Marked by three regions mountain, coast and jungle and countless ecosystems in between, Peru is a favorite amongst travelers looking for a mix of culture and history in wide-open natural spaces. This South American nation, once merely visited for its famous ancient citadel, Machu Picchu, has become a standout for its contemporary kitchens and lesser-known natural and cultural wonders that predate the Incas.
Guided by Kuoda, discover Peru on a sustainable journey that offers a deeper and more immersive experience: from meeting with and supporting indigenous communities to remote and exotic locations that offer a point of reflection. All that and more is detailed in the following Peru bucket list of the top things to see and do.
1. Visit the oldest city in the Americas, Caral
So often when talking about ancient Peru, the Inca culture takes the spotlight—but who came before them? Just a three-hour drive from Lima, head to the Supe Valley where you can trace the steps of one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas, Caral (3000-1800BC). Also the name of the archaeological site, Caral is a 5,000-year-old city, meaning it developed concurrently with the great civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.
Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Caral ruins are spread across 626-hectares of the arid valley, not far from the Pacific coastline of Peru. The urban center consists of mud-brick pyramids, circular plazas, an amphitheater and modest homes that once belonged to a community of farmers and fishermen. To visit Caral is to witness what would be the blueprint for countless Andean cultures to come.
2. Fly over mysterious geoglyphs in Nazca
How can it be that a mammoth monkey, spider and hummingbird have coexisted in the expansive Nazca desert for thousands of years? Ancient zoomorphic etchings along the southern coast of Peru have long puzzled archaeologists, most notably Maria Reiche, who dedicated decades to studying the Nazca lines. To this day there is no certain answer as to how or why the Nazca lines were created some 2,000 years ago.
To add to the thrill, visitors learn that the only way to get a complete view of the geoglyphs is by flying over the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hop in a small plane and glide over the simple line drawings and complex forms, spread over nearly 50 miles of dry desert, and begin your own debate as to their purpose: perhaps an astrological calendar, a map of underground aqueducts, or, an ever-popular theory, alien creation.
3. Walk in the footsteps of the Incas in Cusco city
Because Incas considered their imperial city to be the navel of the world, they chose the name Cuzco, meaning “navel” in the indigenous Quechua language. Though it is most often spelled Cusco today, the historical city has done an impeccable job of preserving what the Spanish left of the Inca culture. Case in point: Sacsayhuaman, a 15th-century Inca citadel resting on the outskirts of the city.
After touring the ruins, taxi into the city and stroll down cobblestone streets, keeping an eye out for the famous 12-angle, hand-carved Inca stone (located on Hatun Rumiyoc street). Then, head west to reach the Plaza de Armas where you can take a picture in front of the fountain with the statue of Inca Pachacutec and the facade of the Cusco Cathedral. After a breather (this city is 11,200 feet high, after all), walk southeast to Qorikancha, the most sacred temple of the Incas.
4. Float across Lake Titicaca, the highest of the world’s large lakes
Sitting at 3,810 masl, Lake Titicaca in southernmost Peru is the highest navigable freshwater lake in the world. Located off the shores of Puno, the laguna takes its name from two Quechua words, titi (meaning puma) and caca (mount), many Inca origin stories point to Lake Titicaca as the birthplace of the ingenious culture.
As you glide across the tranquil waters you will have the chance to step out and meet the inhabitants of the incredible Uros Islands. The families on these reed islands depend on sustainable tourism as they continue to practice a traditional culture that has been around since the Incas. As a responsible luxury travel operator, Kuoda is delighted to take our guests to Lake Titicaca, a breathtaking destination with oppotunities to directly impact local communities.
5. Sip on a Pisco Sour in the middle of a vineyard
You don’t need to be a world-class sommelier to appreciate Peru’s national drink, the frothy Pisco Sour. Varying historical accounts owe the drink’s invention to different bartenders, though it is unanimously agreed upon that the modern version of the Pisco Sour was created in the 1920s. And ever since, the delectable combination of pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg whites has been a rite of passage for tourists in Peru.
For the ultimate Pisco Sour experience, head to Peru’s so-called wine country, Ica. The coastal region is brimming with vineyards, many of which dedicate their grape harvest to the production of the national liqueur. A particular stand-out is the traditional Queirolo vineyard and its elegant accommodations. After a restful night’s sleep, take a day trip to Huacachina, a green lagoon surrounded by sand dunes.
6. Get misted by the Gocta waterfalls
Surrounded by cloud forests and lesser-known archaeological sites, Peru’s tallest free-falling waterfall, Gocta, has to be on your travel to-do list. Located in Chachapoyas, of the Amazonas region of Peru, the perennial waterfall has two drops and measures 771 meters high. Naturally striking, the allure of Gocta only increases when you consider it was brought into the global spotlight as recently as 2002 (when German researcher Stefan Ziemendorf stumbled upon the cascade).
