Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list? Or maybe you’re a fan of ceviche, llamas, and history? Whatever your reason, Peru is one of the most fascinating, beautiful, and exciting places to visit. If you’re pressed for time, you’ll benefit from my experience of visiting Peru in 7 days – including stops in Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. We did not hike the Inca Trail, but instead took a train and bus to Machu Picchu since we wanted to fit it into our week-long trip.
Peru Fast Facts
Time Zone: PET – depending on time of year (daylight savings time), Peru is either on the same time as the Central US or the Eastern US.
Currency: Nuevo Sol, abbreviated “S/.” 1 sol is about 30 cents US, or $1 = 3 S/. Peruvians would says something costs “X soles.”
Weather: We visited Peru in September, which turned out to be a great time of year to travel. Peru’s dry season runs from May to September, but the summer months (June to August) are peak tourist season. January and February have the most rain. However, the weather is pretty temperate year-round, with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s Fahrenheit.
Language: Spanish, although you’ll find many English speakers in tourist areas of Lima and Machu Picchu.
Before You Go
If Machu Picchu is in your Peru plan, I strongly recommend buying your Machu Picchu ticket before even booking your trip. You definitely want to avoid a situation in which tickets are sold out for the day you want to visit! The UNESCO site previously limited the number of daily visitors to 2,500, but effective July 1, 2017, there are some new rules. Now, you’re required to buy either a morning (6am to noon) or afternoon (noon to 5pm) ticket, and you can only enter with a licensed guide. If you want a morning ticket, be sure to buy it early.
Buy your Machu Picchu tickets on the official site here.
Regular tickets are about $50 per person, and a ticket that allows you to go to Huayna Picchu will cost about $10 more. Here’s a great article on Machu Picchu ticket FAQs.
Alternatively, you could book a guided tour that includes your Machu Picchu ticket.
Adri en Route’s 7-Day Peru Itinerary
Regardless of what time of year you decide to visit Peru, my 7-day Peru itinerary can adapt to your travel dates.
Day 1: Travel to Lima
Lima can be a bit tricky to fly to as there aren’t many non-stop flights from the US and Canada, and hardly any from Europe. JetBlue flies non-stop from Fort Lauderdale, which is a great option if you can fly to FLL for a connection (or live in South Florida like we do). LATAM and United fly to Lima non-stop from New York City.
Upon arriving in Lima, you can take Uber to wherever you choose to stay. Miraflores is one of the nicest neighborhoods for tourists to stay in – it’s centrally located, safe, and near tons of restaurants and things to do.
We stayed in Miraflores at Tierra Viva Miraflores Larco. Tierra Viva is a Peruvian hotel chain, and it’s known for basic but comfortable accommodations. All rooms include breakfast, which is one of my favorite ways to save money on a trip. Plus free wifi! And, as I’ll mention later, the service was excellent and the staff were super friendly. I would highly recommend it to any traveler looking for a clean, comfortable place to stay.
Day 2: Lima
I love waking up in a new city! Since we landed in Lima at night, I couldn’t fully see the city’s beauty until the next morning. We began the day with a delicious breakfast on the rooftop at our Tierra Viva hotel.
After breakfast, we walked a few minutes away to Larcomar, a new cliffside open-air mall with incredible views! Even if you’re not a big shopper (I’m not one), you’ll enjoy seeing the views here. There’s also a large park adjacent to the mall which would be perfect for a picnic.
We spent the rest of the morning wandering around Miraflores before heading to the Huaca Puacllana ruins. Although it was just the first of many ruins we would encounter in Peru, I found Huaca Puacllana unique because it’s located in the middle of the city. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition between the ancient structure and the modern high-rises just a few blocks away.
We worked up an appetite walking around Lima, so when we returned to our hotel, we asked the front desk for a ceviche recommendation. Well, we got a good one! Punto Azul, around the corner from our hotel, turned out to be our favorite dining experience in Lima. While I stick to a plant-based diet at home, I feel I can’t fully experience a new culture without trying their staple dishes.
At night, we explored the Barranco neighborhood, which is a long walk or a short drive away from Miraflores. It’s Lima’s artsy, boho sector with lots of unique bars and cute shops.
