Our journey into Peru began in La Paz, Bolivia, following the usual ‘Gringo Trail’ going north and visiting all the highlights of Peru along the way, ending in the capital of Lima. For this, we enlisted the help of Peru Hop, a hop on/hop off bus service so that we could simply sit back, relax and let them do the planning for us.
However, do not be alarmed, this in not a tour, we repeat this is not a tour; they provide you with all the necessary information for each destination both online and on the bus for you to choose where you want to ‘hop off’ and for how long, and if, like us, you’re unorganised, this can be done as you go (depending on availability on the bus) but it really is that easy!
The best thing about Peru Hop is that the buses are comfortable, safe and reliable. The English-speaking guides are thorough in providing information and they do offer excellent tours as an extra in each stop (more on that later). The buses pick you up and drop you off at your hostel and even when the bus can’t get there, they will provide a mini bus or taxi transfer.
Lake Titicaca is the first stop from La Paz and is one of the highest navigable lakes in the world, spanning across both Bolivia and Peru. We visited both sides of the lake and recommend doing both if possible as they are vastly different from one another.
The Bolivian side is situated around the town of Copacabana, which isn’t particularly special apart from a few stunning vantage points of the lake from high above the town. The bus will stop here for a short photo break. The real reason to visit Copacabana however, is that it’s home to the dock taking you to the Isla del Sol; the island of which the Inkas believed gave birth to the sun. The island is an hours boat ride from Copacabana set 4000m above sea level. We recommend spending a night on the island as it’s quieter after most of the tourists leave at 4pm and you can catch the most incredible sunsets and sunrises from vantage points all over the tiny island. Peru Hop provides a boat trip to Isla Del Sol for those wanting to visit for the day and continue on there journey or you can catch their return boat the next day.
The Peruvian side has a completely different feel as it is home to the unique floating islands. Spend a night in Puno before exploring the incredible floating islands the following day. Peru Hop offer three separate tours, a half day, full day or overnight but we recommend to do a day tour.
Cusco is the launch pad for a multitude of must-do activities in Peru. No doubt you will end up staying here for a number of days (or ever weeks) as you explore the surrounding area and no there’s no better place to base yourself than Milhouse Hostel; built around an 18th century courtyard, it has its own bar and restaurant, offers a delicious free breakfast and has some of the best showers we’ve had in South America. The number one reason people visit Cusco is, of course, Machu Picchu and our guide on the best way to visit can be checked out here. Other major activities include hiking in the sacred valley and the incredibly Instagrammable rainbow mountains, which can be hiked or cycled but be prepared to join the other masses of tourists hoping to snap their perfect shot too!
The main reason people to visit Arequipa is the Colca Canyon, although the town itself is lovely too set around the Plaza del Armas which is perfect for people watching with a cold beer. The best way to visit the Colca Canyon is with an overnight hike as it takes around 5-6 hours just to get there. This can be booked through Peru Hop directly on the bus where you will get a guide, food and accommodation included or, if like us you like to do things a little more adventurous, you can go it alone.
First you will need to book a bus, we booked a tourist bus (booked through our hostel - 25 soles) mainly because they leave at 3.00am for the tour and the public buses don’t start running until morning and take a lot longer which means you don’t get there until later and won’t be able to fit in the full hike (unless you plan to do it over 2 nights). The tour bus makes one stop for breakfast and one at Cruz del Condor to see the huge birds take flight below in the canyon. We read about how taking a public bus could help you avoid the 70 soles entrance fee however this is no longer the case because there are 3 check points along the hike in which you need to show your ticket. Once you are all dropped at the start of the hike, you can disappear on your own and follow the well marked paths down into the canyon. In case you do get stuck, the path is clearly marked on maps.me! Wind all the way down to the river, cross the bridge and head up the other side. There are villages along the way but we arrived at Oasis Sangalle at 3pm and opted to stay here for 15 Soles each. The village is closest to the hike up in the morning and right next to the river with plush green plantlife plus most guesthouses are complete with a pool which makes this little oasis easily visible from a distance. The hike up in the morning is a steep 3 hours so we recommend setting off early before the sun comes fully up. We set off at 6am and reached the village of Cabanaconde by 9am, just in time for the local bus back.
Of course there are also advantages of taking a tour but if you do decide to go it alone, remember to bring plenty of water and food, cash to pay for accommodation (and any extra food) and both hats and sun cream as it’s hot and there’s no shade anywhere!
The Nazca Lines are a UNESCO World Heritage site and famed throughout the world however nobody knows the real reason for their creation. The mysterious characters were carved into the desert over two thousand years ago and make an incredible sight. For a real experience it's recommended to book a flight overhead to catch a Birdseye view of them in all their glory. However if, like us, you just want to catch a glimpse then fear not as your Peru Hop bus makes a half an hour pit stop between Arequipa and Huacachina at the viewing tower to check them out which was more than enough for us! Alternatively you can choose to stay over in the town of Nazca to enjoy your scenic flight, bookable though Peru Hop, and carry on your journey the next day.
One of our favourite stops on our itinerary, where we recommend a stay at Casa Arenas as it has a pool and private rooms for cheaper than any hostels online when booked through Peru Hop. The Peru Hop bus arrives in the party town of Huacachina by night which is perfect to have a few Pisco Sours and make some new amigos. When you awake in the morning you realise you are surrounded by towering sand dunes just begging to be explored which you can do so by foot but don't head out at the hottest time of the day because you will burn your feet, speaking from experience! Chill by the pool until around three before heading out on the Dune Buggy and Sand Boarding tour at 4pm, which can be booked directly on the bus and is one of the best things we did in the whole of Peru and ends by watching the sunset over the unique oasis that is Huacachina.
It's an awesome place to base yourself for a few days to chill out, we spent 3 nights there, but due to the tourism and few restaurant choices it is incredibly expensive. There's no supermarket and the hostel doesn't have cooking facilities but you can catch a tuk-tuk to the mall in Ica for 5 soles to visit the huge supermarket which is also where the nearest ATM is located.
The next stop only a couple of hours from Huacachina is Paracas National Park, also known as 'poor mans Galapagos'. Peru Hop offer a free guided tour of the National Park which is worth doing due to the sheer size of it as you will be able to catch the highlights or you can opt for an additional boat tour to visit the islands and see wildlife such as sealions, penguins and maybe even dolphins. Unfortunately we decided to skip this stop because, in case we haven't mentioned, we're going to Galapagos!
The journey ends late at night in the capital city of Lima where Peru Hop only do drop offs at hostels in Miraflores and Barranco but, due to the unsafe reputation of Lima, these are the areas you should be staying in anyway. Do some shopping and eat some Ceviche in the upmarket area of Miraflores. You can check out some of the inner city ruins and art installations within Miraflores or relax on the beach however we chose to just embrace the buzz of the city with no particular itinerary or schedule.