Cusco

Peru

Special thanks to Mackenzie Dolan for recommendations and Kelsey Martin for the pictures

A gem of South America, Peru offers some of the purest cultural experiences travelers can find. Climbing to the peak of the iconic Machu Picchu, or staying in the welcoming towns of Cusco or Lima, any traveler can get lost in the country's natural beauty. Grab your packs, fill your canteens, and start exploring this magnificent country.

Machu Picchu

AGUAS CALIENTES/MACHU PICCU

Things to Do

Machu Picchu: This may seem obvious, but make the trek up Machu Picchu. You can catch the train from Cusco via Inca Rail or Peru Rail, and then take the bus from Aguas Calientes. Tour guide shops around Cusco can help you get all of your tickets sorted out, or if you're doing it on your own, make sure you make reservations far in advance. Check out our blurb below for more information on treks!

 

Huaynapicchu: Challenging, but rewarding hike within Machu Picchu. It’s a pretty steep, completely vertical hike. Will definitely test your glutes, hamstring, and calf muscles. Make sure you buy tickets in advance! However, we don't recommend this hike after doing the Inca Trail or Salkantay - you'll be exhausted. 

Hot Springs: Relax your sore muscles in these awesome springs.

 

Inca/Salkantay Trail: Depending on the one you choose, this excursion can take from 2 to 8 days. To get set up, your best bet is to trek with SAM Peru. Ask for Wilbur or Adner as guides, and Richard as your cook! 

Places to Eat

Inkaterra: Best spot close to summit, has fantastic view of the river.

Places to Stay

Pirwa Hostel Machu Picchu: Quiet hostel tucked away on a cute street. Nothing fancy, but it's a solid option if you are traveling on a budget

General Tips

More about the Inca Trail:

BOOK WAY IN ADVANCE! Even six months out, the Inca Trail can be completely booked. 

The difference between the Salkantay Inca Trail and the Inca Trail is the difficulty of the trek and how you arrive at Machu Picchu. If you take the Salkantay, it is a more difficult route where you hike to the base of the Salkantay Glacier and you will spend the prior night in Aguas Calientes to take a quick bus to Machu Picchu in the morning. If you take the Incan Trail, you will see more ruins and end the hike at the Sun Gate at sunrise, which is incredible. Either way, you really can't go wrong. 

The Inca Trail is awesome when you're booked with SAM Peru. They are extremely accommodating and really take care of you. They bring horses or porters to carry your things and cook delicious meals three times a day!

 

We recommend spending money to rent one of their sleeping bags, pads, and walking stick so you don't carrying it all around Peru with you.

Accessing Machu Picchu by train:

If you don't have the luxury of time or simply want to cruise in comfort, the quickest way is by train. Only lasting a few hours max , the train winds through the mountains offering incredible sites (the ceiling is a glass window so you can see it all). The Peru Rail and Inca Rail are the two services that leave from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo - Cusco is the most convenient but there are a few ruins in Ollantaytambo that make for a great pit stop as well.

CUSCO

Things to Do

Take a taxi to Blanco Cristo: Breathtaking view of the city from above.

Choco Museum: Taste test their different chocolates, liquors, and more, or even take a class to make your own truffles!

Humantay Lake: Beautiful hike and day trip from Cusco to an awesome lake. 

Nazareñas: Check out this Inca museum bursting with the rich history of this land and the Inca people.

Plaza de Armas: Main square where the cathedral and government buildings are located. You'll find cafes that overlook the square peppering this area.

Plaza de San Blas: Many quaint water fountains in this smaller plaza, and you'll find plenty of street vendors with beautiful jewelry for sale.

Take a day trip to the Salinas de Maras (salt mines): We recommend combining this tour with Moray via ATVs - it adds excitement! 
 

Rainbow Mountain: About 4-5 hours outside of Cusco, this beautiful mountain is a newer tourist attraction due to the melting ice on the mountains. It's an extremely difficult hike due to elevation, but worth it! 

Ruins: Beyond Machu Picchu, there's so many ruins to explore in Peru. Sacsahuaman, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and others are popular!

Sacred Valley: Tons of cheap handmade goods to buy, and beautiful scenery.

San Pedro Market: The perfect place to buy all your alpaca goods, souvenirs and try out some delicious juices.

Tips for tours: You don't need to book tours in advance! They are much cheaper if you book once in Cusco - that way you can also see other options that you are interested in.

