Peru hosts some of the oldest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere and is celebrated for the capital city of Cuzco which was built by the ancient Inca empire six hundred years ago. Peru is also home to the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca, and the mysterious Nazca Lines. Although there are many incredible sites that should be seen and explored in Peru, the places listed below is a condensed selection of sites based solely from my own personal experiences as a student studying abroad.
#1 – Iquitos and the Amazon Jungle/River
Prepare to view (in person) all the amazing wildlife you got to see through a TV screen as a child on the National Geographic channel. Imagine waking up to see squirrel monkeys swinging through the trees in your backyard that happens to be the Amazon Jungle. Become one with nature while you explore the jungle at night and experience just how much Mother Nature can provide when you need food and water. During a jungle night hike, our local tour guide offered us live termites to eat and fresh water to drink from a long vine. Being the daring and adventurous girl that I am, I naturally agreed to everything he suggested for us to try. The termites tasted like smoked seeds and the water was super fresh and natural tasting. I hope that by sharing this experience, my peers will be encouraged to remain open-minded and explore outside of their comfort zone when presented with new and different things.
While in Iquitos, I had the privilege of visiting a wildlife preservation space that nurtured baby animals until they matured and could be released into their natural habitat. In addition to viewing different species of monkeys, turtles, and fish, the caretakers allowed our group to feed and pet some Amazonian manatees. Later while traveling on a boat along the Amazon River, I got to see pink dolphins play with each other, hundreds of great egrets fly above and around us, a king fisher, sloths, and many different kinds of fish. I even got to try fishing for piranhas with some of the locals. This is the kind of experience you can look forward to when you travel to the Amazon and Iquitos. Before you leave, make sure to pack long, lightweight pants and shirts and buy extra mosquito repellent!
About to load into the boats on the Amazon River.
Feeding and petting the Amazonian manatees.
#2 – Ica and Paracas Bay
Along with my study abroad program, I traveled south of Lima to the Ica region in the middle of the Peruvian coastal desert. On the first day, I was taken on a sand buggy tour of the sand dunes and oasis. The ride on the buggy felt more like a roller coaster at times than a peaceful tour of the sand dunes, which of course made the ride ten times more fun! I was also able to try sand boarding, a sport I quickly found out only works well if the beginner lies flat on their stomach instead of standing upright like one would when snow boarding.
Getting ready to slide down a sand dune penguin style.
On the second day, my group traveled to the Paracas Bay where the Ballestas Islands are located. These islands are home to herds of sea lions, flocks of cormorants and other coastal birds, as well as acts as a natural stop for migrating birds and a winter refuge for the Antarctic humboldt penguins. In addition, I was able to view the remnants of the guano industry that used bird manure for fertilization. I learned that this industry flourished on the coastal islands of Peru during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Later for lunch, our group was taken to the historical house of Hacienda San Jose, a 17th century sugar cane plantation that used to be worked by many slaves. During my two day adventure, I learned about the African-Peruvian culture and its contribution to Peru in terms of music and gastronomy, the haciendas, the old agricultural methods in coastal Peru, and the biological diversity of the Peruvian coast.
Some of the sea lions we encountered on the boat ride in Paracas.
#3 – Cuzco and Machu Picchu
I was lucky to view the city of Cuzco as it was preparing for a weekend of parades in celebration of its anniversary. At night, the main plaza was alive with bands and Peruvian dancing. The streets were full of people socializing and enjoying the preliminary parade. During the day the shops were open, guinea pig meals were served, and people from all over the world were gathered to view the show. My experience in Cuzco was a nonstop parade full of colorful costumes, singing, and traditional dances. I sincerely loved every moment and I am confident future study abroad students will enjoy the city as well.
My friend and I posing next to some of the dancers who were practicing during the preliminary parade in Cuzco.
Close to the city of Cuzco lies Machu Picchu. The view of these mountains is beyond spectacular and altogether an unforgettable experience packed with rich history and culture. Anyone interested in history, adventure, and travel should take the opportunity to see these majestic landscapes. Getting to view the Inca ruins was incredible and mind blowing all at the same time. It was unreal to think that my feet were standing in the same places ancient Incas used to walk around every day. It is important to note that there are different Inca trails that are available to visitors. Some hikes must be reserved months in advance and could take up to four days to complete! My advice to other students would be to pack hiking boots, sunscreen, and a rain jacket because some walks–like the walk to Intipunku (Sun Gate)–is a good upward trek of uneven ground and ambiguous weather.
The spectacular view looking down from the Sun Gate.
#4 – The Miraflores District in Lima, Peru
There are a ton of things to do in the District of Miraflores! Have fun exploring the shopping center, watch a movie, play games at the arcade, view the ocean, try new kinds of foods, go parasailing, and much more. My favorite experience in this district was learning how to surf. Even in winter, the beach shore is lined with tents specifically set up as “surf schools.” Although it is tempting to pay at the cheapest vendor, I highly recommend paying a little extra for a school that is better quality and more widely known by locals. For 100 soles or $30 US dollars, I was provided a complete set of surfing equipment, a quick lesson (Surfing 101 for beginners), and received one hour worth of one-on-one personal training out on the ocean waves.
My friend and I after an exhausting, yet really fun, hour of surfing.
Even though I was unsuccessful at standing on my board for the first couple of tries, my coach and other surfing students present that day were all extremely positive and tried to help me out as much as they could. I loved the personal environment that was created and I began to feel a certain bond that made me feel included as part of their surfing family. Through surfing, I was able to break past any language and cultural barriers that existed between us. I am happy to share that after two failed attempts, I successfully was able to stand on my board and surf a wave. Surfing a few waves was honestly one of the greatest achievements I have made in life so far. Give surfing a try and I guarantee the experience will be an unforgettable one.
#5 – The Historic Center in Lima, “Plaza de Armas”
Walking through the Plaza de Armas for the first time gives you a real sense of the European influence in Peru. The architecture is simply breathtaking and many of the buildings are preserved just as when they were first built. This is a hot spot for taking pictures and buying all sorts of trinkets and gifts to take back home. Tourists and locals alike visit the street vendors that are located in nearly every alley and corner, shop name brand and Peruvian brand stores, eat delicious Peruvian cuisine, and buy fresh fruit at the nearby markets. One may also look forward to the live music and dancing performances that seem to take place almost every day. The Plaza de Armas is an excellent place to experience the historic, cultural, and social aspect of Peru all at once!