Backpacking two weeks through Peru was one of my first adventures abroad ever.
When I first traveled to Peru, I still had a *normal* life – I didn’t have the freedom I have now to earn money while traveling back then, and so, the time I had to explore Peru was pretty limited. I’m not usually one to plan too much, but on this occasion, I knew I only had two weeks to make the most out of my trip, so I planned my backpacking itinerary to the T.
I treated this trip to Peru as a “highlights only” trip to get a taste of what this incredibly varied country has to offer. While Peru looks pretty small on a map, it’s actually huge, and the fact that the Andes mountains cut through the country makes distances feel enormous. A 300-mile trip could quickly turn into an eight-hour bus ride as it’ll be driving through weaving roads over the Andes.
While two weeks would be plenty to see a smaller country, it definitely wasn’t for Peru. Still, I came up with a two-week itinerary that gave me the chance to see a ton – from big towns like Lima and Cuzco, the jungles of the Amazonas, the deserts of Ica, and of course, Machu Picchu!
Without further ado, here’s how I spent two weeks in Peru:
Days 1 and 2: Puerto Maldonado – The gateway to Southern Amazonas
Puerto Maldonado is the capital city of the Madre de Dios region and the gateway to southern Amazonas. On my itinerary was a visit to Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island) to get a close encounter with wild monkeys, checking out the alluring Manu National Park, and finding my wild at Tambopata Reserve.
The reason I started traveling here was that it made so much sense to start at the easternmost place in Peru that I absolutely had to visit and then slowly start backpacking my way back to Lima. Puerto Maldonado is a whopping 27-hour long drive away from Lima, so I decided to fly instead and I recommend you do the same unless you want your butt to look like an aspirin from sitting so long in a bus.
And what a treat it was to fly over this area in Peru! Guys, the Amazonas looks INSANE from above!
Overall, I loved Puerto Maldonado, but my time there kinda sucked because a storm hit the town when I arrived, which meant I couldn’t do many of the activities I had planned. I did get to meet a group of cheeky monkeys at Isla de los Monos, but I would have done many other things, including a visit to Manu National Park and Tambopata Reserve, both of which are set deeper inside the Amazonas.
I met a ton of people later during my travels in Peru who couldn’t stop raving about their time in both reserves, so I hope to make it there when I eventually make it back to South America!
My advice? Check the weather forecast beforehand and book your tours in Puerto Maldonado in advance, especially if you’re backpacking solo (I found that so many of the tour agencies there weren’t keen on letting me hop on a tour as a solo traveler). Here’s a list of cool tours I found that are also quite affordable:
- Jungle Walk and Canoe Trip in Tambopata Reserve
- Kayak trip to Monkey Island + Zip Line Combo
- Amazon River by Night
Another popular place in Peru to check out some wildlife and Amazonian culture is Iquitos, so that’s an alternative if you don’t mind flying further afield. For me, Puerto Maldonado was wonderful, despite the fact that it rained like hell on my first day there which meant I had to skip a few of the activities I’d planned. Still, though, if it weren’t for the rain, I’m sure I would’ve had a blast!
Where I stayed in Puerto Maldonado: Pirwa Hostel ($10 for a dorm bed and $23 for a private room)
Day 3 and 4: Cuzco
After my misadventures in the Amazonas, I boarded an overnight bus to the next destination on my Peru itinerary. After a decent 8-hour bus ride through the Andes (seriously, bus rides in Peru are LONG, but the buses are so comfortable that it’s not that bad at all!), I finally arrived at one of the most popular destinations in Peru: Cuzco.
Cuzco is the hopping off spot to Machu Picchu, but as a destination in itself, it’s pretty damn interesting, too! I joined a few friends who were also backpacking Peru here, and we set out to explore the city together.
Cuzco was once the capital of the Inca Empire, so you can expect to find a ton of attractions and historical goodness to keep you occupied for a while. The city is known for its cobblestone streets, its stunning Colonial architecture, and its many archaeological remains. We explored the city for two days without many plans: hiking up small hills to see Cuzco’s Cristo Blanco, drinking way too much pisco sour, exploring museums and churches and befriending alpacas.
Where I stayed in Cuzco: Pirwa Hostel Colonial ($7 for a dorm and $32 for a private)
Day 5: Getting to Machu Picchu
My budget while in Peru was pretty tight, so I set aside a day to get to Macchu Picchu independently instead of taking the much more expensive train ride. Getting to Machu Picchu on a shoestring is time-consuming, but for me, the money I got to save was totally worth it.
Getting to Machu Picchu on a budget isn’t exactly the best way to spend an entire day in Peru, but the journey was one with amazing mountain views – it never got boring! We took a bus in Cuzco that dropped us off in Hydroelectrica and then we had to walk for a whopping 15 kilometers over the train tracks.
