Peru is possibly my favorite country in the world. There is so much diversity in this country. From the Amazon Rainforest to the Pacific Ocean and everything in between, Peru can almost feel like several countries packed into one. Throw in some desert and some of the tallest peaks in South America and you’ve got one massive adventure.
I’ve been to Peru three times, and spent over 3 months there this latest trip. Each time, it feels I only discover a dozen more things that I need to cross off the bucket list. This list barely scrapes the surface of what a diverse country like Peru has to offer.
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20. Huacachina Desert Oasis
Huacachina is quickly becoming one of Peru’s top travel destinations. Aside from Cusco, it is possibly where I encountered the most tourists. Or maybe that’s just because it is such a small town that the tourists stand out even more. Who can blame them, though? Huacachina is as unique of a destination that you can get. A desert oasis surrounded by huge dunes that attract adrenaline-chasers looking to dune buggy or sandboard their way through the desert.
Welcome to the jungle. For an experience completely unlike anything you’ve done in Peru before, Iquitos is the place. First of all, Iquitos is completely inaccessible by land transportation. You’re either going to have to take to the skies or take to the waters. It is a cheap flight from Lima, but the adventurous will definitely be enticed by the three-day boat journey. Three days on the river, sleeping on hammocks, and surrounded by jungle and wildlife is hard to resist.
Once you get to Iquitos, it is the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest and some of the most genuine, authentic, and rugged experiences you can get. Whether you’re there for the ayahuasca, anthropology, or the animals, the Amazon is a different world altogether.
18. Paracas National Reserve
The landscapes of Paracas National Reserve can feel otherworldly at times. This is where the desert meets the Pacific Ocean, although the ocean here is anything but pacific. The violent waves crashing against the cliffs are a sight to behold. This is especially true along Playa Roja, a beautiful beach that may seem enticing but is nothing short of a death trap. Paracas National Reserve is a stunning place to visit, and very easily accessible thanks to its position firmly along southern Peru’s Gringo Trail.
17. Chan Chan Ruins
One of the most mind-blowing things about Peru is just how many more civilizations lived there beyond just the Inca. The Chimu Civilization, for example, lived along the coast where modern day Trujillo would be. These ruins are something to behold. They cover a wide area and although I have never been to Egypt, I totally felt like I was walking through some Egyptian ruins along the way. It is incredible how different these ruins are from the famed stone Incan ruins. Along with other archaeological sites like Huaca de la Luna y del Sol and El Brujo, Trujillo makes for a great home base for the culture and history enthusiast.
16. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world. The trek I did took us right into the depths of the canyon, a beautiful and humbling experience. Seeing the sheer walls surround you in every direction reminds you just how small you are. A Colca Canyon trek is one of the most popular activities for adventurers passing through Arequipa. I highly recommend doing a 2-day excursion so that you can get a full experience in the canyon.
Lima is a city that travelers seem to only pass through. I mean, it’s the main airport and the main travel hub of the country, so that makes it pretty unavoidable. However, after months of traveling through South America and devoid of any comforts and luxuries, my time in Lima was much needed. Lima, especially Miraflores, gave me something that I had been missing for most of my time in Peru. Proper meals. Proper parties. Proper clubs. Proper nightlife.
You can hate on Lima like most other travelers or you can try to make the most of your time there. Don’t treat it as a tourist destination, because it really isn’t. There’s nothing too sexy about Lima aside from that rugged coastline and its street art. Treat it as a respite from traveling, where you can get the comforts of back home for much cheaper. Lima had incredible vegan food, fantastic oceanside restaurants, and of course, some of the best clubs I’ve ever partied at.
14. Laguna Paron
This iconic view was the first to entice me to visit Huaraz. I didn’t have time to go my first or second trips to Peru but hey, third time’s the charm. I spent over a month in Huaraz exploring all of the stunning lagunas and mountains the region had to offer. Laguna Paron was the first of many adventures, and a perfect acclimatization hike for travelers and trekkers wanting to take on some of the more challenging excursions in the region.
13. Rainbow Mountain
Behind Machu Picchu, this is probably the most iconic destination in the Cusco region. The cascading colors of Rainbow Mountain lure travelers far and wide to take on an extremely challenging, high-altitude trek for this iconic view. Although it has blown up in popularity, it is still very much worth a visit. Just make sure that you are prepared to take on the challenge.
12. Laguna Churup
Even on a cloudy, gloomy day, it is hard to deny the magic that is Laguna Churup. The various colors of the laguna surrounded by snow-capped peaks and sheer cliffs makes for a mystical sight. This shorter trek was one of my favorites that I did during my time in Huaraz.
11. Floating Islands of Uros
This is one of the most unique places in all of Peru. A trip to the Floating Islands of the Uros people is something you can’t miss when you visit Lake Titicaca. It is a mind-blowing cultural experience, and although I initially expected it to be a bit tourist-trappy, I genuinely enjoyed my tour there. The people definitely have begun to cater to tourists but it is still a sight to behold. You can even take a boat ride in one of their iconic reed ships.
Despite being one of Peru’s largest cities, Cajamarca’s location makes it very overlooked by travelers. It requires a winding bus ride through the mountains if you are coming from Chachapoyas, or a foray deep into the mountains if you are coming from the coastal region of Peru. However, for the few international travelers that do make it here, it is nothing short of a hidden gem. It is like Cusco if it was entirely local. It was the most authentic glimpse of Quechua life that I’ve ever had in Peru, especially so during a day trip to Cumbemayo.
With tons of archaeological sites and history within the city itself, Cajamarca is a culture and history enthusiasts’ dream. Cajamarca is famous for being where the last Sapa Inka Atahualpa was held for ransom before being murdered by Pizarro. You know what happens next. This set the pieces in motion for the Spanish conquest of Peru. You can still see the room where Atahualpa was held for ransom right in the center of town.
