After 10 months travelling around the world, Peru was the last step on my journey. It is located on the west coast of South America. I really suggest you discover this country that really surprised me, especially the beauty and diversity of the landscapes.
From Lima to Ica, First Steps On The Pan-American Highway
The Peruvian capital Lima, does not have as many tourists as Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. But Lima has a charming down town and a few museums and places of interest. However, if your stay in Peru is short, I advise you not to stay in Lima long, as Peru has more interesting tourist treasures.
After a few days rest in the capital, I hit the road to Ica, 300 km south of Lima. The motorway section from Lima to Ica is part of the famous Pan-American Highway. In Ica you can observe the famous Ica skulls from the Paracas civilisation. In the 1960’s the town was made famous worldwide for the “Stones of Ica”. These stones are representations of fantastic animals and dinosaurs living together with human beings and were discovered south of the Nazca lines. Like the Loch Ness monster, these stones will prove to be one of the biggest hoax of the 20th century. You can still observe them at The Javier Cabrera Museum of Ica.
Huacachina: An oasis in the dunes
Fifteen minutes drive from Ica is Huacachina. This small village was built around a lake with palm trees and feels more like North Africa or the Middle East than South America! There are many activities such as sand boarding or buggy trips. It is possible to spend the night and I would recommend to book a few days in advance as it fills quickly in high season.
“Las Islas Ballestas” The Peruvian Galapagos
About an hour’s drive from Ica are the Ballestas Islands. This archipelago is a natural reserve where thousands of birds rub shoulders (cormorants, pelicans, penguins …) but also sea lions, dolphins … In my opinion, this is a place not to be missed especially if you are a nature or animal lover. The tours are only done by boat and take around 2 hours. There are also hotels and other accommodation in the area.
From Ica to Cuzco: 800 km across the Andes
As mentioned in the introduction, I was really surprised by the diversity of the Peruvian landscape, such as sea, jungle, desert, and high altitude areas. Peru is definitely a melting pot of colour for the eyes!
The 14-hours bus trip between Cuzco and Ica is no exception and passing through these landscapes was a real pleasure.
Having once been the capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco is now the main point of Peruvian tourism. Especially as you will head to Machu Picchu from Cuzco. The city centre, around the “Plaza de Armas” is really interesting, you can admire the “Temple of the Sun”, the Inca Museum and other museums of Pre-Columbian Art. In some streets of the city you can even view original Inca walls.
In Cuzco you will find many agents offering you trips to different tourist sites in areas such as the Inca Sacred Valley, the archaeological sites of Pisac and Moray, the Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo and of course Machu Picchu. If you have time do not hesitate to visit the Maras Salt Mines (photo below) which are really impressive.
The Mythical Machu Picchu
Last step of this Peru journey, The Machu Picchu. First of all, seeing the Machu Picchu was the main reason for my visit to Peru and really a dream I have had for a long time.
Known to be very touristy, Machu Picchu is the “must see” thing in Peru and yes there are a lot of tourists, but the place has such magic and charm that it is easy to understand, why people are coming from all over the world. Of the 7 wonders world tour, Machu Picchu definitely remains one of the places I was most amazed by, the history, the scenic beauty and magic that emanates from there.
Getting to Machu Picchu:
There is no way to go directly to Machu Picchu but there are several possible ways to access it.
The first one is the most physical, The Inca Trek is a 3-4 day walk through the Peruvian Andes to reach the site. You can also get there by train from Cuzco with PeruRail and the third solution is a combination of shuttle bus and walking.
These solutions are listed in descending price order and personally I opted for the cheapest solution which is the “shuttle bus and walk”.
The shuttle bus leaves Cuzco at sunrise and is a 5-6 hours drive. Then you arrive at Hydro Electrica where the road ends and you have to follow the train tracks for several hours to reach Agua Calientes village. This village is at the bottom of Macchu Pichu and you arrive at nightfall. Doors at the base of the mountain open at around 6 am the next day and then you start climbing. The climb is 1,000 vertical meters and leads to the entrance. You can also make this ascent by bus for around ten euros.
If like me you want to be the first visitors on the site, know that you will not get there any faster with the bus because it often leaves about 45 minutes after the doors open. So if you climb quite quickly you will arrive in time to be on the site before the large groups of tourists; Be aware that the climb is 45 minutes to 1 hour and is not easy but believe me it really worth it!
It cost me 100 usd (90 euros) for this 2 days/1night trip included:
- Shuttle bus to Cuzco-Hydro Electrica / returns
- Overnight accommodation and meals
- Machu Picchu entrance fees
Explore other sites in Peru
Peru is a really huge place and my journey has given me a first glimpse of this incredible country. If you have more time than I had you can explore the Amazon jungle in Iquitos, trek in the fabulous Cordillera Blanca, fly over the famous Nazca Lines, explore the city of Arequipa and “El canyon Rio del Colca” and “Cotahuasi” (the World deepest) and also sail on Titicaca Lake, the highest lake in the world.
Location Guide :
Tips to discover Peru:
- Best time to visit: There are basically two seasons in Peru: the wet season from October to April and the dry season from May to September.It can be different from one region to the other, with humidity highest in tropical areas such as Iquitos and particularly from January to April. The best time to visit the Peruvian coast is from December to March, softer and less foggy. In the Cordilleras of the Andes, I prefer the dry season from May to September, especially for hiking.
- How long should you visit? If you want to experience Peru, two weeks will be a minimum.
- Flying to Peru: Rates for Paris or Madrid to Lima (returns) start at 550/600 euros.
- Currency: The Peruvian soles: 1 euro = 3.69 Peruvian soles.
- Where should you stay in Peru? There are many hostels and hotels in Peru and at all the sights. To book accommodations you can use Hostelworld, Booking.com and hostelbookers.
- How do I get around? To travel around Peru I recommend the bus. Several companies offer their services, during my journey I used Cruz Del Sur, which offer very affordable rates and also high quality service with very comfortable buses. You can also rent a vehicle with an international license and finally most major Peruvian cities have airports, but rates are often quite high.
- How to withdraw money? There are ATMs all over Peru and also in touristic area.