Peru is a country of contrasts. High deserts, glacier-covered peaks and colorful, bustling cities vie for your attention. In a single vacation, it's possible to hike in the Andes, climb 250 steps to the top of an Incan temple and explore a vibrant city marketplace filled with grains, spices, fruits and vegetables. But you don't need to be an avid outdoor enthusiast or an adrenaline junkie to enjoy Peru's natural wonders. You only need a sense of adventure, an open mind and a desire to explore as the Andean people have before you. Whether you want to absorb the local culture, check out Machu Picchu's famed ruins or explore the Inca Empire's capital city, here are six tricks for mapping out successful soft adventure activities on your next trip to Peru.
[See: 10 Bucket-List Destinations That Don't Cost a Fortune.]
Choose Your Tour Guide Carefully
Who you decide to travel with in Peru can make or break your vacation. Most travelers don't want to drive themselves in Peru (that's an entirely different sort of adventure), and most use a cultural guide. For a soft adventure vacation that is equal part exploration and cultural immersion, rely on a reputable outfitter like Vantage Adventures. This travel operator requires that all guests be able to actively explore their surroundings, and contains an itinerary packed with hikes, city excursions and rural adventures. However, Vantage also puts an emphasis on visiting artisans, breaking bread with local community members and getting to know the real people of the place you're visiting. This translates to everything from talking to children at a local school as a part of Vantage Cares (Vantage's foundation giving back to the community), meeting a 12-year-old boy who works for a living in addition to attending school, communicating with a young woman who has been taught the art of Andean weaving from her mother and grandmother and more opportunities for cultural exchanges. In addition to hiking Machu Picchu and admiring its beauty, you can get enlightened on the local perspective, along with unique architectural and historical details with a knowledgeable guide.
Remember: Soft Adventure Trips Offer a Mix of Activity and Culture
Soft adventure isn't just about engaging in stimulating and safe adventures. It's also about meeting the people of the country you're visiting, and gaining an understanding of their culture and history. While soft adventure may not inspire you to push your physical limits with risky activities, it does offer plenty of opportunitities to embrace exciting new perspectives and landscapes and break out of your comfort zone.
Take the Altitude Seriously
Cusco and Machu Picchu are notorious for their high altitudes, at 11,000 feet (in Cusco) and 8,000 feet (in Machu Picchu), respectively. While it's daunting to fly to high elevations, it's possible to make the journey without any issues. Be sure to take it easy on your arrival day. Do as the locals do, and drink coca tea and rest if you're suffering headaches or nausea. Also make sure to drink plenty of water.
Give Yourself Multiple Days to Experience the Wonders of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the wonders of the world, and for good reason. Machu Picchu is magical, historical, mystical and often shrouded in clouds. By planning to visit for two days instead of one, you can better your chances of seeing its grandeur without fog or rain. Be sure to book your tickets well in advance to beat the crowds at the ticket booth, and book Inca Rail tickets at least six months ahead of your trip. Soft adventurers will want to check out a portion of the trail, which can be accessed from the Machu Picchu historic site. Follow the signage to the Sun Gate: you'll walk a one mile portion of the historic trail, which is about 2 miles round-trip, in a difficult but rewarding trek to the temple overlooking Machu Picchu. The hike is worth the effort for the views and photo opportunities alone.
Explore Other Ancient Ruins
Machu Picchu isn't the only show in town. The Sacred Valley has additional wonders perfect for a leisurely half-day adventure. In Ollantaytambo, a small village in the Sacred Valley, make sure to climb the more than 250 steps to the Sun Temple. Once you've seen how the ancient Inca lived, check out the modern town surrounding the historic site, where you can barter for goods and enjoy a chicha (a fermented corn drink). In nearby Chinchero, walking along the narrow streets and checking out the many weaving operations or practicing your Spanish in this isolated town can be its own kind of unique adventure.
[See: Best Trips for Adventure Junkies.]
Carve Out Some Time for Cusco
Soft adventures can be as much about soaking up your surroundings and unfamiliar cultures and perspectives as it is about embracing the outdoors. Head to Cusco's San Pedro Market at sunrise to interact with locals selling everything from quinoa flour to bouquets of roses to roasted coy (guinea pig). A friendly hello and a smile will likely yield an explanation of each vendor's booth and wares. And make sure to see the Temple of the Sun, where Spanish architecture and Catholicism collide peacefully with Incan construction and worship. Afterward, head to the hillsides outside town to climb among the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, where you can see an Incan fortress at its best, and take photos with local llamas.
Consider your soft adventure trip to Peru to be equal parts outdoor activity and cultural immersion, and you'll come home well satisfied.
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