1. The Southern Circuit
Best for wildlife, archaeology, colonial history & traditional culture
Duration: 15 days (plus six days if you visit Cusco)
Route: Lima • Paracas • Nazca • Arequipa • Lake Titicaca • Juliaca or Cusco
Why go? See the mysteries of the Nazca Lines, Andean condors in flight and sample island life on Lake Titicaca.
When to go? All year. The coast is cool and cloudy from May to December, and warm the rest of the time. Arequipa is sunny most days, but Colca is rainy from January to April and dry and cool the rest of the year.
Lake Titicaca is usually hot and sunny in the day, with occasional rain (November to April), but nights are cold – and bitterly so between June and August.
South of Lima, Paracas is a good base for visiting the seabirds and mammals of the Islas Ballestas, pisco distilleries, the coastal desert around Ica and the oasis resort of Huacachina.
Next stop south is Nazca, whose famous Lines (huge geoglyphs) are one of the great travel mysteries. For the best view, take a flightseeing trip from Nazca, Ica or Pisco.
Further south is Arequipa, the White City of volcanic stone. Of its religious monuments, Santa Catalina convent is almost a colonial town within the middle of the city, with the house of Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and museums filled with mummified Inca remains.
Excursions include volcano climbing, rafting on the Apurímac and visits to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world (Cotahuasi, also in this region, is even deeper).
Villages sit amid extensive agricultural terracing, hot springs and good trails, but the real draw is the Cruz del Cóndor at Colca, a viewpoint for watching Andean condors up close (best May to December).
Take a bus or luxury train to Puno on Lake Titicaca. Boats sail to the Islas Uros (floating islands of reeds built by the Uros people) and on to Taquile and Amantaní, islands of Quechua weavers where you can stay with families.
Puno’s busiest months are February (La Candelaria festival) and November, which marks the Founding Incas' emergence from the lake.
On the return journey, either take a bus from Puno to Juliaca and fly back to Lima, or take a bus or luxury train to Cusco. Also from Juliaca, the recently completed Interoceanic Highway connects with Puerto Maldonado for the reserve Tambopata.
2. Cusco and the sacred valley
Best for archaeology, culture, festivals, markets, adventure & nature
Duration: Eight to 15 days (plus four to six days with a jungle extension)
Route: Cusco • Sacred Valley • Machu Picchu • Manu NP or Tambopata NR (extension)
Why go? It’s Peru’s iconic Inca destination, with one of the most complete historical records in South America, plus plenty of highland festivals, markets and local customs, and the option of jungle extensions.
When to go? All year. The wettest months are November to April, when it can be very hot in the jungle; dry season is May to September (very cold at night in the highlands).
High season is June to September – but year-round in Cusco. The Inca Trail is closed in February.
Tourism here caters to every expectation, and while online booking or multi-site tickets are required for many attractions, it’s easy to find centuries-old pathways and isolated views of snow-capped Andean peaks.
In Cusco itself, the Inca stonework is millimetre-accurate – the Stone of 12 Angles on Hatun Rumiyoc street – or simply bafflingly huge, such as at the Sacsayhuaman ceremonial centre. Modern museums here contain many treasures, and the city is bursting at the seams with galleries and hotels where the contemporary blends with the colonial, as well as restaurants fusing traditional ingredients with international flair.
The Sacred Valley follows the Urubamba river to Machu Picchu, the goal of all Inca Trail trekkers and luxury train travellers here.
It’s a great sight in whatever light you see it. Along the valley itself, you’ll encounter plenty of towns and archaeological sites, such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo (one of the last strongholds of the Inca before the empire fell).
Other unmissables include market towns like Chinchero, the supposed Inca crop laboratory at Moray and the Lares Valley, which is popular for its well-organised treks and biking. Finish by combining with a side trip into the jungles of the south-east.
Best for culture, gastronomy & shopping
Duration: Two to seven days
Why go? In the colonial city centre and surrounding modern suburbs are scattered Pre-Inca monuments, the country’s most extensive museums and its best cooking.
When to go? All year. It’s typically misty and cool from May to November, and sunny and hot the rest of the time.