follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Adventure, Travel / March 12, 2017

Itinerary: Peru for less than $2k

Written by: Molly McCowan

So you want to have one of those life-changing international adventures this year, but you don’t want to spend a fortune? Go to Peru.

Almost twice the size of Texas, the country is an outdoor lover’s dream. It boasts 11 distinct ecological zones, so tourists can see coastal desert, rugged peaks, and lush rainforest in a single trip.

One U.S. dollar exchanges for about three Peruvian soles, so your money will go far. A two-week tour of Peru, including your round-trip flight, can be done for under $2,000—even less than that if you opt not to do any guided tours into the Amazon rainforest or Machu Picchu.

This 14-day itinerary will show you the highlights and still allow for some R&R. (You’ll need it.)

First: Two days in Lima

Lima's Plaza Mayor. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Fly into the capital city of Lima and stay in the Barranco district, a hip neighborhood with an active, fun nightlife. Be sure to see the Puente de los Suspiros (the “Bridge of Sighs”) at night, when it’s lit up by old-fashioned streetlamps.

Spend a day in Lima’s Plaza Mayor (also called the Plaza de Armas); the main cathedral is worth the small donation to see, and the Church of San Francisco just around the corner offers tours of its extensive catacombs that are not for the claustrophobic. Be sure to try some Peruvian ceviche (pronounced—and often spelled—cebiche) while you’re in Lima.

It’s also worth taking half a day to explore the beautiful Miraflores district. You can paraglide off the steep cliffs; shop in the upscale malls and markets; and walk, bike, or rollerblade along the Costa Verde.

Skulls in the crypt of the Lima Cathedral. Photo by Molly McCowan.

The Costa Verde, in Lima’s Miraflores District. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Then, two days in Cusco

After you’ve explored Lima, hop onto a tiny plane to Cusco and spend two full days exploring the city. Cusco is very walkable, but it’s also very hilly, so be prepared for some steep climbs. Also, pay attention for signs of altitude sickness (chewing coca leaves helps with this).

Watch the sunset while enjoying a pisco sour and cuy (guinea pig) at a restaurant with a view over the main square. Then, peruse the artisanal shops lining the narrow, cobblestone streets near the Plaza de San Blas.

The Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the main square is worth a visit, as is Qorikancha, which highlights the well-preserved Incan ruins that were used as the foundation for a colonial church.


A typical neighborhood street in Cusco. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Near the main square in Cusco. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Five (yes, five) days in Manú National Park

From Cusco, book a tour to Manú National Park to see untouched, pristine Amazon cloud forest and rainforest. You’ll want at least five days for this trip, since it will take about eight to nine hours to get into the rainforest by van.

You’ll spend your first night at the mouth of the park, and then you’ll travel by canoe the rest of the way into the jungle. (If you’re interested in Manú, you should check out my recent article about travel in the park).

Two days in the Sacred Valley

Take a day trip to see Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley near Cusco. Saqsayhuaman, Pisaq, and Ollantaytambo are among the most impressive of the many sites in the region.

On your second day, rent horses, mountain bikes, or motorcycles to take a full-day trip to the Incan ruins of Moray and the Maras salt mines.

The salt mines of Maras have existed since pre-Inca times. Water from a natural, salty spring fills the pools and evaporates, leaving behind three different grades of salt (white, pink, and brown). Photo by Molly McCowan.

The view near the Sacred Valley. Photo by Molly McCowan.

Two days on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Yes, everyone goes to Machu Picchu. But that doesn’t mean you should skip it—it’s a bucket list item for good reason.

From Cusco, head out on a two-day guided hike of the world-famous Inca Trail. The two-day version of the hike overnights in the tourist trap of Aguas Calientes, so you won’t be camping out (a four-day version of this trek does include camping).

The trail is fairly grueling and includes some incredibly steep sections of stairs, so train for it and bring plenty of water and snacks. Just as you’re about to reach total exhaustion, you’ll cross through the Sun Gate and spot Machu Picchu in the valley below for the first time.

Spend your second day touring around the site and learning about its complex and fascinating history. Be sure to buy your Machu Picchu entrance ticket and book your Inca Trail hike well in advance (you are required to go with a licensed guide). There are limited tickets available for each day, and these restrictions are only getting tighter.

The “Gringo Killer,” one of many sections of very steep stairs on the Inca Trail. Photo by Molly McCowan.

The view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. Photo by Molly McCowan.

One last day in Lima

Catch a flight back to Lima and take it easy for your last day in Peru. Eat some delicious Peruvian food, have one last pisco sour, and catch your flight home.

That’s it: 14 days in Peru! As with most countries, two weeks is never enough time to see everything, but this itinerary will give you a broad overview into the beautiful culture, geographical diversity, and rich history of this amazing South American country.

Want to submit your own travel itinerary for publication in Shoulders of Giants? Pitch it to us at [email protected].

about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.