The Top 20 Things to Do in Peru–That Aren’t Machu Picchu!

Let’s be honest–it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that we’re big fans of Machu Picchu. I mean, we’re even called IncaTrail.info! That said, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail certainly aren’t the only parts of Peru that we’re in love with. In our humble opinion, Peru is one of the world’s most magical countries for reasons that span much further than one (albeit truly incredible) archaeological site. But if you’ve just been browsing our site, you might not have noticed this yet. We’ve kept quiet about all the other wonderful things to see and do in Peru, mostly because we’ve had so much to say about Machu Picchu and the surrounding areas/activities.

That is, until now! In honor of all the other wonderful destinations and activities that Peru has to offer, we’ve decided to craft a new list: the top 20 things to do in Peru that aren’t Machu Picchu. Due to the nature of the article, we won’t be going into too much detail about each site–but maybe, in the future, we’ll have some more time and space to expand on a few of them.

1. Bird Watch at the Colca Canyon

colca canyon - things to do in peru

Southern Peru is home to the Colca Canyon, one of the country’s more popular tourism spots that nonetheless you’ve probably never heard of! Many people are surprised to learn that the Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the world-famous Grand Canyon in the United States, though its walls are not as steep and as such it’s not quite as visually striking. The Colca Canyon is also home to the Andean Condor, one of the largest birds in the world with a wingspan reaching up to 3.2 meters. This is one of the few spots on the planet where it’s relatively easy to see the birds at close range–a truly magical experience.

2. Fly Over the Nazca Lines

nazca lines - things to do in peru

If you’ve never heard of the Nazca Lines before, there’s a good chance that you’re quite confused by the image above, which is fine! The Nazca Lines, to put it succinctly, are a series of hundreds of massive designs dug into the ground by the Nazca culture well over a millennium ago. They range from simple geometric shapes to highly-stylized images primarily depicting plants and animals from the natural world. Because some of the figures are over 200 meters across, the best way (well… the only way, really) to see the Nazca Lines is from above. There are a variety of tour operators offering flights above the lines if you are so inclined.

3. Surf or Just Relax in Máncora

mancora - things to do in peru

If you’re planning a trip to Peru, spending some time relaxing on the beach probably isn’t on your to-do list. If you’re on a tight schedule, we totally understand this, but if you’ve got the time, then why not? If a few days of sand, surf, and sun sounds right up your alley, then the laid-back surfing town of Máncora is perhaps your best option in Peru. Though the town is small, there are lodging and dining options galore for most any budget. To enjoy the beach the way that Peruvians do, this is your place.

4. Sandboard or Take a Buggy Ride in Huacachina

huacachina - things to do in peru

As much as this might look like a scene straight out of the Sahara Desert, trust us–Huacachina is very much in Peru. Located in the same southwestern Peruvian province as the Nazca Lines, this tiny oasis village in an otherwise parched dry desert has been attracting tourists for a while. Though nowadays additional water is pumped to the oasis from the nearby city of Ica, it’s still undoubtedly a cool place. Popular activities here in the “oasis of the Americas” include sandboarding and dune buggy riding.

5. Take a Boat Tour of the Islas Ballestas

islas ballestas - things to do in peru

This small group of equally small islands has recently become one of the world’s most widely-recognized biodiversity hot spots. From birds such as blue-footed boobies and Humboldt penguins to seals and sea lions, many of the world’s most charming and beautiful animals call the Islas Belletas home–or they would if they could, you know, talk. Boat tours leaving from the nearby coastal town of Paracas generally take around two hours and are highly recommended as one of the coolest things to do in Peru.

6. Do Some Shopping at a Peruvian Marketplace

pisac marketplace - things to do in peru

Peru, especially the Andean region, is famous around the world for its colorful marketplaces catering to tourists and locals alike. If you’re looking to buy a keepsake for yourself or some souvenirs for friends and family back home, skip the brick and mortar stores and check out the market stalls first! The Andean highlands are home to a number of major marketplaces (check out a description of Cusco’s largest in an article by a fellow site contributor at this link), but the most famous is without a doubt located in the small town of Písac. Pictured above, Písac’s marketplace is regarded as too touristy by some, but regardless, we remain fans and recommend it at least as a short half-day trip from Cusco.

