Breathtaking beauty. Ancient culture. Beaches. Mountains. Rainforests. Oh, my!
Enter magical (temperate) Peru. Machu Picchu has always been high on our bucket list. With a little research, this trip could actually be affordable without sacrificing the little luxuries for your special week celebrating you as a couple. There will be equal parts romance, relaxation, sightseeing, and adventure.
Some top things to do while in Peru:
- Machu Picchu: Located in the mountains of south-central Peru, Machu Picchu is not to be missed. These fifteenth-century Incan ruins are one of the most dramatic sites on the planet — and one of the most crowded. Machu Picchu gets half a million tourists a year, mostly in May through September when the weather is drier. From Cusco (the historic capital of the Incan empire and a good base for travel), it’s a four-hour journey by train to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu (see train options at PeruRail.com). Bus service or, for the adventurous couple, a steep hour-plus hike brings you to your destination. An easy way to do it all: Shop around for packages that include all transportation, admission to the park, and guided tours, which abound online and make your trip planning hassle-free.
- Sacred Valley: Bear in mind that Peru’s Sacred Valley, located near Cusco and traveled through on the train to Machu Picchu, is among its most beautiful areas. Towns located in this valley near Cusco like Pisac and Chinchero (both of which offer lively markets) are worth a visit and are accessible by bus or taxi. Buy a Cusco boleto turistico (tourist pass; 084-227-037) to keep your sightseeing costs to a minimum. This gets you admission to numerous Incan sites (such as Sacsayhuaman, Pikillacta, Tipon, etc.) and several museums in Cuzco. For a pleasant budget-friendly stay, consider the Casa Andina Classic Cusco Koricancha, or go more upscale at the Casa Andina Private Collection-Cusco (for information on both, go to Casa-Andina.com).
- Rainforests: Peru’s rainforests are amazing, and ecotourism is a huge draw for adventurous honeymooners. In southeastern Peru, you’ll find the Tambopata National Reserve, which boasts an easily accessible and spectacular jungle (with all rainforest trips, you’re likely to be roughing it, making transit more time-consuming). Stay in nearby Puerto Maldonado. It’s also a good idea to arrange your jungle treks through an outfitter there or through your hotel. The bungalows at Wasai Puerto Maldonado Lodge (Wasai.com) offer a comfortable retreat, and the riverfront restaurant is considered a must. Additionally, the hotel conveniently offers eco-tours that include stays at the Wasai Tambopata Lodge and Research Center — you’ll see monkeys, macaws, and more.
- Beaches: Despite the great expanse of ocean to its west, Peru isn’t well known for its beaches. Most of its 1,800-mile coastline is strewn with desert, which, although pretty in its own right, isn’t exactly the country’s strong suit. If you’re after sun and surf, its neighbors Colombia and Ecuador are much better choices. But, Peru isn’t completely stripped of sand. The northern regions have some very decent beaches, stretching from the uppermost point, Putumayo River, to about midway down the coastline. Even Lima, the capital, has a few stretches of sand that get filled with locals and tourists on weekends. If you feel like venturing out of Lima, most experts agree that Trujillo, Tumbes, and Piura are among the best spots. Here the beaches boast wide sandbars and gentle to moderate waves, perfect for a day of surfing or swimming. Not all of them offer child-safe swimming, though, so make sure to check ahead. Close to the Ecuador border, about an hour’s drive from Tumbes, is arguably one of the best beaches in the country. Punta Sal offers scenic views and abundant sun, but also a wealth of activities, including scuba diving, windsurfing, and deep-sea fishing, on top of the usual swimming and beach volleyball. A close contender to Punta Sal is Mancora Beach, about a thirty-minute drive away. Surfers flock to Mancora to ride its powerful waves, which sometimes reach 6 feet tall. It’s also a popular stop for people fresh off the Inca Trail hike—who wouldn’t want to crash on a beach after walking for days? Both beaches are a long way from Lima, so if you don’t want to go too far from the capital, Piura may be a better option. The city is just a two- to three-hour drive up north. Some 30 miles outside the city proper is La Tortuga Beach in Paita, which boasts some of the best sunsets and relatively calm waters.
The Best Time to Go
May through October are the driest months in Peru and tend to attract the most visitors, particularly in July and August. June to September (winter in Peru) are clear months and often cold, particularly at high elevations. However, if it’s mountain trekking you’re after, this can be an ideal time to visit, as visibility is best.
January through April tends to be wet and should be avoided — roads are often rendered impassable, so you may find yourself stuck in one spot for a few days. Also, remember that depending on where in Peru you’re headed, temperatures and local weather will vary; the dry highlands are quite different from the rainforests in the east. (For more general info on weather and other aspects of trip planning, check out Peru.info.)
Avoid the Christmas, New Year, Carnaval, Easter, and Peruvian Independence Day holidays (July 28) — rates go up, and hotels and flights will be harder to come by. Beyond just Christmas, you’ll generally see higher rates from mid-December through mid-January.
The Best Ways to Save
Though more expensive than Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru is still extremely inexpensive by US standards. Many restaurants, hotels, and other businesses will accept payment in US dollars, so always check whether the prices you’re seeing are in American or Peruvian currency. Lima and Cusco (near Machu Picchu) tend to be significantly more expensive because these areas host so many tourists. Staying nearby rather than in either of these areas will save you a good chunk of cash.