You have one month in South America. Peru and Bolivia are on the menu. To see as much as possible, you will need to be a fast traveller. Think of yourself as a rabbit rather than a tortoise when planning your itinerary!
This itinerary is designed to allow you make the most of your month in Peru and Bolivia. Bolivia, in particular, can be a challenge. Remember that strikes and blockades can and do happen there, so this will need to be factored into your travel plans. However, as a backpacker favourite in South America, it deserves a visit. Peru has some big ticket sights such as Machu Picchu. With careful planning, you can see these and get some great experiences ‘off the beaten track’. Happy travels!
The Itinerary Starts Here
Lima: 2 days
It’s not the most glamorous capital in South America. However, it’s a great place to get flights. Consequently, your itinerary will most likely start here. Also, once you scratch the surface, you will find that it has its charms. Budget a day to recuperate from your flights and a day to get to know the city. Stay in Miraflores where you can visit Parque Kennedy, a place to hang out with the locals and hundreds of cats! Caficulto, behind the KFC in central Miraflores, is a left of centre place with great coffee. Go for a walk along the ocean front and check out some of the restaurants in the shopping centre that they have built into the cliff face. There you can start to get to know the city’s fabulous food scene.
Cusco- 3 days
A night bus or a flight away from Lima, you find yourself in the ancient capital of the Incas. Make sure to check out San Blas. Its cobblestone alleys are full of eclectic cafés, shops, and vegan restaurants. The main plaza is the centre of the action. On the street above, you should definitely check out Café Loco and Café Laggart. They are quite different, but each is cool in its own way. Find out why for yourself!
Back down in the main town, hang out with the locals in San Pedro market. The nightly shows at the Cultural Centre attract locals as well as tourists. On the street opposite, you will find the Koricancha ruins that are also well worth a visit. The streets are full of shops retailing countless amounts of baby alpaca clothing, so there is plenty to see and do.
Coffee lovers- you have to try the coffee at D’Wasi. It sells fabulous coffee and its owners are passionate about their product. If you are lucky, you might even be there for the coffee roasting.
How many more reasons do you need to include Cusco on your travel itinerary?
Machu Picchu- 2 days
All roads lead to Machu Picchu- a compulsory stop on your itinerary. After all, it’s almost the symbol of South American travel. There are many agencies in Cusco that will sell you tickets including bus transport to Hidroelectrica, accommodation in Aguas Calientes and entrance to the site. In the morning you need to be up as early as 3:30 in order to catch the buses that start to leave after 5 am. Most likely you will have a guided tour to start the day and then you are free to explore. It’s a place that truly lives up to the hype. Go up to the Sun Gate to get truly great views.
Be Warned: If you take the bus tours from Cusco, the walk from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes takes a few hours. Pack light!
Yellow River- 2 days
Leaving Aguas Calientes you can either hike back or take the train to Hidroelectrica ($29 in 2016). From there you can take a taxi or maybe one of the Cusco bound buses can take you to Quello Mayo. The family homestay on the coffee farm here may turn out to be one of the highlights of your time in Peru. If Machu Picchu was about walking, then Yellow River is about relaxing.
In addition to drinking coffee and reading a book, you can also do a farm tour and learn how they grow their organic coffee. Go the whole hog by doing their coffee workshop. You will dehusk, roast, grind and prepare your own coffee. Not a coffee fan, then try the chocolate workshop instead.
This is where your itinerary gets complex- you may not want to leave!
A colectivo from nearby Santa Maria will take you to your next destination…
Ollantaytambo- 3 days
Ollantaytambo has to be the hidden highlight of The Sacred Valley of the Incas. The site of the biggest Spanish defeat, the fort is a fascinating place to explore. You can also buy the Tourist Card (boleto turistico) here if you did not have time to get it in Cusco. The tour buses leave in the late afternoon and you can explore the town, its alleys and quiet corners in peace.
Pisac, with its market and spectacular ruins, is accessible by colectivo via Urubamba. Expect to pay only a few dollars for the transport.
Moray, Maras, and Chinchero are also worth a visit. Get together with some other travellers and take a taxi tour.
Cusco – Lake Titicaca-La Paz-Uyuni 3 days
After packing in as much as you can in the Sacred Valley, it’s time to get moving again. Bolivia calls! Peru Hop offers departures from Cusco to La Paz at 22:00 every day except Saturday. There are stops in Puno (Peru) to visit the floating islands and in the hippie village of Copacabana (Bolivia) to experience Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. You arrive in La Paz the following evening at 22:30. The city is the highest capital in the world. Therefore, you should probably take it easy over the next two days.
Be warned that there is plenty to see and do in La Paz. Make sure to check out Calle Jaen with its five museums. Maybe you might also take the cable car to El Alto to get the best views of the city. The area around Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares is great for shopping. Coffee drinkers should check out the Scandinavian cool of Café del Mundo. Also, The Writers’ Café gets rave reviews from travellers. Attention all foodies- Gustu is THE place for you!
Uyuni- 1 free day and 3 day tour
This busy itinerary doesn’t allow you much time to stop. Book your tickets to Uyuni at the main city bus station. Alternatively, agencies around town should be able to arrange the tickets for you. Expect the trip to Uyuni to be uncomfortable at best. You will probably need a day in day in Uyuni to recover. People tend to agree that the town is unspectacular. On the other hand, travellers will tell you that the Uyuni tour was the highlight of their trip to South America. They will also say that they were freezing cold, got stranded in the middle of nowhere etc. In short, pack warm clothes and expect the unexpected!
The landscape here is unique. Google images of the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) and you will quickly understand why people choose to accept a certain amount of hardship to see them once in their lives. There are many horror stories about the tours, but Cordillera tends to have better reviews than others. A three day tour costs $185 with them. Getting back at 15:00, you can choose to spend another night in Uyuni or try to continue your itinerary to Sucre. Alternatively, leaving Uyuni early the next morning, you should head to Potosi and then take a shared taxi onto Sucre.
Uyuni to Sucre- 3 days
Sucre is the Hotel California of travel in Bolivia. Like Yellow River in Peru, you may not want to leave. It’s such an easy place to relax and get comfortable. Recoleta offers great views of the city and has an informative ethnic textiles museum. However, Convento de San Felipe Neri is the place to go to take your photos. Otherwise, relax around the main square or grab a coffee at Bibliocafé Classic. The negative reviews online are actually about its sister restaurant, Bibliocafé de Conciertos. Visit La Casa de la Libertad where the country got its independence. Then, go to see the dinosaur footprints outside of town.
Sucre-La Paz- overnight and two days
Agencies in Sucre will promise you a luxury overnight bus ride back to La Paz. Expect to freeze in the dark, so wear warm clothes. Back in La Paz, it’s time to check out the places you didn’t make on your first visit and to revisit old favourites. Do the Death Road bike ride and tick another item off your South American bucket list. Budget on two days to do all this and then hop back to Peru on Bolivia Hop.
Cusco-Lima- 2/3 days
Hightail it back to Lima. It’s easy to overlook it, but the city deserves more time. LCPeru offers relatively cheap one-way flights. Use the last few days of your trip to relax. Lima has a great coffee scene. Puku Puku Café is one of the many great coffee houses in town- click here to discover the coffee scene in the city. Also, Museo Larco is well worth a visit and that should occupy another afternoon. Othewise, chill and reflect on an amazing trip in South America.
This itinerary comes in at about 28 days. However, you should budget about another 2-3 days to allow for delays or just having an extra day in a place that you really love. It’s busy, but it showcases the best of both countries with a few ‘off the beaten track stops’ built in.