What to do in Peru
Peru, famous for its Incan treasure Machu Picchu, welcomes all kinds of travelers, beckoning adventurers, food enthusiasts, and history buffs to explore its rich tapestry. The country’s allure lies in its captivating blend of ancient traditions, dramatic landscapes, and diverse ecosystems. Journey from the majestic Andes Mountains to rugged canyons, and the lush Amazon jungle. In vibrant cities, sip Pisco Sours and savor an array of culinary delights, from fresh ceviche to international gourmet cuisine. Unearth the mysteries of the Nazca Lines from the sky, acquire handmade crafts in the Sacred Valley, and meet inhabitants on reed-made floating islands in Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of freshwater at 12,500 feet above sea level.
Machu Picchu by Rail, On Foot or Both
Machu Picchu can be reached by following the Inca Trail, a bucket-list four-day trek that leads over magnificent Andean mountain passes, winding through some of the country’s most spectacular sights that concludes with a sunrise arrival just above the remarkable ancient ruins. Up to 200 people can hike the trail per day on guided hikes only, so you’ll need to reserve a spot at least six months in advance. Another option is to ride the train that travels from Cusco disembarking about 30 minutes before Aguas Calientes, hiking into the Andes the rest of the way which takes five to eight hours while bringing jaw-dropping views. The easiest and quickest option is to ride the Machu Picchu train all the way there, which takes about 3.5 hours.
Paddle the Amazon
Paddling through the Peruvian Amazon is arguably the best way to take in its beauty and wildlife, but this isn’t the type of place the average person can simply show up and explore solo, renting a kayak, canoe, or other vessel to travel through the jungle unless you happen to have Bear Grylls kind of survival skills. You’ll need to head out with an expert guide on a tour for a spectacular overview of the rainforest and its deep, dark waters. Another option is to join a boat cruise or stay at one of the many jungle lodges scattered throughout the region that includes the opportunity to explore further on a guided kayak excursion. Either way, you’re guaranteed to spot plenty of wildlife, from hundreds of colorful birds to pink river dolphins, sloths, monkeys, turtles, and perhaps giant river otters too.
Watch Condors Fly Over Colca Canyon
One of Peru’s most visited attractions, Colca Canyon boasts twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, located a few hours from the southern city of Arequipa. Many come to hike to the bottom which requires a couple of days to get there and back along the path from Cabanaconde. The reward is worth the effort as one of the most picturesque regions in Peru, complete with gorgeous waterfalls and hot springs. Look up to see condors soaring overhead or catching their morning meals and watch the llama herds that pass with their farmer-owners donning traditional dress.
Meet the Spectacled Bear in the Chaparri Conservation Area
The biggest draw in the Chaparri Conservation area is the Spectacled bear, also known as the Andean bear who is often referred to as the real-life Paddington bear of which there are no more than 500 in Peru. In fact, it was the inspiration for the fictional Paddington bear in children’s books, with rings of colored fur around their eyes that range from a whitish to yellowish hue, making it look as if they’re wearing a pair of glasses. The reserve has a small wild population as well as a rescue and breeding program that saves abandoned and abused bears, aiming to rehabilitate and release the animals into their natural habitat whenever possible.
Spot the Pink Dolphins of the Amazon
Pink river dolphins are rare, but the Peruvian Amazon River basin is one of the best places to spot them. For most people, just seeing your typical dolphin can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but to witness a pink one in the wild is almost otherworldly. They’re born with pale, grey skin, but it gradually transforms to a pink hue over time. Their color is believed to have been the result of evolution, providing a biological defense mechanism as the tin makes them more difficult to spot against the reddish mud of the riverbed. From Iquitos, you’ll be able to travel deep into the jungle where the dolphins and many other wildlife species reside, with the top spot the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.
Floating Villages of the Uros People
Head to Lake Titicaca along the Bolivian and Peruvian border in the Andes, one of the world’s highest navigable bodies of freshwater, and you can meet the Uros people who live on floating islands that are made of living reeds. They’ve been living here for centuries, forced to move onto the water when the Incas expanded their land, making their living by selling handcrafted items made from reeds and from fishing. The totora reeds are used to make just about everything, including boats, furniture, homes and little outhouses. These boats are also used to bring visitors to the islands where they can spend time with the local families, learn how they live and even dine with them.
Meet the Manatees at the Amazon Rescue Center
If you’ve ever wanted to get up close to a manatee, the Amazon Rescue Center in Iquitos is one of the best places to do it. It rescues orphaned manatee babies in an effort to help the population due to hunting, habitat destruction, injuries from outboard motors, and other dangers. The aim is to release them back into the wild and visitors are one of the most importance sources of funding, so it’s a win-win situation. For just a small fee you’ll be able to see the adorable babies in their pools and even feed them aquatic leaves that they’ll eat right out of your hand. When they’re ready, the animals are taken to one of the nearby protected areas in the Peruvian Amazon and tracked for at least six months to ensure they’re able to successfully readapt to life in the wild without their human caregivers.
Trekking in the Andes
While hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most popular thing to do for travellers to Peru, there are many other magnificent hikes in the Andes to enjoy without the crowds. The Salkantay Trek will bring you up a 15,000-foot-high mountain pass that’s surrounded by the snow-capped peaks, passing the Llactapata Inca site before descending into the jungle. It ends with a connect to Machu Picchu for those who want to continue by visiting the bucket-list ancient ruins. Another outstanding option is the Rainbow Mountain hike. The mountain was uncovered thanks to a receding glacier and became Instagram famous almost overnight. Its unmistakable seams of orange, yellow, and red have made it a must visit, and while it’s always existed it was hidden for centuries under thick layers of snow and ice.
Whitewater Rafting on the Rio Apurimac
The Apurimac River (Rio Apurimac) carved the Apurimac Gorge over time, an incredible 9,843-foot-deep canyon with massive rocky walls that look as if they’re something from another planet with their odd shapes. Combined with snow-capped mountains, ancient ruins, and waterfalls, it’s truly a sight to behold and one of the best ways to experience it is by embarking on a whitewater rafting trip. The gorge is only accessible by rafting or kayaking, with Rio Apurimac considered one of the world’s top rafting river, thanks to its heart-pounding Class IV rapids, jaw-dropping scenery, rare wildlife like puma, otters, and even the very elusive Andean bear.
Sandboarding in Huacachina
The sand dunes of Huacachina are the largest in all of South America and have become one of the most popular destinations in Peru with opportunities for sandboarding and dune buggy rides, either of which provide a thrill you’re unlikely to forget. The small town of Huacachina sits in an oasis, complete with towering palms and from the dunes you’ll get a view of it like no other. Sandboarding is like snowboarding only it’s more difficult, but you can choose to lay on your stomach and zoom down. The dune buggies offer just as much of a rush, allowing riders to roll across the dunes at breath-taking speeds, though you’ll be the passenger.
Ride the Andean Explorer Train
The Belmond Andean Explorer is a luxury sleeper train that will allow you to see the country in style. A version of the Orient Express in Europe, it crosses the spine of the Peruvian Andes at over 12,000 feet above sea level between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa on a journey that takes three days, covering 456 miles one way. Passengers travel in elegant rooms with bijou fold-down sofa booths and extravagant suites that include window nooks showcasing the world that passes by. Opulent Art Deco details combined with Latin flair, like handwoven textiles in vibrant Inca patterns, are found throughout, while facilities include a bar, a lounge with a grand piano for live music and evening cocktails, and two restaurants that are helmed by acclaimed Peruvian chefs who fuse local recipes with gourmet twists.
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