The most interesting places in the world impress us with the sheer number of things they offer to be seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted…Some places have more of this or more of that, but we are swept away when a place has everything in spades. We managed to visit such a destination – Peru. Here is how we spent 10 days in Peru with an itinerary full of everything!
It is a country that offers a cocktail of experiences exquisite enough to capture every sense of adventurers like us, thirsty for beauty, friendship, taste…well, everything a journey can present to us.
Peru is a country which can indulge you with beautiful Pacific beaches, treat you to a ceviche, test your boundaries with beauty at over 3000 meters of altitude, invite you on floating island of bundled reeds in the highest lake in the world, hypnotize you with the wings of huge beautiful condors, enchant you with awe-inspiring views of canyons and active volcanoes, let you run among wild vicuñas or take photos with llamas and alpacas, take you back in time to the great Inca Empire! Yes, Peru is a place that can feed your soul with views and experiences for a lifetime, but we managed to visit “only” this much within those 10 days we had in the country. Later we returned for a few more days to complete our South America Grande journey in Nazca, Huacachina, and Lima.
Our 10 days in Peru – the full itinerary
For our 10-day itinerary in Peru, we used the following means of transportation: airplanes, buses (tourist and regular), taxis, tuk-tuk, train, boat, and our favorite one – our dear feet!
If we have to give just one recommendation on your trip to Peru, it’d be about money and cards – we had some issues with most of the ATMs. So it’s best to bring cash (US dollars would do) and exchange in reputable exchange bureaus. This way you’re not going to waste your precious time with nasty ATMs. Or try to pay by card, as much as possible.
- Our 10 days in Peru – the full itinerary
- Days 0-1: Arriving in Lima and Lima city tour with local friends
- Day 2: Arequipa
- Day 3: Colca Valley
- Yanque town
- Day 4: Colca Canyon
- Day 5: Puno and Lake Titicaca
- Meeting the Uru (Uros) people
- Visiting Taquile island
- Day 6: The route of the sun
- Day 7: Cusco
- Day 8: Machu Picchu
- Day 9: Maras and Moray
- Back to Cusco
- Day 10: Back to Lima and home
Days 0-1: Arriving in Lima and Lima city tour with local friends
We started our journey in the capital city Lima, where contrasts abound. There were neighborhoods of the don’t-go-there type, but also many more where you can take a walk. The first type looks beautiful and colorful, but we are not so sure if we’ll come back if we set foot there.
The long promenade along the coast tempts you to stay here and spend your time enjoying the sunsets and drinking coffee in a romantic place with your friends. The city itself shows economic growth – new roads, skyscrapers, and parks are built.
Alternatively, the historical center is quite big. It has a wide pedestrian street with many shops lined in the old and well-preserved buildings from the time of the conquistadors. The main square or Plaza de Armas, as the locals call it, was well-maintained with a big cathedral. We even stumbled upon a wedding.
It won’t be fair to complain that we were short on time because we managed to make the most of it. We had lunch on the beach, where we insisted on eating ceviche and lomo saltado. Of course, we couldn’t skip drinking Cusqueña beers. Indescribably delicious. However, we had no time to lose. We hopped on a Peruvian rickshaw and went back to the city.
In the late afternoon, we saw a part of the Peruvian army performing in something like a mini-parade. The interesting part was traveling around the city. We used mainly taxis. They were pretty run-down cars, but on the bright side, inside there were mirrors attached by a chain to the iron bars which protected the driver.
We caught one such taxi to reach Barranco, a Lima neighborhood filled with all kinds of eating and drinking establishments. We dined in a restaurant, suggested by our friends in Lima. Next, they took us to a bar with a jukebox to drink a glass before bedtime.
Day 2: Arequipa
It is impossible not to mention that we were very satisfied with the quality of the service at the airport because thanks to our own negligence and carelessness we managed to miss our flight to Arequipa. The airport staff fixed us with tickets for the next flight without us paying extra, even though it was entirely our fault.
And so, with many nice memories of Lima filling our heads, we were sitting in the plane to Arequipa. Throwing glances towards the high mountains around us and waiting impatiently for the landing when we’ll immerse ourselves in experiencing Peru once again. Having landed at midday, Arequipa welcomed us in its full grandeur – several snowy crater peaks waved at us and we happily ran around looking for a ride to the hotel.
The old part of the city was calling to us through the open roof of the hotel. We didn’t waste time fumbling around and went out. Arequipa offers so many things to do.
