Machu Picchu, Nazca’s lines, Cusco, Lima, Amazonia, Cordillera of the Andes, we quickly understand why there are more and more tourists in Peru each year. This country has such variety of landscapes and activities, that everyone will find his happiness. However be careful, this country is huge and you can easily have 10h of bus between two places. You should consider this small “detail” will you’re planning your trip.
Step 1: Huaraz
Huaraz is a city located in the north of Peru, in the white Cordillera, at 3 000m above the sea level. It is the departure of many hikes and treks in this region. Before hiking or trekking, I advise you to rest a day to get used to the altitude. Your body will thank you! Otherwise, it might be difficult for you and your breathing. In the worth case, you can have a headache and/or nausea.
The most famous trek is the Santa Cruz trek. Personally, I didn’t do it. It lasts 4 days and some parts are a little difficult and physical.
The most famous hiking is Laguna 69. This hiking is harder than it looks. Some guides will tell you it’s an easy hiking but it’s not. The climbing is around 3h to 4h, at 4 000m, just to arrive at the lake. This hike is very difficult, especially for a first hike. I also decided not to do it, because I felt I wasn’t prepared for it as I just started my trip. Moreover, it was the first for me to be at this altitude and I didn’t know how my body will react.
If like me, you decided not to do the Laguna 69, the Laguna Pàron is a good alternative. The hiking is much easier, around 1h climbing. In the end, the view is really nice too. I let you judge by yourself with the picture I took there.
This glacier is located at 5 000m. Unfortunately, due to climate change, it is going to disappear in a few years. This is the reason why I decided to see it. During this tour, the guide sensitized us about it and I wanted to support this kind of project. To be honest, the glacier is also beautiful and it’s not every day I have the opportunity to hike at 5 000m! The climbing is easier if you take coca leaves, coca the and/or coca candies.
The city may seem small, however, there are many accommodations and for all budgets. Personally, I choose Vacahouse 2 Eco hostel. This hostel offers several tours, the classical ones, for goods prices. You don’t need to look for an agency even if there are many in the city center. The value money price is good and the personal is nice. Bonus: From the terrace, you can have a view of the mountains when the sky is clear.
Step 2: Lima
Lima is the capital of Peru. Usually, the tourists don’t stay here and sometimes they even don’t visit it. However, some neighborhood worth to visit. The historic center gives a preview of the country history. We can recognize the Spanish influence and the former wealth of the country. The luxurious churches, the prestigious buildings are everywhere in this neighborhood. If you walk around there pay attention and look everywhere, you may found some beautiful surprises.
One thing you must try in Lima is the gastronomy. All around the city, there are lots of restaurants with Peruvian specialties or from other countries. Each Peruvian says it: At Lima, we eat very good food at the restaurant.
In Lima, I found a really good deal: the Kokopelli hostel. It is located in Miraflores neighborhood, few steps from the beach and offers free walking tours. For my free walking tour, the guide was a native of Lima, perfect to tell the country history. The hostel proposes others lots of activities during the day or the night. But the most important point is that Kokopelli hostel is a chain. There are 3 hostels: Lima, Paracas, and Cusco. If you book in one of them, you will have 20% discount for the 2nd and 3rd booking. So, if you decide to visit at least 2 of these cities, I recommend you this hostel.
Step 3: Huacachina
Huacachina is an oasis in the desert. Indeed, it is surrounded by sand dunes. Thanks to it, the city develops its main activity: buggy tour and sandboard. During one or two hours, you will go up and down the dunes with the buggy and after with the sandboard. The buggy driver is a pilot and will guaranty you strong sensations!
During the tour, we are shaken in all directions. We went up and down really fast, we took tight turns and skidded on the sand. After it, to calm down, we started the sandboard. We slid the dune sitting or laying on the board. The guide helps you to slide safely. This activity is perfect if you’re looking for speed and slide!
Huacachina is a small village. The choice for the accommodation is limited and more expensive than in the rest of the region. I chose Wild Olive Guesthouse. The price is reasonable (for Huacachina) and the hostel is good: female dormitory available, breakfast included, tour available at the reception, etc.
Step 4: Nazca
The famous and mysterious Nazca lines. We still don’t know why and how they were created. This is why these lines are so famous. To admire them, you have two solutions: either fly over with an aircraft or climb to the top of a mirador. Usually, tourists choose the fly over the lines, but it’s the most expensive solution. The price is around 80US$ for 30min. If you don’t like aircraft, or if your budget is to tight, you can see some of the lines from the mirador. To go there, you have to take the bus which leaves from Soyuz agency (Perubus company) to Ica. You need to precise to the bus driver that you want to stop at the mirador. After 15-20min driving, you finally arrive! The mirador is in the middle of nowhere in the desert along the road. To go up to the mirador, you have to pay 3 soles for fee entrance. From the top, you can see the tree of life, the frog and the lizard. To return to Nazca, you have to patient and wait for the bus. You won’t miss it and the souvenirs sellers will help you to stop the bus.