7. Visit the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

lake titicaca - things to do in peru

Lake Titicaca is famous for a number of reasons: it’s the largest lake in South America, the highest navigable lake in the world, and it has an admittedly funny name (for English speakers, at least). It’s also the home of the pre-Incan Uru people, an indigenous group that still lives in the most incredible of ways–on floating islands built and rebuilt out of dried reeds, drifting over the surface of the lake. Originally this was done as a defensive strategy, and though the threat of Inca invasion is long gone, the lifestyle has managed to live on. Today, visitors can take tours of the islands and even participate in homestays with local families. When it comes to these activities, there are a couple of tours that we specifically recommend!

8. See the Otherworldly Maras Salt Ponds

maras salt ponds - things to do in peru

A slightly lesser-known historic and cultural site not far outside of Cusco, the town of Maras makes for a fine day trip. Or, if we’re being more specific, an area just a kilometer or so outside of the town makes for a fine day trip–the town itself, to be frank, is pretty slow. But we digress… The bizarre scene you can see above is just a small section of the massive terraced salt ponds from which many Maras residents derive their livelihood. The indigenous people of the region have used evaporation to harvest salt here for centuries, and it’s one of the most interesting ways to step back in time in Peru today.

9. Explore the Peruvian Amazon

amazon rainforest - things to do in peru

When most people think of the Amazon Rainforest, their minds immediately jump to Brazil–and although South America’s largest country does contain the lion’s share of the Amazon, one could actually make the argument that it’s not the best place to visit the rainforest! In fact, many would contend that that specific honor should go to Peru. Home to Iquitos, the largest city in the world without outside road access, the Peruvian Amazon has been attracting lots of visitors in recent years. The city itself is home to many historic and architectural wonders, but the real draw here has always been the region’s stunning nature and biodiversity.

10. Get Some Perspective in the Belén District

belen - things to do in peru

On the outskirts of Iquitos, on the floodplain of a major Amazon River tributary, sits the Belén District, often referred to as the “Venice of the Amazon.” But frankly, the similarities end with the water. The residents of this notoriously impoverished area have built floating homes out of necessity, mostly because no one else wanted to live in an area that experienced such terrible annual flooding. Most of Belén is dreadfully poor, but it’s still an amazing feat of construction. Though some might feel ethical qualms regarding what is sometimes termed “slum tourism,” others view tourism to places like this as an effective source of income for local residents. Decide where you stand, and if you’d like to visit Belén go during the day, and with a trusted local guide.

11. Climb the Misti Volcano

misti volcano - things to do in peru

Without a doubt Peru has a wide, and we mean wiiide variety of hiking, trekking, and climbing options. You should know by now that we’re big fans of both the Inca and Lares Trails, but if you’re looking for something different then southern Peru’s Misti Volcano might be more your speed. Let’s be clear: this is by no means an easy climb. Even the shorter of the two main routes to the summit features nearly 2,000 meters of elevation gain, and a good portion of this is through loose volcanic sand. That said, the climb does not require any technical mountaineering skills, and those who arrive at the summit seem to agree that it’s a truly inspiring experience.

12. Wander Túcume, Peru’s Valley of Pyramids

tucume pyramids - things to do in peru

This valley is bone dry, abandoned, and home to the ruins of some 26 major pyramids and mound structures built over the course of some 800 years. It’s also a source of fear and apprehension for local people–many still believe this valley to be cursed and refer to it by the Spanish word for “purgatory.” But you don’t believe in any of that stuff… right? Indigenous groups here built and rebuilt pyramids in an attempt to appease what they perceived as angry gods, but it seems that the system never worked after all. Today the valley is an archaeological site relatively popular with hikers and history buffs, and it even features a small hotel just outside the site boundaries.

13. Discover Chan Chan, the Largest Pre-Columbian City in South America

chan chan - things to do in peru

Though eclipsed in popularity by some other ruins sites including Machu Picchu, this ruins complex near the modern-day city of Trujillo should be a mandatory stop for anyone visiting Peru. Chan Chan was the capital city of the Chimu Empire and was quite large even by today’s standards, the urban center covered approximately six square kilometers while the city continued to stretch less densely much further still. The city thrived until conquering Incas arrived and forced a relocation of its residents in the 1470’s. By the time the Spaniards arrived to explore this area, the once massive Pre-Columbian city was nothing more than a ghost town.

