Peru is one of the most diverse countries in South America. It has beautiful beaches, islands, mountains, desert, colonial cities, rainforest and ancient ruins. Peru is much more than Machu Picchu, so do not limit yourself to Cusco but instead plan a three-week itinerary across Peru starting in Lima all the way to Cusco.
Peru, like its neighbor country of Ecuador, has diverse landscapes and endless list of things to do for any type of traveler no matter the budget or interest. In this guide we will share the perfect itinerary to explore Peru in just 3 weeks.
We visited Lima, Paracas, Huacachina, Pisco, Nazca Lines, Arequipa, Puno and Cusco. Due to the long driving distances it is best to do a one-way trip starting in Lima and flying back home from Cusco.
What you need to know about visiting Peru:
When is the best time to visit Peru? The best time to visit Peru is between May and September to avoid the rainy season. Peru has two main seasons; dry and wet. The dry season, which is also colder, runs from May to September and the warmer wet season is from October to April.
Basic Information about Peru: The main language of Peru is Spanish, but in most tourist destinations you will find people who speak some level of English as well. You might end up with slightly higher prices at a market or local tour agency when speaking English, which is just a great reason to learn Spanish with Babbel. The local currency is Soles and the exchange rate hovers around 3 Soles to 1 USD.
How to eat like a local Peruvian: At restaurants take advantage of the daily lunch and dinner specials. This will not only save you money, but also give you a taste of Peruvian cuisine. Do not be afraid of venturing away from the tourist restaurants to enjoy a local the menu del día.
What is the best way to get around Peru? It is super easy to travel across Peru either by renting a car, using public transport or take advantage of Peru Hop, like we did. We booked our transportation through Peru Hop so the itinerary is based on our experience and the schedule Peru Hop offers. There are countless ways to do a similar trip and one of them is by using public buses, such as Cruz del Sur.
Why is Peru Hop the best way to discover the real Peru?
The best way to describe Peru Hop is a safe hop on hop off bus for travelers in Peru. While it is set routes, you have up to one year to take the whole route, giving you as much time as you want in each destination.
The complete Peru tour route is organized to be completed within our three-week timeframe, but is flexible enough if we wanted to spend several months in Peru.
Unlike an all inclusive tour of Peru that can easily cost $1,000+, Peru Hop starts at $159 depending on which pass you get. While Peru Hop does not include tours in each destination, hotels or food, this allows you to do exactly what you want and avoid paying for tours you do not want.
For us, Peru Hop is worth it for the services they provide beyond the basic bus transportation services. Each bus has a bilingual guide who not only provides local guidance, but helps connect you with tours and hostels at each destination if needed.
Peru Hop is more expensive than taking public buses, but simply the fact that it arrives and departs when the schedule says is a bit of a rarity in Peru. The bus is also safe and secure so there is no worry about missing luggage at your destination.
Included in the Peru Hop pass is a free tour of Paracas National Reserve, Pisco Vineyard Tour, entrance to Nazca Lines Viewing Tower, and a peek into some historic Secret Slave Tunnels.
So for us, the comfortable reclining seats, inspiring English speaking guides and a great way to meet other travelers, Peru Hop is absolutely worth it.
The Ultimate 3 Weeks in Peru Itinerary
Day 1-3: Explore the capital city of Lima, Peru
Lima is the second largest city in South America and it is well known for its delicious cuisine. Even though it has many museums and activities to offer we recommend to take it slow and recover from any jet lag you may have.
The best things to do in Lima is visit the historic centre of Lima, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, explore the Bohemian neighborhood of Barranco and the uptown Miraflores, where you can visit the Parque del Amor and the Miraflores lighthouse. One of the coolest thing to do in Lima is visit el Parque de la Reserva and enjoy the colorful Magic Water Tour show.
