Planning your travels to Peru and Bolivia but just don’t know where to go or how to start planning your itinerary? I got you covered! Here is the ultimate Peru and Bolivia itinerary with all the important information you need to know!
Our Peru and Bolivia itinerary was for 3 weeks, however if you don’t have that much time you can do it in 2 weeks if you cut out a couple of the lesser-known places and just visit the most well-known or ‘bucket list’ places. I found 3 weeks was perfect though as you got a real balance between cities and nature, touristy places and quieter places, and got to really get an insight into the culture without feeling rushed.
In our itinerary we entered Bolivia first and then Peru. Prior to being in Bolivia we were in Chile so our itinerary below starts on the Bolivian border with Chile and ends in Cusco (Machu Picchu more specifically!) in Peru. You can however do this itinerary from back to front and go from Peru to Bolivia. As there is a lot to cover in this Peru – Bolivia itinerary I put things into bullet points so it is easier for you to follow. Click on the links embedded in the text for more in-depth information on each subject.
Challenges of this Peru Bolivia Travel Itinerary:
- LANGUAGE: Please bear in mind travel in Latin America can sometimes be challenging if you don’t speak Spanish. Download Google translate if you need.
- ALTITUDE: For a lot of this itinerary you are at least 3,000 metres above sea level. This can be hard on your body physically (for example getting out of breath, headaches, dizziness). It is very important to acclimatise yourself slowly (increase the altitude slowly) over a few days, otherwise you could get very ill if you ascend too quickly. Be prepared and bring altitude sickness tablets. For the altitude tablets to be effective you need to take them before you start to feel ill.
- LONG DISTANCES: There is a lot of ground to cover on this itinerary. Sometimes you may be taking overnight sleeper buses to get from one destination to another. They are very comfortable though, with food and blankets onboard, and the chairs turn into beds in the VIP section so you can get a good sleep. This is great as it saves a night’s accomodation and saves you wasting a day travelling.
- SICKNESS: If altitude sickness wasn’t enough, some travellers may catch travellers diarrhoea aswell. Travellers diahorrea is most unpleasant, unlike any other illness I have experienced before, and I will never forget it. It sounds grim, but I need to tell you how it starts as it doesn’t start with diarrhoea as you might think. It starts with you burping. You just keep burping. And not normal burps. They are burps that leave a horrible eggy taste in your mouth. This carries on for a couple of days and then it goes on to vomiting, diarrhoea and weakness. Get some antibiotics straight away as soon as you start burping, otherwise it will last for weeks.
- SAFETY: Exercise common sense. Petty crime such as stealing is common here.
1. Salt Flat Tour
Altitude: varies from 3,500 to 5,000 metres above sea level
Visiting the salt flats in south west Bolivia is an absolute must on your Peru Bolivia itinerary. It’s one of the most incredible and surreal landscapes you will ever see! The area is very large and there are also some stunning landscapes nearby in the surrounding area so most people do a 3 day jeep trip to experience it all. There is a lot of variety to the landscape (salt flats, geysers, hot pools, desert formations etc) and so much natural beauty to see here.
Our 3 day tour started in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of Chile. We crossed over to Bolivia, visiting the Reserva Natural de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (lagoons, desert, volcanoes, Andes mountains, flamingoes, llamas, giant cacti), the salt flats and ending in Uyuni town. If you won’t be visiting Chile, you can do a 1 or 2 day trip that starts and ends in Uyuni town, but it will miss out some of the areas we visited.
Here are some tips and things to bear in mind before you book your trip:
- There are lots of companies that do tours of the salt flats so shop around and check the itinerary, price and what’s included before you pick a tour! Do you want to start and finish in the same place (town of Uyuni in Bolivia), or do a 1 way trip from Uyuni and ending in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile or vice versa from Chile to Bolivia like we did. Personally we felt this made more sense to do a 1 way trip instead of going back on ourselves, but it totally depends on what the rest of your trip itinerary is and where you will go before and afterwards.
- The area is very remote and so the accommodation is very basic. Shared rooms, no showers, often no electricity and no heating.
