We went to Peru in October 2015 and spent some 2 weeks there. We totally loved it!
Our journey started in Lima and ended in Cusco. Here’s the itinerary:
As you see we skipped Nazca and Lake Titicaca. Why? 1. didn’t have enough time. 2. weren’t really interested 3. didn’t have enough money (Nazca can get a bit expensive).
Don’t plan on staying in Lima for too long; honestly there’s not much to see. We spent just one day there and it was enough. We went to see the city center, Plaza de Armas and its surroundings, walked around the seaside and tried some ceviche in Miraflores and that was pretty much it. It was nice to see the country’s capital, but nothing exceptional, I’m sorry Lima! The next day we took the bus to Ica.
2. ICA (Huacachina)
Ica is a small city some 4-5 hours away from Lima. It is a starting point for trips to the dessert oasis Huacachina, where you can do sandboarding on the dunes and other stuff. That place is a must! We took the bus company Cruz del sur, which I highly recommend. They have one of the best buses that I’ve ever taken (I really mean ever-I’m serious), it’s super cheap, you get decent food on board and it’s 100% reliable. It was on the road from Lima to Ica when we saw the other side of Peru for the first time. Whereas Lima was a modern, developed big city, the countryside was basically just poor looking houses, no roads, no streets, just mud and dirt. We arrived to Ica late in the evening so we went straight to our hostel (easily found on booking.com, as anywhere else in Peru). In the morning we took a taxi to go to Huacachina oasis. It’s very close; some 15 minutes and also very cheap. There we “booked” our seats on the ride to the dunes and had lunch. The oasis is a magic place, if you don’t live in a dessert, it is something very unusual and simply stunning. It’s very small though, so after 15 minutes of walking around you have nothing much to do there. After lunch we got it the car along with the others; the capacity is some 10 people. And so the ride began. Guys…THIS IS A MUST! It was so much adrenaline and so much fun! The driver rides the dunes, once slowly, once super fast, he takes sudden crazy turns, he’s drifting and you just feel like in Fast and furious: Peruvian drift. He stops the car at various spots that have a nice view so that you can take pictures and do the sand boarding, too.The last thing you get to do is watching the sunset in the dessert. That was…very romantic. Do I sound ironic? No, honestly, it was really beautiful. Overall, a great, super fun day and I definitely recommend to go there!
From Ica we proceeded to Arequipa, one of the biggest Peruvian cities. The journey was some 9-10 hours long and we did it overnight. As I said the Cruz del sur buses are super comfy so we could actually sleep and it was not too bad. Honestly I wasn’t expecting much, we mainly went to Arequipa because it was the starting point for the Colca canyon. But as it usually is, you get surprised when you don’t expect much. Arequipa was actually great! The city is surrounded with the mountains, so you can watch the Andes while having breakfast, while having lunch, while strolling around, while doing basically anything. It is a big city but it has a different vibe than Lima, it feels more old-fashioned, more rural and more…Peruvian. The streets are so nice, narrow, with old massive cobblestones and ubiquitous street sellers; it is a great city for just walking around. Grab the queso helado (literally frozen cheese; or cream cheese-ice cream) and just enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Go to the market in the city center; it’s a really good one, we bought lot of exotic fruits we’ve never seen anywhere else.
See the vlog from the weird fruits degustation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwvKyO-HJgA&index=4&list=PLt4DHJ0s1A4jRsodrgFFjsDgUXZ4X_ro-
4. COLCA CANYON
Colca canyon is a stunning place some 5 hours away from Arequipa. You can do a 1,2 or 3-days trek, which you book easily in Arequipa, as there are many travel agencies. If you want to book it in advance, you can do so, several of them offer the option of booking it online, but I would recommend to look for it in person once you’re there, since you can negotiate and thus get it for a better price. We chose the 2 days/1 night option.
They picked us up at 3 am at your hostel, which was not very pleasant, to be fair. But well. We arrived at around 7-7:30 am in the canyon and had breakfast in a village there. Then we went to watch the condors, but since our agency was kind of a mess and there were several problems during the journey (the guide left 10 people from the group at one place where we stopped for souvenirs and just left with the whole bus), we didn’t see any, cause we arrived there late. But then the actual trekking started and everything was just awesome afterwards. We were descending the first 3-4 hours which can actually get really exhausting. Prepare yourself for lot of blisters, good hiking shoes are a must! (No Nike’s, as I can suggest from my personal experience). Then we had lunch in a little oasis (or how should I call it), I think it was the lunch with the best view ever. After that we continued trekking, but this time all the way up. By evening we reached the place that we were staying overnight, which they call ‘The oasis.’ It is a truly beautiful place. Surrounded by the canyon’s walls, a green jewel in the rock dessert. There are few cottages, a place to eat (big community table and an outside kitchen) and they even have a little bar where you can get a beer or pisco sour, which is really nice after all day of walking. But don’t drink too much, cause the next day you have to wake up at 4 am so that you can start trekking as soon as possible. This part is tough. It really is. We walked straight up some 3-4 hours. It was really rocky and steep. No wonder, we began at some 1800 m and you reached 3300 m in the end. It was exhausting but the view and the FEELING in the end totally worth it. After that we had breakfast in the village, had a nice bath in the hot springs and finished the day at a viewpoint at some 6000 m (I’m really bad in remembering the numbers, sorry). It was amazing and for me probably the best thing in Peru. I highly recommend you to visit this place and in case you do so, I recommend this 2 day tour. One day is definitely not enough and 3 days might be a bit too much I guess.
