Peru might just be the perfect country for travel - diverse landscapes, rich culture, friendly locals, and fabulous food. In as little as a week, you can swim in the ocean, hike across mountains, and explore ancient ruins. In terms of "bucket list" destinations, Peru's Machu Picchu is probably near the top of the list for many of you.
To visit Machu Picchu, you have three options:
Trek: If you want to trek, you'll need to go with a trekking agency. They'll help with the little details and make sure the correct permits and transportation are taken care of. There are a lot of components to the trek, so I would recommend doing research and weighing your options - don't just go with the cheapest option.
Tour: Going with a tour company is probably the most efficient use of time - they're familiar with the routes and sites and will get you where you need to be, when you need to be there. You'll also get a local guide and they'll take care of your permits/transportation/accommodations. It's a good investment if you're new to travel, are traveling by yourself, or don't want to worry about the details.
Do It Yourself: I was really glad that we made our own travel arrangements, picked our own accommodations, and were able to follow our own schedule/itinerary. That being said, I was traveling with my friend, Caitlyn, who happens to be fluent in Spanish. While wasn't necessary, it certainly was helpful to be able to ask questions and get clarification when we were confused. For example, we were able to hire a private driver to take us to some of the sites in the Sacred Valley because she was able to discuss our route, explain what we needed, and negotiate a price.
In the planning stage, my friend Caitlyn and I sat down and discussed what we wanted to see and do in the seven days we had. With only one week's time off of work, we had to narrow down our list. Machu Picchu was at the top of our list, and we really wanted enough time to explore Lima and the Sacred Valley, so we decided to save the other places on our list for a different visit.
Final Itinerary: Day 1 - Fly to Lima on Copa Airlines Day 2 - Lima - Miraflores District Day 3 - Lima - Barranco + Huaca Pucllana Archaeological Site Day 4 - Fly to Cusco via Star Peru Day 5 - Travel to Ollantaytambo with stops at the Salineras de Maras and Moray Agricultural Terraces Day 6 - Explore Ruins in Ollantaytambo and board afternoon Perurail to Aguas Calientes Day 7 - Visit Machu Picchu and board afternoon train back to Cusco Day 8 - Fly Home
My post-travel itinerary thoughts: Overall, I think we could have used one extra day. This would have allowed us to head straight to Ollantaytambo after flying into Cusco and given us two days there. Then we could have spent time in Cusco after returning from Aguas Calientes. The change in altitude from Lima to Cusco can cause altitude sickness, and Ollantaytambo is lower in elevation for your first night in the Sacred Valley to help you get acclimated - so that's an added bonus, too.
Lima We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Lima in Miraflores and the location was the perfect base to begin exploring. One of the district's main draws is safety, and we both felt very comfortable walking around at night and observing the nightlife. We had just the right amount of time in Lima to both explore the sights and sit back and relax. Originally, we had talked about doing a day trip to the Ballestas Islands or another nearby city. In the end, we liked the idea of having more time to just explore on our own. After talking to locals and other travelers in Peru, I really don't feel like I missed out.
Things to Do
Larcomar - an outdoor shopping mall built into the cliffs and a great place to watch the sunset.
Walk Along the Malecon towards La Marina Lighthouse
Feel the love at Parque del Amor
Huaca Pucllana an adobe pyramid built around 500AD
Hang with the cats at Parque Kennedy
Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros)
Explore Barranco, Lima's so-called Bohemian District
Hunt for Street Art in Barranco
Plaza de Armas in the Historic District
Watch the Changing of the Guards at the Presidential Palace
Cusco The city of Cusco was once the capital city of the Inca empire and boats a unique mixture of Spanish Colonial and Incan architecture. We actually stayed in Cusco for a day on each end of our trip to Machu Picchu. I didn't mind the accommodations or service at our hostel and the view from their rooftop was beautiful. However, the location was inconvenient and located at the top of a long staircase. Next time, I'd try to stay closer to Plaza Mayor and the Catedral de Cusco.
Favorite Restaurants in Cusco
Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse | This was hands down my favorite meal of our entire trip. The atmosphere is wonderful, and a part of the dining experience is finishing the cooking of your meal over a volcanic stone.
Ollantaytambo Where do I begin? Simply put, Ollantaytambo is special. As we were planning our trip, Ollantaytambo was always noted as the town where you board the train to Machu Picchu. There was very little direction on things to do and most tours we found only stopped here for a few hours while they wait for the train to arrive.
But it is SO much more than than I could have ever imagined. In almost every direction you look, there are mountains with ancient Incan ruins placed perfectly on top and charming cobblestone walkways leading you to the town plaza. Everyone we met was so welcoming and friendly. Colorful textiles filled the store fronts and delicious food awaited us every restaurant we stopped in. After being immersed in the bustling cities of Lima and Cusco, this quiet and welcoming town was exactly what we needed.
Whatever you do, build in time for a few days here so you have time to explore the main ruins and do the short hike to Pinkuyulluna Ruins. The Kamma Guest House will make you feel right at home the entire time. Liz will take excellent care of you, cook you a spectacular breakfast, offer suggestions on places to eat, and will answer any questions you have.
Machu Picchu There are two options to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu: bus or hike.
We chose to take the bus up and hike back down - which was perfect for us. One might argue that hiking up will give you a better sense of "appreciation" for the view, but let me tell you - it will take your breath away either way and I am glad we chose not to hike up... it was STEEP! The sign says it should take about an hour and a half to hike up, but most people we met said it took them much longer.
We purchased our bus tickets in person at the booth in Aguas Calientes when we arrived via train. The first bus departs at 5:30am and then they depart every 10 minutes.
When should I go to Peru? May to October is considered the dry season and is also the most popular time for tourists to visit. December to March is the rainy season. April and November are considered "shoulder season".
We traveled to Peru in the middle of January - which is summer in Lima and Rainy Season in the Sacred Valley. It rained hard for about an hour on the day we arrived in Aguas Calientes, but that was the only time it rained throughout our trip.
Food & Drink in Peru:
Coca Tea (Helps with Altitude)
Next Time: With limited time, we were only able to explore a small part of this magical country. Below is a list of other popular areas in Peru that I look forward visiting on future trips: