Peru, the land of fire and ice. Ok, maybe that’s actually Iceland but you still have a ton of gorgeous tourist sites in Peru that will make Iceland drool with envy. That’s why the best Peru travel is Peru travel now. Because like Iceland, one of the most magnificent aspects of this country is the tremendous geographic diversity that is created by the insanely tall peaks of the Andes Mountains (these mountains are no joke and give the badass Himalayas a run for their money).
Now before I visited Peru, I knew almost nothing about this country since, let’s face it, that stereotype where Americans know almost nothing about world geography is pretty accurate at least for me. Therefore, I had no idea what to expect since you could fit my knowledge of what to visit in Peru, in a very small thimble. I mean sure, I dated a guy from Peru but he barely spoke English so we er um, did other things besides discuss world geography.
And yes, I did see the highly underrated Disney movie the Emperor’s Grove (It has the voices of David Spade and John Goodman so you should see it) so I knew there were llama’s and mountains in Peru, but that was about it. My lack of knowledge was so bad that when I booked my ticket to Lima, Peru, and was researching Lima Peru points of interest, my friend remarked, “Oh my God, you are so lucky. I always wanted to experience all the different things to do in Machu Picchu,” and I just kind of shrugged and giggled because I totally forget that Machu Picchu was actually there.
So even though the vast majority of the population is not as clueless as me when planning 10 days in Peru, I still wanted to simplify Peruvian travel for you. I mean the country is huge and the Andes make if difficult to get around, so it can be tricky to figure out what to do in Peru. That’s why I have consolidated all that Peru has to offer into 7 sites that everyone HAS to see. Seriously, if you miss these places you will be super duper sad and totally regret it (and bonus, Peru is so geographically diverse that each of these seven places is totally unique. And if you don’t believe me then just get out your Peru travel map and see). So let’s get this South American fiesta started by living la vida loca with these tourist sites in Peru that you kind of sort of have to see (and trust me, the cliched Spanish references are over except, “Bailamos, let the rhythm take you over…”. Okay, i’ll stop now and proceed with this Peru travel guide).
1. Machu Picchu
This one is kind of like a face palm because of course Machu Picchu is on your Peru vacation list. I mean, it’s only the most famous attraction in all of Peru. And this former capital of the Incan empire should be since it’s worth all the hype. Legit, its not one of those sites that you visit and feel like it’s a total Debbie Downer. Some places you kind of wanna be like, “Can I get a refund and a compensatory swag bag for pain and suffering?”
But this one is awesome, whether visiting alone or exploring Machu Picchu with kids, and one of those epic Peru things to do, even if hordes of people begin to descend upon this place, like a plague of locusts, by late morning (so avoid the crowds and get there early). I mean, the ancient Incan architecture here is so awe inspiring and majestic, that I kind of wish I was one of those super cool, meditating yogis that could sit on the hill for hours and absorb the mystical environment of this ancient city. However, I sat there for maybe 30 minutes because I am always on the move and hate yoga even though I wish I didn’t because then I could be one of those existential cool kids (I am not flexible and forget to breath during yoga and feel like I’m gonna barf during the class).
Also, splurge and get a guided tour. That way your guide can tell you all about the illusive mystery behind the complexity and eventual dissolution of the entire Incan Empire itself. See, I sound fancy and its all because of my super awesome tour guide who expertly explained the grandeur and immaculate condition of these ruins and how they give you a glimpse into the daily lives of people who lived more than 2000 years ago (How many times will you visit Machu Picchu? Exactly! That’s why you need to treat yo self).
My favorite experience was simply sitting back and gazing out at these big ass mountains. As you do this you begin to feel a calmness and sense of isolation that brings you closer to the joy of nature. A feeling that is enhanced by the multitude of hiking options available in the area. From the Inca trail, to hikes at Waynu Picchu, there is a tremendous amount of hiking in the area that helps bring you closer to the beauty and serenity of these towering rock palaces in the sky.
