There are very few countries in the world as biodiverse as Peru. Coastlines slope down the west side, Amazon jungles steam in the east, the Andes Mountains separating the two, and dune-covered deserts snaking up to the coast. Take all this, and add in the remnants of the greatest Incan civilization to ever live, and you have a behemoth of a trip on your hands. Fortunately, one month (4 weeks) is plenty of time to comfortably explore much of what Peru has to offer. Yes, it’s an enormous country, and yes, you’ll be taking lots of long bus rides, but trust me when I say it's worth it. Lets run through my one month Peru travel route so I can show you how to hit up all the highlights of this Incan gem without missing anything major.
Food & Drinks to try in Peru
Ceviche - The most famous Peruvian dish of all time. Ceviche is generally a dish of raw seafood “cooked” in lemon juice and dressed with herbs and onions.
Lomo Saltado - A Peruvian stir fry of meat, veggies and french fries over rice.
Cui - Guinea pig. It’s usually grilled, and it very much looks like a guinea pig.
Caldo de Gallina - A Peruvian version of chicken soup, and it’s delicious
Quinoa and potato soup - An Incan classic. Typically comes with “meal deals”
Chifa - A South American version of Chinese food. It’s actually quite good & very cheap.
Chicha morada - A sweet drink made from purple corn.
Pisco sour - Peru’s most famous cocktail.
Granadilla - The strangest fruit I’ve ever seen. The outside looks like an orange, but the inside looks like frog eggs. Very tasty though. Highly recommend.
Maracuya - South American passionfruit. I had a smoothie of these every day of my trip.
General Tips for Traveling in Peru
Look for desayuno, almuerzo and cena deals- these meal deals are way cheaper, more authentic and very filling
Be aware of altitude sickness - it may not affect you, but if it does, take it easy, drink lots of water, and do NOT go on a drinking binge (I did none of that and fainted my first night in Cusco).
My golden rule for avoiding food poisoning: Eat at places that are busy. Empty places are empty for a reason, and it’s best not to chance it. Having said that, be open to street food, because it’s often the best food in Peru.
You can get around with English quite easily, but if you can speak any Spanish, try it! Locals really respect and appreciate tourists who make an effort to learn their language.
Opt for local buses rather that tourist ones to save money, unless you’re headed on an overnight journey.
Safety in Peru
Tell your mom to rest easy, because Peru is one of the safest countries in South America. Peru was the first country that I traveled solo in, and I’m so glad it was. Years of tourism has created a culture that not only welcomes foreigners, but depends on them for the industry they’ve created, and as such, Peru is known internationally to be a literal safe haven for backpackers. You’ll hardly ever be alone, as you’ll find hostels populated with tons of other travelers who’ve come to Peru for the exact same reasons you did. I didn’t once feel unsafe there, even when I was on my own.
One Month Peru Itinerary
Day 1: Fly into Lima
The capital of this great South American country, Lima is a booming metropolis in an otherwise rural country. Skyscrapers and modern office buildings comprise the Miraflores and Barranco districts, while ancient cathedrals and stone buildings dot the old town. Lima is a truly unique city, sitting cliffside in one of the biggest travel hubs of the continent. Flights to Lima will likely be cheaper than anywhere else in South America, making it a perfect place to start your 4 week journey. Because we're headed to Huaraz, we won't get a ton of time to spend in Lima at the outset of this trip, but we will be back to explore before heading home, so rest easy knowing you won't miss out on this amazing city.
Days 2-4: Huaraz
Located 8 hours away from Lima by bus, Huaraz is the perfect spot to get acquainted with the Andes. A cool mountain town, Huaraz is known by travelers for really one thing - Laguna 69. This beautiful trek takes you up the mountain to a piercing blue lake at the base of a glacier. It’s stunning, it’s difficult, but at 3,000m above sea level, it’s a great place to get to know how you handle altitude.
