2.5 Weeks in Peru (and Inca Trail Hike): Planning Guide

Ok, it’s been a while.

My honest intention was to write a series of blog posts documenting my travels (Brazil, Argentina, India, and Peru), but life got the best of me and I never followed through. The last 12 months have been wild, but more on that later.

I recently took a trip to Peru after quitting my job. A good ex-coworker moved to Peru a few months ago after he quit the same company, so I guess it was on my mind. Apparently Peru is trending (#sohotrightnow) since a lot of people have been asking me for recommendations and itinerary tips for their upcoming trips. So I decided it would be best to document my planning and itinerary in a blogpost (similar to the Brazil one I did) to maximize reach and efficiency, because, that’s what I do.

I was in Peru for 2.5 weeks. March is Peru is considered “off season” due to the rain, but the most amount of rain I experienced was 1-2 hours a day. Most of the rain happened at night. I always enjoy traveling off season, because 1) things are cheaper 2) you get more done in a day because there are way fewer tourists trying to do the same tourist shit you’re trying to do and 3) locals are more patient. Thank goodness it was off season, I was able to get my Inca Trail permit 2 weeks before the trip (people usually secure the permit 6 months in advance, since there is a limited number of daily permitted hikers). I later learned that they only admit about 200 tourists per day on the Inca Trail (~300 are reserved for guides, porters, and cooks, etc.). So first things first — if you want to go on the Inca Trail hike, get your permit ASAP. Of course, don’t forget to do the same for Machu Picchu.

I wanted to see a few different cities, but I was pressed for time. I actually really wanted to go to Bolivia to go to Salar de Uyuni, but there wasn’t an easy way to get there from Peru. My only options were 1) take a long ass bus ride or 2) take a long, expensive multi-stop flight (Lima -> Cuzco -> La Paz -> Uyuni). Nope, it wasn’t going to happen. I was sad but then I realized how much there is to see in Peru and I calmed down. I was looking up multiple bus options for traveling in South Peru — seemed somewhat complicated and inconvenient, but then I found Peru Hop. It’s a hop-on, hop-off bus that travels to popular cities. It saved my trip. Here are the things I liked about Peru Hop:

  • Flexibility: You choose how long you want to stay in a given city. There’s no “set itinerary,” although the one they recommended ended up working out perfectly with my tight timeline (I had to be in Cuzco by a certain date for the Inca Trail trip). You just need to email them the day before you want to get picked up. You specify where you are staying, they come to your door, drop you off at any location of your choosing along the route.
  • Convenience: I booked most of my hostels myself, only because I am a type-A freak and I have to know where I’m going to sleep in advance, review the reviews on Hostelworld, and secure my bed. Most people on Peru Hop just booked the hostels through Peru Hop, got special deals, and were happy. Peru Hop gives you options (party hostel vs. quiet) and their recommendations often matched what my personal research found. They also booked all tours for me — it wasn’t much more expensive than what I would’ve paid through another agency / hostel, and it was so convenient.
  • Safety: For audacious folks traveling alone, especially women, this is an easy way to relieve some stress around safety. You’re on the bus with a bunch of gringos, people who speak English, who are all broke / traveling. No worries here. Your stuff is safe (still keep your passport and wallet close to you!), especially relative to those overnight local buses.
  • People: As I mentioned in the previous bullet point, you get to meet other travelers. So much of your travel experience is defined by who you spend time with, so being able to make friends so easily and travel the same route with a somewhat constant group of folks was awesome.

So yea, do it.

As for my itinerary, I got a lot of help from Peru Hop. I basically did the full South of Peru trip. Here is my detailed itinerary (I told ya I’m psycho type A).

Peru Trip Itinerary

The itinerary will take you to a desert, beach, canyon, farms, mountains.. you name it. It was truly a beautiful, nature-oriented trip. Every city was very distinct and I enjoyed that aspect very much.

Here’s a short list of the “must-do’s” in each city:

Super Efficient Must-Do List

Lima

  • EAT GOOD FOOD — explore this culinary mecca by trying these must-eats: Anticuchos (tender, grilled beef heart skewers to die for — don’t bother going anywhere else but here), ceviche (Punto Azul is great), lomo saltado, and picarones (deep fried dessert with molasses syrup, death by foodgasm. Tio Mario‘s was great). I also went to Latin America’s #1 restaurant, Central, for a 11 course meal. Honestly, though, you don’t need to spend a lot of $$$ to find great food in Lima!
  • Walk around Miraflores, Downtown, and Barranco (be careful if you are outside of Miraflores at night)
  • Drink pisco sours
  • If you have time: Walk along the water (not actually on the beach, but above, since there’s not really a good walkway along the sand) and check out the beautiful mall Larcomar
  • One random tip — Peruvian cabs don’t have meters. Negotiate the price before getting in.