14. Enter the Walled Fortress of Kuelap

kuelap - things to do in peru

If you’re getting bored with the archaeological sites, this is the last one–we promise. But seriously, look at this place! Located in northern Peru, Kuelap was a massive walled city home to over 400 buildings constructed by the Chachapoya culture, sometimes referred to as “the Warriors of the Clouds.” Though the ruins within the fortress are certainly very impressive, nothing matches the sheer size and scope of its walls, which reach up to some 19 meters in height. Though often neglected in favor of other pre-Columbian ruins structures, a visit to Kuelap is certainly one of the most interesting things to do in Peru.

15. Indulge Your Appetite in Lima’s Culinary Scene

central restaurante lima - things to do in peru

Any savvy readers who have already done a bit of research on Peru may be wondering about the total lack of Lima on our list so far. How could it be that the country’s capital and largest city hasn’t yet been mentioned? Well, we’ve basically decided to save all of our Lima entries for the end of our list. It’s no longer any secret that Lima is home to one of the most innovative, exciting, and simply delicious culinary scenes in all of Latin America. From new-school classics like Central Restaurante to upscale takes on uniquely Peruvian cuisines to just some darn good sandwiches, you can truly find anything here. It should go without saying that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

16. Examine Pre-Columbian Erotic Pottery at the Larco Museum

larco museum - things to do in peru

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This private Lima museum is one of the country’s finest, despite the fact that its numerous galleries showcasing works from over 4,000 years of Peruvian history are generally overshadowed by its one gallery showcasing nothing more than erotic pre-Columbian ceramics. It just goes to show you that at the end of the day, we really haven’t changed all that much. Without a doubt, this is one of the wackiest yet most interesting things to do in Peru.

 17. Take a Stroll on the Malecón in Miraflores

miraflores malecon - things to do in peru

Of all of Lima’s upscale neighborhoods, Miraflores is probably the most well known. Perhaps this is due to its striking coastal location that makes for some truly stunning photographs? If you’re looking for a place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city without really leaving it at all, Miraflores is the place. Its seaside walkway, called the Malecón, is especially popular with locals and tourists alike, it’s a beautiful public space with gardens, parks, and plenty of public art. If you’re looking for a slice of what life is like for Lima’s richest residents, this is it.

18. Experience the Magic Water Tour at the Park of the Reserve

park of the reserve - things to do in peru

Your gut reaction to our having included a fountain tour through a public park on our list might simply be a bewildered, “what?” But please trust us–this place really is something special. Inaugurated in 2007, the newly remodeled Parque de la Reserva is home to El Circuito Mágico del Agua, now officially the largest fountain complex found anywhere in the world. For the meager price of four soles (currently less than $1.50 US), visitors can experience thirteen colorful and interactive fountains, including one that reaches over 80 meters into the sky.

19. Get Bohemian in the Barranco District

barranco - things to do in peru

Head south from Miraflores and you’ll arrive in Barranco, undoubtedly Lima’s “hippest” neighborhood home to artists, squatters, and increasingly the nouveau rich. The district has a back story similar to those of many up-and-coming neighborhoods around the world. To put it shortly, the rich people fled as the expanding city encroached, poor artists and creative types moved in and made it cool, and now they’re slowly being pushed out again as a different kind of rich people buy up the property once more. But for the time being at least, Barranco is still home to galleries, cafes, bars, nightclubs, and everything else you’ll require to pass the time in bohemian bliss.

20. Buy All the Clothing You’ll Ever Need in Gamarra

gamarra - things to do in peru

By far the most “off the beaten path” of our Lima suggestions, the city’s Gamarra district certainly isn’t for everyone–it’s noisy, incredibly crowded, and home to the largest clothing and textile market in Latin America. It’s been estimated that there are over 20,000 shops here, selling everything from t-shirts and jeans to tuxedos and bridal gowns to designer knockoffs to traditional Peruvian garments. If you can’t stand crowds, stay away, but if you’re into clothing or simply enjoy shopping like a local, hold on and get ready for a wild ride.

The post The Top 20 Things to Do in Peru–That Aren’t Machu Picchu! appeared first on IncaTrail.info.

Accommodation Peru. Where To Stay on Your Peru Adventure?

