Updated! Peru Travel: It's So Much More Than Machu Picchu
Peru is an epic and unimaginably special place. A place overflowing with hidden treasures, forgotten temples, and ancient cities, Peru is the epitome of an indescribable South American country. The indigenous people of Peru are so mesmeric, their clothing is colorfully intricate, and their culture is mysteriously wonderful. A land of treasures and sun-worshipping Incas, Peru was once the home of the largest empire in the world. A country with incredible wildlife, and enthralling historical sanctuaries, Peru will inspire you and bewitch you with its powerful energy.
Peru Travel: It's So Much More Than Machu Picchu
Lima, Peru's capital, will be your first stop on your Peruvian adventure. A seemingly unattractive city, but your ticket to other Peruvian locations, Lima will entertain you and occupy you until your journey continues. A metropolis with a rich history, century-old hotels, and rapidly expanding modernization, Lima is a vibrant South American capital. Lima is overflowing with cultural heritage, not as exotic as many South American capitals, but it does have plenty of museums, and ancient colonial sites. Within an hour bus-ride from Lima you can explore Pachacamac, a fortress-temple complex overlooking the ocean. Adjacent to this fortress are a series of pre-Inca sites called Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla. These temples will give you a taste of the Incas and allow you to see their mysteriously grand culture.
Once back in the city, Lima offers plenty of charming restaurants and accommodation. The Miraflores Park Hotel, is a Euro-style boutique hotel, with an amazing view of the ocean. Reasonably priced for its posh amenities, this will be a lovely escape from a busy day in Lima. Another excellent find is Limas Casa Andina Hotel. With a modern and bold twist, wood-beamed ceilings, and a palm-fringed indoor pool, this will suit your accommodation fancy. For delightful dining try the intimately charming, Rafael Restaurant. This 15-table restaurant located in an old colonial mansion has exquisite Peruvian and Mediterranean cuisine. With minimalist lines and mouth-watering cuisine this should surely be a stop on your Lima excursion. Any city that is on the ocean must have amazing seafood, and Lima and Peru in general is known for their divine ceviche. For the best ceviche in Lima visit, La Mar Cebicheria. Constantly bustling, this bamboo-roofed restaurant is a hotspot for trendy locals and visitors from around the globe. For a hip shopping district in Lima, visit San Isidro, where you can find great little boutiques and charming spots. Stop by Segunda Vuelta, a hidden boutique with no sign other than a large 330 on the store-front. Here you will find clothes by young Peruvian designers, and a perfect stock of vintage garments. For great jewelry go to Ara Joyas, in the lively Alvarez Calderon. Here you can find amazing gold-dipped arm cuffs, funky necklaces, and an assortment of lovely pieces by the hippest jewelry designer in town. A few days in Lima is plenty, and once you are finished exploring this unique city, you will be ready to dive deeper into the the depths of Peru.
The most popular destination often visited after Lima is Cusco. This magical city nestled in the Andes Mountains is so special and one of the most beautifully preserved cities in South America. Cusco is thriving with culture, colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and is home to the native Quechua Indians. Thousands of visitors venture to Cusco monthly to explore Inca ruins, architectural treasures, and the wealth of museums and heritage sights. Since this mountainous city is the gateway to Machu Picchu, you must acclimatize here so you can prepare yourself for the journey ahead. In order to help you adjust to the altitude, locals and restaurants will give you cacao leaves in your tea or for you to chew to stimulate your body and help you cope. It is recommended that you rest in Cusco for 2-3 days before continuing to the higher regions where the adventure begins. Cusco is a city that is divided roughly by various square centers, churches, temples, and the Plaza de Armas at its heart. Around this square are the quaintest restaurants, live music by Cusco natives, and wonderful little shops. The squares corner is dominated by the Cathedral which looks more like a massive fortress in comparison to the delicate architecture of the buildings that surround.
