Location: Peru | Spring 2017
If you were to ask my husband, Mike, my travel and bucket list are infinitely long. Peru, specifically seeing Machu Picchu, has been at the very top since I was in the 5th grade and read the National Geographic issue on it. Once some good friends of ours announced they would be living abroad in Peru for a year, we jumped at the chance to finally check the big one off the list! Our amazing adventures in Peru were full of so many wonderful sights, sounds and cultural beauty, so we wanted to share our favorite highlights and travel tips from the trip, and a brief synopsis of our itinerary.
- If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, you will need to purchase your entrance tickets in advance, especially if you want to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. You should also make sure to carry your passport on you when you visit the park as you will need to show it at the gate. If you are taking the bus to the entrance, we suggest getting your tickets the night beforehand because you'll want to get in line well before the first bus departs the following morning to see that sunrise view!
- Sunscreen and bug spray are a must, especially when you are visiting high altitude locations like Colca Canyon, Cusco, and Aguas Calientes.
- Clothing – a good rain jacket, long pants, hiking shoes, day pack, top layers, hat/sunglasses should all be on your packing list.
- Allow time in your itinerary to acclimate to the high altitudes. Coca leaves and tea are a huge life savor! You can get medication for altitude sickness, but the side effects can feel much the same as the side effects from the altitude sickness itself.
- Inka Terra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel- Our hotel in Aguas Clients was amazing! This place is an oasis by the river and a quiet retreat after spending our day hiking around Machu Picchu. The staff, restaurants, spa and hotel grounds are incredible and well worth the pricier cost for a memorable ending to our trip.
- The Pisaq Market- One of the most famous markets in Peru and definitely worth the stop if you are visiting Cusco. This market is enormous and every inch is filled with eye-catching colorful items that are uniquely Peru.
- Moray Ruins- You've seen this unique Incan ruin in picture after picture, but we couldn't believe how beautiful it was in person. This place is a must for the Sacred Valley tour!
- Machu Picchu- The fact that it is a wonder of the world is no surprise. Machu Picchu did not disappoint and in actually was far more incredible than we ever imagined. If this place is on your bucket list, GO!
Lima was the first stop on our adventure. We did not schedule any specific activities for the three days we spent here because we wanted to spend as much time with our friends as we could. Lima is full of parks, yummy restaurants and great local flavor. The only thing I had on my list was to eat dinner at El Mercado in Miraflores, and it did not disappoint! Best ceviche and tacu tacu of the entire trip! The pisco sours were delicious, too. If you visit Lima, this place is a must and definitely make a reservation. We loved their boho chic vibe!
Having friends in Lima means you get to sample some local nightlife, which is something we don't normally do on our trips by ourselves. We headed to a club in the Barranco district to see a Laguna Pai concert. This was definitely the highlight of our stay in Lima! We loved the laid back vibe. We also took a cab into the historical center of Lima on Sunday morning and enjoyed the beautiful procession happening outside the Cathedral. The Spanish colonial architecture of Plaza de Armas is so beautiful! This place has tons of photo ops for everyone and great people watching.
WHERE WE STAYED: FOUR POINTS MIRAFLORES
Arequipa is such a lovely city and definitely worth the stop on the way to Colca Canyon. We were amazed by the architecture and narrow cobblestone streets full of endless taxis trying to squeeze by. We were only here for one full day, so we didn't plan out too much to make sure we allowed ourselves plenty of time to start acclimating. We arrived here after dark and after checking into our hotel, we wandered over to Plaza de Armas and were in awe of the grand cathedral all lit up in glory. The best part about these main plazas in every city is that they are always full of life and something fun is always happening. We grabbed beers at a local restaurant with a view of the square and watched the liveliness unfold.
The main attraction we visited Arequipa for was the Santa Catalina Monastery. This inspiring place is a city within a city. Turn after turn the place keeps going as you wander through its walls. We spent the larger part of our day here. The walls are colored in the most magnificent powder blues and copper reds. We highly recommend making a visit here if you plan to visit Arequipa.
WHERE WE STAYED: TIERRA VIVA AREQUIPA PLAZA
We booked a two day tour of the Colca Canyon through Killawasi Lodge. The tour operator picked us up from our hotel in Arequipa and off we went. On our way to the canyon, we stopped at various sites, learned to chew coca leaves like the locals to avoid altitude sickness, and discovered the rich history of the canyon. The Colca Canyon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It's vastness is astounding. In fact, it is twice the size of the Grand Canyon. We could not get over the greatness or its undeniable beauty.
The Lodge itself was a really quiet sanctuary in Yanque. We loved it here and wish we could've spent more time. We highly recommend this place if you are visiting the canyon!
WHERE WE STAYED: KILLAWASI LODGE
Cusco quickly became our favorite city in Peru. It's beautiful Spanish colonial architecture cobblestone streets, and endless stairs took our breath away in more ways than one. At this point, we had experienced no issues at all with the altitude, and we had allotted three days to explore the city and the Sacred Valley. Cusco has a seemingly endless amount of sites to explore. Some of our favorites included the Sacsayhuaman ruins, Qorikancha, and the bohemian San Blas neighborhood.
We used Cusco as a home base to visit ruins in the Sacred Valley. On one of our days there, we hired a private taxi through our hotel to visit Moray and the salt pools at Maras. Because we aren't fluent in Spanish, we ended up making a stop in Chincero, but we are really glad we did. We were able to learn about the famous Peruvian alpaca textiles and watch them weave some blankets. The drive through the valley was insanely gorgeous. I'm sure you are getting sick of me using that phrasing in reference to every place we visited, but every turn we took in Peru revealed a view even more beautiful than the first. Moray is thought to be an Incan agricultural laboratory, and definitely one of the coolest things we saw on our trip and the salt mines in Maras have been in use since before Incan times. Make sure to add these places to your Sacred Valley tour list!
In order to visit the Ollantaytambo and Pisaq ruins, we decided to take a tour through Llama Path Tours so that we could be dropped at the train station in Ollantaytambo in order to catch our train to Aguas Calientes that same evening. These ruins are truly impressive! We loved seeing more parts of the valley and having a tour guide meant that we were able to learn its history from a local.
WHERE WE STAYED: TIERRA VIVA CUSCO PLAZA
Pictures will never do this world wonder any justice. We walked through it four times on two separate days, and every time the place because even more grand than the first time. There is something you can't quite put into words about standing in Machu Picchu gazing at the view above. It still feels so surreal to have visited this place, but I will never forget the golden glow of the sun coming up over it on the morning of our first visit. One thing that struck both of us was how expansive these ruins are. I had never realized from its photographs that it could ever be as big as it is. The views from every corner are just breathtaking. We picked a quiet spot on both our visits to sit and gaze quietly for quite a long time just to soak it all in. I hope everyone gets to experience this place at some point in their lifetime.
WHERE WE STAYED: INKA TERRA MACHU PICCHU PUEBLO HOTEL
Obviously there is so much more I could share with you about our wonderful Peruvian adventure, but I hope that this post inspires you to undertake your own bucket list trip to this must-see part of the world. Thank you for taking the time to read this long post! Ciao for now!