Traveling Peru in Two Weeks or Less

Machu Picchu is just as amazing as you would think...and then some.
I recently got back from a completely packed ten day trip through Peru and while this was one of the shorter international trips of my life, it was absolutely worth it. Many travelers will argue that you need a minimum of three weeks to really experience Peru - I'm going to go ahead and disagree. Yes, Peru is HUGE (it really takes forever to get around the country due to its geography) and if you want to experience what both the north and south have to offer, you will need more time than I had. However, my schedule worked out to give me a ten day trip which actually meant only eight days on the ground in the country. During these unreal 8 days I was able to cross things off my bucket list and experience Andean culture in some of the most beautiful and unique settings in the world. This is neither a full summary of what I did or an itinerary to follow, but it should serve as something to create and inspire ideas for your own journey to the old home of the Incas.

Above the ruins in Ollantaytambo looking into the
Sacred Valley of the Incas
The key to traveling Peru - which I quickly found out while researching - was to keep your focus rather narrow. Don't try and fit in too much or it just won't work. What are the most important cities and sights for you to see? My girlfriend and I came up with a list of what we wanted to see and then checked to see if it was really feasible with our time frame. There were things we had to leave off, but that gave us the time and ability to truly enjoy the places we did go to. I would have loved to visit Arequipa or do one of the multi-day hikes through the Andes, but some things had to be pushed aside.

Machu Picchu was our absolute must see (as it should be for just about everyone visiting the country) so we made that our focus and worked in as many other sites of interest as possible. Thankfully, Cusco and the Sacred Valley (which are pretty dang close to Machu Picchu) are loaded with enough amazingness to keep anyone intrigued for days (or weeks). Speaking of Cusco, don't drink the water there - period. No matter what anyone says, just don't do it! Anyways, we landed in Lima and caught an immediate connecting flight to Cusco and began our adventure from there. The flights from Lima to Cusco are cheap and frequent (I recommend using Star Peru). Two days in Cusco was what we did, and is probably more than enough. We then caught a collectivo for just a few bucks to head into the Sacred Valley. There are a few options as far as a final destination in the valley, and opinions across the interwebs varied greatly on where to go. We chose Ollantaytambo and absolutely loved it. It's also cheaper to get train tickets to Machu Pichhu from there, which was an added plus. The ruins there are spectacular, the setting around the city is breathtaking and it's still close enough to get to other sites like the Salineras and Moray by bus or taxi. In Olla, stay at Mama Simona's. It's cheap and awesome.  You won't regret it. 

Take that, bucket list. 
I'm not going to take up a lot of space writing about Machu Picchu because it is just as incredible as you think it will be - and then some. The day we were there was cold and rainy but it didn't take away anything from seeing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It's so special, you just have to see it yourself. Word to the wise though, Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo aka a dump) is the entryway into the site of the ruins and is, honestly, a joke of a town. You might have to spend a night there unless you hike into Machu Picchu, but get out of there as soon as you can. It's one of the worst tourist traps I've ever seen where even the backpacking prices are twice as much (or more) than anywhere else in the country.  

Cruising around the Peruvian highlands

After Machu Picchu and recovering from getting sick again it was back to Cusco to catch a flight to Lima. This time, we arrived in the morning and, after checking in to our hostel, spent the entire afternoon and evening exploring the streets of the Peruvian capital. If you ask me, this was more than enough time to see everything we wanted to see. A couple things, the metro bus system is amazing (and cheap) and allows you to get around to the various points of interest quickly. The food in Lima is awesome. I highly recommend eating at El Sillar where I had one of the best restaurant experiences of my life. Finally, at night you MUST visit the water fountain circuit and see one of the shows for a few soles. Never seen anything like it before, truly awesome. 
Lima's water fountains by night - an amazing experience!

My fiancée and I along with our
duny buggy driver in Huacachina
After Lima, we took a bus to Huacachina - another little town that was high on my list. This little oasis in the middle of a beautiful desert with enormous sand dunes is super chill and going on a dune buggy tour is a once in a lifetime experience. I felt like I was on a different planet racing up and down sand dunes that were hundreds of feet tall. While you're there, make sure to hike up to the top of the big dune above town, watch the sunset and finally sprint back down from the steepest part of the dune. It is SO fun.
Sunset on top of the sand dunes above Huacachina
I'm not saying this is how you need to do Peru because the possible ways to enjoy this country are nearly endless. One could easily spend 8-10 days exploring the Amazon basin and enjoying the wildlife and wilderness of Colca Canyon or checking out Puno, Lake Titicaca and the floating islands or just exploring the old architecture of Arequipa or Trujillo. There really is so much to see in this country and the people are so fantastic it's worth coming back a second time. My advice? Just go to Peru. See what you can. If you can't do it all in one trip - go back.

The Salineras (Incan salt mines)

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