I'm traveling to Peru the end of July/beginning of August and plan on hiking Machu Picchu (maybe just train?) and want to eat the best food, have an epic adventure and do some less touristy stuff. Thoughts on fantastic dining, sites, travel companies or hotels? Thank you!!
Valorie, you are in for a real treat! Two weeks is perfect to visit Peru and I would encourage you to use land transport as much as possible, the "luxury" tourist long distance buses are really good, comfy and excellent value, as well as taking you through incredible countryside which is the highlight of the country!
I have never been to either Nazca or the Rainforest so shall not comment on those destinations. Here are a few highlights:
LIMA (2 nights)
The gateway and very underatted capital city. Lima (Peru) has loads to offer, from typical South American public plazas, to ruins such as the Huaca Pucllana piramids, and a stunning coastline (do you surf? Try Punta Hermosa beach!). Lorraine mentioned the Casa Andina chain which is a Peruvian company -- they have different level hotels for different prices and I think they 'classic' range provides excellent value for money all over the country. In Lima, I particularly enjoy the San Antonio neighborhood. Now, when it comes to food you should understand that Peru is a coastal country with lots of mountains so that the diet includes an amazing variety of fresh and delicious produce. In Lima, the multiculturalism and strong Asian influences makes for a ridiculously delicious and varied fusion cuisine, Peruvian food is top notch, prepare to fall in love! Some of my favourite eateries include anything by Master Chef Acurio (La Mare is my favourite), Pescados Capitales , Pastelaria San Antonio (for breakfast, lunch and dessert), and the Cafe Cafe at Larcomar Miraflores for their muna tea frappes.
NAZCA (1 night)
It is a long coastal journey by bus from Lima to Arequipa, up in the volcanic planes (high altitude) of Peru. The good news is, Nazca Lines are along the way so it makes for an amazing stop. You can also stop at Pisco or San Juan Marcona. I have only flown from Lima to Arequipa but plan on doing the road journey next time I visit.
AREQUIPA (1-2 nights)
An inviting and stunning city surrounded by dormant volcanos. Arequipa has a stunning main plaza with a mind blowing Cathedral, in addition to a mesmerizing Convento / Monasterio de Santa Catalina(do visit!). Peru's second city is also its most beautiful (in my opinion). It is in the high plains so meat plays a bigger part in the diet with a special love for alpaca (like lean beef), once again, Acurio's Chicha along with ZigZag are my restaurant choices, plus you must try the city's traditional baked goods.
COLCA CANYON (2 nights)
My favourite destination in Peru, I fell in love with the drive and the natural rural beauty. From Arequipa, the drive takes you through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, the volcano national park, into Colca's main town of Chivay. It takes 3-4 hours and you can do it by bus, a hired taxi or with a tour bus. In the Colca Canyon (Cañón Del Colca), you can hike and do other nature activities plus visit the Cruz del Condor. I would highly recommend the community-run Kilawasi Lodge, a gem of a guesthouse in the town on Yanque(they also do tours from Arequipa/Puno).
PUNO (1 night)
Okay, so I have missed feelings about Puno. The town itself is completely unremarkable but the drives to/from are utterly breathtaking. Also, Puno is the gateway to Lake Titicaca, the World's highest altitude lake. You visit Puno effectively to visit the Lake and you can go as far as crossing to Bolivia on Ferry to visit the ancient Inca Island of the Sun. In truth I found it all a bit disappointing so wouldn't suggest more than a day (2nights) for a stopover and a short lake tour.
VALE SAGRADO (1-2 nights)
I highly recommend the stunning 'tourist'/scenic bus trip from Puno to the Valle Sagrado. It takes the better part of a day but you see so much of the country and it is definitely memorable. Once in the Sacred Valley you can either stay in Cusco and do day trips, or stay in the valley proper (recommended). Try to visit the 'other' Inca sites of Ollantaytambo and /or Pisac (including the local market), plus Marasand Moray The valley is also famous for giving Peru the national dish cui (guinea pig) which is roasted and surprisingly delicious
CUSCO (1-2 nights)
An amazing city with lots to see though a day walk around will give you a good 'feel'. Cusco has incredible restaurants including Cicciolina (my favourite), Limo, Chicha, Inca Grill (for cui) and Cafe Ayllu (unbelievably good hot chocolate).
INCA TRAIL and MACHU PICCHU PUEBLO (1 night)
Unless you dedicate your whole trip to the Inca Trail, I doubt you can manage to fit it into your timeframe. However, there is an option take a train to Chachabamba to hike the last day of the trail that ends with a grand entrance into Machu Picchu through the Intipunku. Note that all trail walking has to be booked in advanced and you must take a guide. My suggestion would actually be to visit Machu Picchutwice with an overnight in Pueblo so that you can spent your first visit hiking the Machu Picchu Mountain (do not confuse with Wayna Picchu) for the most incredible views of the valley and archeological site.
When staying in Pueblo make note that the town in itself is not very memorable (don't plan on spending timd there, except for sleeping). A great place to stay is at the El Mapi which is run by the excellent Peruvian Inkaterra brand.
MACHU PICCHU (day only)
Not much to say except for incredible! Make sure you get your ticket to the site in advance, make note of return bus times to leave room to make the train back to Cusco. You can either overnight again in Cusco or fly into Lima to catch your flight home)
This itinerary is a suggestion of what you can manage if travelling by land. Naturally you can edit as necessary and add flights wherever it works best.
Hope this overview is helpful. Have a fantastic time in Peru, it is an amazing country!
