Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Peru Travel
Peru is one of my favorite countries ever. The magic of Peru is difficult to put into words: its mountains are spellbinding, with valleys so deep, they whisper of a thousand mysteries. And though Peruvian people can be stoic when you first meet them ~ there’s a realness & solidity to them that you just don’t find much in America anymore, which I found quite reassuring as a solo traveler. With a journey to Machu Picchu, you merely scratch the surface of Peru. And in this “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Peru Travel,” I’ll do my best to give you an insider’s look at this remarkable country…
Peru’s “Tourist Circuit” + Itineraries
The official “tourist circuit” for Peru looks something like this: fly into Lima, immediately fly up to Cusco (gateway to Machu Picchu), get acclimated for a day or two, take a tour to Machu Picchu via several routes: the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or simply by train. If there’s time, maybe head over to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, & stay with indigenous people on its floating islands.
If you only have 10 days in Peru: this itinerary will take up most of your time.
For those with longer than 10 days to spend: you might want to head up to the Amazon for some jungle & river-touring, either in Puerto Maldonado (a 45-minute flight from Cusco) or Iquitos, which has become popular for its Ayahuasca retreats. Young adventurers may fly south to Ica for some sand-boarding on its famous dunes…which is also where Arie’s season of “The Bachelor” was filmed!
We’ll dig into all these spots below with lots of photos….
Map of Peru Travel
Lima International Airport
Puerto Maldonado (Amazon)
Some of My Favorite Books on Peru…
Peru Travel Overview
- Safety = Generally Safe 75% 75%
- Cost = Cheap 30% 30%
- Adventures = Abundant 95% 95%
- How Safe I Felt as a Solo Traveler = Quite Safe 90% 90%
- Hot Guys = Short but Handsome! 60% 60%
- Drivers = 100% Freaking CRAZY!!! 100% 100%
Photos of Lima & Cusco
The vast majority of people who visit Peru fly into Lima’s International Airport. Some decide to spend a day or two in Lima, touring its sights ~ particularly foodies, as this is a newly-hot international culinary stop. But the vast majority of visitors will quickly hop on a one-hour flight up to Cusco. Most people get acclimated for a day or two in Cusco, at the crazy elevation of 11,000 feet (yes, many people get sick at this elevation ~ it takes some getting used to).
From there, they’ll typically head out on a tour to fabled Machu Picchu….
Heading up to Cusco, Peru….
Cusco is the city in Peru that feels most like home to me. I spent over two months there, & it’s where I chose to base myself to learn Spanish. I cried when I left Cusco! The photos below will give you an idea of the beauty here. And as I’ve stayed in more than 15 hotels in Cusco alone ~ here are some of my favorites for female travelers: the JW El Convento Marriott is my #1 favorite Cusco hotel, with its cozy stone walls & gorgeous lobby bar. On a budget, I loved staying at La Bo’M Hostel, which is attached to a delightful creperie. And in the mid-range, I loved the Novotel Cusco & the Apu Huascaran….
But Is Peru Safe for Female Travel?
Safety is a concern for most travelers when heading south of the border ~ whether to Mexico, Central or South America. Some of my friends & family were concerned when I flew to Peru (which is where I started a 5-month trip), because they’d heard rumors that “blondes had a hard time” down there. Personally, I didn’t find this to be the case moreso than any other country.
HOWEVER: Even though I personally didn’t have any issues, I did meet & talk to women who did. One young woman I met while in the Amazon went on a tour & ended up being the only person on the tour (a HUGE red flag). She said that the male guide hassled her & repeatedly asked her out ALL DAY long, & even tried to grope & touch her. As this guide was recommended by our hotel in Puerto Maldonado, this was very concerning, & I went with her as she told the hotel owners what had happened.
Takeaway: I would do everything in your power to avoid being the only person on a tour; if you can, find a way out of the situation.
Other women I spoke to had experiences where they were taken advantage of during Ayahuasca ceremonies (Ayahuasca is a VERY powerful mind-altering plant/drug that has gained popularity, particularly in Peru). I’ll discuss this in greater below, but if you’re a woman traveling to Peru & want to do Ayahuasca: I would ONLY consider doing it alongside people you know & trust, & do extensive research on WHO will be guiding you through the ceremony. DO NOT trust some random “shaman” off the street who tries to entice you into engaging in his Ayahuasca ceremony. Lord knows there are plenty of *fake* shamans in Peru, & some may unfortunately try to take advantage of women who take these drugs & become incapacitated or unconscious.
Safety Stats for Peru
Personal stories aside, let’s take a look at some hard stats regarding safety in Peru. The Global Peace Index ranks all developed nations in the world, in terms of safety. They look at numerous figures, including terrorism, internal & external conflicts, homicides, etc. In 2022: Iceland is the #1 safest country in the world, & Afghanistan is currently the least safe country in the world at #163.
So where does Peru lie on this list? And the United States, for that matter? On the Global Peace Index, Peru is now ranked at #101, near Thailand. And the United States is….all the way down at #129, closer to Brazil & Israel, in terms of safety. Meaning, there are 128 countries statistically safer than the United States, & 100 countries safer than Peru. Interestingly, both countries have gotten less safe since I checked these stats a few years ago; America’s increased gun violence & Peru’s current protests undoubtedly are reflected here.
Before traveling to Peru, check with the State Department & see if there are any special travel warnings. But all in all, I’ve spent over 3 months in Peru ~ with friends & by myself, & I don’t have any “scary” stories to relate, nor did any theft occur during this time. Frankly, I loved my time in Peru. And the police presence in popular destinations like Cusco & Machu Picchu should set your mind at ease, as the government knows how important it is to maintain safety in these very popular places.
