How to plan a one or two week trip to Peru

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Thanks to the popularity of Machu Picchu, not a month goes by when someone asks me for recommendations for a Peru itinerary. Why me? Well, most of my friends know that in 2012, I spent almost a month zipping through the length and breadth of Peru.

The typical plan I hear from most of you involves flying into Lima and immediately onto Cusco, the nearest airport to Machu Picchu. From Cusco, some plan to start hiking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu the same day or next day. No offense; but that is a terrible if not fatal plan.

Don’t get me wrong. Machu Picchu is breathtaking. But there’s lot more to Peru than Machu Picchu: highest navigable lake- Lake Titicaca; deepest canyon on earth – Colca Canyon (yes, Grand Canyon is nowhere close); a string of 6000m+ peaks, multiple breathtaking ruins like Kuelap, Chavin which match if not eclipse Machu Picchu in planning brilliance, Amazon river basin at one-fourth the cost of Brazil…. the list goes on. Even the area around Cusco has gems like Maray and Maras and Sacred Valley. It would be a shame to leave Peru having seen just Machu Picchu in a jet-lagged state.

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Macaw salt lick, Manu National Park. Thousands of Macaws fill the sky in an attempt to eat salt from the wall

The main reason I am writing this post is to drive home the point that hiking the Inka Trail the day after arriving in Peru can be fatal. Yes fatal; you can die of altitude sickness. Lima, the gateway to Peru is a coastal town at sea-level. Cusco is at 3400m. For most people, sudden change of altitude of this magnitude leads to headaches, dizziness and general discomfort. On the Inca trail, the altitude at the highest point is 4200m. I suffered from minor altitude sickness on my Kilimanjaro hike and it was scary. People have actually died attempting to hike the Inka trail the day after arriving in Peru. Take it slow.

So here’s my plan taking into account the altitude issue.

Barebones 8 day Highlights of Peru plan

Day Lodging Plan
1 Arequipa/Chivay/Night bus Fly into Lima. Spend entire day in Lima and catch night bus to Arequipa or fly to Arequipa (2500m)
2 Arequipa Santa Catalina Monastery. Arequipa town.
3 Puno Colca Canyon day trip. Drop off in Chivay ~12PM. 4M bus to Puno at 1:30
4 Night Bus to Cuzco Morning trip to Uros Islands. Afternoon trip to stunning Sillustani ruins.
5 Cuzco Ruins around Cuzco, Cuzco town.
6 Aguas Calientes Sacred valley and last train into Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo
7 Ollantaytambo Entire day in Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu. Last train back to Ollanyaytambo
8 Cuzco Trip to Maray, Maras on the way back to Cuzco.Fly into Lima and out of Peru
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The Inka ruin of Maray. An agricultural wonder.

The Barebones plan does not have much breathing room for you. I would strongly advise adding extra days. If you have extra days and would like to add on to the Barebones plan, consider the following

Add-ons to the Barebones plan

Extra Days Lodging Plan
1 Arequipa/Puno
2 Arequipa/Puno Combination of the above or Sandboarding in Huacachina
3 Inka trek/Huaraz
  • Inka trek to Machu Picchu
  • Climb the peaks around Huaraz,Chavin ruins
4 Tambopata
  • Tambopata
  • Amazon river lodge, Iquitos
5 Trujillo,Chachapoyas North Peru Ruins: Chan Chan , Huacas de Moche, Kuelap, Gocta Falls, Chiclayo, Cajamarca.
6 Manu Taste of Amazonia: Reserved Zone of Manu National Park
7 Cuzco Hike to Choquequirao ruins
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Entrance to Colca Canyon

Hope this helps some you. Feel free to ask questions.

Here are some photos to inspire you:

Portrait of a Macaw by Angik Sarkar on 500px.com
Macaw, Manu National Park
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Santa Catalina Monastery

Do not use any photographs on this page without express permission of the author

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