The bus leaves Lima at 7:00 AM
Where to stay in Lima: Aloft Hotel Miraflores
Day 3-4: Visit the National Reserve in Paracas
The most famous thing to do in Paracas is take a boat ride to Islas Ballestas and tour the Golden Shadow at sunset in one of the most beautiful areas of the National Reserve. Paracas is a small town with not much to offer besides the National Reserve. We recommend on the first day you just relax and go on the Golden Shadow Tour offered by Peru Hop. Without a doubt it was one of the highlights of our entire Peru trip.
The next morning make sure to sign up to visit the Islas Ballestas, the poor man’s Galapagos, on the 8AM or 10AM tour. On the tour you will see different animals such as penguins, sea lions, and boobies. The tours cost about 50 soles per person and you need to make sure that the entrance fee to the reserve and taxes are included in the price.
The tour last about 2 hours and also passes El Candelabro, a geoglyph similar to the Nazca Lines. If you want to leave the same day to Huacachina you will need to take the tour at 8AM.
The bus arrives at Paracas at 2:00 PM or 10:00 AM
The bus leaves Paracas at 1:00 PM
Where to stay in Paracas: Casa Paracas
Day 4-5: Go sandboarding in Huacachina
To catch the bus from Paracas to Huacachina there is either a public bus that leaves at 11AM and drops you off in Ica or Peru Hop that takes you straight to Huacachina.
The small village of Huacachina is built around a natural oasis with a lagoon and the highest sand dunes in South America. The main things to do in Huacachina are going sandboarding and taking a dune buggy tour.
The two hour group tours cost $15 USD per person (45 Soles) and the one hour private tour cost $20 USD per person (2 people minimum) (120 Soles). The group tours leave every day at 4PM and are perfect to enjoy sunset. Both options include sandboarding. We strongly recommend hiking all the way up to the sand dunes to enjoy sunrise and sunset.
The bus arrives at Huacachina at 2:15 PM
The bus leaves Paracas at 1:00 PM
Where to stay in Huacachina: Banana’s Adventure
Day 5: Pisco Tour and Nazca Lines
Depending on your preferences you can either take a Pisco Tour where you will learn everything from the making of Pisco, the national drink, including a Pisco tasting.
Alternatively, you can visit the Nazca Lines and take a scenic flight to see the iconic lines from above. Some of the most famous Nazca Lines you will find are the spider, frog, hummingbird, and monkey. The Nazca Scenic Flight tour cost about 260 soles plus the airport tax of 30 soles.
You are not able be able to do both tours as the scenic flights are only in the morning. If you choose to do the Pisco Tour you are still be able to see some of the lines from the Nazca Line View Tower.
From Nazca take the night bus to Arequipa with Peru Hop or the 2:30 PM public bus to Arequipa. It is a long drive so pack some snacks for the road!
The bus arrives at Nazca Lines at 2:15 PM
The bus leaves Nazca Lines View Tower at 5:30 PM
Where to sleep in Nazca: Overnight bus to Arequipa
Day 6-7: Arequipa
The city of Arequipa is at an altitude of 2,335 meters above sea level nestled between three volcanoes. The best way to explore the city is by foot or by enjoying one of the free walking tours of Arequipa. Our favorite things to do in Arequipa are visiting the Mirador de Yanahuara, the Santa Catalina Monastery, and the Arequipa Cathedral.
The bus arrives in Arequipa at 5:30 AM
The bus leaves Arequipa 5:45 AM
Where to stay in Arequipa: Selina Arequipa
Day 8-9 : Colca Canyon Trek
The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world. You can take a day tour from Arequipa where you will just see the canyon from a viewpoint or can do a two to three day tour that includes more hiking.
We recommend doing the 2 day tour to get a good taste of what the canyon has to offer and actually covers the same views as the three day tour. This tour cost 90 Soles and includes accommodation but be aware that you still have to pay 70 Soles entry fee to Colca Canyon.
