I spent a month in Peru back in December 2014. We started our Peruvian adventure by flying to Lima the capital of Peru, from Quito the capital of Ecuador. My sister was visiting and working in Lima for 1 week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference-COP20, and as I hadn’t seen her since she’d moved to Malawi 11 months earlier, I was so excited to visit Lima!
Lima receives mixed reviews from many travellers, with most choosing to use it as a base to fly to before heading off to explore the rest of the country. I really enjoyed my time in Lima and found it a lot prettier than I expected having heard so many mixed reviews on the City! We stayed in the Barranco district just a short walk from the main city centre and Miraflores. Make sure to try Pisco sours- the national drink of Peru whilst here, but be prepared for a potential killer headache the next day as they’re a lot stronger than they taste!
We left my sister and the big City lights of Lima to head to Paracas, a short 4 hour bus journey south of Lima. We travelled with Cruz del Sur, the fanciest bus company I’ve ever travelled with! They had reclining first class seats, individual TVs and even had a meal service!
The main highlight of Paracas is visiting the Ballestas islands. This can be as part of a one day tour. You’ll start the day by taking a boat trip out to see the incredible cliffs, and rock formations, as well as get the chance to spot penguins and sea lion. From here, you’ll be taken on a 4 hour tour of the National Park, through the desert and finishing at the salt flats were you can see flamingos!
Huacachina is a beautiful green oasis town surrounded by huge sand dunes in the desert of Ica. We stayed at Banana’s hostel whilst here, and they organised tours out on to the sand dunes in buggys were you can then sand board down the huge dunes! This was one of the most exhilarating, incredible things I did in Peru, and I’d definitely recommend it!
Arequipa is a 12 hour bus journey from Huacachina and can be travelled to by night bus on Cruz del Sur or Civas. Arequipa is a colonial city, with a beautiful town square, and interesting museum where you can learn all about the fascinating history of the Inca people.
Arequipa is also a good base to arrange trips to trek the Colca Canyon, on either a 2 day or 3 day trek. The Colca Canyon is amazing! We chose to trek through it over 3 days as part of a tour, visiting the tiny villages in the canyon, meeting the locals, spotting condors- the largest bird in the world, and making great friends with those on our tour along the way! If you’re planning to trek the Inca trail, the Colca canyon trek is a good way of building up your exercise tolerance and acclimatising to the increased altitude before arriving at Cusco.
Cusco is a 10 hour night bus from Arequipa, but don’t let these distances put you off, as the buses are top class and super comfortable, making it easy to fall asleep to pass the time! We stayed at Ecopackers in Cusco, a really nice, friendly hostel just a short walk from the town centre. A walking tour of Cusco is the best way to explore this beautiful city and can be arranged from the town square.
Trekking the inca trail to arrive at Machu Picchu on Christmas day was one of the few things we had pre-booked before leaving for South America. Unfortunately, disaster struck, and Steph and I both ended up with bacterial gut infections the night before we had planned to leave for the Inca trail! The best laid plans and all that…
Thankfully, we recovered well after a treatment of antibiotics, and were able to change our plans and take a 2 day tour to Machu Picchu, which involved exploring Aguas calientes and Ollantaytambo to arrive at Machu Picchu on Christmas morning. I’ve heard quite a few similar stories of food poisoning/altitude sickness in Cusco, so make sure to be careful about what/where you eat whilst here, and only drink bottled water.
Bacterial gut infections aside, Machu Picchu was just as amazing as I’d expected! We climbed Wayna Picchu (book this in advance), wearing our Santa hats, and singing Christmas songs to all those unfortunate enough to be within earshot of us, and had a great Christmas day exploring the history of Machu Picchu!
Puno was our last stop in Peru, a city based on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the highest altitude lake in the world. From Puno you can organise a tour to the floating islands, were families have made their homes, and the islands themselves out of reeds! The islands, and the ingenuity of the people who live on them is incredible and definitely worth visiting!
From here, our time in Peru was over and it was time to cross the border and head on to our next country, Bolivia!
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