10 things to do when you visit Peru

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Moving to Peru was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and as I look back on my four months in this wondrous place, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude. This journey into the unknown changed my life, and for that I am truly thankful. 

It was April 2021 when I moved from Mexico to Peru. I didn’t know much about my new home, and my goals were simple- hike, surf, explore Machu Picchu, drink Ayahuasca, and brush up on my Spanish skills. With outdoor adventures and personal goals guiding my journey, it wasn’t long before I found myself falling for Peru’s unique biodiversity and beautiful culture

With its stunning coastline and deserts, majestic Andes mountains, tropical Amazon rainforest, and ancient ruins GALORE- what’s not to love?! 

After exploring six cities and two national parks, it’s hard for me to pick favorites, but here’s a list of 10 things that you should do when in Peru:

1. Surf the longest left wave in the world. Peru boasts some world-class surfing, and my favorite spot (and one of my favorite places to live) is the charming little beach town of Huanchaco. It has surfing for all levels, the chillest surf town vibes, the kindest local community, and the waves are ALWAYS PUMPING! It’s an hour ride from the world-famous waves of Chicama, and a thirty-minute ride from some incredible pre-Incan ruins. I loved Huanchaco so much, I moved there twice, and I’d move back in a heartbeat. Add Mancora to your list, and if you find yourself in Lima, surf Miraflores. Peru has killer surf, go ride those olas!

2. Sandboard, dune buggy, and go rolling down the sand dunes of Huacachina. Fun Fact: Huacachina is the only natural desert oasis in South America, and if you’re in a time crunch, it’s the perfect 3-4 day getaway! Climbing atop the dunes at night and viewing the city lights below was such a treat- especially for my burning calves haha. This is also a launch site to book a plane ride over the world-famous Nazca lines! It’s about a 5-hour bus ride from Lima to Huacachina, and it’s so worth the visit. 

3. Trek through the longest continental mountain range in the world- the glorious Andes. Here you’ll find turquoise lagoons, glacier-fed rivers, waterfalls, lush, verdant landscapes, and snow capped peaks galore! I highly recommend venturing into Huascaran National Park, which lies just outside of the city of Huaraz. It is jam-packed with mountain adventures, and whether you’re peak-bagging at 5,000 meters or simply wandering through the wilderness, this is a place that will make your heart sing. Be sure to check out Laguna Paron, Laguna 69, Quilcayhuanca, and Humantay Lake. Days spent in the Andes were quite easily some of the best (and most painful- thanks altitude sickness!) days of my life.

 Pro tip: buy acetazolamide (diamox) at the pharmacies in large cities like Lima/Cuzco to prevent altitude sickness. Start taking the medicine one day before you ascend.

4. Explore the exotic flora and fauna of the Amazon rainforest. What a perfect place to disconnect and reconnect with the living world around you. My days in Manu National Park were spent trekking through the jungle, searching for exotic wildlife and mushrooms, bird/monkey watching, boating down the Amazon river, fishing, and going on late-night scavenger hunts for insects and reptiles. Every day brought an incredible amount of learning, as I was constantly exposed to creatures and plants I had never seen before. My only regret was not having more time to search for tapirs and sloths haha. 

5. Climb those mountains! Peru boasts some epic rock climbing sites, and I HIGHLY recommend trips to Hatun Machay and Los Olivos.

Hatun Machay– a sacred boulder garden, and a climber’s paradise. This paradise-lost was once considered a premier sport climbing destination, and it now lies abandoned. It was incredibly interesting to get the inside scoop on a lover’s quarrel that brought the fate of Hatun Machay to its knees. Many of its bolts have been cut, but it still hosts some epic routes of all levels. It’s also an archaeological site with ancient cave carvings– SO COOL!

Prepare for altitude! I recommend using azetazolamide for this trip. Climbing is NOT fun with a pounding headache and nausea.