Step 5: Canyon del Colca
The Canyon del Colca is the second deepest canyon of the world. If you like hiking, it is possible to trek for 2 or 3 days. You can do it with or without a guide, but before starting the trek, you need to prepare it. I did the trek in 3 days (all details are in this article).
Step 6: Arequipa
After 3 days walking, one day of rest in Arequipa was more than welcome! And this city is a really good place to relax. It is a beautiful place, perfect to wander. The Santa Catalina convent is a must-see. The red and blue colors inside are marvelous and you have the feeling to be in a city inside the city.
If you wish to discover Arequipa, a free walking tour is organized every day at 10 am next to the convent (in English and Spanish). Otherwise, don’t hesitate to wander in the city to discover every small surprise that Arequipa hides. If you’re looking for the huge cathedral, you should go to the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral is as large as the place and looks really huge. But if you go inside, you will see it’s an illusion.
Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru (after Lima). You will find easily accommodations with good prices. Personally, I choose The Flying Dog hostel. It is close to the city center and I recommend it to you. In this case, this hostel belongs to a chain in Peru too. If you like this hostel, it is also possible to have it in others cities.
Step 7: Cusco
The former Incas capital is the departure for several tours. However, even just the city deserves at least 1 or 2 days to visit it.
The Salineras de Maras
The salineras are salt marshland at 3 000m above the sea level. Beyond the unusual side to see salty water in the mountains, the degraded colors from the red to the white are beautiful.
It is easy to go there by yourself. The morning, go to the bus stop at Pitovi street. There, many drivers will come to you and ask to drive you to the salineras de maras. My friend and I choose the collectivo (7 soles for 2persons) which dropped us to the intersection for the salineras. From here, you need to take a taxi to arrive at the site (25soles round trip). The fee entrance is of 10 soles.
TO come back, we took the same taxi. The driver dropped us at the same intersection. Then, we waited for the collectivo for Cusco (4soles/pers.). In total, the journey and the visit last all morning.
The rainbow mountain and the red valley
For this tour, there is no choice, we need an agency. After bargaining, the tour costs 60 soles/pers. (+10 soles for fee entrance for the mountain, +10 soles for fee entrance for the red valley). This includes the bus transfer, the “guide”, the breakfast and the lunch.
So, here we are at 3 am waiting for the bus transfer. The bus is late and finally arrives at 4h15. Around 7 am, the bus stops so you can have breakfast. Simple but efficient: café/tea, bread, butter, and jam as much as we want. Around 8 am, we’re back on the road and from there the road is narrow and winding. If you don’t feel comfortable in the car, I advise you to avoid the window seat on the bus. Finally, we arrive at the hiking departure at 10 am. After a short briefing from the “guide” (top of the mountain is this way, be back at 1h30pm), we start walking. The hiking is not technically complicated but the altitude makes the breathing short. The start is at 4 300m and the top of the mountain at 5 000m. The hiking is divided into two parts: the long and flat start, the very steep and short end. To arrive at the top, it takes between 1h and 1h30 to get to the top of the rainbow mountain.
Once you’re on the top, the 360° view on the valley is a nice reward. The rainbow mountain is beautiful even if there are many people. To have a picture of you alone in front of the mountain, you will need patience.
If you have a bit of strength left, you should see the red valley. This valley is just next to the rainbow mountain, 15 mins walking more on a flat path. I strongly recommend you to go there. I like it more than the rainbow mountain. The landscape is more impressive and there is almost no one. To go there, it’s really easy. While you’re going down from the rainbow mountain, you just have to follow the rope on your left. You can’t miss it and you might see 2-3 persons walking on the path. After 10 min walking ( I remind you it’s on a flat path!), you will see the red valley entrance. The fee entrance is of 10 soles and you need to walk a few hundreds meters more to see this beautiful landscape.
The Machu Picchu
I don’t need to introduce to you the famous site which belongs to the 7 wonders of the world! For me, it’s unbelievable to visit Cusco (or even Peru) without visiting Machu Picchu.
To go there, there as several solutions: a 4days trek (the Salkantay), by bus and foot (the cheaper) or by train and bus (the more expensive). It depends on how much time you have, your budget and also your wishes. You can decide to organize everything by yourself or to chose an agency to do it.
When we visit the Machu Picchu, there were strikes which prevent us to take the bus. You had no choice except to take the train. After calculating the budget, it was cheaper for us to take an agency to organize the journey.
The visit lasts half a day. The entrance ticket is valid either the morning of the afternoon. When you buy your ticket you have to choose the morning or the afternoon. I advise you to chose wisely the transportation first and then buy the ticket.
When you are in the site, a guide is mandatory to enter. It’s really easy to get one for free. Just join a group and follow it. If you don’t like the guide explanations, you can leave the group and visit by yourself. However, I found the explanations very interesting and I learned a lot about the Machu Picchu history. Once the guided tour is over, you can’t go back on your steps. So take as much picture as you can and enjoy the landscapes! The guided tour lasts 2h and you will have 3h left to visit the rest of the site at your rhythm.
Step 8: Titicaca Lake
Titicaca lake is the last stop before crossing the Bolivian border. This lake is famous because it is the higher lake in the world at 3 800m (almost as high as the Mont Blanc!). It is divided between two countries: Peru and Bolivia. I and my friend decided to visit both sides, and logically we start with the Peruvian side.
On this side, you visit 3 islands on Titicaca Lake. You can visit 1, 2 or the 3 islands. If you decide to see the 3, you’ll have to sleep on an island in an inhabitant’s house. This is the tour we choose: the 3 islands in 2 days and 1 one in an inhabitant’s house. The agency Lago Tour organized everything for 100soles/pers. This includes: lunch/dinner/night/breakfast/entrances for the 3 islands.
The visit starts with the most famous island: Uros, the floating island made by reed. We stay there 2-3 hours, long enough to see around this small island. The guide explains to us how these islands are built, the several traditions, etc. Of course, in the end, we also see the souvenir shops more or less handcraft.
The next island is Amantani (3h of boat from Uros). There, we meet the family with who we will share the lunch, the diner and their house for one night. For lunch, we eat the traditional meal with the family. The afternoon, we hike on the highest viewpoint of the island to watch the sunset. (Don’t forget to take warm clothes with you, once the sun is down, it’s really cold on the island). When we’re back to our family’s house, we have dinner with them. During the night, there is a party specially organized for the tourists. However, after a night on the bus, we are so tired that we go straight to our beds.
The next day, the breakfast is at 6h30, departure from the island at 7h15. We go to the last island: Taquile. To be honest, the “visit” of the last island disappointed me. The guide drooped us on the island, indicated us the way for the village and the main square, and that’s it. We waited 1 hour on the main square until the guide arrived. From the place, we have a nice view of the lake and there is one textile shop, nothing more … When the guide finally arrives, he explains us the dress code for the inhabitants according to their status and how they made their own clothes. One the explanations over, the guide leads us to a house to eat a traditional meal. This lunch is not included in the tour and cost 20 soles more. When the lunch is over, we go back to Puno and arrive in the middle of the afternoon.
To cross Peru from the north to the south, I always took the bus, sometimes by night and sometimes during the day. When I arrived in Peru and during all my trip, many persons often (very often) recommend me the bus company Cruz Del Sur. Everybody told me it was the best bus company even if it’s the most expensive. Let me tell you something: IT’S NOT TRUE! Cruz Del Sur is not the best company, but it’s the most expensive, most of the time.
Personally, I used the app Redbus to purchase my bus tickets. The companies are all equivalents and they have rates.
I try many bus companies, but the ones I prefer are Oltursa, Moviltur, Cruz del Sur and Perubus. For the night bus, these 4 companies offered the same services: reclining seats, meals or snacks, blankets, movies and toilettes on board.
As I’m traveling for a few months, my budget is tight and precise. I choose to have a budget per day and followed it with the app TravelSpend. So here are my final results:
aim: 29€/day (112 soles/day in September 2018)
real budget: 29€/day (112 soles/day in September 2018)
Note: When we visited the Machu Picchu, there were strikes. This contingency forced us to pay an agency to organize our trip. We had to take the train until Agua Calientes. First, we planned to take the bus until hydroelectrica and then walk until Agua Calientes. This unexpected event cost us much more than expected. Without it, we would have spent much less money.
Good places to eat
We didn’t eat at the restaurant in each city, but two restaurants stay in my mind in Peru and I recommend them.
This restaurant is specialized in potatoes. Each meal owns a layer of potatoes from different varieties. You chose the accompaniment according to the menu: alpaga or beef meat, vegetables, etc. If you like beer, this restaurant proposes also lots of craft beers.
Puno: Bohu’s Café
For our last night in Peru, we wanted to go to the restaurant and to enjoy it. We choose Bohu’s Café. This restaurant offers different types of meals: local and international. The prices are reasonable and the meal delicious. For those who are interested, this restaurant proposes also vegetarian meals.
Where withdraw money without taxes?
In Peru, I found only one bank where I can withdraw money without paying taxes: Banco del Nacion. I found this bank in every city where I was.
One month for visiting Peru is long and also very short. I really loved this country, but now it’s time for me to continue my trip in Bolivia!
And you did you visit Peru? What did like or dislike?