South America's third largest country has incredible ceviche pretty much everywhere, friendly locals, breathtaking views of the Andes, and an endless amount of day trips to take — whether you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu or not. Once you're on the ground, Peru is a pretty affordable place for American travelers, meaning you can reinvest your soles into lots of fun activities, rich cultural experiences and one-of-a-kind Alpaca souvenirs.
Get ready to pack your bags (with our helpful packing list)… the Land of the Incas awaits.
1. Machu Picchu: How to Get There in StyleFirst Class Inca Rail
Believed to be abandoned and cut off by the Incas in the 16th century when the conquistadors arrived, Machu Picchu is located in a remote part of Peru and requires a bit of land travel once you arrive (it was hidden for hudreds of years after all!). Most international flights land in Lima; after that, it’s about an hour flight to Cusco where you’ll adjust to the highlands elevation before continuing on to Machu Picchu (Tip: At 11,000 feet, most people planning a trip will have heard that you can chew on cocoa leaves to relieve altitude sickness, but a cup of Muña tea also does the trick).
If you’re the adventurous type, then by all means sign up for the four-day trek to hike the infamous Inca Trail. If however, you’re more of a leisurely traveler, there’s also a first class train, Inca Rail, which is quite the experience. Operating from the town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliente or what is increasingly becoming known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the small village at the base of Machu Picchu, the train travels through a breathtaking valley. Onboard, you'll receive a full three-course meal as you relax and take in the scenery — it’s a stimulating experience for your eyes and taste buds that’s similar to dining on Europe’s famed Orient Express.
2. Machu Picchu: The New Rules You Need to KnowMachu Picchu
As of July 1, 2017, you’ll need to adhere to new regulations at Machu Picchu. Set forth to regulate the number of visitors to Machu Picchu (which will greatly improve conservation efforts), all tourists will now have to adhere to one of two entry windows: 6am-12pm or 12pm-5:30pm, meaning if you want to visit the site for a full day (which you easily could), you’ll need to buy tickets for both entry periods. With that said, a visit of 4-5 hours is more than sufficient at Machu Picchu.
Additionally, you’ll also need to hire an official tour guide to take you through the site, which was previously not required. Your best bet will be to book ahead or ask your hotel front desk or concierge for a recommendation well in advance. We would have advised you to see this sacred place with a guide even before the recent regulations, as it is full of hidden stories, history and interesting mason work which those guides can provide a lot of context on.
3. Machu Picchu: Everything Else You Need to KnowFiji Water and Clif Bar
If you’re not doing the hike, buses leave Aguas Caliente from the center of town (You can’t miss them — or the line during peak season — so get up early as it can get crowded, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime visit you will want to savor every moment of.
Once inside the citadel of Machu Picchu, you need to take the obligatory selfie at the viewing platform before you start to explore the grounds. Official workers try to keep the heavy flow of traffic on a circuit which means no turning back, so once you’ve left a prime picture spot, you won’t be able to get back to it.
Know that the bathroom is outside the citadel so you’ll want to use it before you enter, or risk waiting until you’re ready to leave. And make sure you come prepared with sunscreen, a water bottle, and a few fueling snacks, like a Clif bar. The concession stand is outside the exit, and climbing/descending steps at altitude can make you hungry and thirsty very quickly! Tip: There is lots of food at the local markets and restaurants in Aguas Caliente; check out the The Tree House for a delicioso upscale meal, Peruvian style and Mapacho for local craft beers and super fresh ceviche.
4. Stay At: Sumaq Machu Picchu HotelSumaq Machu Picchu Hotel
This upscale hotel has some of the finest views in Aguas Caliente, looking out over the Urubamba River and valley, a place cherished by the Incas. Offering guests a variety of authentic Peruvian cooking demonstrations (from ceviche preparation to a pachamanca ritual, in which meats and veggies are cooked on hot stones under the ground), Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel’s culinary program is only outshined by its unique ceremony offering, known as the “Payment to the Earth” ritual. During this special one-hour experience, you can be guided by a local Shaman through the process of making an offering to Pachamama, or Mother Earth.
The Shaman can also be booked to provide guests a mystical tour of Machu Picchu for the day, in which you’ll get a better understanding of Incan culture and traditions and feel the energy of this UNESCO World Heritage site — literally. During the tour, the Shaman takes you to “The Sacred Rock” and other mystical Machu Picchu spots before making a small offering to one of the most spiritual and moving places you will ever visit.
5. Lima: What You Need to KnowLima Monastery of San Francisco
Even though it’s the capital of Peru and one of the largest cities in South America, Lima is sometimes overlooked as travelers make their way to the country’s more famous tourist spots. Spending a solid 2-3 days in Lima will give you a good impression of this sprawling city which, in fact, has a lot to do and see. Look into the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco and the trendy Miraflores area and surrounding park, with bluffs that jut out over the Pacific ocean and create spectacular views. (Tip: Visit Love Park at Sunset for a magical photo opp).
You should also check out some of Lima’s excellent museums, like Museo Larco, Museo de la Nación, Museo Oro or MATE, the museum dedicated to the works of Peruvian export Mario Testino, arguably the world’s most famous celebrity photographer. The Plaza de Armas and the 16th-century cathedral in the heart of old Lima Centro look like they could belong in Spain and are worthy of spending some time in before heading to another nearby religious site — the church and convent of Santo Domingo.
6. Lima: Where You Need to EatLima Food
Where do we even get started on Lima’s food scene? Reason enough to visit the city for a culinary-inspired trip, dining highlights include Virgilio Martinez’s Central — rated the #1 restaurant in Latin America by The World’s 50 Best three years in a row. The #2 spot holder on that list, Maido, should also not be missed (Tip: Make sure to book both of these reservations way, way in advance as they book up quickly.). More casual spots like Cosme Restaurant & Bar focus on sustainable food and design/décor practices. Cosme also happens to have *the* best dessert on its menu, the Lúcuma fondant, which showcases one of Peru’s local and delicious fruits in the best possible way. Tragaluz at the Belmond Miraflores Park hotel has international dishes focused on Asian, Mediterranean, and Peruvian flavors and turns into a trendy nighttime spot come nightfall. As for those hidden gems only the locals know about…the bakery El Pan de la Chola is a must for amazing bread and pastries and a simple but delicious grilled cheese that will seriously blow your mind.
7. Lima: Where to StayCountry Club Lima
When you’re ready to check in for some R&R, you won’t be short on hotel or Airbnb options at every budget level. But since Peru is generally affordable once on the ground, you might want to #treatyoself to a stay at the beautiful Country Club Hotel. Part of Leading Hotels of the World, think of it as the Plaza Hotel of Lima, with a lobby and grounds that are as impressive as they are historic. The building dates back to 1927 and is a Peruvian Cultural Monument that also houses Perroquet Restaurant, Lima’s see-and-be-seen Sunday brunch spot, which is a fun experience if you’re traveling with a large group or your family.
8. Cusco: What You Need to KnowCity of Cusco
Cusco or “Cuzco” is brimming with colonial art and culture, so you could really spend a few days here alone touring historical sites like El Triunfo (Cusco’s oldest church), Qorikancha (ruins of a once-rich temple covered in gold), and Museo Inka (a museum devoted to the Incas, showcasing jewelry, pottery, textiles, mummies, and the world’s largest collection of queros or ceremonial drinking vessels).
When it comes to the comida of Cusco, Map Cafe has yummy dishes like chicken estofado (stew) with goat cheese and raisins or the pork adobo with ravioli — all set in a lovely courtyard located inside the Museo de Arte Precolombino. For lodging, Cusco has some pretty unique historical options, like the Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel located inside a former, or the Belmond Hotel Monasterio in…you guessed in…a former monastery.
9. Sacred Valley: What You Need to KnowSacred Valley
Another region worth exploring in the Andean highlands is the stunning Sacred Valley — which forms the heart of the Inca Empire along with Cusco and Machu Picchu — and the best way to do it is with Explora Valle Sagrado. They offer 27 all-inclusive stays and treks ranging from easy to challenging and provide all accommodations including: airport transfers, meals, beverages, and half and full-day excursions by hiking or biking…or a van, if that suits you better.
If you book through Access Trips, a culinary focused tour company, you’ll be able to take part in a pachamanca feast before visiting Chinchero, a weaver’s village where you’ll see a women’s weaving cooperative and learn about making dyes. You can even take up spinning some alpaca fiber with the ladies who work there.
And while the Sacred Valley is mostly fertile farmland and untouched villages, there are two in particular worth seeing — Pisac (especially on Sunday for their craft markets) and Ollantaytambo, which is easy to visit because it’s where you board trains to Machu Picchu.
10. Lake Titicaca: What You Need to KnowLake Titicaca
While some will inevitably skip Lake Titicaca while planning their ideal Peru trip because it requires an additional plane ride (flights leave from either Lima or Cusco to Juliaca, the closest airport to nearby Puno where you’ll likely stay), we highly suggest it. At the very least, you can go sailing in a “puma-head reed boat” around the incredible Uros Islands, a cluster of floating islands built with totora reeds by an indigenous local tribe, the Uros. Enjoy a folk festival or shop the weekend market at Puno, but beware: At over 12,300 feet, it’s high altitude so you’ll want to make sure you get acclimated for a few days.
11. Packing Essentials for PeruPacking Essentials for Peru
Besides sunscreen and bug spray, these are the essentials:
Strafe W’ Alpha Mid-Jacket: Climate can change quickly in Peru. Strafe’s midlayer is made for life in the mountains, so it will keep you warm when you need it and fold up into a backpack when you don’t. $210, strafe.com
Mer-Sea Voyager Petite Travel Candle: A little piece of home while you’re away. $15, mersea.com
Fjallraven Kanken Mini Backpack: A versatile backpack you can stash all your essentials in whether you’re exploring Lima or Lake Titicaca (Tip: Only bring a light bag or backpack to Machu Picchu because there’s still a little bit of walking and hiking involved, even if you do take the train.) $65, nordstrom.com
Skin Inc’s Pure Serum Mist: To keep your skin hydrated instead of parched at high altitudes. $55, sephora.com
Kleenex Go Anywhere Tissue Pack: This sealable pack with a snap strap easily attaches to any travel bag. $9.67, jet.com
Tesalate Inca Beach Towel: Sand doesn’t stick to this towel — yes, even when it’s wet — so it’s great for an afternoon spent at Miraflores Park or at the beaches due south of Lima’s city limits. $59, tesalate.com
Keen Aphlex Waterproof Boot: Whether you’re hiking the Inca Trail or the Rainbow Mountains, you’ll need a sturdy boot (no, really) or athletic shoe to keep comfortable. $110, keenfootwear.com
Sunski Olema Sunglasses: It could be a bright day at Lake Titicaca, or a cloudy day in Lima. Either way, you should have these. $58, sunskis.com
Young Living Stress Away Roll-On: Perfect for fatigued travelers, this roll-on essential oil blend will calm you down quickly — and doubles as a travel sized perfume. $37.83,
Yeti Rambler Tumblr (20 oz): Whether you’re looking to stay hydrated — or take a Pisco Sour to go — this convenient tumbler keeps your drink at the same temperature as when you poured it in. $29.99, yeti.com