I was fortunate enough to explore Peru with my parents back in 2018 as my university graduation trip. I was planning the trip solo – I had sketched out where I wanted to go, and was about to book my flights when my mom said “Hey that looks fun! Can we come?“. So of course, I said heck yeaaahhHH! Then my mom jumped in and helped out with a bunch of the planning.
Since this trip was now over 5 years ago, and I didn’t plan it all myself, I won’t do a deep dive post with details on how to get there, where to stay, etc. I will, however, be sharing the highlights! This is basically a list of (in my opinion), must-do activities when travelling to Peru.
Most flights will come in to Lima, and it’s well worth spending a few days here! Then, of course, it’s on to Cusco, which is the gateway to Peru’s gem: Machu Picchu.
Visit Lima’s Waterfront
Lima is an ocean city with a stunning coastline full of parks, shops, and restaurants. If you can, get down to the water for sunset! You can start at the Larcomar shopping centre, and walk the pathways along the coastline from there.
Eat at La Mar Restaurant
I still think about the desserts we had here… In truth I don’t remember the mains. LOL. But I’m sure they were good too!
Take a Boat Tour in Paracas to See Penguins and Sea Lions
This excursion was part of a day trip to Huacachina with PeruHop, which is an oasis in the desert (see below!). The boat tours you around the Ballestas Islands – famously called Peru’s very own “Mini-Galapagos”. You may get splashed, so bring a rain coat and/or quick dry clothes 🙂
Visit Huacachina: Dune Buggy and Sandboarding at a Desert Oasis
This was a really unique opportunity. The oasis almost does not seem real! A perfect blend of amazing views and fun activities.
Walk Around Cusco (to explore and to acclimatize!)
The architecture in Cusco is stunning, and there are so many markets and food stalls. Just take a wander – it will help your body get used to the elevation as well!
Hike to Cristo Blanco
Continuing the walking tour of Cusco, you can hike up the stairs to Cristo Blanco. This is great for two reasons – you’ll get stunning views of the city, and you get to practice hiking at elevation. I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult climb, but if it’s one of your first days in Cusco you will feeeeeel it!
Stay at Kokopelli
This is a hostel that has dorms but also has private rooms. They have great common spaces, free breakfast, laundry, bag storage, and they always have events going on so if you’re looking to meet people, it’s easy!
Try the Coffee
I’m not a coffee person (and was even less of one in 2018), and I thought the coffee was DELICIOUS.
Take a Chocolate Making Class
I think this was actually pre-StillBusyBaking days… I had no idea what I was doing but that’s ok! The “Bean to Bar” class is really fun and engaging. You get to learn about how chocolate is made, and see the process in person! Then, you get to make your own flavours of treats to take home.
Go to Nuna Raymi for Amazing Fresh, Local Food
To enter this restaurant you actually walk past the gardens where they grow herbs and vegetables for the dishes! It’s a pretty neat spot with delicious local food.
Hike the Salkantay Trek
There are multiple routes to get to Machu Picchu, and many tour operators. I can’t give a fair comparison since of course we only went with one operator… But I can say our experience was pretty much perfection! The hike was well paced, our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable, it felt very safe, and the food was unbelievably amazing. Not just “good for a hike”, but good PERIOD. Every meal was at least 3 courses of deliciousness, if not more!
Plus, the sleeping locales were pretty neat. One night in glass igloos, one night in straw huts, and one night in a hotel in Agues Calientes. And then, of course, the views! This wouldn’t change I suppose from one tour company to the next, but it’s gotta be said that it’s just a treat for the eyes for 4 days straight. Ascending up Salkantay Pass, descending into the rainforest, trekking along a railway, and then a final climb up to Machu Picchu for sunrise. A once in a lifetime experience!
Visit Machu Picchu
Like, duh. This is the reason most people have Peru on their travel list! You can either visit Machu Picchu as part of a trek like we did, or take a train/bus.
Hike up Huayna Picchu
I think most people know you can hike to Machu Picchu, but a lot don’t realize you can keep going too! We opted to summit Huayna Picchu, which is the mountain in the background of all the iconic Machu Picchu photos. It is a steep and scary climb tbh (it’s nicknamed the “stairs of death” LOL), but gives cool views of the lesser seen back side of the citadel.
Visit Manu National Park and the Amazon Rainforest
See wild capybara, visit a sanctuary to see capuchins, old tortoises, and so many beautiful butterflies and birds, hop in the Amazon river (no piranhas here, don’t worry!), soak in hot springs, dine with stunning views, go searching for caimans and leopards, get mildly stuck in quicksand, make monkey friends… SO MUCH TO DO AND SEE!
We did a 3 day tour with Expediciones Vilca Eirl which included a boat along the Amazon to a secluded lodge, with daily treks led by our super knowledgeable guide. He was an expert at spotting wildlife! We are a family of animal loving biologists, so this was like our kryptonite… But I do think this would be a great time for everyone, regardless of interests!
That’s all I got! I would absolutely LOVE to go back to Peru, as I feel like there’s so much more to see and explore. But in the 2 weeks we had, I think we did the best we could!