We booked our Inca Trail trek with Llama Path and then planned our itinerary around it. If you have more time, you might researching your travel days first and plan your trip accordingly. Some of the trains only run on certain days between Cusco and Puno and you might find it works better to do a similar itinerary in reverse.
This is our itinerary with some of my recommendations included.
Day 1 – Travel Day
From Toronto, there is a direct flight to Lima that leaves in the evening, getting into Lima after midnight so this isn’t really a day and after a late departure, it was a really short night too. The good thing about landing in the middle of the night was we missed the brutal Lima traffic. We booked a car at a taxi stand inside the airport (you don’t know if you’re getting a real taxi driver outside) and we were at our AirBnB in Baranco in under 30 minutes.
Day 2-3 – Lima
We heard mixed reviews of Lima, but with lots of restaurants, hotels and history, I think a trip to Peru would be incomplete without spending some time in this coastal city. We decided to stay in Baranco, and we loved the street art, cute coffee shops and bars. We especially loved Cafe Victoria and Ayahuasca for some late night drinks. Seeing the different rooms of Ayahuasca alone makes it worth checking out.
Not far from here, the Christ of the Pacific overlooks the city, but if you want to check it out, expect a bumpy ride on a treacherous, winding path up the hillside.
Also in Lima, we had the best ceviche of our trip at Cala and managed to get a reservation at Maido, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We splurged on the tasting menu of 14 courses, and it was a work of art as much as it was an experience.
On our second day in Lima, we took a taxi into the Centro area to explore the main, historical square and the old building and museums. Being a Sunday, it was actually quite busy and by late afternoon, we were ready to head back to our little apartment.
Day 4 – Fly to Cusco
As we anticipated, the traffic to get to the Lima airport in the morning was much busier than when we arrived. Give yourself lots of time (we needed 90 minutes).
Landing in Cusco at 11, we were surprised by how small the airport was yet we were still swarmed with taxi drivers. There is no way to tell who is legit, so we tried to haggle for the cheapest price, using my guidebook recommendation of less than 10 sol. We still didn’t get away with less than 20 sol though and our driver tried to jack the price up once we were in the car.
Once we got to the Antigua Casona San Blas, we were immediately wooed by their service and cozy patio and outdoor fireplace. This would be our base for exploring the Sacred Valley for the next few days and when we arrived back from the Inca Trail.
Since we weren’t sure how we would adjust to the altitude, we didn’t make plans for this day and opted to have a relaxing lunch, then ventured out into the main square to get our bearings and check things out a little.
Day 5-6 – Explore the Sacred Valley
As mentioned in previous posts, it would be good to do some research ahead of time and book a tour guide in advance if there are specific parts of the Sacred Valley you want to see.
Tour companies are a dime a dozen but most are fairly similar. If you’re OK with the run of the mill, tourist-circuit, then one of the many providers around the square will do. Anticipate haggling on the price also. We definitely got taken on these tours because we didn’t do our research or try to negotiate.
Day 7-10 – Inca Trail
In all likelihood you will leave super early to get to Kilometre 82, the start of the Inca Trail trek. Most of our group was able to sleep on the bus but as the sun rose, I couldn’t miss any of the beautiful Sacred Valley scenery.
If you are planning to hike the Inca Trail, you can see my full day by day posts and tips here. Depending on how much time you want to see Machu Picchu, you might consider splurging for a hotel in Aguas Calientes and traveling back to Cusco the following day.
Day 11 – Explore more of Machu Picchu or just relax and recuperate in Cusco.
We finally enjoyed a Pisco Sour with a former colleague and his wife, who we ran into on the trail (for real), wandered around town and took a chocolate-making short course. If this interests you, I encourage you to check out Choco Museo and book the Bean to Bar course.
This is also a good day to do some laundry, just be sure not to send everything out in case it gets lost. I didn’t sleep good when my laundry didn’t return with the others that night. Luckily, it showed up first thing the next morning before I left for my flight.
Day 12 – Travel to Puno & Lake Titicaca
There are a few options to travel to Puno depending on your budget and your travel dates. My companions took the Belmond Andean Explorer while I opted to fly. Flights are a fraction of the price and quicker, but you don’t get the amazing scenery or luxury you get on the train.
