Last summer, I was really hoping to go back to China to teach for the summer again. I got an email asking me to come, but it overlapped with my current job in DC by a whole week. It was going to be impossible to go, obviously I was very upset and immediately began sulking. Mike, being the excellent boyfriend he is, instead suggested a trip somewhere else. We started looking at cheap places we had never been before and Peru quickly came to the top of our list. I started telling people about it and to come along. Of course it took Elizabeth about 2 seconds to say yes. Then about a month out, my friend Shafiq joined. We had a group of 4 for an incredible trip.
We started planning two weeks in Peru!
I've always dreamed of visiting the Amazon and I've always wanted to visit Machu Picchu, but here's so much to do in Peru. If we had another few days, I would have wanted to go to Ica, rainbow mountains, Nazca Lines, or Lake Titicaca too. But, we only had two weeks and decided we would prioritize our two big bucket list items for now and plan another trip in the future. To really enjoy Peru, you should spend ample time in each place. We felt like taking it slow and seeing major things was a better idea than rushing it. Don’t forget about Ica, the Nazca Lines, Arequipa, and Lake Titicaca if you have more time!
This was seriously the trip of a life time. Here is our itinerary for two weeks in Peru.
Day 1: Arrive
Day 2: Lima
Day 3: Iquitos
Day 4: Amazon
Day 5: Amazon
Day 6: Fly to Cusco
Day 7: Cusco
Day 8: Leave for Machu Picchu
Day 9: Santa Maria - Quellomayo - Cocalmayo - Santa teresa
Day 10: Santa teresa - Hidroelectrica - Machu Picchu Town
Day 11: Machu Picchu
Day 12: Cusco
Day 13: Lima
Day 14: Lima
Amazon tour: $135
Machu Picchu Trek: $369 + $30 river rafting +$30 ziplining
Internal Flights: $327
Hotels/AirBnBs: $198 a person
Tips, food, souveniers, everything else: $326
Here are some things I've learned about Peru that I wish I had known before going. After that, you will see links to hotels, tours, and museums we visited. Hope you enjoy!
We flew on Avianca to Peru and flew from Cusco to Lima on Avianca. We also flew Lan Air. I have heard a lot of negative things about Avianca. We were nervous about this, but booked any way because a $500 flight to Peru is a pretty good deal.
They ended up losing my bag. They were able to deliver it the next day, but it was still a bit of a hassle and I was not offered any compensation which was a bit of a disappointment. I also wore the same outfit for about 48 hours for our first day in Peru. On the way home, our flight was so delayed with them, we did not make our connection and had to stay overnight in El Salvador. They paid for our hotel and gave us a voucher for this. Shafiq ended up being stuck all night because of a problem with his plane on Avianca. So yes, we had problems with them, but we were never unsafe.
Both airlines themselves were fine. We found the flights comfortable as any US flight and had no real problems with the food.
Other note about flights… Every flight we took once in Peru was delayed. We took 4 flights. This felt like too many flights being delayed. We may have just had bad luck, but know when you are planning that it's common for flights to be delayed – especially in Lima.
Peru is very cheap. We didn’t stay at hostels because we didn’t need to. The hotels were all very cheap. We ended up buying two hotel rooms some places and still only paid $198 for hotels for 8 nights – that’s $24 a night. I have links to each hotel we stayed at. They all included breakfast and stored our bags. I would recommend them all!
Packing for two weeks is daunting. Especially when you need a lot of outdoor equipment. I will be writing a post all about the specifics of what I packed, but, I will say we packed in all carry-ons. This helped us get through airports quickly and save money on baggage fees. We also all wore our rain boots we needed for the Amazon on the plane and donated them after we left the Amazon in Iquitos. This saved us time and space.
Our bags were still pretty big, we packed a smaller bag that we could take with us into the Amazon and to Machu Picchu. We left our big bags with all our other things at the hotels where we were staying before our tours.
Peru has a lot of incredible food. The Inca’s were known for their farming and food. This has carried through to present day. There are many different kinds of food to have. I recommend trying:
- Amazonian cuisine (fish, banana leaves, rice, yucca)
- Chifa (Peruvian Chinese)
- Aji de gallina (chicken stew with cheese, aji peppers, peanuts)
- Ceviche (fish marinated in lime juice)
- Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken)
- Pisco (pisco sours are very popular, but honestly, any drink with Pisco!)
- Guinea Pig and Alpaca are available, but expensive (still worth a try!)
The mosquitoes in Peru are NO JOKE. We bought 100% deet spray and it worked, but we ran out. This was awful and I ended up having a terrible reaction from all my bites. Mosquitoes love me and it was apparent. Plan ahead, bring extra, take malaria medicine like they say, and don’t get Zika! It's not common in Peru, but still...
We got in so late – 1 am, thankfully all flew on the same flight. We rented this great hotel that had three bedrooms, but was only like $60 for the night called Inti Killa Hostel. It was not a shared space hostel, and the room was really nice with three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus a balcony.