Paracas

  • National Reserve Park was stunning. So weird to see the desert / cliffs meet the ocean. Beautiful scenery
  • The standard route will take you to Islas Ballestas, aka “poorman’s galapagos.” I wasn’t all that impressed with the animals (mostly sea lions, which I see a lot of in the Bay Area) but maybe it’s your thing

Huacachina

  • Dune buggy ride and sandboarding — ask for the “psycho” driver (there is one popular dude). Not all drivers are crazy. You want your driver to be crazy. Trust
  • Chill by the pool
  • Tip: stay at Banana’s Adventure. It’s the best one (skip the one PeruHop recommends for this town)

Arequipa

  • Check out the main plaza. It’s especially beautiful at night
  • Go on the Colca Canyon tour! Don’t skip this!
  • Drink coca tea, eat coca-flavored candy, toffees, chocolate, you name it

Puno / Lake Titikaka — SKIP IF SHORT ON TIME

  • Boat tour to the floating islands where the natives live
  • Suffer from altitude sickness. Just kidding

Cusco

  • Bake in an extra day to adjust to the altitude, especially if you are coming from a lower-altitude city — you won’t be able to do anything if you get altitude-sick!
  • Sign up and go on the 4-day long Inca Trail hike, duh
  • Mercado San Pedro — easy to miss gem. Amazing market with fresh produce (try all the fruits you’ve never had before!), best prices on gifts / souvenirs, and AWESOME food stalls for the best and cheapest eats (get seco de res and chicken soup)
  • Eat lots of cake. For some reason, there are a lot of great cafes with delicious cakes. Do it. You’re on vacay
  • Climb random hills — you can climb up to where Jesus Blanco (oh, the puns) is to see a great view of the city
  • Don’t pay more than 4 soles to travel by cab within Cusco (7 max for off-hours)
  • If you really want to… you can try Alpaca or Cuy (guinea pig). Not all that great IMO

If you’re short on time, I’d recommend cutting out Puno / Lake Titikaka. While the lake is beautiful, and I can now say “I’ve been to the highest lake in the world,” I suffered from debilitating altitude sickness and the lake activities felt very touristy. You’ve been warned.

I wish I had more time to spend in Arequipa — I really didn’t have any time to explore the city because of my Colca Canyon tour. Other than Arequipa, I felt I had the right amount of time in each city.

About the 4-Day Long Inca Trail Hike

Inca Trail

I highly recommend the Inca Trails hike. I did the 4-day long classic Inca Trails with a tour company called Llama Path. I paid extra to climb Huayna (Wayna) Picchu, which is a mountain by Machu Picchu where you’ll get an amazing view — highly recommend. You are required to do the hike with a guide. When I was choosing the company, I paid particular attention to the companies’ stance on porter well being and social / environmental consciousness. You can find much cheaper tour companies, but you will quickly realize where they are cutting the cost from. Because you will spend so much time interacting and watching how the porters are treated, you will be reminded of your spending choice. I felt good knowing that I chose a company that compensated the porters fairly and treated them with respect — had I consciously made the decision to save cost and go with a less socially responsible tour company, I would’ve felt guilty and shitty the entire time. With a little bit of research, you can quickly find out which companies are ethical and which are not. The $$ simply won’t add up.

Most of the tour companies will provide options for you to hire a porter to carry extra weight so you can travel lighter — I highly recommend folks at least select the “half porter” option, which is what I did. For an out-of-shape gal like me, walking for 4 days in the mountains was a challenge enough, and not having to carry extra clothes, toiletries, sleeping bag, and mattress was worth every penny. Most tours also include all food — what they don’t make clear is that you will get a professional chef who will cook up a storm every single meal, providing you with a 3-4 course fine dining experience. I was shocked by the quality of the food — I honestly felt they were the best meals I had in Peru (one night, the chef flambeed bananas by the table side, inside the tent. WHAT!?). Every morning, I woke up to gentle knocks on the tent followed by a warm cup of coca tea, and was given a cute little snack pack every day. Other than the fact that I couldn’t shower for 4 days, I was quite comfortable at the camp site thanks to the Llama Path team.

A lot of people have also been asking me what I packed for my Inca Trail trip. Good question. Here is my full packing list!

