What to Do If You Have One Month in Peru

The great thing about having a month in Peru is that you don’t have to limit yourself to big hitters like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, but can explore the country’s three main regions: the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon. From national parks like Huascarán and Manu, to breathtaking sights like Colca Canyon and the Nazca Lines, to lesser-known towns like Máncora and Trujillo, there are endless places to discover if you are lucky enough to have one month in Peru.

The Inca Trail is perhaps the most famous trek in Peru. This is the road to Machu Picchu, an ancient route that leads from the Sacred Valley into the heart of the Andes. You must obtain a permit and hire an official guide in order to hike the Inca Trail proper. There are plenty of tour operators in Cusco that offer trips up to Machu Picchu, so you should definitely look at reviews before you choose. For better or for worse, the tours are all-inclusive. The local tour operators employ porters to carry your packs and set up a camp. A team of local chefs will prepare three meals a day, and many hikers come back raving about the delicious meals. Keep in mind that the trek can be tough, especially in the first few days. The trail is often narrow, and it flirts with formidable heights. The mountains in this part of the Andes can rise well over 13,000 feet, and many hikers find themselves suffering from altitude sickness. Make sure to take a few days (in Cusco or the Sacred Valley) to acclimatize before you begin the journey. Finally: make sure to plan ahead! The Peruvian government limits trail access to 500 people per day, including porters. This regulation protects the local ecosystem and the delicate ruins, and it ensures that the trail won’t be too crowded. However, it also means that permits for the peak summer season sell out months in advance. If you aren’t able to get a permit for the classic Inca Trail, never fear: there are various other trails that lead to Machu Picchu.
Máncora District, Peru
A true desert outpost, the Peruvian town of Mancora enjoys the most sunshine hours of anywhere in the country. Unlike the rest of Peru the water is warm enough to surf without a wetsuit, a welcome complement to an area already featuring some of the best waves in South America. Hemingway knew what he was doing when he set up shop in nearby Cabo Blanco, an authentic fishing village where the ceviche is some of the freshest on the planet and the days pass with a simple peacefulness unique to many coastal escapes. While outdoor activities abound around Mancora, from kitesurfing to fishing to morning yoga sessions, on this particular morning the to-do list consists of nothing more than a good book, a cold drink, and watching whales splash on the endless horizon.
The Paracas National Reserve is located in Ica, about three hours south of Lima. The park spans the Paracas Peninsula, the surrounding coast, and the tropical desert. While the peninsula provides an amazing ocean view with some local birds like flamingos, the Huacachina dessert is a perfect location for sand-boarding, and it even cradles a lush oasis. If you head to Bahia Lagunillas, you will find unique red sand beaches, a product of the erosion of porphyry rocks that can be found on the hills of the peninsula. This area is also a great starting point for exploring the local wineries, many of which produce pisco.

While there, you can take a tour boat about 1 hour off shore to tour around the islands, with a chance to see some the diverse bird species, including penguins.
Lima District 15001, Peru
Every day at noon at the Plaza de Armas (also called Plaza Mayor), trumpets blare, drums pound, and cymbals crash as the guard changes outside the presidential palace. Enjoy the Spanish fanfare like a local: from a plaza bench with an ice cream cone. The Plaza is also the site of festivals, concerts, and the much-loved annual National Pisco Day when the fountain spouts free high-proof grape brandy for all.
The Nazca Lines are massive geometric and zoomorphic designs laid out in the middle of the coastal desert of the Ica region. These 2500 year old sand etchings are so big that you can only see them from the air. Their origin is a mystery. Archaeologists have been unable to agree about why the Nazca people built these lines, how they were able to construct recognizable shapes without an aerial viewpoint, and how the lines have survived to this day. Many theories have been put forth, from UFOs to the idea that the local culture used these designs as a celestial calendar. The true story notwithstanding, it is definitely worth hiring a small airplane to see the Nazca Lines from on high.
Lake Titicaca
Legend has it that the first Incas, children of the sun, set down on earth at Lake Titicaca, making this a sacred place, the cradle of life itself. Travelers with more than a week to spend in Peru should plan to visit the beautiful and enormous Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Part of the serene lake lies within Peruvian territory, while the other half is Bolivian. (An ideal trip would include at least one overnight at the spectacular Titilaka Hotel on Suasi Island.)
Unnamed Road
Colca Canyon, a three-hour drive north of Arequipa, is one of Peru’s most popular and extraordinary tourist attractions. The chasm is over 13,600 feet deep, making it one of the deepest in the world, and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. From the Cruz del Condor viewpoint, it is possible to get a panoramic view of this special place along with the chance to witness the flight of majestic Andean condors. This is a great place for partaking in adventure sports with a surreal view.
When thinking about the Amazon Jungle, Brazil may first come to mind—and rightly so, as the largest portion of the rain forest is indeed in that country. However, the Amazon also makes up 60 percent of Peru’s land. Experience this fantastic landscape at Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Try to spend a minimum of five days in the park, keeping in mind that the farther into the jungle you go, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of wildlife. Given that the park encompasses microclimates that range from more than 13,000 feet above sea level down to 984 feet, you will find a great diversity of vegetation, birds (800 species), and mammals (200 species) here. Not to mention butterflies—an incredible 1,300 butterfly species live in the jungle.
Ferreñafe, Peru
Ferreñafe is not the town you imagined yourself visiting in Peru. Far from the Andes and the Amazon, on the northern desert coast, Ferreñafe is a small provincial town with one tourist draw, the Museo Nacional Sican, where elaborate gold funerary masks, pristine ceramics, impossibly pink Spondylus shells and jewelry of semi-precious stones from the pre-Colombian Sican culture are on display. Archaeologists continue to discover burial sites full of gold at the nearby Batan Grande dig site. Most visitors view the museum and simply leave Ferreñafe. Spend another hour or two to gain some insight on more modern rural Peruvian funerary practices. Located a ten minute walk from the Sican Museum, the Ferreñafe Cemetery is a free attraction that will leave an impression. The cemetery is made up of hundreds of outdoor stacked brick sarcophagi, plastered and painted turquoise and white. Each features an alcove dedicated to the departed. The alcoves are precious jewel box art pieces, with original paintings, dolls, decorative gates, and fresh and plastic flowers (mostly in plastic Inca Kola bottles). Older sarcophagi have crumbled into piles of bricks, while some newer alcoves sit waiting to be decorated, with new cement with a name scratched into it. To reach the cemetery from the Museo Nacional Sican, walk towards the cathedral and plaza on calle Batan Grande. The unmissable white cemetery gate will be on your left. Be sure to bring your camera!
26 De Diciembre 270, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
We took a four night trip to the Peruvian jungle and the Macaws at this clay-lick were a highlight from the boat trip up the river.
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AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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