- The transport for the trip will be in 4WD jeeps, usually with 6 passengers so you might have other tourists in the jeep with you too. Also the ride can get a bit bumpy so be prepared!
- Get a tour where your meals and sleeping bags are included. Otherwise you’ll have to bring a sleeping around for the whole trip. You definitely need a sleeping bag as it gets VERY cold here at night!
- You’ll need to pay for the National Reserve fees – around 250 bolivianos ($36 roughly).
Below was the itinerary we took on our tour. Most of the 3 day trip tours do a similar itinerary. As I mentioned earlier, our tour started in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and took us across the border into Bolivia. If you are planning to visit Chile too, I would highly recommend you to do the same route as this is one of few Chile Bolivia border crossings. To read more in-depth about our Solar de Uyuni trip click here.
Crossed from Chile to Bolivia.
Laguna verde – green lake.
Salvador Dali desert – surrealist landscapes that resemble the work of painter Salvador Dali.
Termas de Polques – natural hot springs you can have a dip in.
Géiseres sol de la mañana – volcanic activity and boiling mud lakes.
Several lagoons, including Laguna Colorada – beautiful lake with hundreds of flamingoes in.
Arbol de Piedra – big rock formation in the shape of a tree formed by the wind and sand.
Isla Incahuasi – island in the middle of the salt desert full of giant cactus.
Salar de Uyuni – largest salt flat in the world.
Train Graveyard – abandoned locomotives dating from the early 20th Century.
The salt flat tours end in the town of Uyuni. This town is primarily used as a starting/end point to salt flat tours so you’ll find lots of accommodation options, restaurants and souvenir shops here.
BUS FROM UYUNI TO POTOSI: 4 HOURS
Don’t stay overnight in Uyuni as there is not much to do here. Instead take a bus from Uyuni to Potosi after your salt flat tour has finished. We used the bus company Expreso 11 de Julio and the bus from Uyuni to Potosi took 4 hours.
From Uyuni you can also take the bus straight to La Paz or Sucre if you want to skip Potosi.
Altitude: 4,067 metres above sea level
Potosi is a beautiful Colonial town that became famous because of it’s mining. Since 1545 the Spaniards (who had recently colonised Bolivia) began extracting silver from the Cerro Rico (‘rich hill’) Mountain. Shortly after this Potosi became one of the wealthiest and largest cities in the world. But by the time Bolivia achieved it’s independence over the Spanish in 1825 almost all the silver mines had been exhausted. The price of silver then fell, Potosi’s population decreased rapidly, and the city never recovered.
Nowadays most people here work in agriculture, with alpacas or llamas. Some still work in the mines however, extracting ores from the Cerro Rico. They don’t get paid well – most of them still live in poverty, and they work in very tough and life-threatening conditions. Sometimes they even work for 2 or 3 days non stop. They also suffer from health conditions and most of them don’t make it to over 40 years old.
Tourist attractions in Potosi:
- Plaza 10 de Noviembre – beautiful colonial square and Cathedral. You’ll see lots of locals here.
- Iglesia de San Lorenzo
- You can tour the mine shafts and meet the workers. Tourists are really appreciated at the mines. You can buy present for the miners at the Miner’s Market before you go down the mine. Items such as dynamite to blow out the rock and coca leaves to help fight hunger are greatly received by the miners.
BUS FROM POTOSI TO SUCRE: 4 HOURS
From Potosi you can take a 4 hour bus ride to Sucre.
Altitude: 2,800 metres above sea level
Sucre is actually the official capital of Bolivia, not La Paz. That being said, it has a lovely relaxed charming atmosphere, in complete contrast to chaotic La Paz. It has a much lower altitude than neighbouring Potosi and La Paz, so if you’ve been suffering with altitude sickness (or the cool temperatures!) you’ll feel a lot better and warmer here in Sucre!
Sucre is a beautiful city and is definitely worth a stop on your Peru Bolivia itinerary. Sucre was infact declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Due to it’s Colonial past there are lots of elegant Colonial buildings and architecture here, many of them whitewashed, leading to Sucre being known as Bolivia’s white-washed city. And like Potosi, you’ll see lots of indigenous locals here.