Places to Eat

Acantilado de Barracón: Stunning view of sunset. Known for their Yuca Croquettas and Lomo Saltado.

Avocado, toast & more: An avocado lovers dream. Seriously, have you seen the size of the avocados in Peru?

Barracón Street: Roughly translates to alley, but this pocket is packed with restaurants. An absolutely beautiful strip that only locals frequent. Also, catch a glimpse of the famous bridge.

Calle del Medio Restaurante Bar: Tasty food and in a nice location, the Plaza del Armas.

 

Chicha: Has a cool, swanky atmosphere and great view.

Ceviche Seafood Kitchen: The name says it all - they make some of the best ceviche!

Cicciolina: Great brunch spot.

El Mesón: Great spot for pizza. The one topped with chorizo and salami and the chicken kebabs were delicious.

Fuego, Burgers, and Barbecue: Perfect spot to try out an alpaca burger!

Jack's Cafe: Aussie restaurant with reasonable prices and huge portions.

Morena: Sister restaurant to the above listed Ceviche Kitchen, and every bit as delicious. 

Nuna Raymi: As soon as you walk in you can spot the herbs that they grow for their dishes. Great trout and alpaca steaks.

 

Plaza de Armas Hotel Cafe: Stellar food -- MUST get the Dulce de Leche Cookie dessert.

Papachos: Succulent burgers great to  pair with Cusqueño wheat beer.

Yaku: The attention to detail for the dishes served at this restaurant is outstanding. We liked everything we tried!

Places to Drink

Chango: A nightclub that you can party the night away in - seriously, it's open until 7 AM.

Limbus Resto Bar: incredible views of the city and quality cocktails.

Mama Africa: Multi stories and fun music. Sometimes they offer face painting if you're feeling adventurous! 

Ukukus Bar: Live music and a great place to hang!

Wild Rover: An insane party hostel. Even if you're not staying there, you can show your ID to enter. Did someone say free shots?

Places to Stay

Kokopelli Hostel: Simply awesome. One of our favorite hostels in Peru. It's expansive, tons of colorful walls and murals, cozy lounges and upstairs bar with music and drink specials. Plus, enjoy their outdoor garden with plants and bean bag chairs coupled with nightly activities to do every night with a group from the hostel.

Pariwana Hostel: Another Peru favorite! A beautiful courtyard, and nightly events so you can meet people. Great views of the city, laundry service, and a booking desk for tours. Breakfast is also included!

General Tips

We recommend spending at least a day and a half, or even two, in Cusco before hitting the Inca Trail or Rainbow Mountain so you can get used to the elevation. Cusco is about 11,000 feet, so you want to make sure you’re walking around the city to get adjusted. Make sure you drink lots of water and cocoa tea to help your body acclimate.  

Jump to:

Cusco

Lima

Salinas de Maras, Cusco

Colca Canyon

Rainbow Mountain

View of the Peruvian Andes

Isla de los Uros, Lake Titicaca, Puno

 
 

LIMA

Things to Do

Cooking Class: Learn how to make traditional Peruvian ceviche! You can book through airbnb experiences.

Larcomar: Outdoor mall in Miraflores with restaurants built into the cliff overlooking the water. Commercialized for the area, but really cool how way it’s set up and boasts great views during the day.

Love Park: Gaudi-esque park that overlooks the ocean.

Paragliding: Head to Love Park and you'll find people sailing above the ocean.

 

Sand boarding/dune buggy day trip: Book through Huacahina to get set up!

Places to Eat

Beso Frances Creperia: Crepes by the sea - can't ask for much more.

Tanta: Beautiful view at sunset and  you can  hear the ocean waves ricochet off the walls. 

Cusco

 

PUNO

Things to Do

Boat Tour: Find one of the local companies on shore and cruise on Lake Titicaca to the floating Islands of the Uros

Take a stroll through the Cathedral Basilica of St. Charles Borromeo.

General Tips

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world (elevation is around 12,500 ft). A place this notable is definitely a cool thing to check off on your travel list if you have time. However, the town of Puno is not a bustling place. If you want to go, we recommend using the lake to cross over into Bolivia and tacking on a few days to your travels there or ending your trip that way. The Bolivian side is supposed to be beautiful.

The easiest way to get to Puno from Cusco or Lima is by overnight bus.

 

Inca Trail

Inca Trail

Rainbow Mountain Hike

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