AJ and I spent six weeks travelling around Peru, and absolutely fell in love with the country, its people, culture and all it has to offer. We explored many different parts of Peru, from its beautiful beaches to its ancient ruins and architecture to its breath-taking mountains. Here’s a collection of my favourite memories from my time in Peru.
You can read all about my Peru experiences here.
- Inca Trail & Machu Picchu
I’m going to be honest, I wouldn’t have appreciated just how amazing and special Machu Picchu is if I hadn’t done the Inca Trail. Along the four-day hike we stopped at numerous Inca sites, all of them beautiful but none of them on the same scale as Machu Picchu itself. Our guide told us all about the Incan culture, the roles and symbolism of the different parts of their cities and temples, and how they formed their empire. Walking around Machu Picchu we were able to spot familiar symbols and pieces of architecture, and understand the site much better.
If you have the time and money to do the Inca Trail I would absolutely recommend it; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, plus as an added bonus, on the day you arrive to Machu Picchu, you get to have the smug satisfaction of knowing you are one of only 200 people that day who hiked all the way there.
- Peruvian Churches
From the very first one I walked into in Peru, I continued to be stunned and amazed by every church I visited throughout the country. Regardless of how small or unkempt a town or city is, you can be guaranteed that it will have at least one beautiful church. They are clean, full of beautiful decorations and statues, and have intricate designs on the alter. Some will be covered in murals, gold or carvings. Many of these intricate carvings tell the story of the colonisation of the country and the integration of the indigenous and new Spanish cultures. If you ever find yourself in Peru, go visit a church.
- Magic Water Fountain Circuit, Lima
This was one of the best surprises in Lima. I had read about the Magic Water Circuit and its nightly light shows and thought it would be a fun way to pass a couple of hours. It turned out to be so much more than that; there are numerous fountains scattered around the park, each with a different theme and design. Some are interactive, some guaranteed to get you soaked to the skin, and all of them are incredibly beautiful. The light show is breath-taking. This is easily one of the best things to go see when in Lima.
- Finding an Irish Bar in Cusco
Walking into an Irish bar half way across the world was an absolute treat, and when I found out they did a jumbo Irish breakfast I was in HEAVEN. There are Irish posters and advertisements all over the walls, the food is delicious and they serve Guinness. What more could you ask for?
- Tasting the famous Pisco Sour cocktail
When I first read about Pisco Sours I didn’t think I would ever want to try it, and if I did I was sure I wouldn’t like it. This was because Pisco sounded really similar to brandy, which I can’t stand. However, while Pisco on its own is disgusting, Pisco sours are delicious! Just the right side of bitter and full of citrusy flavours, it’s a cocktail that goes down easy.
- Floating islands of Uros, Puno
You will never truly appreciate how amazing the floating islands of Lake Titicaca are until you visit them. It’s surreal stepping on to one of the islands for the first time, knowing that you’re basically on a giant reed raft, and that people live on it. Hearing about how the islands and boats are made and maintained (they have to be rebuilt every few months) is fascinating, as is getting to explore the main island and seeing how everything is made from reeds, from the buildings to the statues and signs.
- Dune Buggy and Sandboaring in Huacachina
The opportunity to ride dune buggies and sandboard down the sand dunes of Huacachina was one we jumped at, having never done anything like it before. It was absolutely thrilling; our dune buggy driver was completely insane and drove at maniacal speeds up and over the dune, tossing us about the buggy, while we screamed ourselves hoarse and prayed we wouldn’t flip over. Combined with this was the thrill of throwing ourselves head first down a sand dune on our boards; when we asked for one more at the end, our driver took us to the ‘hill of death,’ which was simultaneously amazing and terrifying!
- Mastering the combis
Within the first few weeks in Peru we had haggled with taxi drivers on the street, taken overland night buses and battled through the crowds of Lima’s metro bus. However what we hadn’t yet dared to do was trying to deal with the combis. For those of you that don’t know, combis are one of the staple ways of travelling around cities in Peru; a transit van-sized minibus that can hold around 15 – 20 people. There are two guys working in the combi, the driver and the ‘conductor’. If you want to get a combi, you simply wave it down from wherever you are (there are no bus stops), ask them if they’re going to where you need to be and if they are, you hop on quickly and off they go. The conductor will take your payment before you get off. The combis are terrifying for a number of reasons: (a) you need to be able to speak and understand pretty rapid Spanish, although when in doubt just yell where you want to go at them and they’ll either gesture for you to get on or drive off. (b) When you’re on the combi, you need to know where your stop is; passengers just yell out their stop when it’s coming up and the driver pulls over. If you don’t know where your stop actually is, just keep saying it to the person working in the back and they’ll make sure to get you to your stop.
I was fully prepared to avoid combis at all costs but as it turned out, once we’d left Lima and headed up north, they were the only way to get around. It took a number of attempts to flag them down and get the right combi, we got lost and got off at the wrong stop more than once but, in the end, AJ and I felt that we had (more or less) mastered the art of getting the combi, which was a pretty proud moment.
- All the street art!
Confession time: I LOVE street art. There’s just something about turning a corner when walking down the road and being confronted by this beautiful piece of art staring at you from the side of a building. One of my favourite things about living in London was the amount of street art you would come across randomly. I had read about all the art that could be found in parts of Lima, and had a brilliant time hunting them down. What I wasn’t prepared for was all the art I would find in other places in Peru, from Huanchaco to Máncora. It’s a fun thing to look out for and adds an extra special touch when exploring a city.