What to do in Sucre:
- Plaza 25 de Mayo – Sucre’s main square and Bolivia’s most beautiful square. The square is sprinkled with monuments, fountains and stunning Colonial buildings. There are lots of nice restaurants surrounding the square too. Head into Casa de la Libertad to learn about Bolivia’s fight for independence, and see the spot where Bolivia declared it’s independence in 1825.
- La Recoleta: For incredible views over the city and surrounding mountains take the easy walk up to La Recoleta. There is a cafe here (Mirador Cafe) to enjoy a drink with the view if you are here around sunset.
- Mingle with the locals at mercado Central
- Cal Orck’o/ Parque Cretácico Dinosaur Park. Here is the world’s largest site of dinosaur tracks. You’ll see giant dinosaur skeletons as well as a 150 metre high and 500 metre long wall with lots of well-preserved prehistoric dinosaur footprints running along it from different types of dinosaurs. It’s pretty amazing to see, even if you’re not a massive dinosaur fan! The dinosaur park is a 25 minute drive from Sucre and you can get the ‘Dino Bus’ to take you here from Plaza 25 de Mayo at midday and 1pm.
- visit Convento de San Felipe Nari – the most beautiful Colonial building in Sucre. Wander around the courtyard then head up to the rooftop terrace to get a stunning view of Bolivia’s White City. Here you can also see the textiles being made. They are expensive but they are all woven by hand and take several months to make!
OVERNIGHT BUS FROM SUCRE TO LA PAZ: 12 HOURS
Take an overnight bus from Sucre to La Paz. The bus takes 12 hours, leaving at 8pm and arriving at 8am.
4. La Paz
Altitude: 3,800 metres above sea level
La Paz (meaning ‘peace’ in English) is the highest capital city (de facto) in the world. It is an incredible city full of life and you’re bound to be fascinated here. Wander the steep and narrow streets, just take it easy as you’ll get out of breath quickly in this altitude!
Things to do in La Paz:
- Visit Mercado Lanza or mercado 16 de Julio. There are market stalls everywhere in La Paz and you can buy literally anything and everything at the market stalls as supermarkets are almost non-existent here! The streets are full of the local women selling products and it is so interesting to see!
- Visit the Witches market. Mercado de las Brujas is fascinating, bizarre and unlike anything you’ve experienced. Here you can buy weird and wonderful alternative medicines of all sorts. You’ll also see dried out llama foetus’ everywhere – hanging in the doorways, laid out on the tables or placed in buckets at the stalls. Whilst this may seem very strange and confronting to many tourists, it is actually an important cultural tradition for the people of Bolivia and brings good fortune when buried in the foundations of a new building.
- Go on the mi teleferico cable car. Built primarily as a method of transportation for the locals, there are 7 lines but head up to ‘El Alto’ for incredible views over the city.
Death Road is a popular day trip from La Paz. For the thrill of your life do a cycling tour along Death Road (known officially as North Yungas Road or ‘camino a los Yungas’). This is the road connecting La Paz to Coroico and was once known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
Death Road is named so because many people have died on this road (previous estimates are at around 200-300 every year). This is due to the road being on the edge of steep hillside cliffs with lots of bends and blind turns. The road is mostly single lane traffic, and in the rainy season it becomes especially dangerous to travel on. This is the most scary ride you will ever take, but there are amazing views, so it’s up to you if it’s worth it!
A new and safer road has been built so nowadays the locals hardly use this road. Instead tourists mostly ride along it. The cycling tours are around 30 kilometres long, going from the mountains slowly downhill towards the jungle. The ride takes about 5-6 hours and you’ll be cycling downhill on a very uneven gravel road with lots of big stones for the dangerous part. Caution is needed at all times, both for the safety of yourself and others. It is a long tiring ride but at any point if you can’t continue you can get in one of the minivans that follows the group.