Planning a trip to Peru? Wondering where you should stay? We’re here to break down all of the options for you, from the popular hostels to world-class luxury. Let’s take a look:

Hostels: Peru is a backpacker’s paradise, and there are no shortages of hostels in oralesajor backpacking hubs, like Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, and arielancora. Hostels in Peru are typically targeted toward an international clientele. Staff will generally speak both English and Spanish, and they tend to be equipped with many first-world amenities, such as hot water, Wi-Fi, and computers. While the standard hostel accommodation is typically a bunk bed in a shared six- or eight-person dorm room, many also do offer private rooms with double beds. An added bonus? They are a great place to meet other backpackers from all over the world.

Loki hostels are a popular choice for backpackers. Locations include Cusco, Lima, Mancora Peru

Qorikilla Hostal Cusco Peru

The hostel is located in a beautiful location with the best view of the city. It is located three blocks from Plaza de Armas Cusco.

 

Qorikilla Hostal, Cuzco, Peru. This hostel is located in the traditional neighbourhood of Santa Ana, formerly called Qarmenqa in Cusco.

Guesthouses: A guesthouse can essentially be described as a bare-bones bed and breakfast. Often called alojamientos, hospedajes, or albergues in Spanish, they offer more privacy than a hostel but lack the amenities of a hotel. Comparable in price to a hostel, they are typically family run and informal. Keep in mind that because of the informality of guesthouses, standards of service tend to vary greatly.

Yanantin Guest House Peru

Yanantin Guest House, Cusco Peru

Sobre Yanantin Guest House, Cusco, Peru. Yanatin Guest House is a small and cozy lodging, it was built in a colonial house style completely restored with a modern design. It has 3 stars and is in Cuzco downtown, less than 10 minutes by car from the train station in Cuzco.

Happy Up Here Guesthouse, Lima, Peru. A  small and chillin’ guest house, located in the most ecological area of Lima. A relaxed atmosphere with not only budget accommodation with all the required services, but also a peaceful and alternative place to stay.

 

Casa Nuestra Lima Peru

Casa Nuestra, Lima Peru

 

 

Casa Nuestra's Colourful Exterior

Casa Nuestra’s Colourful Exterior

Casa Nuestra Room Inside

Casa Nuestra Room Inside

 

Casa Nuestra B&B Barranco, Lima, Peru. Great hospitality with double, twin, or single rooms with private or shared bathroom. We have the terrace available also. Fruit breakfasts, free Wi-Fi, use of common areas including kitchen, living room and they’re also working on adding a rooftop recreation area. Relax in the reader’s corner, check out maps and suggestions for things to do in Barranco, Lima! For a warm local family-run accommodation experience, stay with Casa Nuestra.

Second Home Guest House Peru

A gorgeous guesthouse nestled beside the Pacific.

Second Home Barranco Lima Peru

Second Home Guesthouse Lima Peru on the Coast near Lima

 

Second Home Peru On the coast, Barranco, Lima, Peru. Second Home Peru embodies the spirit of Peruvian culture mixed with the tranquillity of sea, nestled beside the Pacific Ocean.

Huaraz Bed And Breakfast

Huaraz Bed And Breakfast. A small family run B&B Huarez Peru.

Morales Guesthouse, Huaraz, Peru. This small private family bed and breakfast hotel is in the heart of Peru’s trekking & climbing, in the Cordillera Blanca region.

Tripadvisor Certificate Of Excellence. The Garden House Hotel/Guest House Cuzco Peru

Tripadvisor Certificate Of Excellence. The Garden House Hotel/Guest House Cuzco Peru

Cozy Living Room Garden House Cusco Peru

Cozy Living Room Garden House Cusco Peru

Garden at The House Cusco Peru

Garden at The House Cusco Peru

Exterior Picture Cusco Garden House Guest House

Exterior Picture Cusco Garden House Guest House

 

The Garden House, Cuzco, Peru. A magnificent villa with superb gardens, orchard and cloistered patio, 10 minutes from the Plaza de Armas. In what can be a very noisy city, The Garden House, Cusco is a haven of tranquility. We are located about 15 minutes by taxi from the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by a beautiful garden and large orchard. All our Suites have extra-length Queen-size double or twin beds, 400-count percale cotton sheets and bedlinen, and ensuite bathroom. Please visit their website for more information.

 

Pisac Inn, Pisac Inn is a small, charming hotel ideally located on the historic plaza of Pisac in the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas, just 45 minutes outside of Cusco. Breathtaking mountains surround Pisac with the beautiful Wilkamayu River running through the fertile valleys heart. The pleasant climate, lower altitude and small town appeal combine with proximity and easy access to Cusco, Machu Picchu and other places in the Sacred Valley making it an ideal base.