The shopping and goods in Peru are beautifully authentic, from alpaca blankets and sweaters, textiles, Andean beaded jewelry, antique Inca stonework, and wood carvings. The Central Market in Cusco is full of street stalls with excellent values, and kiosks displaying everything from herbs to jungle medicines. The colorful Quechua traders are lively and very persistent on selling their well-crafted goods. The cuisine in Cusco is deliciously authentic. On the perimeter of the Plaza de Armas is an enchanting Peruvian restaurant called, Inka Grill. Once you enter, you feel as if you've gone into a tiny museum, not a restaurant. Intriguing Peruvian art and sculptures line the wood-beamed cavernous restaurant and its charming ambiance. A restaurant with mouth-watering Andean food and some unique dishes such as Guinea Pig and Alpaca, Inka Grill will wow you from start to finish. A romantically picturesque restaurant overlooking the most perfect hotel in Cusco is the Illary Restaurant. A glassed-in corridor overlooks the colonial patio of the former ancient monastery in the center of the Hotel Monasterio. Known as Cusco's most fabulous restaurant, for its ambiance and food, Illary is a Peruvian delight and will make you feel on top of the world. Hotel Monasterio, is Peru's most exclusively posh hotel. In the heart of this historic city, this hotel will charm you with its antiquity and beauty. Once an old monastery built in 1592, Hotel Monasterio retains all this historic charm and is one of the finest hotels in the world. If you want something at a friendlier price point try a local bed and breakfast such as, Hotel Arqueologo. An old colonial house on ancient Inca Terraces, this B & B is a lovely Peruvian experience. Although nightlife in Cusco isn't as hoppin as other larger South American cities, there are a few little spots that are lively and entertaining. Mama Africa's, located on the second floor above the Plaza de Armas, is one of the most popular nightclubs in Cusco. Reasonably priced drinks, and a huge dance floor, Mama Africas will satisfy your craving for a night on the town.
As you meander through the cobblestone streets of Cusco, you will be enamoured by the architecture, and civilization that surrounds you. Every step you take, you will befriend locals and the most stunning rosy-cheeked Andean children, who will be over-joyed to exchange 5 words with you. Cusco is a wonderland for Inca history, culture, charming restaurants and hotels, and is atmospherically extraordinary.
From Cusco you can embark on your journey to the Inca Trail where Machu Picchu awaits. You can take a bus or hire a driver to take you from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, a little traditional town where you can hop on the train to Machu Picchu and Aguas Caliente. This petit town is a great little resting point before your journey to one of the most breathtaking wonders of the world. The sweetest hotel in Ollantaytambo is Hotel Pakaritampu. As you walk down a walled-in cobblestone alleyway, you will run into a little gate, beyond this gate is the most stunning garden, and the colorful buildings of this wonderful hotel.
On your way to Ollantaytambo you will decide whether you want to hike to Machu Picchu or take the train all the way to Aguas Caliente and take the bus up to the ruins. The hike is definitely the more exhilarating of the two options, and will be engrained in your wonderful memories of Peru forever. You can choose whether you want to do a two-day hike or a four-day hike (If you choose the two-day hike, the train will just take you to a further point, so you have a lesser distance to travel to the site). You can also hire porters in Ollantaytambo for $7-10 a day to carry your backpacks, food, and water, as well as a guide to lead you on your trek. Throughout your hike there will be stops and hostel-like facilities for you to rest. The hike up to the summit of Machu Picchu is such a phenomenal experience, although it is quite intense, with many very steep points, it is 100% worth it. Just writing about it, makes me want to hop on a plane right now and do it all over again! The ruins, landscape, and beauty of the Andes Mountains will radiate in your memory of Peru and will dramatically enhance your Peruvian experience. The highlight of the entire trek is the last leg up to Machu Picchu. You will wake up at 4 am, hike through the jungle in the dark, and as dawn begins to break you will reach the Sun Gate. Once you reach this point, you will catch your first glimpse of the ruins of Machu Picchu as the sun-rises over top, and creates the most whimsically spell-binding vision you have ever seen.
