Peru is a country three times larger than California with terrain stretching across deserts, mountain ranges and jungle, so if you are restricted to a week, you need to be selective. Long bus rides can eat into your schedule so it's a good idea if your budget allows using internal flights where possible. Recommended flights include Lima to Cusco in the Sacred Valley, between Lima and Jaén in the north, and from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado on the edge of the jungle.
By flying to Cusco you can take in the highlights of the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and include one of the Inca Trails in a week. Alternatively, you can see the highlights of Peru's Inca sites and fit in a trip to the incredible Amazon jungle. To see the spectacular landscapes of Southern Peru or the lesser known archaeological treasures of Northern Peru, you need to spend a full week in either region.
For a more comprehensive Peruvian experience, combine one of these regions via a flight from Lima with one of the Cusco itineraries below.
#1 Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cusco
|Day 1||Arrive in Cusco, visit Pisac ruins and market||Pisac|
|Day 2||Visit Moray and Salineras, evening in Urubamba||Urubamba|
|Day 3||Visit Ollantaytambo ruins and town||Ollantaytambo|
|Day 4||Visit Machu Picchu, stay in Aguas Calientes||Aguas Calientes|
|Day 5||Train to Cusco, afternoon shopping in Cusco||Cusco|
|Day 6||Cusco city tour including Sacsayhuaman||Cusco|
|Day 7||Departure from Cusco|
The Inca highlights of the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cusco are best seen over a week. Begin this trip by flying to Cusco from Lima. The 2-hour flight is preferable to a bus journey, which takes at least 22 hours. Once in Cusco, travel by road for under an hour to the Sacred Valley for a 3-night stay.
Spend a night in each of the Sacred Valley towns Pisac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo, allowing you to see the ruins at your leisure with more time to explore. The towns are about 1 hour apart by road. In addition to ruins, it's worth visiting the traditional market in Pisac and the salt mines of Salineras.
From Ollantaytambo take a train for nearly 2 hours to reach Aguas Calientes, where you can overnight before visiting Machu Picchu by shuttle bus (40 minutes). After exploring these great Inca ruins, complete your tour by returning to Cusco, spending two days seeing the highlights of this fascinating city.
#2 Cusco, Salkantay Trek, and Machu Picchu
|Day 1||Arrive in Cusco, city tour||Cusco|
|Days 2-5||Salkantay Trek||Inca Trail|
|Day 6||Machu Picchu||Aguas Calientes|
|Day 7||Departure from Cusco||Cusco|
One of the best ways to experience the Andes is to trek on one of the Inca Trails. The classic Inca Trail is often full (you need to reserve a spot at least 6 weeks ahead of your trip). If the classic route is unavailable, the Salkantay Trek is a very good option and even more spectacular in terms of scenery.
This itinerary begins with a trip to Cusco, less than 2 hours by plane from the capital Lima. Spend a day in Cusco then begin your trek the following morning.
On Day 1 of the trek, you reach Soraypampa with fabulous views of Salcantay and Humantay mountains. On Day 2 you tackle the most difficult high pass at 4,300 meters before descending through cloud forest to Colpapampa. On Days 3 and 4 you descend further through breathtaking scenery to Llaqtapata and Aguas Calientes. the final section to Machu Picchu is a steep 8km hike from Aguas Calientes, taking 1.5 hours.
You then spend a magical day touring Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco via the Sacred Valley.
#3 Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon
|Day 3||Machu Picchu||Cusco|
|Day 4||Madre de Dios boat trip||Jungle lodge|
|Day 5||Jungle lodge in Tambopata Reserve||Jungle lodge|
|Day 6||Jungle lodge in Tambopata Reserve||Jungle lodge|
|Day 7||Departure to Cusco|
The Peruvian Amazon has many entry points but Puerto Maldonado is the most accessible. Flights are available here from Cusco. So if you don't mind taking several domestic flights, this itinerary will allow you to see the Inca highlights and make a journey into the Amazon.
Spend Day 1 touring the colonial center of Lima, feasting on some wonderful food. Then fly to Cusco for a city tour followed by a day trip to spellbinding Machu Picchu.
On Day 4 of your trip, fly to the jungle gateway town of Puerto Maldonado and take a boat trip down Madre de Dios river, a tributary of the Amazon. Spend three full days in a jungle lodge in Tambopata Reserve. Climb to the top of the forest canopy, trek through the rainforest and take canoe trips on the river to discover an amazing array of wildlife. One the last day of your Amazon adventure, fly back to Cusco, where you can connect to a flight to Lima.
For an even better experience, book a 5-day trip to Manu National Park, deeper in the Amazon jungle.
#4 Southern Peru: Nazca, Colca Canyon, and Lake Titicaca
|Day 1||Paracas Reserve||Ica|
|Day 2||Nazca Lines, bus to Arequipa||Arequipa|
|Day 3||Colca Canyon||Chivay|
|Day 4||Colca and Arequipa||Arequipa|
|Day 5||Bus to Puno, City tour||Puno|
|Day 6||Floating islands, trip to Taquile and overnight stay||Taquile|
|Day 7||Depart from Puno|
Southern Peru contains some of the country's most awe-inspiring scenery and this itinerary takes in the highlights. South of Lima, journey for 3.5 hours to visit the Paracas Reserve and Islas Ballestas where you can watch sea lions, penguins and other wildlife.
On day 2, drive through the Ica desert and take an early morning flight over the incredible Nazca Lines. On the same day, take a bus up into the Andes to Peru's second city Arequipa, the best base to explore the depths of the Colca Canyon. To get the best experience, stay overnight in Chivay and enjoy the thermal baths before rising early to watch condors take flight.
From Arequipa travel by bus to Puno, the best base to experience the unworldly atmosphere of Lake Titicaca. Stay overnight on the island of Taquile before returning to Puno. From Puno, you can catch a flight back to Lima.
#5 Northern Peru: Trujillo, Cajamarca, and Chachapoyas
|Day 1||Trujillo. Old City tour||Trujillo|
|Day 2||Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna||Trujillo|
|Day 5||Revash and Leymebamba||Chachapoyas|
|Day 7||Departure to Jaén and Lima|
Northern Peru has lesser known archaeological treasures to explore. Begin in Trujillo with a tour of the colonial parts of the city. The following day, take in spectacular adobe structures built by pre-Columbine cultures – the mounds at Huaca de la Luna and the huge city complex at Chan Chan.
On Day 3 of your trip, travel 4 hours north to Chiclayo and the museums at Sipan and Sican, which have gold treasures from nearby Moche tombs. The following day, continue to Cajamarca (a 6-hour journey), one of Peru's most charming colonial cities. It was here that Inca ruler Atahualpa was famously captured by the Spanish. You can see the room where he was imprisoned. Don't miss the ancient stone canals of Cumbemayo outside town.
For Day 5, journey into the Chachapoya region, visiting the cliff-edge tombs of Revash and the mummies at the Leymebamba museum. Finally, reach the Fortress of the Cloud Warriors at Kuélap, a huge stone citadel, which rivals Machu Picchu in size and predates it by many centuries. From Kuélap, travel to Jaén, from where you can fly back to Lima (preferable to an 18-hour bus ride).