Located just five hours from Lima, Marcahuasi, perhaps Peru’s best kept secret, is a stone forest in the Andes. It has gained world recognition because of its mysteriously shaped stones that resemble human faces and animals, but despite the publicity it is not as popular as other hikes in the country. You must take a bus or colectivo from Lima to Chosica. From Chosica catch another bus to San Pedro de Casta where you’ll begin your ascent to the stone forest. Marcahuasi is higher than both Cusco and Machu Picchu, making the hike to the top difficult, but locals rent out horses and donkeys if needed. Bring a tent, a sleeping bag and some warm clothes and enjoy the mysteries of Marcahuasi. If you don’t have any camping supplies you can also rent those from the locals in town, who will be more than helpful if you only ask.
About four hours from Lima is Huacachina, an idyllic desert oasis. It’s everything you imagine when you hear the phrase “desert oasis”: palm trees and buildings all crowded around a little body of water in the middle of a desert of endless sand dunes. Enjoy a weekend sunbathing in the little lagoon or rent a dune buggy and go off-roading. You can even pay a guide to take you sand boarding. Exchange Lima’s winter gray for bright sunshine in the desert.
During the summer months, Lima can get unbearably hot. If that’s the case, grab your sunblock and a towel and head down south to the beaches of Punta Hermosa, Caballeros and El Silencio. Don’t expect a paradise getaway or warm waters, however. The water south of Lima is cold and has dangerous currents. The waves at these beaches can get very big depending on the swell, so bring your board if you’re planning on surfing because you won’t find any for rent.
Paracas peninsula and Islas Ballestas offer visitors an up-close viewing of Peru’s marine life. Take a day tour of both areas for around 60 soles (or only do one for about 35 soles) and get a chance to see sea lions, turtles, penguins and plenty of birds. You may even get lucky and spot some dolphins or a whale or two. Only about 3.5 hours out of Lima, you’ll even have time to explore the Paracas Reserve, where you can sunbathe on its famous red beaches. The cheapest and best option is to take a bus from Pisco to the town of El Chaco. The town is the starting point for tours of both Paracas and Islas Ballestas and it offers plenty of accommodation and food options.
Take a plane ride to view the inscrutable Nasca Lines from above, so that you can get a clear look at the shapes carved in the desert. These lines in the Peruvian desert have baffled experts and inspired a whole gamut of explanations from the sensible to the bizarre. Experience the wonder and mystery for yourself and you’ll be able to make your own mind up. It’s a must see and only about five hours outside of Lima, which means that you can even do it in a weekend.
Spend a weekend at a relaxing vineyard drinking wine and pisco. While the city of Ica isn’t worth the trip, the vineyard hotels scattered throughout the area offer the perfect getaway from noisy Lima. Drink wine all day and eat delicious food away from traffic. Nothing can ease the strains of the working week more than a weekend at a Peruvian vineyard. Take a bus from Lima or go with a private company – it’ll only take about four hours to get to Ica from the city.
Pachacámac is a pre-Columbian adobe citadel about an hour outside of Lima. It’s not as visually striking as other ruins in Peru, but it carries great historical significance. When the Spanish first arrived in Peru this site was a hub of cultural activity after being taking over by the Incas. Walk around the ruins enjoying the sights and the coastal view from the top. You can take either a bus or taxi to the ruins, a great option for a full day trip from Lima.