Planning your next vacation? Consider Peru for your next trip. Whether you are into history and culture, outdoor activities, parties and festivals, living like a local, or a little rest and relaxation, Peru has you covered, oh and the food, there is almost nothing better than Peruvian food.
If you are about to visit Peru, consider yourself the luckiest person on earth. You have decided to travel to one of the most beautiful and exhilarating places in Latin America. No other Latin American nation possesses such an extraordinary historical and cultural heritage than the one found in the land of the Incas, even if I do say so myself.
You may already have a detailed itinerary with a list of sites to visit, amid a myriad of other activities. But if you don’t have a Peruvian connection, you may miss some of the great secrets my country has to offer. Nobody knows a country as someone who has lived there their entire life. Dare to ask a Peruvian for some traveling tips and he/she will definitely talk to you for hours on end.
1. History and Culture
Image Source: Cruise Direct
For many, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Peru is Macchu Pichu. If you are clueless about Peru, you should begin with Macchu Picchu. This is the ideal first step and everything else will be simpler. In order to understand a country, you must first understand its history. Macchu Pichu was the last city of the Incas, where the decaying Inca nobility escaped from the barbaric Spanish conquistadores around the year 1535. Machu Picchu is located in Cuzco, in the southern hemisphere of Peru. First board a short plane trip from Lima to Cuzco.
Once in Cuzco, take a four-hour train ride to arrive at Macchu Pichu. Grab a camera and be ready to walk and sightsee. I suggest taking an entire day since there is a lot to admire. Also, stay for a few days in Cuzco city. There are plenty of museums, temples, churches and the great Ollantaytambo temple. An awesome fact about Cuzco are the cool llamas hanging on the streets and corners, willing to pose for a selfie. Don’t be shy to ask, llamas are accustomed to tourists like you.
The Nazca Lines
Image Source: Lonely Planet
If you are up for seeing another Peruvian marvel then visit Nazca. Nazca is located in the south of Lima within a short flight. The Nazca lines, a world heritage site, is something you should not miss. Do not try to step onto the desert of Nazca. The lines are so gigantic you will only get to see plains and sand. Just take a low-level sightseeing plane. The fare is around $130 and the flight will take you right above the Nazca lines in a trip of 30 to 40 minutes.
Chan Chan Ruins
Image Source: Gmtourperu
In La Libertad region, north of Peru, there is a fabulous ruin called Chan Chan. Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Kingdom. Never underestimate the Chimu culture; these ancient Peruvians were spoiled, cultured and sophisticated. Besides owning tons of gold, they possessed an astonishing knowledge of politics, engineering, and irrigation. The Incas were in awe of the Chimu and struggled to conquer them. After finally defeating the Chimu, the Incas applied the Chimu knowledge for their own benefit.
The Chan Chan ruins cover an area of 14 square miles of reservoirs, pyramid temples, streets and adobe walls with carvings of fish, mammals, and birds. It is a great archeological site with a lot to see.
2. Outdoor Activities
The Inca Trail
Image Source: Kandoo Adventures
This is perhaps one of the most exciting outdoor activities. The famous trail is a 26-mile breathtaking hiking experience that combines beautiful scenery, ruin sightseeing, tunnels, Inca paved roads, bird fauna, and the mysterious aura of the Peruvian jungle.
This adventure lasts four exciting days and it is made for the brave and resilient. If you are willing to embark in this feat, remember you will be hiking at an altitude beyond 13,800 feet above sea level. The finish line is the magical ruins of Macchu Picchu. What else could you ask for? The Inca trail is so exciting, that booking reservations fill up quickly during the season.
The Cotahuasi Canyon
Image Source: Paradise Travel
If you visit Arequipa to hike the Cotahuasi canyon, be proud of it. Cotahuasi is the deepest canyon in the world, twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, with a depth of 3354 feet. The best time to visit is during the week of May 4, specifically, when regional festivities take place, some of which we will cover later on.
In order to get there, first take a bus from the city of Arequipa to arrive at the peaceful Cotahuasi town. There are several lodgings and hotels there. If you seek a discount, just tell them that you are definitely not Peruvian, but born and raised in the Free and Independent Republic of Arequipa, paisano. The hotel owner may give you a discount.
