Looking for the best 3 week itinerary in Peru?

Of all the countries we have explored, Peru is in our top three favorite trips.

From the modern city of Lima, through the rainforest of the Amazon to the ancient Machu Picchu, Peru is a wonderful place for an active family to explore.

With so much to see, building a 3-week itinerary in Peru is a challenge: a challenge we accepted and loved. 

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Cusco and Madre De Dios Region: 12 Days

We spent nearly 13 days, more than half of our 3-week itinerary in Peru in just two regions of the country. Cusco, the Andean Region, is the most heavily visited region in Peru. It is the home to the Incan capital city of Cusco, which serves as a gateway to Machu Picchu. 

Madre De Dios is the largest region in all of Peru. Dense with the Amazonian rainforest, this region of Peru is known for its biodiversity. It is also the least populated region in all of Peru. 

Day 1: Lima to Cusco

Like the majority of tourists, we landed in the capital city of Lima. We arrived late, and most reasonable people would stay near the airport in the Wyndham or Holiday Inn near the airport. But not this family. Instead, always looking for a budget, our family pushed onto a hostel in the nearby region of Callao. 

At one point in the short 10-minute drive, our taxi driver said he wouldn’t take us to this part of town. “You should be staying in Miraflores.” He told us. We insisted.

In the end, it was not the nicest hostel or the best part of town but we felt safe enough. So we got a few hours of sleep before heading back to the airport for our flight to Cusco.

If I had to do it again, I would have grabbed a room at the Wyndham right next to the airport, even though it was twice the price,and called it good. 

Day 2-3: Cusco

It is a quick (1 hour and 20 minutes) and relatively cheap flight from Lima to Cusco.

We arrived in the early afternoon and checked into the Pumamarca Guest House. Simple but clean, Pummamarca’s triple room gave us enough room to spread out. The best part of the guest house was the rooftop deck. 

Inti Raymi Festival

We arrived in Cusco a few days before the Inti Raymi festival. The festival which honors the Sun God, Inti,  is held each year in Cusco during the summer solstice on June 24th. 

O waiting for the Inti Raymi parade to reach the plaza

But let me be completely honest here. When we planned our 3-week itinerary in Peru we actually had no idea that this festival was happening. That was until our first night in Lima when we heard fireworks overhead and rushed up to the rooftop deck.

The lovely owners of the guest house, after kindly letting us watch the fireworks from their rooftop deck, explained that we had in fact come during one of the city’s most important festivals. Talk about dumb American tourists. 

If You Are in Cusco for the Festival

The city begins the celebration with fireworks for several weeks before the actual festival.   The celebration begins at the Qoricancha temple with a reenactment of an ancient Incan ritual.

You must have a ticket to attend this part of the festival, and since we were those Americans who didn’t even know it was happening we were not able to attend. 

However, after the re-enactment at the temple,  there is a parade through the Plaza de Armas, or the central square.

Beautifully adorned, groups of people from different regions of Peru in their traditional dress parade through the square accompanied by floats and music. If you are planning to go in the summer, we definitely recommend coming for the festival. 

Groups wear traditional clothing from their region

Days 4-7: Amazon Rainforest

Our first two days of our 3 week itinerary in Peru started in Cusco. But our first stop in Cusco was really just a stopping place until our tour to Manu National Park to experience the rainforest. Our 4 day and 3 night tour was by far one of the most memorable experiences we had in Peru. And we can not say enough about the tour company, Bonanza Tour, and wrote a separate post about our Manu jungle tour experience. However, some details if you want to follow our itinerary that you should know. 

O learning about the Amazon
O resting in a tree in the Amazon learning from Ryse

Manu National Park Jungle Tour

PickUp: All of Bonanza Tour’s trips pick up in Cusco. And the pick up is early. I am talking about 5 a.m. It is a full day’s drive from Cusco to their first stop, their Rainforest Lodge, which is the entrance to the National Park. 

The next day is another half day of travel as you go further into the Manu by bus and then flatboat into the ancestral home of the Huamani family.

What makes this tour so extra special is that you are truly experiencing it with a local guide.

We had the extra luck to be with Ryse, who started the company with his family out of his family home. To experience the Amazon with someone who was raised in it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The Camoflauge House
Getting ready to sleep in the Camouflage House

Our favorite part of the trip was sleeping in the Camouflage tree house. Spectacular. Our only regret was not booking a longer tour. You come a long way to be in the Amazon so if you schedule allows, stay a few days longer. You won’t regret it.

Days 8-10: Back to Cusco

We returned to Cusco to 1) get our bearings after the Amazon, to 2) acclimatize before going to Machu Picchu and to 3) experience the festival of Inti Raymi (see previous point about dumb luck).

