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Travel Diary: Peru

guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco

For Labor Day weekend this year (and a few days after that), my girlfriends and I went to PERU. I shared this in my Peru Packing List blog post, but one of my best friends from college, Nicole, has a lot of family that is from Peru. Nicole goes a few times a year, and has always told us about it, so when we were thinking about what major trip we’d want to do this year as a friend group (last year we did Punta Mita, Mexico), Peru was a no-brainer! 

Nicole planned and coordinated the entire trip (LITERAL #angel), and she did an over-the-top phenomenal job. Like, phenomenal. It doesn’t hurt that she also speaks Spanish fluently, so we were lucky in that we really got as authentic of an experience as possible. I take absolutely no credit for the itinerary and all of the unbelievable places we stayed at and toured.

Book Through a Travel Agent

Also, note that Nicole booked all of our tickets (to Machu Picchu and every other site that we visited) through her family friend who works for a travel rental agency, the Peru Travel Bureau. I would highly recommend booking everything in advance through someone (like a travel agent) who knows the ins and outs of touring these spots. Nicole has a document that shares much more information than the pretty itinerary she gave us before the trip (things like which airlines to book, the travel time between destinations, etc.), so if you want more logistical information feel free to email me (amylittleson14@gmail.com) and I can send you that doc (it honestly would have been too much to put in one post!). 

BUT, as I was sharing the trip in real time, so many peeps expressed interest in our trip and were curious about all that we did, so I’m sharing this Peru travel diary and our overall itinerary and reviews on everything in this post! As always, don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions at all (I can ask Nicole too ha). And, if you ever end up at any of the places I recommend, definitely tag me on Instagram so I can repost it and share it with everyone else!

PERU TRAVEL DIARY

Our overall travel trip itinerary looked like this: 

*Note that we went during Peru’s wintertime, so the average temperature was around 60 degrees, which was lovely. It was also their dry season, and it only rained once, when we were visiting Machu Picchu (go figure!).

Overall Trip Itinerary

DAY 1: 

Fly from JFK to Panama City, then from Panama City to Peru 

Arrive at 2:00 am at Nicole’s family’s apartment in Lima 

Note that there was only an hour time change as well! I was blown away by this. 

DAY 2: 

Drive to Nicole’s family’s avocado farm, outside of Lima 

Stay overnight at the farm 

DAY 3: 

Morning/day at the farm 

Drive back to Lima

Dinner at Primos Chicken Bar in Lima 

DAY 4: 

Early morning flight to Cusco 

(Nicole recommends flying the LATAM airline) 

Drive to Sacred Valley 

Check into the Luxury Collection Tambo del Inka

Stop in Ollantaytambo to see ruins & shop

Massages & spa time at Tambo del Inka Spa

Dinner at Tambo del Inka’s Kiri Bar

Stay overnight at Tambo del Inka

DAY 5: 

Breakfast at Tambo del Inka’s Hawa Restaurant 

Early morning train to Machu Picchu 

Bus ride up to Machu Picchu 

Guided tour of Machu Picchu, bus back down to town 

Lunch in town of Machu Picchu (called Aguas Calientes) 

Train ride back to Sacred Valley

Dinner at Tambo del Inka’s Kiri Bar

Stay overnight at Tambo del Inka

DAY 6: 

Breakfast at Tambo del Inka’s Hawa Restaurant 

Drive to Pisac to see the ruins and shop in markets 

Impromptu hike from Pisac ruins to markets

Drive to Cusco 

Check in at the JW Marriott Cusco 

Walk around Cusco 

Dinner at La Cicciolina 

Stay overnight at JW Marriott Cusco 

DAY 7: 

Breakfast at JW Marriott Cusco’s Qespi Restaurant 

ATV tour outside of Cusco of the salt mines & countryside

Lunch at Chicha

Shop markets in Cusco 

Dinner at Bodega 138

Stay overnight at JW Marriott Cusco 

DAY 8: 

Breakfast at JW Marriott Cusco’s Qespi Restaurant 

Walk around Cusco 

Flight back to Lima

Dinner at Jeronimo 

Stay overnight at Nicole’s family’s apartment 

DAY 9:

Sleep in 🙂 

Lunch at La Huaca Pucllana

Shopping around San Isidro 

Shopping at Larcomar Shopping Center

Late flight out to Panama City, then back to JFK 

 

Now, onto the reviews… 

Lima

WHERE WE STAYED

While we were in Lima we stayed in Nicole’s family’s apartment, which was in the Miraflores part of Lima, which was very residential, welcoming, and beautiful! 

