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Quintessential Peru: 10 Iconic Experiences

January 20, 2015|Posted in: Peru, Travel Advice

Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu

Whenever I plan a trip to a new destination, I like to include the can’t-be-missed experiences that characterize that area. If you are planning a trip to Peru, these are the top 10 experiences you should make sure to include.

Ancient ruins. Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous ancient ruins, draws droves of tourists from the world over. The country is rife with ancient ruins, though, some dating back to centuries before Christ.

Worth seeing and on the beaten path are the four archeological sites on the outskirts of Cusco, Pachacamac a little over an hour’s drive from Lima, and the ruins at Ollantaytambo and Pisac.

If you are willing to hike, you can visit the remote ruins of Huchuy Cusco. This Inca town, whose name means “Little Cusco,” is believed to have been constructed by an early Inca emperor to mark the conquest of a nearby rival tribe. Today, it’s best known for its impressive number of stone buildings and commanding views of the Sacred Valley.

inca trail trekTrekking. A network of trails created during the Inca Empire cross the country providing endless hiking options.

The most well known is the Inca Trail, a multi-day pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. This popular hike takes you over breathtaking (literally) mountain passes, as you explore ancient ruins and hike over parts of the original trail that have remained intact since the time of the Inca.

Other popular hikes include the alternative Inca Trail, also known as the Salkantay route, and the Lares Valley. You can even hike with llamas, as the ancient people did, on the Lares Valley route.

Living culture. In some parts of Peru, people still wear traditional dress, participate in daily rituals, and follow customs that have changed little since the time of the Inca. The best way to see and experience Peru’s living culture is to participate in a home stay. We offer a home stay in the community of porters who work the Inca Trail and on Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca. Connecting with this ancient way of life can be an unforgettable experience that changes your perspective on your own life.

Mystery. Archeologists and historians are still puzzling over what purpose Machu Picchu served and why it was ultimately abandoned. The Nazca Lines and the Candelabra are another mystery.

The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient designs carved into the floor of the Nazca desert. Among the figures are a monkey, a bird, and an astronaut. Scientists don’t know the significance of the lines and how the ancient people created them. The largest figures, over 660 feet across, can best be viewed from the air.

The Candelabra is a design carved into the side of a sand dune that archeologists believe dates back to 200 BC. The figure is 595 feet tall, large enough to be seen from 12 miles at sea. It’s origins, significance, and how it has survived through the centuries remain a mystery.


Food. Peru is rated one of the top culinary destinations in the world. Make sure to try the ceviche in Lima washed down with Peru’s national drink, the pisco sour. In Cusco, sip chicha, a beverage that has been popular since the time of the Inca. If you feel daring, sample the cuy (guinea pig). It is a staple in the Andes. People still raise guinea pigs in their kitchens to prepare for special occasions. Other Peruvian dishes to try include aji de gallina, lomo saltado, papa a la huancaina, and causa.

Weaving. In the Andes, every village has its own weaving patterns and traditions. There are thousands of techniques, layouts, styles, and practices associated with Peruvian weaving that draw on 2000-year-old traditions. Visit a weaving community to see a demonstration of weaving technique and stock up on unique souvenirs.

Shamans. Shamanism goes back thousands of years in Peru. Shamans serve as mediators between the spiritual and material worlds. They use their abilities to predict the future, heal physical or emotional illnesses, interpret dreams, seek good fortune, or avert bad luck. One of the most powerful experiences I participated in was a shamanic offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) during a horseback-riding trek over the Salkantay Pass.

Coca. Coca tea is everywhere in Cusco. Sip it to alleviate the effects of high altitude. When you are hiking, you’ll see the locals chewing wads of coca leaves. Chewing coca can help you breathe more easily. But beware – the juice acts as a natural anesthetic, leaving your mouth feeling numb.

Llamas in Peru

Llamas. Like coca, llamas are everywhere. You can take your picture with a llama on the streets of Cusco or Ollantaytambo for the price of a sol, photograph llamas at Machu Picchu, or hike with llamas through the Lares Valley. Don’t worry about the llamas spitting. They usually reserve such bad behavior for each other.

Surfing. Peru has the best surfing in the Americas. You can take a surfing lesson in Lima, or travel to Mancora on Peru’s north coast to surf the world-class breaks of Piura and Los Organos.

Intrigued? Check out our trips to Peru!


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