This is a response to The ultimate itinerary for travel in South Africa.
First of all, I want to preface that I can only give the perspective of a traveler to Peru for this article. I'm sure local Peruvians could give you a completely different perspective, but hopefully I'm able to offer some ideas and a glimpse into Peruvian life for those seeking it!
The Touristy Stuff
We'll start with the parts of Peru that most people have probably heard of once or twice before, seen on social media somewhere, or have seen pictures of and didn't realize they're in Peru.
1. Machu Picchu: Noted by many as one of the seven world wonders, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is as incredible in real life as it is in pictures. You can take a guided tour and understand more about the history and culture of the Incas and their amazing city built into the mountains. Or, you can take the Salkantay Trek, which is a 4-5 day hike showing views of the sacred mountain Salkantay and then leads you to Machu Picchu!
2. Rainbow Mountain: This mountain just recently, in the year 2012, was revealed to have its amazing colors due to minerals such as quartz, limestone, and red clay. Before 2012, snow and ice covered its colors; due to global warming, we now are able to see its rainbow of minerals. My friends and I rode horses along the trail till we got to the incline. Then, we hiked all the way to the summit, which is a staggering 5,200 meters or around 17,000 feet. The views are definitely worth it, and being surrounded by those colorful mountains gives a feeling like no other.
3. Exploring Cusco: What used to be the Capital of the Incan Empire is now a gorgeous city with cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and plenty of culture and food to try. The iconic foods to try in Cusco are alpaca and guinea pig. I tried both of these, since, well, it's a part of the experience! I enjoyed both meals and thoroughly loved the city of Cusco as a whole.
Between the food, history, and amazing people in Peru, there is so much culture to dive into.
I stayed in Lobitos, a surf town on the coast in Northern Peru, for the majority of my time there. I worked as an intern with an NGO working to provide sustainable development solutions to the town of Lobitos. While there, I can honestly say I've never met a more welcoming, friendly, and fun community than that of Lobitos. There are constantly surfers out on the waves to watch and learn from, volleyball games going on down the beach, and tasty food to enjoy.
When in Peru, it's standard to eat ceviche, a common South American dish of fish marinated in lime or other citruses. There is also causa, consisting of whipped potatoes and some type of seafood. Both of these are amazing and I wish could be served with the same quality here in the states.
The lifestyle and the people, though, are what I miss the most. The easy-going, slower pace of life was so great to experience and work in. They have a real understanding there of true work-life balance. The sense of community and the care that the people have for each other was heartwarming and made me always feel like I was part of a family.
Why Peru is the Best
Besides the culture, people, and sites to see, there is also something to be said about the diversity of experiences and climates that Peru can offer. I personally did not get the chance to explore Iquitos, a city in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle, or go sandboarding in Huacachina, but these are experiences that are within Peru's borders. It is fascinating to me that one country holds SO much - from surf towns where I was staying, to an Incan Capital rich with history and stories from the Incan people, to the Amazon Rainforest! There is truly something for everyone in Peru. Cities, beaches, mountains, jungles, and good, amazing people.