Laguna 69 Trek
Laguna 69 is a glacial lake that (you guessed it) sits at the base of a glacier in the Andean mountains. The lagoon is gatorade-blue, primarily because of the minerals that drip off into it from the summer glacial melt. It’s absolutely stunning, and supposedly worth the 4,500m altitude. Make sure you learn your relationship to altitude before trying out this trek, as it’s no easy feat. 6 hours round trip, an early wake up call, and frigid temperatures. Unfortunately I didn’t handle the altitude very well and got knocked out with a migraine in Huaraz, so I can’t speak to this hike myself, but heard from everyone who did it that it was 100% worth it.
Foods to Try in Huaraz
Can’t really say, as I was out of commission for this portion of the trip. I just bought some pasta at the local market and cooked, so I guess I’d recommend the pasta!
Days 6-7: Paracas
After your chilly hike in Huaraz, I think you’ve earned a bit of warmth and relaxation, don’t you? Grab the bus back to Lima and head straight 4 hours south to Paracas. A tiny beach town on the western coast of Peru, Paracas has a strange & unique ecosystem. It’s got the usual -- pelicans, seals, seagulls, but head out on a boat and you’ll see penguins...yes, penguins. Is Paracas a beautiful white sand beach town? Definitely not. But is it worth a visit? For sure.
What to do in Paracas
Whenever someone says “The Poor Man’s Galapagos,” I’m usually pretty skeptical...and for good reason. Islas Ballestas is definitely not anything close to the Galapagos, but it does have penguins, seals and a ton of really cool birds. The half-day tour will take you around the island and to some other cool spots to show off some of the local wildlife and craggy rock formations. I definitely do recommend checking it out -- just don't bother comparing it to the Galapagos. It’s nothing like it.
Paracas National Reserve
This half-day tour turned out to be the coolest and unexpected thing I did in Paracas. The desert here extends all the way inland up to the water through dunes and slithering sand pits. There are black sand beaches, red sand beaches, and everything in between. Definitely worth exploring if you’re in the area.
Foods to Try in Paracas
Paracas had a lot of western food, which I was trying to avoid. Somehow, however, we managed to get a great recommendation for a local shop out in town. Easily the best caldo de gallina that I had all trip. If you can find it, let me know.
Days 8-9: Huacachina
Those of you who follow the ridiculous travel hashtags that I do have probably seen pictures of Huacachina before. It’s a very popular photography spot...and for good reason. This oasis town looks like something out of a movie -- drifting palm trees, glittering water, and guest houses surrounded on all sides by mountainous sand dunes. It’s literally the textbook definition of an oasis. And it makes for a great warm break from a busy trip.
Grab a bus from Paracas (or Lima if you skipped it) and drive 1 hour to Ica. From the bus station, you can hire a tuk tuk or cab to take you 15 minutes to this beautiful oasis town.
What to do in Huacachina
Easily the primary reason why people visit Huacachina, sandboarding here is a legitimately once-in-a-lifetime experience. The half-day tour begins in the afternoon, where you’re shuttled around the dunes in a brightly colored ATV. The ride is very...uhmm...vertical. It’s bumpy, it’s heart pounding, and it’s a little bit scary, but it’s also thrilling just weaving up and down the dunes so fast. You’ll get a chance to sandboard a few times, and whether you choose to stand up or lay on your belly is up to you (my balance is absolute garbage so I laid down). After all the fun, you’ll make it back to town just in time to catch the sunset from a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the oasis village. It’s cheap, it’s only a half day commitment, and it’s genuinely fun.
Explore the Dunes
I’m not suggesting you tie a sweater around your head and go off into the distance. However, because Huacachina is a tiny town (that can be seen in its entirety in 20 minutes), there’s not a ton to do, and so this is how I’d recommend spending your day. Grab some flip flops (the sand is piping hot), shmear on the sunscreen, and walk your way up to the top of the closest dune. The view from up there is pretty spectacular, and the ride down on your butt ain’t too bad either.
Foods to Try in Huacachina
Huacachina is 100% a tourist town, so you’ll have a tough time finding some good quality local food. I say splurge on the western food. It’s actually pretty good here.