We each swallowed one of the pills against altitude sickness and climbed up the hill towards the fort walls or more precisely – toward the Santa Catalina Monastery. Arequipa stands at an altitude of 2800 m and our plan was to use it as practice for the heights to come. I don’t know if the special pills worked as we took them sporadically, but we didn’t have a problem. The tea of coca leaves is the salvation in these kinds of situations. It is a universal cure for everything bad and stimulates everything good. We drank it in gallons, just like everybody else, tourists and locals alike. We avoided chewing raw leaves, despite the habit of our bus driver who did it for 8 hours straight while driving. But let’s go back to Arequipa and the local atmosphere. At that altitude when the sun shines you are forced to take something off, the sunglasses are a must, but it gets bitingly cold in the shade and after dark.
The biggest landmark of the city is the Santa Catalina Monastery. We will remember it for its interesting architecture, colorful walls, huge number of tiny rooms where nuns of different ranks had lived, you can tell by the size and the “luxury” of some of the chambers. There were also several courtyards, each of them different with its symbols and architecture. And let’s not skip the public laundry space where all the nuns used to get together to do the laundry.
Despite it being a monastery, there were places where you were tempted to get your photo taken or capture the view of the roof towards the big volcanoes. Like the magical El Misti volcano, which is such a temptation for experienced hikers and trekkers. And so, proud of having visited the monastery in time (it closes at 17:00) we strode (a little heavily because of the altitude) towards the city center, or so-called Plaza de Armas. On the way there we saw several churches (the people are very religious, they were at church at all times during the day) and several traditional buildings, turned into hotels. The city square was flanked by a cathedral and two long buildings, containing several restaurants, the municipality, and other institutions.
It was full of people. Whole families were out since it was Sunday. We took several photos, tried to blend in the crowd, but with no great success while several local politicians stubbornly convinced people of their ideals. The sunset greeted us and discreetly urged us to leave the square and enjoy some pleasures, which only an empty stomach could appreciate.
Day 3: Colca Valley
How did we get to Colca Valley? By bus would be the prosaic answer, through memorable experiences, would be the poetic one. The road from Arequipa to the Colca valley was full of those. Slowly leaving the city, passing through the poor neighborhoods and construction sites at the edge of town, the landscape slowly shifted to dry mountain views. If you’re short on time, you may hop on directly on the AndesTransit and get to Cusco.
We knew that our chance to see vicuñas or the less tame llamas and alpacas was the highest here. And we were not disappointed. Several times whole herds crossed the road. The little vicuñas took a moment to stare at the weird moving vehicles until the voice of reason (their parents) urged them to cross faster.
I was very impressed with their carefree gait at that altitude, they always live at 3000 m. above sea level. We were already heaving after 10 minutes when we stopped at the highest point of our journey – Mirador de los Volcanes at 4910 m. Even the refreshing tea of coca couldn’t bring the breath back to our lungs. That is why we lingered only for a moment. On the way to the peak, we received a lot of information from our lady- guide concerning the way of life at this altitude. At the same time, we contemplated the amazing landscapes, which unfolded outside our windows.
The day among those quirky animals, known to us only from the circus, is in full swing. Several turns away from the quaint little town there is a market, set up by local women. Among the colorful weavings, a baby alpaca showed its head. How can you resist buying a bottle of milk to feed the youngling? And so, we arrived at Chivay, the place we planned on spending the night in the middle of our two-day trip from Arequipa through Puno to Titicaca. We had lunch and continued on to the next village Yanque at an altitude of 3400 m where we were about to spend a night in a villa.
In the little town of Yanque, we were met yet again with calmness and relaxation. We were presented with the opportunity to enjoy life as it comes and at the same time take a break from our busy itinerary in Peru, even though it is a plan we have designed ourselves. Without proper rest, it is impossible to enjoy life to its fullest.
That afternoon we settled in and went out for a walk along the valley of the river. From this high up you can see all kinds of weird bumps and indentations, used as coffins and the terraces above the river. While we were heaving along the steep paths to the ruins, the local guide gave us plants and herbs to taste, leaving us wondering what kinds of greenery we were eating… The best part of the tasting process was cactus fruits. They were delicious and also free, as we were picking them straight from the cacti. Some parasitic species on the cacti can be used as lipstick dye or for other strong paints. After the three-hour hike, we plunged in the mineral hot springs. We soaked in a mix of chemical elements good for the skin and welcomed the dusk. Clean and hungry we strode down the long path to the village and our villa. After a hearty dinner, we spent a delightful evening in our big and beautiful room.
Day 4: Colca Canyon
In the morning we replenished our strength with breakfast, even larger than our dinner, and we greeted the rising sun. The day was marked by the constant presence of birds. It isn’t a coincidence that the books about birds in Peru are several inches thick. Our day started with a festival of the village, where kids and adults in folk costumes danced to the loud sound of music.
