Peru is one of the most exciting countries we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. However, it was also one of the most challenging trips we’ve ever planned. If you’re considering taking off on the trip of a lifetime, but simply don’t know where to start, hopefully this handy guide of what/how/where will help you get the most out of Peru.
Lima/ Huacachina (Ica)
We got a direct flight with BA to Peru’s capital, Lima, arriving late and spending just one night in the super cute Casa Nuestra – a great value, bright yellow B&B in the Barranco area which provides fresh fruit and DIY eggs for breakfast.
We’d decided to focus on the city at the end of our trip so jumped on a four hour coach to Ica where a short taxi got us to Huacachina, a surreal oasis in the middle of the desert. The first beer we had tasted oh-so-good, but be warned they come large as standard and it’s hot, hot, HOT here.
The main activity is understandably, sand-dunning. We had a private room at Banana’s, a fun hostel with a small pool (essential in this heat!), which included an activity as standard. While not high up on most people’s places to visit in Peru, we chose Huacachina to let off some steam and get a bit silly. As it was Easter a lot of Peruvians were doing the same thing so it had a really fun vibe about it. The sand dunning was great but also pretty scary at times – take as little personal belongings as possible, you’ll be throwing yourself down some pretty steep dunes on the back of a surfboard! Back at Banana’s we’d recommend booking the all you can eat BBQ which comes with a free beer and will get you chatting to other residents.
The next part of our trip went a bit….. wrong. We thought we were being soooooooo clever booking an overnight coach from Ica to Arequipa – saving a nights accommodation, getting on the move while sleeping – unfortunately it just didn’t turn up. As we mentioned earlier it was Easter, Huacachina was PACKED so we went back to our hostel, tail between our legs and begged to spend the night on the hammocks in the garden. Mosquito bites aside, we survived and got on the 11am coach the following day. A 12 hour coach in the middle of the day is not advisable, BUT they are really great coaches, serve food and are mega comfy. So if it had gone to plan it WOULD have been a great idea.
Unfortunately this meant that instead of waking up to a day ahead of us to explore the colonial city of Arequipa, we had about an hour before we were picked up for the next leg of our trip. Ouch. We managed to whizz around the main square which was gorgeous – but can’t tell you much more than this – sorry!
Anyway, onwards and upwards. Quite literally as it happens – we were heading to some of the highest points in the whole country. To try to combat altitude sickness (which is a bitch – FYI) try the local Coca Tea, an infusion of muna (local mint) and coca leaves.
We booked this bit with Peru North as we had our heart set on staying at Colca Lodge and a shared mini bus was one of the only options of getting there. The friendly guide gave us loads of interesting facts on the long (LONG!) drive and stopped off along the way to point out wild Vicuna, llama and Alpaca. Set in the Colca Valley, 3250m above sea level, the picturesque setting is worth the journey. We stayed in gorgeous rustic style cottages with HEAPS of space and gorgeous little touches like a central fireplace. Although the real draw of staying here is the natural hot springs located on the property. Prepare to get all wrinkly as you’ll want to spend all your time hopping in and out of the four pools, soaking up the scenery. There’s even a bar, with waiter service, so you literally don’t have to move.
The next day we begrudgingly left early to check out Condor Pass. From here, if you cross all your fingers and toes you might just get to see a majestic Andean Condor. Now I’m no bird watcher but their 10 foot wingspan gliding just inches from your head, was pretty special. We got real lucky and saw about 30, so it’s worth braving the early start if you can bear it.
We continue our ascent, climbing to Puno, one of South America’s largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water. This is a good base to take a day trip to Lake Titicaca, a collection of floating reed islands, where locals wear traditional dress. If you get a clear day some of the islands even have a Mediterranean feel to them.
Cusco/ Machu Picchu
From here we got a flight to Cusco – the gateway to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is a headache from start to finish. It starts back in the UK when you have to faff around with a ticket (be sure to book as far ahead as possible!) but it’s definitely worth it once you see the sun rising on the ruins. Due to time constraints we got the rather swanky train up from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and spent the night there before jumping on the shuttle bus (EARLY!) the following day. Most of the accommodation is pretty basic here but we highly recommend eating at The Tree House for healthy, hearty Peruvian salads. They even do pack ups to take to Machu Picchu the next day which is a really good idea (the alternative is eating in the overpriced, busy cafeteria on site).