I loved this bar called Ayahuasca – it’s an old mansion converted into a bar. But, the coolest part is that each room of the house as a different theme and bar serving a specialty drink. There’s a rum room, pisco room, etc. And a cute outdoor patio!
Day 3: Lima
After sleeping off last night’s pisco sours, we took an Uber to the historic city center.
This area is a UNESCO site, with buildings and art from the Spanish colonial period in the 1500’s.
There are so many interesting plazas, churches, and monuments here. We wandered around for about two hours and didn’t see it all. If you want to learn more, book a walking tour or try your own self-guided tour, like this one.
After working up an appetite, we took a Peruvian cooking class at SkyKitchen. The multilingual chefs offer classes in a few languages, making this activity perfect for many world travelers. We learned how to cook causa, ceviche, lomo saltado, and a doughnut-like dessert.
The class was a great way to spend an evening! It was fun to meet some other travelers too.
Day 4: Lima
On our last full day in Lima, we began with a walk down to the ocean below Miraflores. The weather was a little chilly when we were there, but in warmer months, this area would be popular with beach-goers.
From there, we walked back up and continued wandering around a cliffside path, ending up in Barranco. We found a cute cafe (one of many cafes!) to have a cup of tea relax.
Since we had only been to Barranco at night, it was nice to see the architecture and street art in the area. We also stumbled on a craft market which hosted vendors selling all sorts of jewelry and art. And Barranco is full of delicious local restaurants!
Day 5: Travel to Aguas Calientes
After three awesome days in Lima, we began our trek to Machu Picchu. It’s not an easy place to get to!
Our journey started with a quick 50-minute flight to Cusco, although it didn’t feel quick! We flew on a plane from at least 40 years ago – it was no Dreamliner. About halfway through, we hit some turbulence and a piece of the wall near our window fell down, revealing the insulation and wires of the plane’s skeleton. Yikes. But, we saved a lot of money compared to flying international carriers like LATAM. It was an adventure, and yes, I would probably do it again for cost reasons. We flew on Star Peru, one of the national carriers along with Peruvian Air Lines and LC Peru.
Upon landing in Cusco, we met a driver at the airport who would take us to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The friendly staff at Tierra Viva in Lima arranged the driver for us. There is really only one option for transportation between Cusco and Aguas Calientes: train. You can either board the train in Poroy (near Cusco) or Ollantaytambo, a village in the Sacred Valley about two hours from the Cusco airport.
Our flight landed in Cusco around 9am, and we had to be on the train in Ollantaytambo at 3:30pm. Because we were pressed for time, we didn’t want to spend an extra day in Cusco before heading up to Aguas Calientes. So, we did what we had to do to get on a moderately-priced train that would drop us in Aguas Calientes before sundown. The drive to Ollantaytambo turned out to be gorgeous, and I enjoyed seeing some of the Peruvian countryside.
Ollantaytambo is home to some interesting Incan ruins, a chocolate museum, and deep history. The town has had residents consistently since the 1400’s! It was a great place to spend an afternoon while waiting for the train. We enjoyed our lunch at Cafe Mayu at El Albergue, a hotel next to the train station. While eating, we learned that the restaurant grows most of their own produce on site, and the team was happy to give us a tour.
Our train was due to depart at 3:30pm, so we made our way to the platform around 2:45pm to allow for plenty of time. **Note for anyone traveling with bags larger than a backpack – Peru Rail is strict on baggage allowance and charges steep fees for suitcases. We left our suitcases at our hotel in Lima and only took small daypacks with us to Cusco/Machu Picchu.
Once we were on our way, a guide started sharing some history of the area and explaining the scenery we saw outside. The narration was in both English and Spanish.
The train journey was about 90 minutes long and very scenic! We rode past mountains, rivers, and lots of wildlife.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes around 5pm and walked to our hotel, another Tierra Viva property. Aguas Calientes is small and walkable has a strong backpacker vibe. Hostels are popular there too there if you’re sticking to a strict budget. And there are also lots of massage parlors and souvenir shops. But, despite being a little touristy, it’s a cool place to stay.
Since we were heading up to Machu Picchu the following morning, we bought our bus tickets so we wouldn’t need to worry about that the next day. The bus runs about every 30 minutes from the center of Aguas Calientes.