Altitude Sickness in Cusco

 We are from the Mountain West and are avid skiers so we felt fairly comfortable in the high altitude of Cusco. However, at 11,152 feet, Cusco can be challenging for people. So if you are from a coastal area, you should plan to take it slow in Cusco. 

One of the best cures for altitude sickness is coca leaves (yes, what cocaine is made from). It is legal to possess coca leaves in Peru only for medicinal or religious purposes.

The tea, Mata de coca, which can help with altitude sickness is found everywhere.  Our host at the guest house offered it to us at check-in. And while we didn’t experience altitude sickness, we found the tea to be very similar to chamomile. 

What to Do in Cusco

We spent the next few days in Cusco, exploring the local markets, including the central market that is just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.

Like most of our trips, we rented a short-term rental through Airbnb upon our return to Cusco. So a trip to the central market meant getting local produce (avocados the size of my head) and local meat to cook and enjoy. We also only travel using backpacks so Cusco was our laundry stop for the next week.

Avocados the size of my head (okay, my hand). But seriously, these were huge!

Chocolate Making Workshop

Before leaving Cusco we could not resist a chocolate-making class at the Choco Museum. You can find the Choco Museo in various locations throughout Central and South America from Mexico to Nicaragua. So if you miss it in Peru, you can definitely experience it elsewhere. 

However, having just come from the Amazon where cacao is a native crop, Cusco seemed like the perfect place to try our hand and making (and eating) some delicious cacao.

The museum in Cusco is also so easy to find, located just a few steps from the Plaza de Armas. And while the Bean to Bar class may not be unique to Cusco,  it was a great way to spend a few hours.

O getting ready for some sweet chocolate

Day Trips from Cusco

From Cusco, you can take many day trips.  Many people choose to take a 1-day trip to Rainbow Mountain out of Cusco. Others will even day trip to Machu Picchu or take a 2-day, 1 night tour to Lake Titicaca.

Here’s the thing: There are a ton of 1-day tours out of Cusco. We were definitely tempted by the Rainbow Mountain tour. However, after Cusco we had planned several days in Machu Picchu and well…after our tour in the Amazon, we just wanted to take it easy. Traveling as a family means listening to all members of your family, and O was not up for a 12-hour tour to the Mountain. 

You can also do a 1-day tour to Machu Picchu. This trip was all about traveling slow so we opted for 3 days and 2 nights in Machu Picchu.

We also planned to hike Waynu Picchu and knew that meant an early entrance to the site so opted to invest more fully in Machu Picchu. If you do want to do a day trip, know that they range in price from $350-$500 and are 12-16 hours in length.

Days 11-13: Machu Picchu

The next stop on our 3-week itinerary in Peru is the place most people imagine when they hear Peru: Machu Picchu. Besides hiking the Incan trail, the only way to get to Machu Picchu is by train. Both Incarail and Perurail go from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

We traveled on Perurail and the round-trip ticket per person was about $100. Perurail has a dome car, which is more expensive. We didn’t opt for that and even our cheap seats were almost entirely enclosed in glass and stunning.  The 3.5 hour train ride in itself is an experience.

Where to Stay to and Eat Aquas Caliente

After arriving in Aquas Caliente and checking into our not-particularly memorable guest house in Aguas Caliente, we had the best meal at Mapacho.

Of course, if there is a craft beer house anywhere but especially in South America where beer tends to mean a lager, Matthew is stumping for it. Sometimes there is good food to go along with good beer. But sometimes there is not. 

Welcome to Aguas Calientes

Mapacho has both good beer, good food and a great view. If you have a meal in Aquas Calientes it should be here. The other restaurant we went to our second night after a long day at Machu Picchu paled in comparison. So after some great eats, we went to bed happy and excited for our next day at Machu Picchu.

Experiencing Macchu Picchu 

There are three entry times to the mountain. We chose Group 2, which meant entry to Machu Picchu at 7 a.m. and Waynu Picchu at 8 a.m. If you choose either Group 1 or 2 as we did, you will need to stay overnight in Aguas Caliente.  Group 3 tickets allow you to come in by train from Cuzco and enter Machu Picchu at or after 8 a.m. and Huayna Picchu at 10:30.

O started asking to experience Machu Picchu several years earlier after learning about the  site at school. While we are guilty of not always fully planning our trips (see Inti Raymi festival); however,  we definitely did our leg work with Machu Picchu.

We started our planning of Peru with Machu Picchu because we knew we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain (aka Wayna Picchu). Wayna Picchu, which is known as “Young Peak” in Quechua, is only open to 400 visitors a day and offers the most stunning views of Machu Picchu. But you have to plan ahead.

“I Climbed THAT!”