We had such a late flight in, we wanted to make sure our first day was relaxed, but still have a chance to learn about Peru. We decided to do a cooking class. It was amazing! Hector was wonderful and we learned so much about the history of Peru and the food. We also had pisco sours, highly recommend. Here is a link to the tour. It was right next to Huaca Pucllana which was very cool to see on our walk from our hotel.
Pro-tip: Many hotels in Peru will let you leave your bags there for the day at no extra charge or for a small fee. We tipped as well when we left our bags. This made traveling around for the day so much easier.
That night we flew right away to Iquitos. We stayed at Epoca Hotel.
Pro-tip: Iquitos is very different from Cusco and Lima. It is much less developed and there are many people who are in poverty. We arrived at the airport and outside, people kept try to get our money. The airport is incredibly small and we had to wait for our taxi. People kept coming up to us and asking us to buy things and use their taxi. There were many people in need. We met an American who moved to Iquitos to help people there. He sponsors families and works with them. He let us know there are a large number of people in need in Iquitos. We saw many make shift homes and people living without running water or electricity.
Amazon Jungle, Iquitos
It was so dark when we got there, we didn’t notice where the hotel was. The next day, we had a great breakfast with a beautiful view of the Amazon. It was an amazing first morning in the jungle!
We went right from there to start our 3 days in the Amazon. I spent a very long time researching companies to do this through. I ended up choosing Allpahuayo Mishana Bed and Trees. This was a great decision for a few these reasons:
- we stayed totally off the grid – no electricity, no running water, no cell service, totally disconnected from the world
- we had our own bungalow
- it was essentially a private tour
- supporting a local company and people who are from the Amazon was a great part of the trip
- we saw so many animals, fished, ate food right from the Amazon, hiked, and took a boat on the Amazon
We definitely were roughing it, but still loved every second in this incredible place. There were two bungalows and we had our own two level place with hammocks covering the first floor and foam mattress beds on the second. There was a guide and a chef the whole time we were there as well.
Three days in the Amazon was just the right amount of time. If we had stayed longer, I think we would have felt like it was too much. We're all city people, but never afraid of a big adventure so we knew too long we would not end up having fun. They offer a ton of different tours that go up to 6 days!
The hikes are no joke. Yes it is pretty flat, but the mud while wearing rain boots for hours! We were there during the dry season – I never took off my rain boots. They were serious when they said pack them… Don’t underestimate the weight of rain boots. They are much harder to hike in than I had imagined and pack blister pads! You will need them!
Our favorite hike was our night hike. It was so dark with the tree cover. Then we went into a clearing, and the stars above were incredible. I had never seen so many and a sky so beautiful and clear. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We were so terrified the whole time too. Our guide was worried about poisonous snakes and would tell us to turn off our lights all of a sudden because snakes are attracted to lights. We would put our hands in front of our faces and see nothing. The whole time we are worried about getting bit by a poisonous snake. We get back to our bungalow, so relieved and there’s a snake in the roof of the hut. We see no snakes the whole hike and get back where we feel safe and there is one. Typical am I right?
Our tour guide also owned a company that takes boat rides out onto the Amazon River. We paid $20 and road on the boat for the afternoon before exploring Iquitos a little bit.
One of the things I appreciated most about this tour was that it was operated by people from the Amazon. Our tour guide grew up in the village Bed and Trees was close to. We stopped for lunch on our hike out and a whole village was there to say hello and talk with us. We hiked with children to the boat that we road back to Iquitos. It was gerat to support the local economy and people. See my full review of our tour here.
Pro-tip: Iquitos has a lot of different companies you can visit the Amazon Jungle through. Pick a local company that is supporting their economy.
Honestly, the Amazon was something I had dreamed of since I was a kid. I can truly say that I loved it and I will never forget that experience.
We couldn’t find a direct flight from Iquitos to Cusco. It is a less popular route and Iquitos has a small airport. We arrived in Cusco by 12 pm after a layover in Lima (even though we were supposed to be there by 11 – flight delay in Lima).
When we got to Cusco, we immediately could feel the altitude. It is no joke!
Pro-tip: Give yourself a day or two before heading to Machu Picchu. The altitude change is a serious difference.
We checked into our hotel Hotel Unimuzu (even walking to our third floor rooms was a problem). We took it easy and walked around Cusco and got dinner that night.
Pro-tip: We spent a long time this day (Saturday) trying to find somewhere to do our laundry. We had read online that you can do your laundry easily in Cusco. You can – just not on Saturdays and Sundays. Everywhere was closed for the weekend or told us they could get it to us by Monday, we were leaving Monday for Machu Picchu. So, we went to a super market and bought laundry soap and hand washed clothes instead.
Day Trip to Moray Salt Mines and Maras
We had originally booked something online, it ended up getting cancelled. So, when we got to the airport the day before, we booked with a company we found while there that does a tour that was very similar to what we booked and cheaper. It ended up being a great day!
Pro-tip: If you have flexible days or want to save, wait to book things until you are in town and can negotiate price.
We again explored downtown Cusco for the rest of the day and went to bed early so we would be ready.
