On Tour In Peru: My First Thoughts and Impressions

Ollantaytambo Peru

Usually immediately after a trip I like to jot down some of my first thoughts. I almost never write full posts though until a few weeks after a trip, and with good reason I think. Trips can be good or bad, usually a mix of both, but our feelings as we leave the place in question are almost never rational. Many times we’re still under the influence of a trip, glowing in its radiance and thinking that nothing was amiss. While that’s fine, it’s not usually accurate. The same holds true for a trip that had some hiccups; we tend to stress those bad areas too much and it takes time to consider how the trip really went, absent our emotions.

With all of that being said, I DO think there is some value in those very first impressions; thoughts and emotions raw and unpolished by the passage of time. Peru in particular has elicited some fairly strong emotions in me, a few of which I share here today.

Cuzco Peru

The Country

I have to confess that my time in Peru was brief (about 8 days) and what I saw was also fairly limited to the areas surrounding Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. However, those are also the most common areas for tourists to visit so I don’t think my necessarily limited experience in Peru is a hindrance, not exactly.

Peru reminded me a lot of other South American countries I’ve visited; a mix of extreme rich and horribly poor, amazing food, interesting culture and customs, stray dogs for as far as the eye can see and an eagerness to share their country with the world. For the most part I enjoyed my time in Peru, although the homeless animals wandering every inch of the country at all hours of the day came to be just too much for me. What also became too much for me was the tourist bubble that seems to exist everywhere. In Cuzco, a large city of 400,000 people, it takes some digging (and walking) to find a reasonable restaurant that isn’t a taxi ride away and has actual food that actual Peruvians eat. Almost without exception, every restaurant within a 5-block radius of the historic areas of Cuzco has the exact same tourist menu. While common anywhere you go in the world, there’s usually more of a mix, an attempt to share a local culinary culture that was almost completely absent in Cuzco. I did have moments of foodie breakthroughs though, in particular a morning jaunt to the massive San Pedro market when the restaurant stalls are all packed with ravenous locals.

But when I ask myself whether or not I enjoyed being in the country, the answer is thoroughly ambiguous. I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it but the aspects I enjoyed the most where the ones I expected to enjoy, the historical sights.

Machu PIcchu Peru

The Sights

Many people travel to Peru for one reason – Machu Picchu. You can lament that fact, say what a shame it is, but it also happens to be true. What is good is how many other places most tourists also visit along the way though; hopefully surprising them as they explore the history and culture of Peru. I confess, that’s why I was there. Machu Picchu has long been on my bucket list, and that is the sole reason why I wanted to go. The most convenient way to do it was on a 7-day tour, so that’s what I did. But I only visited Machu Picchu on my next to last day in the country. The rest of my trip was occupied with discovering a few of the many other ancient archeological wonders the country holds. Unless you’ve been there, these places are probably completely unknown to you, which is a shame. Yes, Machu Picchu is impressive, but I think it is only impressive when told in the context of the broader stories and history of the Incan Empire. Their accomplishments and traditions are fascinating, and were so powerful that their reverberations are still felt across Peru today. They are as important an ancient culture as the Greeks, Romans, Khmer and a multitude of others around the globe, and learning more about them is important for everyone to undertake. The sights ultimately are what made this trip successful for me, erasing any potentially negative aspects from my thoughts.

Cuzco Peru

The Tour

I was in Peru with , an adventure tour company who invited me to join them on one of their Peru itineraries. Yes, they sponsored my trip but as always my views and opinions are my own and always honest. It was only my second organized tour, and the two were so completely different from each other that I almost consider them different styles of travel. Overall, the Intrepid tour was not a bad experience, although hiccups certainly occurred, but that’s just normal in the travel experience. I’ll review them fully in a couple of weeks, but one thing did stand out that also stood out for me on my first organized tour earlier this year – the people. It’s the one aspect I would never have guessed to be critical before the trip, but my fellow travelers were an incredibly important part of my overall travel experience in Peru. There’s just something special about throwing together a small group of curious-minded strangers that is difficult to describe – it’s an emotional response. We laughed, we told stories and within just a couple of days became fast friends. Seeing Peru through their eyes brought to light aspects of being there that I would have otherwise missed; I know for a fact that traveling with them made my experiences in Peru not only more interesting, but a whole lot more fun too.

Maras Peru

Overall

On the day I flew out of Peru I was happy to leave. I was tired of the hassle involved with daily travel life there, tired of the poverty and stray dogs and just tired! (The altitude had its merciless way with me.) But even before I left the country, I also felt the soft twinges of nostalgia. I enjoyed my time in Peru, I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people, eating some new and delicious foods, learning about the complex and colorful culture and of course seeing those oh so famous sights for myself. It was an important trip in ways I don’t think I fully understand right now, but I do firmly believe will resonate and make themselves better known in the months and even years to come.

Have you been to Peru? Did you have as hard a time reconciling your experiences there as I am currently having?

