Peru is a magical place, known as the epicenter of the legendary Inca Empire, home to world famous ceviche and Machu Picchu, and is a country so biodiverse it is said that if Peru can be saved, it could serve as the basis for rehabilitating the rest of the world. Peru has 84 of the 103 existing ecosystems, holds 10% of the entire world’s plant species, has the most species of fish in the world, and comes in third for most bird and mammal species. Its landscape is also extremely diverse with habitats ranging from dense rainforest, rugged mountains, and dry desert, to beachy coastline. It’s a place so rich with cultural traditions and customs, that 7 million people still speak the native Quechua language. Simply, it’s a place you have to experience to believe. In this post I will take you through a list of adventurous, cultural, adrenaline-filled, and nature-loving experiences that I call the 7 can’t miss experiences in Southern Peru.
1. Get an inside look at Andean life on the Lares Trek:
The combination of culture and breathtaking landscapes on this trek with Ayni Peru Expedition has had a lasting impression on me. I can’t seem to get the gorgeous colors, fabrics and patterns of Patacancha nor, the beautiful, hard working people who make them, out of my mind. From eating freshly prepared home-cooked meals with Andean Mountain families, dressing in traditional clothing of the region, and playing with local school children in remote villages, it was such an authentic cultural experience. From trekking multiple summits, exploring an un-trekked part of the Inca Trail, and taking in sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and alpacas grazing, it was also an adventurous and nature-filled experience. If you’re looking for a balance of the two, this trek is the perfect mix. For more information, check out the full post here —> What to Expect On the 4D/3N Lares Trek With Ayni Peru.
2. Witness the spectacular geological wonder of Rainbow Mountain:
It had been my dream to see Rainbow Mountain in real life for quite some time, and I finally got to make that dream come true! Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, is indeed a real place and is truthfully hard to believe even when you’re standing right in front of it. I opted for the 2D/1N trek with Ayni Peru Expedition, and was blown away by my experience. It wasn’t just seeing Rainbow Mountain that made this trip so special (although that part was absolutely incredible), but was also watching locals herding alpacas, seeing the night sky in all her glory without the disturbance of artificial light, and an overall sense of connecting with nature. Opting for the overnight trip also basically guarantees a less crowded experience, as most people go for the one day trek, which puts them on a completely different trekking schedule than you. For more information and more photos on my trek to Rainbow Mountain, check out my post here —> 6 Reasons to Hike Rainbow Mountain with Ayni Peru.
3. Explore Machu Picchu’s mysterious ruins:
They say it’s not a real trip to Peru without stopping to visit Machu Picchu, and now I understand why. This awe-inspiring 15th century citadel is full of mystery and wonder, even with all of the tourists (and even in low season, it’s packed with people). Although it rained during most of our visit, the rain and fog cleared just in time for us to enjoy the panoramic view of Machu Picchu from Sun Gate. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, exploring the many nooks and crannies and trying to wrap your head around the strange history of this place. My trip to Machu Picchu was organized entirely by Ayni Peru and was a part of the 4D/3N Lares Trek (which I mentioned above), and was certainly a highlight of my trip to Peru.
4. Swim with wild sea lions off the coast of Lima:
When I heard that there was a company that would bring you out to the Palomino Islands to swim with and observe sea lions in their natural habitat, I borderline happy-screamed. Mar Adentro Excursiones offers a 2.5 hour trip out to the Palomino Islands which includes 15 minutes of facetime swimming around with the curious and playful sea lions as well as a guide that will point out the many different species of birds along the way. These islands are home to massive colonies of seabirds, including penguins, blue-footed boobies, Peruvian pelicans, and more. Jumping into the freezing cold Pacific and slowly swimming toward these hilarious creatures was nothing short of exhilarating and was one of the best “nature” experiences I have ever had. For more photos and to read more about this incredible experience check out my recent post here —> Mar Adentro Excursiones: Swim With Sea Lions in Lima.
5. Soak in the natural beauty of the Paracas National Reserve & the Ballestas Islands:
There are 63 natural areas protected by the Peruvian government, including the Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands. Although you can visit the Ballestas by boat, the islands themselves are off limits to humans, leaving them pretty untouched and teeming with wildlife. On this boat ride, you’ll come across similar wildlife you’d find at the Palomino Islands, but in far greater abundance. There are beautiful rock formations and natural arches everywhere you turn, and your captain will get right up next to the rocks for a super up close look at the many lazy sea lions basking in the sun.
The Paracas National Reserve is the nationally protected wildlife reservation just a 10 minute drive from the Paracas town center, where you can view flamingos in their natural habitat, fossils millions of years old, beautiful desert dunes colored in deep yellows and reds, and gorgeous views of the ocean from the untouched coastline. The reserve is dedicated to protecting and conserving one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world, and is simply nature at its finest. For more information about Paracas check out my post here —> The Ultimate Guide to Paracas: Peru’s Coastal Marvel
6. Take an adrenaline-inducing dune buggy ride in Huacachina:
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved roller coasters. So when I heard about an oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert where dune buggies fly over sand dunes up to 700 feet tall, you better believe I immediately added it to my itinerary. That desert oasis is called Huacachina, and when you reach the mysterious, palm tree-lined green lagoon, you’ll think you’re seeing a mirage. I knew the dune buggy tour with MyTriPeru would be fun, but I was not prepared for HOW fun it was going to be. Our driver put the peddle to the metal as we went nearly straight down a 700 ft dune and the incessant screaming of the woman behind me had me laughing until I had tears streaming down my face. He whipped around the massive dunes, causing our buggy to catch some major air and sent my adrenaline through the roof. Even if you’re not a thrill-seeker, the views alone are worth it. The ripples in the sand created a desert-like ocean before us, and the sun falling behind the golden dunes made for a sight I will surely never forget. For more about this crazy experience check out my recent post about Huacachina here —> Huacachina: The Adrenaline-Packed Desert Oasis of Peru
7. Discover the real Lima with The Urban Legend:
Lima is often misunderstood, and it can be a little difficult to figure her out at first. I had the unique privilege of spending the entire day with The Urban Legend, also known as Nilo Revilla Peltroche, who is in the process of creating his own tour company. He’s a tried and true Limeno with multiple years of tourism experience, who has a goal of showing his clients just how beautiful and amazing Lima can be even in middle of all her chaos. He took me to parts of Lima I would have never thought to go on my own/even knew existed, and did a really great job of explaining the history and culture of Lima in an interesting and engaging way. If you’re interested in seeing the real Lima from a local insider, then I highly recommend linking up with Nilo for an unforgettable tour. Find out how you can get in touch with Nilo and read more about my experience in Lima here —> How to Spend 2 Days in Lima
Disclaimer: I received complimentary tours from some of the above companies for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I only recommend tours and things to do that I loved, myself!