Machu Picchu is a series of the most spectacular ruins in the world. Once an Inca city, Machu Picchu was discovered in the 20th century and has been considered a world wonder ever since. The significance of Machu Picchu to the Incas is still a mystery, but its tremendous size and hidden location on the top of the peaks of the Andes is quite remarkable. There is so much to see when you visit these ruins, you must a lot days to explore. The energy at Machu Picchu is spiritually enriching, the air is thin and cold, and the atmosphere is whimsically soothing. The stonework of these temples, and the vibrant green landscaping is utterly indescribable. Once you've enjoyed your day wandering these temples and massive ruins you will go down to the town of Aguas Calientes directly below Machu Picchu.
This little town, named after hot water, because of the hot springs that surround, is a prime point for Machu Picchu visitors. It is said that these thermal pools have curative powers, and will cleanse you after your long journey. A charming town with an assortment of tiny restaurants and hotels is the perfect place to rest in between your Machu Picchu excursions. The train and its track run directly through Aguas Calientes, making it look quite rustic and unrefined. If you decide not to hike to the Inca trail to Machu Picchu this is where the train will take you from Ollantaytambo. Once you're dropped off here you can take a bus up to the ruins. The most lovely place to stay in Aguas Calientes is the Inkaterra Hotel. Set back in the jungle, away from the main road of the town, is such a special oasis. Located on 12 acres of property, with a bird sanctuary, a spa, and beautiful cottages, this is the perfect place to top off your already incredible journey. This blissful haven we call Inkaterra is pricey, but reasonably cheaper than you would expect. For a reasonable and funkier alternative, try Gringo Bill's Hotel/Hostel. An eclectic, but clean hotel with psychedelic inspired walls, Gringo Bills will be very fitting for those with a tighter budget. Gringo Bill's is located in the main plaza of the town, and is quirky and charming spot close to everything and anything you could need in Aguas Calientes.
After you finish your magical journey through the Inca trail and experience the wonderment that Machu Picchu has to offer, you will be ready to weave your way back to Cusco. Once you take the train back to Ollantaytambo, you can hire a driver to take you on some other heavenly excursions. The Urubamba Valley, also known as the sacred valley of the Incas, is stunningly fertile, with the Urubamba river flowing through the center. At the Eastern end of the valley is a village called Pisac, with a wonderful native market on Sundays. With beautiful Peruvian handicrafts, jewelry, pottery, and art, this is definitely a place to do some shopping. If you don't stop in Pisac on a Sunday, there are similar markets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Behind this little village, are a series of impressive ruins looking over the town which you can hike up and enjoy the incredible view of the valley.
Another enriching experience on the way back to Cusco, is in a town called Paucartambo. Here, in July, there is a fabulous festival which is the biggest of the year. Known as the folklore province of Peru, Paucartambo's lively festival honors the Virgen del Carmen. From July 15th through the 18th the streets come alive with colorful dancing, pageants, fireworks, and music. If you want to see one of the greatest manifestations of Peruvian faith, this is the festival to attend. As you weave your way back to Cusco, you will see the most spectacular sights: the Andean people and their colorful clothing walking on the sides of the street, against the bright green Urubamba Valley, the tiny villages and small remnants of history and antiquity that once overpowered Peru. Overall, the visions you will take in as your are driving across the countryside are captivatingly epic, and a wonderful little closing to your lovely vacation.
HIGHLIGHTS OF PERU
LIMA: Pachacamac Fortress | Miraflores Park Hotel [http://www.miraflorespark.com] | Casa Andina Hotel [http://www.casa-andina.com] | Rafael Restaurant [http://www.rafaelosterling.com] | La Mar Cebicheria [http://www.lamarcebicheria.com] | Segunda Vuelta Boutique | Ara Joyas Jewelry [http://www.arajoyas.com]
CUSCO: Plaza de Armas | Central Market | Inka Grill [http://www.inkagrillcusco.com] | Illary Restaurant | Hotel Monasterio [http://www.monasterio.orient-express.com] | Hotel Arqueologo [http://www.hotelarqueologo.com] | Mama Africa's Bar [http://www.mamaafricaclub.com]
OLLANTAYTAMBO: Hotel Pakaritampu [http://www.pakaritampu.com] | Village Center
*** MACHU PICCHU ****
URUBAMBA VALLEY: Pisac Market | Paucartambo Festival Virgen de Carmen