Pisac Inn

 

Midrange Hotels: For travelers that aren’t quite up to sharing a dorm room with seven other travelers in a hostel and want something a little more up-scale than a guesthouse or budget hotel, Peru offers numerous midrange hotels. These aren’t anything too fancy. But you can expect amenities like cable TV, hot showers, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. The Anituga Miraflores Hotel in Lima is an excellent example of a midrange hotel. Set in a converted Republican-era mansion, it offers a quiet setting and comfortable rooms.

Mariel Hotel Peru

Mariel Hotel Peru

Mariel Hotel Peru

Mariel Hotel Peru

Mariel Bedroom Peru

Mariel Bedroom Peru

Cocina Mariel Hotel Peru Room

Cocina Mariel Room

Hotel Mariel and Apartments, Miraflores, Lima, Peru. In a safe location, just 2 blocks away from Miraflores central park, walking distance attractions. Mariel Hotel and Apartments is the perfect match between comfort and services. Offers standard rooms and 2 bedroom apartments depending on your requirements and type of trip. One of the best Miraflores Lima Hotels.

Gran Hotel Bolivar, Lima, Peru. This hotel is situated in a beautiful classical building which was declared a historical monument. It’s an elegant, yet inexpensive place to stay.

Hotel Runcu, Lima, Peru. On the sea side, Runcu has been designed to match the requirements of a modern travelers. It is the perfect combination between service and comfort for a hotel of this category.

Luxury Hotels: Peru isn’t all rugged trails and adventure. If you’re looking for luxury, you will certainly find it here. Lima is home to some of the country’s best luxury accommodations. We recommend the Miraflores Park Hotel for those with a taste for opulence. The Orient Express property is situated in a gorgeous high-rise glass tower and boasts a rooftop pool, a world-class spa, and stellar views of the Pacific. Starwood also has a collection of luxury resorts throughout the country, including a luxurious three-pool beachside retreat in Paracas and an elegant hotel in a five-century-old mansion in Cusco. However, it is the Tambo del Inca Resort & Spa in the Sacred Valley that is the true masterpiece. Situated alongside a breathtaking emerald lagoon in the midst of fragrant riverside gardens, this bucolic retreat boasts a private train station, a luxury spa with ancient Andean treatments, and fine dining.

Inka Terra Hotels are found in several locations in Peru. Inkaterra is a Peruvian organization that is celebrating 39 years of experience in sustainable tourism initiatives. Inkaterra hotels are built with this in mind, these eco friendly resorts offer true luxury with the best of Peruvian culture and service.

22 Top Luxury Hotels In Peru

Jungle Lodges: Venture into the Amazon, and you will find a range of different jungle lodge options, often accessible from hubs like Tarapoto and Iquitos. These lodges are often ecofriendly, environmentally sustainable initiatives. The Heliconia Amazon River Lodge, set on the banks of the Amazon River in the heart of the Yanamono Communal Reserve, is an excellent option. Visitors can take a walk through the jungle and get an up-close look at wildlife. With a bit of luck, you might even spot one of the famous pink dolphins! The award-winning Explorer’s Inn in the Tambopata National Reserve is also a great option. Keep in mind there are a range of options to suit a variety of budgets. The most luxurious lodges, however, will typically be out of the price range of the average backpacker.

Eco Lodges: While the jungle has traditionally been the hotspot for lodges, eco lodges are beginning to sprout up in other areas of the country, particularly Colca Canon, Lake Titicaca, and the Sacred Valley. You can’t beat Las Chullpas Eco Lodge in the Sacred Valley.

Homestays: If you would like an up-close and personal look at Peruvian culture, a homestay can be a memorable immersion experience. This option isn’t very common, but several tourist agencies can arrange homestay experiences. Cusco and Lake Titicaca are especially popular homestay destinations.

Homestay host families in Peru

Tripadvisors Top Luxury Hotels

Campsites: Peru is home to some truly breathtaking natural scenery, from the pastoral mountain landscapes of the Sacred Valley to the stark Pacific desert coastline. Camping can be an excellent way to get off the beaten path and experience nature. However, a word to the wise: Only set up your tent in secure, designated campsites. In Paracas National Park south of Lima, there are several excellent designated campsites, as in the beach Medio Mundo situated several hours north of Lima. In the Sacred Valley, there are also a few formal campsites. When in doubt, it is best to ask a local.

