16 days backpacking in Peru from North to South is it possible? Yes, and it is one of my last adventures before the Covid-19 stopped all my foreign adventures for now!
It was a long and challenging trip but definitely one of the best experiences ever! I will share it in two different posts because it is very long and there’s a lot to say so let’s start with the journey and some of my personal tips to have a wonderful time in Peru!
First of all it is important to plan in advance your trip: I booked my flight in January because flights may be very expensive, so almost 8 months before the trip itself. Two months before I booked the hotels (all through Booking.com), bus tickets for long-distance transportation and the main entries and free tours in some towns. Only few of them were booked locally (e.g. Trujillo, in the North). Before leaving I also packed with a few very important things if you travel to Peru: comfy mountain shoes, warm sweaters and jackets for the important altitudes also to protect against the wind (no medicines because the best ones, totally natural can be found there), a good and long lasting charger for the nights spent in the bus traveling. Don’t forget to bring tee shirts too as the weather can change very easily during the day and you can easily go from 0 degrees to 20 in a few hours! If you are scared of altitude remember that you will be filled with “mate” infusions and you can easily find low cost herbal remedies in local pharmacies; if you follow my personal tour the big advantage is that you gain altitude progressively which will definitely help with getting accustomed making just baby steps. In general you will probably feel more fatigue even to accomplish easy tasks (for me it was especially during the night as I found it hard to breathe normally during sleep) and you may feel huge headaches at very high altitudes but Peruvians have good remedies also for this (ask for some Agua de Florida in Cuzco, they will be pleased to show you its amazing powers!).
Anyway, any Peruvian trip usually starts from Lima, the capital of Peru where we arrived at night: we decided to stay safe in a modern touristic area of Lima called Miraflores, where we ate in an amazing Amazonian restaurant called Amaz before getting our well-deserved rest!
DAY 1: We spent our first full day in Lima and we booked a one day trip with Limavision to visit the ruins of Pachacamac (not far from the city) and the city center : the beautiful Cathedral and the very peculiar old town streets give you the idea of the Spanish past of this very modern and crowded city, where traffic jams are the worse I have ever seen! By the way, while in Lima we used Bolt to go around, it is very common there and very cheap.
DAY 2: Our real trip started on the second day in Peru when we left Lima (where we will be back at the end of the trip) very early in the morning to take our bus to Ica, 2 hours away starting our journey towards the South. We used for all our bus rides Cruz del Sur, the most famous bus company in Peru with very modern and comfortable buses traveling all around the country but we booked all the trips months before the trip. In Ica you will find many people asking you for a taxi outside the bus station but make sure to get an approved one to bring you to Huacachina, an “oasis” in the Peruvian desert surrounded by sand dunes: it is very popular for sandboarding and dune buggy drives! Once you get there you will easily find many tours agencies offering the experience so, don’t miss the fun especially because you will be rewarded with one of the nicest desert sunsets. That same night we left by bus to Nazca (2 hours trip) for the next big adventure, the one that I was most scared of!
DAY 3: Overlooking the famous Nazca lines, an impressive group of very large geoglyphs made in the soil of the Nazca Desert from an helicopter was the scariest thing of this trip for me! Apparently I got enough mate in the morning to avoid any nausea and the trip went very well or possibly Aero Paracas’ pilots are very good! This visit was probably one of the most expensive (I suggest you to book it from home) but also one of the most interesting in Peru, also because the mystery around these lines are still open to many different interpretations! In the afternoon our hotel host proposed a very interesting tour of some of the beauties of Nazca, pretty unknown to the tourists who come here only for the lines: the incredible necropolis of Chauchilla, the lost city of Cahuachi with its amazing Nazca pyramids or the perfectly functioning Cantalloc pre-Inca aqueducts. The same night at ten we left for the first overnight bus trip to Arequipa where we arrived on day 4!
DAY 4: We arrived in Arequipa early in the morning, very tired even if overnight buses are quite comfortable. The city is at an altitude of 2300 meters so we started going higher but it is still very nice and just a little bit chillier. Arequipa is the second town of Peru as per population and has an amazing history: it is known as La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) because of the color of the stone with which it was built. For this reason it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had the chance to discover Arequipa’s history in the afternoon in a lovely free city tour (an offer is appreciated though) as well as its lovely handcrafters in the city center selling alpaca wool pieces or amazing antiques. But the not-to-miss attraction of Arequipa is Santa Catalina Monastery which we discovered during the day with its light blue and dark red colors really left us addicted (and full of Instagrammable pictures!).
DAY 5: We enjoyed some few hours in Arequipa visiting the famous Market Fundo el Fierro before getting on another bus that would lead us to Puno, after almost 7 hours. We booked a night on the famous floating islands of Uros on the Lake Titicaca. Where we arrived during the night on a little boat (fascinating!).
DAY 6: Sleeping on a floating island was such an experience! We woke up on this tiny island with a few houses made of totora; in fact Uros Islands are made entirely from totora reeds and the lives of the inhabitants of these artificial islands are entirely dependent upon the reed beds they live among. Despite it became such a touristic experience it’s still an incredible adventure and the communities living on the islands are very friendly and welcoming. We spent the day on a typical handmade boat, learning local fishing techniques, how the reed islands are made and enjoying some time in traditional costumes while chatting with the lovely people of the islands. If I can give you a suggestion just avoid the biggest islands and prefer the smallest ones where real communities still live there. The biggest ones are too touristic and all the magic of these places will be completely lost. We left for the Southern part of the Lake in the afternoon when we arrived to Bolivia to enjoy a completely different view of the Titicaca Lake.
DAY 7: We arrived in Copacabana in Bolivia and we immediately realized how everything was different compared to the Uros. Much less touristic, an incredible nature and definitely one of the best views of Titicaca Lake. From our hotel we booked an half-day boat excursion to the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna where we got caught in the best views of the lake ever. These two islands are incredible, there is a lot to walk but your eyes will be amazed and will be filled with extreme beauty. We had an amazing lunch on a floating restaurant (the best fried trout ever for less than 1 euro) before hitting back the road and leaving Bolivia during another overnight trip back to Peru to finally discover the capital of the Inca Empire: Cuzco and its region.
I will leave this incredible part of the trip (it was like a crescendo of emotions and discoveries) for the second part of my Peruvian adventure next time! Also, my suggestions for best restaurants, what to eat and what to buy will be in the next post.