Along the trail, you may encounter archeological ruins, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, thermal baths, rope bridges and dozens of cool llamas. Experienced hikers prepare for weeks before this trip. You need to be in great shape to see and experience the best of the best.
White Water Rafting
Image Source: Real Family trips
And after you finish hiking, why not do some kayaking? As with most outdoor activities in Peru, this will not be an easy kayak down a calm stream, since the Cotahuasi river is class 4, meaning the rapids are “intense and powerful”. There are sections of Cotahuasi river that are level 3, though.
Fortunately, Arequipa is not the only place to do kayaking. Amateurs searching for calmer waters should try the Ocobamba, in Cuzco, or just stay in Arequipa and do your rafting in the Chili river. The distances to be covered depends on the river, ranging from 5 to 7 miles, in a two-hour frame of a fearless and exhilarating experience.
The Manu National Reserve
Cock of the Rocks (Rupivola Peruviana)-Image Source: Amazon Trails Peru
Those infatuated by nature should visit Manu, a biosphere reserve located across Madre de Dios and Cuzco.
Manu is a world heritage site Peruvians are very proud of. For certain species, no worldwide site compares to Manu. The American Yellowstone park doesn’t even come close. Manu has a greater variety of land vertebrates than any other place in Latin America. Worldwide, no park has the complexity of bird species found in the Peruvian Manu.
As usual, Peru has the best of the best.
If you crave to contemplate some of the thousands of flora and fauna species in Manu, schedule an expedition. The 3 days-2nights adventure costs about $300. Either, you are in Cuzco or Madre de Dios, be ready to travel. Manu is located deep in the heart of the Amazonian jungle. In order to get there, one travels both by boat and plane, in a prolonged trip of about 12 hours. However, if you get to see the Andean cock of the rock, the Otorongo (Peruvian jaguar) and the Sloth (Oso Peruano Perezoso), it is all worth it.
Visit The Machiguenga Tribe
Image Source: Mision Segadores
While in the Amazon, you should grasp the opportunity of paying your respects to “The Machiguengas”. This magnificent tribe inhabits the jungles of Northeastern Peru, on the border stripe of Brazil. Having a population of 12,000 people, the Machiguengas has perhaps been the most studied by Anthropologists since the 1950’s. Their knowledge of Amazonian wildlife is astonishing, to say the least. A Machiguenga knows exactly the denomination and properties of hundreds of Amazonian plants and trees. A vast knowledge that can only be compared to earning a doctoral degree in “The West.”
Visit the Machiguengas and expect to be welcomed with open arms. This “savage tribe” has never engaged in any war and are known for their warmth and hospitality. Above all, listen to them: they will tell you about the injustices they faced due to the activities of illegal loggers and corporations.
Related Content: The Scale Of Corruption In The Peruvian Rainforest Is Astonishing
Sand Boarding in Lima
Image Source: Sandboarding in Lima
You may know that a great area of peripheral Lima is just plain desert. So this is the most suited place to do sandboarding. The best sandboarding dunes are 50km (31 Miles) south of Lima. Groups of Americans searching for a rush of adrenaline spend a great deal of time doing sandboarding there. Why? Because, according to several aficionado sites, Lima is the best place in the world to do it. So much so that Peru has been the host country of the Sandboarding World Cup multiple times. Another exciting place to try is the dunes of Huacachina, Ica.
3. Parties and Festivals
Fiesta de la Virgen del carmen-Image Source: Inca trail
Nowadays, regional and indigenous pride in Peru is stronger than ever. So I suggest you stay either in Cuzco or Arequipa. Both cities have nothing to envy about Lima anymore. In fact, they provide a more authentic, autochthonous experience since indigenous people have more freedom there. Sadly, Lima still has areas where my beautiful and extraordinary indigenous people are rejected.
Image Source: Courtesy of Photographer Jose Fernandez
I visited Cuzco twice and I lived in Arequipa for a while. Their nightlife is exhilarating. There are several clubs, discos, and peñas filled to the brim with locals who adore tourists. Back then, both cities celebrated an annual “International Festival of the beer”, with European, American and Latin American bands. However, the festival was eventually canceled. Yet, there is nothing to lament. There are multiple regional festivities and Holidays all year round. Such as the Inti Raimi, the Ollantaytambo feast, Taitacha Temblores (Big Daddy of Earthquakes), Quillabamba festival, Virgen del Rosario, Virgen de Chapi, etc. Also, in October, beer companies organize the Oktoberfest in both cities.