In the next village, we posed for photos with semi-tamed condors. In the end, we took a bumpy ride with the bus through the most backwater roads of Peru on our way to special spots for observing the flying condors, like Cruz del Condor. Deep canyons and glorious birds. Flying condors is something that still gives us the goosebumps, only remembering it is enough!
Later the bus went on along the road to Puno, the town at the waterside of Titicaca Lake. The road looked like something out of a fairytale or a film décor – at times you can see vicuñas crossing or a lake full of flamingos. The local landscapes didn’t let us rest and gave us hope that artists will be inspired by the beauty of nature for generations to come.
Day 5: Puno and Lake Titicaca
We reached Puno at dusk. It is the town with the highest altitude in our journey. It is so high that two people used oxygen bottles to breathe in the lobby of the hotel. We were exhausted after a short walk and ate next to nothing for dinner.
We are standing on the shore of the highest situated lake in the world – Titicaca (3812 m). We are not here only to boast about our accomplishments, but also to visit the locals, who live on floating islands on the lake itself.
It was early in the morning when we arrived at the harbor in Puno. It was very early and very cold. It was one of the days when you look forward to the rising of the sun so it can warm you. As we were awaited for the sunrise we hopped onto the boat that was ready to take us to the Uru people and then – to Taquile Island.
There were many clouds on the lake that morning. The low-hanging clouds make you feel suppressed, but at the same time – inspired, because the view they form is magnificent.
Meeting the Uru (Uros) people
The Uru (Uros) people live on floating islands made of bundled reeds. They remain loyal to the traditions of their ancestors and still live on the floating islands. They make everything they need from reeds, which are widely spread around Lake Titicaca. The Uru tribe is a protected community, which has preserved its traditions and lifestyle for centuries. The government of Peru aids them financially and they make a living from the tourists who are invited to their homes to sample their mode of living, traditions and hand-made souvenirs.
We received a warm welcome from the Kantuta family. Our boat took us to one of the little islands. The women of the family lined up alongside the port side and we were greeted with smiles and handshakes. We gathered in a semicircle to witness a demonstration explaining how a reed island is built and maintained. It is obvious that the key component is the reed and its roots. The plant is used not only for construction, but it also can be consumed (it has a sweet taste).
The interesting thing is that every island is inhabited by several families who need to get along very well and live in harmony. Every family brings their own house and part of the island to the community. The house is attached to the bigger island and in case of disputes or quarrels, their part of the platform can be easily unhooked and reattached to another island. The whole island is anchored to the bottom of the lake with weights. Otherwise, as the local saying goes, they could wake up in Bolivia without passports.
We were invited into their houses – the walls are lined with clothes and the floor is used for sleeping. The rooms smell a little funny because they are not aired enough. We bought a souvenir or two and then went for a ride in one of their traditional boats to the central island, where we found something like a café. They have a small school, church, and hospital. In emergencies, they use the not-so-traditional motorboats to go to Puno. We asked the logical question where the toilet was. They answered that when nature calls, you get into the boat and do what you have to do in the reed, which is a natural filter of the lake.
Visiting Taquile island
We left the floating islands and the smiling faces of the Uru people with many delightful memories. We had more than two hours ride to the Taquile Island ahead of us.
We arrived in Taquile. From the island itself, you can enjoy the view of lake Titicaca if you stand in the town square, at an altitude of 4050 m. The local population consists of 2200 people, identifying as Taquileños who speak the ancient language Quechua. They are famous for their textiles, which are protected by UNESCO. They have an interesting culture – everybody knits, including men, women, and children. The social status in their society depends on the ability to knit. The women choose their husbands by the hat, which the men make themselves. The prettier the hat – the prettier the wife. If a gentleman is married, you can tell by the colorful hat. You can judge if a woman is married or not by the size and colors of their tassels. The men who wear black hats are of higher status and must be addressed with respect.
We noticed the colorful bags every man wears. In these special bags they carry coca leaves and instead of saying hello, every man takes a single leaf and places it into the bag of the other. Interesting way to greet a friend or acquaintance. Just before we had to leave, we met a bachelor – a big portion of his hat was white. If the hat can be filled with water and not lose a drop, that is the highest-quality headwear and what all the girls are after.
We say “Hasta luego” to Taquile and the exciting culture of its inhabitants. We proudly accept the fact that we’ll be sailing for 2-3 hours to Puno and depart with a smile. Bye, Lake Titicaca and Puno, you are very beautiful, situated so high and full of amazing people!
