(photos by Neil Roach)
The astonishing diversity of sights to see in Peru — Incan ruins, Spanish colonial cities, coastal desert, snow-capped mountains, the Amazonian rain forest and more — makes it a perfect destination for those who seek an action-packed vacation. Amanda Lobell and Neil Roach, who just returned from an incredible two-week trip around the South American country, share their thoughts and advice for travelers.
Overall Impression: Peru is a developing country but the infrastructure is in decent shape so traveling is easy for the most part. Some places are downright touristy, like the town of Agua Calientes, which is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. But other towns still feel authentic, such as Arequipa, a colonial city in the Andes.
Most Memorable Sights: Of course we loved Machu Picchu — it was as breathtaking as everyone says. But we didn't know how much we would enjoy visiting the Ballestas Islands (aka the Galapagos of Peru but on a much smaller scale) and neighboring Paracas Park. The wildlife was amazing — we saw sea lions, Humboldt penguins, Incan boobies, pelicans and other aquatic birds. We also loved the time we spent in the rain forest on the Madre de Dios river, a tributary of the Amazon near the city of Puerto Maldanado.
Favorite Hotel: We loved the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, the lodge where we stayed for the rain forest portion of our trip. The hotel was beautiful and the staff was extremely friendly and helpful. We had our own bungalow with a great screened-in porch where we would read and relax in hammocks. The food was very good — they served fish from the river and nearby lakes. They also had delicious fresh-squeezed juices from local fruits like mango, starfruit and passion fruit.
Budget Picks: The $20 a night hotels are basic but safe and clean, and there's nothing wrong with staying in them. We especially liked the Mirador de la Nusta in Cuzco and Posada Tambo Colorado in Pisco.
Biggest Disappointment: We had always heard that the Nazca Lines are very interesting. However, when we finished the 40-minute flight over what we dubbed the Lines of Nausea (a bumpy ride in a tiny plane), we realized that this was pretty much the only thing to do in the Nazca area — and we were stuck there for 12 more hours. We did visit a somewhat interesting pre-Incan cemetary (Chauchilla), but that only took about half an hour because most of it had been destroyed. The combined 12 hours on the bus that it took us to get in and out of Nazca made us think that this detour wasn't worth it when there was so much other great stuff to see.
Travel Tips: We were able to get by on our very limited (basically non-existent) Spanish, but it would be a lot easier and more fun for someone who speaks any Spanish at all. Believe the guidebooks when they say that the bus rides are crazy and long. If you can fly, do it. And if you can't, take the nicest buses you can afford like Ormenos and Cruz Del Sur. Cruz Del Sur is supposed to be the best, but we actually preferred our bus from Ormenos.
Altiplano, a highland region in the Andes