Peru is a country where you will need more than a few weeks to immerse yourself in its incredibly vibrant culture and history. Here is the ultimate bucket list of things to do in Peru.
1. Visit a desert oasis
The palm-fringed oasis of Huacachina nestled amongst the expansive sand dunes is a desert paradise, although you might need to convince yourself that it isn’t a mirage. Located 4.5 hours south of Lima, Huacachina is one for the thrill-seekers, and you can be guaranteed to get your adrenalin pumping while partaking in the popular activities of sandboarding and sand buggying. However, the highlight will be settling down into a sand dune to catch a sunset that you’ll never forget.
2. Fish for piranhas in the Amazon
Plop on your Dora the Explorer hat and head out into the vastness of the Amazon basin, which covers approximately 60 per cent of Peruvian territory. As one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, you’ll be making friends with sloths, bird life and all sorts of critters in no time. Fish for the deadliest of all creatures—as Hollywood would like to have you believe—the piranha!
3. Learn how to make a pisco sour
There’s a little (or maybe not so little) dispute between Peru and Chile as to who invented pisco, but as long as you’re in Peruvian territory, pisco came from Peru and it is heralded as their national drink—there’s even a public holiday to celebrate it! A popular way to consume pisco is as a pisco sour cocktail: a simple concoction of egg white, pisco, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Pisco sours are surprisingly smooth given the potency of the alcohol, and you’ll quickly understand why the Peruvians are ardent fans. Learn to make your own pisco sours at the Museo del Pisco or with a local Urban Adventures guide.
4. Do a family homestay on Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca (always fun to say) straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia, and it is the highest navigable body of water in South America at over 3800 metres above sea level. Many people flock to Lake Titicaca to visit the famous floating islands of Uros, which are man-made islands made completely out of reeds, or to stay with a local family on the islands of Amantani or Taquile. If you have time, head over to the Bolivian side to visit Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol.
5. Eat a furry friend
When in Rome, do as the Romans do; when in Peru, eat guinea pig (or cuy as it’s called in Peru). Deep-fried or roasted guinea pig is a Peruvian delicacy and it is not for the faint-hearted as these furry little rodents are traditionally served whole with its head still attached. However, you can ask for the meat to be sliced up into a more palatable form. The meat is quite rich despite the fact that there isn’t much meat around the bones.
6. Spot a condor in the Colca Valley
The Colca Canyon is a must-visit destination on the Peruvian itinerary, simply because of the stunning scenery that you’ll witness as you ascend to the Patapampa Pass (4910 metres above sea level), passing the Aguada Blanca National Vicuña Reserve with its lagoons, wetlands and spectacular hazy backdrop of mountain ranges, before descending into the undulating valleys of the Colca Canyon, passing extensive agricultural terraces and rural villages along the way. A key attraction is the Mirador Cruz del Condor, where you’ll have the best chance of glimpsing the majestic Andean condors soaring above you in the morning.
7. Stay in a hanging capsule in the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is an adventurer’s dream with impressive archaeological sites such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo to explore and colourful weaving villages to visit. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay, however, you can’t go past the Skylodge Adventure Suite, where the rooms are transparent luxury capsules hanging off the side of a mountain—you certainly won’t be able to beat the morning views of the Sacred Valley.
8. Get lost in the Santa Catalina Monastery
The Santa Catalina Monastery in the ‘White City’ of Arequipa is a vividly coloured cloistered nunnery (still functioning today, albeit with a smaller nun community), with extensive labyrinth-like grounds taking up over 20,000 square metres. It was built in 1579 in the Mudéjar style and visitors can wander through the various parts of the monastery such as the living quarters, kitchen and chapel.
9. Follow the rainbow
Vinicunca Mountain, or Rainbow Mountain, is definitely the rainbow at the end of the…rainbow? It’s still a bit of a traveller’s secret, mainly due to the fact that it’s not easy to get to and involves days of strenuous hiking in high altitude before reaching these kaleidoscopic mountains. But, as always, it’s worth following the rainbow.
