Thinking about traveling to Peru and Bolivia but not sure where to start? That’s how I felt when I first started planning my 2 week trip to Peru and Bolivia. A lot of my friends told me that they wish they’d backpacked Peru & Bolivia together as the countries are right next to each other and the cultures are similar. I took their advice to plan a 2 week Peru and Bolivia tour and it was the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of both countries.
Peru & Bolivia Travel Overview
Peru and Bolivia are neighboring countries in South America and are usually the first ones people visit when they travel to South America. Since there are so many tourists, it’s very easy to travel in Peru and Bolivia whether you want a luxury trip or backpack tour of Peru and Bolivia.
I flew between cities in order to save time. If you are traveling on a tight budget, take the overnight bus between cities. Depending on your travel plan and budget, adjust the itinerary below to fit your own need. We did a lot in 2 weeks in Peru and Bolivia and some of the highlights included the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Rainbow Mountain, and Uyuni Salt Flat.
Know Before You Visit Peru and Bolivia
- Most of the places to see in Peru and Bolivia have very high altitude. Get altitude sickness pill before you go
- Pack warm: high altitude = warm & sunburn during the day under the sun and freezing at night. For packing tips, see this post
- Bring hiking gear, especially good hiking shoes. You will need them!
- Bolivia tourist visa may be necessary (if you are US citizen). Check visa requirement. You can also get the Bolivia visa on arrival at airports, but make sure to bring necessary documents and cash in USD
- Bring enough cash for tips, bathroom, snacks and emergency; there is no ATM once you are on the Inca Trail and the Uyuni Salt Flat tour
- You will need advanced booking for the Inca Trail (I recommend at least 6-7 months in advance) due to limited number of hiking permits available
- You need to tip you guides
- Knowing some Spanish can be helpful
Day 1 – Lima
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It’s located in the central coastal part of Peru. Like many other capital cities, Lima has a lot to offer its tourists in terms of historical buildings, museums, restaurants, bars, and entertainments. Some can argue that you can spend days in Lima and still not see everything, unfortunately for most travelers, 1-2 days is all the time you get in Lima.
Morning: Check out historic center of Lima and grab a bite at Mercado de Surquillo. Don’t forget to buy some exotic fruits to try at the market. While you are there, be sure to get ice cream at Gelateria Fiorentina. Walk back to Miraflores and explore the area and its beautiful cliffs.
Lunch: Grab lunch at La Mar if you like seafood and ceviche.
Afternoon: Explore the neighborhood Barranco and check out a museum there or chill in a cafe.
Dinner: Explore the food scene and have dinner at Centrale (No.5 in the world) or Astrid & Gaston (No. 33 in the world). Central is located in Miraflores and you can take a Uber to Astrid Y Gaston. Don’t forget to check out the bars in Barranco after dinner.
Where to stay: I highly recommend staying in Miraflores as it is safe, close to many good restaurants, and have a fantastic view.
Getting around Lima: It’s really easy to get around Lima with Uber. It’s super cheap and felt pretty safe. There are also public transportation in Lima, but since we were only there for 1 day, we didn’t take the public transits.
Day 2 – Cusco
Very different from Lima, Cusco is located in the Andes mountain at a high altitude of 3400m (11k feet). If you want to do visit Machu Picchu you have to go through Lima either via flying or overnight bus from Lima. Cusco is also the gateway of many historical Incan sites. If Lima was modern, then Cusco would be ancient but colorful. Many people I know have said that they liked Cusco much more than Lima because it’s easy to navigate, it’s tourist friendly, it’s pretty and historical, and it’s “different”.
Morning: Take a morning flight from Lima to Cusco to maximize your time to acclimate. The flight takes about an hour and you will fly over some nice looking mountain ranges. There are frequent flights from Lima to Cusco on many airlines. I personally flew LAN.
Get a cab from the Cusco airport to your hotel in the historical center of Cusco or have your hotel pick you up. The “official” Cusco cabs will try to rip you off by asking for 20-30 Sols. The price of “non-official” cabs at the Cusco airport should be 10-15 sols, so make sure you bargain. We took those “non-official” cabs and it was perfectly safe.
Lunch: Check out the restaurant called Morena Kitchen near Plaza de Armas.
Afternoon: Explore the historical center of Cusco and check out Plaza de Armas and 12 angled stone. If you have time, walk around the plaza to find a travel operator to book your day trips to Sacred Valley, Moray, and Rainbow Mountain. If you booked Inca Trail, check in with your travel operator. There are also women with cute alcapas and llamas for photo ops for a small payment.
Dinner: Chicha is a pretty upscale Peruvian restaurant in Cusco. But you can look for some others ones from trip adviser. If you are not too sick from the altitude, walk around at night is really nice because the old town area can be lively and it’s very safe to walk around at night.