Top 30 Hotels in Cuzco on Tripadvisor

Top 30 Hotels In Lima on Tripadvisor

30 Best Cheap Hotels in Peru on TripAdvisor

We hope we have given you a taste of what you can expect from Peruvian accommodation. If you have any favorites or experiences with places to stay  in Peru,  please feel free to add these in the comments section below.

The post Accommodation Peru. Where To Stay on Your Peru Adventure? appeared first on IncaTrail.info.

4 Day Machu Picchu Trek: The Ultimate Peru Adventure

If I asked a group of adventure travelers about the highlights of their recent Peru trip, I can guarantee that I would hear a wide array of stories, about views from high mountain passes, to walking under magnificent towering peaks or through steamy jungles and cloud forests. For others it might be the impressive ruins or unique cultural experiences they enjoyed.

The fact is, we all have unique perspectives when we travel, and we all enjoy different aspects of an adventure. So when I say the words “Machu Picchu Trek” to you – what that means may be already imagined in your mind – or it may not yet be defined.

There are so many things to see and do in Peru, and lots of options to choose from, leading to the question “if I want to trek to Machu Picchu, what options do I have for getting there?”.

Adventure lovers can have an absolute blast in a land so jam packed full of contrasting landscapes. For many Peru visitors their journey begins in Cuzco, the heart of the Inca Empire where most people spend the first part of their trip hiking past Inca fortresses, over stunning mountain passes on the way to Machu Picchu. Other popular choices include cycling through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where you can get up close and personal with Peruvian wildlife, or sea kayaking across Lake Titicaca to isolated reed island villages, to spend time with indigenous families.

Lake Titicaca Reed Islands

The wide scope of experiences on offer gives you a complete and comprehensive immersion in Peru, and one you’ll never forget!

One very popular trip for people who want to enjoy a full immersion in everything Peru has to offer is the ‘Jaguar’ trip, run by Active Adventures. The ‘Jaguar’ has been described by many, as an action packed, multi-activity adventure, including a trek to Machu Picchu. The ‘Jaguar’ captures everything the stunning and beautiful country of Peru has on offer. You can be sitting on top one of the mountain passes in the Andes one day, and walking through the steamy pathways of the Amazon jungle another.

There are three ‘Jaguar’ options: 14 days, 10 days and 7 days. Apart from the Machu Picchu Trek, there are other activities that returning guests rave about, including:

  • Hiking in the Amazon jungle
  • Kayaking on Lake Titicaca
  • Staying with a local family on Amantani Island
  • Hiking Sacsayhuaman Fortress
  • Hiking and cycling in the Sacred Valley of the Incas
  • Exploring Cuzco
  • Cycling through Andean villages and La Raya Pass
  • Hiking Amantani and Taquile Islands on Lake Titicaca

Here’s a sneak peak at the Machu Picchu 4 Day 3 Night Trek, part of the ‘Jaguar’ adventure:

Day one: Arrive in Cuzco and hike the Sacsayhuman fortress.

Your days starts in Cuzco, the heart of the Inca Empire. You’ll be greeted by your trek leader with a cup of hot coca tea, a local Peruvian speciality. This warm and soothing beverage will also help your body gently acclimatise to the Andean altitudes.

After lunch, it’s time to set off for a walk around the fascinating ancient ‘mini-metropolis’ of Cuzco. This is the largest surviving fortress city of the Incas, and is a fascinating stop in its own right on your way to Sacsayhuaman fortress.

Sacsayhuaman fortress is a magnificent archaelogical site. Its impressive design was inspired by Jaguar’s teeth, which you can make out in the arrangement of its massive and precisely fitted stones, each weighing up to 130 tonnes. This was the place where the Incas made their final stand against the Spanish conquistadores. You can stand here and imagine this scene as you enjoy the view from the fortress overlooking the Plaza and Cuzco valley below.

The actual purpose of Sacsayhuaman is still not known, some speculate that it was a sanctuary and temple of the sun, others summise it was a granary, and yet another more gruesome theory is that the old Inca King would play football here with the heads of his enemies. Whatever the truth, you’ll enjoy hearing many legendary stories like this that have intrigued locals and visitors alike throughout the centuries.

