Peru – the land of the Incas. It has everything – beautiful valleys and lakes, lush rain forests, crumbling ruins, world wonders, and an eclectic vibe in the air.
Peru, for me, is a perfect amalgamation of nature and the man made. It’s like the Incans were the perfect artists – architecting structures to weave around the natural landscape, gloriously elevating its beauty.
Here’s our ten day itinerary:
Day 1: Lima
We flew into Lima, the most popular and economic connection into the country. Lima is all about the beaches, coastline stretching for miles, green parks and promenades, and shopping. It’s relatively easy to get across the city, we used a combination of walking, local buses, and Uber. We stayed at the Pariwana hostel in Miraflores, the safest part of town for tourists and the prettiest.
Miraflores district has beautiful parks and a very active artistic community. My favorite is the Parque Central de Miraflores, and Parque Kennedy, which have sprawling gardens, creative art installations, and great views of the Iglesia La Cuidad church. Locals come here to put up their plethora of wares and paintings, all of which made for a very pleasant evening taking in the cultures of Lima.
Day 2: Lima – Exploring the Barranco district and Huaca Puclana ruins
Barranco is Lima’s bohemian district – think quirky street art on walls and under bridges, eclectic eateries, colorful houses, and parks where artists and musicians create their masterpieces.
We walked across the Puente de los Suspiros (the Bridge of Sighs) – originally built to connect streets across a gorge and now one of the most popular landmarks in Lima, along with the overlooking hermitage park, and Bajada de los Banos.
After lunching at Las Vecinas in Barranco (highly recommended for vegetarian/vegan travelers), we headed back to Miraflores for our tour of the Huaca Pucllana ruins – an ancient clay pyramid, built by a lost pre-Incan civilization as a settlement to support irrigation sites. The ruins juxtapositioned with the modern high rise buildings of Lima is a sight to behold.
Day 3: Larcomar, Parque Salazar, and Circuito Magico del Agua
Next, we headed towards Larcomar – if you think shopping against sunset views of the coastline is a great idea, this place is a dream come true. Walk-able distance from Larcomar, continuing along the coastline, is the Parque Salazar and Parque del Amor (you guessed it, the Love park), which are worth a visit.
We ended the day with the amazing fountain show Circuito Magico del Agua at Parque de la Reserva.
Day 4: Cusco – Exploring Incan ruins
Cusco – the bustling capital of the Incan empire. One can feel it’s rich history in the walls that date back to many centuries, and alleyways of colourful people in their local attire. Even much of the modern infrastructure is built on top of Incan era base structures and stones, making Cusco the perfect destination to lose your senses in Peruvian aesthetics.
Cusco is at 3400m above sea level, so its going to take a few days to acclimatize to the altitude. I recommend taking it easy for the first couple days, and drinking copious amounts of the coca leaf tea for altitude sickness relief.
We stayed at the same Pariwana hostel in Cusco; I cannot recommend this hostel enough – they have great food and accommodation, a fun crowd, offer tours, and even a discount if you book them in more than one city.
We spent this day exploring Incan ruins in the city, namely:
Saqsaywaman – an ancient ceremonial center, made of stones cut from limestone. This one is a strenuous uphill climb.
Puca Pucara – the remnants of what could be a strategic lookout post between Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Qenko – this site is a large rock formation called Huaca, and believed to be used as a temple of sorts used for celestial observation and ceremonial rituals.
Tambomachay – nicknamed, “Bath of the Inca” due to presence of thermal waters being channeled, and likely used as a ritual bathing site for the Incan elite.
For a reasonable price, you can find local taxi’s that will take you to each spot and drop you back at the hostel. The Boleto Turistico pass gives access to all these spots and more.
Day 5: Sacred Valley of the Incas
El Valle Sagrado or Sacred Valley is a peaceful corner of the Andes, with colorful colonial towns and remote weaving villages.
From our hostel, we booked a local tour bus with a guide that would take us to the main spots in and around Sacred Valley. We visited:
Pisac – a hilltop Inca citadel with agricultural terraces sweeping across the landscape, curving along the plateau.
Urubamba Valley – Set against the backdrop of the stunning Urubamba valley, and amidst gardens where alpaca’s grazed, we had lunch at a local buffet restaurant.
