Obviously, the answer to this question depends on where in Peru you want to go and what you want to see. But it’s helpful to know the country is quite large and it’s not always easy to get from one place to another.
To start, you’ll probably have to budget for international travel time to Lima, followed by your flight to Cusco. Flights to Cusco are daytime only, ending in mid-afternoon, so depending on when you land in the capital, you may have to stay until the following morning at the very least.
Staying in Cusco requires acclimating to the altitude—for most, this takes two to three days. It’s a good idea not to schedule anything the first day, or reserve the afternoon for light activity, just in case it hits you hard. If you plan on trekking, at least three days’ acclimating is best before departure.
While in the Cusco area, you may want to schedule a tour of the sites around the city…typically a half-day and a tour of the sites in the Sacred Valley…a full-day tour. If you follow this itinerary, you have now completed day four of your vacation.
You can go up to Machu Picchu and back in one day by train. However, it’s best to go the day before and stay the night in Aguas Calientes. This allows you to get up to the citadel first thing in the morning when it opens and avoid the crowds. You may want to spend another night in Aguas Calientes so that you can take a shower and relax before jumping on the train back to Cusco.
As you can see from the above, a minimum of a week is a good idea just for enjoying Cusco and Machu Picchu to the fullest. After that, if you have more time, you can add on according to your interests and your time. Bear in mind that almost every traveler to Cusco wishes they had allowed more time to simply soak up the atmosphere of the city.
Going to Lake Titicaca and back to Cusco is best done with four days to spare as it will take you a day to get there and back and you’ll want two days to spend on the lake. Or, you can shorten the travel time by taking a bus there and flying back.
If it’s the jungle that you really have a hankering to visit, you will want a minimum of three days. However, it must be said that the more time you can go for, the deeper in you can get and the more you can see. On a three day tour, half of the first and last days will be spent in traveling.
Basically, just touring around Southern Peru and seeing the major sites, you can easily spend three weeks. It pays to consider carefully how much time you have available and what your priorities are before trying to schedule your trip.
It’s also worth padding your time a bit to include some leeway in case of inclement weather or the occasional strike which often occurs between Cusco and Puno in particular. If you want a couple of days in Lima, consider adding them on to the end of your trip just in case something goes awry so you don’t miss your flight home.
Originally from the US, Maureen Santucci now calls the ancient Peruvian capital of Cusco home, where she has lived for almost 5 years, working as a travel consultant as well as writing for Fodors Travel Guide. She wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, leaders in tours to Peru and throughout South America. Photos courtesy of the author.