Like any other country, Peru demands travelers spend a lot of time exploring its wonders. But when your holiday time is limited, as it is for most of us, 2 weeks in Peru is enough to sample the highlights of this South American country. You can travel from the sophistication of Lima back in time to ancient Incan ruins high in the Andes Mountains. One thing to remember as you visit this fascinating country: As you travel inland, pace yourself as you adapt to the higher altitudes.
Lima (2 nights)
As the capital of Peru, Lima is the perfect place to start your Peru itinerary. Lima is more fashionable today than it was a few decades ago, with emphasis on arts and cuisine. Lima has several great beaches, with plenty of seafood restaurants. The shrimp dish cerviche is a must-eat. Burn off the calories by strolling or jogging at El Malecon, a promenade in Miraflores, a seaside district with beautiful parks. The Museo Larco should be one of your first stops as it traces the country’s history back 10,000 years. Wander through the old town, said to be one of the most beautiful in South America. A must-see here is the Cathedral of Lima.
Paracas (1 night)
When it’s time to trade people-watching in Lima for a little bird watching, you can’t beat Paracas, a nature reserve south of the capital. A blend of the desert and seashore, Paracas is home to millions of birds all year long as well as thousands of migratory birds that stop here en route to other destinations. Paracas is a good introduction to pre-Inca culture, with its ancient peoples admired for their weaving skills. Besides the beautiful flamingoes, don’t forget to visit the necropolis and other ruins that make up the burial grounds for this indigenous people. Another must-see is the Candelabra geoglyph that is carved into the sand.
Huacachina (2 nights)
Huacachina looks as though it might have been transplanted from the deserts of Africa. It is an astonishing oasis in the middle of the Peruvian sand dunes that are considered one of the driest climates in the world. This resort community of less than 100 residents is centered around a palm tree-lined lagoon that, at one time, was believed to have healing powers. Located in southwestern Peru, Huacachina is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who to like to go sandboarding or riding dune buggies in the desert.
Nazca makes an excellent stopover en route from Huacachina to Arequipa. Like the Paracas before them, the Nazca people also were famous for their textiles. More importantly, they were famous for creating geoglyphs or geometric shapes, massive drawings and lines stretching for miles across the desert. The Nazca Lines are named after the people who created them 2,000 years ago. Despite extensive study, researchers can come to no conclusion as to why this ancient people constructed the lines today, but their theories include they may have been used for astrological or ceremonial purposes. The best way to see the lines is by taking a short flight tour. There is also an observation tower however along the Pan-American Highway with a view of three of the figures.
Arequipa (3 nights)
Though substantially smaller than Lima, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city. Surrounded by three volcanoes, this earthquake prone city is, however, just as famous when it comes to cuisine. You’ll definitely want to try a spicy stuffed red pepper dish called rocoto relleno. The area has been inhabited for close to 10,000 years, but the town itself wasn’t founded until 1540 by Spanish conquerors. It’s filled with temples and colonial buildings, usually made from white volcanic ash, giving it the nickname of the “White City.” The historic center is a blend of native culture and European influences. A must-visit is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena, one of the most religious colonial buildings in Peru.