Day 6: The route of the sun
The road from Puno to Cusco is a true feast for the eyes and the soul. It is a 2-hour drive by bus and the locals call it The route of the sun (Ruta del Sol). Traveling by a tourist bus is a unique opportunity to avoid experiencing the tedium of the long journey and instead visit key places for Peruvian history from the time before the Incas. We started with a visit to the Pucara Museum, where one can see prehistoric symbols. After that, we saw the Raya passage situated at an altitude of 4335 m with great views.
We descended towards the little village of Sicuani where you can immerse yourself in the greenery of the mountain, the tiny waterfall, Peruvian live music, and tasty lunch. Having replenished our strength, we visited the Inca archaeological site Raqchi. The famous Inca Trail passes through there and you can see the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha as well.
Lastly, we passed through Andahuaylillas District where we visited a huge cathedral whose interior was all plated in gold. Taking photos is prohibited. And so, we arrived in Cusco, the biggest city near the famous Machu Picchu. Leaving Puno was no easy task. It all started with a bit of a morning run through the bus stations in Puno. In the nick of time, we found the right one, even though not everyone on the way was helpful. In the end, it was worth it – the bus was modern, there was wi-fi and we were constantly served tea, coffee, and soft drinks. And all the places we stopped at – amazing. The route of the sun introduced us to more of the amazing nature and people of Peru.
Day 7: Cusco
We used the day to wander around Cusco, absorb our first impressions of the Sacred Valley, arrange our trip to Machu Picchu. That was probably the only slow-paced day of our trip to Peru, and we enjoyed it so much! But plans need to be taken care of – especially when you want to visit one of the new 7 wonders of the world – Machu Pichu.
Day 8: Machu Picchu
The day had come! The day when we made one of our biggest dreams come true! To visit the ancient city of the Incas, the world wonder of Machu Picchu! How we got there, what obstacles we stumbled upon, is it possible to visit Machu Picchu in just a day, and so on – have a look at our Machu Picchu blog post!
Day 9: Maras and Moray
We decided to spend leisurely the day before the last so we had the time to walk around Cuzco and see two famous landmarks near the city. The day before we had hired the driver, sent to drive us to the Ollantaytambo bus station. We offered him some independent work, apart from the company he worked for. The plan was for him to drive us to Maras and Moray. He, as you can imagine, did more than that. He was a true guide and tended to our every whim of stopping wherever we wanted. He let us enjoy all the things, which might have seemed mundane to him. The whole experience was beneficial for both parties – he improved drastically his English and we bettered our Spanish even more. The important thing is that we learned new things without the theatrics for tourists. We even bore witness to the corrupt practices on the road, which are taken as an invariable part of traffic.
The Incas have left us with one of the largest test areas for cultivating new crops. The climatic and geographical conditions around Cuzco are especially beneficial for doing agricultural experiments. Today despite the erosion and rain, which try their hardest to destroy this bio-laboratory, we find mathematically constructed circular terraces. We can only dream and imagine what crops were planted were. And the size matters – it takes a couple of minutes to get to the center. And you are just a small dot in the middle of greenery and the leftovers of ruins.
One of the miracles is the salinas the old town of Maras. The white squares divided in terraces can be seen from afar. The water springs there are very salty. The flow is divided into different walled pools, the squares. Then the sun helps the water evaporate and the terraces are left with salt, mingled with soil. According to the time and method of collecting it, different types of salt are produced. The whole process is mostly done by hand. At all times there are people working in different sections. The work is hard and dangerous because the terraces are slippery and you could slide down the levels. On top of that, special care must be taken in order to preserve the salt pools. Overall, it is not a nice workplace. The imagination pales compared to the array of things made of salt which are sold nearby. We were satisfied with 2-3 types of corn, sprinkled with salt.
Back to Cusco
We end our day with views from Cuzco and a new record of active trade. Within an hour 27 merchants tried to sell us things at a local restaurant.
Day 10: Back to Lima and home
A boring day without any high-altitude bus rides, llamas and alpacas on the road, souvenir stalls, and colorful villages. We took a flight from Cusco to Lima and right after that, one flight to Sao Paolo to London to Sofia. That was the best deal we got so we managed plan our trip and do our 10-day itinerary in Peru for 450 Euro of return flights.
This was the end of our epic first journey to South America, to the Land of the Incas, to the colorful world of being in good hands all the time, living the moment and immersing ourselves in what was just beginning to turn to one of our favorite places in the world – Peru!
Have you ever been to Peru? Did you manage to visit Machu Picchu before the restrictive rules kicked in? What else should we visit – except for the recently discovered for mass tourism Rainbow mountains? Do let us know!
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