Our trek to Machu Picchu deserves a post all on its own. There are so many different ways to get to Machu Picchu. I researched so many different ones before deciding what company to use and which trek to take. Some options include – traditional Inca Trail, Sulkatanay, Lares, and Jungle Trail. I ended up choosing the Jungle Trail and booked a tour with Inkas Destinations Here is why:
- Great value – we stayed in hotels/hostels with electricity the whole time and got a lot for our money
- We got to do many different things – we biked, river raft, visit hot springs, visit farms, zip line, hike, and swim in a waterfall
- It was small group – there were only 12 people including us on our tour
- The company was very responsive. We had so many questions and they were always willing to help us and guide us while we were planning.
- It was less crowded than the traditional Inca Trail - peak season for Machu Picchu is July/August (we were going in June). I wanted to make sure we were not with so many people it became a hassle.
I cannot recommend this tour group enough. We loved them and all the people on our trek were so nice and so friendly. It was truly once in a lifetime. I know there are many different ways to get to Machu Picchu, but I loved the trek we chose and the company we used. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of ziplining through the Andes or getting to Machu Picchu at 6:30 and seeing it completely empty. It was incredible.
See my full review here.
Day 1: biking, hike, river rafting
Day 2: Hiking, farm, waterfall
We woke up in the morning to chocolate crepes for breakfast on the farm. They apologized because everything we were eating was taken directly from the farm we were staying at (talk about farm to table!) except for the sugar. We obviously were shocked - how dare they serve us one thing not from the farm!
Day 3: Zipline, hike, thermal baths, Machu Picchu Town
Machu Picchu Town or Aguas Calientes is a great little town. It was so cute and has a lot of different restaurants and places to go. We loved getting massages here. We got two after our trek was over… This was the most expensive town we visited, I am guessing because there are so many tourists all the time. There is a huge market with tons of souvenirs here too. We found it more expensive than Cusco.
Pro-tip: Don't go to the hot springs in Machu Picchu Town. They were very gross and I am pretty sure my bug bites got infected from it. It had a lot of bugs, was not very warm, and we left quickly. The ones we went to while hiking to Machu Picchu were so much better - and they were $3. Go to Cocal Mayo instead! Machu Picchu Town hot springs pictured below.
Day 4 Machu Picchu
I would really recommend going with a tour group to Machu Picchu. There are no real signs or explanations for anything. You also must have a reserved ticket. The travel company arranged everything for us.
Get there early and make sure you know how you plan to get there the day before. We took a bus from Machu Picchu town. We lined up at 5:30 and there was already a huge line. The first bus leaves at 6:30 for the top. We bought our tickets for the bus the night before. This was key to getting a good spot and being ready for the trek.
My favorite thing about our whole trek were the views of the Andes. Every time we went around a corner or started a new hike, we got a new and gorgeous view. The Andes are so different from the mountains in America and so tall. They are beautiful.
I almost went to the hospital because of bug bites this day. The night before my legs swelled up and became very red. They hurt so bad I stood up and started to cry. I remember some parts of it, but not all of it. Thankfully, Elizabeth is a nurse and Mike cared for me too. I took Benadryl and was out.
Pro-tip: A lot of pharmacies in Cusco have doctors on site that can help you. We were able to get my some prescription strength medicine after getting a doctor’s opinion (and again, a nurse who knows about these things!).
We spent the night in Cusco and the next day took it easy visiting museums (Convent of Santo Domingo, chocolate museum, and Museo Inca), eating lots of food, and Mike, Elizabeth, and I went to cathedral (Cathedral of Cusco) while Shafiq got a massage. Then we all went and got massages. He was really good at bartering the price down. This became a huge joke of our trip. The massages were like $15 and so relaxing after a difficult trek. We all got back to the states we would text each other about how much we missed them!
Everything in Cusco is very centrally located around the two square downtown, Plaza de Armas. When you walk down there, you are in the middle of everything and walking around to different attractions is very easy. We easily spent a few days exploring. We explored two different markets here as well.
Pro-tip: Wait until you are in Cusco to buy souvenirs. We found it to be the cheapest and people were very willing to negotiate with you. Start at half the asking price.
Lima is a very cool capital city. We stayed at an AirBnB and loved all the different neighborhoods - they were all so colorful and unique. After roughing it for so long, we had a really nice lunch at Huaca Pullana then explored the history museum in Lima (Museo Larco and National Museum) . We walked through Mira Flores and Burranco. We got our nails done near a park in Mira Flores.
Pro-tip: We went in their winter (June), but still enjoyed seeing and visiting the beach. It was in the 60s and we still saw people surfing.
The food in Lima was amazing! There are so many different great restaurants there. We went to several that we made reservations for. This was a splurge on the trip even though it was definitely not pricey in DC terms. We used the restaurant websites to book ahead after researching through top restaurant lists like this one and this one.
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This was truly an incredible trip. We loved Peru and I think about how wonderful it was all the time. While two weeks in Peru was not enough, it was still incredible and is a place I will never forget! Have you been to Peru? Any other insider tips?