Updated on January 25th, 2021
Peru is at the top of many peoples Bucket Lists but how do you see everything & how long do you need? There’s the legendary Machu Picchu, the epic hike to get there via the Inca Trail, Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, the wonders of the Amazon & the mystery of the Nazca Lines. Throw in Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, fascinating culture, beautiful people & diverse wildlife & where do you even start? Look no further as here I have your perfect Peru Itinerary, 3 weeks is all you need!”
Peru, South America. Includes the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Amazon rainforest, Lake Titicaca, Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon & much, much more!
When I start planning a journey, I often look at tours to find out where they believe are the best places to visit. When I was looking for the top things to do in Peru, I came across the Absolute Peru tour with G Adventures. It was 2017 & after losing my husband 2 ½ years earlier, I had yet to fully commit to a life of solo travel adventures. It would be my first time in South America & my Spanish was a work in progress. The perfect solution seemed to be to join the tour. It was an opportunity to see this fascinating country, ticking off everything I had on my list. And all in just 3 weeks. Perfect!
So that was 2017, why share this now? The pandemic has given us all time to put our backpacks in storage & reflect on adventures past. I realised that beyond my efforts tackling the Inca Trail & discovering the wonders of Machu Picchu, I haven’t shared anything else about my thoughts on the best places in Peru. So, for the next few weeks come with me on a journey through deepest, darkest Peru & I guarantee it will be next on your bucket list…when you can…& it is safe to visit again.
Being on a tour is very different to creating your own itinerary & travelling independently. I like the tour option as everything is done for you. All guides are local so hugely knowledgeable & happy to share their recommendations. It is a great way to get an understanding of the culture but not necessarily the best to really immerse yourself in it. Nowadays, I would feel more confident to take the trip alone. I found the pace relentless, but it achieved my goal & really did deliver the best places in Peru in just 3 weeks.
The truth is that much as I love travelling independently, sometimes it is just easier to join a tour. For example, if the journeys are complicated, you have limited time or just looking to make new friends. So, if you would like to follow a similar route, then this is the perfect place to begin.”
Day 1 – Lima
Lima was the start & endpoint of my Peruvian adventure. I arrived the day before from Argentina so wanted to explore the capital. I was staying in the coastal area of Miraflores, at the Lima Wasi Hotel. Peruvian food has garnered a lot of attention globally & Miraflores is famous for its excellent selection of restaurants.
I took the opportunity to walk the city & made it to Plaza de Armas for midday to witness the impressive changing of the guard at the President’s Palace. It was a fantastic display of extravagant marching to a live brass band. Also, ff like me you are a fan of the macabre, check out the catacombs at the Monasterio de San Francisco.
Our first day on the road was spent travelling to the coastal town of Paracas so I was excited the next morning to get on a boat to discover the ‘Galapagos’ of Peru. As well as a host of wildlife (sea lions, penguins & many species of birds), the Ballestas Islands are home to the intriguing Candleabra. The massive ‘artwork’ is 150m high & 50m wide, imprinted into the earth. Its origin remains shrouded in mystery.
Ica is Peru’s largest wine producer so if you get chance, take a tour of one of the wineries. Be warned, that Peruvian wine is very sweet which was not to my taste. However, I very much enjoyed the pisco tasting & invested in a couple of bottles for the journey!
Then we suddenly found ourselves in the desert. Huacachina is literally an oasis. Lush green palm trees & a few properties surround a small lagoon. And as far as the eye can see, there are sand dunes. You can get an adrenaline rush with extreme buggy rides & try your hand at sandboarding.
I discovered the joys of hurtling headfirst down progressively steeper slopes & loved it. Except for days after you will be finding sand in the most unusual places!”
The legendary Nazca Lines are an immense artwork of lines which criss-cross the desert, interrupted by massive animal geoglyph etchings. It is still a mystery why & how they were created back in 450-600AD as they are only truly visible from above. I chose to take a scenic flight. And wow! These shapes & fantastical creatures blew my mind!
Chauchilla Cemetary lies 30kms south of Nazca. The remains here date back to 1000AD, so are pre-Inca. It is fascinating to see the mummified bodies laid to rest with their prized possessions (& very long hair!).
In Nazca, we stayed at the Casa Andina Nasca Hotel & the following day ended on a night bus to Arequipa.
Arequipa is a beautiful city surrounded by volcanos, making it a little prone to more than the occasional earthquake. I just wish I could have done the town justice but after the night bus, I was pretty knocked out. There are many options to make the most of a day here. I chose to take the downtown walking tour with Free Walking Tours Peru. Another great alternative is a visit to impressive Santa Catalina Monastery which is right in the centre of the city.
We stayed at the Hotel Casona Plaza & when in Arequipa, you need to check out the famous Picanterias to taste the local cuisine. I recommend La Benita de Los Claustros where I tried sampling my first guinea pig (apologies to any vegetarians, or guinea pig owners!).