However, I am as physically fit as a sea slug so there was no hiking for me, especially since the high altitude means that there is less oxygen in the air. Now if they had escalators that carried you to the top of all these mountains, then I’d be all for it (or even a gondola ride, I’m not that picky). I also hate gasping for air as puddles of sweat are pouring down my face. Not a cute look, especially when I’m in sweat pants and already look like a homeless person. But if you’re way more awesome then me and hike like a yeti in heat then make sure you book your trek along the Inca trail at least 6 months in advance (You could also try the Salkantay Trail, the Lares trek, the Inca Jungle trail and many other alternative Inca trail treks).
***The only way to get to the town of Aquas Clients, the only town with access to Machu Picchu, is by train. So make sure you book your train tickets ASAP. Also note that the river can flood and wash out the train tracks. Oh and don’t drink the water in Peru unless you want Montazuma’ s Revenge. So pack a Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with PA Plus – For Camping and Portable Emergency Drinking Water and a great pair Hi-Tec Women’s Skamania Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, Grey/Viola,8 M US
The city that you never knew you always wanted to go to. But in all seriousness (and I am rarely serious) I cannot overstate enough how much I LOVE this Peruvian colonial paradise. Sure this place is pretty tiny (one tenth the size of Lima tiny), but that just means you’ll have no trouble getting around because you can walk everywhere. Plus what Arequipa lacks in size it totally makes up for with an exuberant personality and culture that can be found no where else in Peru (wish i could say the same about some of the guys I know but nope).
At the heart of this colonial city, is a baroque style plaza de armas and cathedral (UNESCO sites as of 2000) that are closely guarded by palm trees swaying in the warm, dry breeze. However, if you look just past these jewels of architectural wonder, you can see that the city is surrounded by three, snow capped volcanos. These volcanos add to the majesty of this special place as they tower over this city like guardians of the night. Of course when I was here, the volcanos didn’t give me any romantic feelings. I kept thinking that my life would turn into a sequel of Dante’s Peak in which I don’t make it to the end. But that’s just me and my crazy anxiety. Feel free to ignore me but keep reading this post!
However, the rich, vivacious, and enduring culture of these people, who call Arequipa home, is expressed more deeply through the Museo Sanctuaries Andinos, which displays a vast wealth of regional, historical artifacts that include the mummy of a 12 year old girl known as Juanita (Juanita is still um, juicy so just be aware that not everyone may enjoy seeing this rather enduring 12 year old).
Poor girl though. I mean at the ripe old age of 12 she was drugged or put into “a higher state of enlightenment” and then became a human sacrifice to the Gods that were at the top of the Volcano (sounds like an episode of the Twilight zone). I’m sure this was a great honor but I’d rather honor myself by breathing because hey, breathing is fun.
But this exhibit, coupled with the size and beauty of the Monastery de Santa Catalina, a vivid and colorful labyrinth of cloisters and breezeways that are set within a high-walled convent, make this city one that is not to be missed; especially if all these local wonders are viewed over a plate of the regional delight, rocoto relleno or stuffed, spicy red peppers (this makes me even happier since I’m a vegetarian. #veggiepride). For the meat eaters, Peruvian chicken is supposed to be epically amazing too.
3. Cuzco (I’ve seen it with an S or a Z so just roll with it, like a fruit roll up).
To me. Cuzco (and Cusco Peru travel) is kind of like the girl in high school who was the runner up for homecoming queen. I mean yeah she was nice and everyone seemed to know her, but no one remembers her name or gets to ogle her picture in the yearbook. Well this is the same thing as comparing Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Everyone wants to get to Machu Picchu, but sometimes they overlook the pure awesomeness that is Cuzco.. But I can assure you that Cuzco is way more than just a stopover in the journey to Machu Picchu. It is a total cultural wonder that has become one of the many fun things to do in Peru. Plus, this city is rather budget friendly, offering you a lot of things to do in Cusco for just $10.
