Things to do in Peru

things to do in peru by leoni

Things to do in Peru will tell you about different places you can visit, how to go there, and what to do. I will tell you how we traveled through the country, what we experienced, and how we got the best out of it in the year 2017.

Why did we choose to go to Peru? After I moved to my husband to Fuerteventura, I had to learn Spanish. Of course, I started first with the app Duolingo, which is very good to learn words, sentences, and basic Spanish.

But I had to get better, so we took 3 months off to travel to South America. Lars always wanted to see Machu Picchu. So we combined the practical with pleasure and chose Peru.

The only thing we booked from home was our flights to Lima (Capital of Peru) ,to Cusco and the Spanish school we wanted to attend. We like to be flexible on our trips and want to decide spontaneously if we travel further or stay a little bit longer where we are.

What we didn’t take into consideration was, that we had to have a ticket out of Peru before we enter the plane in Europe. As a European, you are allowed to stay 3 months in the country without any visa. So, we had to book a ticket on the spot, leaving Peru. Otherwise, we were not allowed to board the plane.

We booked a flight out of Cusco to La Paz  (capital of Bolivia) for 100€.  In the end, we didn’t take it but more about that a little later.

Lima

Lima is the capital of Peru and a very special city. They have the worst traffic I ever saw in my life. After asking a few people, we learned that the people of Peru buy their driver’s license without ever having a lesson at a driving school.
There are only two neighborhoods (in Spanish: barrios) in Lima which are safe for tourists to travel to. The first barrio is called Miraflores and the second one Barranco.

We stayed in a hostel in Miraflores. When we go to a big city, we always start with a free walking tour. After, we know what we want to see/do more. If you never heard about it, it works like this. Look on the internet where and at what time the free walking tour starts. You only have to be there on time.

https://www.freewalkingtoursperu.com/lima/

After the tour, you can completely decide yourself, if and how much the tour was worth in your opinion. Lima’s free walking tour is still the best of all the free walking tours we ever took. We normally pay between 5-10 € p.P.

Cusco

When we flew into Cusco I was very happy to have a window seat. Cusco lays in 3.200 meters and you fly over the Andes into the city. The view is amazing.

We chose to travel in July and August because we didn’t want to be in Peru during the rain season. We knew that it would be cold because in July and August it is their winter season, but what we didn’t know is that they don’t have any heating systems what so ever…! Besides that, they also only use single glass in the houses so no isolation.

That means it was freaking cold in the evening and we had to sleep with literally 7 blankets. In the morning it was colder in the house than outside and we were sitting with our jacket, gloves, and hat in front of the open oven to get some warmth.

We planted to buy a real Alpaca Pullover in Cusco but couldn’t really be sure if it was a 100% Alpaca. All the salesmen will tell you that it is 100% Alpaca, but in reality, it is not. We found the perfect little shop where you can buy a “fake” Alpaca Jacket or Jumper, for only 10€.

When you go from the main square (Plaza de Armas) in direction to San Blas, you will pass the famous 12 angled stone. After you passed that, take the first possibility to the right, go down some stairs and you can see the shop on the left-hand side.

I traveled to Peru only with 9 kg of luggage and Lars had 11 kg for a 3 months’ vacation. Think good about what you really need, before you pack.
In Peru, you will find everywhere little laundry shops where you can leave your dirty clothes and you can pick them up a few hours later, and it’s freaking cheap…

https://www.freewalkingtoursperu.com/cusco/

Local Markets and food

You will find in every city district a local market. We went every day to our market in San Blas to have lunch or buy the necessary food we needed for the home.  I was never a big fan of avocados before, but since Peru I am. They taste amazing!!!

So don’t miss out and try them. We loved our little market more than the bigger ones because it was very local and not so overcrowded.

When you see a lot of ladies standing in line, behind their stands, that is the place to go, for having an awesome fresh-pressed fruit juice. We chose one of the ladies where we stayed loyal to during our stay in Cusco.

Every time we came to her, she first asks us how we are. When we told her that we have a little bit of a headage or we were tired or we had something else, she used different fruits for our juices which will help us with our little issues.

A lot of Peruvians are vegetarians. But be careful, if you want a vegetarian meal, make sure it doesn’t include chicken (Spanish: pollo). The Peruvians say that chicken is not real meat and doesn’t count for vegetarians 🤪.

One of the Peruvian specialties in Cusco is Guineapigs (Spanish: Gui). Once a year the Peruvian have a 4-day food market where they serve them.

But in my opinion, it is really not worth it. It tastes like a very thin slice of ham between two greasy layers of fat.

All over Cusco, you have a lot of restaurants where you can have, during lunchtime, a menu of the day (Spanish: menu del dia). We chose always a place where the locals were standing in line.

We could choose from (at least) three different plates. The restaurant owner writes it on a blackboard at the entrance of the restaurant. The menu comes normally with a soup, the main course and something to drink.