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By: Mike

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on , and

9 Responses

  1. Mima Isono @TiptoeingWorld

    I never been to Peru before but it has been in my bucket list since the beginning of the year. And I must say Machu Picchu is the only reason I think of Peru. Your pictures and stories make me want to explore Peru more, perhaps I will go around Peru one day. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Jen

    Peru is the only country that I have been to that left me feeling completely, well, “blah” about my experience. I always assumed it was because I too went with an organized tour (and learned that I really do not like organized tours). If you liked your tripmates and were still somewhat unimpressed then perhaps I have been giving Peru too much credit.

    The strays broke my heart as well. After every meal I stuffed leftovers in a napkin and fed as many as I could.

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  3. Mrs. Goodlife

    Great post! I haven’t been to Peru, but it’s on my list. I’ve talked to friends that felt the same way about the country, and I myself, have felt this way about other places. Tripers want to go to a destination that mantains character and it’s clean and different, but mass tourism often does the opposite, doesn’t it?

    Reply
  4. James Shannon

    Next time you are in Peru, come see the desert coast along the Panamerican Highway. Ridiculously beautiful, and the beaches are refreshingly deserted, even in Mancora, one of Peru’s best known beach resort towns, which is where I’m writing this now!

    Reply
  5. Eric Korn

    I did a 12 day self-guided tour of the Sacred Valley last year and I can say that the best experiences were unplanned. We got lost on a hike in the mountains and discovered wonderful ruins and met a few locals who were very kind. In Urubamba, we watched a local school celebration that brought tears to my eyes. In Ollantaytambo, we took in a long political rally and had several hikes to small towns were we were delighted by the scenery and generous people. I assume a guided tour would have prevented us from having our best experiences. I have seen much worse poverty, so that aspect did not bother me too much. As for stray dogs, I did see a lot of them, but they seemed to get on okay.

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  6. Maria Hoffman

    Peru is a beautiful country. I visited Peru before 1 year. My favorite place in Peru is Machu Picchu. I can say its most popular tourist attraction and it is among world’s most famous archaeological wonder. I love the beauty & creativity of this place. I really shocked when I know this place was developed in 15 the century. It was really awesome.

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  7. G. Maria

    Hola 🙂 Glad you were able to complete a life goal of yours, which was seeing MP. Peru can definitely take you out of your comfort zone. Every time I go back, I get really frustrated with the disorganization of it all, so I understand what you mean. Having said that, I think traveling with an arranged tour operator is only useful when you have very little time, like you did. You would definitely need more than 8 rushed days to even begin to understand and enjoy a complex place like Peru. Good that you didn’t ‘hate’ it though 🙂 I certainly have a love-hate relationship with the place – but it’s taken decades for me to form that opinion. Lol. Looking forward to your future, more in-depth posts. Cheers, g.

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  8. Melanie Browne

    It’s so interesting to hear you forming your opinions on Peru, something I am struggling to do to write my own blog (only for friends and family, not as professional as yours!) I wonder, with a few months behind you what you think now? We spent 22 days on an overland tour between Lima and La Paz so we certainly to go see a great deal outside of the Sacred Valley. (tours can be a mixed blessing but I don’t think we’d have seen as much doing it independently in the time we had).
    Personally I resonate with the word you used, ‘ambiguous’. We definitely did and saw somethings that will always stay with me, Ollentaytambo, Macchu Piccu, the 4 day Inca Trek, camping on the beach at Puerto Inca, a wonderful homestay in Raqch’i where we participated in a symbolic thanks giving to the Apu and yet by the time we left we were both exhausted with it. I was sick of soup, the lack of sanitation in many of the towns we passed through and saddened at the multitude of adobe homes in disrepair, the street dogs were much less well cared for here than in neighbouring Ecuador and we were just a bit sad about how the majority of people, particularly Andean people lived.
    I had had a sinking feeling as we drove from Lima down the coast and I couldn’t believe families occupied the tiny shacks on the side of the road. But what I did learn is that Peru is complex, society is splintered, they’ve had some really difficult periods even recently but the people are still hopeful, friendly to tourists. No one ripped us off, no one was calculating what they could get from us. People are just trying to get by.
    We went on a tour in Arequipe, a lovely city worth a visit, called ‘the reality tour’ it was eye opening and heart breaking but it helped give us a sense of balance against which the Incan Heritage whilst still impressive took it’s place in Peru’s history. If you go back I’d recommend it. Although, personally we don’t think it’s somewhere we’d revisit we are really glad we’ve been.

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  9. Sarah

    Peru is an incredible country that really cant be explored in a week. I lived there as an archaeologist and had the best time of my life (so far). It takes some getting used to and some dont ever truly enjoy it but if you love the unexpected, then Peru is for you. Just a note on the dogs in Cuzco; they arent stray. Its normal to let your pet dog out in the morning to roam and it returns in the evening to hang out with the family. But im sure all those dogs appreciated the free food!

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