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I spent 2 weeks in Peru in 2012 and hiked the Inca Trail. By law you have to go with a guide company of the trail b/c they regulate how many people are on it each day. It will take 3 night/4 days and 27 miles to do the Inca Trail and you will climb 4,000 ft in elevation and do an almost 13,800ft pass and 12,000ft pass. You need to be in good shape and realize that if you are from sea level--you will feel the altitude. Coming from Denver, Colorado and hiking 14,000 ft peaks all the time, it was easy...but definitely get into decent shape before hand. There were a few members of our group that had a very hard time doing the passes. But it is so worth it! I went with Llama Path guides and there were amazing! Here is what we did--Machu Picchu was the most touristy thing.
Flew into Lima (Peru), spent one night. Flew into Cusco, spent 3 days, then did the Inca Trail. Came back and flew to Arequipa and then drove to Colca Canyon (Cañón Del Colca) and spent 3 nights there and explored all the tiny towns. Flew back to Arequipa and spent 2 more nights. I used Latin America for Less to book my in country airfare (which I highly recommend using an agency for this as they can get in-country airfare rates, etc--I can give you my gals name that I worked with) and transfers. Other than that we (2 couples) explored all on our own. I picked the hotels and Latin America for Less booked them for us. All local and historic. I cannot say enough about the food--everywhere!! We ate at the best restaurants in Cusco and Arequipa (visit the city market --wow!) and it was about $40 USD per couple and that included wine and pisco sours! Definitely try the Alpaca, Cuy (guinea pig), beef cheek, gooseberries, cactus fruit, and the fried dough from street vendors in the small town of Chivay near the Colca Canyon. I ate my way through Peru!
I happy to provide the names of the hotels, restaurants, etc. Do not try to pack in too much into 2 weeks. I think spending 3-4 days in the 3 main places we visited gave us enough time to enjoy the culture of each location, eat, talk with locals (yes, you need to know some Spanish--hardly anyone speaks English) and take 1,000 photographs.
Skip the tour groups---you won't have fun or really see Peru and experience the culture. Hire taxi's (very cheap), a private driver, take the collectivo from Yanque to Chivay for 2 Nuevo Soles each and explore on your own. It is VERY safe, locals are so friendly and helpful. I recommend buying the Frommer's Peru book and reading it inside and out. My trip would have been very different if I hadn't. Also, learn some basic Spanish and download a translator on your smartphone. You will need it if you are skipping the tour groups. You will be surprised at how much Spanish you will be able to speak by the end of your two weeks and it is so much fun speaking the language! Good Luck!
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Casa Andina hotels in Cusco are nice-stayed in the Casa Andina Classic – Cusco San Blas at San Blas.
You usually have to book well in advance for hiking to Machu Picchu, so train will be best option. Doing it in one day, though, doesn't do it justice-recommend staying in Aguas Calientes for the night.
If you buy the bolleta touristico in Cusco, it will save you money on the sites, and there is also a really good folkloric show included in the ticket price.
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:D I just came back so it's still fresh :P In Lima (Peru) you can go at the "Plaza de Armas" (picture below)this is the main plaza in Lima there's the Government Palace, you can visit it.
Close to it there's a good restaurant called T'anta, do not pay attention to the others, when I was eating there, a congressman came to eat also so... Try Maracuya Sour it's Pisco (grape alcohol) with passion fruit it's marvelous. You can eat what ever you want or what ever you can it's very good and cheap. I tried something with beef, red and yellow pepper. It was amazing, I was surprised by the quality of the food also they have a two restaurants which are in the top twenty of the best restaurants in the world http://www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners#t11-20 Visit the Miraflores Lima it's very nice.
If you want more adventure, take a bus, for exemple http://www.cruzdelsur.com.pe/ goto Ica and then Dunas Huacachina enjoy a buggy tour and do some sandboarding (it's included usually) you will be in the desert (the following picture is mine) so yes there's desert in Peru (One day is enough here).
Take a bus goto Nazca, and goto visit the Nazca Lines 20/30 minutes by plane for 60$ it's very nice and if you like peruvian glyphes you will be amazed, also prefer going in the early in morning (arounf 10) or at the end of the day (4 or 5), you have to go to the Aeropuerto Maria Reiche so check the opening hours.
Take another bus, goto Paracasand visit the national reserve, it's very nice, try to find a tour (bargain) I've payed 25 Soles ($9) Usually they will take you to their restaurants and "force" you to eat into but it's cheap 30 soles so it doesn't matter very much. In paracas you can stay at the Kokopelli Paracas http://www.hostelkokopelli.com/ which is cheap and full of foreign people (they have Happy Hours from 9pm to 10pm on Pisco Sours in BOGO).
So Lima it's the easy adventure, then the middle level and here is the real adventure. From Lima, find a taxi or a bus to goto Nieve Nieve (You will have to get many tries before you will find someone), eat something at the restaurant, there's only one. Here the food is pure local you will pay nothing and it's not very refined you will have two choices, trout or chicken (I don't think people speak english here). If you speak spanish ask for the pre-inca village otherwise, go back from where you came by taxi, and on the right there's a path to the montains, if you walk like 10 minutes, you will see an old church with a couple of destroyed houses, human bones, broken pottery, in the church you will find some paintings on the walls. When you finished, you can walk back to Cieneguilla or Chontay and then find a taxi to go back to Lima. This is hard because it's difficult to find a taxi to go back to Lima. And if you walk all the way to Cieneguilla you will probably need 4/5 hours I think and the road is bad and certainly dangerous because of the peruvian way of driving.
So I did all of that in one week but I ran everywhere.
Enjoy your stay.
PS: Do not forget to bargain everything!! This is how Peru works, once we have payed for a taxi 75 Peruvians Cents for 3 which is... almost nothing 26 USD cents for a 5 minutes trip.
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Since you have two weeks you can also visit the Amazonas. My friend did that their 2nd week of traveling in Peru and loved it. I just wrote several blog posts on visiting Cusco and doing the Inca Trail, as well as what it costs.