Ah, Peru. Peru with your Asian inspired cuisine, your warm northern beaches, your museums dedicated to Inca mummies and to chocolate, your llamas, your Amazon, your coca leaves. Your cities rock the most impressive architecture we’d ever seen and your children are adorable.
Peru has beaches in the north, the Amazon to the east, the desert in the south and a smattering of Inca ruins in between. All the hiking, historical, cultural and culinary adventures a wanderlust smitten backpacker could ask for. If you want to see a varied slice of South America, Peru is the place to go.
We tumbled into Peru from Bolivia, crossing around and then over Lake Titicaca. We sat on a tiny motorboat and watched our bus with everything we own on it float across the lake on a rather unstable looking ferry. Despite the shaky start, we grew to love Peru in the short five weeks we were there.
Hike Lake Titicaca and the Uros floating islands
Our first of Peruvian culture was on a tour of Lake Titicaca to the floating reed islands. Have a chat with the locals, play games with the children and photograph the quaintest little houses on this side of Peru. We hiked around Isla Taquile and gasped at the thin air, dinned fresh trout for lunch, listened to music and bought hand knitted hats.
How to get there? Take a tour from Puno.
How much? S70/US$25 – Includes lunch and transport from hostel.
Explore eerie museums
You may not get excited about wandering around a museum but Cuzco’s chocolate museum is worth checking out (even if only for the free chocolate tea and tastings).
For something a little grizzlier, Arequipa has the famous ice maiden Juanita; a mummified girl sacrificed to the gods some 500 years ago.
Cuzco’s Museo Inca also holds the remains of several sacrificed children, it’s eerie and fascinating and simply unusual.
There are numerous other museums in Peru but these three were my favourites, because of my odd fascination with mummies and chocolate.
How to get there? Head to the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa for Juanita, and the Choco Museo or Museo Inka in Cuzco.
How much? The Museo Inka is S10/US$4.
The Museo Santuarios Andinos is S20/US$7.
The Choco Museo is free, but a chocolate making workshop costs S70/US$25.
Gasp for air and in amazement at Colca Canyon
We came close to skipping this tour, it seemed like it would be another group tour, leaving at 3am for yet another day of being shuttled from one place to another. But, you know what? Colca Canyon is worth it. A breathtaking location (literally, at 4800m), we often saw llamas, and some of my favourite photographs of Peru were taken here. If I could do it again I would join a hiking company and see Colca Canyon more broadly than the 3am – 7pm day trip allows.
How much? S60/US$20 for a day tour.
How to get there: Sign up with one of the tour agencies in Arequipa.
Pet the exotic animals of Peru
Llamas and monkeys and turtles, oh, my.
Where to find them? They’re everywhere, you’ll see. The llamas and alpacas you’ll find mostly in the south of Peru; Colca canyon, around Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. The monkey houses are strewed along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you’ll see them if you do one of the hikes to the Inca ruins, and the turtles we found in Huacachina’s hostel Carola del Sur at US$30 a night for a private room and ensuite.
Broaden your palate with Peruvian food
After months of eating beans and rice in Bolivia, we loved that we could find cheap Chinese restaurants everywhere in Peru. Between the $4 two course Chinese meals in Cuzco, the fresh Sushi by the Pacific Ocean in Mancora, traditional ceviche at Huanchaco and the Andean soup in Arequipa, we were very well fed in Peru.
Shop for local crafts at Pisac Market
My favourite market in South America – better than the famous Otovalo market in Ecuador just for being a little quieter and more authentic, this is where you should buy an alpaca knit poncho, scarves, pottery or artwork for family back home.
How to get there? Buses run from Cuzco S3.50/US$1.20 for the hour each way.
How much? An alpaca knit poncho sells at around S50-60/$20 depending on your bartering skills.
Wandering the streets of Spanish influenced cities
Arequipa is Peru’s most enchanting city – a city of white walls and gorgeous churches. If you want to see something a little extraordinary, check out the underground catacombs of Lima’s San Francisco Monastery
Marvel at Machu Picchu
For us, Machu Picchu was stressful. Our tour agency booked organised our hike there but completely forgot to book our tickets to Machu Picchu itself. The day of our visit saw us at the ticket office at 5am, to try with crossed fingers to buy two of a few remaining tickets for that day. I’m sure your experience of Machu Picchu will be far smoother.
How to get there? There are several options: walk there independently, take the train, or join a hike. The Inca trail hike needs to be booked months in advance so consider the Jungle Tour (booked locally with tour agent in Cuzco) and bike, hike, zip line and raft your way to Machu Picchu.
How much? We did the jungle tour at US$450 per person. It includes transport to and from Machu Picchu, tickets, activities, food and accommodation for three nights.
Relax at Huacachina Oasis
Huacachina is a quiet little desert oasis and perfect for screaming while sandboarding head first down a sand bank. The lake is a little on the green side, the oasis little touristy but damn, those sand dunes are fun.
How to get there? Take the bus to Ica and then a S5-7/$2 taxi to Huacachina.
How much? The sand boarding and buggy tour is S45/$15 for half a day of action, or rent boards for S5 by the hour and climb the dunes yourself.
Swim with green sea turtles and lounge on rustic beaches
Love a beach holiday? Peru isn’t just for hikers and history buffs; you can still find the sun in the northern beach towns of Mancora and Huanchaco, plus the food is amazing.
If you get bored, swimming with green sea turtles in Mancora was one of my favourite experiences in South America. The turtles swim around and under you, some as long as I am tall.
How to get there? Take an 8 hour bus north from Lima
How much? Swimming with turtles costs S90/USD$30 for transport, photos, lunch, and snorkel gear.
We were a little short on funds to take the $100 flight necessary to see the lines, but don’t miss out just because we did.
We visited the Amazon on the Bolivia side but many people head up to Iquitos for tours into the Jungle.
Want to visit Peru now? Here's what it costs
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