Where to stay: Cusco has a lot of hotels, ranging from hostels to five star hotels with oxygen enriched rooms. We stayed in Hotel Garcilaso, which is actually 2 hotels on the same street by the same owner. We were greeted with Cocoa tea and really friendly staff. Each of the rooms come with heater, free wifi, and free breakfast. One of my friend stayed in the JW Marriott with oxygen enriched rooms. He said the hotel was absolutely amazing.
If you want to spend more time in Cusco, check out this awesome post on all the things you can do in and around Cusco.
Day 3 – Sacred Valley Day Trip From Cusco
Morning: Get picked up at 8:30am to go on the all day Sacred Valley Day Trip. We used SAS as our tour operator and visited several ancient and sacred Inca archaeological sites such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. We also stopped by the village of Chincheros on the way back to Cusco. To read more about the trip, check out this post.
If there is only one Cusco tour you can do, this should be the one. The Sacred Valley is the heard of Inca Empire. It’s a large area with fertile lands and Spanish colonial towns. It shows you a lot of history of the Inca people and the views are just impressive along the way. It’s also at a lower altitude so it definitely helps you to acclimate. Actually a lot of people come to the Sacred Valley (namely Ollantaytambo) directly after they land in Cusco to acclimate.
Day 4 – 7 Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
After getting acclimated for a couple of days, we were so excited (and nervous) to start our 4 day 3 night classic Inca Trail (Camino del Inca)! We started our Inca Trail bright and early at 3:30am on the 4th day of the trip. You will realize that this trip involves a lot of waking up at 3am type of days.
Your Inca trail hiking company will pick you up from your hotel and drive for 2 hours before stopping for breakfast and registration. Make sure you bring your passport with you or you will not be able to register or hike. The Inca trail tour company would have booked your Inca Trail permit and Machu Picchu tickets ahead of time. The offices just need to verify your passport information to match your Inca Trail permit. There are only a few hundreds of permits issued everyday, and most of the people holding the Inca Trail permit are actually porters and not tourists.
The 1st day of the Inca Trail was generally flat with some up and downs until the last 1.5 hours which was straight up.
The 2nd day of Inca Trail was the longest and the most difficult day hiking up Dead Woman’s Pass (peak at 4200m) followed by a 2 hour decent then another 1.5 hour steep ascend. Finally you finish the day after another 1.5 hour downhill. Each Inca Trail company will have different itineraries. Our company (Alpaca Expedition) has a really long Day 1 and Day 2 whereas other companies have a more chill schedule than us. But on Day 3 they will have to hike more to make up the difference.
The 3rd day was the prettiest and easiest day for us, with 1 hour uphill and 3 hour downhill. We finished the day at 1 pm and had free time to explore a cool ruin nearby. Most of the other hiking companies will finish the night at near by camp site as us, so if you took it easier the first 2 days, you will hike a lot on Day 3 and vice versa.
On the last day of Inca Trail we got up at 3am in order to be one of the first to get to Sun Gate to see sunrise over Machu Picchu. You then hike down 1 hour to Machu Picchu! After getting there, your tour guide will take a lot of photos for you, then you actually will leave Machu Picchu to have your entrance tickets validated. You will then re-enter Machu Picchu the same way regular Machu Picchu tourists (who take the train). The tour guide will give you a 2-3 hour tour of Machu Picchu to explain the history and different buildings, etc. If you booked Huayna Picchu hike, this is when you will leave for that hike.
If you are already considering doing this hike, you should definitely do it! It’s strenuous and it’s tiring and dirty, but you are rewarded with amazing landscapes and visits to archaeological sites that nobody else get. You are also pampered by your guides and the porters who carry your things for you and cook for you. At the end of the trail, Machu Picchu is really no longer the highlight of the trip because you’ve seen more amazing things on the trek. Read more here about my experience of the 4 day 3 night classic Inca Trail with Alpaca Expedition.
Day 8 – Moray & Salinas Day Trip + Cusco Chocolate Making Class
After the 4 day Inca Trail, you may want to take it easy and do a short day trip.
Morning: We were picked up at 8:30am to visit the famous Salinas de Maras salt mine as well as Moray. We got back to Cusco around 3pm.
Afternoon: If you are a chocolate lover, definitely check out the Chocolate Museum in Cusco. Not do they sell all sorts of chocolates, they also offer chocolate making classes for 35 USD. I LOVE chocolate and definitely enjoyed the class while we learned how to make coca tea, hot chocolate, and our own milk/dark chocolate to take home.
Dinner: If you are a fan of green/healthy food, check out this restaurant called Greens. Really liked their juices as well as wraps!
Day 9 – Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Aside from the Inca Trail, trekking Rainbow Mountain is probably the hardest day of our trip.
Morning: Pick up at 3:30am from our hotel by SAS. Drove 3-4 hours to Rainbow Mountain area for breakfast, followed by another hour drive to the trail head.