Days 10-14: Arequipa
My personal favorite spot in Peru, Arequipa is a gorgeous, clean town in South Central Peru. It sits at the base of two volcanoes, which can be seen from almost any viewpoint in the city. It has a nice brisk yet sunny air to it, and it’s totally different from every other Peruvian city I’ve been to. Striking cathedrals and old-style plazas merge with modern cafes and restaurants here. It’s a city perfect for those who just want to walk around and explore and for those who like adventure and hiking.
What to do in Arequipa
Most people come to Arequipa for Colca Canyon, a deep valley straddled by mountains along its edges. The biodiversity of Colca Canyon is quite unique, with dry, desert plants at the top and lush jungle plants at the very bottom.
You have two options for the 2 day Colca Canyon hike. 1) you can do a group tour. Or 2) you can go it alone. I did it without a tour, but with the company of another traveler I met in Arequipa. The hike was really not that difficult to follow, as the path is clearly marked, and going alone allowed us the luxury of going at our own pace.
The bottom of the canyon (the end point of day 1) is this beautiful oasis village. You can arrive, get a room in a guest house, and just enjoy the thermal baths and waterfalls. It’s really refreshing on your aching body after the 7 hour downhill hike, and will rejuvenate you for the difficult 3 hour hike uphill the following morning. You’ll want to get an early start to avoid the intensity of the morning sun, so I recommend packing a headlamp for this one.
If you choose to go on a tour, most of them will include a trip to their own hot springs on the way back, so keep that in mind when making your decision.
What Else to do in Arequipa
Hike Volcan Misti
I didn’t Hike Volcan Misti, mostly because I was pacing myself for all the Cusco hikes, but I’ve heard really great (and challenging things) about it. At its peak, Misti is 5,822m above sea level, making not only physical fitness a factor, but altitude as well. It’s two days, and quite cold, from what I hear. Please do not do this hike without acclimatizing first. The altitude is a killer, and if you’re not properly adjusted to it, you’ll feel very, very sick.
Explore the Santa Catalina Monastery
I am not at all a museum fan, and fully expected this to be lame, but it turned out to be kind of great. The Santa Catalina Monastery used to be this enormous nunnery in the center of Arequipa, but it has since been turned into a walking museum of sorts. It’s really cool to see how the nuns used to live and actually walk through the artifacts themselves. Plus there are a few hidden terraces that provide some amazing panoramic views of the city.
Take a free city walking tour
Like Lima, the Arequipa walking tour is really excellent. It’s how I met my Colca Canyon Companion (lol that rhymed). You meet up with your tour guide at this really tasty cafe, and head off around town, learning about its history and relationship to the rest of Peru. If you’re lucky you’ll even get to pet an alpaca.
Take a cooking class
I personally love cooking, so this was a no-brainer for me. By now, you’ve probably sampled some Peruvian classics like ceviche and lomo saltado, so why not learn how to make it yourself? There are a handful of cooking classes around the city that have everything all prepped for you, so all you have to do is look pretty and put things in a bowl. Apparently somehow I overcooked my raw fish ceviche....unsure how that works, but it still tasted great.
Foods to Try in Arequipa
Because Arequipa is such a popular hotspot for tourism for both locals and international tourists alike, it has plenty of delicious foods to try. In particular, I'd recommend the chupe de camarones, which is an Arequipan specialty consisting of stewed shrimp chowder.
Wondering where to stay in Arequipa? I recommend Arequipay Backpackers Downtown (they have an adorable bulldog you can walk for a discount on your room)
Days 15-16: Puno
Alright, truth time. I did not particularly like Puno. I get why people like it, but for me, it was a bit of a miss. Nevertheless, Puno is a necessary stopover on your way to Cusco, and your only chance to see Lake Titicaca if you’re staying in Peru. Grab a 6 hour bus from Arequipa, pop in a podcast or audiobook and relax until you get there. Puno is quite cold because of its altitude, so you’ll want to bundle up.
