Peru had been one of my bucket list countries since I was very young, having glanced at a magazine insert which presented the world’s Seven Wonders, I caught a glimpse of Machu Picchu and instantly decided that I wanted to see this incredible place. As the years passed, I learned more and more about Peru, and Machu Picchu itself, and decided that I would turn my trip to the incredible citadel, into a Peru holiday which would incorporate most of the fantastic sights which the country has to offer.
Finally last year I was able to realize my dream and I set off for Peru for a fortnight, slightly apprehensive that I had built this trip up to be far better in my mind, than it would actually turn out to be. I shouldn’t have been apprehensive at all as the country, and Machu Picchu, delivered on its spectacular promise and I had an amazing 2 weeks traveling through Peru. If you want to see the very best of this culturally rich South American nation, here is the route which I took during my travels.
I decided that I would start my trip in the capital, this was in part owing to the fact that the cheapest flights were those to and from Lima, plus it made more sense to start in the north and go south, capping the trip with Machu Picchu. My initial impressions of Lima were that it wasn’t the most exciting of cities, beautiful for sure, but there was a certain amount of character which just wasn’t there. Thankfully this wore off pretty soon after the first couple of nights and I realized that you just need to scratch beneath the surface a little.
I had 5 days in Lima and particularly enjoyed the Miraflores neighborhood where I stayed, as well as the historic centre of the city. Lima is blessed to be sat on the coast and within just a short walk from Miraflores, you are looking right out to sea. The city also offers some beautiful parks and my favorite installation was the ancient pyramid which sits right in the heart of the city, a perfect introduction to the ruins I was about to witness.
Next up I took a trip around 5 hours south to a place called Ica, more specifically, I was traveling to Ica, in order to get to the nearby town of Huacachina. My reason for visiting Huacachina was that in the centre of this very small desert town, is an incredible lagoon. The town itself is very much for travelers with hostels and tour offices throughout. I was quite pleased that I only pencilled in one night here as I felt that I saw just about all I needed. I would most definitely recommend that you go on the sand buggy tour which takes you right out to the middle of nowhere, and into some kind of scene from Star Wars.
Whilst Machu Picchu was of course the main event for me on this trip, another place that fascinated me was Nazca. The city of Nazca is the home of those incredible pre-Columbian lines which have been dug out of the Earth’s surface, depicting all manner of animals and other images, and I couldn’t wait to see them. Traveling from Ica, it took just 2 and a half hours to arrive in Nazca and after resting up for the night, I got ready to witness the lines from the sky. There are many air tours that you can take over the lines with most costing between $300- $500, you could opt for a short 30 minute tour which shows you some of the images, costing around $100, whichever you choose, it will be a worthy investment!
That isn’t all there is to do in Nazca and during the few days that I had there I saw ancient ruins in the Cantalloc Aqueduct and the old town of Cahuachi, went on a spooky night trip to an ancient cemetery, and enjoyed watching the stars from the observatory which they have there. In truth, I probably had one day too many in Nazca but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I would recommend 3 days here.
*Before I get to Cusco, I want to add that from Nazca, you can either cut across the country directly to Cuzco, or you could continue south onto Arequipa, an old colonial city which many travelers suggested that I visit. Unfortunately I didn’t have time but check it out if you are heading to Peru, from Arequipa you can then take the bus north east to Cusco, taking just a little bit of time out of your journey.
I had already decided prior to my trip that due to the cost and the time I would need, that I wouldn’t take the Inca trail through the Sacred Valley and up to Machu Picchu, but I did still want to see some of the route. Unless you are here for some fun traveler-type stuff like partying and having fun, I would recommend that you use Cusco as more of a jumping off point for the nearby sights. Nothing against the young traveler, it just wasn’t my scene.
Now I must add that when I say nearby, not everything is quite so close. For example, I went to the Rainbow Mountain on day one which is just over 3 hours from Cusco. On day 2 I went to the Sacred Valley ruins and Moray, an 11 hour day in total. On day 3 I also had plans but with the altitude taking grip, and the fact that I wanted to be fresh for Machu Picchu, I decided to take a day off. There is much to do in Cusco, just make sure that you fit in enough time.
Finally the main event, I had found much of the online information to be vague at best and so here is how I did Machu Picchu, and I was very happy with the results.
I decided to stay in Machu Picchu the night before as I wanted to get up there early, if you stay in Cusco the night before, you will have a 4 hour journey just to get to the foot of the citadel. The first busses leave the town below at 530 AM so as you can get to the top for 6, but people queue for these busses from around 330 AM, not something I was looking forward to. I woke up at 5, left the hotel at 530 and decided to check the queue. I had heard that it was around an hour and a half to climb Machu Picchu, and the bus queue was way more than that, and so I climbed.
The walk up to the citadel is moderate, I am not in great shape and whilst I had acclimatized to the altitude, I found it a little tough but nothing that a couple of rest breaks couldn’t solve. Whilst it was tiring, I really felt that sense of achievement when I reached the top and set eyes on the place itself which is absolutely worthy of being one of the world’s Seven Wonders.
If you go to Peru, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and that you experience that perfect combination of expectation meeting with reality.