Often overlooked in favour of Cusco, but the capital is still a worthwhile stop in my opinion. Start your sightseeing at Lima Main Square, where you'll see the Government Palace, Lima Cathedral, and The Archbishop's Palace. My personal highlight was a visit to the San Fransisco Monastery where you can view the catacombs. The streets are bustling, but everything is within walking distance which makes things easier. Then in the afternoon, head to the coastal district of Miraflores and stroll along the boardwalk for sunset. This is the high-end area of Lima where you'll find plenty of restaurants and shops, as well as the iconic Paddington Bear Monument.
The Nazca Lines are a group of geoglyphs made in the soil of the Nazca Desert and can be viewed via a scenic flight or from multiple observation towers in the desert. Given the size of the site, I'd definitely recommend the scenic flight option. The lines range from 400-1,000 metres in size, with the entire site covering 50 square kilometres, so it's way bigger than you'd expect. There's many Nazca shapes, but some of my favourites were definitely the Condor, Monkey, Spider, and Hummingbird. Note: If you're staying in Lima, the easiest route for this excursion is to take a bus to Paracas, where you can then fly from Pisco Airport.
The most enjoyable city during my tour of the country was definitely Cusco. There's a real charm about this place! The cobbled streets, local houses sprawling into the hilltops, and the many courtyard style plazas make this a winner. Plaza de Armas is the central point of the city and a simple navigation point. You've got the cathedral with the "Guinea Pig Last Supper Painting" and colonial style buildings in every direction. The Inca Museum is a worthwhile stop, as well as the bright colours of San Pedro Market. If Machu Picchu isn't on your itinerary, then check out the ruins of Sacsayhuaman.
The Inca Trail
The absolutely highlight of my trip was hiking The Inca Trail. The 43km classic route is spread across 4 days and has so many breathtaking views along the way. Yes, you can simply take the tourist train up to the Machu Picchu gate, but I really feel like you're missing out. The Andes Mountains and the high jungle of the Amazon basin combine perfectly for this iconic trek. You'll see plenty of ruins en route, as well as spectacular landscape, llamas, and endless view points along the cobbled trail. That rewarding feeling when you view Machu Picchu for the first time is irreplaceable!
Maras & Moray
Two easily reachable sites to combine into one day trip from Cusco are Maras and Moray. Maras is a town located in the Sacred Valley that's know for its Salt Mines.There's literally thousands of individual salt pools on a hillside that date back to the Incan times. When approaching, I was blown away by the size of the complex and the contrast of the salt pools. For a small fee, you can enter the site and get up close to the pools from various viewing decks.
Moray is also in the Sacred Valley region and located on a high plateau at approx 3,500 metres. It's an archaeological complex that has three groups of circular terraces which each have twelve levels. From the highest to the lowest terrace, the decent is about 150 metres, which make the ruins a fascinating man-made site. There's no written evidence, but it's believed Moray was solely for agriculture purposes to grow crops and Amazonian plants.
It's crazy to think that this Instagram famed spot was only discovered in 2015 when the snow covering it melted. Rainbow Mountain is a natural beauty formed by weathering and sedimentary deposits over time. Despite my photos in snowy conditions, this mountain displays rainbow colours. From the entrance, you're looking at a 5 mile round trip hike at an altitude of 16,000 feet, but it's definitely worth it. Even if you get poor weather, the landscape as a whole is stunning, and it's also a great spot to photograph locals in traditional clothing.
Lake Titicaca is the largest freshwater lake in the Andes and straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. This is a very picturesque spot for many reasons... green mangroves, wildlife, the floating village community of Uros, and the island of Taquile. The city of Puno is the entry point, with the closest airport being Juliaca. There's plenty of boat excursions available so you can see the lake up close, as well as visiting both Uros and Taquile. Uros is a traditional floating village community close to the mainland, which is the permanent home for indigenous locals. Whereas Taquile Island is 45km offshore and offers a very traditional experience away from the tourist trail, which also includes an interesting knitting culture solely for men.
Note - If you are flying via Juliaca, I would recommend a stop off at the Sillustani Archaeological Site en route to Puno.
Due to the length of my trip, I stayed in many different accomodation types, but one that really stands out is Maytaq Wasin Boutique Hotel in Cusco. This is a great value family-run hotel directly in the centre within walking distance of Plaza des Armas. Spacious rooms, solid WiFi, friendly staff, and breakfast available from 5am (great for pre-excursions). A special mention to the Avocado Restaurant two doors away, which is so good!
In short, Peruvian food as a whole far exceeded my expectations. There's been a real explosion of a Peruvian food scene over the past 10 years and this is fully justified. The ceviche dishes are a winner and I just couldn't get enough of them. The restaurant I'd recommend is Yaku, which is located in Cusco. Great tasteful dishes from a varied menu in a laid back environment. The staff are helpful and really take pride in explaining every detail of each dish. It gets cold in the evening, so the complimentary blankets were a nice touch. This place fully deserves all the 5 star rave reviews it receives online.
The only time I used any form of guide company during my trip was for The Inca Trail. I booked the 4 day hike with G Adventures and would definitely recommend them. The tour was great value, included all meals, Machu Picchu entry permit, knowledgable guides, full camping equipment, and round trip transport.
In addition to local taxis, Uber works well in the main tourist cities.