The floating islands are the thing to do in Puno, and I get why. The Uros people (the indigienous people who used to live there) created these artificial floating islands out of reeds. They’re really unique and geniusly constructed. You have several options here. You can either do a half-day tour or try out a homestay with an indigineous family. There are countless companies that’ll take you here, but be warned: I’ve heard that they’re quite touristy, complete with locals selling you all sorts of knick knacks you have no use for. Still a cool thing to see nonetheless.
Wondering where to stay in Puno? I recommend Cozy Hostel (it's pretty no-nonsense, but comes with cozy blankets & complimentary breakfast. What more can ya ask for?)
Days 17-27: Cusco & Machu Picchu
You made it! The big whammy of Peru. I fully thought Cusco was going to be this hugely overblown and talked-up city, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Located in what was the center of the Incan Empire at 3,400m above sea level, Cusco is a beautiful mountain city nestled neatly in the high-altitude hills of the Andes. It’s every bit as picturesque as you think it is, and it’s so great that I wouldn’t even be mad spending most of my trip just in Cusco. The tourism industry has made it a pretty interesting place, contrasting the old-style Peruvian architecture with new-style restaurants, cafes and juice bars. It’s not uncommon here to see people casually strolling through town with alpacas in tow, or colorfully-dressed women doing traditional dances in the town square. Get ready for the clichè: Cusco really has something for everyone. Getting to Cusco from Puno isn’t that bad. At this point in your trip you’re a bus expert, so the 6 hour ride shouldn’t be too terrible.
Like Cusco, I was worried that Machu Picchu would be a tourist-overrun money trap, but it was every bit as incredible as I hoped it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it was packed (get there early, folks!), but the ruins are beautifully preserved, the guide informed and easy to understand, and the respect for the people who used to live here is palpable. It’s really easy to see why it’s one of the biggest wonders of the world, so let's review your trekking options.
1. Take the Train
For those of you who are all tuckered-out from your hikes, I don’t know why you didn’t save some stamina for Machu Picchu, but I’m not here to judge. You can take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and catch the train to the base of Machu Picchu from there. This will be your priciest option.
2. Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is widely regarded as the most authentic way to get to Machu Picchu, as it traces the path that the Incans used to get there from Cusco. The biggest benefit of this trek is that you get into Machu Picchu from the top rather than the bottom through the Sungate, which provides some amazing panoramic views. The hike takes 4 days and leads you through a diverse array of ecosystems (glaciers, cloud forests, jungles). I’ve heard pretty remarkable things about this hike, but it is the priciest trekking option, and needs to be booked literally months in advance.
3. Salkantay Trail
The Salkantay Trek is the hike that I did and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a 5 day hike, and it’s...difficult. There’s no mincing words here. The altitude (especially on day 2) will knock the wind out of you and make an already-challenging hike more challenging. But it’s worth it, because this trek takes you up to the Salkantay Pass (a stunning glacier that sits atop the Cusco region) and back down into the jungle. After day 2, you’ll spend a lot of time going downhill, ziplining and bathing in hot springs with your newfound trail buddies. We bonded quite a lot on this hike. I definitely recommend it as a good budget option that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
4. Jungle Trek
The Jungle Trail is a lovely intermediary among the other two trekking options, as it bypasses the Salkantay Pass and takes you down into the jungle. It’s a 4 day hike and comes complete with all your adventure needs: ziplining, white-water rafting, mountain biking and more. It sounds to me like a really great alternative for those who want a little less uphill and more of an endorphin-powered thrill. This costs about as much as the Salkantay Trek.
Machu Piccu is open until 5PM, but if you get there for sunrise like I did, you likely won’t need all that time. Grab a short but expensive train ride back to Cusco and relax after roughnecking it for the past few days.
What Else to do in Cusco
Find the City Viewpoint
Maras Salt Mines
The Sacred Valley is worth the entirety of one of your days. It’s a beautiful tour around the local Incan ruins, complete with imposing stone terraces, local artisans and unparalleled mountain views. This tour is a nice way to get more information about how the Incans used to live outside of Machu Picchu, and it’s a great activity to do on your first day, as the valley is lower in altitude than Cusco and therefore a great place to acclimatize. Don’t be put off by the touristy-ness of this experience. It’s all part of it.