At the market, we had a lot of times sandwiches with avocado, chicken, and egg. The sandwich was made by the sister of our juice woman so we had it many times together……so delicious.

Another specialty (some people want to tell you) is Alpaca meet. This is only created for the tourists and isn’t true. Yes, you can eat it but it isn’t a national dish at all.

Altitude Sickness

A lot of people have problems with Altitude Sickness. On the first day we only felt like we had a few drinks (which we did not) and Lars had a little headage. Walking around is as well the first week harder than normal but further, we didn’t have any serious problems.

You will hear everywhere, that you should drink coca tea if you have problems with the altitude, but I am still not convinced of it. I think drinking a lot of water would have the same effect. Sure, you should try the coca tea because it belongs to the tradition of Peru.

But if you do it, do it correctly. You only have to buy some coca leaves on the markets and pour hot water over them. Let it stand for a few minutes and drink the REAL coca tea.

You will find the leaves in every market. And no, the coca tea has not the same effect as cocaine. So, you don’t have to be afraid.
Fun fact: To produce 1 kg of cocaine you actually would need 500 kg of coca leaves and a lot of chemicals.

Spanish School

We booked the first 2 weeks already from home and decided to stay with a local family to practice, what we just learned in school. Happily, we only booked 2 weeks because living with the family was not what we expected and we moved after into a little apartment on top of the Spanish school.

Our first day at school was very exciting. Lars booked private classes because he already spoke some Spanish and I took group classes. Both cost the same, the only difference is that the private classes are only 2 hours a day and the group lessons are 4 hours.

We chose the San Blas school because the price was more than fair. It was only 365 soles (99 €)  p.P. per week. That included the classes and the apartment. Staying with the family was a little bit more expensive and for us not worth it.

After 3 weeks of group classes, I decided to change to private classes. It is much more effective than the group lessons and I can only recommend that if you seriously want to learn the language.

The good thing about joining a language school (besides learning the language) is that you meet a lot of different people from all over the world. We learned a lot from the other travelers, for example, what they already saw and did before, what is worth a visit and what is a complete disappointment, with which company you can book a tour and with which better not, etc..

Tourist card

A lot of the travelers are in Cusco to visit Machu Picchu but the surrounding of Cusco has a lot to offer as well. You can buy this ticket (Boleto Turistico del Cusco) in the tourist information for only 130 soles (34 €) and you can visit 14 different, I called them “mini Machu Picchu”.

Jungle

After being 4 weeks in Cusco and freezing our asses off we couldn’t handle the cold anymore and we booked a trip to the Peruvian Manu jungle.
We booked an 8-day trip so we could see the deepest part of it. It was pretty expensive, almost 1000€ p.P. but it was an amazing experience.

We were cut off the social world for the whole week, no phones, no WiFi no anything…..so if you are a social media junky, this can be a hard time😉.

Before we started we got a duffel bag. We were only allowed to bring as much as we could fit into that bag. If you ask yourself what is a must to bring, besides the obvious, you should bring:

  1. Mosquito protection with at least 100 Deet.
  2. Sun protection, because you have a lot of hours on a boat.
  3. Toilet paper, because you will not find it in the jungle
  4. Long trousers, for the night, walk.
  5. Longarm shirt, for the walks in the jungle. It helps with the protection against mosquitos.
  6. 2 pairs of Socks, you can wash one when you wear the other one.
  7. Flipflops for the shower
  8. Closed shoes
  9. binoculars
  10. headlights

The first day we started in the middle of the night, driving with the car for a few hours, through the mountains slowly further down to the jungle. At lunchtime, we stopped on the side of the street to have an amazing home-cooked lunch. The whole trip we had an amazing chef with us.

Every day we were impressed with the food he served us. On our way, we visited some Cocaine plantations and stopped a few times for different kinds of animals we saw on our way. Our guide explained to us, how to make cocaine and what is legal and illegal in Peru.

In the evening we arrived at our first lodge. We were finally off the mountain and were having 27 degrees. Puh, finally we weren’t freezing anymore.

The whole trip we stayed in lodges which were little houses on pillars, so no dangerous animals could come in. We got rubber boots and we were told that we had to leave them in the evening in front of the door, upside down. In the morning we always had to check first, if some animals found the way into the boots, before putting them on. That night, we had our first-night walk.

The next morning we drove to a village where we jumped on a boat to start our tour on the Amazonas. We passed by a bush office where we had to get registered and got an explanation of how to behave in the jungle and what we can expect to see.

If you want to see huge animals, like on a safari, this trip is not for you. We saw a lot of birds, spiders, bugs, frogs, monkeys, caimans, otters, piranhas, and mammals. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the wild jaguar nor big snakes but that would have been a possibility.

