Posted by Beth | January 12, 2016
We spent just over three weeks in Peru in December and were lucky enough to surround ourselves with some beautiful scenery, delightful people, impressive food, and a host of adventure activity options. Of course the highlight was Machu Picchu (read about our Inka Jungle Trek experience here), but we feel travelers who only do Cusco/Machu Picchu and skip the rest of Peru are missing out!
If you’re planning a trip to Peru (as everyone totally should be!), be sure to allow yourself time to visit at least a few of these other options.
- Colca Canyon Trek
We did a two-day, one-night trek to the bottom of Colca Canyon; supposedly the deepest canyon in the world. Though only a moderately challenging hike, the scenery was unique and we learned a lot about how people did and still do live in the Colca Valley. We booked our tour directly through our hostel in Arequipa, and took a bus straight from the ending point of the trek (Chivay) to Puno to save a bit of time and money. The tour cost $42 per person, along with a $21 per person fee to enter the canyon. We did buy some snacks and drinks along the way, but it still ended up being a very affordable trekking option.
- Visit Arequipa: Considered the “cultural capital” of Peru, we adored this town. We did a free walking tour, took in a local festival, learned to make ceviche, visited the Ice Maiden Museum and tried Chifa (a blend of Chinese and Peruvian food). But by far the highlight was our twilight visit to the Santa Catalina Monastery. With its beautiful architecture and bright colors, we wandered around mesmerized for hours.
- Take a Cooking Class: Peruvian food is wonderful and we took two separate classes to learn how to make it ourselves. In Arequipa we did the Peruvian Cooking Experience and learned to make several seafood dishes. In Cusco we did a chocolate making class at the Choco Museum, which took us through making chocolate from bean to bar. We also visited a coffee museum in Cusco which was free and very informative.
- Lake Titicaca Tour: Though the town of Puno itself doesn’t have much to offer, many travelers visit the area to see Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, which also borders Bolivia. Half-day, full-day and overnight tours are possible, though we thought the full-day tour was about right. We visited two separate islands, including the Uros floating reed islands and learned about how the locals build their man-made islands.
- Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods in Lima: Many travelers simply transit through the capital of Lima, but the trendy waterfront neighborhood of Miraflores, as well as Barranco, are worth at least a full-day. You can walk or bike along well-maintained paths on the coast, try paragliding (we went in Mendoza, or else we would have), shop at a mall built into the cliffs or take your pick of a wide array of dining options.
- Visit Paracas—Islas de Ballestas Tour: Our first stop in Peru was in Paracas, where we jam-packed our short stay with ATV rides through the Paracas National Reserve as well as a boat tour to the Islas de Ballestas. The “poor man’s Galapagos” offers a chance to see sea lions, penguins and plenty of birds.
- Sandboarding and dune buggy tours in Huacachina: Quite possibly the highlight of our time in Peru was our short stay in Huacachina to go sand boarding. No matter whether you ride down on your feet snowboarding style, or on your butt or belly sledding style, the sand dunes are sure to be an exhilarating experience. We booked through the Bananas Hostel for an absurdly low price of $10. Banana’s was so great with it’s pool, outdoor bar and garden area and delicious meals that we almost wish we could have stayed another night. Truly there’s not much else to do though in the town so we moved on. Note: We did do a winery tour the following day but wouldn’t recommend it, actually we recommend you don’t do it.
- Other Sacred Valley Ruins: Finally, since you’ll likely be in Cusco anyway, because who goes to Peru without seeing Machu Picchu, we recommend you plan at least one extra full day to visit other Incan ruins throughout the Sacred Valley. We hired a private driver for our group of five for about $20 per person for the day and visited the Pisac ruins and Pisac market. We also (sort of) visited the Saksaywaman ruins right outside of Cusco but were escorted out. We had read that if you arrive before 7 a.m. the gate is open (which it was!) and it’s free, but apparently you need to arrive quite a bit before 7 a.m. so you are gone by the time the guards start to show up for work and kick you out.
We loved Peru and would recommend it for any budget traveler! As always, feel free to comment or email us with any specific questions or further recommendations.
Note: Though we’re still blogging about South America, we just wrapped up nearly two weeks in Northern Europe and have just arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. Hopefully by the time you read this we are off on a safari seeing the Big 5! Please excuse any typos and photo spacing issues on this post; I wrote it during our 22-hour layover with very little sleep and just couldn’t quite get the photos to cooperate.