I wish I had time to visit the Maras Salt Mines because it’s so often overshadowed by the more famous things to do in Cusco. The mines are an artificial system of terraces used to collect salt from the river that snaked between Ollantaytambo and Cusco. They’re pretty incredible and very unique. Just a quick one hour drive outside Cusco, the tour generally takes 6 hours and has you back in time for dinner.
If you look up in the distance from the Plaza del Armas, you may be able to see the Jesus statue out in the distance. Wind your way around the backstreets of Cusco and find your way up there. It makes for a pretty spectacular panoramic view and a great spot for photos on a day where you have nothing planned.
Head to the (free) chocolate museum
What’s better than chocolate? Free chocolate. Cusco has a cool free museum that shows you the chocolate-making process from start to finish. And the best part is that there are free samples. I live for free samples. The tour only takes a half our though, so don’t make it your one activity for the day.
Now that travel bloggers are such a big deal, Rainbow Mountain is world-famous for being that mountain. You know, the one with all the colored striations that people pose in front of all pensive-like. In all honesty, Rainbow Mountain is pretty damn special, colored rainbow by the local minerals in the soil, but sitting at 5,200 m above sea level, this is not the hike to do the day you arrive in Cusco. This is a difficult hike. It may be only 3 hours, and the incline may not be that steep, but the altitude will make every step feel like a mile. Take your time, pace yourself, and remember the reward at the top is so worth it. You know...unless it snows and clouds cover the entire mountain...that would be horrible, wouldn’t it?
Days 28-30: Back to Lima
Once you’ve had your fill of your 10 days in Cusco, head to the airport and grab a flight back to Lima before heading home. I know we've had brief stopovers in Lima before on this trip, but these last few days are your chance to settle into the city and see what it's all about. As the capital of the country, Lima is a really unique city in that it's totally different from almost any other city you'll see in South America. It's worth exploring, so I highly recommend you get to it before heading home.
What to do in Lima
Take the Free Walking Tour
Walk along the cliffs
Do the Barranco Graffiti Tour
My tried & true recommendation anywhere is to always take the free walking tour. Lima’s Old City Walking Tour is a fantastic guided tour through the city’s historical center, showing off it’s cultural significance while explaining the city’s development to current day. Lima’s was actually the best walking tour I’d be on. Other than the historical significance, walking tours are great ways to meet other travelers. I spent 2 weeks traveling with two Dutch girls I met on this tour. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to other English-speakers, especially if you’re traveling alone, and especially if you’re at the beginning of your trip.
Known as the Bohemian neighborhood of Lima, Barranco is one of those up-and-coming gentrification hotspots bustling with art and edge. Take the graffiti tour to learn about local artists and from where they draw their inspiration. This tour also happens to be later in the day, making it perfect for sunset drinks cliffside when it ends.
Lima is a city on a hill...literally. It sits comfortably on the coast atop these plunging hills, making it a perfect city to walk around in and explore the seaside. It also is known for a particularly hazy climate, which makes for some pretty spectacular pink sunsets. Grab some friends and enjoy a Pisco sour at a bar on the cliffs, but be ready to pay a bit more for tourist prices.
Learn how to Surf
Some of us are absolutely terrified of surfing, but for you adventure seekers out there, I’m told that Lima has some pretty spectacular waves. Surf shops dot the shore all the way down the coast, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one to show you the ropes.
Day 30: Fly Home
Unfortunately todays' the day to head home. Hopefully by now you feel that you’ve seen all the major highlights of Peru without having missed too much (sorry Amazon). I personally loved this itinerary and thought it gave me a really solid balance of hot and cold, trekking and resting, and fast-paced and slow days. Peru truly has such a wealth of culture and nature, and hopefully you’ll agree that this travel route gives you plenty of it.
If you’re interested in seeing other parts of the world (or more of South America), you can always check out my other itineraries right here. Happy travels, my friends!