As a business school student, long holiday breaks and a lack of Friday classes mean you aren’t always hitting the books. We are encouraged to travel and are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do so. My husband has been hoarding airline miles and hotel points for years. So, we decided to cash some in and head somewhere I’ve wanted to go my entire life: Peru!
In short, the entire trip left me entranced. From the kindness of the people, unique cuisine, vibrant colors, and breathtaking landscapes to the adorable alpacas that stole my heart, I loved every minute of my time in Peru. We were there for eight days and I’m sharing the highlights of the trip in hope that it will help someone planning a similar adventure. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Peru!
Don’t Miss in Peru
The Larco Museum, Lima – While the collection of pre-Colombian art is reason enough to visit (including a scandalous erotic gallery), the Larco Museum was the most charming spot we found in Lima. The Larco is set in a stunning colonial mansion. The grounds are beautifully manicured with vibrant flowers everywhere you look. It felt as if we had been transported to a secret garden oasis. After working up an appetite touring the exhibits, we sat down to a fantastic lunch of shared appetizers and a deadly passion fruit and pisco cocktail.
The Love Park in Miraflores, Lima – Along the ocean in the Miraflores neighborhood is a series of beautifully landscaped parks. We grabbed a couple popsicles from one of the ubiquitous yellow salesmen and set off together. If you have the self-control to skip the ice cream, there’s no more picturesque way to work up your dinner appetite. Strolling along the boardwalk you’ll pass a beautiful picture worthy mosaic wall as you make your way to the colossal Kiss sculpture by Victor Delfin.
Catacombs at the Monastery of San Francisco, Lima – I highly recommend going on the monastery tour. Completed in 1744, the site has been beautifully maintained, and you’ll feel as if you are stepping back in time. Many people come just to see the catacombs. It’s estimated that ~75,000 bodies are buried under the monastery where the remains are arranged in patterns. The space is tight down there. Keep this in mind if you are claustrophobic!
Machu Picchu – The iconic symbol of Peru. Machu Picchu was somewhere that I always wanted to visit. If you’re headed to Peru on vacation, you’ll likely build your itinerary around this incredible site and need no further convincing! While it is a trip to get to, it’s absolutely worth the time and effort to see.
San Pedro Market, Cusco – Just a short walk from the main square, San Pedro is a must-see. It offers an incredible array of food, flowers, textiles and local products. You’ll find the best prices here and it’s a great place to stock up on gifts for friends and family. My favorites: hand-made ornaments, colorful beanies and of course a cozy alpaca sweater.
Incan Ruins, Cusco – Visiting the four main ruins (Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara) is the best way to get an understanding of the historical capital of the Incan Empire. Each site is remarkable in its own way. We had a blast exploring ourselves. You can hike up to the sites or hire a taxi off the street to drive you from location to location. Be sure to thoroughly explore Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman). Every guidebook we read did not mention the awesome rock slides and tunnels you can find.
Hug an alpaca or llama, Cusco – You will see many women in traditional dress walking around with their fluffy friends. They will offer to let you hold and take pictures with the alpaca or llama in exchange for a small tip. Beware, cuteness overload!
Tips and Tricks
Altitude Sickness Might Get You – Cusco’s elevation of 11,152 feet is significantly higher than that of any ski resort base in the US. While the most I experienced was shortness of breath and low energy, my husband was out of commission for two days. We stayed at the JW Marriott which had oxygen pumped into the rooms. I am convinced this helped me acclimate and recharge. Regardless, plan to take it slow in Cusco! It might be worth adding an extra day there to take in this incredible city.
Prepare for Rain – My husband and I failed to realize that we were planning a trip during the beginning of Peru’s rainy season. The wettest months are January through April. While most days there was a slight drizzle in the afternoon, we were not so lucky while visiting Machu Picchu. Shortly after our arrival, dark clouds blew in while the temperature dropped to the mid-50s. We were 3/4 of the way through a 90-minute hike to the Sun Gate when it started raining. Not a drizzle, but sheets of rain propelled by high wind. Wearing sneakers, an old raincoat and a poncho that a good Samaritan offered us, we were woefully under-equipped for the return hike. Pro tip: pack a sturdy raincoat and hiking boots that are 100% waterproof if you plan to visit during rainy season.
Machu Picchu is Tough to Get To – Once you take a ~3 hour train to Aguas Calientes, you need to wait in a long line to purchase a bus ticket and then wait in another line to board a bus which will take you on a 20 minute trip up to Machu Picchu. There aren’t enough buses, and the tedious process is sure to cut your day short. We tried to compress our visit to one day and regret not having more hours in the complex. If you can afford a splurge, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is 20 yards from the Machu Picchu entrance gate and looks wonderful. Otherwise, there are hotel options at all price points in Aguas Calientes that will give you plenty of time to explore.
Pack Wisely – I highly recommend that you bring along a pair of hiking boots if you plan to hike, regardless of what season you visit. The trails around Cusco and Machu Picchu are not easy. Many of the paths are narrow and rocky, and there are significant inclines and declines, making it easy to lose your balance. Packing essentials: a backpack, long pants, light jacket, baseball cap, pair of sunglasses and sunscreen.
That’s all friends! I hope you find some of these tips helpful if you are traveling to Peru. We would have loved to go to Lake Titicaca, Rainbow Mountain, the salt ponds of Maras and Arequipa but we did not have time. There is so much to do and see. Plan your trip wisely and be prepared if you go during the rainy season.