off a long-haul flight. 

 

Your first stop is a walking tour of the historical centre.

 

The walking tour will take you around the highlights of the historical centre such as San Martin Square and the Santo Domingo Church, and like any excellent walking tour that know what they are doing, also take you to the Chocomuseo for a taste of Peruvian chocolate.

After seeing the historical centre it’s time to head to Miraflores. This is the preferred area for tourists and travellers with an abundance of trendy cafes and great restaurants all situated amongst the seafront parks and boardwalks.

 

The full Lima backpacker guide has all the links and everything you need to know:

 

 

Lima Guide

Day 2 - Visit The Bohemian District of Barranco

Barranco is the best area to get your first taste of one of Peru’s popular dishes – ceviche.

 

La Canta Ranita is known as the place to try ceviche in Lima which will become obvious from the constant queue outside. 

 

After ceviche, why not head to one of the Barranco mansions turned resto-bar for Peru’s most popular cocktail – the Pisco Sour.  Ayahuasca, set in one of the 19th-century style mansions is a popular bar and they are well known for their cocktail-making skills.

 

For more bars and restaurants recommendations in Lima, head to the post below:

 

 

Lima

Day 3-4 - Paracas

Day 3 - Visit Paracas National Park

Paracas is a 6-hour bus journey from Lima and usually stop number 2 on the popular backpacker route from Lima to Cusco.

 

Paracas is Peru’s famous desert where you’ll find rolling dunes,  jagged clifftops and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The entire area is a national park, and this untouched natural landscape is perfect for backpackers looking for exploration and adventure.

 

You can explore the park by bicycle, ATV or guided tour.  The impressive Playa Roja (Red Sand Beach) and the natural cliff monuments at La Cathedral are highlights of the park that must be seen . However, watching the sunset from the clifftops is the highlight so aim for an evening tour if you can!

 

All the information you need is for visiting the park can be found below:

 

 

Sea in Paracas

Day 4 - Ballestas Islands Tour

The Ballestas Islands are Pru’s version of the Galapagos Islands. Here you’ll find sealions, penguins, dolphins, and more seabirds than you’ve ever seen in your life; all for a fraction of the price. 

 

A tour costs around $15 and lasts 2-3 hours. Your first stop will be to observe the bizarre geoglyph carved in the desert sand, the Paracas Candelabra. It can be dated to about 200 BC, but only myths and folktales exist to explain its presence.

 

After that, you’ll head to the Ballestas Islands themselves to observe the wildlife. You may also see dolphins riding in the wake of your boat and if you’re visiting between August and October, this is the migrating season for Humpback Whales. 

 

For more information on Paracas including the best hostels and restaurants in town:

 

 

seal in Paracas

Day 5-6 - Huacachina

Day 5 - Sand Buggy and Sandboarding Tour

Visiting 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;
  • speeding downs sand dunes the size of mountains on a sandboard;
  • and partying the night away in the crazy backpacker hostels.

 

Top Tip – stay at Banana’s Adventures Hostel. They offer a free activity every day to backpackers staying there, and one of them is the sunset buggy tour. 

 

Just be warned, the buggy drivers in Huacachina are crazy. You will fly up and down dunes at high speed like your on a rollercoaster. It’s one of those experiences where you can’t stop laughing even if you’re feeling unsafe.

 

Following the huge adrenaline rush, it’s time to head back to the hostel for a beer to calm you down. If you want to party, Wild Rover is the place to go. The famous party hostel has a pool, large bar area, and beer pong tables, and the party carries on throughout the night!

Day 6 - Sand Dunes At Sunset

You may wake up with a raging hangover and that combined with the desert heat means today is a chill day.

 

Relax by the pool and then once it gets close to sunset, start climbing up the biggest dune surrounding the town. All the backpackers in town climb up each night to watch the epic sunset over the desert. 

 

This 2-day Huacachina itinerary has all the information you need on hostels, restaurants and transport:

 

Joe from 'Shall We Go Home Travel' on top of the sand dunes in Huacachina

Day 7-8 - Arequipa

Day 7 - Travel Day To Arequipa

If you want to save a day here, then you can take a night bus from Ica (Huacachina) on day 6 to arrive in Arequipa the morning of Day 7. Or just leave the morning of day 7 on the bus. It’s a long journey though, taking 12 hours! 

