I spent the last two weeks in Peru for Christmas break. I'm not going to bore you to death with a slideshow or a blow-by-blow account of what I did, but I do want to make a couple of recommendations.
* If you've ever wanted to take a trip to South America, I highly recommend the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. I was part of a group doing the standard hike—four days, three nights—and it kicked my ass, but I was glad I did it by the end of the trail. The tour group I traveled with was named Enigma, and I did the Classic Inca Trail package. It takes you along a trail of mostly stone steps to saddlebacks that are higher than Mount Rainier and swiftly descending staircases of 3000 steps that the guides refer to as the gringo killer. The landscapes varied tremendously over the three days, from gently rolling hills to scrubby mountain trails to lush jungle. (This hike was decidedly not roughing it; Enigma provided a team of porters who did the cooking, carried the equipment, and set up and took down the tents. Peru started cracking down on Inca Trail tourism around the turn of the century; you're required to have guides, and there are even laws insisting that the tour groups provide camping tables and chairs for their customers along the way. I think these laws are more for the good of the trail than the tourists; apparently, tourists just used to trash the trail when they were left to their own devices.) Machu Picchu itself was incredible and mysterious and weird and totally worth it. My group was there during the rainy season and so there were fewer tourist groups funneling through the city; my guide said that the crowds are so thick in July and August that you can barely move.
* If you're hiking the Inca Trail, or if you're even going to Cuzco, you'll want to take something to fight altitude sickness. I took Diamox the whole way through, but even then you'll want lots of coca tea and coca leaves for chewing; the high you get from coca leaves is not unlike a caffeine high, but it helps the oxygen circulate in a way that Diamox can't. (Coca leaf hard candy is a surprisingly good delivery system, too.)
* A person I know, who heard I was going to Peru for Christmas, informed me that she had been to Peru and her entire story was summed up in one sentence: "It's really dirty there."
Uh. Yeah. Lima has some pretty dirty parts. The beaches are unclean, and the sky is thick with pollution. But if you're the kind of person who sums up a whole travel experience by saying "it's really dirty there," you probably shouldn't be traveling anywhere that requires you to get shots first. Lima is a huge city, and some of the people who live there are very rich. Others are very, very poor. I saw some poverty on this trip that will rattle around in my head forever. I hope that the experience makes me a more responsible global citizen. If you're not willing to see poor people, stick to Disneyland.
* No, I didn't eat guinea pig or llama. And when I went to Iceland, I didn't eat the fermented shark, either. I'm all for eating local food, but at some point, you're just trying to be a low-rent Anthony Bourdain.
* Everything you've ever heard about South American drivers is true. Every time I got out of a taxi with all my limbs intact, I wanted to kiss the ground. I promise to not complain about Seattle drivers all winter long.