Peru has great appeal for people traveling to South America, if only because of the world famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. But there are many more highlights that make this country so immensely popular. From the desert to a long coastline and from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon, traveling through Peru is extremely varied. It’s a country where you can easily spend several weeks or even months. Even so, most travelers have no more than 3 or 4 weeks to spend in this country. Whether it’s because they intend to include other South American countries on their journey, or simply because they don’t have more time off from work. For this reason, we give you Peru’s highlights in a 4-week itinerary.
When flying to Peru, your destination will most likely be Lima; a modern city on Peru’s coast. If you want to ‘land’ gently, stay in the more luxurious neighborhood ‘Miraflores’, where you can take a lovely walk along the coast, learn to surf, paraglide or delve into pre-Inca history at the Huaca Pucllana ruins. Make sure you also visit the center of Lima. Take a trip past the center’s street food stalls and all the beautiful buildings with their unique balconies. Many travelers continue straight on to Cuzco from Lima and suffer from altitude sickness because of the large altitude difference. If you’re planning to see more of Peru, make a loop via the south of Peru first, before ending up in Cuzco and/or the Amazon.
When traveling through Peru, you can choose to head down south along the coast first. Take the bus from Lima to Ica, for example. Bus transportation is very well organized in Peru and it’s often very comfortable too. Particularly if you check your guidebook for recommended tour operators, you can expect a luxury ride in comparison to many other countries. Once you arrive to Ica, you can grab a taxi to Huacachina. It’s a tiny village built around a small lake amidst immense sand dunes. You will experience a true oasis. Exactly what you would expect from an oasis. A small puddle of water surrounded by palm trees and just sand, sand and more sand. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction, but well worth an overnight stay. In particular, a rugged ride on a buggy through the high dunes and sand boarding are highly recommended. As is enjoying a beautiful sunset.
THE NAZCA LINES
After one or two days of entertainment in Huacachina, it’s time to travel on towards the south. This can easily be done by bus. Nazca is a nice place for a stopover. Thousands of geometric shapes and lines were found in the arid plateaus of this area, which were presumably created by the Nazca and Paraca Indians between 200 B.C. and A.D. 900. If you’re interested in a bit of history, then it’s definitely worth booking a flight on a small airplane to see the lines from above. Do you suffer from motion sickness? Don’t forget to take some motion sickness tablets or before you know it, these will become the longest, toughest 30 minutes of your life (I know all about it, unfortunately). Not feeling sick? Then it’s a beautiful flight over the desert where you’ll be feasting your eyes on the gigantic line art on the ground below. Nazca itself doesn’t have much to offer besides a few unique Pre-Inca ruins and a prehistoric water system. If you make sure you arrive on time in the morning, you can easily catch the night bus in the evening to travel on to Arequipa. Make sure you book your ticket in advance when in Huacachina for example, to guarantee a seat.
AREQUIPA AND THE CONDOR VALLEY
Arequipa is one of those towns where you can spend weeks. At an elevation of 2400 m, it’s the perfect place to acclimatize before heading on to even higher areas of the Andes. With its atmospheric square, beautiful abbey, cute streets and pleasant spring climate, Arequipa is a lovely resting place on your journey. Arequipa’s location between volcanoes and at the foot of the Andes make it a great base camp for all kinds of outdoor activities. A two- or three- day trek through the Colca canyon is highly recommended. You’ll be taken from Arequipa to the starting point at Cruz del Condor first thing in the morning (i.e. in the middle of the night). In this valley you can see loads of condors flying around at sunrise. When you see several of these huge birds floating through the valley right in front of your nose, it will take your breath away. From here, you will be dropped off at the entrance of the canyon that you will be traveling through over the course of the next few days. A beautiful hike that serves as a perfect preparation for the tougher, higher hikes in the Andes. You’ll spend the night in the middle of the canyon where you’ll receive a warm welcome among the locals and busily fluttering humming birds. Don’t forget to bring a head torch, because before sunrise (and breakfast) on the last day, you will be going on a tough hike back to the top of the canyon. While walking you will see the sun gradually painting the mountaintops orange and feel the temperature rapidly rising. A trek through the Colca canyon can be easily arranged from your ho(s)tel or through a tour operator in Arequipa.
LAKE TITICACA AND BOLIVIA BORDER CROSSING
Once you’re used to the altitude, travel on from Arequipa to Puno. From this city you can make various trips to Lake Titicaca. This is also a perfect place to cross the border into Bolivia. If you have time, be sure to travel around in Bolivia before continuing on your journey through Peru. You’ll be at an elevation of 3800 m by now, so take it easy! This also holds true for most of Bolivia. The capital of La Paz is situated at an elevation of 3600 m, for example.
CUZCO AND MACHU PICCHU
It’s a long journey, but you can travel from lake Titicaca to Cuzco in one go. This city, located at an elevation of 3200 m, isn’t just the base camp for the Inca trail and Machu Picchu, it’s a great place to stay in and of itself. While wandering through the small, steep streets, you can fully experience the colorful, typical Andean atmosphere. It’s a cozy city that attracts many tourists for a reason. But for many travelers the main reason for visiting Cuzco is the tourist attraction Machu Picchu. It’s no wonder, because Machu Picchu is beautiful. From here, you can reach the ancient Inca city by train, or you can take a more physical approach, by walking the Inca trail or similar multi-day hikes. Highly recommended!
The Amazon traverses a large part of South America. Peru included. The largest city in the Amazon region in Northern Peru is Iquitos. You can only get there by boat or plane. It’s a 2-hour flight from Lima. With only 370.000 inhabitants, Iquitos is a true provincial city. It’s also a great base camp for a jungle trek. You can, of course, arrange this ahead of time in Lima or Cuzco, but it’s just as easy to do it here and often cheaper. There are many offers to choose from, so take your time to ask around or check a few reviews online. We had a good experience with Llaquipallay Expeditions. They have a jungle lodge along the Amazon River, well away from most of the tourists, as well as very experienced tour guides who not only speak good English, but also grew up in the small jungle towns of the area. You’ll trek into the jungle in a canoe or on foot before breakfast to spot birds or sloths, for example. And there will be many more extraordinary trips through the dense jungle to follow, such as a nighttime trip on the water to look for caimans or fishing for Piranha’s during the day. Don’t expect luxury at the lodge itself, but it’s a lovely place to unwind, surrounded by all the sounds of the jungle
From Iquitos, it’s possible to cross the border into Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil in a so-called slow boat. This takes a lot of time and patience and safety is questionable. If you’re dead set, do some thorough research before planning such a crossing. Trippyis a good platform for questions such as these, where you can pose your question to travelers who have perhaps already made the crossing, or alternatively, the Lonely Planet forum.