As a travel destination, Peru is a no-brainer. The southern part of Peru, where Machu Picchu is, is most popular among tourists as they often skip the north and go straight down to either Lima or Cusco. I would have done the same If I did not know anything about the north but as I traveled through from north to south, I had the opportunity to explore both parts and I can confidently say that the north of Peru is where the real Peru is.
In this guide, we will NOT just focus on going to Machu Picchu, but we will include places like Ica, Nazca, Huanchaco, and best of all, Huaraz, the part of the Andes mountain range that is only second to the Himalayas!
Why go to Peru?
Peru has it all. If you are into hiking, Huaraz has one of the best and highest alpine in the world, only second to the Himalayas. It's like a little Kathmandu up there. If you are interested in the Inca history, a visit to Machu Picchu, Cusco and a number of museums in Lima will greatly improve your knowledge about their culture and how they were able to flourish and became the biggest empire in the Pre-Colombian times. Not to mention, the best gastronomy in South America. Truth be told, food in South America is not the best but the Peruvian food is exceptional and eating your way through the country is one of the highlight things to do here.
When to Go
Due to the geography of the country, the weather can vary a lot depending on where you go. In the Andes, the best time to go there is around September - November where the weather is sunny and dry at the beginning and by November, you may risk some rains as it is a shoulder season but you will also experience the Andes without crowds which I think is a perfect balance. The weather pattern is quite similar as well in the Amazon part of the country.
For the best time to visit the coasts, December to March is hot and sunny which is perfect for swimming and surfing.
All in all, traveling to Peru at the end of the year seems to have the perfect balance of clear and rain throughout the country. At the end of the day, the weather may not be as expected. There might be rainy days in the summer and vice versa, so do not sweat too much and enjoy the trip, whatever comes your way.
How to Get Here
The best way to get here is to fly into Lima if you are coming from abroad. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight from where you live to Lima that best fit your itinerary. If you are already in Ecuador, you can simply cross the border from the north with an overnight bus from Loja to Trujillo and traverse from north to south as suggested in the itinerary.
How To Get Around
In the city, local mini-buses (collectivo) are quite easy to flag down and extremely cheap but you will have know where you are going and tell them where to stop (say something like "Pare Aqui" should do). Otherwise, taxis are reasonably priced and more convenient when you don't know where exactly your destination is.
In between cities, traveling via buses is the best option. Buses in Peru is one of the most comfortable ways to go around the country without breaking a bank. With full reclining seats, hot food and entertainment offers on long-haul trips, for an affordable price, buses are the way to go.
Note: Buses in Peru operates differently from other countries due to bus companies having bus terminal in a separate location so make sure you go to the right one.
Huanchaco - Frogs Chillhouse Hostel Huanchaco - 7.24 USD/Night
Huaraz - La Casa de Maruja BB - 11.08 USD/Night - Possibly the best place I have stayed in Peru. The owners were amazingly friendly and will provide you with any information you need about hiking in Huaraz. They upgraded me to a single room and charge me the dorm price! Highly recommended!
Ica - Ica Wasi Hospedaje - 5.37 USD/Night
Lima - Pariwana Hostel Lima - 14.48 USD/Night
Cusco - Kokopelli Hostel - 12.91 USD/Night
Arequipa - Friendly AQP - 7.22 USD/Night
Puno - Cozy Hostel - 7.70 USD/Night
Claro is widely available and I found, more tourist-friendly than Movistar as they have 2GB of data sim card available for 30S. Refilling the sim card is as easy as going to any shop with a Claro sign and ask them to refill the money for you and you can reactivate any package you like. For more information. The data speed is 4G in most cities and I never had coverage problems except in the mountains in Huaraz but that was expected. read more here.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Peru, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
One Month Itinerary
Huanchaco (2 nights)
Huanchaco is a great first stop if you are traveling from Ecuador. From Vilcabamba, Ecuador, you can take a bus to Loja and from there you can either get a bus directly to Piura, Peru or if in my case that the 1PM direct bus was cancelled, you can do it manually by getting a bus to the border town of Macara, Ecuador where you can cross the border and get a collectivo that is waiting for people at the border to Sullana, and then go to the bus terminal and get a bus to Piura (runs very often). From Piura, you can get an overnight bus by Linea to Trujillo. Once you arrived in Trujillo, you can get on a local bus with the sign "Huanchaco" to go there.
On your arrival day, take it easy and walk around the beach of Huanchaco. Take in the culture or go surf into the sunset. In the evening, go find a nice restaurant with a view over the ocean and order Ceviche, a seafood dish popular in Peru, and enjoy the sunset the Peruvian way.
On your second day, go on a bus to Trujillo and get a collectivo to the Moon temple (Huaca de La Luna). In the Moon temple, you will learn about the pre-colombian people that live in this area called the Moche and be fascinated by what they had accomplished during their reign, especially the city wall shown above. Be sure to also visit the museum near the Moon temple to learn more about the Moche people.
Once you have laid the groundwork of your Moche knowledge, head back to Huanchaco and on your way back, ask the bus driver to drop you off at the Chan Chan entrance and explore the ruins to learn more about the Moche.
The next day, you can head off to your next destination, Huaraz.
Huaraz (9 - 12 nights)
Huaraz is my favorite place in South America, hands down. The best part of the Andes are located here and if you are into hiking like me, you will find plenty of things to do here.
On your first full day, go into the city center and get yourself acquainted to the city and the altitude. The city is located 3000m above sea level so you will need these first few days to rest before doing anything physical.
On your second day, do some research on the hikes you can do there by asking the hostel you are staying or going to places like the California cafe to have their finest coffees, talk to people and find partners to do rock climbing or trekking with. Right before you head back, book a transfer to the trail head of the famous Lake 69 the next day.
