Peru Highlights

We didn’t do any of the things you are supposed to do in Peru: we didn’t walk the Inca Trail, spot condors at Colca Canyon, go sand boarding in Huacachina, or fly over the Nazca lines. And we didn’t end up doing what we really wanted to do: explore the less visited northern region and take a slow boat into the Amazon. To be honest we were exhausted after a few months of exploring Bolivia, we got ill, and then Simon had a lot of work come in so we needed a base. Nowhere in Peru was quite right, so we left earlier than planned and flew to Medellin, Colombia.

That said, we did have some wonderful experiences during our seven weeks in Peru. Here are our highlights.

Cusco

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Our first impressions weren’t good: it’s a touristy city and much more expensive than Bolivia. But it didn’t take us long to succumb to the charm of this gorgeous, ancient city. Rather than follow the tour groups around the museums and ruins we spent our time wandering and eating and soaking up the atmosphere.

Hiking Wayna Picchu

Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu

Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu

I was hesitant about putting Machu Picchu on our list of Peru highlights. It’s expected of course, but for us we are still not sure it was worth the expense and touristy hassle that taints the experience. The best part of the visit was hiking up Wayna Picchu for fantastic views of the Incan citadel and the lush green mountains that surround it. It was worth getting up at 4am to be one of the first 400 people and get one of the limited tickets to climb the mountain.

It only took about an hour to climb up, although it felt longer as it’s a steep climb. The rocky peak gets crowded but there are plenty of quiet spots near the top where you can contemplate the view on your own.

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

We were a little dubious about paying 35 soles ($12.50) entrance to visit the Santa Catalina Monastery, but it turned out to be a highlight of our stay in the attractive city of Arequipa. The huge convent is over 400 years old and is a city within a city.

Santa Catalina Monastery, ArequipaHigh walls were built to protect the nuns from the outside world and inside we found a wonderful maze of narrow streets, colourful buildings, pretty plazas and bright flowers. You can also poke around the old nun’s cells.

Despite being Arequipa’s biggest tourist attraction it’s easy to get away from the tour groups. I recommend taking a book or journal and spend some time enjoying the quiet in one of the sunny plazas. The garden cafe is also a chilled out place with good sandwiches and cakes.

AlmaZen, Lima

Peru, like all of South America is not very vegetarian friendly so discovering AlmaZen was a very welcome relief. The food is organic, inventive and utterly delicious. Despite the $40 price tag we went back twice. Read our full review.

Circuito Mágico del Agua, Lima

Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima

Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima

We had a love/hate relationship with Lima, but one thing we definitely loved was the Circuito Mágico del Agua (Magic Circuit of Water). We have never seen anything like this park full of different water fountains of all sizes and shapes. It’s only open at night to take advantage of the multi-coloured light displays which add to the magic.

Teapot Fountain, Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima

Teapot Fountain, Circuito Magico del Agua

The park was full of Peruvian families and teenage couples, but very few tourists. It felt like public art at its best: accessible, interactive (yes, you can get wet) and unique. The huge Fantasía display with projections of dancing couples onto the water synced with a music and light show was impressive but felt a little more Disney that art though!

Living in the Rural Andes

Rural area near Huaraz, PeruOur most unique experience in Peru was having the opportunity to live in a very rural Andean community 10km outside of Huaraz. We volunteered to build a website for Lazy Dog Inn‘s NGO Andean Alliance. The community can barely be called a village – just a scattering of adobe huts amongst fields of crops, cows, sheep, goats and chickens. There is no public transport or shops and the ‘road’ is just a steep, muddy track.

It felt isolated (the trip into Huaraz was quite a mission) but we loved the snowy views of the Cordillera Blanca;  the friendly locals; walking past women in colourful traditional dress herding sheep; and getting invited to local events like the inauguration of the new (and only) pre-school.

Trail Wallet

Leave a comment and let us know your favourite places in Peru.

21 thoughts on Peru Highlights

  1. I can understand why you didnt do any of those things, sometimes it just feels like ticking things off a list.

    I’m not going to see the Nazca lines, way too many people die that way.

    • Sometimes we rebel when we are told we ‘must’ do something =) I have heard lots of people have died on the Nazca planes. I was just worried about getting plane sick, and most people didn’t seem that excited about the experience.

  2. Travel fatigue can hit you out of nowhere, and it seems like you still managed to pack in some lovely sights into the time you spent in Peru – a few of these are now added to my own list when I visit (my friend is moving there this summer!) :) Great shots!

  3. Dan and I were just talking about Peru the other day and all the places that came to mind first as highlights did not include Cusco or Machu Picchu but were more the areas in the north, Lima and Huancavelica. Arequipa was one of the places we wish we had been able to visit in Peru. Would love to go back and take Spanish lessons there sometime.

    • We feel that the big attractions are rarely our highlights in a country, even if we enjoy the experience. We wish we’d been able to explore the north – your posts made us really want to go there.

  4. I love that you include the vegetarian restaurant in your highlights – we definitely have to go there :-) Reading your posts on Peru gets us really excited to go there – we’re ready to finally hit South America!! The views from Wayna Picchu look amazing, hope we’ll be able to go there.

    Enjoy the Holidays!!

    • You so have to treat yourselves to AlmaZen. After months of average, bland veggie food it’s wonderful to have something special. You have a great Christmas too!

  5. My no 1 would have to be trekking in Cordilliera Blanca. 4-day Santa Cruz trek was absolutely spectacular.
    Sandbording in Huacachina would have to be very top on the list as well. It was so much fun!

    • The Cordillera Blanca is gorgeous. We didn’t do the Santa Cruz trek as it was the rainy season but I bet it was amazimg. Glad you enjoyed sandboarding too.

  6. Totally support your decision not to see all the typical sites. After that long of traveling, I’d want to just relax on my own time too. It looks like you did end up seeing some awesome things though and probably (definitely) wouldn’t have seen them if you were busy doing all the other things.

    These are always the types of trips I like to take, but end up getting talked into planning out so much more to do that I don’t end up just breathing and taking it all in. Sounds like you enjoyed yourselves!

    • Thanks Jade – I do think it’s important when you are travelling to figure out exactly what you want to do, rather than what you feel you should do.

  7. If you ever go back to Peru and have the chance, do not miss the Peruvian Amazon. That trip for me was the highlight of all of my travels. It is so beautiful and so peaceful and there’s an energy like nowhere else.

  8. I’d been curious about Wayna Picchu and glad to hear that it’s worth the time and effort to do it.

    Great roundup of highlights. Just bookmarked it for future ref! I’m curious to hear more about what you mean by ‘nowhere in Peru was quite right’…

    • We were looking for somewhere to base ourselves for a month, but we didn’t really fall in love with anywhere in Peru. We looked for apartments in Arequipa and Lima but we couldn’t find anywhere we liked, and we didn’t like the cities enough to carry on looking. We loved Bolivia so much that it was hard for Peru to compete afterwards!

  9. Peru is amazing! Such a culturally rich country with breathtaking landscapes… definitely underrated in my opinion. Great photos keep up the great work!

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