Jessica Kaufman is a student at Saint Anselm College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Cusco, Peru.
As the plane descends through the clouds, the magnificent peaks of the Andes reveal themselves. The mountains beckon any adventurous spirit with the promise of ancient wonders. After stepping inside the Cusco airport, several tourist agency signs appear promising riveting Peruvian experiences with tempting sales pitches. By day three of my study abroad experience I was overwhelmed by the endless amount of available guided tours, “Must See” site lists for Peru, adventure tour shops, and ways to hike the Inca Trails. I wonder how it will be possible to see every amazing thing Peru has to offer in three months while staying within my budget, spending time with my host family, and taking classes! After considering scheduling all of my time and activities now, I realized my three months here do not have to be planned in my first three days. Below is my advice on how to make the most of your Peruvian experience without being overwhelmed by all of the tantalizing opportunities.
Step One: Acceptance
Very quickly, I learned that it is impossible to see all the amazing sights that Peru has to offer. Instead, my advice is to make a list of your top five must see sites. Each person’s list will be a unique representation of what interests them the most. One person’s top sites may include archeological sites like Caral Supe, Machu Piccu, and Chavin de Huatar. