We recently (and by recently we mean we are writing this on the flight home) had an opportunity to travel through Peru. Full disclosure, before going on the trip, all we knew about the country was that it consisted of Machu Picchu and llamas.
Spending 11 days on Contiki’s Inca Panorama tour showed us that Peru is Machu Picchu, llamas, and so so much more.*
Let’s start off by saying if you’re looking for a relaxing vacay, you may want to look elsewhere. Yes there are plenty of rejuvenating activities (shout out to the Inca massage), but the Peru we have come to know and love is not for vacationers – it’s for adventurers.
Perhaps the most alluring thing about this Latin American country is its spectacular landscapes. You will feel like you are voyaging through a different planet as you travel through its coastal, mountains, and jungle regions.
If Peru wasn’t already on your wanderlust radar (like it wasn’t on ours), it will be after you read this article – and it certainly will secure a special place in your heart after a visit.
Globetrotters, start your engines. Here are nine EPIC bucket list experiences that you will find in the one-and-only Peru.
Hike Rainbow Mountain
Slowly but surely taking over your Instagram feed, Rainbow Mountain is one of the most photogenic parts of Peru, and one of the most aesthetically unique mountains in the world.
Thanks to a unique mix of mineralization, altitude, and erosion, the peak and its surrounding valley are made up of stripes of red, yellow, lavender, and turquoise, making an epic sight to see. Its beauty translates both in person as well as through the photos you use to give your friends FOMO back home.
An important note: While this view is absolutely stunning, you will have to work for it. The trek to Rainbow Mountain reaches up to 5,200 feet (that’s Everest base camp level!), and if you have never hiked in high altitudes before, you’re in for a huff and a puff to say the least. Altitude is a real challenge in Peru so make sure to drink plenty of water, take it easy, and listen to your body!
You also have the option of scaling the mountain by horseback, but will have to finish the trek on foot if you want to reach the peak viewpoint.
Visit the second deepest canyon in the world
No, American friends, the deepest canyon in the world is not the Grand Canyon – it’s Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in China. But Peru’s Colca Canyon is the runner-up, and it is absolutely spectacular.
With terraced agriculture and stunning cliff faces steeply dropping to rivers and valleys, this canyon is both humbling and awe-inspiring. It’s definitely a worthy addition to your bucket list.
Get a pic with a llama or alpaca
If a llama selfie isn’t on your bucket list, you need to re-evaluate your Instagram goals.
You will see llamas and alpacas all over the mountain regions of Peru, including in sustainable farms that allow you to get that up close photo.
Spoiler alert: No offence llamas, but alpacas are actually way cuter and cuddlier. So the new hashtag is #alpacaselfie instead of #llamaselfie, got it?
Also, quick lesson, both llamas and alpacas belong to the camelid family and have long necks, hypoallergenic fur, and typically live in herds in high elevation areas. A good way to tell the difference is llamas have longer, upright ears, while alpacas’ ears are shorter and laid back. Also did we mention alpacas are way cuter and cuddlier?
Check out this epic desert oasis
Peru has just about every type of landscape you could ever dream of, from mountains to jungle to coast, and it wasn’t about to leave desert out of the mix.
About a four-hour drive south of Lima in a city called Ica, you will find a natural oasis in the middle of the desert. The tiny village of Huacachina is built up around green waters bordered with bars and restaurants, and fringed by palm trees. It’s thought to have therapeutic effects on visitors, and just one look at this dreamy oasis will explain why.
The village is surrounded by wind-sculpted sand dunes, and you can rent a dune buggy or a sandboard to take on the slopes like a true adventurer.
Visit the floating islands of the highest lake in the world
Not only is Lake Titicaca fun to say (10 bucks says you just mouthed the word “Titicaca”), but it is incredibly stunning. The lake is the highest in the world sitting at 2,000 km above sea level. It’s also the largest in South America in terms of water volume, stretching across 190 km between Peru and Bolivia. The lake is dotted with picturesque rugged islands such as Taquile Island, where you can get an authentic taste of the local lifestyle.
