“Nearly five hundred years ago, roughly one hundred and sixty-eight Spaniards and a handful of their African and Indian slaves arrived in what is now Peru. They soon collided with an Incan empire ten million strong, smashing into it like a giant meteor and leaving remnants of that collision scattered all over the continent.”
– Excerpt from The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie
As I shared in a previous newsletter,* I loved Peru so much. This was my second visit and the only overlap was in Lima. As you’ll see below, I have big plans for multiple return visits, because there is so much more I haven’t seen or experienced.
* to give you a full overview, some of this will be repeated from what was in the newsletter
Seeing Machu Picchu is the #1 reason people come to Peru, so we’ll start there. There are many ways up Machu Picchu. If you plan to visit, here are some of the options:
- long way up, short way up – it can take 5 days, 4 days, 2 days, 1 day or half a day
- hiking, trekking (with or without a porter)
- horseback riding
- luxury hotels, mountain lodges, camping
- bus, train
- and often a combination of more than one of the above
- there’s the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trail, the Lares Trek and others
Planning which is right for you, is highly dependent upon you and what you like. There’s a way up for virtually everyone.
The impetus for my most recent trip to Peru was for a belated graduation present for my daughter, Allison. This trip gave us the opportunity to spend time exploring a beautiful place together. We also took the opportunity to really learn about the people we met. To hear their stories and about their lives and their families. It was a blessing to have 12 continuous days together.
As with many trips I plan, this one was full of contrasts:
- quiet moments of meditation by a river and strong physical exertions hiking the Inca Trail
- eating favorite tropical fruits and tasting new foods like alpaca, ají de gallina and cherimoya
- enjoying a meal with just the two of us and celebrating on a train dancing and singing with people we’d never met
- staying in a small glass capsule on the side of a cliff and in a luxurious casita with every comfort
- strolling at a easy pace seaside in Lima and struggling to catch our breath walking up a mountain at 14,000 feet
- relaxing by the pool and getting outside of our comfort zones scaling a via ferrata (yes I’ve done them before, but every time it takes a concerted effort!)
In the 11 days we were in Peru we saw and did a lot. Some highlights (in no particular order):
- market visits, tasting tours
- cooking and Pisco sour classes
- ate at local restaurants, experienced an authentic pachamanca
- pet fuzzy alpacas
- had a magical picnic in the mountains with my Peruvian partners
- went on a wellness hike, doing meditation with Brisa and sound bathing with Jorge in the forest next to a river
- visited ancient ruins, incredible Incan sites and learned about the history of the Incas
- learned about ancient agriculture and architecture
- met with people still living as their families did 500+ years ago, plowing the field with them, learning to spin yarn, enjoying a meal together and hiking through the mountains listening to their beautiful music
- enjoyed chocolate and salt tastings
- ate so many new foods
- zip lined, scaled a via ferrata
- took the luxury train from Machu Picchu to Cusco, dancing, singing and playing the tambourine with a train full of celebratory travelers from all over the world
- wandered the streets of Cusco
- hiked the Inca Trail 7.7 miles arriving through the Sun Gate to the most beautiful view of Machu Picchu
- the day after that hike, did another hike 2+ miles straight up Machu Picchu Mountain with a 2000+ mile elevation gain (it was steep!)
- gazed at the full moon above Cusco
- met warm, welcoming Peruvians
- shopped the boutiques of Lima and Cusco
- we stayed at and I did site visits at 17 hotels! Then I squeezed in visits at 3 “nice” hostels in Cusco, scouting them out for my daughter’s gap year visit next year
- made many new friends including the best guide we could ask for, Carlos
Writing that list feels like a lot. Does it sound exhausting? It might to some. But we loved every bit of it.
We did fit in some moments of rest and thanks to our guide, Carlos, had some more contemplative moments on our trek, while at Machu Picchu and on a bench in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Many would think “I’ve been to Peru. I’ve seen Machu Picchu. I don’t need to go back.” But I think the opposite is true.
There is so much more to see! So many other places that are more off the beaten path that are rich with culture, stories of people with deep family roots in their villages going back 1000+ years and active adventures.
What am I thinking about for my future visits? Here’s the start of a list:
- seeing the Nazca Lines
- taking a two night river rafting trip
- parapenting – soaring over Lima and the beach
- eating at Michelin* restaurants Central and Maido
- experiencing at dinner at MIL – Food Lab and Interpretation Center
- mountain biking all over the Sacred Valley
- hiking to Machu Picchu, and up Machu Picchu mountain and maybe Huayna Picchu
- staying overnight in Aguas Calientes
- visiting the Colca Canyon to see the soaring condors
- taking the Belmond train to Lake Titicaca
- hiking up Pachamama in the evening to see 360 degree views of the lake over Peru and Bolivia and enjoy spectacular sunsets across Lake Titicaca
- visiting the Ballestas Islands to see the natural arches, caves and wildlife – sea lions, penguins and boobies
- exploring the many other Incan archaeological sites that are lesser known but equally impressive
- taking an epic hike to Gocta waterfall, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world at over 700 meters of drop
- fishing, surfing and whale spotting up near Máncora
- spending more time in remote villages to meet and learn from the people who are living as they would have 500+ years ago
- visiting the Amazon
- in the northern section – stay in a treehouse lodge and cruise the Amazon River in style and comfort on one of the luxury boats
- in the southern section – experience the rainforest and learn about the research through a stay at a remote research lodge
- and because I love via ferretas so much, I’ll be doing it again and likely staying at the glass capsules at least one more time!
I took Huacachina off my list because it’s touristy, but I do want to go 4x4ing in the desert.
As you can see, Peru holds a wealth of adventures and experiences. Unless you have 6 weeks to cover a lot of the above, I suggest multiple visits for you too. And one piece of advice, read The Last Days of the Incas before you go.
BEST TIME TO VISIT PERU
April through November
For Machu Picchu, it is really a year-round destination. But if you have the option, avoid January and February, the wettest months. April-June and September-October have the best weather with fewer crowds than the summer.