This is a slightly difficult post to write because Peru is the first country that we visited on this trip where we had been before. As a result we had some preconceptions and naturally having had an amazing honeymoon there nearly 4 years earlier the country had something to live up to. On top of this as luck would have it one or other of us was ill for more than half of the time that we were in Peru which took a little bit of the shine off it, and didn’t let us enjoy everything quite as fully as we’d have liked. Finally, since we’d seen the top sights of Peru before we tried to skip some of them and go to places where we hadn’t previously been.
With all that said you can probably guess where this is going, so please bear the above in mind when you read the following thoughts.
So what did we think? Well firstly we still love Peru. It still has the best food we’ve tasted in South America, coupled with an incredible and fascinating history in the form of the Incas.
What did surprise us was how little there is to see and do outside of Lima and Cusco. While that is not a completely fair statement, I think that the problem for us was just how far you have to travel to see what there is. Beyond Cusco and Lima, Arequipa is also a great city but it is a long way from anywhere; again the Nasca lines were amazing but beyond the lines themselves there is very little in Nasca itself and it is a long way from anywhere. Maybe we were spoilt by the cheap flights in Colombia, or the short distances in Ecuador, but in Peru the distances are just so much further and the reward for the journey is no better. I do wish we’d had time to go to Huarez because we hear the walking is incredible, and if we’d been in the north I hear Mancora is also great, but all these places are a long way from each other and we just couldn’t justify a day’s travel each way to spend 1-2 days somewhere.
Peru was also the country where I’ve felt most like a walking dollar sign. Although the people are, on the whole, very genuine and friendly, it is the country where we’ve had the most hassle on the street (primarily in Cusco) and felt more like we had to bargain to get a fair price. Again compared to Asia or the Middle East prices are not inflated and people are very fair, but it was a shock after the genuine honesty and fairness that we have seen elsewhere. I really think that this is just a result of the Peruvians being a little more used to tourists than the people are in many other countries in South America.
While I’m being negative, I was also surprised that while the food in Lima, Cusco and to a lesser extent Arequipa is the best in South America, outside of these cities it seemed to be no better than in Ecuador. I had hoped that some of this gastronomy would have filtered out to the smaller places, but from our limited experience it appears not.
Right enough negativity. What we did love was our decision to return to Lima and Cusco. We didn’t really get to make much of Lima because Alex was ill, but we did have a great time in Cusco. Cusco really is a magical place and un-missable on any trip around South America. In Cusco we once again found really great food and a beautiful city. The city and the Sacred Valley have a fascinating history as well as beautiful landscape that is just incredible. Machu Pichu is amazing, but controversially we skipped it this time in order to return to places in the Sacred Valley and to see some new ones such as Moray and Moras. I won’t describe them again here as they are detailed in the Cusco post, but both places were amazing and have stayed with me even a few months and countries later.
What we also enjoyed was our train trip to Puno and our time on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. The train trip is an expensive tourist extravagance but although it was ultimately a bit (well ok, quite a lot) too touristy, the opportunity to travel such a long distance through the countryside often far away from the road was incredible. Much of it felt more like a long walk in terms of the remote scenery that we saw than a bus journey ever could. I know that this is out of the price range of most backpackers but even a few months later now that the money is a bit tighter I am still glad that we did it!
So in summary if you are reading this having never been to South America before please don’t be put off by anything that I’ve said above. It is an unmissable country and still one of my favourite places in the world, but ultimately having already seen 80% of the best bits we came in with high expectations and were slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more that we hadn’t seen!
If I were able to do Peru again with fresh eyes and a reasonable budget I’d do the following:
Fly into Lima
Bus up to Huarez for some trekking
Bus back to Lima, onto Nasca stopping for one night in Nasca to fly over the lines
Overnight bus to Arequipa
Trip out to the Colca canyon and back
Fly up to Cusco spend plenty of time in Cusco doing the Inca trail, seeing all of the Sacred Valley and enjoying the food
Train to Puno and spend a few days on the Peruvian side of the Titicaca before taking a bus to Bolivia and onto Copacabana.
On a tighter budget you can take another bus from Arequipa to Cusco and then take the bus from Cusco to Puno instead of the train.
This is just our opinion, I know others have a very different experience, especially concerning the pros and cons of visiting sites in Northern Peru which we unfortunately just couldn’t justify in the time that we had.
After two trips we still love Peru and the great memories that we have of the country will be with us forever.