Travel Regrets: How to Do Peru Only Using Five Vacation Days

I find that as a 20-something traveler with limited paid time off I try to make the most of every vacation. That comes with maximizing vacation days and minimizing travel mishaps– though travel problems seem to stalk me like a 6th grade crush.

  • There was the time I booked a bad hostel only to wake up to a 70-year-old man completely naked in my face.
  • There was the time I booked a moderately sketchy AirBnb in the woods of Kentucky with no cell service and it turned out to be a loft-style room.
  • There was the time I opted to swim a rapid in Peru and drank a ton of water consequently bringing a parasite home with me.

All of these reasonably ridiculous adventures never quite ruined a trip through. They all just added a little something special to it. They’re the stories you’ll tell forever about “that one time you went to Washington” or “that one time you could have been murdered in Kentucky.”

None of those mishaps are anything I regret. My biggest travel regret often comes from booking first and thinking later. Or getting caught up in the “act now” urgency of a deal. Here’s my favorite example:

Most people would not call a $404 round-trip flight from Chicago to Peru a mistake – and it wasn’t. $404 to Peru is so unbelievably cheap that I would (and plan to) hop all over that deal again and again.

I saw the deal and felt like I couldn’t wait. Machu Picchu had been on the top of my bucket list for so long and I thought it was going to take years of savings. So I booked the flight without really thinking – in between my sister’s college graduation and the TBEX conference I was required to attend. That left me six days in Peru. SIX DAYS.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my whirlwind itinerary:

Day one: Fly out of Midway to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Lima

Spent the night in the Lima airport to catch a 5AM flight out to Cusco. (Helpful tip: the Lima airport actually has armrest-free seats and makes for the perfect place to take a nap.)

Day Two: Acclimate and Explore Cusco

After getting in and taking a brief nap, my friend and I set out to explore the city. We went to a stunningly colorful market and then ate dinner overlooking the Plaza De Armas.

We also took the day to book our in-country tours. We had heard over and over again not to book anything until you got there because the markups on prices were extreme in the US. So we went to a reputable hostel to book both of our Cusco excursions.

Day Three: White water rafting in the Sacred Valley

The first excursion we booked was whitewater rafting in the Sacred Valley. While Machu Picchu was the most impressive part of the vacation, rafting was easily the most fun. We went with Peru Rafting and had a fabulous time rafting down the Urubamba River for two hours. The lunch that was provided was amazing and then we zip lined on something that may be questionably safe, but turned out alright in the end.

Day Four: Whirlwind trip to Machu Picchu

Even thinking about this day makes me tired. This is where the trip gets hairy and I really started to regret my immediate booking decisions. We woke up to catch a bus to Ollantaytambo at 3:30AM in order to catch a train to Aguas Calientes. We took a bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu and started our walking tour from there.

This is where we truly realized what an epic mistake we had made. With the limited time we had in Peru, there was no way for us to climb Machu Picchu Mountain and take a history tour and explore on our own. It significantly limited our time spent exploring the number one thing at the top of my bucket list.

Day Five: Fly into Lima and Explore

After getting back from Machu Picchu at 1:30AM, we took a cat nap and hopped on a plane back to Lima. We’d heard mixed reviews about Peru’s largest city, but were determined to make the best of our 36 hours there.

The one thing we booked ahead of time was a Lima Gourmet Tour and I could not speak highly enough about it. At $130, it was one of the more expensive things we did on our trip but allowed us an opportunity to eat our way around South America’s gastronomy center. We learned to make ceviche, pisco sours and tasted authentic Peruvian cuisine at some of the nicest restaurants in the city.

Day Six: Explore Lima and Fly Out

This left us with a day to explore. We took a free walking tour around the city center that left from Kennedy Park in Miraflores. Go to Kennedy Park if you like animals. There are literally hundreds of cats there and I fell in love with every one of them. (Fun Fact: The city holds adoption events for people looking to take home a kitten.)

And that was it – the entire trip to Peru. Needless to say I have my regrets. I wish when I’d booked the trip I hadn’t thought so much about preserving vacation days and had taken the time to plan out my adventure before hitting purchase on my flights.

With a finite number of vacation days I really try to stretch them as much as possible. I wasn’t prepared for all of the amazing things there was to do outside of Machu Picchu. I also wasn’t prepared for how far away everything was so none of our excursions were a “quick trip” they were all full-day affairs.

Long story short – before hitting submit on your next travel deal while your boss isn’t looking, at least wait until lunch and make sure the vacation is doable, and, in fact, a vacation. I’m still drinking pisco sours trying to recover.

Katy is the blogger behind Windward Traveler. She frequently finds herself providing updates from the road as a busy communications professional in the travel industry. Her specialties range from having the worst travel luck to finding the best brunch spots and dive bars – it just depends on the day. You can follow along on the next adventure here.

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