Peru in 2-3 days
If you don’t have much time to visit Peru, head straight to Cusco. Although teeming with tourists, it is the quintessential Peruvian experience with its intriguing colonial city and ancient Inca ruins. The quickest way to get there is to fly. Cusco airport is 4km south of the city centre. See airlines mentioned in Getting Around. In Cusco you can take a tour of the surrounding Inca ruins by horseback. Or explore the Inca Museum or the impressive Inca walls of Koricancha.
Taking a day trip up to Machu Picchu is a must. You can catch a train or bus to Ollantaytambo. From there you can catch a bus or train straight to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes). To make up for missing the Inca Trail, take a walk up the mountain to the ruins, or if the altitude is too much, catch a bus.
In 7-9 days
If Lima is your first port of call, it’s a good idea to spend about two days getting to know this bustling city. The common place to stay in Mireflores, with its close location to the beach, shops, cafes and bars. Explore central Lima with a stop off at the grand Plaza Mayor, where the cathedral sits on the site of an old Inca temple, and the Palacio de Gobierno where you can see the changing of the guard.
Art museums worth visiting are Pinacoteca Museum, with its fine collection of Peruvian paintings and Muso de Arte Popular. For historic artifacts check out the Museo de Arqueologia, Antropologia y Historia del Peru in Pueblo Libre. In the east, two fascinating museums are the Museo de a Nacion for its archeology, and Museo de Oro (Museum of Gold) for its display of arms.
Head south and stop off at the beach towns of Pisco for some fresh seafood, and check out nearby Paracas National Reserve or the Ballestas Islands. Continue on to see the Nazca Lines – a series of enormous animal figures and shapes carved into the stony plains.
If you’re into surfing, the best beaches south of Lima are Punta Hermosa, Punta Roca and Pico Alto.
Continue onto Cusco, or make your way towards Bolivia to the colonial town of Arequipa, and then Puno on the majestic Lake Titicaca.
Two weeks +
If you have more time in Peru, the trip south of Lima is obligatory (see above). But there’s plenty of attractions north as well.
If you’re into surfing, check out the northern coastline and visit the famous Chicama and Cabo Blanco. Stop off at the bustling Trujillo, or continue onto the small town of Pacasmayo – with one of the longest righthand points in Peru. It’s also a good place to hang out with a few bars/discotecas. There’s also Mancora – the most trendiest and popular surf town on the north coast.
Delve deep into the Amazon jungle of inland Peru with highlights including pink and blue dolphins in the rivers around Iquitos; the rich rainforest of Tambopata-Candamo Reserve, Manu Biosphere Reserve and Pacaya Samiria. Your best point of entry is Iquitos for the Northern Selva, Pucallpa or Chanchamayo for the Central Selva, and Puerto Maldonado for the Southern Selva.
If you’re into mountaineering, check out the Huaraz region. Huaraz is 3060m above sea level, but the highest peaks of the Cordilleras are more than 6000m.