On your third day, do the Lake 69 and see if your body is equipped to the altitude or not. The hike is about 6 - 8 hours long and the trail consisted of flat landscape at first and become quite steep at the first lake, where and flat again for an hour or so before going straight up all the way to Lake 69.
Keep in mind that, with the altitude of 4000+ m, hiking can be quite challenging. Walk slow and breath enough to ensure you don't get altitude sickness when hiking in Huaraz.
That said, Laguna 69 is definitely worth the sweat. Its vivid blue lake and snowy mountains are quite a sight to behold.
On your fourth day or fifth day, you can either rest a bit or go on another tour that goes up to the Pastoruri Glacier. This tour doesn't require you to be super active but it does go up to 5000+ m elevation and you have to walk one hour to see the glacier in that altitude. The trail is not much of a climb but the altitude can really take its toll.
The scale of the glacier will blow your mind away.
If you don't have experience on alpine mountaineering and are looking to learn at some point, Huaraz is the best place to do that. It is relatively cheap to go on small ice climbing trip and with the altitude only second to the Himalayas, Huaraz offers the best experience with stunning view all for an affordable price. This is your chance!
I decided to do just that and summited Nevado Mateo, a 5150m ice peak that required me to ascend the steep face with ropes and anchors to the top. Given that it was snowing heavily that day and we didn't get to see anything, it was one of the best experience I had in Peru, learning the basics and pushing my body through to the top.
The next day, get some rest and start planning on the next big trek, the Santa Cruz. Go into the city and rent a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mat, food, stove, gas, etc. for your 4 days sabbatical into the Andes. Santa Cruz is a 4 days trek that will take you from 3000m to 4750m through Punta Union pass and back down again, while hauling your 15kg backpack all the time.
Either that or you can do it with a tour which will take the load off you as the mules will carry all the equipments for you and the guide will cook for you.
The trail is stunning through and through and by keeping this trek at the end, it makes it the perfect closure for your trip in Huaraz.
Lima (2 nights)
If you seek a nice place to rest from a very demanding trip in Huaraz, Miraflores in Lima offers you any convenience you would ever need. In between that, you can go to the main square and check out the Cathedral de Lima and the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima.
Did you know that there is a pyramid in Lima? During the day, drop by the Huaca Pucllana, a small pyramid located in the middle of the city. The tour itself is not that impressive but this unique-looking pyramid is quite interesting in itself.
In the evening, enjoy the sunset at the Parque del Amor near the coast west of Miraflores.
Ica (2 nights)
The city of Ica itself is not the main highlight of visiting Ica. The main highlight is Huacachina, a oasis-like town located on a few kilometers away from the city center. You can paddle the boat, get on a bungee car and ride around the sand dunes or climb up one of the sand dunes and watch the sunset like I did.
Nazca (0 night)
Nazca and Nazca lines can be see in half day so there is no need to stay in Nazca. From Ica, you can make your way early in the morning to get a bus to Nazca and from there, take a taxi to the airport. At the airport, you can buy the tour to fly above Nazca and see the lines from above. The flight takes only around 20 minutes and the tour itself was nothing spectacular but some of the nicer Nazca lines are only accessible by air so it is a must if you want to see more.
Cusco (3 nights)
Cusco is one stunning city and a hell of a ride to get to and from. It will take you over 15 hours before you arrive in Cusco so the first day, go slow and explore the main square (Plaza De Armas) and walk around the criss-crossing streets up the San Cristobal church on the hill to see the city from above. You can also go a little further to Saqsaywaman ruin but personally, I think it was not worth it since it was very expensive to get in and you will be seeing Machu Picchu soon anyway. On your first day, take your time to look around the tour agencies and find ways to get to Machu Picchu the next day.
For the train, be sure to book it 2 days prior to the day you want to go as it is usually all booked out 2 days in advanced.
Machu Picchu can be done via trains, short treks, or doing the Inca trail. Trains are the easiest, most convenient and quite cheap (210 USD all included) whereas the short trek requires you to walk through the forest for 2 - 3 days, with activities for you to do throughout the trek (230 - 250 USD). The Inca trail is the most expensive and the most difficult to do since you have to book many weeks prior to arriving.
As for me, I went with the train to give me more flexibility over how much time I could spend on Machu Picchu and it was well worth it. I was able to wait it out for the weather to clear up and the crowds to fade and both happened that evening!
Tip: Stay until right when the gate is about to close (4 PM) to have the whole place to yourself. See the photo above for proof.
On your last day, book a trip to hike the rainbow mountain. The whole trip will take you up 5000m again to the viewpoint to see the Rainbow mountain. The hike itself is quite easy and takes around 5 - 6 hours to complete but the altitude can really affect your body up there so prepare accordingly.
Arequipa (2 - 4 nights)
Arequipa is a nice cozy place with stunning main square, laid-back vibe and great food. You can go and walk around the main square and be fascinated by the beautiful colonial architecture.
After that, drop by at the Monasterio de Santa Catalina and walk along the colorful corridors of this important religious sight.
If you still have enough energy left, go on a 2 days, 1 night hike in the Colca Valley and stay at the oasis in the canyon.
Puno (2 nights)
Puno sits by the Titicaca lake sharing with its neighboring country Bolivia. If you are making your way across to Bolivia, Puno is another great option for a night stop. While you are in Puno, you have to go on the lake, and there are several ways you can do that.
You can visit the Uros floating islands and learn how they built the islands, anchored them in place, and live off the land. To be honest it was one of the touristy things I'd done in Peru but it was interesting to learn about the process of how the people of Lake Titicaca lives their lives.
From Puno, you can take an early bus to La Paz or Copacabana, Bolivia by booking them through the hostel or at the main bus terminal.
And here are mind recommended itinerary for one month in Peru. Did I miss anything? Please do let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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