There are so many companies that offer the Death Road trip. Just make sure you pick one that has good reviews, the brakes are tested regularly and they have helmets.
BUS FROM LA PAZ TO COPACABANA: 4 HOURS
From La Paz take the 4 hour bus to Copacabana. Buses depart from 7.30am to 1.30pm.
Altitude: 3,841 metres above sea level
Copacabana is a quaint Bolivian town located on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake and the highest navigable lake in the world and holds particular sacred importance to the local people. The lake spans Bolivia and Peru, and we will visit it from both sides. Copacabana is a popular place to visit as it is the starting point to visit the Bolivian islands of Lake Titicaca.
Things to do in Copacabana:
- Visit the Catedral de la Virgen de la Candelaria. The Cathedral is beautiful and very grand with unique Moorish architecture. It is a major pilgrimage site for Bolivian Catholics as is believed a miracle happened here with the black virgin ‘la morena’ over 500 years ago. The Cathedral houses the black virgin, and you will see lots of Bolivians worshipping here.
- Watch the blessing of the cars ‘Bendiciones de Movilidades’ outside the Cathedral. Twice a day (11am and 2pm) the priest comes and blesses new cars that are brought here. This is no ordinary blessing, for often the cars are blessed with the spraying of beer!
- Take a hike to Cerro Calvario and see Lake Titicaca from above. Cerro El Calvario is located right next to the town and once you’ve got to the top you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.
- Head across to the Bolivian islands of Lake Titicaca Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon). Both are beautiful and have lots of sacred Incan archeological sites. Stay overnight on Isla del Sol.
Spend one night in Copacabana before getting the boat across to Isla del Sol. You can buy tickets for the boat at any of the travel companies in Copacabana. They all charge the same price and the boat departs at 8.30am and 1pm from Copacabana. A single ticket costs 20 Bolivianos (£2.20) and the boat goes to Isla del Sol first, then continues on to Isla de la Luna. Just to warn you, the boat is quite slow.
Isla del Sol
Located in Lake Titicaca, the idyllic Isla del Sol is deemed by the local indigenous people as a very a sacred place. There are lots of walks you can do that offer incredible views of the lake. Hiking to the Sun Temple is really recommended.
You can stay overnight here at Isla del Sol and I highly recommend you to do so as it is so beautiful. Isla del Sol is much bigger than Isla de la Luna, which can be explored in an hour or two, so I would only recommend you go to Isla de la Luna if you have time.
One piece of advice: leave your luggage at Copacabana if possible! It is a long old uphill hike from the jetty at Isla del Sol to get to all the accommodation in the village at the top! Also, food is more expensive on the island so bring food across if you are on a budget.
Entry to Isla del Sol is 10 Bolivianos (£1.10).
BUS FROM COPACABANA TO PUNO, PERU: 4 HOURS
Once you have taken the boat back to Copacabana take the bus across the border to Puno, Peru. The bus should take about 4 hours depending on immigration clearance at the border. Buses leave from Copacabana from 6am to 1.30pm.
6. Lake Titicaca Floating Islands
Altitude: 3,812 metres above sea level
Puno is the starting point to visit the Peruvian islands on Lake Titicaca. These islands are completely different to what you experienced on the Bolivian side. These islands, the ‘Islas flotantes’ are handmade floating islands made of reed! The Uros people live here on more than 40 floating islands and every 3 weeks the islands need to be rebuilt.
To visit the islands you have to take the boat from Puno. You can do a day trip to visit the islands, or do an overnight homestay on one of the islands. This is what we did and I really recommend it to be able to learn more about the unique culture and people here. You can help the locals on their daily activities such as fishing, ride on their magnificent reeds boats and get to wear their local costume. We stayed on Uros Khantati island and if you wish to stay you will need to book in advance. Click here to visit their website. Note this is not sponsored, it was just an incredible experience and one of the absolute highlights of my trip.
To read more about staying on the floating islands at Lake Titicaca click here.
BUS FROM PUNO TO AREQUIPA: 5 HOURS
Take the boat back to Puno from the floating islands and then take a bus to Arequipa. Journey time is roughly 5 hours and the views are stunning.