Ayahuasca & Safety in Peru Travel
Many people choose to participate in “Ayahuasca Ceremonies” during their Peru travel experience. Personally, I did not (even though it was offered on multiple occasions). Ayahuasca is a medicinal herb that, when combined with DMT, causes mind-altering properties. It’s a black, tar-like looking substance that you drink….& allegedly it tastes foul. Many people take it in order to have, what are in some cases, life-altering visions. It’s kind of like LSD…..on steroids. Ayahuasca is ONLY to be taken under the supervision of a trained shaman, & under NO circumstances should you ever take it alone!!
This is a powerful substance that is not to be underestimated.
Because I was so curious, I asked just about everyone I met in Peru if they’d tried Ayahuasca. Locals and tourists. The overwhelming majority had ~ & their experiences varied wildly. The common denominator was that people tend to shit & piss themselves a lot; others threw up repeatedly. Strangely, this did NOT sound fun to me! Some say the reason for all this *evacuation* is that the body is purging old demons, or negative emotions…something to this effect. It’s KEY to either fast or do some kind of detox prior to an Ayahuasca ceremony; look for a retreat where this is part of the protocol.
From everything I’ve heard: the experience goes much better if your body is free of alcohol, meat, processed foods, etc.
If I had to put a number on people’s feedback from their Ayahuasca experiences: it ran about 60% positive, 30% negative, & 10% VERY negative. Many locals warned me not to do it; I think they’ve both seen & heard horror stories. And if you’re on any kind of medication, I would 100% NOT proceed without talking to a doctor.
In addition to the intensity of the experience itself, there’s also the issue of potential sexual assaults that occur to women (& men) during these ceremonies. Because you’re in such an altered state, this is really a perfect opportunity for predators to take advantage. All of this to say: PROCEED WITH GREAT CAUTION if you plan to do Ayahuasca in Peru. If you’re still hell-bent on it, do a TON of research first. TALK to people who’ve already done it down there, & get specifics about their experience. And as a woman, I certainly would not do this alone: I would only consider doing it if I was going to be with people I knew & trusted.
Finally, ONLY PROCEED if you feel truly & completely comfortable with the whole idea. I did a ton of research on Ayahuasca while I was in Cusco (the topic comes up a lot there), & the only place I would even have remotely considered trying it was at a place called Etnikas Ayahuasca Retreats, which is located near Cusco.
Photos of Machu Picchu
I’ve already written much about Machu Picchu on this site, so I won’t go too into detail here ~ but all I’ll say is, it more than lives up to its hype. I’ve visited twice….& I’d go again. For more photos of Machu Picchu, read this article.
The Salktantay Trek is an amazing way to reach Machu Picchu ~ & it provides a wonderful alternative to the highly-trafficked Inca Trail. The lodging shown above is called the Salkantay Bio Domes, or Salkantay Sky Lodge. You’ll have your own private “dome” to take in the astonishing, snow-capped scenery….
Note: Reservations must be made months in advance here.
Other Places by Cusco to Visit….
There are sooo many adventures that await in the area around Cusco & Machu Picchu. This entire region is known as the “Sacred Valley,” & some of my favorite adventures here include: taking a trek to Rainbow Mountain, enjoying the markets & incredible ruins in Pisac (about 45 minutes from Cusco), taking a tour of the circles of Moray & pink salt flats of Maras, & hiking to the incredibly turquoise Lake Humantay ~ which can be seen on the above-mentioned Salktantay Trek.
Photos of Lake Titicaca in Peru
A side trip that many people take from Cusco is to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. To get here, I took an overnight bus that landed in the not-so-pretty town of Puno, which is on the shores of Titicaca. From there, you’ll join your group & take a boat out to the islands…which you can see in photos below. BRING STRONG SUNSCREEN HERE!!! You can get a terrible sunburn, as the lake sits at over 12,000 feet in elevation. We stayed overnight on the island of Amantani, in a little tin hut with an indigenous family.
Photos of Arequipa in Peru
If you’re not headed back to Cusco from Titicaca, consider a side trip to Arequipa ~ which is five hours south of Lake Titicaca by bus. Arequipa is an incredibly beautiful city, with a stunning main square, lots of great food, & both modern & historic hotels with many amenities. It’s a great place to stop after adventuring in more low-budget places, like Lake Titicaca, where there are virtually no luxury accommodations. I stayed at the Casona Solar Hotel in Arequipa & LOVED its stone walls & sense of history.
Photos of the Amazon in Peru
After being in Cusco for about a month, I decided it was time to see the Amazon. So I hopped on a 45-minute flight up to Puerto Maldonado, which is the closest place to see the Amazon. The jungle is so dense there: my hotel was set right in the thick of it, complete with a pet monkey named George! Another popular place to visit in Peru’s Amazon is Iquitos, which is found in the far-northern part of the country, closer to Colombia & Ecuador. Many Ayahuasca retreats take place here, but as discussed above: proceed with caution before booking…
Though I liked my hotel in Puerto Maldonado, I wouldn’t stay there again if I returned. I would stay instead at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. This is one of a high-end Peruvian hotel chain that has some of the most beautiful properties in the country ~ & I think in the Amazon, it’s preferable to stay somewhere that feels safe & secure.
Photos of Iquitos & Parque Huascaran
Below are photos of the pink dolphins & floating homes along the Amazon River in Iquitos. But there’s also one more up-and-coming Peruvian destination I want to tell you about: & that’s Parque Nacional Huascaran, which is located north of Lima, by Chimbote. This is a spot for nature-lovers, & there are lakes here that will blow your mind ~ like the incredible Paron Lake, pictured below.
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Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Peru Travel
This guide has turned out to be more comprehensive than I originally planned….but clearly, this is a country I truly love. And I find that there’s a lot more to say when you love a place….
Read Next: My Favorite Hotels in Cusco, Peru