Day 8 - Walking Tour & The Ice Mummy Musuem

Arequipa is an underrated gem of a city bursting with beauty and charm. It’s tranquil cobblestone streets, fantastic local cuisine, and great rooftop bars, are the perfect escape from recent adventure in the desert. 

 

The walking tour will take you around the main sights of the city including Plaza de Armas and many other hidden gems you wouldn’t find by yourself. Then afterward you should stop off at the ice mummy museum.

 

Museo Santuarios Andinos is home to the mummy of a young girl, known as Juanita, who was sacrificed to the Incan gods over 500 years ago. She was found after the mountain ice where she was buried melted and exposed her remains.

 

Her well-preserved body is on permanent display at the museum and is one of the only ice mummies on display in South America – the others being found in the Northern Argentinian city of Salta. Slightly macabre but if you’re into that sort of thing, then it’s a fascinating experience.

 

The complete Arequipa guides linked below has everything you need to know. 

 

 

Arequipa Plaza

Day 9-10 - Colca Canyon

All trips to Colca Canyon start from Arequipa and take 2 days in total.

 

Trekking down into the second deepest canyon in the world is an experience like no other. You’ll spend most of your time in awe of the canyon’s vastness.

 

A guided tour starts by working your way into the canyon on day 1 –  exploring its beautiful green slopes dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms. Then that evening you spend the night at the man-made oasis at the bottom of the canyon. From here you’ll have the clearest view of the night sky. Then on day 2, you trek up and out of the canyon with more stops on the way. 

However, if trekking isn’t for you then a single-day tour where you visit the canyon viewpoint might be better. I’ve listed 3 other ways to visit the canyon in the post below:

 

 

Mirador de la Cruz del Cóndor, Colca Canyon (Arequipa, Peru)

Day 11 - Arequipa

You arrive back from Colca Canyon on the night of Day 10 but you will most likely be shattered. So take one more rest day in Arequipa and enjoy the many great bars and traditional picantería restaurants. 

 

In the evening, head to the Yannahuara Viewpoint for incredible views of Volcano Misti or to a rooftop bar if you prefer a view with a beer. 

 

*If you prefer to save a day here for more time somewhere else, then simply jump on the first bus in the morning.  Or even a night bus on Day 10 if you can handle it.

Misti Volcano (Arequipa, Peru)

Day 12-13 - Puno & Lake Titicaca

If you aren’t heading to Bolivia on your South America backpacking trip then now is the time to see the highest navigable lake in the world – 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 it.

 

The floating reed islands of the indigenous Uros people are also 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 the this Puno and Lake Titicaca guide:

 

 

Is Puno worth visiting?

Day 14-16 - Cusco

Day 14 - Travel Day

The bus journeys in Peru are long ones. It takes around 10 hours to get from Puno to Cusco. We decided to do this one in the morning (7 AM) to arrive in Cusco for the early evening (4 PM) rather than by night bus. 

Day 15 - Explore The City

Cusco was once the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. It is now known for its wealth of archaeological remains, beautiful Spanish colonial-era architecture and as one of the most popular backpacker hubs in all South America.

 

Start with a free walking tour to get a good idea of the city. The tour was in English and very informative with lots of interesting information about the Incas and their culture. 

 

There are three tours each day at; 10 AM, 1 PM, and 3:30 PM, except on Sunday when there is only one tour at 10 AM.

Then in the afternoon, you have lots of activities to choose from. Visit one of the many chocolate museums in town for a tasting session. Or you can go for a massage. They are super cheap in Peru and start at around $10 for an hour-long session – perfect after all the trekking you’ve been doing.

 

For an evening meal, try Limbus Resto Bar for the best view in Cusco along with great food and cocktails.

 

For more information on Cusco:

 

 

rooftops of Cusco

Day 16 - Rainbow Mountain

The short but challenging trek up to 5,200m to see Peru’s famous new attraction is a fantastic experience if you can stomach the altitude. This is a full-day tour starting at 5:00 AM and ending at around 6:00 PM back in Cusco, so make sure you’re prepared.