There are a few hiking routes of various intensities that lead to Gocta waterfalls, some of which can be traversed by horseback. After passing stone villages, coffee plantations and abundant endemic flora, you can enjoy views from the base as well as the upper falls. Just be prepared to get wet! While in Chachapoyas, be sure to visit the pre-Inca archaeological site Kuelap.
7. Practice ecotourism in the Amazon (but make it exotic)
Imagine navigating the serpentine Amazon River in the company of a local of a jungle community who, seemingly without looking, can sense the presence of winged native creatures such as the Harpy Eagle. Your guide will then direct the canoe to a creek and hand you a makeshift fishing rod in preparation for catching piranha—part of the day’s lunch!
Responsibly explore the depths of Peru’s Amazon rainforest with Kuoda to uncover one adventure after another. From harvesting and sampling exotic fruit like camu camu to hugging the slow-moving perezoso (sloth), it is crucial to practice ecotourism when the so-called “Lungs of the Earth” faces countless threats. For this reason, Kuoda travel designers are committed to working with trusted local guides and communities.
8. Dance into eternal spring in Trujillo
Trujillo may not have the modern glamour of Lima or the cosmic Inca energy of Cusco, but this northwestern city can offer tourists a little bit of everything. Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring, Trujillo boasts a pleasant year-round climate that makes exploring its historical, cultural and gastronomical treasures a true joy.
In the main square, snap photos of the La Libertad monument (designed by Edmund Moeller), surrounded by the charming yellow cathedral and colonial architecture. You will likely catch a performance of the famous and flirty Peruvian Marinera dance if you arrive during celebrations in January and October. Make time to witness Chan Chan, the largest mud city in America, as well as Huanchaco, a sweet beach town just 20 minutes from Trujillo’s center.
9. Talk like a local, be it in Spanish or Quechua
One of the biggest worries a globetrotter can have about traveling is experiencing language barriers. In Peru, there are no less than 72 recorded indigenous languages and dialects spoken. Of course, basic Spanish can go a long way in Peru as the majority of locals are friendly and patient with visitors. Not to mention, locals will appreciate the effort you’ve made to speak their native language.
With that point in mind, learning a few basic phrases in Quechua is a big sign of respect for those living in Andean towns. The indigenous tongue of the Incas, Quechua is considered an endangered language by UNESCO, and we can all do our part in preserving this beautiful traditional language. Ask Kuoda to help you find Spanish or even Quechua classes while in Peru!
10. Follow a skeleton-filled passageway in underground Lima
Peru’s capital city has a lot to offer on street level: a 6-mile cliff-side path with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, stunning boutique hotels, countless museums and galleries, and some of the highest-ranked restaurants in the world. Visitors to the metropolitan city who dare to go underground however will be captivated by Lima’s catacombs, one of the oldest in South America.
Located beneath the 16th-century San Francisco Monastery in the historic center of Lima, the colonial-era catacombs (an extensive network of underground tunnels and passageways) are perhaps the best-preserved on the continent. As you tour the dark spaces, you will come across the skulls of some of the 25,000 inhabitants and hear the chilling legend of the monk—that is, if you don’t see him for yourself.
11. Stroll through Arequipa, a city built of white volcanic stone
Hugged by three volcanoes—most notably El Misti—and split by the Chili River, this southern Peru city captivates travelers with its white volcanic stone architecture. Known as sillar, the lightweight material was so commonly used in the colonial-era construction of the southern city that Arequipa is popularly referred to as The White City. Simply stand in the main plaza (considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and admire how the year-round sun splashes across the bright Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa.
Kuoda can recommend fabulous family-run lunchtime restaurants, locally known as picanterias, for a taste of traditional and local dishes. With this newfound energy, you may even consider the multiple-day Colca Canyon trek. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and set in an arid desert, the Colca hike isn’t for everyone, which is why we can also organize a day trip by car to witness its beauty and depth from above. Just keep your eyes peeled for the magnificent Andean condor, often seen soaring above the ravine.
12. Tour Machu Picchu—but first, the Sacred Valley
Last but not least, no trip to Peru is complete without setting foot on the nation’s emblematic archaeological site, Machu Picchu. Before setting off on the multi-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hike (or on the scenic train ride), spend a few laidback days in the Sacred Valley visiting lesser-known ruins and warming up your legs..
Stop by the artisan market in Pisac for incredible textiles and, if your lungs and legs are feeling up to it, try the short yet steep hike to the town’s Inca ruins. In nearby Calca you can have a relaxing soak in hot springs before heading into the Valley’s “big” town of Urubamba. This is a jumping-off point for mystic sites like the salt mines in Maras and the circular terraces of Moray. Finally, the excitement continues with the train ride from the last living Inca village, Ollantaytambo, or a challenging walk along the legendary Inca Trail.
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