Thinking of heading to South America? Well you can’t fly all that way and not make a pit stop at the beautiful, intriguing and magical country of Peru. Most notably known for the world wonder that is Machu Picchu, home to the Incas and the Andes Mountains.
But what most people forget is that this country is home to so much more than these beautiful ruins. From the lush Pacific coast to the dense Amazon Rainforest, Peru is one of the most diverse countries in the world with lots to explore.
Here are my top 8 must do’s:
1. Fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines
While the ruins of Machu Picchu still baffle people to this day, another mystical part of Peru revolves around the Nazca Lines in the Nazca Desert plains. These are a series of ancient geoglyphs that range from wildlife to geometric designs, the most famous being spiders and birds. There are several theories about how and why the geoglyphs were created, but it seems nothing is conclusive.
Regardless, the Nazca Lines are one of Peru’s most interesting and peculiar attractions. The best way to view these World Heritage-listed geoglyphs is by airplane, although there is a viewpoint where you can also witness them from if the budget is slightly tight.
2. Sand boarding and Dune Buggy in Huacachina
Did you know there are giant sand dunes in Peru? I didn’t even until I went there and saw with my own eyes. Peru really does have a little bit of everything. Huacachina is a unique desert oasis located just outside the city of Ica and it honestly looks like something out of a film. The massive sand dunes that surround the small desert village are also a playground for adrenaline seeking tourists.
The most popular things to do there is sandboarding and high speed dune buggy rides which are both so much fun and gets you extremely pumped. Most dune buggy tours will include sand boarding and sand skiing and you can rent sandboarding equipment from most hostels and hotels, which makes it super easy to sort out. I highly recommended taking a walk along the top of the dunes in the early morning before it gets too hot – the views are breathtaking.
3. Check out the city of Lima
While primarily a lot of the attractions are in Cusco, the charms of the capital, Lima, are often overlooked. This city boasts a bit of everything for everyone with coastlines, mountains and jungle mere hours away. It provides respite and exciting alternatives to the stifling crowds and bus travel that await you along the Gringo Trail.
My favourite place to visit are the catacombs which can be found beneath the church at the Franciscan Monastery. This is where the skulls and bones of an estimated 70,000 people are decoratively arranged. While pretty creepy they are also beautiful, and can be seen through small grates where you can look down at any given moment to see the artistically arranged dead illuminated.
4. Make your way to Machu Picchu
Ok, so while there are lots of things to do in Peru, you honestly can’t come here and visit Machu Picchu. It is truly worth all the hype and the title of world wonder. I had the honour of doing the 4-day Inca hike during my visit, last year, where I looked upon the ruins in awe as the sun rose over the surrounding mountains. I visited the Inca Bridge that is over 500 years old and walked along the side of a cliff on a path built to last through the times.
The hike itself was difficult, but incredibly worth it and insanely rewarding at the end of the 4-days. If hiking isn’t your thing, then you can actually get there pretty easily by train if so you wished. Remember, passes are limited each year so book up way in advance.
5. Be wow'd by Rainbow Mountain
Quite recently, a new mountain has started to gain popularity near Cusco, Peru and has taken over social media as traveller’s flock there. That mountain is the vibrantly coloured Rainbow Mountain. Located at a literal breath taking 5200 meters above sea level, the short hike up can be challenging as altitude sickness sets in. But, as you reach the top the entire ordeal becomes worth it. Above the clouds, the colours of Rainbow Mountain come alive and really stand out against the surrounding landscapes.
Essentially the mountain is coloured due to the different minerals it contains and were revealed once the snow had melted away due to warmer weather. In total seven main minerals create different shades of colour that seemingly don’t mix and create this utterly unique mountain.
6. Check out the Salt Mines of Maras
A tour of the Sacred Valley is an essential part of your exploration of the Inca Heartland in Peru. While there are many ruins to visit and mountainsides to trek, there is one really intriguing sight that should not go unnoticed which are the ancient salt pans, known as Salineras de Maras.
Strategically dug into the mountainside, thousands of shallow pools filled with salt water eventually evaporate and leave behind the crystallized salt, a process that has been practiced for more than 500 years. There are over 6,000 salt pans near Maras, and each one is no more than 13 square feet and less than 1 foot deep. These are well worth a visit and a quick snap!
7. Explore Cusco’s ancient city
There are very few cities in the world that are as iconic as Cusco. This ancient city was the capital of the Inca Empire and is more famously known as the gateway to Machu Picchu where many adventurists start their journey. The city centre is really beautiful, with unique architecture and plenty of wonderful shops and markets to check out.
Not to mention wandering around the small quaint alleys, which is a great way to spend a day and finding unique presents for friends and family back home. Filled with old Inca ruins that still stand to this day, you can spend days if not weeks getting your fill of history and culture. Make sure you check out the San Blas market for cheap sandwiches, soups, fruits and vegetables, and falafel.
8. Stare in wonder at Laguna Humantay
Hidden away in Humantay Mountain, nested under immense mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, sits this beautiful body of water that will simply take your breath away. With plenty of unbelievable shades of vibrant blue and green shimmer in water that feels somewhat out of place sitting atop a mountain. This otherworldly sight really does feel too good to be true and you will honestly have to pinch yourself. It’s little wonder that centuries ago, the ancient Incas believed this to be a sacred place.
What many people do not know is that it’s possible to visit the Humantay Lake on a day trip from the city of Cusco. If you don’t have the time to complete the multi-day Salkantay Trek, a day trip to Laguna Humantay is a great option, allowing you to see some spectacular scenery, enjoy the area’s natural beauty and still make it back to Cusco the same day.
Be sure to check out my website Take The Leap Travel for more information and travel advice as well as my Instagram @explorewithlee and @taketheleaptravel.
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