After your visit to Sacsayhuaman, you can take a further walk though the streets of Cuzco and absorb all the vivid colors, sights and sounds of the local markets. You can sit and take in the vibrant atmosphere of the town square, or stroll down the many ancient stone-clad alleyways. As you walk, try and spot the animal forms in the architecture of the hand built giant stone ‘puzzle’ walls. Later, you can meet up with your group for an evening meal.

Machu Picchu Ruins Citadel

Day two: Cycle Sacred Valley, Visit Pisac market and hike Pisac ruins.

Today you will head into the lush green Sacred Valley. Jump on your bike and cycle through this green fertile region enjoying beautiful scenery from local villages, surrounded by the massive green slopes of the Andes. Next is a brief stop in Pisac, a small town that hosts the colourful mercado arsenal, which you’ll have time to explore. From here there is a spectacular hike up to the Pisac ruins. The Inca terraces, these ruins look down on, rise up 610 metres (2000 feet) from the river at their base. Yes, it’s a heart pumping hike, but the views of the ancient terraces on the trail, combined with the view of Pisac and the Urubamba valley make it very rewarding! After wandering around this ancient complex, it’s time to make your way down the Inca-built stairs to where you depart for the trip back down the valley to Cuzco. It’s a great warm-up day for the next phase of your trip, the Machu Picchu Trek.

Now is the point where you head off on your trek, having chosen from two options for your route to Machu Picchu, the Inca or Lares Trail.

When booking your Machu Picchu Trek, you can choose from two 4 day/3 night options, the Inca Trail or Lares Trail. Both options will take you through the magnificent Andean wilderness and give you an authentic view into the indigenous Peruvian culture that is still thriving throughout the highlands. If you like ruins, then choosing the Inca Trail has a wide range of structures along the way, if you prefer a closer look into Peruvian culture in the small villages dotted along the trail (and a slightly less physically challenging trip), then you may prefer the the Lares Trail. Many locals along the Lares trail have very little contact with tourists, so you’ll get to enjoy the most authentic Peruvian cultural experience with descendants of the Inca! If you are going to choose the Classic Inca Trail, keep in mind, that tickets are very limited, so you will need to book well in advance.

View From Peru Lares Trail Pass

Option One – Machu Picchu Trek via The Classic Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is by far the most traveled route to Machu Picchu. This is probably because of the vast array of ruins you can encounter along this trek. Some say it is a more ‘commercial’ way to go because locals are so used to seeing tourists. This doesn’t mean you will miss out on absorbing the Peruvian culture, but it is justified to say that that the Inca Trail is the most well worn track the Inca literally paved more than 500 hundred years ago, and by western visitors for the next 500 or so years. No matter which route you take, you will leave with a sense of wonder and awe, at the scenery and the ruins, but with an understanding – or curiosity – about the legends and little extra side trips you’ll be taken on if you travel with the right guide(s). This adds another complete dimension to your trip.

Day One: Hike through the Sacred Valley Of The Incas

Leaving Cuzco, this leg takes you through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to begin your trek at Piscachucho, otherwise known – by the locals, as Kilometre 82. From this point you follow the Rio Cusichacha river. The river is flanked by huge Andean peaks, Inca ruins and segments of dry forest. You’ll stroll though a couple of small villages along the way, stopping for lunch before making your way to the first camp at Pisonay for a sumptuous feast where you can enjoy a rest in your new surroundings, ready for the next day’s adventure.

Day Two: Hike the Inca Trail to Pacamayo

Get ready for an amazing day with a cup of hot coca tea and good hearty breakfast! Today is the day for a challenging but rewarding trek up 914 metres (3000 feet) to reach Warmiwanusqa – or Dead Womans Pass as an altitude of 440 metres (14,435 feet). As the name suggests this is an exhilarating trail that winds its way up through a spectacular mountain pass that rewards you with a magnificent panoramic view of the Andean scenery below. Now is the time to pull out your camera if you are inclined, and capture the expansive view to share with your friends and family back home. Yes its a challenging hike, but the full unobstructed view in all directions makes it worth every step!

After catching your breath and taking in the beauty of the whole region, you will make your way down over 500 year old Inca paved steps to the Pacomayo Valley for another stay and well earned feast after your days walk!

Day Three: Hike the Inca Trail to Winay Wayna

Today Peru ups the wow factor with even more stunning scenery. As you walk down through yet another change of scenery, through humid cloud forest, you will emerge to the captivating sight of several Inca fortresses. As you travel on further you will notice as you pass by many more ancient ruins, the increasing presence of colourful floral blooms on your way to the the next camp. Once again you’ll enjoy stunning views at the last point you will stay at before entering Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate the next day.

