The magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu, snow-capped Andes mountains, the vastness of Uyuni salt lake, bustling metropolitan cities at around 4000 meters altitudes … the wonders of Peru and Bolivia are indeed countless. People even spend months here to explore every inch of them. But not everyone is lucky enough with the time they have, are they? So the question is, how much can you see if all you have is just two weeks. Based on my personal experience, I would say that even with this little time you can cover most of the important places in these two countries, without sweating a fortune.
Peru and Bolivia are two neighbouring countries with lots of similarities in culture, language and landscapes. Though flying between cities isn’t cheap like in Europe, budget travellers can always rely on overnight buses which are much cheaper and reliable. I arrived in Peru, end February, planning to spend only two weeks there. But when I got my Bolivian visa from Cusco, everything changed. Starting from Lima, I went to Cusco, then made my way to northern Bolivia and came back to Lima two weeks later to fly back home. The day wise itinerary I followed will help you plan your vacation better. Depending upon your likes and budget, change for your perfect fit.
|1||Arrive in Lima|
|3||Early morning flight to Cusco – Cusco sightseeing – take the evening train to Aguas Calientes.|
|4||Visit Machu Picchu in morning – take the evening train back to Cusco.|
|5||Cusco – Humantay Lake trekking – Cusco|
|6||Cusco – Rainbow mountain tour – Cusco|
|7||Get Bolivian Visa (if you require)– Cusco sightseeing – take the night bus to La Paz.|
|8||Reach La Paz by afternoon|
|9||La Paz sightseeing – Take the night bus to Uyuni.|
|10||Uyuni salt lake one-day tour – Head back to La Paz by night.|
|11||Take the bus from La Paz to Copacabana|
|12||Take a ferry to Isle Del Sol and come back to Copacabana by evening. Take the bus to Puno.|
|13||Puno – Uros floating islands tour – transport to Juliaca|
|14||Fly to Lima from Juliaca- Fly back home|
Day 1 & 2 : Lima
Unless you cross the border from a neighbouring country, Lima would be your first stop in Peru. This capital city offers museums, beautiful colonial buildings, great restaurants, and many more. A day in Lima is not too short to cover her highlights if you manage it well. Use the app TuRuta to plan travel within the city using public transport. Keep in mind, though bus travel is very cheap, during peak times the traffic can be horrible in this city and it takes ages to get from point to point.
Plaza De Armas
Start your day from the colonial side of the town, the beautiful Plaza de Armas. Parroquia del Sagrario and Palacio Arzobispal de Lima (Archbishop’s Palace of Lima) are two nearby churches at the plaza that you must visit. Right next to that is the President’s palace. Though you cannot visit it, nothing stops you from watching the changing of guards ceremony.
This private museum comprises a variety of Pre-Columbian artifacts from all across Peru, mainly during the Incan civilization. Pottery made in the traditional method called Huaco is the most impressive collection here. The charm of this building, which drew my attention, comes from being a mansion years before.
The posh district of Lima, Miraflores, is an hour away from Larco Museum if you take the bus. Known for its long boardwalks and public parks with the gorgeous view of Pacific ocean beneath her cliffs, it was Miraflores which stole most of my time in Lima. Surfing and para-gliding are some among the many activities you can do here.
Further south from Miraflores lies Baranco, the Peruvian art capital, filled with art galleries and Bohemian style cafes and restaurants. Guides at their tourist office (at the starting point of this district) can help you with chalking out a plan to better explore the streets of Baranco.
Where to stay
Most people stay at Miraflores and it is truly a traveller’s paradise. With an array of hotels ranging across all price-bands, access to wonderful restaurants, shopping streets and parks, this place scores in everything except one, the location. It takes more than an hour to get here from the airport. Although the expensive shuttle bus service, Airport Express makes the commute easy during the daytime, reaching the airport can be tricky if you are planning to fly to Cusco early morning. So I chose to stay at Paypurix Hostel, which is just 15 minutes walk from the airport.
Day 3 : Cusco
Take an early morning flight to Cusco, the cultural capital of Peru. This journey takes about one and a half hours and if you are lucky enough to get a window seat, you can see some beautiful views of tall Andes mountains peeking through the clouds. By reaching Cusco early in the day, you give yourself ample time to relax before taking the evening train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu; also you can explore the city a bit.