Multiple websites promote those regional festivities. But how about the festivities that are “out of the ordinary”?
The Takanakuy: The Fighting Festival in Peru
Image Source: Enrique Castro-Mendivil
Civilization has been unable to fully tame the savage instincts all human beings carry inside. In ancient times, the Greeks got drunk and participated in seasonal wild orgies in the Festival of Dionysius. It was their way of catharsis, a healthy outlet for briefly releasing those irrational drives deeply ingrained in our human nature. As Doctor Johnson said once: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man”.
Many cultures have such feasts in which they briefly stop being themselves and thereby are set free. Peruvians in Chumbivilcas, Cuzco, have The Takanakuy. In this staggering feast, the townsmen drink alcohol and engage in violent fighting matches. The fighters drink heavily in order to numb themselves from pain. There is no exception. Men, women and children alike jump onto the field anxious to punch their opponent. This festival has a deeper meaning. Takanakuy is celebrated on December 25th, Christmas day, as a symbol of rejection of the Christian dogma that Spaniards forced onto them centuries ago.
So, if you are curious about exploring a “nonordinary” Peruvian festivity, visit Chumbivilcas.
4. Relax and Refresh
Lima, located right next to the Pacific Ocean, has great beaches. However, Peruvians who know better travel north. The regions of Tumbes and Piura have the most attractive seacoasts that, although not as paradisiacal as Brazilian beaches, are havens of beauty, silence, and tranquility.
Image Source: Destination 360
Located in Tumbes, the northwestern region of Peru, Punta Sal is the hideaway of many international tourists. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful and largest Peruvian beach, with white sand and calm and warm waters. Save yourself some time by taking a plane: you will be there in an hour and a half. This place is quiet and sunny all year round. Peruvians usually take their families for a soothing vacation. Sun, family, peace. If you just want to relax, then this is your place.
Image Source: Urban Fragment
Mancora and Punta Sal are very close. A half an hour cab ride will get you to Mancora. Mancora is the favorite spot for the young Peruvian elite. You will also be surprised to find lots of South American hippies from Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, etc. Partying, drinking, and dancing are a daily event, and their nightlife is wild. Mancora beaches have great waves for surfing too. So if you seek excitement, skip Punta Sal and visit Mancora.
Hemingway after catching a marlin, in Cabo Blanco 1956-Image: Modeste Von Unruh
Before leaving Mancora, make sure to visit the fishing village of Cabo Blanco, only a few miles away. Cabo Blanco was the hideaway where Hollywood stars as John Wayne, Paul Newman, Marylyn Monroe and the literary giant Ernest Hemingway relaxed and meditated laying down on the beach, sipping Pisco Sour.
There are also other magnificent places in Peru. Huanchaco (Lambayeque), Asia (Lima) and the Paracas (Ica) are beaches you should definitely add to your list.
5. Living Like a Local
There are over 30 million Peruvians, and every experience is different for everyone. But here is something “I think” you must do to live like a local in Lima.
Visit “Brisas del Titicaca”
Image Source: Gran Teatro Nacional
Every Peruvian I know has visited Brisas del Titicaca.
Brisas del Titicaca is a restaurant that offers a three-hour musical and dance show. Music samples from coastal, indigenous, folk, Andean and Amazonian communities are offered in a lively and colorful spectacle. Attending this show is like submerging in a cultural virtual tour across the Peruvian territory. If for lack of time, you missed certain Peruvian regions, visit “Brisas” for a quick sample of what you missed. Of course, nothing like traveling there and seeing “the real thing.” But it’s better than nothing. Tickets are not that expensive and, in my opinion, it is a must.
Go to the Market and Barter
Image Source: Courtesy of Asun and Ricardo from Madrid
Wanna do bartering? If you are a tourist, then you might be on the downside. Vendors assume tourists have lots of money and usually take advantage.
