Picking your destinations in Peru can be challenging; the choice of breathtaking landscapes is simply overwhelming! Here are the top 5 choices according to Riccardo Melchionna. We have been following his incredible adventures for the past few months, and his extensive time spent in this beautiful South American country makes him an excellent advisor for the top destinations in Peru.
A traveller’s experience
In the past two months I’ve been traveling in Peru. It has been one of the most exciting and wild trips I’ve been on. Peru is an extremely biodiverse country and offers such a wide range of experiences that it can be difficult to choose between them. Venturing into the jungle, climbing the white peaks of the Andes, driving along the spectacular desert coastline are just few of the unlimited possibilities you have to experience this country. This is my guide to the top 5 destinations in Peru: if you have enough time, make sure you don’t miss these places!
1. Machu Picchu
For sure on top of the bucket list of many travelers, Machu Picchu gets all the fame and glory for a good reason. There is a tremendous feeling of awe on first witnessing this incredible sight. The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is located on top of a high mountain with steep terraced slopes, surrounded by an outstanding mountain range, covered by a green exotic jungle.
The story of Machu Picchu is quite an incredible one: built between 1450 and 1460, the Incas abandoned this place fearing the Spanish would discover their sacred city. Unfortunately the city was never completed and remained undiscovered for hundreds of years, concealed by the jungle, until in 1911 the American explorer Hiram Bingham found this ancient ruin. If you only have one day to visit Machu Picchu, make sure to get the most out of it: try to be the first visitor to enter the site; this way you’ll also experience a beautiful dawn, as the sun doesn’t rise before 7 am. You can reach the entrance either by bus or by walking from the small city of Aguas Calientes. Take time to appreciate not only the beauty of the ancient ruins, but also the stunning view over the surrounding gorges.
If you want to experience something even more exciting (and it’s not easy to get something better than Machu Picchu!) you can go hiking Huayna Picchu, the massive mountain overlooking the site. The climb takes up to 50 minutes but it is not for those who are afraid of heights, as the path is incredibly steep and it is the same the Incas built many years ago. It goes without saying that the view you can get from the top on the whole site is just insane!
2. Paracas coastline
If you love adventure and desert landscapes like me, then you definitely have to hit the road to Paracas, just 250 km south from the capital city Lima. Without a doubt, Paracas is blessed with the most spectacular stretch of coast along the Peruvian shoreline. The National reserve is one of the country’s best beach destinations. The best way to experience Paracas is by car, driving through the reserve and reaching the best locations, such as La Mina beach. The place is perfect for activities such as diving, surfing, bird-watching and photography. Don’t forget to climb up the cliffs or sand dunes to get spectacular views of the pinkish desert and the green ocean.
3. Huaraz: The White Cordillera
One of the most breathtaking parts of the continent, the White Cordillera, is the world’s highest tropical mountain range. The White Cordillera, which has many peaks covered with snow and ice, is separated from the Black Cordillera, with no glaciers, by a narrow valley, called Callejón de Huaylas, where the city of Huaraz is located. Huaraz is definitely the best spot to find accommodation and get some rest after a hike. If you are coming from Lima and you are not used to the height you can experience altitude sickness so it is better not to start with the most challenging tracks at the beginning. Even if hiking is not your thing, witnessing the beauty of the valley and the mountain range should not be missed. Thanks to the variety of possibilities you can reach some of the most beautiful summits without being a professional hiker.
As I spent just three days in the region, I decided to make daily trips, starting the first day with an easy one: the hike to Laguna Wilcacocha, a small lake situated at 3725 m in the Black Cordillera. The spectacular panoramic view of the White Cordillera you can have from the top is one of the best in the area.
The second day we planned a trek to Laguna 69, in the Huascarán National Park: the hike is consider to be slightly difficult due to its high altitude(4650 m!), so we were not sure to make it, but after almost 5 hours we finally reached our destination: a crystal-clear lake nestled at the base of Chacraraju mountain, offering great views of the surrounding valley and snow-capped mountains.
The last day we decided to visit Pastoruri Glacier: Unfortunately the only way you can get there is with an organised tour, but the experience of getting so close to this colossal glacier is just unique. The walk to the summit would be very easy in standard climatic conditions, but the altitude sickness made it really painful, so I would recommend to get properly used to the height before making this trip.
4. Amazon rainforest
Whether you choose to explore the Amazon rainforest by foot, by boat or by plane, it will look boundless to you in any way. The Peruvian Amazon covers 60% of the country and it comprises the second largest amount of Amazon Rainforest after the Brazilian one. The two main gateways to the Amazon Basin are Puerto Maldonado in the south and Iquitos in the north. I chose to fly to Iquitos because it is only here you can get close to the Amazon River and eventually cruise on it.
Iquitos is located right in the middle of the rainforest and cannot be reached by road. It’s a prosperous, vibrant jungle metropolis with elegant bars and restaurants that flank the riverside. Once a rich colonial city for rubber exportation, it is today a tourist destination. Nonetheless the curious blend of European architecture and local markets, magnificent tiled mansions and the wildest jungle, makes this place really fascinating. But of course you can’t come here without venturing into the jungle and the best way to do this is spending some days at a rainforest lodge you can reach by boat from the harbor.
There are plenty of tours you can get from Iquitos, depending on how many days you want to dedicate to the trip and what kind of adventure you want to experience. I would definitely recommend not to miss these few essentials: catching the sunset over the river, walking into the forest(by night is spectacular too, with an expert guide of course!), floating over the Amazon river, birdwatching and hugging a sloth.
5. Maras: Las salinas
Last thing I would strongly recommend visiting is the site of Las Salinas in Maras, in the Sacred Valley, not far from Cusco. It is just something I’ve never experienced before. Las Salinas are actually salt evaporation ponds: I would have never imagined to be able to find salt here, in the middle of the Andes mountain range, at an altitude of approximately 3380 meters above sea level. These ponds have been used since Inca times the same way they were running hundreds of years ago: the salty water comes from a subterranean stream and flows into an intricate system of tiny channels that gradually fill up the several hundred ancient ponds. As water evaporates, salt precipitates into various sized crystals on the pond’s walls and floor, creating a unique landscape, with colored shades from pink to light brown. Take pictures from above and walk in between the salt flats, taste the salt crystals and get totally involved into this experience!