WHAT WE DID

We were mainly resting up/hanging out with Nicole’s family while we were in Lima, so we didn’t do much touristy-wise (which was actually pretty nice because the rest of the trip entailed a lot of sight-seeing). We did however, do a little shopping. 😊

Lima Boutiques

We popped into a few of Nicole’s favorite boutiques in the part of Peru called San Isidro, and found the cutest local keepsakes. Some of our favorite stores were The Hanger (for fun jewelry and chic shoes)  Toque D’Sol (for the most fashion-forward bikinis!), and Lorena Pestena (for lovely, simple jewelry by a Peruvian designer). 

Larcomar Shopping Center

This was a gorgeous outdoor shopping mall that we went to on our last night in Peru. It’s right on the coastline and is full of trendy stores, little restaurants, and twinkle lights everywhere. I loved it and it’s a great way to see the coastline! 

WHERE WE ATE

Primos Chicken Bar

Think: fried cheese and rotisserie chicken. Also, some of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my whole life. Nicole’s aunt and uncle own the restaurant (there are a few of them in Lima now!) and her aunt is a pastry chef, so she designed the dessert menu. I’m telling you, you cannot miss out on it if you find yourself in Lima!!  

La Huaca Pucllana

All I can say is wow. This is a culinary experience, and view, unlike anywhere else we dined in Peru. The restaurant is located in Miraflores, literally steps away from some of the oldest ruins in Lima, and you look out at them while you dine. It’s definitely a nicer option, where you can eat some delicious (more traditional) Peruvian food in an iconic location. 

Jeronimo

One of my best friends who I was traveling with had her birthday while we were on the trip, and we celebrated with a birthday dinner at this restaurant. It is the perfect spot for a date night, dinner with a group of girlfriends, or your final meal in Peru. The menu was in Spanish (that’s how you know it’s legit!) so we had Nicole order for us and ended up just splitting a bunch of delicious things. Everything was better than the next– and the cocktails were unique and phenom as well! 

guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Dinner at Primos Chicken Bar
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Dessert at La Huaca Pucllana

Sacred Valley

WHERE WE STAYED

Luxury Collection Tambo del Inka

If you are wanting to visit Machu Picchu, and want to do so in a very comfortable and nice way, then this hotel is for you. It is basically the opposite of the experience you would get by hiking the Incan Trail 😂 (no shame!!). Therefore, it was perfect for my girlfriends and me. It’s known for it’s beautiful spa and close proximity to the train that takes you up to the town of Machu Picchu, or Agua Calientes (it’s about a 5 minute walk from the hotel to the train, and they take a group there every morning). We got two rooms (with two queen beds) for the six of us and it was perfect. As an FYI– that’s the setup we had for both hotels and it worked out perfectly! 

Once we arrived there, we took it very easy as we were trying to get acclimated to the increase in altitude. We drank the coca tea that they had in the lobby. Coca is a leaf grown in Peru that helps lessen the effects of altitude. We also had OxiShot cans that is literal oxygen in a can, that you can inhale if you’re feeling dizzy. 

We ate a very light lunch at the Kiri Bar in the hotel (more on that below in the restaurant section), and I still managed to overeat and have some stomach issues due to the altitude (more on that in the Additional Tips section below). But, because of all of those preparations, we still managed to adjust to the altitude without any major issues! My overall tip for acclimating would be to take it easy and rest a lot. Also, eat very light meals for the first 24 hours. 

