During my visit, I told my fellow travellers that I believe Peru to be a perfect destination for people who don’t want to travel much but still want to see a lot of different landscapes. Peru is home to a vast desert near the coast, but it also has a sand dune desert; it’s home to jungles and soaring mountains; it has cities, deep mysterious lakes and delicious food. Peru has it all!
I joined my first group tour when I went to Cuba last year. This time around I wanted to see if I liked that tour because it was a fun group, or because this formula works well for me. It turns out, I like the formula. Don’t get me wrong: I love solo travel, and I also love to travel with friends. However, every now and then it seems I don’t mind sitting in the passenger seat. I learn so much more about a destination when I’m part of a group tour, which is what I love most about travel. I want to understand the sights I’m seeing and the country I’m experiencing, with a group tour it’s effortless for me.
Don’t worry, my blog will remain a merry mix of solo, friend & group travel 🙂
I chose Sawadee as tour operator for this trip. There are a few companies in the Netherlands that are known for their easy-going travel. Their itineraries are not filled to the brim with activities and there is plenty of free time.
The companies I decided between were Shoestring, Sawadee, G-Adventures and Intrepid (the latter two are both international). I travelled to Cuba with Djoser in 2017, so they would’ve been my first choice. However, they only offer a 21 and 14 day itinerary for Peru. I preferred to limit my trip to 19 days, so I opted for Sawadee instead.
I’m not sponsored by Sawadee. I loved the travel style, the people who joined the trip, the itinerary & the country itself, and I’m writing this post as an outlet of my enthusiasm.
This trip only covered the highlights of the south, which suited me just fine.
Where will you go?
The Sawadee tour is jam-packed with fun destinations & places to visit. If I don’t travel with a tour, I always let their itineraries inspire me. So, even if you’re not planning to travel Peru with a group, this post might still help you with your planning.
Oh, Lima. I wish I could write a whole lyrical poem about you but alas. It is not to be so. I had a limited amount of time to explore Lima. We only had the last afternoon of the trip to see the city. Therefore, I only caught a glimpse of the Plaza de Armas and…
… I raced through Parque del Amor.
That’s all I saw of the city. It wasn’t love at first sight between Lima and myself. The day was grim and misty, and the sights didn’t wow me. I’m sure I’ll make my way back to Lima to explore it properly, because this isn’t a fair judgement.
Paracas was the first real destination of this trip. The desert in Paracas is an extension of the more famous Atacama desert in Chile. There are some fun activities to undertake here, like an excursion to the poor man’s Galapagos, Islas Ballestas. We stayed in Pisco while we explored Paracas. If I would create my own itinerary for this region I would say that 2 days would be plenty here.
Read more here: All my posts about Paracas
Huacachina is a sandy dune desert. A perfect spot for an afternoon of dune bashing, and sandboarding. I’m mentioning the latter one bravely, but I didn’t dare to attempt it. In my defense, the drop-off was almost vertical and we were only allowed to go head first for “safety reasons”… Maybe I’ll be braver in another location, but for now I’m still a sandboarding virgin. I only had an afternoon here, which surprisingly was more than enough in this tiny resort town.
Read more here: All my posts about Huacachina
Nazca is no beauty. So don’t expect too much of the town itself. The sights surrounding the town are pretty spectacular though, which is something I didn’t expect. I don’t understand why you only hear about the Nazca lines when there are mummies in the open air in the Chauchilla cemetery; an underground aquaduct; and an amazing Inca viewpoint! If you want to see all these sights (including the Nazca lines), it’s best to stay here for 2 days.
Read more here: All my posts about Nazca
From this point onwards, every city I saw I proclaimed to be my favourite city in Peru. Arequipa is beautiful! Most of the buildings are made from sillar – a type of volcanic rock – which gives the city a beautiful white glow. I loved visiting the monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena & mummy Juanita in Museo Santuarios Andinos. I didn’t write much about the city, because one day was ruined by a “real life” tour. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit the city again because one day to explore is not enough!
Read more here: All my posts about Arequipa
I never knew much about the Colca Canyon. As such, I never had it on my list of places to travel. If you’re like me, let me try to convince you otherwise. The main reason people want to visit the Colca Canyon is to spot the Andean condor. This alone is worth venturing into the canyon for. I was lucky to spot many condors on the two occasions I visited the viewpoint.
The landscape is surreal as well. The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and it offers some great hikes. I hiked from Yanque to Coporaque which made for a nice day trek. If you’d like to hike here as well as spot condors I would advise you to stay at least 2 day, but more advisable would be 3. It’s a long drive from Arequipa so it’s best to make it worth the hassle.
Read more here: All my posts about Colca Canyon
Puno is a bit of a gateway destination. Most people are not a fan of the town, but I actually didn’t mind it. The shopping street is nice & convenient, and there are some really good restaurants here (see the list below for my favourite). However, surrounding the city is Sillustani, a beautiful pre-Incan cemetery, and Lake Titicaca with its diverse islands. I visited the reed islands (Uros) and Taquile. If you’d like you could even stay overnight on one of the islands. Otherwise one day in Puno is more than enough, you could visit Sillustani in your drive in or out.
