There are plenty of places to visit and things to see and do in Peru; from the classic Inca Trail hike to Macchu Piccu to surfing and beaches in the north and trips deep into the Amazonian jungle. Here are 4 other things I think you shouldn’t miss:
1. Inti Raymi Festival
I have to admit that I knew nothing about this festival before I got to Peru. We happened to be looking for a bus to Cusco and a hostel worker told us we better get on it because the festival was going to be starting.
It turned out to be, by far, to have the biggest and loudest and longest parade I have ever seen in my life! Thousands of costumed participants danced and played music along the parade route for more than 17 hours! I came out at 9am when it started, and they were still going at 1am when I turned in for the night! As they finished the parade route, the people then filled in every town square in the city dancing and singing and eating and drinking and carousing for the rest of the night. There was not a free square inch of space anywhere!
The real ceremony marking the winter solstice (on June 24th) took place the next day. A day long affair of pomp and circumstance involving more costumes, more parading, and mock sacrifices to the gods. It was a sight to be seen; and to think we almost missed it!
2. Colca Canyon
It is billed as the deepest canyon in the world, but in reality it is the second deepest. The deepest is also in Peru, a few kilometers away, but is not accessible and so Colca gets top billing. At 1km deep it sets itself up to provide quite the workout to those that choose to hike down…and then back up.
The trail is dusty, and gravelly, and steep as it switchbacks back and forth across the hillsides to the bottom. The scenery is stunning and gets lusher and lusher as the river at the bottom of the canyon gets closer and closer. There are plenty of small villages to trek through on the way and, at the end, a stay in the oasis where green grass and bluer than blue pools await to help you rest and relax. Take advantage of it because the climb back up is a killer!
3. Eating Cuy
Cuy is a traditional dish in Peru and, although we in North America do not normally eat guinea pig but prefer to keep them as pets, it’s worth trekking out to the outskirts of Cusco to try some. Tipon is the village just outside of Cusco that specializes in cuy. It’s best to try getting there by local ‘combi’ bus for the full experience.
I’ll be honest; cuy is not that good. There is not much meat on their little bones, and what there is tastes like greasy rabbit. It’s charbroiled to overdone and served with rice, potatoes and quinoa – no shortage of starch in Peru! But it is an experience that I’m glad to have had.
4. The Altiplano
I love, love, love the altiplano. The grassy plains that are, literally, on the top of the world at 12,500 feet above sea level. The plains are expansive, dotted with cattle and llamas; the air is clear and thin; and the scenery is absolutely stunning mixing mountain vistas with wide, wide valleys.
We passed through altiplano as we crossed over the Andes on the 22 hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco (which I don’t recommend…it was long, and twisty, and dark most of the time) and again as we took a bus from Cusco to Puno (which I do recommend; Tourismo Mer operates a tourist bus with historical stops that was fabulous). It may be an area that doesn’t get much attention but, for me, it was a highlight.