The tour departs around 7:30 AM every day. The tour stops at several different viewpoints of the canyon as well as at the Cruz del Condor, where if you are lucky you will see the amazing Andean Condor.
What tour to get to visit the Colca Canyon: Two day and one night to Colca Canyon
Where to stay in Arequipa: Selina Arequipa
Day 10-11: Visiting the floating islands in Puno
The best thing to do in Puno is to take a two hour or full day tour to the Floating Islands of Uros in the Lake Titicaca. The full day tour that departs from the hotel starts off at the Uros floating Island and then takes you to visit the Taquile Island where you can learn more about the Taquile culture and enjoy the beautiful landscape.
The three hour Uros Floating Island Tour takes you to just to the floating island where everything is made out of reeds. The cost for the full day tour is 35 to 55 Soles and for the three hour tour is 20 Soles.
Make sure to also visit the Puno Cathedral, Arco Deustua, the Santuario Virgen de la Candelaria, Templo San Antonio. Get the best panoramic views from Cerro Huajsapata and the Mirador Kuntur Wasi also known as Mirador el Condór.
The bus arrives in Puno at 1:00 PM
The bus leaves Puno 10:00 AM
Where to stay in Puno: Inca’s Rest
Day 11-14: Cusco
Cusco is at an altitude of 3,399 meters, so it is good to take it slow and give yourself a day to properly acclimate. After visiting Arequipa and the Colca Canyon you should be better adjusted, but you do not want to end up with altitude sickness.
Cusco is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to explore by foot. The main things to do in Cusco are visiting the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s Cathedral, La Compañía de Jesus Church, and el Mirador San Blas.
On your second day day in Cusco visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas. You can either get a Boleto Turístico which gives you access to 16 archeological sites and cost 130s Soles ($40 USD) or get a tour that includes transportation and the entrance fee to the main places in the Sacred Valley.
The third day now that you are acclimated, it is time to head higher up into the mountains and visit either of the Rainbow Mountains. Do not spend too long at the peak of the mountain, as even if you are in good shape, the lack of oxygen quickly takes a toll.
The bus arrives in Cusco at 6:30 PM
Where to stay in Cusco: El Balcón Hotel Cusco
Read More: The best things to do in Cusco in two days
Read More: What to do in the Sacred Valley
Day 15-16: Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is by far the most popular attractions in Peru and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. There are so many ways to get to Machu Picchu either by public transportation, bus, tours, or train.
Tours to Machu Picchu range from a luxurious train ride to a three day hike and everything in between. We took a tour from Cusco that dropped us off at Hydro Electrica about a 9km walk to Aguas Calientes, the small town in the forest outside of Machu Picchu. The next morning we woke up before dawn to be first in line to hike up the stone steps to reach Machu Picchu.
Reaching Machu Picchu right after it opened, we enjoyed walking around the citadel without many other visitors in our pictures. It also gave us ample time to hike up mount Waynapicchu, which gives you a beautiful overlook of the entire area.
For our tour, it was then back down the mountain and another 9km back to Hydro Electrica where we were picked up in the late afternoon to head to Cusco.
What to do in the Machu Picchu: Read more about Machu Picchu
Day 18-21: Amazon Rainforest of Peru
The Peruvian Amazon rainforest is breathtaking and absolutely worth visiting. You can stay for as long as you want but two to four days in an Amazon lodge will give you enough time to enjoy the region. In the Rainforest you can go for a jungle walking tour, birdwatching, spot sloths, see pink dolphins and more.
In reality we did not the opportunity to visit the Peruvian Rainforest as we have visited the Ecuadorian Rainforest but it is something you must visit for a complete Peru itinerary.
Day 22: Return to Cusco and fly back home
Once you are done in the rainforest, unfortunately, your three week tour of Peru has come to an end. Make your way back to Cusco to catch your flight home. It is highly recommended to end your Peru trip in Cusco to avoid a 21 bus ride back to Lima if you get a roundtrip flight.