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Falling in love with the landscapes, food & cities of Peru, where to stop & what to see during a month-long stay

Jungle, desert, miles and miles of coastline, ancient citadels, mysterious etchings in the sand, Peru’s variety and beauty mean it sits fondly in my memories during four months of travelling South America and remains one of my all time favourite countries in the world. 

layers of mountains in peru colca canyon
Peru's stunning Colca Canyon

I’ve visited twice, once as part of a year-long-backpacking trip, where I slept in hostels and ate in basic eateries, spending no more than £20 a day and again, years later, where I returned to discover some of the parts I’d previously missed. There’s still so much of the country I’d love to explore, I haven’t even made it to Machu Pichu yet (I know, who goes to Peru and not Machu Pichu?!), but the places I have seen are firmly marked in my mind, here’s the route I took and recommend, starting at the volcano-ringed city of Arequipa, ending a month later in ancient Cuzco.

snow capped mountain misti in arequipa peru
Misti watching over the city of Arequipa

Ringed by three volcanos, including the active but beautiful snow-capped Misti, you’ll find Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, a place where old beat up Volkswagen Beetles in shades of green and blue hum along cobblestone streets, and old grand buildings share sidewalk space with gorgeous bars serving the most delicious Pisco Sours. I tried my first ever Pisco Sour in this pretty city, and now it’s one of my favourite cocktails, a drink that has become so globally renowned, it frequents almost every menu in the coolest of bars from London to LA. After sampling Peru’s famous drink, a wander through the city, past white stone walls studded with terracotta plant pots is a must. Head up to Mirador de Yanahuara to get an incredible look at the city and great sweeping views of Misti in the distance.

From Arequipa, I headed north into the countryside on an old bus to Cabanaconde, a village in the Colca Valley and starting point for an amazing trek I took into Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. I chose to do this independently and would highly recommend it to fully enjoy the landscapes in this part of Peru, on your own time.

Next, I travelled on to Huacachina Village a bizarre desert oasis, surrounded by huge, sweeping sand dunes which you can climb or sandboard down. To get here I took a bus from Cabanaconde back to Arequipa, then an overnight bus to Ica, and a taxi to Huancachina Village. Arriving in the early hours of the morning when it was still dark, I sat on a bench by the mysterious lagoon, waiting for the sun to rise so I could find a place to stay. The gurgling noises coming from the lagoon and the sand dunes slowly emerging from the dark night sky made it one of the most bizarre days from my month in Peru. 

small village surrounded by sand dunes huancachina
The desert oasis of Huancachina

After a couple of days, I caught a bus from Huancachina Village to Lima, around five hours away. The very first time I was in LimaI only stayed for two nights and the highlight turned out to be the amazingly beautiful Saint Francis Monastery and Catacombs. The building includes an incredible library filled with ancient books and spiral staircase with lots of carved ceaderwood sourced in Central America. I also loved the choir room with each wooden folding chair carved into a face. Under the monastery are two, maybe more, layers of deep catacombs that served as a burial space in the very early 1800’s. Holding the bodies of an estimated 70,000 people, the monks of the monastery buried three or four people in each grave separated with lime to help speed up decomposition and stop disease. The bones remain to this day, making it an eerie but fascinating place to visit. 

The next time I was in Lima, my focus was on the fabulous food scene, visiting incredible restaurants from Kjolle and Bharrkuda, to La Nina and Isolina, there’s so many incredible restaurants in Lima, it’s fast become one of South America’s culinary capitals. After sampling some of the countries best food offerings, I took a day trip out to Pachacamac, a fascinating archaeological site just outside of the city, where I saw pyramid and sun temple ruins and learnt about the ancient ceremonial centre of Lima, from Wari through to Inca civilization. Back in the city centre, bohemian neighbourhood of Barranco is home to street art, colourful mansions and the amazing Hotel B Lima, where I indulged in my love for the Pisco Sour and took a brilliant Pisco cocktail making class.

From Peru’s capital city, I took another night bus to Trujillo where I stopped off to see the recently discovered sun and moon temple ruins, even meeting the man who discovered them, along with some very cute Peruvian hairless dogs, before stopping in the surf town of Huanchaco for a few beach days and some incredible ceviche. 

Trujillo sun and moon temple etchings peru
The incredible temples of Trujillo

Once fully chilled it was time to head back down through the country to the ancient and mysterious Nasca, home to the wonderful Nasca lines hidden in the sun-scorched desert. A few days here is enough to see the lines and learn a little about the history surrounding them, whether you view them from the sky in a small plane or take a trip to the nearby, and much cheaper mirador.

nasca lines from mirador peru
Viewing the Nasca lines from the mirador

My final Peruvian destination was Cuzco, stopping off point for Machu Pichu, but my hopes of visiting the ancient citadel in the clouds were quashed after heavy rainfall and a state of national emergency. The month I was visiting saw Macho Pichu closed off to the world, as trekking paths washed away and tourists were airlifted to safety. Even on my second visit to Peru, I didn’t get chance to see the ancient wonder of the world, concentrating my travels on Lima and the north, in search of cacao pods and exotic fruits. 

Here's hoping a third trip to Peru is on the cards soon.

1 comment

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