We think 12 is the perfect age for your kids to experience Machu Picchu. Let us tell you more 

Day 14-17: Arequipa

The next two legs of our journey on our 3-week itinerary in Peru–to Arequipa from Cusco and Arequipa to Lima– were all done by plane. We typically try to stay closer to the ground with trains and buses. However, a flight on Latam to Arequipa was easy and inexpensive: about $70 per person per leg and saved us a ton of time. 

One of the most beautiful cities in Peru, Arequipa is known as the “White City.” The colonial architecture that makes the city famous is made of the volcanic white stone, sillar, giving the city its name.

The beautiful colonial architecture of the “White City”

If I had to drop one city from our trip, it would be Arequipa, not because it wasn’t beautiful – because it was. Arequipa is also where we rented one of our favorite short term rentals – certainly for this trip and in our top ten of all time. A colonial house in the heart of Arequipa. We also had a lovely day touring the city and the monastery. 

Day Trips from Arequipa

And yet, of all the cities in Peru there was definitely less to do for O – at least in town. There are a number of day-trips but we weren’t in the mood. It is also important to note that at this point, we were just over  two weeks into our trip.

In our experience on longer trips, there is always a lull–where we are, frankly, tired of touring. I feel so privileged even typing that we couldn’t be bothered to get excited, but I got to be honest. So maybe Arequipa just got the short shrift. 

Most people take a 1 or 2-day tour from Arequipa to Colca Canyon. We could not get O excited for another 12-15 hour day tour so we just used Arequipa to slow down, enjoy the house, read a book, shop at the central market, and just be.

Of all the places we visited in Peru, the city provided a beautiful backdrop for being. 

Days 18-21: Lima

Our last stop on our 3-week itinerary in  Peru was back in the capital city. We LOVE Lima. We have a running list of cities that we can see ourselves living and Lima is in the top 5. 

Our first stop in Lima was to grab a….burger. It may seem like an odd choice, but in a country known for its beef,  a burger from La Lucha is so much more than a burger.

Lima is one of the foodie capitals of the world. We are not necessarily a foodie family so La Lucha, near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores,  is the closest we got to greatness. 

Dinner at La Lucha. Yum!

What to Do in Lima with Kids: Circuito Magico Del Agua

After a bite, we headed off to Parque de la Reserve, which is home to Circuito Magico Del Agua.  If you are traveling with kids or teens to Peru, you must spend an evening here. The Magic Water Circuit with its 13 large fountains is in the Guiness Book as having the largest water fountain complex in the world. While the fountains are impressive by day, they are not to be missed by night. 

Have you ever seen a happier face?

Our last day in Lima was all about the bike. If you follow us and our travels, you know we are all about the bike. With its crazy traffic, Lima may not seem particularly bike-friendly.

However, the neighborhood of the Barranco is all about art, good vibes and two-wheels. We loved biking in Lima so much we put it on our list of top 5 cities to bike (not including Copenhagen or Amsterdam).

 With its coastal bike trail and super hip neighborhoods, one day is not enough to slow down and experience this city on bike. But we gave it our best shot, renting bikes at Lima Bici and taking them all the way from Miraflores through the Barranco to La Marina lighthouse.

Lima means a day of biking by the sea

Time to Fly

Three weeks after we first arrived in Lima, it was time to head home. We loved our time in Peru.  From the bustling, hip capital to the ancient ruins and festivals, Peru is truly a special place. One trip to this country is definitely not enough.

Can’t Do a 3-Week Itinerary in Peru

If you only have half the time we had. Here is our recommended itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Lima

Day 2: Early Flight to Cusco, Explore the City

Day 3-7: Early Morning Pick Up by Bonanza Tours, 4 day/3 night tour in Manu National Park with Bonanza Tours

Day 8-9: Machu Picchu 

Day 10-12: Lima

Conclusion: 3 Week Itinerary in Peru

Peru’s diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture make it an enchanting destination for any traveler seeking a 3-week adventure.

Our carefully curated itinerary has taken you through the highlights of this stunning country, from the ancient wonders of Machu Picchu to the bustling streets of Lima, and from the Amazon to the white city of Arequipa.

Peru has a unique ability to capture the hearts of all who visit. Its breathtaking natural beauty, from the towering Andes to the lush Amazon rainforest, will leave you in awe.

The warmth and friendliness of the Peruvian people, combined with their deep-rooted traditions and mouthwatering cuisine, create an immersive cultural experience that is simply unforgettable.

It’s no wonder that Peru is one of our favorite South American countries to visit, and we hope it becomes one of your favorites too. So, start planning your next adventure to this captivating land of wonders, and let Peru’s magic continue to captivate your soul.

3 Week Itinerary in Peru

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