Two weeks in Peru was an insanely life-changing experience. I never thought I’d be able to see such a variety of places all in one country. It was my first time visiting South America, and it was my 28th country! I started out in the capital, Lima, in a big city, which is not at all how I envisioned Peru, but it was stunning nonetheless. I went to the mountains and got snowed on, I went to the jungle and sweat my life away, I visited cities, tiny villages, I truly saw every different variety all in one trip. It was pretty magical. When I was originally planning this trip, I wanted to do it all DIY with a friend and hire a car and just adventure around ourselves, but when I started looking into it, everything was so spread out and so far apart, and honestly, the idea of driving in a foreign country where I can’t understand the road signs or how the locals drive, is just all a bit much for me. So we booked a tour group, and I’m so glad I did. I tried a new tour company on this trip, and while I did truly love it, and it even included like 4 additional flights while I was there, it’s not something I would want to book solo. I’d definitely want to make sure I was booking with a friend so that I had someone to hang out with, since the tour ended up being primarily retired couples in their 60’s. Wonderful people to travel with, but I was happy to have a buddy! The company was called G Adventures, and they plant a tree for every day that you’re on the trip, as well as include activities on your trip that give back to the local community. I LOVED that.

Lima, Peru

We flew into Lima, and arrived at night the first day. So all we did was walk around our neighborhood of Mia Flores, and get acquainted with the area. When we woke up the next day, we walked the whooooole day, just exploring and eating all kinds of delicious foods in our area. I really loved Lima. A totally different vibe than the rest of Peru, but not in a bad way at all! Big city vibes, tons of food options, a lot more westernized than the rest of the towns we visited. Still not a lot of English-speaking, but we were able to get by just fine.

Cusco, Peru

We took a flight from Lima to Cusco with our new tour group, and immediately upon stepping off of the plane, I started feeling altitude sickness for the first time in my life. Cusco sits at about 11,000 feet in elevation, so it took a minute to get used to! Taking it easy on your first day there is my best advice, so you can acclimate. We walked around the city on the first day and explored. We were also warned to not eat the street food, and to be very cautious of food choices in this town, as it’s known to cause food illnesses from improperly cooked items or fruits and vegetables washed in the bad water. Luckily, we didn’t get sick. We also drank a lot of the local coca tea which is supposed to help with altitude sickness. On our second day in Cusco, we had one of my favorite days. We went to a women’s co-op where they used the fur from llamas and alpacas to weave many different items like blankets, clothing, bracelets, etc. They hand-dye all the fur with natural ingredients, and they made us tea and showed us the process. It was incredible to watch! I did a lot of shopping there, and felt like it was the best place to spend my money on the trip. We got to befriend llamas and alpacas and feed them! After that we headed to another local community with 12 local families worked together to make pottery. They taught us their process for that, as well as how to make empanadas, which were of course incredible.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

This town was easily one of my favorites. Located in the Sacred Valley, it was the most charming little village. Winding roads and alleys, dogs everywhere, the smallest town square with adorable little restaurants. We only spent one night here as it was our way into Machu Picchu, but I just loved it here. We also did a hike here that was a straight 20 minutes hike directly UP, but once we got there, we saw the view of the entire town. STUNNING.

Aguas Calientes, Peru

This was the town that everyone stays in to get to Machu Picchu. It is only accessible by walking, or by train. The time that we were visiting, there had just been some protests happening by the local workers, about ticket sales of Machu Picchu. The trains had been shut down, and if we wanted to get to Machu Picchu we were going to have to walk, with all of our luggage. It was going to be something like a 10k. But thankfully, the protests stopped at the last minute and we were able to take the train in! This town is clearly just a tourist stop, with not a whole lot to do. It was very small and very walkable, but so LOUD to sleep in that it wasn’t the best. The food was good, and there are hot springs that you can go visit. But mostly it’s a lot of little touristy-trap kinds of shopping. We spent one whole day in Aguas Calientes before waking up early the next day for our adventure to Machu Picchu! But that was plenty of time in this town.

Machu Picchu, Peru

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE. We started super early this day, somewhere around 7am entry into Machu Picchu. We walked around for about 4 hours there. It wasn’t a super challenging hike aside from the first 20 minutes of straight steps up. But once you do that, you’re walking mostly flat surfaces the rest of the way. We chose the most challenging path because it has the best views, so I totally suggest that. Machu Picchu sits at about 8,000 feet in elevation so I didn’t feel the altitude up here at all. What an amazing thing to be able to walk through one of the 7 wonders of the world. I can’t even put it into words.

Rainbow Mountain, Peru

This was hands down one of the most challenging hikes of my entire life. While I don’t claim to be an athletic person at all, I am decently young and able, and this was HARD. The hike itself was not that difficult, as far as physical fitness goes. Mostly it was a slow incline, on a dirt and rock path. The final 20 minutes or so are a drastic incline, and that part was definitely the hardest. But the worst part is, you are dropped off by bus after a 2 hour drive straight UP a mountain, at about 15,500 feet elevation. You then end up at 16,500 feet elevation. Just starting out the hike, I could hardly breathe. It was like the wasn’t enough oxygen to breathe into my lungs, and my legs felt like I was walking on the moon or something. But as long as you go slow, stop frequently, breathe, drink water, eat snacks, it’s completely doable. As soon as I got to the very top, I cried in relief and happiness, and immediately saw two llamas dressed up ready to take photos with me. WORTH IT. While this was incredibly difficult, I’m so glad that I did it, and I recommend it to everyone. What a view.

Puerto Maldonado, Peru

When I tell you that I had no idea what to expect when I packed my things up and prepared to head into the Amazon jungle for the next couple days, I mean it. I love nature and new experiences, but the jungle was WILD, y’all. A flight into an airport with two gates, a two hour drive down what the locals called the “road to hell”, a two hour boat ride down the river, and we were there. The first night, I saw a tarantula in the wild at night. And our room was basically just a screened in porch, complete with a whistle on the wall to blow in case of emergency. Meaning, if a large jungle animal enters your room in the night. I slept inside of a bug net, in the 95 degrees, and 75% humidity. We jungle hiked, had no electricity, and saw SO MANY CREATURES. My favorites were definitely the monkeys. Lots of parrots, scary things, capybara, and one night time river boat cruise to look for white caiman. Nothing can beat the silence of the jungle and the ability to watch the stars on the boat at night. It was such a great experience, but I was ready to head back into the city after two nights!

MONEY: getting local currency before you go is always the best idea to avoid scams or overpriced exchange rates. It was very handy to have their currency on hand when wanting to shop at small stores, and even in credit card friendly areas like Lima, the service industry staff ALWAYS asked us to at least tip in cash. Some places the card machines stopped working, some places had no wifi or even electricity.