- Exploring the Mercado Central
The Mercado Central is one of those beautiful constants regardless of which Peruvian city you’re in; a maelstrom of noises, sights and smells, a gathering of locals and tourists browsing the stalls, haggling with the vendors, and grabbing a bite to eat. Whilst a potential culture shock at first, the Mercado Central offers a unique insight into the everyday lives of the people that live and work in the city and is well worth a visit, whether you’re looking for a cheap lunch or wanting to do some grocery shopping.
- Trying Peruvian Food
If there’s one thing I love about travelling, it’s getting to try the local food, some of which I would never have come across before. While I’ve had some good and bad food in Peru, on the whole I would say that I’ve had a very positive experience trying the local food. The biggest challenge for me was just trying to figure out what everything was – it wasn’t until I was chatting with my teacher at Spanish school that I realised that Aji de Gallina was actually chicken, or Lomo Saltado was beef – both of which are delicious! What you’ll find in abundance in Peru is meat, rice, and chips, usually all on the same plate, and while carb-heavy meals can become tiresome day after day, you can be guaranteed a filling and delicious meal at a low cost in the local restaurants. I will say this about cuy (guinea pig) though; while I’m glad I tried it, I would definitely not get it again!
- Hiking to the glacier and Lago 69 in Huaraz
Only having a short amount of time in Huaraz, I was impressed with how many different things we were able to cram into two day trips. On the way to the start of the hike to the glacier we were able to see turquoise lagoons, bubbling springs and the Puya Raimondi, a native alien-looking plant. The hike itself is short, only about 45 minutes, but still fairly exerting as it’s at such a high altitude. At the end of the hike we were greeted by a stunning view of the glacier towering over a still lake which created a mirror image of the blue-white ice above it. The hike to Lago 69 was much longer at around 4 hours, but the along the way we got to enjoy seeing wild animals, cascading waterfalls and stunning views, all of which definitely helped to take our minds off the gruelling ascent. The breathlessness and aching muscles were worth it upon reaching the lagoon, whose turquoise waters look gorgeous and completely unreal.
- Eating an Indian Curry in Huaraz
Apart from the salsas, Peruvian food is not very spicy, or rather, Peruvians think it’s spicy when it’s just more of a mild/medium level of hotness. There’s also no real Indian food available due to how expensive it is to import the spices, so I had resigned myself to having to wait a long while before being able to get a decent curry. Then I read about Chilli Heaven and immediately knew that I had to go there. I was very worried that it wouldn’t be a proper Indian curry, but I needn’t have been; not only did I eat a proper curry but I ate a DELICIOUS proper curry. Honestly it was easily one of my favourite dishes I had in Peru, most likely from the sheer delight and surprise of finding it so unexpectedly.
- Cumbemayo in Cajamarca
We didn’t decide to visit Cumbemayo until we’d already arrived in Cajamarca, and even going there didn’t know what to expect. Cumbemayo itself is the man-made canals, aqueducts and other structures that were built by pre-Incan commmunities to channel water from the mountains down to the town. It’s a phenomenal piece of engineering and architecture and was really impressive to see. In addition to walking around Cumbemayo you get to pass through the Stone Forest with Los Frioles, in which you can see giant rocks shaped like various animals. It’s wonderful to see this unusual landscape covered with these towering rocks and structures, and walking through it after looking at it from afar really brings home the sheer scale of the place.
- Museo Sitio & Huaca Rajada in Sipán
Despite the fact that we ended up going to this archaeological site and its museum by accident, this ended up being my favourite place in Chiclayo, and one of my favourite archaeological sites in Peru. The site of Huaca Rajada looked very unassuming when we first entered it; the former temples have been weathered down over the years into what looked like giant sand dunes so that the entire site is like a large sand pit. However, once we walked up the first hill and looked down into the tombs, the site was immediately transformed into a fascinating look into the history and culture of the Mochica people. The tombs are on display as they were set up thousands of years ago, and are astonishing to view. The Museo de Sitio just down the road is really well set up; there are artefacts and remains on display, set up as they were discovered in the tombs, and as there’s some English on the main signs (though not in any of the videos), we were able to learn the exciting history of the tombs, involving grave robbers and an international hunt for stolen artefacts.
- Body-boarding in Máncora
Regardless of the time of day, you are guaranteed to get decent waves at the beach in Máncora, which means that you’ll nearly always see someone out surfing, kitesurfing or bodyboarding. AJ suggested we try out bodyboarding and, having never done it, I jumped at the chance, and I’m so glad I did! Bodyboarding’s incredibly easy to throw yourself into; wade out into the ocean, face the shore holding your board out in front of you, wait for a wave to break just behind you and as is does jump up onto your board, lying the top half of your body on top of it as you ride the wave as far as it will take you. The first time I felt myself being propelled along the surface of the water I knew I was hooked straight away and could easily spend hours doing it over and over again. Getting a handle of timing my jumps into the waves was more difficult, but once I did I was screaming in delight as I was propelled along at higher speeds; when I got it just right with the right wave I was able to make it all the way back to shore. If you’ve never done surfing and aren’t interested in taking lessons while travelling, then bodyboarding is a fun and easy alternative.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my favourite things from Peru; if you ever find yourself there please use this as a guide to help you create your own favourite Peruvian memories.