As a travel consultant, I’ll admit, I get some perks for my own holidays, but nothing beats going home to see my family. I’m from Peru, so with so many people booking trips to this beautiful South American country, I figured I’d tell you where is best to visit.
Lima: Colourful, Cosmopolitan, Colonial (And Fantastic Food)
You can’t go to Peru without visiting the country’s capital, Lima. It’s right on the sea, really beautiful, historic, and it’s not called the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas for nothing! History-wise, the architecture here dates back to the 16th century. That means tons of leafy squares and stunning cathedrals in El Centro, grand lawns at Plaza Mayor, and the most amazing cobbles in the Barranco Beach district. To be honest, pinpointing the best place in Lima is pretty tough for me. I love the whole city!
If I had to pick one place though, it would be Miraflores. This seaside district is fairly upscale, but it feels laid-back. It’s got endless ceviche restaurants, bars, offbeat galleries, and little independent boutiques. There’s a boardwalk with stunning cliff views, street performers at Kennedy Park, and a surprising amount of history at Huaca Pucllana. The ruins here date back to pre-Inca times. The whole city also has this unique buzz that’s hard to explain. From the artisan markets, art-house cinemas, and romantic parks to the nightlife, Lima is where you want to be. A stroll around San Isidro’s fancy mansions is also really nice.
If you’ve never tried ceviche cuisine, it’s raw fish marinated in limes (and it’s delicious). Lima also has its own Chinatown. I’d be doing a bad job speaking for my country if I didn’t recommend Lima’s best tipple. Pisco Sours are about six times stronger than tequila so you might want to go easy, but they’re the best cocktail around.
I’d recommend going to Lima between January and April for the best weather. The hotel I’d suggest is the Estelar Hotel in Miraflores or the Marriott in Larcomar (near Miraflores). Both have pools, although the Marriott is a bit fancier. The location for either one is brilliant, though.
Nazca: Mystery Patterns, Thermal Spas, Mummies, And Tombs
Nazca is about 500km from Peru, so easiest to fly. This region is inland. It’s all about the history, and it’s so unique. It’s also strange that nobody has any answers to the mysterious Nazca Lines. These desert-etched patterns form geometric shapes that archaeologists are still getting their heads around. Seeing them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most people fly over the lines. Do it, and you’ll see fish and spider shapes- literally all sorts!
If you’re in Nazca, make sure to visit the desert dunes too. Cerro Blanco is actually the highest sand dune in the world. You can go dune bashing in a buggy- I did, and I definitely recommend it.
The region is also world-famous for its thermal spas. It’s home to about 500 hot springs. You can bathe in them in the full outdoors, really indulge in the wellbeing aspect, and it’s a surprisingly relaxing aspect to a place most people visit with a history agenda. That part comes from the Nazca Lines, but also from tombs and real-life mummies. For this, go just outside the town to the pre-Incan Chauchilla Cemetery. The desert setting makes it really unique, but prepare to see actual skulls here!
Much like the whole of Peru, the food here is just fantastic. Barbecues here are cooked underground. Order hot-stone-cooked Pachamanca when you go. For a place to stay in Nazca, I recommend Las Dunas. It’s set in 14 hectares of greenery and the location between the Nazca Lines and Paracas Natural Reserve is perfect.
Arequipa: White Stone, Beautiful Bridges, Chocolate, And Alpaca Wool
I’ve got a lot of love for Arequipa. Surrounded by volcanoes and known for its iconic white stone, this part of Peru is a real melting pot of experiences. You can get flights direct from Lima. When I went, I visited Mirador de Yanahuara’s beautiful white archways. The panoramic viewpoints here are like nothing I’ve seen.
In terms of experiencing this town, expect authentic Peruvian tradition. The little alleys have red desert stone, the locals are wearing colourful traditional dress, and the stuff they’re selling is the real deal. Arequipa is where you want to shop for market souvenirs and the region’s Alpaca wool. If Peruvian chocolate is something you’ve eyed up in the fancy section of the supermarket, trust me. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried it.
Arequipa also has the Santa Catalina monastery with tours and the town’s plaza with cafes and a cathedral. The buildings have beautiful bright-blue or red paints and lovely potted flowers. If you’re in town, stop by Alpaca World to pet the animals and learn about the llamas and alpacas.
Hotels-wise, I’d recommend either El Cabildo or the Wyndham Costa del Sol Arequipa. They’re both comfortable, well-placed, and the food is great.
Cuzco/Machu Picchu: Traditional Culture And The Famous Inca Trail
Cuzco and Machu Picchu are technically two different destinations, but the first is the gateway to the second. Cuzco is mainly used to acclimatise as you go upwards towards the Inca Trail, but there’s plenty to see here. Market-filled cobbles and lively squares are bursting with tradition, and it’s really nice to just watch the world go by from sunny cafes. The valley setting here is also really gorgeous.
Cuzco is where you get a real taste of local Quechua culture- from the food to the people. It doesn’t feel touristy (despite lots of people visiting it). Plaza de Armas is a stunning square which has two beautiful churches, but for something much older, take the drive out two miles to Sacsayhuamán. This Inca site is crumbling, but the layout is fantastic. Other memorable moments from Cuzco for me included smoothies made by little old ladies, the daily Mercado market, and the quaint and flower-filled San Blas quarter. My top tip for a great view would be a walk up Tres Cusces. Two hotels I’d recommend for Cuzco are the Hilton Garden Inn and the Wyndham Cusco Sacsayhuamán. The Hilton has lovely galleried archways with outdoor terrace seating- perfect for dinner al fresco!
If you’re in Cuzco, you’re likely gearing up for the Machu Picchu. This 26-mile Inca trail has a high altitude, although the locals have a solution. If they offer you hot coca tea, take it! The trail itself is crossed on foot, although some parts have trains. You’re actually above the clouds here which is an amazing experience.
My Inca Trail visit made sure to tick off the major wonders. The Temple of the Sun, Royal Tomb, and Sun Gate are must-sees. The green setting of drop-down terraces is just stunning, and the backdrop peak scenery makes it such an experience. Expect a fair amount of trekking and more of a packed lunch than a fancy dining scene, but you aren’t here for Michelin-style dining. The trail is picture-perfect and utterly fascinating. No surprise why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Keep your eyes peeled for llamas here. We often get asked about guides for anyone booking. The answer is yes- you can get local guides who know the place inside out.
Get Planning Your Peruvian Adventure
Peru is my homeland so I am slightly biased, but it’s still one of my favourite places on earth. Whether you’re sampling authentic ceviche from a cafe in Lima, flying over the Nazca Lines, getting to grips with Arequipa’s culture or stepping back in time on the Inca Trail, this country is unique.
So if you are considering a trip there, take a look at our itinerary which is quite similar to what I have shown above, it doesn’t have Nazca on there, but we can easily add that to the itinerary or make any other changes you fancy. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch. I’ll be more than happy to help in any way I can, as I’d want to make sure you can get the best out of your trip. Thanks for reading, Anna.
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