Cusco is some 10-11 hours by bus from Arequipa. The city has an unusual, original vibe, as it’s situated in 3399 m (this number should be exact) and surrounded with the mountains. The architecture is also a bit different to Arequipa or other Peruvian towns; everything is painted dark/brown/grey and the streets are made from big stones (in case you are thinking about wearing high heels, which I suppose you are not, but anyway-don’t). The city is always up and down. You will do a nice amount of exercise just strolling around. Since it is the starting point for the Peruvian most famous thing-Machu Picchu as well as other treks, it’s really touristy. It was kinda hard to find some genuine, local, not touristy place to eat, or at least much harder then in Arequipa or Ica. But anyway we liked Cusco a lot. Its vibe is simply kinda…unique.
6. MACHU PICCHU (Inca jungle trek)
There are maaaany options of getting to the mighty Machu Picchu. We opted for the adventurous Inca jungle trek with LOKI travel/hostel agency and if you are young, active and adventure-seeking I can highly recommend it to you. It was 3 days/2 night, starting and ending up in Cusco. The first day was mountain biking and little bit of hiking with hot springs in Santa Teresa in the evening. Second day we were zip lining and hiking to Aguas calientes, the starting point for going to Machu Picchu. Although tourist ourselves, we really hate the crowds and other tourists and touristy places filled with tourists. If you are like us, you’re not gonna like Aguas calientes. Maybe even Machu Picchu. The village is the most touristy village ever. Forget about Peruvian food, here is pizza, pasta, burgers and cocktails. Forget about Peruvian prices, here is everything double the normal price or simply more expensive. But well, no wonder, since Machu Picchu is probably the South America’s most famous site as well as one of the 7 modern world’s wonders. Anyway, we hiked to the Machu Picchu the next day, starting early in the morning (4:30 am), to be up there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and also to see the sunrise. Sweating, dripping wet we made it to the entrance in some 1,5 hours climbing steeply up. What an unpleasant surprise when we saw the crowds who came there by bus. But again, it is Machu Picchu. Fortunately the view you get when you finally enter, worth all the tourists and pain. It’s enormous. Spectacular. Impressive. Mighty. We literally spent the whole day there (from 6 am to 4 pm) and didn’t even see all of it.
Tip: Bring a lot of water with you because you can only get it at the entrance to the site for a super-elevated price. Same for snacks and everything, if you don’t wanna die from hunger and spend all your money up there.
The agency is called LOKI travel. I definitely recommend them!
7. MANU NATIONAL PARK
Contrary to Machu Picchu, this place is hidden from the most tourists’ sight. That’s why it was for me one of the best (if not the best) things in Peru. The national park is part of the Amazon forest and if you are into nature, landscapes, animals and once again if you are an adventurer in your heart, go there. It was the most expensive trip but it was totally worth it. Seeing it back in time, to me it was probably the best experience from Peru. Unfortunately we were running out of time so we did just the 3 days/2 nights thing. In future I would seriously consider staying there like 2 weeks or so, volunteering in the jungle (they offer it). That’s how amazed I was.
The only bad thing was the journey there, it’s 8 hours away from Cusco and you have to go through the mountains and survive hundreds of switchbacks and then go through the rain forest and survive even more switchbacks. Which is for someone with a really weak stomach like mine a true experience. Oh, and I didn’t mention that we went in a minivan, full of people, dogs and drugs (true story). Anyway, we reached one of the villages, where we met the people from the agency. We were so lucky that there were no other tourists at the time, so just us two and the guide. If u read the text above, you can imagine our happiness. After the dinner we went to explore the jungle at night. It’s kinda hard to describe it, it was such a new and unique experience for me. Absolute darkness, absolute silence, you feel like you sense everything much more intensely than usually. Like you actually use all of your senses at 100%. Then I felt some fear, too, of course. But that is maybe why it was the best experience for me, because I overcame my fears-especially the one from insects. Before, I would always scream uiiiiiiiiiiiii whenever there was a grasshopper or a moth close to me, but after those 3 days, nothing. The moth could sit on my skin and I wouldn’t make a sound. Ha! Tough girl! Anyway, the next day we explored the jungle in the early morning (from 5 am), wandering in the forest, looking for monkeys, snakes and maybe a jaguar. Then we went to a much denser and darker part of the jungle, where we did some more exploring until late night. I’m not gonna lie, I was scared to death, seeing nothing, hearing lot of strange sounds and knowing that there are jaguars and pumas around. As much as I wanted to see the jaguar during the day, I was praying not to see him back then when it got dark. Well, we didn’t see him nor the puma, but we saw monkeys, capybaras, lot of insects, snakes, birds…and most of all I pushed myself to my limits and survived in the Amazon forest without constantly screaming and fearing all the weird insects, had a freezing cold shower in total darkness in the middle of the rainforest, and ate a caterpillar. What an experience!
Peru was amazing, quite touristy, but still very genuine and foremost beautiful and fun. If we go again, we would definitely stay longer, because the 2 weeks just weren’t enough, Peru has so much more to offer, and it was sometimes very tight and exhausting. So plan your trip well guys.
Overall, Peru is a great country especially for young tourists and backpackers as it offers many beautiful treks in the Andes mountains. Peru is mountains, rainforest, Inca culture, sand boarding, biking, rafting, hiking, hiking and hiking. Sometimes hot springs. Lots of good food. And pisco sour. And one of the nicest people in the world-Peruvians. Just go there!