 

I’ve covered the whole day and what to expect in our Rainbow Mountain guide:

 

If you want a slightly easier trek but still see a Rainbow Mountain (yes, there’s more than one in the region) then Palccoyo Mountain could be for you. It’s less trekking and you can reach the viewpoint easily compared to the normal Rainbow Mountain. 

 

For more information and a comparison of the two:

 

 

Joe and Alex on the rainbow mountains

Day 17-18 - Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

Day 17 - Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is the town closest to Machu Picchu and the hub for travellers before they start their trek up to the mountain.

 

The best way to get there is to take the train on the morning of Day 17.  The train is a bit more expensive than the bus, but the journey is packed full of beautiful sights along the way as the train goes through the Sacred Valley.

 

If you want to save money and take the bus, then I’ve outlined that in this post.  However, be warned, the bus takes 8-9 hours and you’ll also have to trek for 2-3 hours once you get off to reach Aguas Calientes.

 

For more information on how to book the train and prices:

 

 

Train to Machu Picchu (Peru)

Day 18 - Machu Picchu

This is the ultimate highlight of many people’s trips to South America. Visiting the citadel of the Incas, hidden amongst misty valleys and set high above the clouds, truly feels like you are walking back through time.

 

You have several options for the day:

 

  • Wake up at 4:00 AM and trek to the top for sunrise
  • Wake up later and take the bus to the top to beat the crowds
  • Have a lazy morning and trek or bus up in the afternoon

I would personally recommend getting up at 4:00 AM and trekking. The trek is a challenge but a fun one, you;ll miss most of the crowds and you’ll get to watch the sunrise!

 

After you are finished at Machu Picchu, you can stay one more night in Aguas Calientes or jump on the train back to Cusco.

Itineraries for Cusco

Day 19-21 - Cusco

Time to head back to Cusco for some rest and recovery. You can fill the final extra days with anything you missed the first time around like a tour to the Sacred Valley or a visit to the other Incan sites like the Temple of the Sun.

 

Another great experience is a night out in town. The bars and clubs that line the main square are filled with backpackers and locals every night of the week.

 

 

Cusco, Peru

#2 The Hike Lover - Three-Week Peru Backpacking Itinerary

This itinerary is for travellers who love hiking and will happily sacrifice some of the more touristy areas of Peru to spend time in the mountains. It includes two multi-day treks and a couple of single-day ones so this is mostly for intermediate hikers. It will also include two more internal flights that the previous itinerary which may add to the costs, but ultimately, trekking in Peru is so cheap that you’ll likely safe money.

 

Here’s a complete breakdown of the three-week itinerary:

 

  • Day 1 – Lima
  • Day 2-8 – Huaraz
  • Day 9-12 – Arequipa/Colca Canyon
  • Day 13-15 – Cusco
  • Day 16-21 – Salkantay Trek

Day 1 - Lima

This three-week itinerary starts the same as the one above. Start of by spending a morning in Miraflores.

 

For a nice walk, you can start at the ‘Park of Love’ and make your way south along the Malecon (boardwalk). Just make sure to be by the waterfront for sunset, grab a spot near the edge of the cliffs and watch the sun go down as paragliders circle above and surfers catch the last waves of the day. 

 

In the evening, head to the bohemian district Barranco. Barranco is one of the city’s hippest neighbourhoods with colourful street art, mural-covered buildings, and hidden coffee shops all set within an old colonial-era mansion-style district.

Not convinced by Peru’s capital? It isn’t as backpacker friendly as Cusco so have a read of the post below to see if you should save days here and spend longer in Cusco:

 

 

amazing coastal views in Lima

Day 2-8 - Huaraz

Huaraz is the hiking capital of Peru and the options for trekking in the Andes mountains here are limitless.

 

The city is framed by a dramatic skyline of glaciers and offers an alternative to the traditional Peruvian tourist circuit. The Cordillera Blanca, or “White Range,” is home to 722 glaciers and the tallest mountain in Peru: Huascaran.