Our next stop was the epic Colca Canyon, the 2nd deepest canyon in the world (only pipped to the post by its next-door neighbour). To put that in perspective, Colca is 100km long & twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Therefore, if you are here looking for the best things to do in Peru, do not miss Colca Canyon! Apart from the sheer spectacle of the landscape itself, Colca is famous for its majestic condors.
They like to stretch their wings on the early morning thermals. Having them swoop overheard truly is a sight to behold!”
In addition, there is loads of hiking & exploring to be done around the area. It boasts some of the densest terraced agriculture in the world (rollover Bali!), numerous volcanoes & some rustic hot spring pools to rest your weary bones in. We stayed at Casa de Lucila in Chivay.
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America & the highest navigable body of water in the world (whatever that means?!). Each island is home to a different community with its own unique culture. So, what more do you need to add this icon to your Peru itinerary?
After a night on the banks of this magnificent lake in Puno, our first stop was the Uros Floating Reed Islands. For centuries the Uros community have lived on the totora reeds, plentiful in the shallows of the lake. The islands are built from the reeds, as are their boats & the totora also provide sustenance when eaten. The islands are constantly replenished from above as they rot in the water below & therefore can be home to a family for 20 years.
On Taquile Island knitting is a way of life. The men take the lead on creating amazing designs to impress potential suitors & wear distinctly pointed hats of their own creations. The ladies will judge their handiwork before deciding whether to marry them. The island itself is stunning with a real Mediterranean feel. I advise you to take your time walking the path which circumnavigates the island.
Amantaní Island Homestay
For me, the big adventure came as we had the opportunity to stay overnight as guests of a local family in their home. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had a pristine room. Not all my companions were so lucky. Dinner with the family was fantastic & I slept very well. To learn more about the experience, watch this space.
Then it was dress up time as I joined the rest of the group for some traditional dancing. Our hosts danced, we tried unsuccessfully to emulate them.”
Then we bid a fond farewell & got back on the boat for our return trip to Puno.
To read all the details, check out An Amazing 2 Day Homestay on Lake Titicaca
Day 11 – 12. Cusco & the Sacred Valley
Cusco is the gateway to the ancient world of the Incas but there is so much more than “just” Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is one impressive Inca site after another & the city itself is a hub of activity. See future posts for a lot more information but for me the highlights were:
Pisac is a huge terraced Inca site. What looks small from a distance changes to vast when you stand on one of the terraces. The constructional vision of the Incas is mind-blowing. Then there is the cliff with a honeycomb of holes in the rock where they buried their dead in catacombs.
Once again, a fantastic ruin of epic proportions. The effort & the sheer number of people it took to transport the huge stones & create walls which fit perfectly, no mortar required. It is truly awe-inspiring.
With nerves jangling, we began the much-anticipated journey to tackle the Inca Trail. I was nervous about the walk & the altitude but excited about claiming my prize at the end & hiking into Machu Picchu. I have documented everything you need to know about this epic hike in my blog post. Please check out 3 Amazing Days Hiking the Inca Trail to find out how I did.
For everyone on the Inca Trail, the final day arrives rudely too early as you join the queue in the dark to enter the national park. We waited 2 hours for the National Park to open at 5.30am for the final short walk to the Sun Gate. All the Inca Trail hikers watch from above as the sun ascends into the sky & this wonder of the world appears from behind the shadow of the surrounding mountains.
Machu Picchu itself seemed dwarfed from our lookout, making it even more mind blowing that it was ever discovered in the first place.”
Check out my blog post to read all about the experience of visiting this Inca icon in Achieving a Life Goal – Hiking into Machu Picchu.
Exhausted, after 4 big days & overwhelmed by the experience, I got the bus to the town of Aguas Calientes to be reunited with my fellow non-hikers & the joys of Pisco sours. Once night-time descended, we dragged our weary bones onto the train back to Ollantaytambo.
Day 17 – Cusco
After returning to Cusco, there was a limit to my enthusiasm to explore anything else other than the pleasures of the massage table! However, for those with more energy, Cusco is a hive of activity & opportunities. Watch this space for more in future posts.
We bid a fond farewell to the mythical Incas & off to our final stop on the journey…the jungle! It involved a flight to Puerto Maldonado (affectionately termed “Hells Port”) before climbing onto a motorized canoe to enter the depths of the legendary Amazon Rainforest.
For 2 days we explored the best wildlife the jungle had to offer through day & night by foot & on boats. In the process we angered a tarantula, came face to face with a tiny but highly poisonous frog, fed piranhas, woke up a sloth & walked around a tree almost as big as a house.
I even had my face painted with dye from a plant, much to the amusement & horror of my friends. I was later told it wouldn’t come off…it did!”
For all the information you need to visit yourself, check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.
Day 20 – Lima
Our last journey of the trip took us back on the boat to where it had started all those adventures ago…Lima.
Peru is a diverse & fascinating country for anyone who loves exploring ancient civilisations, diverse cultures, breathtaking landscapes & fascinating wildlife. I hope this has given you a flavour of the best places to visit in Peru & an idea of how you could achieve it in 3 weeks. There is lots more detail to come over the coming month so I look forward to welcoming you back on the journey.
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