What to see in Peru
First of all, I have to say that Peru is a very large country, with an astonishing variety of sceneries, where the driest desert and the densest jungle are separate by only ten hours of travel time. But that’s not all, because there are also a big amount of mountains, a beautiful seaside and its history is present on every corner. This explains why probably we barely saw just a 30% of Peru’s hidden secrets , even when we had been living there for about a month. Regarding this premise, we’ll talk about what we saw there, but we’ll also make a comment on the places that locals recommended we should have visited.
– Lima: What to see in Lima? With some certainty, your trip will find its start and end in the capital, because it’s the transports core in the country. Our plane landed there, in the same place where we took our return flight a month later. Due to its vast extension, its noticeable unsafety and its crazy traffic, Lima is not a very comfortable place to stay for a tourist. However, you could see a blurred silhouette of a city through the thick smog, in which I’d like to highlight the following places:
- Historic city centre: What years ago was an impassable area due to safety conditions, it’s one of the most remarkable places nowadays. Although it’s not very extense comparing it with the total size of the city, you can spend a whole day walking on the streets or visiting the parks, monuments, cathedrals, shops and restaurants. I’d like to mention specially the Park of the Wall, the “Plaza de Armas”, the San Francisco Abbey and its catacombs, between other interesting places.
- Chinatown: It’s located very close to the city centre. It’s not a beautiful place, but it is really charming. In this district, there is a complete mixture between two different cultures, up to the point that they have even invented a new terminology referring to food: the chifa (Chinese and Peruvian food). It refers to a gastronomy which joins the best of each culture. It’s exotic, cheap and plentiful.
- Miraflores: Or as I like to call it, “the tourists district”. Because it is so. It’s the most developed district in the city, and also the most modern, the richest and the safest. You can find there a wide variety of services and leisure activities. Well, and “the beach”. But believe me, even with that name, the beach in Lima is not a beach, just a pile of rocks next to the sea.Apart from this, Miraflores is a green, clean and pleasant district, and a good place to stay.
- Barranco: The well-known Bohemian district in Lima is one of the biggest secrets in the city. Although it counts with a beach area too, it is more remarkable by its architecture, its art expressions all around the district and all the places you can find there. A must-see trip.
- Polvos Azules, Gamarra and other shopping areas: I find it necessary to say that none of these huge shopping malls are safe at all, so if you come around them, you should do it in the daylight and without any valuable objects on you. You shouldn’t have any digital cameras, watches and cell phones on you, and carrying the exact cash you expect to spend would be the best option. What are these malls? They’re like big outdoor shopping centres where you can find almost any brand (imitations) at very cheap prices. But as I said before, they are not touristic places nor very recommended areas. We went to Gamarra and nothing bad happened but local people warned us that it wasn’t a good idea.
– Paracas: We left Lima heading to the coast. If you travel overland, your next stop on the way will probably be the Natural Reserve of Paracas. A must-see for nature-lovers. Due to organizative and economic reasons, we missed this visit, although we were encouraged to go there by several sources.
– Ica: It’s very close to Paracas, and it was settled in the middle of an enormous desert. This city doesn’t offer a lot to do or to see, but in the surroundings you can find the oasis of Huacachina.
Although it’s extremely touristic and very crowded, it is very charming and it offers the most exhilarating tour of all: a trip on a buggie through the dunes to do sandboard. This activity consists of going down the dunes using a board. The best time to do it is during the evening, and I recommend you hire a two-hour-trip after having compared different prices. We found a great offer at the hostel where we stayed: 35 soles (ten euros) per person for a two-hour trip.
– Nazca: In my opinion, we got ripped off here. If you travel overland is considered another must-see, but I recommend you omit this visit unless you have 100 dollars to hire a jet for fifteen minutes to see the well-known fissures called “líneas de Nazca” from the air. If you can’t afford it or if you just don’t want to spend money on it, it’s not worth to pay for a trip to see these fissures overland. You’ll only be able to see earth everywhere but scarcely a few fissures. Our personal experience didn’t go bad thanks to the guide and what we learn about Peru. But had it been for Nazca, we would have felt really disappointed.
– Arequipa: It was the second big city we visited and we were really impressed. Although there’s not a lot to see, what you see is a lot. The touristic area is around the “Plaza de Armas” and the historical centre, and its structure reminded me of the Andalusian towns. Arequipa has the advantage that it’s full of university life, so it’s easy to meet new people, new corners and leisure places with a great interest for travellers.
– The Colca Canyon: It’s very close to Arequipa (most tours have in this city its starting point). It’s another must-see for nature lovers. In our personal case, due to organizative reasons, we couldn’t go although we would have loved it. You must bear in mind that it’s an exhausting trip and with a lot of altitude changes. You will have to be specially aware of the altitude sickness.
– Puno and Titicaca Lake: We were really overwhelmed by this area during our trip. The immense lake, located at an altitude of almost 4000 meters above sea level between Peru and Bolivia, was a reason for the settlement of a lot of towns, villages and communities. In this area we were able to meet the most typical Peruvian people. Around the lake there are lots of places to see, but we went for Puno, a city where chaos and autenticity coexist together.
We also visited Llachón, a little village on the lakeside. It took a lot of time and effort to get there, but it is worth it. We lived there one of the most fulfilling experiences of our trip: we joined a local family and we felt one more of them. There are also other interesting trips in the area like the visit to the isles or sail through the lake to the Lake of Bolivia, to Copacabana.
– Cuzco and its surroundings: Talking about cities, Cuzco is the crown jewel in Peru (at least for us). It’s usually called the Rome in Peru, and every corner in the city would deserve a picture to use in a postcard.
Moreover, it’s located in an astonishing natural place which I really encourage you to visit. Cuzco is a beautiful city, Peruvian people know it and that’s why they strengthen its valor. It’s THE must-see, and not only because it’s on the way to Machu Picchu.
– Machu Picchu and the leading route to it: There are several different ways to get to Machu Picchu, but if you have the time and the attitude we recommend you don’t take the train and walk a stretch of the route. We did so and I have already written a post about how to go to Machu Picchu on your own and cheaply.
But disregarding the route, Machu Picchu is obviously one of the places you have to visit at least once in your life. It’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it’s an important Inca sacred city and a real pleasure for the senses. The only problem is that there are tourists everywhere.
– The jungle: Peru is mostly a green country, but nothing can compete with the Amazon sceneries. And there are different places to access the jungle across Peru. The most well-known tours are the ones which go to Puerto Maldonado, Iquitos or the National Reserve of Manu, but they’re not the only ones. If you like nature, you can find it all here.
– North of Peru: Unfortunately, during the month we spent in Peru we couldn’t visit the north of the country, although a lot of people recommend we went to Trujillo or the coastal area of Mancora, among others.
In short, if you travel to Peru you have a lot to see and a month of travelling isn’t enough. Organized tours allow you to see a lot in a short time, but we aren’t very keen on this kind of activities because you have to adapt to an strict schedule, and you have lack of freedom and a lot of obligations. But well, it doesn’t matter the way you go, the important thing is you go there. I hope this guide will be useful for you. If you have any doubts, suggestions or recommendations, all your comments are welcome!