Read more here: All my posts about Puno
I thought Arequipa was my favourite city before. I was wrong. Cusco exudes charm. I only had one actual day in Cusco, which is much too short. My visit did coincide with the Inti Raymi festival, which was a pleasant alternative to exploring the sights in the region. There is so much still on my wishlist for Cusco, so I’ll definitely be back. If you want to visit the Sacred Valley as well as Cusco I would count on at least taking 3 days.
Read more here: All my posts about Cusco
Aguas Calientes (& Machu Picchu)
Aguas Calientes is not all about Machu Picchu, although I wouldn’t plan a visit there if you’re not visiting Machu Picchu (if you get what I mean). If you’re not tired from the Inca Trail or other lenghty hikes I would definitely advise you to visit Los Jardines de Mandor, which resembles a cloud forest. 2 days in Aguas Calientes is more than enough. On the day of arrival you can visit the waterfalls in Mandor and the next day you can rise early for Machu Picchu.
Read more here: All my posts about Aguas Calientes
Who Are Your Fellow Travellers?
Sawadee’s groups have an average of 16 travellers. The minimum is usually 8 and the maximum around 20-22. The minimum age is 18 and there is no age limit as long as the person is healthy enough to enjoy the somewhat more adventurous tours Sawadee puts together. Our tour had a perfect mix of young & old and singles & couples.
Most of the props are also due to our great guide. He was such an inspiration when it comes to travel and he made sure that everyone was participating and having fun.
When to Go?
The dry season is in the winter which runs from May to September. This is a great time to travel, especially if you’re planning on trekking. Be aware that it does get very cold in winter. I wasn’t prepared, so I had to buy a lot sweaters.
In summer it’s warmer, but it’s also much wetter. Summer runs from December to March. If you want a sunny Lima, you should visit during the summer.
A lot of people in my group were concerned about the altitude. The maximum altitude you’ll reach when taking this route is the Mirador de los Andes at 4,850m.
The way this itinerary is set up is a perfect way to acclimatize because the altitude will be increasing gradually. It’s important that you give your body time to get used to the height.
I only had mild symptoms when we traveled from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon. That’s when you go from 2,335m to 4,800m. On the bus ride, I was feeling dizzy (but not really in a bad way). The theory in Peru is that chewing on coca leaves will help alleviate the symptoms, but I decided that chewing on a leave wouldn’t do me any good in terms of nauseousness. The symptoms slowly faded away anyway. My most important tip is to take it slow. If you’re feeling terribly sick and it doesn’t go away after 2 days of taking rest at the same altitude, go lower.
What to Eat?
There are some traditional dishes which are worth a try. The first one is ceviche. This is a chilled mix of fish, shrimps or other seafood marinated in lime/lemon juice. It’s typically served with a wedge of corn and a sweet potato.
This brings to mind another dish. Namely, potatoes. Peru has many different types of potatoes, if you visit Hatunpa in Arequipa you can try a whole variety of them.
Another dish worth trying is alpaca. It is said that alpaca meat is one of the healthiest meats in the world, because it contains a lot of protein. It’s also deliciously lean and tender.
Another traditional meat in Peru, is cuy (guinea pig). I have to admit that I didn’t try this dish. It doesn’t look appetizing to me when there’s a whole open-mouthed guinea pig on your plate. Fellow travellers thought it was an acquired taste, which is code for “meh” so I don’t think I missed anything.
The last foodie tip is a bit of an oddity. You can find this dish in Arequipa, but I don’t know if it’s traditionally Peruvian. It’s more delicious than it sounds though. I’m talking about cheese ice cream, or queso helado. Try it when you’re there!
I have so many favourite restaurants in Peru. If you’re planning to visit. I can highly recommend these:
- Nazca – Mamashana Cafe Restaurante
- Nazca – La Kasa Rustika
- Arequipa – La Lucha
- Arequipa – Zig Zag
- Puno – La Table del Inca
- Cusco – Fallen Angel
- Cusco – Green Point Restaurant
- Agias Calientes – Indio Feliz
The Peruvian currency is the sol.
The sol replaced the Peruvian inti in 1991. The word “sol” means “sun” in Spanish, which is in line with the previous currency which is named after the Sun God of the Incas.
Before the Inti, the Peruvians had another sol. Therefore, you might still hear “nuevo sol” (new sol) mentioned in Peru, but as of 2015 the currency has been renamed to simply sol.
The official language in Peru is Spanish. However, the country is actually multilingual. The number of languages spoken is around 150. These languages are mainly spoken in the Andes and the Amazon.
The most spoken languages other than Spanish are Quecha and Aymara. I noticed that it’s handy if you know at least a few words of Spanish, because even though people in the tourist industry can speak English, most people fare better with Spanish.
It might be cliché, but most of all: just enjoy! Take it easy & surrender to the Cuban’s way of más o menos (more or less). If you do that, you’ll be guaranteed to love the country and its people!