There is a well trodden tourist route in the southern half of Peru, commonly known as "The Gringo Trail". This classic route in Peru includes many of the country's most famous attractions, including Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and the Nazca Lines. There are good connections by bus and air, the route is flexible enough to accommodate schedules ranging from ten days to a month or more.
Most travellers arrive in Lima, so we take it as a starting point (you can also easily connect to the "Gringo Trail" if you arrive to Peru overland from Bolivia or Chile). How many days you spend in each place depends on how much time you have and your personal preferences, so the days listed are only indicative.
Many tourists arrive in the capital, leaving it just as quickly. If you only have 10 to 15 days in Peru, you will probably need only one day or two in Lima, maybe more if you like big cities. Take a day to explore the historic city center and eat at a good "Cevicheria" (ceviche restaurant). There are many more things to see and do in Lima, so stay more days if you have the time.
Go south from Lima and you will pass through Pisco and Paracas. If you're short on time, both cities candidates for exclusion. The Ballestas Islands National Park is a good choice for nature lovers, so provide for a day or two in Pisco and Paracas if you want to explore the nearby islands with their natural inhabitants (Humboldt penguins, Peruvian boobies, pelicans and more). Ballestas Islands are sometimes called "The Small Galapagos".
Next stop is the city of Ica, another place to travel through if you want more time elsewhere. ICA is a major producer of pisco (Peru's most popular alcoholic drink), so tasting Peru's most famous alcoholic drink, Pisco Sour, may be in order. Pisco and sandboarding are perhaps a bad combination, but you will not find bigger and more exciting dunes than in the nearby village of Huacachina. This little oasis is Peru's sandboarding hotspot, so extreme sports fanatics should consider an overnight stay.
Continue further south and you will arrive to the city of Nazca. The city may not have much to offer, but the nearness to the Nazca lines more than outweigh it, even though it is a bit boring city. If you arrive early in the morning, you can take a flight over the Nazca Lines and visit some surrounding attractions before continuing on to Arequipa later in the day.
The colonial heart of Arequipa is well worth a day or two to see and experience. Do not miss the impressive large Santa Catalina monastery. You will also find lots of restaurants, bars and discos. Arequipa is by many named as Peru's culinary capital. A landscape with mountains is surrounding the city, so hikers should set aside at least a day or two in Arequipa. Highlights include the descent into the Colca Canyon with its fantastic condors and the ascent of the volcano El Misti.
Lake Titicaca is spectacular. The lake town of Puno, known as Peru's folkloric capital, is the main base for tourists on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. From Puno, you may spend three or four days exploring the lake and its islands, including the Uros floating islands and various archaeological sites. If you are short on time, you can still see Titicacas main attractions on two full days. If you have a day to spare on your trip to Peru, consider making a trip over to the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, especially to the Sun- and Moon Islands, "Islas del Sol y de la Luna".
You can easily spend a month exploring the city of Cusco and its surroundings. Machu Picchu is the main attraction, but further comparative points of interest are scattered throughout the region. Visitors also love to discover Cusco's regional cuisine, nightlife and cultural heritage. Even though a month would be perfect, you can still see and experience a lot in two or three full days. Of course, if you want to hike the classic Inca Trail, you have to dedicate four days only for the trek. If there is insufficiency of time, a one-day trip to Machu Picchu might be a wiser choice.
In the arrangement above the shortest trip is eight days and the longest trip is 24 days. Including travel time, this makes about 10 days for the short tour and 28 days for a more extensive one, depending on the mode of transportation in Peru.
Unexpected "bumps" in the shecdule may destroy the original itinerary, so to have one or two days off is a good idea. If you have time left over at the end of your trip, you can make a short trip into the jungle or along the northern part of the Peruvian coast.