You can hike up or take a horse up Rainbow mMuntain, although you have to walk the last part to get to the summit at 5200m which was a killer. You finish the Hike at around 1pm and get back to Cusco around 5. The view along the hike is amazing and the experience is unique, read more about the entire hike here.
Dinner: We checked out this local sandwich shop called La Sangucheria 154 which was cheap and amazing! This will be your last night in Cusco so make sure to walk around and enjoy the night scene.
Day 10 – La Paz & Uyuni, Bolivia
Morning: Take the earliest flight from Cusco to La Paz so you have the whole day to tour La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia. The flight is about an hour and immigration in Bolivia takes another hour or so. Once you go through immigration (US citizens need a Bolivia tourist visa), talk to information desk on where you should go in La Paz.
Day: Take a taxi from La Paz airport to the cable car station (red line, 16 de Julio Station) for about 30 Bolivianos. Again the taxi drivers will ask for 45 or more but don’t budge! We were firm on paying no more than 30 and they finally agreed.
La Paz is an interesting city in a sense that the higher altitude you are (aka El Alto), the poorer the community is. So as you go lower and lower in altitude, the city gets nicer and more affluent. I would not recommend walking around El Alto. The Cable car is local’s way of getting from El Alto to many other parts of the city. The cable car costs 3 Bolivianos so take the red line to the end and you are close to the city center. Walk 15 minutes to the Witch Market and Plaza San Francisco.
Lunch: Try local food, such as lunch specials or Saltenas.
Afternoon: Explore downtown La Paz more or if you have time, had to Zona Sur, the nicest neighborhood in La Paz. Take a cab back to the airport to catch your flight.
Evening: We took Amaszonas airline to Uyuni because I heard they are very on time compare to other Bolivian airlines. Have your tour company pick you up from the airport. My tour company, Quechua Connection 4WD picked us up and took us to their office for payment and confirmed pick up time the next day for our 3 day Salt Flat tour.
Where to stay: There aren’t many nice hotels in Uyuni as it is a really small and remote town. We stayed at Hotel de Sal Casa Andina which was really nice with spacious rooms, 24 hour tea and coffee and free wifi and breakfast next day. There are hostels in Uyuni as well such as Hostal Castillo de Liliana.
Day 11-13 Uyuni Salt Flat 3 Day Tour
You will get picked up around 10am on Day 1 of your 3 day Uyuni Salt Flat tour. Each day’s itinerary is really different and you will see a lot of different landscape. The 3 day tour actually only spend 1 day on the Salt Flat and the rest of the time visiting lagoons, deserts, geyser, hot springs, etc. For more details on the 3 day tour, be sure to check out this extensive guide of the 3 day Uyuni Salt Flat Tour.
At the end of Day 3 you will be driven back to the town of Uyuni to take the last flight back to La Paz.
Where to Eat: The Salt Flat tour covers 3 meals a day so you don’t have to worry! After getting back to Uyuni and before your flight, you will have some time to eat in Uyuni. We ate at Restaurant Cactus and the food was really good (they offer Bolivia & Korean food) but it took a really really long time to get our food.
Where to Stay: If you plan to fly back to La Paz after your 3 day tour, you will have to take the last flight around 8:30pm. If you were like me and planning to fly back home the next day at 3:30am or 8am, then I would suggest that you either spend a few hours resting at the La Paz airport (the airport has an hourly hotel) or rest at a hostel near the hotel. It was a lot cheaper for us to go to a hostel called Hostal Internacional. The guy from our La Paz hostel picked us up from the airport for free and was really nice and helpful. Even though we only got 2 hours of sleep that night, it was still nice to be able to shower after 3 days of no showering on the Salt Flat.
Day 14 – Bogota, Colombia & Return Flight
Morning: Rise and shine! There is a 3:30am flight out of La Paz to Bogota, Colombia for many international connections. The bad thing is you will probably get at most 2 hours of sleep the night before. The good thing is you can nap on the flight and arrive bright and early in the beautiful city of Bogota, which is very different from the desert landscape of your previous 3 days.
One thing I did not expect was how green and lush Bogota was. We had an 10 hour layover in Bogota and we did not leave it to waste. For convenience reasons, many people book a private city tour of Bogota. The private tours takes you to a Bogota local market, the Monserrat, which is beautiful, the Gold Museum and other downtown attractions. It also allows you to try many exotic fruits, local street food as well as the world renowned Colombian coffee.
The private Bogota city tour will drop you back off in the airport in time for your international flight home.
A few things we didn’t get to do on this trip were Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and Huacachina. We simply didn’t have time and the logistics didn’t work out. However if you plan to take the bus from Cusco to La Paz, you can pass Lake Titicaca on your way to Bolivia. Regardless of what you do, Peru and Bolivia are such fun places to visit and you simply cannot find those landscape anywhere else in the world.
For additional readings, check out these blogs below on Peru & Bolivia:
Visiting Peru Guide: https://www.easttowestrms.com/southamerica/peru/