After walking around a bit, I started feeling a bit of altitude sickness, which I remedied with coca tea. Our hotel had it available in the lobby 24/7, but you can find it at any restaurant or cafe too. I was skeptical about coca tea, but it worked for me (or maybe it was the placebo effect, who knows). Aguas Calientes is significantly lower in altitude (7000 feet/2000 meters) than Ollantaytambo (10,000 feet/2800 meters) and Cusco (11,000 feet/3400 meters). So, by spending your first night in Aguas Calientes, rather than Ollantaytambo or Cusco, you may avoid some altitude problems.
Regardless of your prior altitude experience, you should take it easy that first night by eating lightly and avoiding alcohol. We had dinner at the Treehouse restaurant which had delicious veggie fare and a cool hippie vibe.
Day 6: Machu Picchu
Since we arrived in Aguas Calientes the previous afternoon, we had some time to acclimatize and prepare for an early morning. The hotel’s front desk recommended catching the earliest bus to Machu Picchu, which was at 5:30am to beat the crowds and hot sun.
The bus was actually very comfortable – it was a Mercedes coach bus (I was imagining it would be a school bus) with large seats and big window. However, the drive was a bit nerve-wracking! Let’s just say I never thought two giant buses going opposite directions could take a hairpin turn at the same time.
Once we made it up to the entrance to Machu Picchu, we just had to show our tickets before entering. At the ticket counter, you’ll find a do-it-yourself passport stamp station where you can get that elusive Machu Picchu stamp 🙂
Since we were some of the first people at the site for the day, we took in the calm, mystical sights. Today, you do need a guide to enter, but you’ll see the same ruins. It’s cliche to say, but photos really don’t do Machu Picchu justice. The area is much larger than I thought; there are more ruins outside the typical Machu Picchu postcard view (see above) and paths that take you to different vantage points.
I was so impressed by the level of detail found in the architecture – and it’s amazing that it has withstood the test of time and the elements! I saw stones cut into blocks that fit together perfectly and stones that were as big as a small car. How the Incas created this structure 600 years ago with limited technology is beyond me! It truly is remarkable.
Plus, humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy Machu Picchu! Llamas and alpacas wander around everywhere, and they’re so used to the presence of people that they’re extremely docile. This is your spot to get that llama selfie you’ve always wanted!
We spent about four hours at Machu Picchu, heading down around noon when the sun and crowds came. For lunch, we ate at this great spot in Aguas Calientes called Indio Feliz, which serves French-Peruvian fusion in a cozy, kitschy space. Make sure you pin your business card on the ceiling if you go!
Later that afternoon, we caught the 3:30pm train back to the Poroy station in Cusco. Our same driver who took us to Ollantaytambo met us there to drive us to our hotel in Cusco. We stayed at another Peruvian national chain hotel, Casa Andina Private Collection Cusco, which was also a comfortable, affordable property.
For dinner, we received a recommendation for Deva Restaurant, since we wanted to try some typical Andean food. It was fantastic! The staff were clearly passionate about local food; our waiter spent time teaching us about the different varieties of corn and potatoes that grow across Peru which was really interesting! He even took us into the kitchen to watch how they cook certain classic dishes. Deva also has a nice selection of Peruvian wine.
Day 7: Cusco & Travel Home
Our final day! We were pretty exhausted by this point, so we slept in and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at our hotel. I always forget to build some time into my itineraries to just relax, so here’s a reminder to give yourself some time to chill.
Once we regained some energy, we ventured out to Cusco’s historic district. Like Lima, Cusco is a protected historical site, and it really feels like you’ve gone back in time in some areas. The Centro Historico is home to 1500’s-era buildings, including the Cusco Cathedral. The area is much smaller than Lima’s historic city center, and we felt like the hour we spent there was sufficient. Be aware of the street vendors and hawkers who may be looking to take advantage of distracted tourists.
We flew back to Lima mid-day, landing by 2pm. We had booked a red-eye back to Fort Lauderdale, which gave us just enough time to wander around Lima some more. And to enjoy one last ceviche dinner at Punto Azul!
For us, the perfect conclusion to our Peruvian adventure was savoring a bottle of Peruvian wine while watching the sunset from Larcomar.
Have you been to Peru? Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list? I hope you’re inspired to book that Peru trip sooner rather than later – you won’t regret it!