Ollantaytambo – A well preserved, ancient fortress of the Incas, with incredibly tall terraces that climb to the sun temple. There are also ruins of the village, ceremonial center and agricultural center. Well worth the steep climb, and easily one of my favorite spots on this journey.
Chinchero – A remote weaving village. Over hot coca tea, our guide walked us through the process of making and dying wool yarn from adult and baby alpacas and llamas. They had a huge amount of alpaca blankets, scarfs, sweaters, woven bags, and hats and gloves to choose from, and it was quite the shopping experience.
With the endless opportunities to explore the Peruvian landscapes, and cultures both ancient and living, we thoroughly enjoyed our journey through Sacred Valley.
Day 6: Salt Flats at Maras, and ATV ride to the ruins at Moray
One of the most spectacular sights in Peru, and one that really took my breath away, is Salineras de Maras, or the Salt Flats. Nestled in the valley high in mountains, are thousands of salt pans used since Incan times. To this day, locals extract salt and scale down the mountains with huge sacks of salt, that are sold world over. This one was truly a sight to behold.
We then embarked on a unique way to experience the Peruvian landscape – driving ATV buggies for miles, on our way to the ruins at Moray. Definitely take this path down to Moray if you have the time. I was grinning to the nines the whole time, this ride with breathtaking views of the Andes gave me such joy!
The ruins at Moray is an amphitheater like circular terrace structure; going into the actual site isn’t allowed in order to preserve it, but you can walk the entire loop at the surface.
Day 7: Cusco: Plaza de Armas, Museums, and San Pedro Market
We spent this day exploring Cusco – the city center at Plaza de Armas, hidden alleyways, museums and attractive markets. We met locals in their colorful attires, walking alpacas, and allowing their pictures to be taken for a few Peruvian soles.
If you’re on the look out for quality sweaters/scarfs and other souvenirs at bargain prices, I would highly recommend the San Pedro market. Self control is not one of my strong suits, and my wallet considerably thinned after a few hours at this market 😉
Day 8: Machu Picchu
We kept Machu Picchu as the last destination we would visit to end our trip with a bang. We purchased the afternoon (12pm – 5pm) entry ticket, and took the Peru Rail from Cusco (Poray station) to the sleepy little town of Agua Calientes, at the base of the Machu Picchu mountain.
Side note: there’s SO many ways to get to Machu Picchu, depending on how much time you have and what kind of traveler you are. If you want to go the ancient Incan way, you can take the 5-7 day Inca trail or the San trail. You can take the train to Agua Calientes like we did, and trek the 2 hour climb upto Machu Picchu mountain. There are buses from Agua Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu mountain, for the easiest journey up. You can also hike up to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu peaks from the main mountain. With these many options, do your research before heading there. Whatever you choose,I can assure you, it’s going to be life changing experience 🙂
Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) – a world wonder and revered archeological site, rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. It’s widely agreed upon now that it was built as a citadel residence for the Incan king Pachacuti, in the 15th century. Now this is the kind of vacation home I can get on board with 😉
Around 200 stone structures come together to form the temples, ritual bathhouses, aqueducts, huts, and gardens where alpaca’s roam freely. Among the popular spots are Intihuatana (the Sun temple), the Sacred plaza, the Inca Bridge, the Watchman’s hut, the Funerary stone, and many more. You can just get lost exploring this place, until an Alpaca sneaks up behind and scares the living daylights out of you.
Day 9: Exploring Agua Calientes and train back to Cusco
This was our last day before boarding our flights back to reality. We chose to take it pretty slow, exploring the sights of Agua Calientes. The town has limited food choices, and frankly, is quite overpriced. Nonetheless, we found a quaint little bakery with a great view of the mountains.
There’s a hot springs in this town, providing a fun and relaxing way to spend a few hours after the laborious journey that is Machu Picchu. We took the evening Peru Rail back to Cusco, in time for our flights back.
This unique and fascinating country stood out to me with its natural beauty and man made treasures alike. My biggest woe was in trying to fit in as many amazing spots in the ten days I had (#firstworldproblems am I right). Peru made this easy for me – there is no bad spot in this country, so I just have to keep coming back till I’ve seen it all 😉
With that, here’s me signing off! As always, thanks for reading.