Altitude: 2,335 metres above sea level
Perhaps not the most well known of Peru’s cities, but definitely the prettiest (yes, even more so than Cusco!). Arequipa should be a definite yes on your Peru itinerary! The city is surrounded by 3 stunning snow-capped volcanoes and you could easily think you’ve landed in Spain with the beautiful Colonial architecture here. Behind every corner is is a beautiful street to photograph, and you’re in for a treat if you love llamas!
Things to do in Arequipa:
- Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is especially beautiful with lots of porticoes and palm trees. Head up to one of the hidden bars or restaurants on the second floor above the porticoes for a nice view of the square and ample people watching opportunities. Like lots of other Latin American cities, the locals will be out and about here and there is a nice atmosphere.
- Museo Santuarios Andinos – visit this museum and pay your respects to the tiny mummified body of Juanita, a young teenage Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods in the 15th Century. Her body was only discovered in 1995 when it slid down a mountain almost perfectly preserved: she had been laid to rest in a tomb on top of a mountain by the Incas. But the melting glacier had stripped the top layers of her tomb, causing her frozen body to slide down the mountain.
- Wander round San Lazaro – the oldest and most beautiful neighbourhood in Arequipa.
- Monasterio de Santa Catalina – this monastery still operates as a nunnery and is one of the most popular things in Arequipa to do. It is a stunning place and the Colonial architecture is incredible. Entrance is 40 soles (£9).
- Visit Mundo Alpaca (Alpaca World). It’s free and just 5 blocks from Plaza de Armas!
- Mirador de Yanahuara – located across the river this provides one of the best panoramic views of Arequipa and Volcano Misti in the background. It is spectacular at any time of the day but sunset is particular special.
- Many people will come to Arequipa to do a Colca Canyon hike. Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world!
Tours and treks of the impressive Colca Canyon – one of the world’s deepest canyons, start and finish in Arequipa. You can either do a multi-day trek (usually 3 days) down into the canyon, or you can do a day trip and visit the canyon from the top. At the top of the canyon you’ll see lots of giant Andean condors – these birds have a 10 ft wingspan and are the largest flying bird in the world.
BUS FROM AREQUIPA TO CUSCO: 10 HOURS
Altitude: 3,399 metres above sea level
Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire is a delight with it’s Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Many people choose to base themselves in Cusco for a few days as there is so much to do here and in the vicinity, meaning there are plenty day trips you can do! Cusco is also the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu.
Things to do in Cusco:
- Plaza de Armas – as with all Latin American cities, Plaza de Armas is the main central square of the historic city and the centre of everything that happens in the city. Plaza de Armas in Cusco is really lovely, full of life and lots of nice streets coming off it. You’ll also find the impressive Cusco Cathedral here, built in 1654. Enjoy the view from one of the second floor cafes looking out onto the square.
- Qorikancha – (also spelt Koricancha or Coricancha) – The Golden Temple of the Sun. This is an absolute must visit in Cusco as it was the centre of the Inca Empire and their most holiest site. You can visit the ruins of the 15th Century Inca temple that once had floors and walls covered in complete gold, which after the Spanish colonised Peru, was all stripped. Koricancha is just a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas.
- Mercado de San Pedro – an authentic local market you definitely need to visit. See the day to day life here and enjoy some lunch or a smoothie.
- Head to one of the rooftop bars on Calle Pasñapakana in bohemian San Las neighbourhood that offer stunning views over the city.
- Visit the Inca complex Sacsayhuamán . Pronounced similar to ‘sexy woman’ – you won’t be forgetting that one in a hurry! Located about a 5-10 minute drive away from Cusco on a hill, it overlooks the city and provides beautiful views down to Cusco.
Day Trips from Cusco:
The Rainbow Mountain
Also known as Vinicunca or Siete Colores in Spanish.
If like me you visited Peru before 2015, you wouldn’t have even heard of Rainbow Mountain. It was hidden under layers of ice, only revealed in the last few years due to the increasing temperatures from climate change. Already in the few short years it has been open to the public there are signs of over tourism here (thanks Instagram). In the high season you can expect around 5,000 people here. To get here you need to take a tour (organise it in Cusco – it’s a lot cheaper than booking one online).