But what the lake is most famous for is its floating islands, handmade by the Uros tribe that lives there. The locals continually add layers of woven reeds to create a floating spongy floor, serving as the base for their 85+ floating islands across the lake. The inhabitants make a living by selling their reed handicrafts and freshly caught fish to the mainland.
See one of the world’s largest flying birds
A mighty symbol of the Andes, condors are one of the largest flying birds with a wingspan that can stretch up to three metres. With a hefty weight of up to 33 pounds, condors prefer to avoid flapping their wings and instead stay aloft by gliding on air currents.
Your best chance at spotting them is to stop by Condor’s Cross in Colca Canyon. Aim for the early morning, when the birds are leaving their nests to soar through the day.
Good luck – and watch your hats! Sometimes they swoop quite low.
Get that ‘gram of the Maras salt ponds
Move over, Bali rice terraces, there’s a new Instagram backdrop in town. As described in our “Wanderlusting” article, these 6,000+ salt ponds are taking Instagram by storm and Maras in the Sacred Valley is the only place in the world with a sight quite like this.
In an agricultural practice that has been maintained since pre-Incan times, the layers on layers of salt ponds are created by natural spring water that has evaporated, leaving beautiful neutral tones of salt that can be used as a healthy flavourful seasoning for your food or, you know, a nice photo opp.
To maximize that Insta appeal, come during the dry season (March-October), when the ponds are white, rather than the rainy season when they are pink.
Venture into the Amazon
It’s a jungle out there.
No one can deny that the Amazon has a unique type of mysterious allure, and any h-core adventurer will have this region on their bucket list. From river otters, piranhas, anacondas, pink dolphins and jaguars, who knows what you might come across in this wild rainforest.
Peru is one of the countries that border the Amazon rainforest, along with Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
Experience the magic of Machu Picchu
This is probably the most popular bucket list experience from
Peru the world, and for good reason. Dating back to 1450, the stone-stacked city tucked in the majestic high jungle of the Andes Mountains is something out of a postcard (and trust us, you will find no shortage of Machu Picchu postcards).
If you want the true Machu Picchu experience you have to hike the Inca Trail, which offers a four-day or a one day trek through the jungle, delivering you to an epic lookout of the city below. This is the definition of high effort, high reward.
The best time to witness Machu Picchu in all its glory is sunrise, when the first light brings a mystical glow to the Incan city. If the four-day hike doesn’t suit you (or if you time the hike wrong), just stay overnight in the little nearby town called Aguas Calientes and take the bus up to the gates in the morning. The first bus leaves at 5:30 am, but get there early – below is the lineup at 5:15 am!
The gates open at 6:00 am, and if you are part of this first group to enter the site you will immediately see why it’s worth it.
At this hour there will only be a fraction of the crowds to follow later in the day, meaning your space and your photos will not be impeded by thousands of other selfie enthusiasts.
You will also have a much better shot of getting a snap with the llamas, and let’s be real, what screams Peru more than a photo with a llama at Machu Picchu?
The way the light hits the Inca City at sunrise is truly breathtaking. Just do it, friends. Sleep is for the weak (okay sorry that was harsh, but just have a nap later).
Aside from these epic once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experiences, you will find so much more in Peru that will make your experience second-to-none; amazing food (alpaca meat, mmm), pisco sours (make mine a double), vibrantly coloured markets (alpaca sweaters for everyone), charming towns such as the “White City” Arequipa, a fascinating culture and history, and stunning scenery for days. In a nutshell, Peru is an epic destination that you need to visit ASAP!
Don’t forget to show us your
#llamaselfie #alpacaselfie (and other pics too) using the hashtag #dailyhivemapped!
*Note that not all the above experiences were included on Contiki’s Inca Panorama tour, but the ones that weren’t are accessible using additional arrangements.