Image of Stephanie looking out of an ancient brick ruins.

Why Peru is Worth the Hype

Peru is home to the infamous Machu Picchu – which is probably on most travelers bucket lists (and rightly so). But this country is so much more than the tourist traps and the obvious locales to visit. Behind the curtain of persistent salesmen, lines, tickets and buses, there is a country full of kind and hardworking people, amazing food, and landscapes that make you feel like you’re in a movie.

For me, Peru holds a certain magic that other countries lack. There is a certain innocence in the way that shop owners leave their goods overflowing from the store into the street, the way that kids play unsupervised, and the way that expensive motorcycles are parked outside corner stores with giant $1 bottles of water and coffee shops with the most perfect espressos all intertwined with cobblestone lined alleyways and enough stairs to make your lungs burn a little.

Here are my favorite less obvious places and things to do in Peru that wholeheartedly contributed to the magic of this country to me:

1. La Boheme – This was a cool creperie with sweet and savory options as well as other breakfasty items. Also a hostel!

2. L’atelier – This place had amazing coffee, pastries and views of those perfect San Blas neighborhood cobblestone streets. They also sell really nice jewelry and greeting cards.

3. Limbus Restobar – This place has an awesome view of the city and pretty decent vegan options. It is actually on some touristy lists, but its away from the center and its popular for a reason.

4. El Huarique – This is a really interesting bar for unique cocktails with a cute interior. The owner is Irish and really sweet.

5. Le Buffet Frances: This one is also in San Blas and is a french cafe that was just so so cute and had the best bread and pastries. Truly, bread is king here – also chocolate croissants so buttery and flaky I would get fat on those if I lived there.

Ollantaytambo: Leaving this place after only two days, I knew I had made a mistake. If you use Ollantaytambo for a stopover for Machu Picchu like I did, don’t leave after just one or two nights! If you can, give this town the full attention it deserves. By the time I left, I felt that I had only scratched the surface of the plethora of a) amazing food, b) incredibly hospitable people, and c) ancient ruins literally a five minute walk away from the city center. There is so much to experience and explore here. Looking back, this may have been my favorite city. It’s quiet and strong – like it knows what it has to offer but doesn’t want to brag about it too much.

Basically, if you go to Peru and you go to Machu Picchu – DON’T PASS UP this beautiful city. Stay there for a week, I dare you. Would also be a great base for exploring the wonders of the Sacred Valley, just sayin.

Kinsa Cocha: Kinsa Cocha was a happy little accident. I was looking for a hike to do within a days drive of Cusco. Most of the marketed hikes were 3-4 hours away and group tours left at ungodly hours of the morning, which I was not about. After some crafty googling, I found a blog post about a hike with some lakes and it was only 1.5 hours away from Cusco. Bingo! We hit the jackpot.

First of all, we were the only tourists in sight, we had the day to ourselves to hike for as long as we wanted, and it was just an experience I will never forget. Get yourself a taxi driver that knows where it is, and stop in Pisac on the way home for food and cheap souvenirs at the artisan market. If you’re looking for a relaxing day in nature, away from the city and away from tourists – go here. You will not regret it.

Swimming with Sea Lions in Lima: I’ll be honest and say that Lima was not my favorite. The weather is a little gray and it is just a really big city with a fairly decent air pollution problem. Those things aside, I decided to sign up up (a little impulsively) for a tour to swim with sea lions the day before we left. Not for the faint of heart as the temps were cold and the sea was a rollin with seasick boat mates a little too close for comfort.

But once we jumped in that frigid water, all else was forgotten. We were within feet of hundreds and hundreds of sea lions just making their noises and doing their thing, jumping in next to us and swimming with their curious little faces up over the waters edge. If you find yourself in Lima for one too many days and you’re feeling adventurous and can handle a few hours on a rocking boat, do this.

There were countless other highlights in Peru, but these ones were what made this trip unique and memorable 🙂

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