WHAT WE DID

Ollantaytambo Ruins

On our first afternoon in the Sacred Valley, right after we checked into the Tambo del Inka hotel and had a quick bit too eat (I ended up accidentally eating too much with the altitude and had an upset stomach, TMI), we got back in the van and drove to Ollantaytambo to visit the ruins and markets there. The ruins consisted of a number of agriculture terraces and stone steps that were built into the side of a mountain.

On a difficulty scale, I’d say it was an easier hike to the top of the steps, and was a good way for us to get used to the altitude. At the base of the ruins were beautiful, colorful open-air markets with all of the Peruvian specialty gifts. There was also a cute town that surrounded the area that had an adorable town square and lots of restaurant options. We stopped at a convenience store right off the town square to pick up snacks and bottled water.

Machu Picchu

This was of course the main event during our stay in the Sacred Valley. We spent an entire day traveling to, touring, and then traveling back from Machu Picchu (it was a 12 hour excursion– at least!). As one of the seven wonders of the world, it was a stunning spectacle and a bucket list item for sure. 

As soon we bused from the town of Machu Picchu to the top, we found a guide that we hired to take us on a two-ish hour tour (there are a bunch of guides standing there and you can go with whoever you’d like). She spoke English and walked us all around the mountainside and among the ruins. She also took a ton of photos of us (and I mean, a TON😂), and knew exactly where to capture them. I would highly recommend hiring a guide to make sure you don’t miss any part of the landscape or history. 

Let’s talk transportation… we decided to take the easier route to Machu Picchu and took the train from our hotel (Tambo del Inka) to the town that’s at the base of Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes). From there we took a bus up a mountain to the actual site of the Machu Picchu ruins. All of this takes a good few hours in itself. Then, we spent about three hours exploring Machu Picchu before taking the bus and then the train back to Tambo del Inka. Note that you have to have your passport on hand the whole time (especially to get into Machu Picchu. You can also hike the Incan Trail to get to Machu Picchu, but don’t look to this post for any intel on that (ha). 

WHERE WE ATE

Kiri Bar

We ate at this restaurant in the bar area of the Tambo del Inka hotel on both nights (and for lunch the first day we arrived!) and really enjoyed it. We skipped out on the fancier restaurant (Hawa Restaurant) for lunch and dinner, because the menu of the Kiri Bar suited us just fine. Also, we loved the cozy atmosphere! The bar had the most intricate craft cocktails as well, with local liquors. So, we taste-tested a few of those throughout our stay too. 😉

For a late lunch after we toured Machu Picchu, we stopped at a little pub in the town of Machu Picchu. The town is also called Aguas Calientes and is in between the bus and the train ride, if you’re doing it, this will make sense. There are a bunch of restaurants in that town and they all looked good for a quick bite! 

Hawa Restaurant

We ate breakfast at Tambo del Inka in this restaurant on both days, at the absolutely unreal buffet they had laid out. There were detox juices, every kind of bread you could imagine, nutella and caramel for croissants. There were also scrambled eggs and sausage, a local organic honey station, and more. Also, note that you can ask for wax paper in case you want to make a sandwich to pack if you’re heading out for the day (especially if you’re visiting Machu Picchu!). We didn’t end up eating the ones that we packed because they got soggy when it rained when we were visiting Machu Picchu, or else we definitely would have!

guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The stunning Ollantaytambo ruins
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The Ollantaytambo Markets
Best Peru markets
Best Peru markets
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Walking around the adorable town
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Entrance to the Tambo del Inka Hotel
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The train up to Aguas Calientes, the town before the bus to Machu Picchu
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Spectacular.
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco

Cusco

WHERE WE STAYED

JW Marriott Cusco

This hotel is located in the heart of Cusco and was so beautifully designed and lovely. It welcomes you in with a fully stacked pastry cart outside and opens up to a huge flower-dotted square courtyard in the middle of the hotel. There’s also a gorgeous bar and restaurant area, where we had drinks at night and breakfast in the morning. It was very easy to walk to all of the restaurants and markets that we went to. In addition, there were a ton of activities and happenings in the hotel as well. For instance, a few of us took a “Pisco Sour” cocktail making class. We learned SO much about all that goes into this Peruvian cocktail (which happened to be our favorite drink of the trip!). We also visited with the hotel’s “mascot” of sorts– Panchita, the baby alpaca that likes to hang out in their courtyard. 