 

You have 7 days here and have several options for hiking. Single day hikes to Laguna 69 or Laguna Paron to get you started. However, the multi-day hikes such as the famous Santa Cruz trek or the Cordillera Huayhuash route involve camping in the mountains anywhere from 3-5 days.

Laguna Paron is one of the many epic single-day hikes you can do in South America. For the full list, head to the post below:

 

 

Hikes In South America

Day 9-12 - Arequipa / Colca Canyon

After an epic week in Huaraz, you can take an internal flight to Arequipa. Flights take 1 hour and 30 minutes and start from $70.

 

Once you’ve arrived, spend a day in Arequipa relaxing and enjoying this laid-back city. Follow some of the recommendations from the previous itinerary for things to do such as a walking tour, alpaca world and the mummy museum.

 

Then it’s back to trekking on Day 10 and 11, only this time going down into the second deepest canyon in the world – Colca Canyon.

You can do this guided or self-guided and it can take 2 or 3 days depending on how you wish to execute the hike.

For more information on the guided trek:

 

 

Is Arequipa Worth Visiting?

Day 13-15 - Cusco

Take another rest day once you reach Cusco – there’s been so much trekking on this itinerary and there’s more to come!

Then on day 14, book onto a Rainbow Mountain Tour.

 

The Rainbow Mountain in Peru is well worth a visit if you love trekking for several reasons:

  • The deep red rock of the Andes in this region is incredibly unique and unlike anything you’ve seen before
  • Tours are cheap
  • The rainbow colours aren’t as pronounced as you see in edited Instagram photos, but they are still beautiful and worth seeing.
  • It’s a challenge – climbing to 5200m is tough but achievable.

Then on day 15, another rest day to prepare for one of the best multi-day treks in the world!

Day 16-21 - Salkantay Trek & Machu Picchu

One of the best ways to see Machu Picchu is via a multi-day trek.

 

With the Salkantay Trek you will see many more incredible sights along the way and it’s also the cheapest way to see Machu Pichu as your ticket and accommodation are all included in the price of the trek.

 

Laguna Humantay and Salkantay Mountain are just two of the incredible places you will visit on this 5-day trek. 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.

 

You’ll reach the ancient ruins on the final day of the trek, arriving at the top just before sunrise and avoiding most of the crowds. This was the highlight of our trip in Peru.

 

For everything you need to know on planning and preparing for the Salkantay Trek:

 

 

Humantay Lake

#3 The Nature Lover - Three-Week Peru Backpacking Itinerary

This itinerary is for travellers who want to see the Amazon whilst they are in South America. This itinerary is a combination of the above two itineraries – you still get to see the highlights of Peru but there is less of a focus on multi-day treks and more on the Amazon and other wildlife experiences specific to Peru.

 

  • Day 1 – Lima
  • Day 2-6 – Iquitos
  • Day 7 – Lima
  • Day 8-9 – Paracas
  • Day 10-13 – Arequipa
  • Day 14-15 – Puno / Lake Titicaca
  • Day 16-17 – Cusco
  • Day 18-19 – Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu
  • Day 20-21 – Cusco

Iquitos

Iquitos is the vibrant and untamed heart of the Peruvian Amazon. If you’ve ever dreamed of an exotic adventure amidst lush rainforests and winding rivers, this captivating city is your gateway to the wilderness like no other. Brace yourself for an immersive journey into the Amazon filled with wildlife encounters and untouched nature.

 

In Iquitos, travellers can embark on a variety of tours that showcase the enchanting wonders of the Amazon rainforest and the rich local culture. One of the most popular tours is a 3-day/2-night tour staying at an ecolodge along one of the tributaries of the Amazon river. The tour includes immersive experiences with diverse wildlife including pink dolphins, caimans, monkeys and exotic birds.

 

Tours start from $350 online but booking in person is recommended as you’ll always get a better deal. These tours promise unforgettable adventures in one of the world’s most biodiverse and mystical regions.

 

Matiti Expeditions is one of the highest rated but one of the most expensive too.

How To Get To Iquitos

There are no roads that go to Iquitos so there’s only two ways to get there: by air or by river boat.

