Peru has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the world and it’s no wonder why. Places like Rainbow Mountain, Lake Humantay, and Huacachina showcase the endless natural beauty and diversity found in Peru. In June of this year, I was fortunate enough to visit the land of the Inca on a whirlwind 10-day adventure.
My trip to Peru could be best described as a 10-day all out sprint to cover the most breathtaking destinations and sights this country has to offer. We met in Lima on day 1 and kicked off our adventure with a drive to Huacachina where we rode dune buggies out to photograph the sunset.
One of the most incredible things about Peru is the dramatic variety of climates, sights and environments. Lima was cold, windy and overcast and felt like a small fishing village in the American Pacific Northwest. A few hours south, sand dunes hundreds of feet high rose off the coast and suddenly we were in the desert.
Following our brief visit to Huacachina, we awoke the next day at 3:30am to catch a flight to Cusco. Only 45-minutes by plane from the capital and we were in a totally different environment – hiking to snow-capped peaks in the alpines and fighting altitude sickness the entire way.
Exploring the Incredible Cuzco Region of Peru
Our morning in Cuzco was spent touring some of the ancient ruins located on the outskirts of the city, which was the perfect warm up for the hikes to come. Later that night, we rode into the mountains and camped at the trailhead for the hike up to Lake Humantay – a turquoise lake surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains.
Another early morning wakeup call! This time we had some help from our guides who brewed us up some coca tea to prepare us for the long hike ahead. The drastic increase in elevation over the previous day definitely took its toll but the views from the top were nothing short of spectacular.
After spending the morning at the lake, we returned to the vehicles and began the drive to Ollantaytambo, also known as Ollanta. This quaint village is one of the most famous examples of Inca city planning, where narrow cobblestone streets house communities that stretch back continuously to the 13th century.
On Day 5 we travelled through the Sacred Valley and visited several villages and ruins including Chincheros, Urabamba, and the Pisac ruins. Each stop featured another piece of Incan information which all came together to write the incredible history of the country of Peru.
Rainbow Mountain’s Otherworldly Landscapes
Day 6 brought another early start as we loaded up our gear and drove to the trailhead to Rainbow Mountain. Hiking up to the summit was by no means an easy feat! Frequent stops were required along the way as we struggled to fight altitude sickness (apparently, the human body doesn’t enjoy going from sea level to 17,000 feet in 2 days).
The hike from the trailhead at 15,500 feet up to the summit over 17,000 feet was possibly the most physically draining and exhausting feat that I have ever undertaken. But the views from the top were well worth any pain felt along the way. We arrived just before sunset to a spectacular view of Rainbow Mountain.
I still remember how much of a relief it was to finally arrive at the top. The natural colors formed by the layers of sedimentary rock were surreal as it felt as though we had been dropped on another planet. We were blessed with wonderful weather on that sunset hike and returned at sunrise for several more hours to soak in the beautiful views.
It’s astounding that this gem has only recently been made open to the public, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to witness it during my lifetime. We all passed out as we began the long drive back to Cusco. We spent the evening exploring Cusco and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation.
Machu Picchu: Living up to its Reputation as a Wonder of the World
Day 8 featured stops in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. First, we drove to Salineras to visit the world-famous salt mines. The sight features over 3,000 salt pools and we had the opportunity to walk amongst the pools and learn how miners have collected salt from these mines for thousands of years.
We then drove to Moray to visit to witness a few of the famous terraced agricultural plots used by Incans to grow plants that could previously only survive in other regions. Finally, we drove to Ollantaytambo and boarded a train which to took us to the village of Aguas Calientes.
The train ride through the jungle at sunset featured a completely different climate that we had seen over the previous few days and we were eager to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu. Once again, we awoke well before sunrise on Day 9 to wait in line to board a bus up to Machu Picchu.
As soon as the gates opened we hiked up to find the perfect vista to wait for the sun to rise. Sun beams slowly moved over the peaks of the mountains and the village slowly lit up with the new day. After sunrise, we toured the village with our guide, learning about the history of the village and its origin. We spent the afternoon back in Aguas Calientes before returning to Machu Picchu at sunset.
Machu Picchu, it lives up to its reputation as one of the wonders of the world. We were fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu for two sunrises and once at sunset. Most tourists make the trip to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu), visit the village at sunrise and then return back to Cusco the same day.
The fact that we had multiple days was a blessing. Conditions were incredible and standing on the terraces as the morning light rays slowly struck the peak of Huayna Picchu was an experience I will cherish forever.
The next morning, we awoke for another spectacular sunrise and then boarded our train back to Ollantaytambo. After the drive to Cusco, we had one more team dinner before beginning our individual journeys home. We left completely exhausted from the exhilarating 10 days spent in Peru.
It would take several more return trips before feeling like I had completely explored the country, but I cannot imagine having seen any more in such a brief period of time.
Looking Back on an Incredible 10 Day Adventure
It was impossible not to fall in love with Peru as a country. Our guides were spectacular and their love for the country and their willingness to share that love with us was apparent. I learned a great deal about the history of the Peruvian people in a very short time and it gave me a great appreciation for the sights that we were seeing.
Besides that, the local food was some of the best. The ceviche in Lima and alpaca were always well prepared and delicious. I did not get the chance to try cuy (guinea pig) but I will have to save that for my return trip!
There are several moments that I will cherish my entire life from this trip but one that stood out. Our second day at Machu Picchu, we joined the hordes of tourists for sunrise but we then returned to the village just prior to sunset. To my surprise, there were barely any tourists at the time.
I separated from my group and spend a few minutes wandering the ruins in complete isolation. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to wander one of the wonders of the world in complete solitude. I will never forget that feeling.