Juliaca is the closest airport to Puno but there is nothing there (you know its bad when the guidebook even says that). Transfers to Puno take just over an hour and there are group buses for about 20 sol or taxis can be hired for 80 sol. Often your accommodation in Puno can arrange transportation.
According to my guidebook there is a high crime rate in Juliaca so I opted to splurge on the private taxi, especially since I was by myself.
There are several hotels in Puno but to really get the most out of this experience, I recommend staying on one of the Uros floating islands. There are several options on AirBnB. Be prepared to relax though – there is no electricity besides solar, no hot showers, and likely no Wifi.
But the scenery is beautiful, the people incredibly friendly and the fresh, mountain air will have you sleeping like a baby, even though it is near freezing at night. Depending how enjoyable that sounds to you, 1 night may be enough but I enjoyed 2.
Day 13 – Lake Titicaca
I met my traveling companions the next morning at the Uros Titicaca Lodge, a neighbouring island which we booked for our second night. Originally, I tried to book here for the previous night also but they were full.
The Lodge is bigger than Waliski and several family members live on this island. They provided us with lunch and dinner, and we got a tour of the islands, which included a few stops to meet some of the people and purchase some of the local crafts. Just be prepared to pay with cash when you leave.
It’s also possible to go to some of the further away islands to stay. This didn’t work in our schedule but with 2 full days, it would certainly be possible to stay on Taquile or Amantini Island, then stay in Uros the second night.
Day 14 – Early morning 4M bus to Chivay
To be honest, we found it a little tricky to arrange transportation from Puno to Chivay. The 4M bus turned out to be our only option. We arranged it through Giardino Tours, but we likely could have booked it ourselves. As a result, we were up at the crack of dawn again to get a lift back to the shore, to a taxi and then to bus for 6:15 AM. Luckily, Ivan at Titicaca Lodge was able to arrange all of this for us.
The 4M is a “tourist bus”, which means they stop at a few sights along the way and there is a guide. It’s not 5* but it worked for us.
We did a 2-day tour with Giardino Tours, but I would recommend three days if I was booking again. The Colca Valley is beautiful and there is hiking trails all around Chivay, so an extra day to hike and explore would have been perfect and we really enjoyed the tour.
When we booked, only a few hotel options were available. Since we were splitting our room, we opted for the Colca Lodge. It was LOVELY. Their hot springs were beautiful and the little bar was exactly what we were looking for.
While we didn’t get time to enjoy it, the Colca Lodge also has a spa, a small zoo with llamas and alpacas, a fire pit and a large restaurant. They had one of the best breakfast spreads in our whole time in Peru also.
Day 15 – Chivay and the Colca Canyon
Another early morning! At 6:45AM the bus picked us up to head out to see the condors and more of the Colca Valley. Our guide was very upfront that we may not see the condors as it depends on the weather and air currents. The condors are giant vultures and they soar on the air currents, so on cloudy days they’re less likely to fly.
We were not disappointed though as it was a clear day and we were one of the first buses to arrive at the spot where they commonly fly across the road. As others pulled up and started to crowd around, we were finally rewarded with the birds swooping down from their perch. It was impressive and one of those experiences a camera cannot capture.
Day 16 – Colca Valley and return to Arequipa
The valley really was stunning and we only got to its edge. It would definitely be worth an extra day or if you’re so adventurous, one of the treks inside. If you only stay one night, then this would be your first full day in Arequipa.
Day 17 & 18 – Arequipa
Arequipa is a beautiful city but three days was more than we needed there, mostly because we were getting tired of museums and church tours. This would be a good city to do a cooking class and there is some good shopping here if you’re looking for some higher-end alpaca clothing.
The Katari Hotel is located across from the cathedral in the main square and has a great rooftop restaurant where breakfast is served. For the best view of the sun set, head over to the corner of the square to the rooftop restaurant for a drink.
The Santa Catalina Convent is totally worth visiting in Arequipa. We were fascinated by the history of the convent and its role during the colonial period. We had also heard a lot about the Juanita mummy, so couldn’t miss it while we were in Arequipa. The university is a little hard to find as there isn’t really a sign but the address is correct. If you’re interested in the Inca civilization, this is a can’t miss even though it’s a little eerie.
From Arequipa, we headed home. The direct flight to Toronto is at 3 AM, so we were able to take a late flight from Arequipa and still had lots of time to connect in Lima.