Wherein I sandboard, walk the Inca trail, boat along the Amazon, and bring home an alpaca

I plan trips the way I do just about everything: obsessively. I do this for several reasons, the most important of which is that when you have limited time and money to travel, you have to make the most out of each second and penny. I have to assume that this might be my only chance to see Peru, not because I won’t enjoy the experience and will go out of my way to avoid the country, but because I have no fewer than 5o other countries that I haven’t visited and am desperate to see. Realistically, the odds are against my visiting every country I want to see before I die, much less visiting each country and then luxuriously sashaying on to my favorites for a second visit. And there are certain things I just have to see. There are also things I would like to see, but probably won’t stab myself in the eye if I somehow can’t make time during my meager three week jaunt. (Three weeks might sound like a lot, but when you’re running around a third world country where buses are in the habit of breaking down, being boarded by robbers, and flying off the road, well, it takes longer to get around. Also, Peru is actually a very large country, almost twice the size of Texas, which is the second largest state in the US. And it’s kinda got a lot going on, what with ancient ruins in every nook and cranny, the world’s largest known canyon, the Amazon jungle, and a lengthy and ridiculously interesting culture.)

This is where a copy of Lonely Planet comes in handy. After two weeks of almost nonstop reading, I managed to finish Lonely Planet Peru, and had a cursory list of sites I a) absolutely had to see b) really, really wanted to see c) really, really wanted to see but knew it just wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, most of the ruins and activities I really wanted to partake in grouped together nicely to the south, with the exception of Iquitos, which is apparently the largest country in the world not accessible by road. You’ve got to fly or boat your way into Iquitos and, frankly, I found that to be part of its charm. Do we travel to see what’s directly in front of us, or to plunge into a new and potentially difficult environment, to learn what we’re made of? I’m sure not everyone would answer that question the same way, but I have to say, I relish the challenge. I mean, I don’t actually relish the challenge right now, as I’m calculating bus schedules and vaccination requirements and wondering what the odds really are of being robbed and potentially worse on an overnight bus. Right now, I’m terrified, anxious to solve this giant puzzle laid out before me.

On the plus side, by the time the plane lands (in approximately four months), I will know what I want to do and see, and the  best possible method for getting where I want to go, and surviving once I get there. And that will enable me to let go and appreciate the incredible luxury that is seeing another part of the world, meeting people whose lives are very different from my own. I’ve traveled–hell, lived–enough to know that things will not go exactly according to plan. And when they don’t, it will be OK, because I’ll be in Peru. And because things going wrong make for the best travel stories. They really do.

With that in mind, here is a (loose) outline of what I am anticipating are going to be three of the best, most exhausting, exhilarating, terrifying weeks of my life:

Land in Lima

:Lima-Ica (five hours by bus)

:Ica-Huacachina (half an hour by bus)

Sandboarding in the sand dunes in Huacachina

:Huacachina-Nazca (two hours by bus)

Fly over the Nazca lines. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was 9.

:Nazca-Cotahausi (three hours by bus)

Examine canyon and dinosaur prints at Cotahausi, deepest known canyon in the world

:Cotahausi-Arequipa (12 hours by bus)

Arequipa

:Arequipa-Puno (five hours by bus)

Puno

:Puno-Copacabana (two hours by bus, crossing the border into Bolivia!)

:Copacabana-Isla del Sol (1/2 hour by boat)

Isla del Sol, mythological birthplace of the first Inca

:Isla del Sol-Copacabana (1/2 hour by boat)

:Copacabana-Puno by vehicles, stopping at all the islands and villages surrounding Lake Titicaca along the way

:Puno-Cuzco (eight hours by bus)

Cuzco. Two days to acclimate to the altitude.

:Cuzco-Machu Pichu. Hiking the Inca trail and sleeping beneath the stars!

:Machu Pichu-Cuzco (three hours by train)

:Cuzco-Lima (1 hour by plane)

:Lima-Iquitos (1 hour, 40 minutes by plane

Iquitos

:Iquitos-Lima (1 hour, 40 minutes by plane)

Lima

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