 

Travelling via river boat isn’t recommended for a three week itinerary as it takes several days. The most convenient way to reach Iquitos from Lima is by taking a domestic flight. Several airlines operate flights between Lima and Iquitos, and the flight duration is typically around 1 hour and 45 minutes.

 

Return flights start from $85 but will vary depending on the season.

Travelling other countries in South America apart from Peru? See how you can cross the border into Bolivia from Cusco to turn your journey into an extended multi-country South America backpacking trip:

 

 

monkeys in peru

How Much Will 3 Weeks In peru Cost?

With everything included, hostels, food, and activities, you should budget for between $50-70 day whilst backpacking Peru. This will apply to all three of the itineraries listed above. 

 

So, just starting out with daily costs (food, accommodation and transport) I would budget $1050 at the low end and $1470 at the high end. This is your standard day budget however and won’t include some of the more expensive tours or internal flights.

 

Here’s a breakdown:   

Gringo Trail Hike Enthusiast Nature Lover
Daily Budget
$50-70
$50-70
$50-70
Weekly Budget
$350-490
$350-490
$350-490
Machu Picchu
$200-250
- *
$200-250
Internal Flights
$50
$200
$200
Iquitos
-
-
$300-400
Total Three-Week Peru Budget
$1300-1770
$1250-1720
$1750-2320

Extra costs on top of your daily budget will include trips such as Machu Picchu, multi-day treks and internal flights. 

 

Here is a rough cost of these extras:

 

  • Internal single flights – $50
  • Internal return flights – $100 
  • Machu Picchu – $200-250 – an entrance ticket costs $50, then transport (via train) and accommodation in Aguas Calientes make up the rest.
  • Iquitos Amazon Tour – $300-400 – this is the cost for a 3 day Amazon tour and doesn’t include the return flight
  • *Salkantay Trek – $250 – this includes the entrance to Machu Picchu, 5 nights of camping and food as well. This is why the price hasn’t been included in the table above. Because everything is included in the price of the ticket, you end up saving money and only spending $50 a day. 

 

To be safe, I always think it’s best to round up and add an extra $200-$300 on top of any planned itinerary for emergencies or spontaneity. There will always be a tour, night out, or meal at a nice restaurant that takes your fancy at the last minute. 

 

Therefore, for three weeks backpacking in Peru, I would take:

 

  • $1500-1800 on the ‘Gringo Trail’ route
  • $1400-1700 on the ‘Hike Enthusiast’ route
  • $2000-2500 on the ‘Nature Lover’ route
monkeys in peru

Alternative Peru Backpacking Itineraries

Peru 7-Day Backpacking Itinerary

For those of you who are 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:

 

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 – 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. 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. 

This itinerary covers the highlights of Peru. For more great reasons to visit, check out the post below:

 

 

rainbow mountains with clouds

Peru Two-Week Backpacking Itinerary

Two weeks is a great amount of time to see almost everything I saw in Peru in a month. You will just have to be ruthlessly efficient with your organisation, transport, and timing. 

 

Here’s a breakdown of the two-week itinerary:

 

  • Day 1-2 – Lima
  • Day 3-4 – Paracas
  • Day 5 – Huacachina Oasis
  • Day 6-9 – Arequipa / Colca Canyon
  • Day 10-11 Cusco
  • Day 12-13 – Aguas Calientes / Machu Pichu
  • Day 14 – Cusco 

This itinerary covers the highlights of Peru but if you prefer to visit two countries in South America instead, check out the post below:

 

 

Red Sand Beach

1 Month Peru Itinerary

I prefer to keep these big itineraries brief and provide links to the more in-depth blog posts for when to dig a little deeper. 

 

I spent a month in Peru and followed the classic route down the coast from Lima to Arequipa, before heading inwards to Cusco. I ’ve laid out our full itinerary in the post below which gives you some extra days for travel and to slow down the pace a bit. 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Travel South America With Ease

Sign up to my weekly newsletter for the latest itineraries, guides and deals for South America.

Travel South America Like An Expert

Budget South America Itinerary (Free PDF)