We were sitting long drives on the boat, having our lunches on it, and saw countless animals. We had two more night walks and even stayed one night in the middle of the jungle next to a water hole to see wild tapirs.

A unique experience was when we saw real wild people. On the 4th day, we drove further to the middle of the river. Our guide, who by the way was born in the jungle and still lived there when he didn’t have tours, told us that it is possible to see people from the “shipibo” tribe, on the left side of the river.

He told us that we have to go further away from Shaw because they aren’t friendly people. After 10 minutes we actually saw a family who was bathing in the river. When they saw us the man was immediately starting to shoot arrows at us and his son tried to through stones. I can tell you that this was a weird feeling!!
On the 5th day, our tour guide took a half-day, teaching us about the plants. He told us what you can eat and what not, what jungle people use when they are ill, and what is used to keep mosquitoes away.

We passed by his family who gave us their homemade jungle beer. He told us how they make it before he gave the bottle around, for everybody to taste. It is not really tasty and when you know how they make it, you maybe will think about trying it. But we drink and eat everything, at least we try.

After this amazing trip, we came bag to Cusco to join the Spanish school for another week before we left for Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

When you go to Peru, one of the most visited attraction is Machu Picchu. It is not necessary to book this tour already from home. When you come to Cusco they are so many companies where you can book it.
the only thing you should know before is, what kind of tour you want to take.
So ask yourself…. Do you want to take a 4 or a 5-day hike to Machu Picchu or do you want to go there directly without the tiring physical activities?

We met a Dutch girl who booked the 4-day Jungle Trek ,we choose as well, from home. She paid 500€ and we only 145$ (133€). When you walk through the streets of Cusco you will find everywhere little booking places.

The 4-day Jungle Trek offers you mountain biking, water rafting, zip-lining, Hot springs, entrance tickets to Machu Picchu, and a train ticket back to Hydroelectrica.

Zip lining, water rafting, and the hot springs are extra expenses.

First day

We were meeting at the hostel, where we booked the tour with. We drove with the minibus to the starting point for the mountain bike. You do not have to take the bike ride, you can choose to drive with the car down.  Machu Picchu lays in 2400-meter height and Cusco in 3200 meters. That means that the 55 km we were on the mountain bikes was only downhill with spectacular views. After we all arrived safely at the meeting point we were brought to our Lodge where we stayed our first night. If you chose to do wild-water rafting, now is your chance. We didn’t do it because we already did wild water-rafting and zip lining with a different tour. As far as I remember, it was 25 dollars p. P. extra. We got a nice dinner, talked to the people we were traveling with, and went to bed.

The second day

We started with our first hike (15 km). During that hike, we passed through coffee plantations and a lot of nature. Our guide told us a lot about the way of living, the history of Peru, and about the different plants.

Halfway we arrived at a point where the guide asked us: “who is afraid of heights? Lars took his hand up and he only answered to him: “then the next half an hour will be a little bit difficult for you” I can tell you that he died a thousand deaths during the following 40 minutes.

If you ask yourself, what made it so bad? The traditional Inka trail is a narrow hillside path. On your right, you have the mountain and on your left, you have a cliff that goes down at least 500 meters. No protection what so ever and the way you are walking is uneven as hell.

He still says that these 40 minutes was the worst experience in his life, but his high anxiety is kind of cured after this.

jungle trail machu picchuWe continued the hike and passed a little farm with a few animals to pet, walked along the Urubamba river until we came to a small canyon where we had to use a mini zip line to cross.

We had to give two people 2 soles (0,50€) so they were pushing us to the other side of the canyon. From there, it is only 45 minutes more, before you reach the lodge for the night.

Halfway we passed the hot springs. We didn’t go in because we could already see from the outside that it was overcrowded. Afterward, we were really happy we didn’t. The people who went in said it wasn’t only overcrowded it was also a little bit dirty.

The third day

You can choose to start the day with zip lining (That costs the same as the wild water rafting, around 25$). train-rail-machu-picchuAfter, we started the long walk along the train tracks to Aguascalientes where we stayed the last night before hiking up to Machu Picchu.

Aguascalientes is the most expensive city in Peru because of all the tourists who want to go to Machu Picchu. We couldn’t get a lot of sleep because many people were having parties and the hotel walls aren’t thick. Anyway, after a bad and short sleep, we stood up at 3:00 to be first in line to walk up to Machu Picchu.

There are two gates.

The first one

opens in the morning at 5 o’clock and is just a 30 minutes walk out of the city. We were there 1,5 hours before and were the 4th and 5th person in line. When the gate opens we started climbing a lot of stairs to the second gate.

You will cross a street from time to time. That is the street where the busses are bringing up the tourists, who do not want to walk. The first bus drives at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Anyway, in my opinion, the real experience is to walk up the stairs. Don’t forget your headlight for this walk.