We got to Machu Picchu Town (formerly Aguascalientes) after dark, so after having a quick dinner (can’t remember the name of the restaurant, sorry!), we went to bed early.
Day 6: Machu Picchu
The following day, I made my way to Machu Picchu, which I’m sure I don’t really need to introduce. I mean, hell, Machu Picchu is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. I’ve been lucky enough to visit five of them so far, and Machu Picchu has definitely been my favorite.
Getting there and crossing the entry gate feels like you’ve won some sort of lottery ticket, especially if you’re broke like I was and you had to spend an entire day trying to get there LOL.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you book your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu way in advance, as the number of people allowed every day is very limited! Two of the friends I was traveling with decided to wing it and tried to book theirs at the entrance and couldn’t get in in the end. You can book tour entrance tickets here.
Aside from exploring the archeological citadel, I also booked a permit to hike Huayna Picchu at 7 am, which is the cone-shaped mountain you see on every iconic picture of this archeological wonder. The hike takes roughly around 45 minutes and it’s quite strenuous, but totally worth it when you reach the top! Another hiking activity to do while in Machu Picchu is hiking Machu Picchu mountain, a slightly longer but easier hike. I didn’t get to hike the actual mountain, but Huayna Picchu was definitely a highlight which I highly recommend it!
Overlooking the valley from Huayna Picchu
IMPORTANT: For either of the above activities, you need to book an entry permit way in advance of your trip as they’re very limited. If possible, make sure you book the earliest one as both hikes are way harder once the sun comes up. You can book your permit to both Machu Picchu Citadel + Huayna Picchu here or hike Machu Picchu Mountain + Citadel here.
After exploring Machu Picchu, I took the panoramic train to Cuzco. As much as I enjoyed the experience of getting to Machu Picchu the “hard” way, I didn’t see a point in doing it all over again and wasting an extra day. After arriving back to Cuzco, I headed to the bus station and booked the next bus to Puno.
Tip: You can also book a direct transfer to Puno from Cuzco if you prefer! They’ll pick you up at your hotel and drop you off at your next accommodation.
Day 7: Lake Titicaca, Puno
Puno is a small town in the shores of Lake Titicaca where you’ll find the picturesque Islas Uros, a set of islands home to the Uru people that are made almost entirely out of totora reeds. I took a night bus here from Cuzco, so I arrived in the morning, took a short nap, and went out to find how to get to the islands.
Next, I hopped on a local boat instead of booking a tour here, which might have made things feel a bit less touristy. I was happy to see how the Uru people managed to earn a living out of tourism that didn’t feel intrusive. You can catch a ferry at the shore of the lake (10 soles for a return trip) where you’ll also pay an entry fee to the islands (10 soles).
Our first stop was a small island, where I was given an introduction to what life in Islas Uros is like and how the islands are made. I expected Islas Uros to be incredibly touristy, but I honestly loved my time there. I can’t say if my visit was a super raw one, but it still felt quite authentic. Still, I suspect that many of the people here actually live in the town of Puno rather than the islands, but just getting the chance to learn about this island-dwelling ethnic group that moved to Lake Titicaca centuries ago when the Incas expanded their territory was pretty interesting.
Aside from Islas Uros, there are other islands on the lake to explore, like Isla Taquile, which has a similar feel to Islas Uros and boasts amazing views of both Peru and Bolivia. Another island to visit if you have a bit more time to spend in Puno than I did is Isla Amantanti, which I heard tends to be a bit less touristic than Uros and Taquile.
You can also book a tour to take you to both Uros and Taquile here.
Day 8: Nazca
And onto the desert!
For years before I even thought of visiting Peru, I had been fascinated by the Nazca lines. In case you don’t know, Nazca’s desert boasts a series of ancient geoglyphs carved on the sand. How such massive geoglyphs were created, and how they have managed to stay intact for centuries is still very much a mystery. Another interesting thing I noticed about the lines was how they depict things, such as a monkey and a whale, that would not be found in the desert, so uh, how exactly did the Nazca people come up with them?
Due to their massive size, the only way to actually see the lines is from above the sky, so a flight was next in my schedule. It’s not exactly the cheapest thing to do in Peru, or the easiest for that matter if you suffer from motion sickness (the plane swerves a lot to give you the best possible views of the lines), but it’s so, so worth it! You can book your flight here.
My plan after soaring over the lines was to head straight to Huacachina, but that didn’t go to plan when I missed the bus *eye roll*. I booked another one that would leave in the afternoon, which left me with plenty of time to discover more of what the city of Nazca has to offer and man alive! I’m so glad I didn’t make it in time because Nazca is AMAZING!