I’m not going to go on too much about Machu Picchu (you’ve all seen the photos!) but I’d suggest getting there early to beat the crowds. It will allow you to spend more time with uninterrupted views, and as the weather is so quick to change, the longer you give yourself the better your chances. We took a 3 hour (round-trip) hike up to the Sun Gate which gives you a completely different perspective of the ruins. It’s also worth mentioning that you are able to re-enter the site up to 3 times, but the only toilets are outside the main gate – so be wise! Even including our little hike, we were finished by about lunchtime (having arrived at about 6am). Bear this in mind if you plan to get a train back to Ollantaytambo the same day as we did. Although you can always kill a few hours back at Aguas with a pisco sour or two.
While in Cusco we stayed at Niño’s, a beautiful non-profit hotel that supports underprivileged local children. The rooms don’t have numbers, instead they are named after the children that have been adopted over the years. With a peaceful inner courtyard, complete with fountain, be sure to check out the gift shop with fairtrade Peruvian arts & crafts. It’s just a 5 min walk to the main square but the onsite restaurant is worth a try too, especially if you find yourself arriving late. The veggie lasagne and fruit smoothie are a winner.
Our favourite place in Cusco was the San Blas area. Dotted with artisan coffee spots and independent clothes shops, a must visit for lunch is Creperie La Boheme. Incredible crepes & local craft beer (try the cheese, ham, asparagus, onions & béchamel) with a really chilled out lovely vibe and INCREDIBLE views if you manage to grab a window spot.
Moving into evening, Chicha is worth trying out – especially if you can’t afford Gaston Acurio’s tasting menu in Lima (Astrid y Gastón – No. 33 on the World’s 50 Best List). Portions are obscene though so order with caution.
We LOVED Limo which serves Japanese/Peruvian fusion. The pisco sours are incredible and go down way too easily, be sure to order the sushi rolls, and their upmarket take on local Lomo Saltado (beef stir-fry with rice AND French fries).
Puerto Maldonado – The Amazon
We couldn’t come all this way without visiting the Amazon. We spent 2 nights at the absolutely gorgeous Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica in luxury cabanas with mosquito nets for walls. It was such a relaxing place and well worth the trip even if we didn’t get to see a sloth! As part of your stay you get to choose activities such as night boat trips to spot caimans (we have NEVER seen so many stars!), lake visits and canopy walks. Electricity is limited to certain hours of the day and there’s no wifi at all – seriously. If you’re super hard-core you can even choose to spend the night up in the sky in your very own treehouse. Although it’s nowhere near as luxe as your cabin back on ground floor. The food was great, using local ingredients, cocktails were strong (there’s nightly pisco sour lessons) and the cute but rodent-like Capybara were EVERYWHERE.
Back to Lima
The very definition of gastronomic tourists, we actually booked flights around getting dinner reservations at Central (No.1 restaurant in Latin America, No.5 in the World) and Maido (No.2 in Latin America, No. 8 in the World). We go into more detail (with lots of lovely photos!) on their respective pages, check it out.
We didn’t expect to love Lima as much as we did. We live in the best city in the world right? Well, maybe. But we totally fell for the artistic area of Barranco. Second Home is the most incredible place to stay. It’s a small B&B with impressive works of art & sculptures
everywhere, created by the owner – 89 year old Peruvian artist, Victor Delfin. Complete with swimming pool, jukebox and dreamy location overlooking the sea, you’ll find Victor’s studio at the end of the property. It’s THE perfect location to explore this part of town.
Start the day with fresh fruit served in the sunny dining room, before heading out to the Mario Testino gallery, MATE. From here you should cool down with a scoop of ice cream from Crem dela Crem before trying on t-shirts and browsing homeware at Plantique.
End your day with one of our favourite meals of the whole trip at world class (but reasonably priced, despite being No.41 in Latin America’s 50 Best) Isolina. We can’t put into words just HOW good the short rib is. Start with their delicious take on ceviche served with crispy squid. Be wary of portions – most are for a minimum of three people. If you’re looking for somewhere to jump on the pisco disco late into the night – it’s got to be Ayahuascaresto – cavernous and SO much fun.
After such a dream day it was really hard to leave Peru behind, but we left on a total high.