Because whether you tour the multitude of colonial cathedrals, take a classic cooking class in Cusco, or visit the many Incan ruins that surround the city, you will be amazed at the ability of this ancient capital to seamlessly intertwine the historic with the modern. You’ll just be strolling along one of the quaint streets in the city, marveling at the ginormous peaks of the Andes Mountains while gasping for air (so you may want to invest in some Altitude Rx OxyBoost Complex 120 Capsules because the altitude is so damn high when bam, you run into a KFC and McDonald’s that are definitely not a part of indigenous, Incan culture (these eateries are also flanked by some super modern ATMs so that no matter where you’re from, you can still get your grub on).
So whether you’re watching traditional dance concerts, eating local street food, watching ladies flaunt their traditional, brightly colored dresses, or having some creepy dude try to scam you by drawing you an astrological chart, there is a vibrant culture that is waiting to be discovered (this totally makes Cuzco one of the best Peru travel destinations). All you have to do is wander through these historic streets and you will be transported into a world where llamas and alpacas roam free (or are tethered to a pole for tourist amusement and photography) and astrological superstition reigns supreme. Or better yet, hike up some of the city’s cobblestone staircases and bring yourself closer to understanding the world of the heavens that the Inca called home (or God because you’ll be begging him for an iron lung and some air).
***Between all the ruins and cathedrals in Cuzco, I highly recommend that you get the full Cuzco tourist ticket while you’re in town. It’s $47.00 and is good for 10 days. It’s so worth it since pretty much all the major sites are covered in this ticket.
***Eat the street food here because it’s hella awesome! So be sure to check out San Pedro Market and be on the look out for roast pork sandwiches, chock con quest (corn on the cob with cheese), Anticucho (meat kebabs), and Tamales (the tamales were my fave and kind of like food crack). Food is legit one of the top things to do in Cusco.
4. Huacachina ( a stop that just has to be on your Peru travel route)
This laid back desert oasis is one of the many fun things to do in Peru. Sure, this town may be small in stature but it’s hella big in laid back, fun loving, hippie impact (back away from the hemp and “special” brownies my friend). At only 4 kilometers in size, this town may be just a stopover but it’s a stopover with sun kissed sand dunes that leave you with memories that will last till next Tuesday, or a lifetime. Either or (Memories like how hard it is to climb a sand dune that seems so small. My legs, the build up of lactic acid burns).
So whether you want to grab a lounge chair and relax by the palm tree lined lagoon, or hike towards the summit of the rolling sand dunes that enshroud this hidden paradise, there is something for everyone in this jewel of the desert (seriously a great Peru tourist spot).
However, if a more vivacious trip is your bag baby then hitch a ride on a sand buggy and grab a sand board for some ass busting’ fun (at least I fell more times than I stood up, because I’m that graceful. it’s a gift).
If you still have energy to burn, head over to one of the beach bum, cabana hotels and clean up before a night out on the town, or small pond as the case may be. Just grab some grub and dance the night away with the multitude of other backpackers on their way to bigger cities such as Ica and Nazca.
***I would only stay a day because this place is tiny. Also make sure you book a sand buggy tour so that you can go sand boarding. Super fun!
5. Lake Titicaca (Every time I hear this I think of Beavis and Buthead)
Be prepared to be transported into a world that is unlike anything you have ever seen before at this one of the many Peru attractions to visit (it’s worth it even though Peru bus travel can be a pain in the ass).
But why is this place special enough to be shown on such television masterpieces as Beavis and Buthead (kidding)? Well, Lake Titicaca is home to the Uros people who have developed a unique way of life that is still very much in use today. The lives of the indigenous tribes of are intertwined with the Totora reeds that grow in the shallows of this lake. These have been used in many Peru activities like making homes, catching food, building boats, and even creating floating islands that the uno people still live on today (Grab a tour in Puno to the floating Reed islands. Puno is a total whole filled with scammers but the floating reed islands make it worth it).
These islands were traditionally created as a refuge away from the more violent Collas and Incan people. But even though many of these people have faded away, the tradition remains as shameless tourists flock en mass to these floating villages on the water (I was one of these tourists and I don’t regret it).
