Until recently, all I knew about Peru was Machu Picchu, and I didn’t even know very much about that. But then I packed my bags and headed to South America with mediocre Spanish skills and a below-average ability to climb up hundreds of Incan stone steps.
When you’ve saved up enough time and money for a vacation, usually you want to relax on a beach, lie in a hammock, get a tan and sip mai tais, right? That’s usually my cup of tea as well, but getting out of my comfort zone in Peru was the most amazing, rewarding trip of my life.
The culture, the people, the food, the ruins, oh my goodness, the ruins! If Peru isn’t already on your to-do list, it should be. Here’s a quick guide to the must-sees from my unbelievable experience:
Huaca Pucllana, pre-Incan ruins, sit right in the middle of Peru’s bustling capital.
The catacombs underneath Lima’s San Francisco Catholic Church are incredible (and creepy, of course)!
The many churches (throughout all of Peru, not just in Lima) are stunning. I’m especially fascinated by ceilings.
Lima puts on a fountain and light show that is simply incredible—complete with traditional Peruvian music, and on the night I was there, a Backstreet Boys song. Classic.
This street mural faces the famous Bridge of Sighs, that you can make a wish on before you walk across.
On the lake, dozens of families have created (yes, by hand) a group of floating islands made of reed. They live freely and simply, keeping Incan culture alive. Every year, they rotate households for the responsibility of President—keeping the island safe and afloat.
Three times deeper than the Grand Canyon! Also a great spot for condor-watching (giant bird that’s sacred in Peru, similar to our Bald Eagle).
You can zip line if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush (just be careful with the high altitude—breathing is definitely not as easy as here in good ol’ Texas). After zip lining, take a dip in the nearby hot springs, fed straight from the surrounding mountains.
Machu Picchu isn’t the only sight to see—don’t miss these lesser known ruins. The Ollantaytambo River that runs through this area is also amazing for white water rafting!
Alpaca, Llama and Guinea Pig—to pet or to eat?
They were everywhere! And yes, I did taste alpaca and “cuy” (guinea pig). Not bad.
Coca Leaves and Pisco Sours
Peruvians chew coca leaves all day, every day (unless they’re drinking coca tea). It’s supposed to be the best cure for stomach issues, breathing problems, stress, headaches, you name it. It seems crazy to travelers, who assume chewing the leaves is the same as abusing cocaine, but it’s extremely, extremely mild.
When it comes to alcohol, Peru has one answer for you—Pisco. I’m still not even sure what to compare this liquor to, but their obsession over it is more powerful than Italy and wine or Russia and vodka. Don’t let the colorful presentation fool you, pisco is STRONG!
And, of course, the big kahuna, Machu Picchu
Yes, it’s as majestic as you’ve heard. Yes, it’s pretty dang difficult to hike (I took a train-bus combo instead of the all-day trek option). Pictures just won’t do it justice.
I also took a little bit of extra time to hike to the Inca Bridge—pretty crazy. How did they build all of this beauty?
Bottom line: get bit by the travel bug and VISIT PERU! I saw and spoke with couples, tour groups, solo travelers, families—Peru is perfect for everyone.
By Alysha Kaye