10. Explore the bohemian Barranco district
If travelling to Peru, chances are you’ll be spending some of your time in Lima, if only in transit. Most people tend to stay in Miraflores, down by the beach, but the real fun happens in Barranco, a vibrant and bohemian corner of Lima filled with great eateries and drinking holes. Make sure to find some time to wander around this lovely district.
11. Reach new heights
Channel your inner Super(wo)man and head to the Cola de Mono Ziplining in Santa Teresa, near Machu Picchu, where you can zipline across 2500 metres of cables, while hanging upside or ‘flying’ in the classic superman pose (or just plain holding on for dear life). Soar through the air and take in the views of the valleys and mountains from a different perspective.
12. Take a selfie with the locals
During your Peruvian travels, you’ll inevitably come across a few cute cameloids—alpacas, llamas and vicuñas—along the way. For the token Peruvian photo, get a selfie with one of the cute, friendly creatures! (Team alpaca all the way.)
13. Try local Chinese food
Some people might be surprised to find that Chinese food is prevalent in Peru. This is due to the Chinese immigrants who came to Peru in the nineteenth century to work as contract labourers—and now Asian Peruvians make up approximately 4 per cent of the population. ‘Chifa’ restaurants are found throughout Peru, particularly popular in Lima, which serve up Chinese-Peruvian fare, a delightful fusion of traditional Chinese dishes incorporating local Peruvian ingredients.
14. Get your passport stamped
Who doesn’t love getting more stamps in their passport? Add a couple more by getting your passport stamped at Machu Picchu (for free) or on the floating islands of Uros at Lake Titicaca (1 sol).
15. Trek the Cordillera Blanca
There is no shortage of breathtaking landscapes in Peru—the trouble is finding enough time to see all of them! The Cordillera Blanca, in the north of Peru, translates to ‘White Mountain Range’, a straightforward encapsulation of the magnificent snow-capped peaks and glaciers that fill the panorama, crowned by the towering Huascarán with its summit rising above the other mountains at 6768 metres. The hiking trails are difficult but ideal if you’re seeking a trekking experience with a little more solitude.
16. Buy a colourful Peruvian beanie
While wandering through the markets in Peru, you’ll be assaulted by a dizzying array of colours. Muted colour palettes don’t seem to exist in South America, and, really, who needs another monochrome anything. Purchase a beanie (in alpaca wool for extra points, and made at a weaving co-op for the win) and embrace the essence of ‘Pachamama’ (Mother Earth) whenever you wear it.
17. Ballestas Islands
Often touted as the Galapagos Islands of Peru (or the poor man’s Galapagos in terms of cost), the Ballestas Islands can be accessed by boat from the town of Paracas, south of Lima. The islands are home to diverse wildlife including sea lions and over 160 species of marine birds.
18. Visit one of Gastón Acurio’s restaurants
Lima has emerged as a culinary destination largely due to the influence and success of local chef Gastón Acurio, who is essentially responsible for putting Peruvian cuisine on the gastronomy map. He has a string of restaurants throughout Peru at varying price points. However, if you don’t mind shelling out the big bucks, try to get a reservation at Astrid & Gaston in Lima for the ultimate degustation experience. (Couldn’t get a reservation? Why not go on a Urban Adventures tour where you get to enjoy a delicious homemade meal with a local Peruvian family.)
19. Drink coca tea to your heart’s content (but don’t get addicted)
At some point during your time in Peru, you will inevitably drink coca tea in order to combat the effects of high altitude, so this should be an easy one to cross off the bucket list. Coca tea is a herbal tea made from the leaves of the coca plant (from which cocaine is extracted) and helps with altitude sickness (along with continually drinking water), although it may result in a few trips to the bathroom.
20. Visit Machu Picchu
Seriously guys, did you think I wouldn’t include this on the bucket list of things to do in Peru? Machu Picchu has come to define Peru and once you get here, you’ll understand why. There’s something unexplainable about standing in these ruins and connecting with Pachamama in her absolute element. Don’t forget to climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain that looms behind the Incan citadel.
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