Your 4-Day Peru Travel Guide
Last fall, my best friend and I were mulling over where to visit for the winter holidays. We’re both big on travel and hadn’t taken an international trip in ages but deciding where to go was really tricky. Europe? Nah, too cold. Caribbean? Zika…yeah. South East Asia? Way too far for our short trip. And then it hit us: Peru! It’s summer time there and, surprisingly, it isn’t in the thick of their tourist season. Looking back, I’m so happy we went – it was the perfect mix of activity, culture, and leisure. I still remember our train ride through the Andes mountains to Machu Picchu and I seriously miss the amazing food (one word: ceviche!).
What Makes Peru Special?
We were lucky enough to visit two cities in Peru: Lima and Cusco. Each city is unique and fun in its own way. Lima has a cosmopolitan vibe and feels almost European while Cusco, nestled in the Andes, has some stunning mountain scenery and is infused with history and culture.
During our stay in Lima, we spent most of our time in the Miraflores neighborhood. I highly recommend you check it out – it has a relaxed atmosphere and was right next to the ocean. We spent an afternoon walking down the boardwalk and just soaking in the sun and scenery. Oh, and the weather was perfect.
Cusco was also a great city to visit. While I’d suggest staying for only a couple days, there is a good amount to do during that time. The main square, Plaza de Armas, is surrounded by beautiful cathedrals with some really interesting histories. You also have the constant backdrop of the Andes, which you can see right above the red-tiled roofs of the local houses.
The best place to stay in Lima is hands down Miraflores. It is a relaxed but fun and hip part of town and one of the more affluent neighborhoods. You can go shopping or simply walk around town. Keep a map handy, though – it’s a bit easy to get turned around.
In Cusco, we stayed at the Palacio del Inka. I absolutely loved this hotel. If you get a chance, definitely try to book a stay there. Because Cusco is fairly small, most hotels are just a few-minutes’ walk to the main square so you can’t really go wrong location-wise.
We pretty much caught taxis throughout the trip. I’d recommend that you always settle on a price beforehand – it’s hard negotiating prices at the end of the trip. Also, try to get a feel for what prices should be and don’t be afraid to bargain!
This packing list mainly pertains to Cusco, since Lima was easy to pack for. Keep in mind though that there is a pretty significant weather difference between Cusco and Lima in December – Cusco can get quite chilly whereas Lima is warm and humid.
1) Sunscreen: the sun can get pretty strong in Cusco, which is over 11,000 feet above sea level.
2) Scarves, gloves, and a warm jacket: the temperatures dropped pretty quickly in Cusco so having some warm clothing on hand was vital.
3) Ibuprofen: altitude sickness is real! I felt it the minute I got off the plane in Cusco. Make sure to bring some ibuprofen to combat the nausea. I’d also highly suggest drinking coca or mint tea as soon as you get there – these teas are a miracle for dealing with altitude sickness. I was a bit wary initially and didn’t drink any for the first day; however, my headache got so bad that I finally broke down and had some tea on my second day and I felt a million times better.
Favorite Restaurants & Local Dishes
Lima was the winner when it came to the best restaurants and some amazing food. While in Lima, we went to two restaurants I’d urge everyone to check out: Osaka Pardo and Aliaga and Central Restaurante.
A Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant with some phenomenal high-grade seafood selections (scalloped sushi, salmon sashimi, tuna poke salad…what more could you want?).
Ranked as the best restaurant in Latin America and the fourth best in the world so, needless to say, the food was phenomenal! Getting a reservation is tough but we got lucky and nabbed a seat at the bar, where we were served dishes like sea tartar, beef short ribs, and glazed octopus. The staff was kind enough to take us on a private tour to check out their rooftop herb garden and to speak with the chefs in the kitchen. Such a cool experience!
Must-Do Activities & Sights
Of course, what Peru is most known for internationally is Machu Picchu. I figured it would mostly be an overhyped experience….but I was totally wrong! In fact, I think Machu Picchu was my favorite part of the trip. The entire experience felt like an adventure back in time and was not only inspiring but also somehow spiritual.
We decided to do a day trip, since staying overnight in Aguas Calientes, the small town near the Urubamba River, can get expensive. Some people opt to do a hike to MP along the Inca Trail, which can take anywhere from a day to several days. Personally though, I think you can get everything you need in one day.
To prepare for the trip, we worked with our hotel staff in Cusco to get everything set up. The trip is essentially broken up into three parts:
- Round-trip car ride to Poroy station: This is a 20-minute drive from Cusco. Arrange to have the driver pick you up from Poroy on your return trip and remember to set the price beforehand.
- Round-trip train tickets from Poroy to Aguas Calientes: We caught Peru Rail, the most popular rail option, and bought Vistadome tickets, which offer a gorgeous panoramic view as you travel through the mountain ranges and past small villages. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip – we were offered snacks, had soothing music playing in the background, and got to soak in the sights for the ~3 hour train ride.
- Round-trip bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: This trip will take you all the way to the entrance of MP. Mid-way through the ride, you’ll have to offload and cross a bridge to another bus. Also, the ride can be a bit intense (there are some very windy roads…keep your eyes closed if you’re afraid of heights!).
It takes a little time and planning but purchasing all these tickets before you leave Cusco definitely worth it.
In addition, you’ll need to purchase an entrance ticket, which is necessary to get into MP (bring your passport with you when making this purchase). The government issues entrance tickets in limited quantities to control crowd sizes – during the off-season, you don’t have to worry about tickets selling out but during the tourist season, make sure to grab your ticket ahead of time. You can purchase a ticket in Cusco or in Aguas Calientes, although I’d recommend getting yours ahead of time in Cusco.
We also decided to get our own tour guide. When the bus drops you off at the entrance to MP, there are a ton of freelance and company tour guides to show you around the ruins for 2 to 2.5 hours. All speak English pretty well, although I can’t vouch for the quality of their tours. We totally lucked out with our tour guide – his name was Odi and he was super knowledgeable about the history of the ruins and the meaning behind certain sites and structures. Make sure to ask around for him if you can find him!
Other tips we learned along the way that will hopefully make your trip even smoother:
1) Flight from Lima to Cusco: Research told us that the round-trip flight from Lima to Cusco wouldn’t be too expensive. We decided to book the day before but found out that most of the “reputable” airlines charged a foreigners’ fee – essentially, if you don’t have a Peruvian passport, you are charged a couple hundred bucks more to fly. Needless to say, that was very frustrating to find out. However, after doing some digging, it turned that not all airlines charged this fee. We ended up flying with Peruvian Air and paid pretty much what we’d been planning to. Peruvian Air is far from a luxury airline and even had some air conditioning issues on our return flight but I was ok with it since we got to save a chunk of money.
2) Make copies of your passport: We were warned that there are quite a few pickpockets and of course the worst thing is to be stranded in another country after your passport has been stolen. Luckily, we didn’t experience any pickpocketing (I never even felt uncomfortable) but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. Leave things like your passport in the hotel lock box if you can and bring a fanny pack so you can keep an eye on the money and other valuables you have to bring out with you.
3) Do your research before spending time and money on day trips: There are a bunch of day trips in Cusco that sounded amazing but I found out from some of the locals that these are often tourist traps. Ask around to make sure that the trips you decide to take offer what you are looking for.
I hope this blog entry is helpful to you and inspires you to visit Peru! I had a great time there and loved the opportunity to learn about a country through its food, culture, and history.