Arequipa is one of my favorite cities in South America. The city is gorgeous, safe, and affordable. It is also a gateway to some of Peru’s most challenging adventures. The towering peaks of Misti and Chachani lure climbers and trekkers far and wide seeking to summit Misti’s perfect cone or Chachani’s 6,000 meter tall peak. Mountain biking and white water rafting are other adrenaline inducing adventures you can do from Arequipa. And of course, the famous Colca Canyon trek.
As much as I love trekking, I also love food. Arequipa is arguably Peru’s best city for foodies. I say arguably because realistically, Lima, Cusco, Trujillo, Chiclayo, or Arequipa could all claim that title. However, Arequipa holds a special place in my heart because I was there when they claimed the Guinness World Record for largest plate of rocotos rellenos, or stuffed peppers. Along with queso helado to wash that spicy son of a bitch down, Arequipa’s food scene served me well.
Known as the Machu Picchu of the north, Kuelap is the main archaeological attraction in northern Peru. However, few travelers know about it or take the effort to make it to this part of Peru. It’s hard to blame them. Chachapoyas is quite out of the way from most of Peru’s other tourist destinations. For those that do make the journey to this part of Peru, they are rewarded with some impressive ruins situated atop a mountain overlooking incredible Peruvian countryside scenery.
7. Gocta Waterfalls
Yeesh. Look at dem thangs. Gocta Falls was once the third-highest known waterfalls in the world. They’ve since dropped to like 15th or something but tour operators will conveniently leave that part out. Whatever, it’s just numbers anyway. The beauty of Gocta Falls speaks for itself, whether it’s the tallest waterfall in the world or the 500th tallest.
The entire 12 kilometer round trip trek to the basin of the falls, I was fully expecting to stumble into Tarzan along the way. The scenery in this part of Peru’s Amazonas region was something I had never seen before. It is an absolutely stunning hike, and one of the most unique you can do in Peru that doesn’t involve snow.
6. Laguna 69
This was one of the most challenging adventures I took on in Peru. It was a very big reminder of just how out of shape I am and how serious one should take the altitude. An elevation gain of 800 meters to reach the laguna at 4,600 meters above sea level, the trek to Laguna 69 pushed me to my limits. I’m not afraid to admit I cried a few tears as I suffered my way up the final incline. I definitely cried a few more happy tears as I saw the laguna in all of its glory for the first time.
Next to Rainbow Mountain, this might have been the most challenging day trek that I did in Peru. Nevado San Mateo is another story altogether.
Ahh, one of my favorite cities in the world. It is impossible for me to overstate just how much I love this city. Cusco is beautiful, from the architecture to its mountainous surroundings. The vibe is unbeatable. It is lively at seemingly all hours of the day and night, with my 5 AM fuzzy walks home finding the Plaza de Armas often more crowded than midday. Cusco has all the makings of a place you could live in, and it is definitely a place where you can never get bored in. From the adventurous day trips to the lazy days, Cusco is a city of balance. I could spend forever here, and I honestly tried to. Then my 90-day visa was like bro, get out.
Without a doubt, Cusco is a city that I know I will always return to.
I booked two nights at a cool-looking hostel in the mountains and packed a day pack with one change of clothes for the two-day side trip. How gross would you think I was if I told you I ended up staying for six days? Pisac quickly became one of my favorite parts of Peru. It is a tranquil village tucked away in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Tranquil was exactly what I needed after partying my way through southern Peru the entire month prior.
The archaeological site of Pisac was absolutely stunning, as well. It might be the only ruins in Peru that rivaled Machu Picchu for me. Of course, Machu Picchu is more iconic, and it is a stretch to say that Pisac is just as beautiful. However, my experience at the ruins was unbeatable. I spent hours roaming through the vast expanse of these mountaintop ruins. Compared to the hordes of tourists that make their way to Machu Picchu daily, Pisac was a quiet spot. I saw maybe two dozen other travelers while I was there, and I was there for about six hours.
3. Santa Cruz Trek
Damn. That’s all I really have to say for this trek. I didn’t think much of it when I signed up to do it. I just wanted a bit more preparation for the monster of a trek that I truly had my heart set on. In the end, Santa Cruz blew me away. Some of the views were too beautiful to believe, including this purple hour sunset over the mountains pictured above. The four day adventure takes you through breathtakingly beautiful lagunas, mountain passes, and more. For travelers in Huaraz looking for a relatively easy but high-reward trek, look no further. Santa Cruz is that thang.
2. Machu Picchu
Here’s some insider info for you. You may not have heard of this place, but it is a true hidden gem. Only the locals know about it.
Nah, I’m obviously bullshitting you. You know Machu Picchu. Not much needs to be said about this world wonder. Seeing it after a five-day trek remains one of the most glorious moments of my life. I can still remember the clouds gradually clearing up after a disappointingly misty morning to start off our first glimpses of Machu Picchu.
1. Cordillera Huayhuash
Man, where do I even begin with this place? I had incredibly high expectations for the Cordillera Huayhuash trek, having hyped it up for the last three years since I first left Peru. I don’t have much of a bucket list, but it was hard to deny that the Cordillera Huayhuash was weighing heavy on my mind. When the opportunity finally arose, I hesitated. A lot. For weeks.
I’m not fit enough. It’s almost the rainy season, I should postpone it. What if my group sucks? I’m not ready.
Eventually, after weeks in Huaraz and exhausting everything to do there, I decided to go for it. Without a doubt, these were the best eight days of travel I’ve ever had. Most days didn’t feel real. It was a challenge every step of the way, with hardly a respite in between the grueling mountain passes, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
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