There is a lot to love about Peru. It’s a country with a stunning variety of ecosystems and climates, more gorgeous architecture than you can possibly discover in one vacation, and of course Machu Picchu, which is worth all the hype and more. Here’s a rundown of where you should go when you travel to Peru, what you should do, and what you should eat! (Peru is an amazing and underrated culinary destination, if you didn’t already know).
If you’re flying to Peru from the US, Canada, or Europe, you’re going to start off in Lima. It’s probably not the most elegant city you’ll ever visit, but the energy, artistry and passion for life will make you fall in love, if you’re lucky.
What’s more, even the most basic research will show you that Lima is a culinary destination par excellence. Some of the best restaurants, the most creative chefs, and interesting fusion dining options are located there, along with markets that feature all sorts of produce from Peru’s biodiverse regions that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Take a cooking class and splurge on an amazing dinner at somewhere like Central, Maido, or one of the many other world class establishments, but you really can’t go wrong anywhere in Lima. Some good casual options are Panchita, Tanta, and Catalina 555. Stay in the Barranco (more bohemian) or Miraflores (more upscale) districts. We suggest Villa Barranco in the former. It’s a restored 1920s seaside mansion and every room has incredible artwork.
The Sacred Valley is a smart first stop when you’re exploring the mountains of Peru, and not just because these villages are situated at a relatively low altitude compared to the rest of the popular Andes spots, making it easy to acclimate. Lots of smaller Inca sites, the Maras terraces and salt flats, and amazing little villages that still retain the spirit (and local weekly markets and cuisine) of the ancient Inca make it an awesome place to relax for a couple days, and literally every view is stunning with lush green mountains, glaciers, and mighty rivers filled with white water rapids situated alongside colorful murals, amazing sculptures, and tons of wildflowers.
Where to stay? Sol y Luna is a collection of unique little casitas and stunning gardens that supports a local school, so you can feel great about splurging on a stay there!
It’s one of the modern Wonders of the World for a reason – Machu Picchu is simply magical. Our advice: hire a professional guide in advance and arrange permits with an established company (we recommend Jacada Travel) so you can make sure you get the most memorable experience. From climbing Huayna Picchu, (definitely recommended for the athletic adventurers) to learning about the history of the site and the Inca civilization, it’s a bucket list experience.
The pictures speak for themselves! Stay in Aguas Calientes and take the Vistadome train from one of the Sacred Valley villages or Cusco for the full Machu Picchu experience. Inka Terra Machu Picchu is an awesome option. You’ll be close to the buses and trains (important for being one of the first ones and the last ones out at Machu Picchu), and you’ll love being able to check out the spa that includes traditional Andean sweat lodges and natural hot springs after a long day climbing mountains and exploring ruins.
This elegant little city located in the Andes and surrounded by Inca sites is a must-see on so many levels. And it’s literally located on many levels, since it’s a mountainous city with all kinds of steps and stairs, especially in the tourist center where you’ll most be staying – so be prepared to climb! The Inca ruins inside and outside the city, the many amazing restaurants, all the gorgeous cathedrals and palaces, and chances for adventure like ATVing, zip lining, and more all mean Cusco is a good spot to hang out for a couple days, if not more!
There are lots of hotel options in the historic center, but try El Retablo if you want to be surrounded by lots of Peruvian art and design during your stay. And be sure to enjoy traditional favorites like rocoto relleno and aji de gallina – spicy and hearty dishes that will keep you warm and fuel your adventuring.
This small city located in Amazonian Peru that’s filled with amazing street art is super unique, and it’s a great jumping off point for visiting an eco-lodge in the jungle and experiencing things that you can really only do in the Amazon. Things like waking up to sloths outside your window, exploring the rainforest canopy on wooden footbridges, or taking a night walk through the wetlands and seeing all sorts of creatures from caimans and tarantulas to less terrifying macaws, herons, and capuchin and squirrel monkeys.
Stay at one of Inka Terra’s Amazonian properties – Reserva Amazonica or Hacienda Concepion – for a luxurious but rustic adventure. Note that your cell phone won’t work at most properties once you get only a few minutes away from Machu Picchu, and electricity is only available for a couple hours per day. Pack a couple good books and enjoy the escape!
Off the beaten path for most non-native South Americans, Mancora is a fishing village turned eco-resort town that has stunning desert beaches surrounded by mountains. Visit from July to October and go whale watching (and swim with the sea turtles afterwards) and enjoy some of the most amazing and fresh seafood on the planet – and eat ALL the ceviche you can! Ride horses on the beach, shop for locally produced jewelry (pearls, opal, moonstone, coral, and more), and surf, kite-surf or paddle board in el Pacifico.
Where to stay? Kichic is a small boutique hotel that used to be the owner’s house and retains the personal touches that you’d expect from that and more, plus daily yoga sessions, a remarkable in-house restaurant, and things like rooms with both indoor and outdoor beds (trust us, you’ll love that).
So have you planned your next vacation yet? Why not travel to the mystical and magical Peru?
– Jacqueline Zenn
Read some of Jacqueline’s other travel posts including What To Pack For An Extreme Indiana Jones-Style Adventure and Traveling Without Fear: A Western Woman In A Muslim Country.
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Photos: Jacqueline Zenn for Fountain Of 30