The second gate

which is the actual entrance to Machu Picchu opens at 6. There are 4 doors where you can stand in line. Although we weren’t the first ones who arrived at the top, we were number 1 and 2 entering Machu Picchu that day. Only because they opened the door we were waiting at, first.

When you go in you can take immediately the first way to the left and you will get a nice view over the still completely empty Machu Picchu city. We heard that the sunrise at the sun gate should be amazing, so we walked up to the sun gate to see the sun rising slowly.

When we came back to the city it was really really crowded and you had to walk in a line through the city. That happens when you want to see one of the world wonders where everybody can go to, even those who cannot walk very well.

When we were there, you could choose between two-time frames to enter (morning or afternoon). These days they changed it to a 3-time schedule. There are NO toilets in Machu Picchu and you will get big fines if they see you doing numbers 1 and/or 2 there.

You are allowed to leave and re-enter ONCE in your ticket time schedule.

In Machu Picchu, you have the possibility to climb one of the other 2 mountains inside.

They are called Waynapicchu mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain. The tickets for Waynapicchu mountain are sold out very quickly, so you have to buy them a few months before your travel.

We had tickets to Machu Picchu Mountain but didn’t climb to the top because we couldn’t do it anymore. We were too tired.

After our fantastic experience in Machu Picchu, we walked down to the city and drove back with the train to Hidroelectrica, where we got picked up from our tour guide who brought us back to Cusco.

Rainbow mountains

This was our favorite tour. During our stay in Peru. The rainbow mountain was just opened a year earlier and there were still (almost) no tourists. We booked this tour by going up to the rainbow mountain and going back through the red valley.

We paid only 80 Soles(21 €) p. P. I am pretty sure it costs more these days.

Pick up was in the morning at 3:30. We drove for a few hours through mountains, on very narrow roads. At 7 o’clock we stopped, and we got a good breakfast and a toilet stop.

On this tour, for the ladies, invest in some stand-up peeing bags. It is worth every single cent!!! And never forget to bring toilet paper.

After breakfast, we drove for another hour up to the rainbow mountain. When you arrive, you will be at a 4.400-meter height and you have to walk the last 5 km to the top (5.200 meters).

If you don’t want to walk you could rent a horse which brings you up to 200 meters before the top. But it doesn’t give you the real experience. I had some coca leaves in my cheek because I had a very bad throat that day and everybody recommends it, to adjust to the altitude better.

The last 200 meters are actually the hardest. We had to Stop every third step to get more oxygen into our lungs. That was one of our hardest workouts we ever did, but it is worth every dam step.

Before it was discovered, the mountain was covered in snow and ice. Due to climate change, the ice melted and this mountain showed up. The different colors are from different Minerals in the stone.

On the right-hand side of the rainbow mountain, you can see the path to the red valley. It is kind of a mars landscape with moss. I gave it the name “the hobbit land”. You will see wild alpacas and in total 3 houses.

After a long hike of 15 km, we came to a restaurant where we got a good lunch.

From there we were brought back to your hostel/hotel.

Wild Water Rafting and Zipline

We booked this tour separately because we were in Cusco for more than one month.ziplining and wild water rafting in peru If you don’t have so much time, you can better take the wild-water-rafting and zip-lining with the tour to Machu Picchu.

We only paid 35 soles (10€) incl. lunch due to the fact that we were the guinea pigs for a new travel agency who wanted to start selling this tour.
Although we did it outside the rain-season, it was still wild enough. This experience took only a half-day and I am very happy to have done it.

Travel by bus Hop on hop off Bolivia hop

During our school time in Peru, we talked about what we wanted to see and where we want to travel next. I told you earlier that we book already flight tickets to La Paz. Now you will hear why we didn’t use those tickets.

The school had a collaboration with a bus company. It is cold Peru Hop or Bolivian Hop (depends which tour you want to book). This company works as a hop on hop off bus.

When the bus stops in a city, you can say “I want to stay here”. You only have to let them know (Online) when you want to continue your tour. We chose the Bolivian Hop. We started in Cusco and we stopped in:

  1. Puno
  2. Copacabana (Bolivia)
  3. La Paz (Bolivia)
  4. Arequipa
  5. Nazca
  6. Huacachina
  7. Paracas
  8. Lima

The price is only 219 Dollars p.P. and it is worth every penny. You travel through Peru and Bolivia, mostly during the night and you can sleep in the big comfy chairs at the bus. That means you don’t have to book hotels and save some money.

If you decide to stay at the stops, you can ask the guide on the bus, to arrange accommodations and tours for a fantastic price. They will bring you, to the hotel you want to stay in, and they will pick you up there again, on the day you want to continue.

To find this awesome service in Peru was fantastic!!

Here is where you can book it:

Cusco to La Paz to Lima

I will tell you more about this trip in an extra article.

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