You can make Cusco your base-camp for trips to places like Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, Sacred valley and many more, depending upon your taste; not to mention that this city itself is a wonderful place to spend time in. Shopping streets, amazing restaurants, archaeological sites, Cusco was undoubtedly my favourite among all during my brief stay in Latin America. Plaza De Armas, the main square of the town, can be your first site of interest for the day.
Altitude sicknessThe sudden jump to 3400 meters above sea level from Lima may cause altitude sickness for many people. To overcome this, drink more water and don’t exert too much upon reaching there. If you are having severe headache, take some Diamoxin tablets. Chewing coco leaves is a good local remedy. Read more about altitude sickness here.
Day 4 : Machu Picchu
No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. Isn’t that even the reason many of us go to Peru in the first place? Well, one thing I can say, it doesn’t come any cheap!
Ok, so the first question is, how will you get to Machu Picchu? Lots of people do the famous Inca trail trekking to get there and it takes 2/3 days depending upon the route you chose. But if you are short on time, then there is always the easy way, the trains. Take any luxurious train provided by Inca Rail or Peru Rail, from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, a small town beneath Machu Picchu. My advice is to take the slightly cheaper evening train that goes perfectly with your itinerary. The next day morning, you can reach the complex either by taking an overly priced shuttle bus from the town or by hiking 2 hours through the trail that cuts through the zigzagged road, for free.
Luggage restrictionsSince they do not allow big luggage in the train and as well on the complex, leave yours at the hotel in Cusco and carry only a small bag with you on your journey to Machu Picchu. Even if you check out, most of the hotels allow you to keep your luggage there.
Now the tickets. There are a few things you need to keep in mind before going there. This ancient Incan citadel is one of the most visited places on the earth; they even have a restriction on the number of people who can visit in a day. During the peak tourist season (May-August) tickets get sold out quickly, so it is essential to book them online well in advance. Travellers can also buy tickets from the tourist offices in Cusco and Lima as a last resort, but remember, you won’t get tickets at the entrance of Machu Picchu.
Do not restrict your trip to just the main complex, rather include a hike to any of the two peaks besides it, (Wayna Picchu/Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu peak) to get some incredible views. You need to purchase additional tickets to do so. All these tickets can be bought from their official website. Make sure you take the printout of the actual ticket (not receipt) before starting your journey from Cusco.
After the visit, come back to Aguas Calientes, spend some time there and take the evening train back to Cusco.
TimingIt is better to go there early in the morning to avoid the crowd. The first time slot to enter the citadel is at 6 in the morning and for both Wayana Picchu and Machu Picchu peak, you can enter between 7 and 8 am.
Day 5 : Humantay Lake Trekking
The astonishingly beautiful Humantay Lake is situated 4300 meters above sea level, beneath the majestic Andes mountains. You can easily book a day trip to Humantay Lake with the help of any tour agency, usually found near Plaza de Armas. The price is around 80 Peruvian sols including the food, entrance fees, pick up and drop to your hostel.
The last push towards the summit is a little hard, leaving many trekkers struggling for oxygen. But you can always hire a horse to carry you throughout the hike. They drop you back at your hotel around 5 in the evening. Reserve the evening for more city exploration.
Day 6 : Rainbow Mountain Trekking
Like Lake Humantay, the Rainbow Mountain trek is also a great one-day tour from Cusco; start early morning and return in the evening. As I had to spend an entire day for my return journey, I didn’t have enough time to do this. Besides I heard that the trek can be difficult during the rainy season (Dec- Feb) and not worth the effort since the gloomy weather kind of spoils the view those colourful mountains.
Sacred Valley Tour
This is an alternate option for the fainthearted. Machu Picchu isn’t the only Incan civilisational remains that can be viewed out here in this region; spread across, there are many, notably in Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Urubamba and in the village of Chinchero. Take a one-day tour to see the enormous hill fortresses that served agricultural and spiritual purposes during the Incan and pre-Incan times.
Day 7 : Bolivian visa, Sightseeing of Cusco & Night Bus to La Paz
Depending upon your nationality, you may need a visa to enter Bolivia. Good news: if it is required, you can get it (apart from a few nationalities) from the Bolivian consulate in Cusco, which is less busy than the one in Lima. Carry a filled up printout of the online application when you visit the consulate and they will process the visa within a few hours. Make sure you type your national ID number in the column ‘National ID#’, not your passport number. This is a silly mistake made by many, which ends up in a painful walk to the internet cafe for a new application.
After procuring the visa, it is time to enjoy Cusco. Those lucky folks who don’t require a visa, all the more time for you to do so! Head to Plaza de Armas to visit the two medieval churches Iglesia De La Compañía De Jesús and Cusco Cathedral. The plaza is surrounded by restaurants, offering a variety of cuisines, where you can enjoy the food with a grand view of this bustling city. After food, take a hike to Saqsaywaman to see the stone walls dating to Incan times.
There are several museums you will find on maps but don’t let the names fool you. Most of them are not actual museums but shops and restaurants that showcase the history of the items they specialise in, for example Museo Del Pisco.
In case you haven’t done it by now, be sure to visit the San Pedro market before it closes by night. Don’t forget to try any of their tasty fresh juices. You will find this in the food section at the tail-end.
It’s night and time to say goodbye to Peru, at least for a few days.
FoodChicha morada – the corn juice, Alpaca steak. roasted guinea pig and of course Pisco, their national beverage are some the Peruvian delicacies you need to try.
Day 8 & 9 : La Paz
On to the next country, Bolivia! La Paz, one of the two capitals of Bolivia, is quite close to the Peru – Bolivia border. The fastest way to reach there is by flight from Cusco and the cheapest option is to take the 17 hours long bus journey. Usually buses won’t stop anywhere other than at the borders of Copacabana or Desaguadero, depending upon the route, so I advise you to get some snacks and water before boarding the bus.
Although between Cusco and Puno you might miss out on a great amount of Andean scenarios during the night travel, there are still plenty of amazing landscapes you can enjoy during the rest of your journey.
Bus tickets to La PazThe bus ticket from Cusco to La Paz is usually around 170 Bolivianos. You can book the tickets using the website Tickets Bolivia.
On the day I arrived in La Paz, after checking in at the hotel I spend the evening strolling through the city, keeping a detailed visit for the next day.
La Paz is a unique place, a hugh metroploitan city located at around 4000 meters above sea level. Every single step I took there felt like a small hike! Take a walk through Calle Jaen, the colonial side of the city filled with cafes and museums. With one ticket you can visit four museums which are located in this alley. They are small, beautiful and interesting, though most information is written only in Spanish. Proceed from the museums to Plaza Murillo, the main square of La Paz.
TelefericoThe metro transport system of La Paz is something you probably seen nowhere else in the world, a giant cable car network. Take the yellow line to the top to see the bird’s-eye view of this giant city, then take a silver line through El Alto – the suburban city and finally come down towards the city center in the red line .
Take a mini van from Plaza San Francisco to go to Valle de la Luna to see the unique rock formation created by the erosion of the surrounding mountains. While coming back to the city get down at the Green cable car station and take the cable car instead of the boring bus journey.
Time to visit the markets now. The city center is filled with bustling markets of all kinds. Food, clothing, herbal viagras, there is a market for everything in this town! Mercado de las Brujas, Mercado Negor, Mercado Lanza: these are the name you need to remember and they are all within walkable distance from each other.
Where to stay in La Paz
Loki Hostel, where I stayed, is one of the best in town. Its proximity to the main bus station and cable car stations makes travel much easier. Plus, they have a travel desk that can help you with booking bus tickets or any package tours including Uyuni salt lake, Death road, Amazon jungle tour and many more.
Day 10 : Uyuni Salt Lake
Do not miss this folks, it is spectacular! The great Uyuni salt lake is one of the biggest of its kind. During the rainy season, the water leftover on the salty surface creates perfect reflections that make you feel you are in some fairyland. Most of the tourists opt for the three-day tour, which I also recommend; but taking this option means you are eventually cutting off other places from your bucket list if you are here for a brief trip. So for the less fortunate (like me), the best option is to take the one-day tour.
Take a night bus to Uyuni, do the one-day tour and return to La Paz by next day morning. The travel desk at my hostel helped me with all the bookings. The entire tour package cost 680 Bolivianos, including to and fro bus tickets, breakfast and lunch during the tour and transportation in a 4×4 vehicle. In a 3 day tour, apart from the salt lake, they take you further towards the side of Chile to see lagoons, hot spring, deserts, stuff like that.
English-speaking guideYou need to pay an extra 120 Bolivianos for an English speaking guide, but I didn’t bother opting for it. When I heard my guide explaining things to me in English, I thought they’d tried to oversell me earlier but it turned out I was just plain lucky. From what I heard from some other travellers, most of the drivers/guides don’t speak English. So if you are curious about the fascinating geographical stories about this place, better pay the extra amount for an English-speaking guide rather than taking chances.
Day 11 : Copacabana – Lake Titicaca
Copacabana is a beautiful little town on the banks of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, shared by both Bolivia and Peru. You must have seen the lake already while on your way to La Paz from Cusco; now it’s time to visit it. The bus journey from La Paz to Copacabana takes 4 hours and costs 50 Bolivianos. Tickets can be bought directly from the main bus station where it starts, or through the travel desk at your hostel if they have one. Chances are, you could be exhausted from yesterday’s trip to Uyuni, so take some rest in morning and head to Copacabana by noon.
As you reach the edge of Bolivia, the scenery become breathtaking. The view of snowcapped Andes mountains near the horizon with the alluring calm blue waters of Lake Titicaca in the foreground may make you a tinge sad, realizing that your trip is heading to its end in a few days.
Day 12 : Isla Del Sol
This small serene island on Lake Titicaca is what makes Copacabana more special. Known as the island of the sun, this quaintest isle is the cradle of Incan civilisation. There still are some archaeological sites on this island, mainly on the northern side. You can easily do a one-day trip to Isla Del Sol, by taking the (snail-paced) ferry in the morning. If you would like to stay on the island for the day, that too is possible, there are quite a few hotels.
North-south riftWhen I visited the island in early 2020, there was a rift going on between the people of the northern and southern side of the island which prevented tourists from going to the northern side. Later I came to know that the southerners run most of the boat services and it was their reluctance that prevented us from travelling to the north.
The boats to Isla Del Sol leave at 8.30 in the morning from the harbour. There are many restaurants available on the island, so you need not bring any food. Once you reach there, you can do many things: take a walk across the island, do a small hike to the top or just chill out looking at the beautiful view of Lake Titicaca sipping a beer in some restaurant. Whatever you do, make sure you get back to the harbour by 4.30 in the evening before the last boat leaves for Copacabana. If you miss it, you might have to spend the night over there. Once you land, take a bus to Puno. But if you’re finding it rather hectic, spend the night over there and leave for Puno early next day.
Day 13 : Puno – Floating Islands Tour
Hurray… back to Peru again. It is time to visit the floating islands of Uros now. Uros are indigenous tribes who started living on their artificial islands, made of the Totora plant’s reeds, on Lake Titicaca, to evade the Incas centuries ago. The town of Puno on the banks of this lake is the gateway to see these floating islands. Depending upon the time you arrive, you can opt for either a full day or a half-day tour. During the tour, the residents of these islands will describe their social life and how they construct the islands. I wouldn’t say I completely enjoyed the visit as I felt it more like visiting a human zoo and found it very touristy. Nevertheless, their stories are fascinating; also, the engineering required for the construction of the islands is something most of us have never seen anywhere else in the world.
And so we come to the end of our South American trip. It is time to go back. Although Puno is a big town, it doesn’t have an airport. That is at Juliaca, a nearby town, located 75 km away. In the evening, take the shared minivan to Juliaca and stay overnight before your fly back to Lima.
Day 14 : Fly back to Lima
Fly to Lima from Juliaca and then head home. If you’ve still got time before your flight out of the country, you can visit Miraflores again to do some last-minute souvenir shopping from their famous markets. Both the Indian market and traditional market are located opposite to each other.