So, you’ve decided your next trip will be to Peru – fantastic choice! I mean, who doesn’t want to see llamas and Machu Picchu? But did you know that Peru is so much more than that? Many visitors to this amazing country only go for those two things, meaning they miss out on so much more. But if you’re one of the lucky ones who managed to scrounge up five weeks of holiday like I did, you’ll be able to get a lot closer to seeing much of the country. Read on to see how you can spend five weeks in Peru (and still not see everything)!
Day 1 – 4: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Upon arrival to Lima, fly right away to Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. Many people only visit Cusco for a couple of days in order to acclimatize for their Inca Trail trek (the city sits at 11,150ft) but it really should be seen for its own merits. Cusco is also the launch pad for exploring the surrounding Sacred Valley. The phenomenal landscape here is well worth a visit as are the many unique sites such as salt pans and circular terraces.
Day 5 – 11: Salkantay Mountain, the Inca Trail, and Machu Picchu
Many people do the traditional four day trek to Machu Picchu but I say challenge yourself and do a seven day trek! I highly recommend the trek that combines Salkantay Mountain and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This trip is full of amazing experiences, phenomenal views, and seriously taxed lungs. But oh, is it ever worth it!
Day 12: Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes
Did you know that if you time your trek right, you can be one of the few people who can say they saw Machu Picchu both at sunset and at sunrise? It does require spending the night in Aguas Calientes, however. After you explore Machu Picchu in the morning, have some lunch in Aguas Calientes, and then take the train back to Cusco.
Day 13: Bus to Puno
Next stop: Puno. Especially considering the cost of a flight, you should take the bus. Yes, I know it is a 10 and a half hour bus trip. And yes I know the term “tourist bus” isn’t exactly thrilling. But it is worth it. You will get to see various historical sites you wouldn’t otherwise see (there are five stops) as well as some gorgeous landscapes.
Day 14 – 15: Puno, Lake Titicaca, Sillustani
Puno itself is not that amazing. The reason why you are here is to visit Lake Titicaca and its floating islands such as Uros. People tend to fall into two camps about the islands – “so cool, dude!” and “urgh, I feel like I witnessed a human zoo”. While the scenery was beautiful, I more fell into to latter category. Taquile, being a little less touristy, was a bit better. A little. For more historic sites in this area, you can check out places like the pre-Incan funerary towers of Sillustani.
Day 16: Fly to Iquitos
Near Puno lies the town of Juliaca. You’re only here for the airport. Fly to Lima and then immediately fly to Iquitos. You will probably arrive early evening so this is just a travel day.
Day 17: Iquitos
Explore Iquitos. This city is so cool. Did you know it is the largest city in the world that is not accessible by road? After the high altitude cool air of Cusco and Puno, Iquitos will be like a wet hot slap to the face. If you manage to peel yourself away from your hotel’s air conditioning, you will find that Iquitos is worth the effort. Great colonial architecture and tiling, fun rides in rickshaws, the overwhelming Belen Market, and of course, its status as gateway to the Amazon.
Day 18 – 22: The Amazon Rainforest
Your staying power may vary during a visit deep into the Amazon jungle. My sister was not interested in doing all the excursions but I enjoyed all five days of activities that our lodge organized. To be fair though, mosquitoes love my sister so she had a rough time with them. There are so many things to do in the Amazon: walk through the thick forest, fish for piranhas, admire amazing sunsets, and see a different way of life. It is well worth a multi-day visit!
Day 23: Tarapoto
Back in Iquitos, take a flight out of the jungle to Tarapoto. There isn’t a whole lot to see here but it is a good launch pad to the rest of northern Peru. Buy a bus ticket to Chachapoyas, leaving the next day.
Day 24: Bus to Chachapoyas Region
The bus to Chachapoyas is more like a minivan. If you are lucky like we were, there will be a chicken on this bus. The bus ride takes up much of the day but the beautiful landscape keeps it interesting. Though keep in mind, the road is twisty and windy and bus drivers notoriously have a lead foot. So while it is a beautiful drive, it is not a peaceful one. For a unique experience, I recommend not staying in Chachapoyas, but near a village called Cocachimba. The experience is worth it!
Day 25 – 30: Chachapoyas Region
Whether you are staying in Cocachimba or in Chachapoyas, you’ll need about five days to see most of the main sites. Not only are they fairly spread out, the area is very mountainous. It is not “as the crow flies” out here – it takes forever to get anywhere. In this region, there are the phenomenal ruins of Kuelap (better than Machu Picchu, some say), the stunning hike to Gocta Falls, Revash, Karajia, and Quiocta Caverns.
Day 31 – 34: Chiclayo, Trujillo, and Huanchaco
Take the overnight bus from Chachapoyas to Chiclayo. As tickets are not expensive, splurge for the first level seat as they are more comfortable. From Chiclayo, there are several day trips you can do ranging from pre-Incan sites to incredibly rich museums. Then you should spend time in Trujillo (check out the nearby temples and the ancient city of Chan Chan) and the beach town of Huanchaco.
Day 35: Pan-American Highway to Lima
Take the bus along the Pan-American Highway to Lima. Most definitely take a higher-end bus both for comfort and safety’s sake. It is a long bus ride – over ten hours – but again, landscapes!
Day 36 – 39: Lima
Lima isn’t the most exciting, there is enough here to do for a couple days. But what may make you want to stay longer is the food. Lima is definitely a culinary city – there are so many fantastic restaurants here that you will just want to eat, and eat, and eat… But in between all that eating, here are some of the things to see and do in Lima: various neighbourhoods including the cool Barranco, museums, parks, Lima’s cathedral, street food, a gourmet food tour, and a cycle tour!