The “Gringo Trail” is the name given to the classic and well-trodden tourist route in Peru, an understandably popular itinerary that takes in all of Peru’s most famous attractions. Most backpackers will find themselves traveling along this route, at least in part, at one time or another. And for anyone planning a trip to Peru with limited time but wanting to see most of the major sights, a trip along the Gringo Trail is a good way to cram in as much as possible.
What’s So Special About Peru’s Gringo Trail?
So what exactly is the Peruvian Gringo Trail? Where does it go and what are the main attractions along the route?
Well, let’s say you’re flying into Lima, the standard starting point for anyone arriving in Peru by air. From Lima, the classic Gringo Trail is a roughly U-shape route (easily turned into a circle) that lies entirely in the southern half of Peru. Major attractions along the Gringo Trail include:
- Lima: Start off in the Peruvian capital, a city that deserves a couple of days at least. Many people pass through all too quickly, but there are many things to see and do in Lima, including some of Peru’s best museums, bars, clubs and restaurants. Then sort out a bus ticket or flight to your next destination along the Gringo Trail.
- Pisco / Paracas: Heading south down the coast, you’ll soon arrive in either Pisco or Paracas. Knock back a few pisco sours, then hop on a boat to the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve (it might be best to do that the other way around).
- Ica: Another short hop will take you to Ica and the nearby oasis village of Huacachina. You’re still in pisco-producing territory, so now you can have a pisco sour before sandboarding on the giant dunes in the surrounding desert.
- Nazca: Head further south to Nazca, home of the famous Nazca Lines. The lines are best seen from the air, so go to the aerodrome and hop on a light aircraft.
- Arequipa: Arequipa is an attractive colonial city with a vibrant atmosphere. Nearby natural attractions make it a popular destination for trekkers and climbers. Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon are good if you want to head down into the ground, while the El Misti volcano is good for going up.
- Puno: Head east into the highlands and on towards Puno and Lake Titicaca. Various attractions lie in wait in this spectacular part of Peru. The Floating Islands of the Uros people are an easy (but very touristy) day trip from Puno, while history buffs will find plenty more to marvel at in the Puno region. Puno is at high altitude, so watch out for altitude sickness.
- Cusco: For many travelers, a trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu is the reason for going to Peru in the first place. You can hike the Inca Trail or one of the alternative routes to Machu Picchu, or just take the train to Aguas Calientes and then take the bus to Machu Picchu. Cusco is also the departure point for the amazing multi-colored Rainbow Mountain. If you want to see the Peruvian Amazon, you can arrange trips to Puerto Maldonado and Manú National Park from Cusco as well.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostels chain in Arequipa and Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bars is free even for non-guests
Congratulations, you’ve now completed the Peruvian Gringo Trail (well, kind of: plenty of other interesting attractions lie along the route — the ones mentioned above are just the most popular). You can return from Cusco to Lima by bus via the above route, or take a shorter, more direct route to the west. If you’re short on time, you can quickly fly back to Lima from Cusco.
How Much Time do I Need on the Gringo Trail?
Two weeks is enough time to pack everything in, especially if you don’t stop off at all the above destinations (some people just do Lima, Nazca Lines, Arequipa, Titicaca, Machu Picchu). One week is just about enough if you only do a day or two in, for example, Lima, Arequipa, Cusco and Machu Picchu (no Inca Trail).
But, in a perfect world, you’ll be able to set aside a month so that you can really explore each destination along the route, as well as having the option to stray off the Gringo Trail when you feel like it. While the classic Gringo Trail is great for a whirlwind tour of Peru’s major attractions, Peru obviously has much more to offer and the Gringo Trail only scratches the surface.
It is, however, a popular Peru itinerary for good reason. The sites are fascinating, the tourist infrastructure is good, the route is relatively easy to navigate and importantly it allows you time to acclimatise before Machu Picchu.
We always recommend this route to our friends coming to visit we strongly suggest they check out Peru Hop. They are a relatively new hop on hop off bus company that have about a zillion passes that go down along the coast and up to Cusco. The passes are completely flexible and are valid for over a year giving you plenty of time to acclimatise to the thinner air and help prevent any issues upon arriving to Cusco. They have hotel and hostel pick ups and drop offs included too which helps when you have a heap of luggage and some new Alpaca scarves!
If this has peaked your interest, and you intend to make plans for a trip to this trail we suggest you check out FindLocalTrips.com a tour comparison website with heaps of info and all the different options for taking that trip of a lifetime.