In any country that has a marquee attraction, there’s a good chance that other destinations will fade into the limelight. Peru’s headliner, Machu Picchu, is almost invariably on travelers’ itineraries – and deservedly so – but those who visit also come away with lasting impressions of a few other top-notch cities and sites that add up to a perfect Peruvian experience.
ShutterstockLima | Any trip to the country starts in Lima, the capital and international airline hub. It’s not uncommon for tourists to simply land and then hop the next flight out of town, but those who do miss out on one of South America’s greatest cities. Lima is by turns classical and vibrantly modern, rough-and-tumble and genteel – and the city’s diversity and vivaciousness give it a spirit all its own. In Lima Centro, the colonial heart of the city, you’ll find elaborate architecture leftover from the colonial occupation. Don’t miss the imposing cathedral, the monastery of San Francisco and the cobbled streets that are overhung with massive carved wood balconies. The Miraflores district feels centuries away from Centro; it’s a lively district packed with restaurants, trendy shops and an irrepressibly youthful spirit – along with seaside views. The tree-lined Barranco district features graceful old mansions and chic new construction for the city’s elite and is great for strolling. While it’s a cab ride away from the most tourism-friendly districts, the Museo Larco, filled with an incredible stock of Inca artifacts, is the one museum in Lima that can’t be missed.
ShutterstockCuzco | The former Inca capital sits in the foothills of the Andes – and if you’re sensitive to altitude, you might notice that even without a verbal reminder. Sip on some coca tea (yes, it’s safe – as well as delicious) to quell your headache and step out into this marvel of a city. Walk down streets lined with Inca stonework that is a stunning wonder of engineering, walk up to Plaza San Blas for its cute shops and restaurants, and visit the central market for a bustling, colorful view of quotidian life in the Andes. Cuzco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, as trains typically depart from there, and flights to and from Lima are frequent (if a little hair-raising on the descent through the mountains). The city is rich with beautiful, historic hotels and top-notch restaurants, as well as more humble but no-less-enjoyable examples for travelers on a budget. Don’t skip the opportunity to go to Sacsayhuaman, the Inca fortress on the outside of town.
ShutterstockMachu Picchu | Simply put, Machu Picchu lives up to the hype. In fact, it exceeds it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to describe just how majestic and wonder-inspiring this ancient city truly is – it needs to be experienced. Buy your tickets in advance – there are offices in the village of Aguas Calientes, where trains from Cuzco set you down – if you’re not visiting with a tour company that has pre-arranged them. Getting up early is a good idea – though you won’t be alone – because you’ll have the whole day to enjoy the site. If you’re not hiking in along the Inca trail, you have two options: take the bus or hike up from Aguas Calientes. The hike is quite strenuous, but if you’re fit and acclimated to the altitude, give it a go. The bus trip is a switchback thrill ride, and you’ll need to hike up to the site from the entry gates – take your time if you’re a bit out of shape. Watching the sun rise – or the rolling clouds – over the ruins is the experience of a lifetime. For added adventure, climb Hucuy Picchu or Huayna Picchu – two peaks that loom over the ruins. Just keep in mind that a limited number of climbers are allowed up each day – and that Huayna Picchu might be a bit much for those with a fear of heights.
Peru is a destination that should be on every serious traveler’s must-do list. The culture, history, nature and cuisine of the country are totally unique and add up to create an ideal adventure destination that will leave you awed and inspired.
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