Last month marked the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu in Peru. Recently Machu Picchu has been designated one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. Needless to say Peru has been in the headlines recently and travelers are flocking to Peru to glimpse at the majestic and magical ruins that have captivated millions with its splendor and mystery. I just returned from a quick 2 week trip from Peru filled with numerous Incan ruins and natural wonders that have me already planning a return visit. Here are some highlights and travel tips to help you plan your next trip to Peru.
Cusco and the Incan Ruins around the area are essential for anyone who is visiting Peru. Machu Picchu is definitely the most famous with its size, location and grandeur. But with restrictions on how many people can trek the 4 day/3 night Inca Trail and suffocating crowds on Machu Picchu, more travelers are opting for other Incan ruins and neighboring hikes. Two other popular treks that lead to Machu Picchu are the Salkantay and Lares Valley treks. They offer incredible views without the crowds. For the more adventurous traveler there are now multi-sport treks to Machu Picchu involving rafting and biking in addition to hiking. There are also numerous Incan sites just around Cusco, including Sacsaywaman, Q’enqo, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay. Two hours outside of Cusco you can find worthwhile visits to the citadels at the neighboring towns Pisac and Ollantaytambo. For those wanting to get even further off the beaten track, check out hikes to Vilcabamba- the Incan site Hiram Bingham was actually looking for when he found Mach Picchu, and Choquequirao- another Incan site that is more arduous yet said to be equally impressive at Machu Picchu.
I was fortunate enough to get a spot on the Inca Trail. It was an amazing experience littered with numerous Incan sites along the trail, snow-capped peaks as far as the eye could see, rainforests, topped off with a sunrise from the Sun Gate peering down into Machu Picchu. Hiking the Inca Trail was truly a bucket-list experience and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
When picking a tour company to embark on the Inca trail or any of the other trails listed above, make sure you ask about the size of your group, what is and isn’t included in the cost, and most importantly check on the well-being of their porters.
Wait, There’s More?
Although almost every trip to Peru involved a stop at Machu Picchu, I was quite surprised how much more the country had to offer. Peru is a hiker’s Paradise! The Cordillera Blancas in the north offer hikes and mountaineering expeditions that could rival those in Nepal as some of the best hikes in the world. The Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons in the south are twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and offer great trekking and white water rafting opportunities.
More than half of Peru is blanketed in rainforest. The two main towns for jungle treks are Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. Travelers can book treks from there, or even out of Cusco for a week-long jungle trek. Eco lodges are cropping up everywhere and are a huge hit with travelers.
Another great albeit touristy experience is heading south to visit Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. While there you can visit Uros Island, a man-made reed island. Although you feel like you are on the Peruvian version of Disney’s “It’s a Small World,” it can make for a good afternoon. Also popular are homestays on Amantani and Taquile Islands. They are great ways to experience the lake and a day in the life of an islander. You can expect some incredible quinoa soup and other vegetarian meals, and if you are lucky they will dress you up in their local clothes and throw a party with other visitors and islanders.
For those travelers that need the beach to make it a ‘vacation,’ you can check out Mancora in the north for some beach and surf time, or go sandboarding at Huacachina, about 5 hours south of Lima.
For travelers looking for a place that offers exciting adventure activities and a great culture Peru is the place to visit. Travel clubs like ours did a trip there a few years ago and we’ll be going back soon!