Take a moment to marvel at a culture that is probably more ancient that your own, and yet still finds a way to thrive and survive in a world that is inundated with nothing but cellphones and selfie sticks.
***I did a home stay with an Uro family, on an island in Lake Titicaca. A highlight in any Peru travel guide and a great way to meet local people and experience the local way of life. Tours are also super easy to come by so you’ll definitely find one.
***This part of Peru is super close to Bolivia so if you want to explore that country as well, you can enter from here. And Lake Titicaca is right near Puno but i’d skip Puno Peru travel since this city is kind of a hole.
6. Nazca Lines
Okay, I’m not gonna lie. The town of Nazca is really not so awesome, to put it nicely. Actually, when I arrived via bus, someone had to accompany me to the ATM for fear that I would be mugged. Not really the warm and fuzzy feeling I was looking for after an eight hour bus ride. But while Nazca the city may not be rather sucktastic, the Nazca Lines are one of the many Peru activities that are totally worth a visit (even if only for a day because that’s really all you need).
Now, no one really knows why or how the lines appeared in the sands of the Pampa Colorada (thats part of the allure of this unsolved mystery), but most people can agree that they are definitely a site to behold. No joke, there are over 800 lines and 70 plant and animals shapes that dot the landscape of these arid, flat plains.
But these lines are virtually imperceptible from the ground. That’s s why you’ll need to book a flight to admire the true majesty and intricacy of all this dust in the wind (I had to, it was right there. If you don’t get the reference, look the song up. So good). As you peer through the window, you will see these magnificent shapes tell the uncertain story of an uncertain people. I never shut up but seeing these shapes, I was literally stunned into silence. I just sat there and gazed out in wonderment at the endless array of shapes that dazzle the eyes and amaze the mind.
***Real Talk: Some of the planes that are used to view the Nazca Lines tend to crash. Be safe, practice Peru safe travel,
and book an early morning flight on an A class plane. This will be the most expensive mode of transportation, but at least you know the plane will be safe (Kind of like a pregnancy test, this is not something you wanna skimp on). Seriously if you read one thing, this should be the Peru tourist information that you read.
7. Amazon (Seriously one of the top 10 things to do in Peru and no, not the online company; even though they are super awesome)
This final member of the top sites to see in Peru has a special place in my heart. Now, I would love to regale you with a tale of me hiking through a rain soaked, botanical garden of eden. I would describe the curtain of humidity that descended upon me as I trudged through the merciless greenery that enveloped me at every
turn. I can almost hear the monkeys howling in the distance as a jaguar stalks them from the muddy floor of this cavernous, biological paradise. Everywhere I turn, I am intrigued by something I have never seen (and simultaneously mortified since 90% of what I see can kill me in 12,000 different ways).
But alas, I’m a total dumbass and my dream to see the Amazon has yet to be realized because I had a crap Peru travel plan. I mean, I knew I needed Malaria pills but I had no idea that they would be as scarce as an N’SYNC fan at a Backstreet Boys concert (BSB all the way).
I seriously thought I could just call my doctor and ask for them. But no. Here in New York, you have to call the infectious disease doctor. And I did that, about two weeks before my trip. Shockingly, to no one except myself, they were booked solid for the next three months (the nerve of them having a busy schedule when I wanted to go away. LoL).
it slowly drains you of your blood and makes you itch all over. Okay, skip the last one, but you get the idea.
This is the Post that Finally Ends…
Okay cool kids, that’s all she wrote about Peru and Peru solo travel. We’re wrapping up this “places of interest in Peru” list like a fig in a piece of applewood smoked bacon (I swear its so good). Just do me a favor and don’t make the same mistakes I did and avoid all these Peru itinerary planning mistakes like a bad habit because vacation is not the place or time to do damage control. If you do that you’ll have a ton of fun because Peru is an amazing place. Oh and say hi to all the Alpacas and Llamas for me. Just watch your back because the disgruntled ones spit.
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