The Essential Three-Week Peru Backpacking Itinerary & Route

The land of alpacas, ancient Inca ruins, desert expanses, and towering volcanoes spread out across quaint towns and beautiful countryside. The diversity of Peru’s landscapes, natural beauty, and cultural cities can feel as if you are visiting a new country as you pass through each one. Here’s our three-week backpacking itinerary for Peru to help you plan your next trip.

Contents

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.

 

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. 

 

Our full Lima backpacker guide has everything you need to know:

 

 

Day 2 - Visit The Bohemian District of Barranco

On day 2, 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.

 

If you want to get a good rundown of the area, then start with the free walking tour.  

 

 

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

 

La Canta Ranita is one of the best places to try ceviche in Lima, and that will become obvious from the queue that’s constantly outside this quaint little cantina.

 

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 the best bar in the area and they are well known for their cocktail-making skills.

 

For more on the best bars and restaurants in Lima:

 

 

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:

 

 

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 rolling dunes and high jagged cliffs drop off to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean below. 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 all highlights of the park. But watching the sunset from the cliffs is the best so aim for a late evening tour if you can.

 

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

 

 

Day 4 - Ballestas Islands Tour

Sealions, penguins, dolphins, and more seabirds than you’ve ever seen in your life – it will feel like you’re in an episode of Blue Planet when visiting the Ballestas Islands.

 

A tour of the islands costs around $15 and lasts around 2 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 exist to explain its presence.

 

After that, you’ll head to the Ballestas Islands themselves. As mentioned, the islands will be packed with marine life. You may also see dolphins riding in the wake of your boat. If you’re visiting between August and October, this is the migrating season for Humpback Whales which are often seen in the area.

 

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

 

 

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, sandboarding down the massive dunes (not for the fainthearted), 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. We were flying over dunes at high speed and going up and down dunes like it was 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, then why not have many more beers at Wild Rover. The famous party hostel has a pool, large bar area, and beer pong tables, and it’s a great place to start the night before heading out into town to one of the random clubs. 

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. 

 

Our 2-day Huacachina itinerary with more information on hostels and restaurants be found here:

 

 

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. With tranquil cobblestone streets, fantastic local cuisine, and great rooftop bars, all surrounded by a backdrop of picturesque volcanoes, the city has a lot to offer. 

 

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.

 

Our complete Arequipa guide has everything you need to know. Or for more tips on the city try:

 

 

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 picking your jaw up off the floor as you walk around in awe of the canyon’s vastness.

 

You spend one day working your way into the canyon, exploring its beautiful green slopes dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms. Then one night at the oasis in the centre, before trekking up and out on the next day.

 

For more information on the guided trek:

 

 

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

 

 

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.

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 our Puno and Lake Titicaca guide:

 

 

Day 14 - Travel Day To Cusco

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 15-16 - Cusco

Day 15 - Explore The City

Cusco, once 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.

 

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:

 

 

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 AM and ending at around 6-7 PM back in Cusco, so make sure you’re prepared.

 

We’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:

 

 

Day 17-21 - 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:

 

 

Or if you want to spend less time trekking and more time in Cusco, there are also 3 and 4-day trekking options:

 

 

Alternative Day 17-18 - Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

Day 17 - Aguas Calientes

If a 5-day trek isn’t for you then the other option is to travel to Machu Picchu by yourself.

 

The best way to do this is to take the train to Aguas Calientes on the morning of Day 17. Aguas Calientes is the town closest to Machu Picchu and the hub for travellers before they start their trek up to the mountain.

 

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.

 

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

 

 

If you want to save money and take the bus, then we’ve outlined that here as well:

 

 

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 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 up in the afternoon

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

Alternative 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.

 

 

How Many Days Do You Need In Peru

The perfect amount of time in Peru is three weeks.

 

This gives you enough time to travel from Lima, down along the coast to the beautiful desert landscapes of Paracas and Huacachina, before heading inland to the popular backpacker hub of Cusco.

 

At a minimum, Peru isn’t worth visiting for anything less than 10 days due to the long journey times between towns and the day or two needed for acclimatisation to altitude in places like Cusco.

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. 

Peru Two-Week Backpacking Itinerary

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

 

 

  • Day 1 – Land in Lima
  • Day 2 – Lima City Day
  • Day 3 – Early bus to Paracas, Ballestas Islands Tour
  • Day 4 – Visit Paracas National Reserve 
  • 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 – Colca Canyon Trek
  • Day 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 – Final Day In Cusco 

 

If you are seeing more of South America after Peru then check out our longer itineraries and guides here:

 

 

How To Spend 1 Month Backpacking In Peru

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 and need to dig a little deeper. 

 

We spent a month in Peru and followed the classic route down the coast from Lima to Arequipa, before heading inwards to Cusco. We’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. You can also add in a visit to Huaraz (the hiking capital of Peru) if you are visiting for a month.

 

Where to next after Peru? We have more expertly planned itineraries for Peru’s neighbouring countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, so check out the articles below: