Are you planning a trip to Peru and want ideas on how to best spend your time? While travel guides are useful at advising us which hostel is the cleanest and friendliest or where the closest ATM is, they often don’t cut it for assisting us plan out the ideal route to explore a country.

Having just spent five weeks researching and blogging as a volunteer with Karikuy in Peru, I had the opportunity to spread my wings far and wide, using Lima as a base for my adventures. I met several locals and like-minded travellers who shared their experiences with me, allowing me to gather ideas, filter and hand-pick destinations that appealed to me most.

While five weeks is an ideal amount of time to spend travelling the Land of the Incas, my retrospective review of my travels tells me I didn’t use my time as efficiently as I could have. So, I thought I’d spare you from the same mistakes and share my ideal itinerary: how I’d do it next time in 30 days (and there definitely will be a next time! – this country is amazing).

  • Day 1-3. Start your adventure in the north. If you’re lucky you will have travelled down the coast from Ecuador. Hit the north shores of Peru for some surf, sand and fun in Mancora. This is one place I missed but is now firmly on my ‘to-do list’ for next time!
  • Day 4-7. Head south to Huaraz. This is another place I missed but vowed to get a guernsey next time. The photos speak for themselves and I could punch myself knowing that I didn’t explore the mountains and lakes in this city. If time permits you may also want to travel via Trujillo.
  • Day 8-9. Continue south to Lima. Depending on your attraction towards big cities, I’d say you only need a couple of days here. Check out the Miraflores district, go hand-gliding over the beach, ogle at the beautiful architecture and don’t miss the Monestary of San Francisco.
  • Day 10-12. Take the bus to Ica. But not any old bus – make sure it’s the Cruz Del Sur. This bus is an experience in itself: catered meals, reclining chairs, wi-fi access and a waiter to serve you drinks.From the bus station, take a taxi immediately to Huacachina, the magnificent backpacker’s oasis. Book yourself onto a dune-buggy adventure and glide at high speed over the sand dunes, breaking occasionally to drop down a mammoth dune on a sandboard. Fun fun fun! If you have time I’d also suggest a stop over at Islas Ballestas (the poor man’s Galapogas) for a dose of wildlife if that’s what tickles your fancy.
  • Day 13-15. Travel east to Cuzco. Prepare for altitude sickness: drink coca tea and dose up on any drugs you can get your hands on – there’s no need to be a hero, especially if you’re about to embark on a trek across the Andes. Depending on how your body copes, you may need a couple of days to acclimatise – so make sure you allow yourself time.
  • Day 16-20. Take the plunge and sign up for the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. This trek is hardcore – believe me! It was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life but it was well-worth it when you find yourself in the clouds at Machu Picchu. Don’t take the easy way! You will see the most spectacular scenery in Peru while experiencing what it was really like for the Incas to travel and carry supplies between cities.
  • Day 21-22. Upon arrival back in Cuzco, take a couple of days out to chillax: fill up on the yummy multi-cultural cuisine at your fingertips and give your body the well-earned break it deserves. Explore other Inca ruins on the Sacred Valley Tour. There’s also plenty of wonderful streets, cathedrals and other gems to explore in this cobble-stoned city.
  • Day 23-25. Fly to Puerto Maldonado and book yourself the Corto Maltes Amazonia package. Take a boat down the grand Madre de Dios river and get up close to monkeys, caiman, an array of tropical birds and tarantulas (you’ll need to leave your arachnophobia in Cuzco).
  • Day 26-28. Travel to Arequipa for some more high altitude, quaint city plodding and trekking through the the Colca Canyon. Another place I never got to see but apparently its trek is just as hardcore as Salkantay. Make sure you’re up for the challenge!
  • Day 29-30. Finally, head to Puno – the launching place to explore Lake Titicaca and the floating totora reed islands. This is the perfect place to cross over to Bolivia and continue your adventure through this marvellous continent.

Eleanor was a volunteer with Karikuy in 2010. To learn more about how you can participate visit www.karikuy.org/volunteer.

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