WHAT WE DID

Pisac Markets

On our drive from the Sacred Valley to Cusco we wanted to stop by the Pisac markets, which are a number of open air markets in the town of Pisac. They’re located in a valley and we initially went to the mountain that overlooks it. There are a number of terraces and ruins that you can climb so we got out of the van to do that. Then, we spontaneously decided to hike down the mountain to the town of Pisac and the markets below. Let me tell you, it was a hike.

There were hundreds of steps, lots of ruins, and even a small cave we had to go through. We were cracking up the whole time, but it was so beyond beautiful and worth it! I managed to fall into a cactus and eat an entire sleeve of Pringles, but besides that it was our best hike of the trip. Once we got down to the markets in the valley below, we were ready for a little retail therapy (and bottled water!!). I would definitely suggest this if you’re looking for a challenging but beautiful hike.

Cuatrimotos Cusco ATV Tour

On our first full day in Cusco were picked up from the JW Marriott Cusco to go on an ATV tour. I would highly recommend the tour service that Nicole coordinated. They picked us up in a van and took us about two hours outside of Cusco to the Maras, or the salt mines. The ride was nice because you could get a good overview of the city of Cusco and then the surrounding countryside. I joked that I thought it looked like Pennsylvania and my friends wanted to kill me I think (kidding guys!!). 😂 There, they gave us a tour and lesson in how the salt was mined and used in variations such as table salt and bath salts. It was beautiful and so interesting to learn about! 

Then, we got back in the van and went to a little town where the ATVs were held. We paired up so two girls were on each ATV.  Our guide (his name was Samuel if you want to ask for him) showed us how to work it and took us for a practice ride (I didn’t even attempt to drive #knowyourstrengths). Then we were off! We took about a two hour ride throughout the mountains and valleys of the countryside. There, we saw things like sheep, agriculture terraces, cows, more sheep, and the gorgeous rolling hills. The terrain was all dirt roads and mud so needless to say we got DIRTY. We were completely covered in dirt about ten minutes in and then fully embraced it after that!

If you are adventuresome (or even if you’re not!), I would still recommend this excursion.

It was off the beaten path but coordinated by the most knowledgeable guides. On our way back to Cusco, we stopped by a little marketplace on the side of the road where the women there taught us about the process of making and dying the yarn that they use to knit all of the Peruvian textiles like blankets, scarves, pillows, etc. They were so sweet and hospitable to us. I ended up purchasing one of their gorgeous throws to give my coworker for her birthday!

San Pedro Market

There’s a large tented marketplace in Cusco that we visited on the afternoon after we got back and showered from the ATV tour. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the JW Marriott (if that) and was probably the biggest marketplace we visited throughout our time in Peru. All of the markets pretty much have the same things to offer (alpaca blankets/throws, embroidered pillows, alpaca stuffed animals, pom pom everything, etc.), and this one definitely had all of that and then some. I especially liked it because it had one stand that had all straw goods, like straw placemats, trays, and totes (you know I love a straw bag).

WHERE WE ATE

Qespi Restaurant

We ate breakfast both mornings at this restaurant at the JW Marriott Cusco, where we were staying. They transformed the restaurant/bar area into an adorable buffet breakfast that included a fresh juice bar, omelet station, and every fresh fruit and pastry you could crave. It was the ideal start to each day when we were there! 

Bodega 138

This was one of the best meals we had during the trip (it was Italian, I know I know), but it was just so delicious and really hit the spot. It was literally steps from the Marriott and had the coziest atmosphere. We ordered pizzas and pastas for the table (I think there was like one salad thrown in there?!) and couldn’t get enough of how fresh and DELISH it was. It was also so inexpensive. Highly recommend!

