Written by Michael
Peru and Mexico Specialist
From the heights of the Andes to the open lagoons of the Amazon, Peru's immensely varied landscape attracts thousands of visitors every year. Though the options for exploring Peru's great outdoors are seemingly endless, our specialists have chosen their top picks for experiencing all the beauty the country has to offer.
Mountain Bike through the Sacred Valley
by Mike O'Hara
Mountain biking through the Andean communities of the Sacred Valley offers a different perspective on the area, one that you just can’t get simply looking out the window of a car. I started my ride in the Andean highlands near Chinchero and biked my way through the winding roads.
The van kept a safe distance behind me for the entire ride, so I had the option to take a break if I grew winded or tired. Visitors can bike anywhere from thirty minutes to the entirety of the route, which is usually around six hours.
The mostly flat ride through the Urubamba mountain range gave me views of snow-capped Mount Veronica and Chicón glacier towering above me. I paused for lunch at the Moray ruins, a series of circular depressions that are ridged with concentric agricultural terraces. The levels of terraces are carved into what look like huge bowls, one small and one larger. It is thought that the terraces created micro-climates suitable for growing crops during the Incan Empire.
After Moray, we passed through the Incan town of Maras. I ended my ride at the banks of the Urubamba River where I took a long cool drink and looked up at all the land I’d just covered.
Take the KM104 Trail to Machu Picchu
by Mike O'Hara
Most people are familiar with the two main ways to experience Machu Picchu. The first is to take a train into Aguas Calientes and head up the mountain for a one-day tour of the historical site. The second is the more strenuous option; a four-day hike along the Inca Trail. However, there is a third option that is sometimes overlooked. The KM104 hike combines the best of both experiences by allowing visitors to hike the last part of the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu all in one day.
Like the four-day Inca Trail hike, the KM104 hike has a lottery to allocate just 500 permits per day. This ensures the trails are never too crowded and means that you should plan your visit well in advance to make sure you secure a spot. The hike itself begins at the 104 km marker on the Inca Trail (hence its name), and takes you on the final 10 km (about 6 miles) of the trail. The day hike takes about six hours, depending on your level of fitness and how long you take to break for lunch.
I began my day on the train to Aguas Calientes, but disembarked early, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. From there, I hiked about 3 km (1.8 miles) uphill to reach the tree line, and then another 3 km on mostly flat trails until you reach the halfway point.
The halfway point is an ancient Incan archaeological site called Wiñay Wayna (‘forever young‘ in the Incas’ native tongue, Quechua), and this hike is the only way to visit the site. Built into a steep hillside overlooking the Urubamba River, Wiñay Wayna’s comprises the skeletons of housing complexes connected by a stone staircase and surrounded by green agricultural terraces. It provided a perfect spot to take a break for lunch.
From Wiñay Wayna, the trail stayed mostly flat. The anticipation built as I rounded each bend, and I must have asked my guide a dozen times in that last hour if we were almost there. Finally, I reached the Sun Gate and was rewarded with a view of Machu Picchu from above. Standing there observing Machu Picchu for the first time put all the photos I’d seen to shame. The stone ruins were larger than life, the vivid green mountains towered protectively over the ancient civilization, and the mist rising from the valley added an air of enchantment.
Kayak on Lake Titicaca
by Carley Minkler
The first time I visited Lake Titicaca, I was awestruck by its vast beauty. But I was staying in Puno a bit inland I wasn't able to really get as close to the lake as I wanted. On my second visit, I stayed at the indulgent hotel Titilaka, which gave me the opportunity to experience the lake in a new way.
Titilaka offers a variety of excursions, ranging from an hour-long walk along the coast to a full-day tour of the nearby Uros Islands. However, the memory of kayaking around the lake remains most vivid in my mind. The hotel offers complimentary kayak and canoe rides leaving from the on-site boat house, allowing guests to explore the lake.
Being out on the water was extraordinary. I was able to touch the water and gaze into the distance where the sparkling lake blends into the far horizon. There were many local birds to see as I paddled by, and there was barely anyone else in sight.
Hike down to the Urubamba River
by Carley Minkler
Though this walk takes about three hours, it's almost entirely downhill, making it relatively leisurely. Last time I was in Peru, I began by exploring the ruins at Chinchero, the starting point of this hike located outside of Cuzco. Leaving from Chinchero, I wove my way through the Inca trail network that runs alongside the rolling green hills of the Andes Mountains. The air is some of the freshest and cleanest I've ever breathed in, and I felt as if I was experiencing nature in its purest form.
The hike is a unique and intimate way to really experience the mountains as I walked between them. Passing by many small waterfalls and streams, the only other sounds were those of the birds fluttering through the trees. The only other person we passed during the hike was a local man strumming his guitar by a small waterfall.
When I last visited, my guide shared his vast knowledge of the local flora, fauna pointing out the different medicinal uses of each plant. The hike ended at the very bottom of the Sacred Valley, the mountains we were just navigating now looming above us.
Go piranha fishing and boat through water lilies in the Northern Amazon
by Lillie Weinstein
Heading out from Iquitos into the waters of the Northern Amazon on a motorized canoe with only a driver and my private guide, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were on our way to go piranha fishing, and all I knew about piranhas was that they have very sharp teeth. The driver took us to an area known to be perfect for seeking out piranha, and I was surprised by how calm the waters were.
My guide then gave me a long wooden pole, showed me how to attach the bait and let me cast my line. We sat there quietly on the tranquil river until a piranha took hold of the bait. Catching my first fish felt exhilarating and I was stunned by how small and harmless it seemed once it was on my hook. Sitting there in the Amazon, waiting for the piranha to grab hold of my bait was equal parts thrilling and relaxing. I had the choice of either releasing the piranha back into the water or having it brought back to the lodge to be grilled and served for dinner.
On the same boat ride, we visited giant water lilies in a lagoon of the Amazon. My guide expertly navigated the complicated tangle of river channels which seemed so confusing to me. We traversed the waterways until we reached a beautiful open area. Here, the huge delicate lily pads floated side by side, filling the entire surface with bright green that was dotted with white blossoms. The fragile texture of the lily pads surprised me; even a gentle poke tore a large hole in the plant. The whole experience was incredibly serene.
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