Peru is a fantastic country to visit for everyone, but especially for people who are just getting started with their travel adventures! It has a lot to offer everyone – nature, historical landmarks, bustling city centers, and you can choose to stay in one place or move around to see the diversity that it offers, even as a smaller country.
Note: If you are planning on arriving and staying in one city for most of your time for something like volunteering, Cusco is typically preferable over Lima. While Lima has more of the everyday, developing side of Peru, Cusco is much closer to your typical tourist sites (Machu Picchu) and is most tourist-friendly as a result.
[Recommended Read: Nine Things to Know Before Getting to Peru]
Most backpackers take one of two routes through Peru: north to south or south to north. Those who are only staying Peru (and not traveling to other countries) can go in a more direct circular route. However, it’s not difficult to tack on another or multiple other countries before and/or after your trip. I have been to Bolivia and Chile, Peru’s two neighbors to its east and south. They are also excellent travel choices and both are directly accessible to and from each other and Peru.
It’s certainly possible to change up this itinerary and add or skip smaller cities. While I took the North to South route into Bolivia, I skipped the rainforest due to poor planning (it was my first solo backpacking trip)! I definitely will go back to see the rainforest.
North to South (good for flying into Lima or coming from Ecuador)
Northern Peru Rainforest-Lima-Ica/Huacachina-Nazca-Cusco-Machu Picchu- Cusco -Arequipa-Puno
South to North (good for coming from Chile, Bolivia, Argentina)
Puno-Arequipa-Cusco-Machu Picchu-Cusco-Nazca-Ica/Huacachina-Lima- Northern Peru Rainforest
Circular (good for starting and leaving from Peru)
Northern Peru Rainforest-Lima-Ica/Huacachina-Nazca-Arequipa-Puno-Cusco-Machu Picchu- Cusco
[Recommended Read: Everything You Need to Know About Peru]
Approximate Distances between Cities by Bus
These times (in hours) are taken from personal experience and/or average bus times from Rome2Rio.
Note that some routes do not have direct bus routes (such as Arequipa-Lima or Lima-Nazca). Instead, they have stops through other cities. In addition, South America does not have budget airlines the way Europe or Asia does, so to fly between cities like Lima or Cusco will cost you no less than $300. You can keep checking airplane ticket prices if you feel the need to save this travel time.
If you are short on time, you can also decide to skip smaller cities. See my post How Much Time Should I Spend in Each City in Peru? for my recommendations on that!
[Recommended Read: Eight Things to Know About Money While Traveling Peru]
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Did this help you? What was your route through Peru?