Los Olivos– A 15-minute hike just outside of Huaraz takes you to the climbing walls of Los Olivos. Here you can enjoy a thrilling day of testing your strength while admiring the daily life of local farmers and the livestock that surrounds you. The routes are short (most are around 8-10m), but there is such a variety and all are well-protected.

Whether or not you’re a climber, Huaraz is a place you do not want to miss. This little mountain town is nestled right along the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, and it ties with Huanchaco as my favorite place to live. I went to Huaraz for the climbing, but what was meant to be a week-long climbing trip turned into 3 weeks of epic adventures. Ahhh what a place!

6. Check one off the bucket list with Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. There’s a beautiful feeling of connectedness that comes from walking in the footsteps of civilizations past. Machu Picchu is one of the most incredible urban creations of all time, and it’s so much more than what you’ve seen in photographs and social media posts. Not far from there lies Rainbow mountain, and it’s well worth the 3-hour journey from Cusco. Just 6 years ago, these crazy-colored mountains were buried beneath snow and ice, and as shades of vivid turquoise, yellow, pink, and red began to peek through the earth, Rainbow mountain was given its name. These adventures have gained an absurd amount of popularity over the years, and they can be VERY crowded. This is why I strongly suggest that you go there early and you go there NOW. Due to COVID, there are a lot less humans, and hey, the early bird gets the worm!

7. Learn about civilizations past at the ruins and archaeological sites of Sacred Valley. The mysterious architecture and fun history surrounding these sites will make your head spin. There are SO MANY cool sites in Sacred Valley, and the top attractions include Moray, Sacsayhuaman, Ollyantantambo, Pisac, Chincero, The Salt Mines of Maras, and the lesser-known Q’eswachaka Rope Bridge. Google to see what tickles your fancy, but know that the curious crop circles of Moray were my favorite, because they reminded me of aliens. Give yourself some time in the Cusco region, and don’t make the mistake of taking a quick in and out trip. I was there for almost a month and still didn’t see everything I wanted.

8. Drink that chicha! Eat that guinea pig! Dance to the music! Make local connections! Immerse yourself in the rich culture that surrounds you! Try new things and shop the local street markets. Buy any produce (like that funky, squishy street algae) that you’ve never seen before and give it a taste! (The lucuma is FANTASTIC by the way.) Mingle with furry alpacas and learn how textiles are made. Make your own chocolate at the Museo de Cocao. Befriend a hairless dog. Live outside of the tourist zones, and above all else, respect and embrace all of the beauty this world has to offer. 

9. Dig deep into the depths of your body, mind, and soul with plant medicine. Of course, psychedelics are not for everyone, but they have changed my life, and if there’s one place in the world to take these kinds of journeys- it’s Peru. I could go on and on about my four Ayahuasca trips and my recent 16-hour journey with San Pedro, but for now, I will say that these experiences are not for the faint of heart and require some dedication to the healing process. I couldn’t be more thankful for the learning and growth these medicines have brought into my life. They allowed me to connect with some beautiful souls, but most importantly they have allowed me to connect with myself and my true heart’s desires. If you’d like to take some of the most insane, thought-provoking, spiritual experiences of your life, schedule a ceremony and make the magic happen!

10. Last but not least, find a way to give back to your local community. I found an overwhelming amount of trash along the coastline of Peru and made it a priority to host cleanups along my journey. With the help of friends and local strangers, we cleaned 163 kilos (plus tons of unweighed rubbish) off the coast, and it felt SO GOOD. Of course, it was heartbreaking to see so much trash, but it’s a beautiful thing to see people from all over the world coming together to protect what they love. No matter where you are in the world, there are always ways to lend a helping hand. Explore your volunteering options, and please join us for beach clean-ups around the world @_cleansea  @bigblueoceancleanup & @sarah_sunshine__  Tag us in your clean-up photos and help us spread the love! 

Thank you for everything, Peru, you will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Chasing my dreams to see the world and make a difference along the way. Whether it’s beach clean ups, reef conservation, education, or simply spreading awareness, let’s be the change. Sarah Sunshine: By becoming a patron, you’ll instantly unlock access to all my exclusive posts 👈