It’s hard to fool them. Peruvians have a sixth sense and are very, very smart. Even I, who use Peruvian slang, couldn’t fool them! They instantly noticed I lived in the US for a while.
But still, you should do it just for fun. Peruvians are awesome people and will give you a discount just for trying. Just don’t forget to make a sad gesture and firmly say: “Rebajita pueess!”
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it means. Just say it.
Ride a “Combi” (de la Muerte)
Image Source: Peru kite surf
In Peru, there are hundreds of public mini-buses called “combis.” If you are late to a meeting, Peruvians say, Chapa una combi! (Catch a combi!). Why? Because combis are extremely fast. Either too much or too little of anything can be detrimental. In this case, Combis are too fast for your own good.
Combi drivers race like lunatics being chased by the police. That’s why they are denominated “Combi de la Muerte” (The Deadly Combi). And I’m not exaggerating. Just imagine boarding a minibus with Vin Diesel behind the wheel from “The Fast and The Furious”. Catch a combi, bring a Hollywood experience into real life, and enjoy the rush of adrenaline Peruvian passengers feel every single morning.
It would be a culture shock, but if you adore riding on the wildest American roller coasters, then you will be in your element.
Eat Food from a Triciclo Ambulante (Anticuchos and “Ceviche de a China”)
Anticuchitos de corazón-uy Curujuu-Image Source: Peru delight
In Centro de Lima, there must easily be hundreds of sandwich vendors (carritos sangucheros), and other hawkers selling a specific dish. You name it: Arroz con pollo, Caucau, Guiso, Tallarin Rojo, Achoncholi or Chanfainita. My personal favorite was the ceviche. This street specialty is mainly known as “Ceviche de a china” or “Ceviche al paso”. The hawker prepares your ceviche in a matter of seconds, right in front of you. “All my ingredients are clean and healthy, caserito”, the hawkers always say. (Update: due to the economic inflation, the dish is now known as “Ceviche de tres lucas”)
However, the most delicious dish to enjoy on the streets are undoubtedly the Anticuchos (Oxheart skewers) and Pancita (grilled pig tripe). This is a must.
Drink the Sacred Ayahuasca
Image Source: Paula Castañares
What is the purpose of traveling without making your mind travel and break your inner limits? After taking Ayahuasca, you will learn that, right in front of you, there is more magic than you ever imagined. Since we were children, we have been trained to shut off our multiple (and endless) levels of awareness. In order to live in society, we have sacrificed our infinite perception and narrowed it down in order to fix it on a phone screen. Fortunately, Ayahuasca provides a liberation. This Peruvian psychedelic can awaken anyone by taking him or her out of the monotonous trance of modern life.
The best ayahuasca in Peru can only be purchased in the Amazon. But I believe some shamans in Lima sell Ayahuasca for a fair price. Again, there are a million of miraculous and beautiful things in your surroundings than meets the eye. And there is no better place to find that out than in Peru, thanks to the sacred Ayahuasca.
Treat Yourself with a Salchipapa
Image Source: Courtesy of Greg Goodman
There is nothing more Peruvian than a potato. But also, there is no dish more Peruvian than a Salchipapa. Although they are now enjoyed in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia, Salchipapa is an original Peruvian invention. Even a syndicate of Peruvian restaurants assigned November 15 to commemorate “The Day of the Peruvian Salchipapa”.
Salchipapa is the authentic Peruvian fast food. A dish made of hot dogs and french fries, “Salchis” are regularly had with lots of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and, sometimes, hot sauce or black olive sauce (crema de aceituna).
Street Hawkers also sell Salchipapas, since the demand for it is overwhelming.
Take your Girlfriend To The Park and Kiss Her in Public
Image Source: Artnaz
Make no mistake. Peruvians are one of the most affectionate people in the world. Americans kiss their girlfriends or boyfriends in private. However, some Peruvians love to do it in public view so that everyone can see it. You will be surprised, shocked, astonished, and then impressed by those public displays of love. Take your girlfriend in public view and kiss her like a true Peruvian. Who cares if someone is looking?
Image Source: Alberto Gonzales
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XpatNation is a Social News and Lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences of ex-patriots living in The United States. XpatNation brings together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, Geo politics and the day to day on-goings of this proud and powerful nation.