Day Four: Hike to Machu Picchu

After breakfast, and before the misty dawn, you hike via the morning light for around an hour to Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate. This is the perfect place to wait for the sunrise, and watch the morning fog lift away for your first peek at Machu Picchu. It’s a special moment in a very magical place to just sit and enjoy, before making your way into Machu Picchu for a day of exploration.

Ceviche Peruvian Food

Option Two – Machu Picchu Trek via The Lares Inca Trail

The Lares trail is less publicised as an alternative trek to the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu. It is a trek that takes you on an exploration of the wilderness, and gives you a more immersive experience in the local indigenous culture as you travel through numerous settlements, past lakes, and around the Lares Valley.

It is a physically less challenging trek, and so if you’re more interested in the cultural aspects of Peru than the physical challenge its a great choice. That doesn’t mean the Lares trail won’t also allow you enjoy beautiful landscapes and interesting ruins to take home in your memories. There are still plenty of gorgeous and equally memorable natural and archaeological discoveries to make along the way.

Day One: Hike Lares Trail to Cuncani

Depart from Cuzco and arrive at the town of Quiswarani to begin your hike alongside raging Andean rivers, lined by hillsides dotted with llama stretching up to towering snow-capped peaks. Continuing on you walk up and through the beautiful Hualcajasa Pass then back down to the camp situated in the tiny town of Cuncani. This is just one of many small communities you will visit in the Lares Trail, populated by the descendants of the Inca. It’s one of many opportunities you will get to experience the mostly unchanged and unique culture of the people who still continue with many of the same customs as their predecessors did 500 years ago. You’ll be greeted with a hot cup of coco tea, as by now you may have guessed, is customary in Peru.

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Day Two: Hike Lares Trail to Ipsaycocha Lake

Starting your day with a hearty breakfast following your hot cup of coca tea, you’ll head off down in to the Chancachaca Valley. On the way down the valley your senses will be treated to picturesque views along the valley floor.

Next is the small village of Huacawasi, a small village where you can stop for lunch, before heading off for a traverse over the Ipsay Qasa Pass. Again this is another place you can enjoy incredible panoramic views, this time looking down over the alpine terrain. From the top of the pass, you can catch your first glimpse of the 5600 metre (18400 feet) high Mount Mantanay. The trail then leads back down via a short hike to Ipsaycocoha lake, where you can have a go at catching local trout to compliment your evening meal.

Day Three: Hike the Lares Trail to Ollantaytambo

From the lake the trail drops down into a gorgeous valley to arrive at the village of Patacancha. In this quaint village you will see children dressed in colorful red ponchos, a traditional style of dress worn with white pants and colourful hats. The children are often seen herding alpacas and llamas around the village.

Next you arrive at Ollantaytambo, where you can’t miss the brilliantly engineered and constructed terraces strung along the steep mountain sides, where local farmers grow crops.  The next place you stop is for lunch at either Pallata, or Ollantaytambo, a town with cobbled streets lined with traditional thatched roofed houses. Walking around this town is like  being transported back half a millennium to Inca times.

From here you catch a train to Aguas Calientes, a colorful village with a mild sub-tropical climate. Here you can enjoy a delicious Peruvian meal to replenish your energy store in readiness for tomorrow’s big hike up to Machu Picchu.

Children Herding Llamas Peru Ponchos

Day Four: Visit Machu Picchu

Today is the big day, when you walk up to the ancient site of Machu Picchu departing right after a nice early breakfast.

At the site of Machu Picchu you will meet up with your local guide who will be your host showing around this fascinating citadel. They will explain some of the legends and myths surrounding machu picchu carried forward by generations of Inca, as well as some of the later theories from archaeological discoveries made in more contemporary times.

You’ll have the chance to explore the many passageways and stone buildings on your own, and if you arrived here via the Lares Trail, you might also like to visit the Sun Gate.

So there you have it – a preview of what you can expect on either the Inca Trail or Lares Trail options on the Machu Picchu Trek section of the ‘Jaguar’ trip. Of course there is a lot more to see and do in Peru, both destination and activity-wise. Check out some more options here.

If you enjoyed this article or have anything to add, please add your comments below, we’d love to hear your opinion!

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