La Cicciolina

This is known to be one of the best restaurants in Cusco and was our “nicer” dinner while we were there. The atmosphere was cool and swanky, but I got the truffle gnocchi and wasn’t head-over-heels with it (and it’s hard for me to not love any gnocchi). I would try it out if you’re looking for a nice dinner option, but maybe order differently than I did! One of my girlfriends ordered the Polenta Bolognese, which was amazing. 

Chicha

If you’re looking for more authentic Peruvian cuisine, then this spot is ideal. We went for lunch after we got back from the ATV tour (and after we had showered!) and flipped out over every dish. We let Nicole order and just got a bunch of their recommended dishes to all share. Give everything a try… it was phenomenal!

Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The top of the Pisac ruins
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Making our way down the mountain...
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Making friends at the Pisac markets
guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Best Peru markets
Best Peru markets
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Driving into Cusco...
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The hotel's mascot, Panchita!
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Visiting the salt mines/pools before the ATV tour
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
Very clean peeps 🙂
Peru Travel Diary, guide to Lima, the Sacred Valley, and Cusco
The straw basket stand in the San Pedro Market

Additional Tips

Additionally, these were some of the tips Nicole gave us before we went on the trip (with a few I added in 😉): 

  • First things first, let’s talk about the cocktail  you should be ordering. When we were on Nicole’s family’s farm the first cocktail we tried was the Pisco Sour. It’s a Peruvian cocktail that’s composed of the alcohol Pisco, sugar syrup, lime juice, and egg whites. If you’re a margarita fan then you will LOVE IT. It’s tangy and has quite the kick to it– so pace yourself. 😉
  • Nicole booked the tickets for all of the historical sites through her family friend who worked for the Peru Travel Bureau. I would highly recommend booking your activities through them, as they know the ins and outs and nuances of the ticket logistics, entry times, costs, etc.! 
  • We hired a driver (that Nicole’s family friends recommended) to take us to and from the airports and to drive us from the Sacred Valley to Cusco, as well as around during the day when we needed it. This was a safe and reliable way to get from place to place. You could also ask a travel agency, like the Peru Travel Bureau, about which drivers they would recommend. It was definitely not as expensive as a driving service would be in the US. 
  • Most places accepted credit card (I alerted my bank ahead of time that I was leaving the country), but we also each brought a few hundred dollars of cash. I mainly used the cash throughout the trip (almost everywhere we went accepted USD). 
  • We didn’t bring any over-the-top expensive or flashy bags or jewelry. I felt safe 100% of the time, but it was good to just be safe. 
  • We brought the MEDS. I’m talking Advil, Imodium, Pepto Bismol, etc. A few of my friends got the typhoid shot beforehand, but I didn’t and was fine. The only thing that affected me was the altitude when we got to the Sacred Valley. I ate a salad and a slice of pizza for lunch and let me tell you, it went RIGHT through me (TMI, I know, I know). When switching from varying altitudes as you travel throughout Peru, EAT LIGHTLY and don’t over do it. We had a lot of coca candies and coca tea as well (which you can find in the airport and in most hotels), as coca is a Peruvian leaf that can calm altitude sickness. 
  • As for cell phone service, we had strong wifi in every hotel that we stayed in. Additionally I (and most of us!) had Verizon and paid for the $10/day international travel plan, that gave us access to a certain amount of data roaming each day. 
  • To see all that I packed, take a look at my Peru Packing List post! I would go with lots of athleisure, layers, and a trusty fanny pack

A Note About My Peeps

All in all, Peru was one epic adventure with my very best friends. In all honesty, there are not many people that I could spend nine full consecutive days with, but these girls are just that. We peed on mountainsides, cracked each other up, and enjoyed each other’s company and conversation every evening over dinner (and every second of each day!). Whenever you’re questioning a friendship, ask yourself, “could I see myself going on a trip to a foreign country with them for over a week??” Then you’ll have your answer. 😊 I’m so thankful I have mine! Love you ladies so so much. xx

p.s. You can see more photos and videos from our trip to Peru in the Instagram highlight I saved!

Audrey Hepburn
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