Whenever I am planning a vacation, my biggest challenge is always figuring out what to see and do. I look for sites that are unique, interesting, or significant or offer something that I haven’t seen or done before.
If this is your first time visiting Peru, I recommend that you include the following places on your itinerary.
Machu Picchu is Peru’s crown jewel. It is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Exploring Machu Picchu is a bit like wandering through an Inca ghost town. Stone buildings, winding staircases, still functioning aqueducts, and farming terraces hint at what life must have been like during the time of the Incas.
Machu Picchu is so strategically located that the Spanish never found it during their conquest of Peru. In fact, it wasn’t until 1911 that the existence of Machu Picchu was revealed to the world when Hiram Bingham rediscovered it while he was looking for the lost city of Vilcabamba.
Machu Picchu is shrouded in mystery. Archeologists are still debating its purpose as they continue to uncover ruins, artifacts, and bones from the dense surrounding jungle. How the Incas were able to build with such precision, fitting enormous stones one on top of the other without mortar is still a mystery. Also, no one knows why Machu Picchu was abandoned and what happened to the people who used to live there.
You can take a short boat ride on the lake from the port in Puno to see the Uros Islands. The islands themselves, homes, schools, churches, watchtowers, and even boats are all constructed of totora reeds. Visiting these islands gave me a glimpse into a lifestyle and culture I never knew existed.
Most tours pass right by Lima. If you skip Lima, though, you miss seeing how most modern-day Peruvians live. For a truly local experience, lunch on ceviche in a neighborhood restaurant, commute in a combi (small minivan used for public transportation), stroll along the trail that tops the Costa Verde cliffs, or take a surfing lesson in Miraflores.
The Nazca Lines form shapes, such as a dog, bird, astronaut, and monkey. Like Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines are shrouded in mystery. No one knows who created them, how or why they were created, and how they have managed to stay undamaged for so many years. The best way to see the Nazca Lines is from the air. You can take a bus from Lima to Ica and then take a flight over the lines.
Ica also offers a sport that I tried for the first time in April—sandboarding. It is similar to sledding. You use a refurbished snowboard to slide down the sides of enormous sand dunes that surround a natural (now man-made) oasis. Dune buggies, which provide a roller-coaster-like ride through the dunes, transport you to higher and higher dunes to increase the thrill of the ride.
On the way back to Lima, you can take a short cruise from Paracas to the Islas Ballestas, where penguins frolic. As you cruise to the islands, you pass the Candelabra. Like the Nazca Lines, the origin of the Candelabra is unknown. The Candelabra is carved into the side of an enormous sand dune facing the bay. There is much speculation about who created it and why.
The Amazon rainforest is a relaxing place to end your journey in Peru. You spend your days scouting for wildlife, such as howler monkeys, river otters, piranhas, and macaws, and learning about rainforest plants, such as natural Viagra. Afternoon naps in a swinging hammock allow you to unwind before you head home.