Packing List for 4-Day Long Inca Trail Hikers

Clothes — I highly recommend you buy compressable plastic bags like this to save room
* In general, pack light weight dry-fit workout clothes. You will sweat. Layering is key for the changing weather condition. Pack light. You will be gross, but so will everyone else. You won’t have clean clothes every day, but I promise you you’ll regret bringing more than what you absolutely need.

  • Hiking shoes (SUPER IMPORTANT, obviously. Break your shoes in before the trip)
  • Sports bras x2
  • Underwear x4
  • Hiking socks x6 (pack extra pairs for when your feet get wet from the rain, puddles, etc.)
  • Dry-fit sleeveless shirts for layering x2
  • Dry-fit long sleeve shirts for layering x2
  • Dry-fit long pants or leggings x 2 (I wore my workout leggings and was fine — shorts are recommended if you get hot easily and are going in the summer)
  • Packable waterproof pants to wear over your leggings — something like this
  • Packable puffy down jacket for night time / cold weather
  • Lightweight waterproof rain jacket with a hood
  • Baseball cap (I forgot this and I regretted it)
  • Pajamas (I wore a warmer pair leggings and a cotton shirt for sleeping)
  • Gloves
  • Optional: alpaca socks to sleep in at night 🙂
  • Optional: bathing suit, if you are planning on going to Aguas Calientes

Toiletries — bring only what you need in small containers to reduce weight.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Makeup remover cloths (life saver for when you want to quickly freshen up)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Light weight, small, quick-dry towel
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wet wipes for day-time use
  • Body / baby wipes (in lieu of showering) — I brought “Shower Pill” packs and was very happy with them
  • Deodorant
  • Lipbalm / chapstick — you’ll thank me later
  • Panty liners — ladies, you will also thank me for this
  • Optional: make up
  • Optional: dry shampoo
  • Optional: face wash / cleanser
  • Optional: emergen-C or other vitamins to keep you going and healthy!
  • Optional: tampons (I didn’t need them, but I was told high altitude can make you menstruate off-cycle. Better to be safe than sorry!)

Other Essentials — little details can make your experience so much better and easier. Pay attention!

  • Sleeping bag and mattress — I rented both of these form the tour company. If you are getting your own, make sure they are lightweight and sufficiently warm!
  • Daypack — I fit all my stuff in this bag but remember I also had a duffle that I filled and gave to a porter to carry. I only carried an extra jacket, rainproof pants, poncho, and other day-time essentials that I need access to throughout the hike
  • Water bottles x2 — I had two 1L plastic bottles I refilled each day
  • Headlamp — no, not a flashlight. You want a headlamp
  • Poncho — I really liked my $5 REI poncho. It was thicker than most plastic ones that rip after one use. Make sure you get one that is large enough to cover your backpack!! Common mistake I’ve seen people make
  • Earplugs
  • Portable cell phone charger / extra cell phone battery
  • Earbuds / Headphones — I didn’t really use them because I talked to people or just listened to the sound of the nature 😉
  • Basic first-aid kit / drugs (e.g., bandaids, ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal drugs, etc.)
  • Plastic bags / ziplock bags — they always come in handy
  • Passport pouch to carry your passport, money, etc.
  • Optional: notepad / pen for your night time reflections
  • Optional: water filtering tablets (you will get boiled water to fill your water bottles every day)
  • Optional: ankle or knee brace (I brought both just in case, because I’m ankle injury-prone)
  • Optional: Hiking poles (you can rent)

Alright, I think this is a pretty good planning guide for first-time Peru / Inca Trail travelers.

Generally speaking, Peruvians are warm, welcoming, and obsessed with food and Pisco. I don’t blame them. There is so much to see, eat, and learn — enjoy every moment with an open heart and learn a few Quechua phrases to show your respect and gratitude.

Feel free to message me directly if you have additional questions.

Happy traveling!

MK

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2 thoughts on “2.5 Weeks in Peru (and Inca Trail Hike): Planning Guide

  1. Hi Michelle! Thanks for this blog post. It’s awesome!

    I have a question. I am going with Llama Path (thanks for the recommendation) but I wanted to know the difference between the Machu Picchu climb and the Huayna Picchu climb. Is the Machu Picchu climb just up to the top where everyone takes their picture? Is the Huayna one way further?

    Thanks!

    Like

    1. Hey Eric! Super excited to hear about your trip! You’re going to have a blast.

      Machu Picchu isn’t really a “climb” — it’s more like site seeing. Huayna Picchu is a mountain located in/near Machu Picchu, that you can elect to climb if you have the energy for it after the entire trail hike. I did it and it was steep / tough, but the view was worth it. Huayna Picchu is a lot higher so you get a better view.

      Like

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