Since I only spent about three weeks in Peru total (including transportation time), these are just a few recommendations that I’ve been able to compile with my limited experiences there (I have a new rule now: minimum 1 month per country. If you haven’t done so before, travel abroad for a month or longer and you’ll see why…!)
In no particular order:
1. El Camino Inka to Machu Picchu
Experience some gorgeous and amazing (4 days of) hiking while learning more about Peru’s Incan history and their temples along the way. Just make sure to respect the environment as much as possible and take it all in as a spiritual journey too. (Warning: All fitness levels are allowed, but not all make it to the end. And altitude sickness is about genetics, not physical fitness!). While it can be tragically way too touristy at the “end”, (AKA Machu Picchu) the history there goes deep. Those stone stairs on the way there are pretty rough, though…
2. El Valle Sagrado and Cusco
Spend just $110 soles (about 4o bucks) to get a week-long pass to see as many temples as you want in the Sacred Valley AKA, El Valle Sagrado. Machu Pichhu wasn’t the only Incan temple in the area. Many, like Ollantaytambo, also make up a part of the Inca Trail. Marvel in the stone architecture, terraced gardens, and giant sundials. Cusco sits at a pretty high altitude however, so make sure to take your soroche/soroji pills and bring a waterproof jacket!
3. Arequipa’s Churches and Nightlife
Apparently Arequipa is known for a rowdy and fun nightlife. During the day however, Arequipa is known for its centuries old colonial churches and famous monasteries. Many travelers come here for the mild weather and hiking Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. There’s also beaches about an hour away – ask a local! If you want to take a motorcycle ride through Peru, ask my friend in Arequipa – he does trips from Cusco to Arequipa to Puno.
4. Puno, Lake Titicaca and the Islands
Puno is famous for being a small city sitting pretty on the edge of Lake Titikaka, one of the “highest lakes in the world”. Eat at Ekeko’s, hang out at nearby bars like Kamizaraky Rock Pub on the land, or go over to visit one of the lake’s many islands: the Floating Islands, Amantani, Taquile, etc. (homestays recommended to get a better sense of what life is like on the islands). I talked to some locals who said that there’s TONS of stuff to do around Puno that most tourists don’t go visit, so check out those hikes and ruins too (on your own or with local guides). Beware, it’s San Francisco winter cold out there. But it IS the ” folklore capital” of Peru!
Nazcans are very proud people (“We’re not Incan, we’re Nazcan!) – their history goes deep and they’re a lot of fun to hang out with. But don’t just stay for the (expensive) Nazca lines flights (be prepared to barf up your breakfast!), go for the dune buggy rides through the desert to see “aquaducts” (Piquios), learn about some ancient Nazcan history, and check out the sand dunes (bring sunglasses). They also have some great CEVICHE in the area. Oh yeah – the weather is sunny, humid and warm there too.
6. Lima: Beaches, Museums, and Nightlife
It’s sunny. It’s humid. Lima is a very modern city (think LA, but BIGGER) with 8 million people (from the more impoverished barrios on the edge of the city the touristy beachside areas of Miraflores and Barranco). Surf the beaches, hang out in Barranco at night for the bars and dance clubs, and check out the many museums (just be careful in the central areas). Oh yeah, the ceviche is also good here! Beware of bad and expensive tourist restaurants though.
7. The Hot Sauce
While some of the food out there can be a little bit bland (in Peru and Bolivia), it might be because the food was made to be eaten with Peru’s awesome hot sauce! Light yellow, and VERY hot, it makes everything taste fantastic (if not burning hot). Eat in moderation (luckily, it’s an “earthy” hot, not a Thai “my tongue is cut off” sharp hotness. It’s hard to explain). But it is damn tasty. Bolivia has a great but very different tomato-based hot sauce too.
So…I didn’t get a chance to do any of the following in Peru, but I think they’re pretty good recommendations: (Check out LONELY PLANET Thorn Tree Thread for more travel advice!)
8. The Amazon River and Jungle
It’s the longest river in the world. The northern part of Peru can only be accessed by plane, or boat. Sounds awesome. I heard it’s off the chart beautiful. An American couple traveling through Peru was reported missing for a week or so – they ended up finding them having a blast near the Amazon river. I guess there wasn’t much internet reception out there. The city of Iquitos is pretty popular with tourists out there…
9. Animals and Stuffs
If you got the money, go check out Manu National Park. It’s bank (like, hundreds to thousands of dollars) but I heard that it’s oh so magical. Some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, so they say (a lot of parks actually claim this out here).
10. Live Life, Learn Spanish, and Volunteer
Like my “Best of Bolivia” – of all the people that I met during my travels, the people who enjoyed their experiences the most were people who get involved locally – whether it was spending time with families and friends, or working/volunteering. I know that volunteering can be problematic (don’t be a colonizer!), but if appropriate, work at a local organization in which you can bring resources and share skills with locals (instead of taking over the jobs that they could be doing themselves). Make it sustainable and project-based – if no one can sustain the work after you leave, it might be a bit of a challenge (and sometimes detrimental) to the local community.
And of course, LEARN SPANISH! Or Quechua. Or Ayamara. Besides speaking with people on a daily basis, there are many schools that offer classes. Get involved!
Happy Travels! Buen Viaje!