Be warned: the tours leave at around 3 in the morning! It’s a 3 hour drive and a 2 hour hike to the summit.
A lot closer to Cusco is Pisac – a really traditional Peruvian town. Pisac is really photogenic and full of bright colours. Visit on a Sunday for one of the best local markets in Peru – but be beware they grill guinea pigs (a delicacy) here at this market!
You can take a 45 minute colectivo to reach Pisac. Colectivos are Latin American minibuses by the way, so remember that word!
Moray & Maras
Moray and Maras are both very different, unique and interesting places and you can see the both of them together on a half day trip from Cusco as they located only half an hour away from each other. The journey each way will take around 1.5 hours from Cusco.
Moray – visit the impressive Inca ruin of Moray. Here concentric agricultural terraces were built for growing and experimenting with crops.
Maras – visit the beautiful Las Salinas salt mines in Maras. They are still used as salt mines and make for some incredible photographs.
Altitude: 2,340 metres above sea level
The highlight of Peru for so many people is Machu Picchu – it sits very high on lots of people’s bucket list. Machu Picchu is absolutely a must see when in Peru – it is completely breathtaking. Llamas walk amongst you, the mountains peek behind the clouds, and the views and architecture are out of this world. There is a really special energy about this place.
The Incas built Machu Picchu in the middle of the mountains in the 1450’s to protect their Inca Emperor from invaders. Little over one hundred years later it became abandoned as the Inca Empire collapsed due to Spanish Conquest. In 1911 Machu Picchu was ‘found’ again by Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist. This is why Machu Picchu is also known as The Lost City (even though it was never ‘lost’ to the locals and they always knew it was there). Nowadays the UNESCO sight is a new wonder of the world and attracts over half a million tourists a year.
Things to bear in mind before you plan your trip:
- The high season for visiting Machu Picchu is June to September. During this time there is a limit of 5000 people a day that can visit Macchu Picchu. You will need to book your tickets a few months in advance. Whilst a lot of people visit, it doesn’t feel too crowded and it is easy to get pictures without other people in them. The key with all busy places is to get there as early as possible. If you visit in the low season there will be a lot less people and you can even buy your tickets in Cusco or Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu), although it is still advisable to book online,
- Visiting Machu Picchu is expensive but don’t let this deter you from going. It is truly a once in a lifetime place and photographs do not do it justice.
How to reach Machu Picchu
- It IS possible to visit Machu Picchu without doing a tour.
- The long hard 3 day Inca trail hike is not the only way to reach Machu Picchu (but it is one of the best treks in Peru, if not THE best!!).
- If you don’t want to do the 3 day Inca trek, or perhaps you don’t have time or don’t have the fitness (as it is quite a tough hike due to the altitude level) you can get the train from Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours drive from Cusco in a colectivo) to Aquas Calientes, which is a half hour bus ride from Machu Picchu. You can do this as a day trip from Cusco or as an overnight trip staying in Aguas Calientes.
- If you are looking for a real challenge and to be rewarded with absolutely stunning mountain scenery along the way, you can take The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.
Respect the local people
During your time in Peru and Bolivia you will see many indigenous people. They are such kind and welcoming people and perhaps they may look different and unique compared to other cultures you have seen before – in terms of their appearance and how they dress in their beautiful traditional clothes (black bowler hats and colourful hand made outfits). Please be respectful if you want to take pictures of them. Ask permission first before taking pictures of indigenous people as many of them believe taking photos takes a part of their soul. Please respect their beliefs – if you want a picture just ask.
Local food & drink in Peru:
- alpaca steak
- guinea pig
- quinoa (staple item in their diet as grown abundantly here)
- coco tea (helps with altitude sickness)
- Inca Cola (Peru’s ‘equivalent’ of Coca Cola. Much cheaper and doesn’t taste as good)
- pisco sour (alcoholic cocktail).
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