I visited the Cahuachi Pyramids, an insane ceremonial center which I had ALL to myself for an entire hour and then I headed over to Chauchilla Cemetery, a burial ground that contains ancient mummified bodies. I also got to visit Cantalloc, which is a set of a series of aqueducts the Nazca people built to bring water into their dwellings – this was my least favorite place, but it was so interesting to see how advanced their engineering techniques were!
Read Next: Things to do in Nazca
Days 9 and 10: Huacachina
I did eventually manage to get to Huacachina, way into the evening, but still! Huacachina is a small (so small, like, it has just 100 inhabitants) village built around an oasis and backdropped by massive sand dunes. The village is a popular destination to explore the desert, ride buggies, and try your hand at sandboarding.
Next up, I headed over to Tacama Hacienda for a wine-tasting tour. It came as surprise to me, but the Ica region is a mecca for vineyards and this particular one happens to be the first winery in South America (dating back to the 14th century). I spent the following hours testing out wines, gorging on cheese platters, and walking among the hacienda’s pink walls. It was a lovely way to relax and wind down a bit after an entire week of activities and overnight bus rides.
When the sun began to set, I walked over to Huacachina’s famous oasis, which was like, the perfect way to spend my 20th birthday. The oasis is a really popular spot for both visitors and locals alike, but going that late meant I had the whole place to myself.
Day 11 & 12: Paracas
Paracas is a national reserve on the coast of Peru and the hopping off spot for Islas Ballestas, a set of islands that Humboldt penguin colonies and sea lions call their home. On the way to the islands, there is another massive geoglyph shaped like a cactus, which sailors still use as a point of reference.
TIP: Pack a windbreaker! This region is known for receiving some of the strongest winds in Peru and a four-hour boat trip feels like hell without one!
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also explore the national reserve on a bicycle. This is sort of an all-day thing, as the reserve is humongous and cycling is definitely the best way to get to places that aren’t swarmed by tourists. Seriously, the landscapes are out of this world!
If you’re not too keen on cycling, you can also book a tour which will take you to some of the best spots on the reserve in a car. This tour, for instance, combines a visit to both Paracas National Reserve and Islas Ballestas in just one day.
Day 13: Lima
Looking back, I wish I would have set one more day aside to indulge in Lima’s renowned food scene, but my time in Peru was tight and other cities made it hard for me to justify exploring a metropolis that (I assume) is probably similar in many aspects to Mexico City (my hometown), so I decided checking Lima out would be on the schedule for my next visit to Peru.
If you have more time in your Peru itinerary, there are also plenty of easy day trips from Lima you can take!
What I would’ve done differently during my two weeks in Peru
Peru was one of my first trips ever, and there are definitely a few things I would’ve done differently (or rather, WILL do differently next time. I have plans to travel to other amazing destinations in South America next year, and revisiting Peru is on the plans).
- I would have spent more time in Puerto Maldonado.
- I would have set more time aside to explore Cuzco’s surroundings. The Inca Valley has so much to offer that I contemplated spending at least one week there. My top places to visit in the area were Salar de Mara and Ollantaytambo, but I ultimately concluded that I wanted to move a bit more while in Peru.
- I would have headed north to explore places like Chachapoyas and Cajamarca. On my next trip, I’ll make an effort to explore Peru’s less-traveled north.
I don’t beat myself too hard over this, because I had a blast during my two weeks in Peru and for the limited time I spent there, I felt like I managed to see most of the highlights and got a pretty good introduction of what this varied country has to offer.
My tips for two weeks in Peru
- If your time is limited, consider flying between destinations. Peru is massive and buses take hours due to the Andes mountains cutting through the country.
- But, if you have the time or don’t mind overnighting it, buses in Peru are top-notch. They are extremely comfortable and even have a “bus hostess” going around handing snacks and beverages to passengers.
- Get good travel insurance. Peru is a country where you’re going to want to adventure. Whether sandboarding in the desert, hiking Machu Picchu or exploring the Amazonas rainforest, you’re going to be exposed to some very accident-prone activities. I recommend Safety Wing.
What to pack for a trip to Peru?
- Bring a jacket or pack in layers. Many places in Peru can get quite chilly due to the high altitude. If you’re going to Islas Ballestas, pack a good windbreaker jacket.
- Tap water in Peru isn’t drinkable. Buy bottled water or get a GRAYL water purifier. It’s a water bottle that purifies water and eliminates bacteria and all the other things you don’t want to be drinking. You can just fill your bottle with tap water, and it will clean it up in just a few seconds.
I hope you find my Peru itinerary useful and that it gave you some inspiration on how to spend two weeks in Peru. If you have slightly less than two weeks to travel this amazing country, or if you’d rather not rush around that much and you’re wondering which places to skip and which to keep in your itinerary, then here’s a list of my favorite destinations in order:
- Cuzco/Machu Picchu
- Islas Ballestas
- Nazca and Ica
- Puerto Maldonado
- Puno/Lake Titicaca
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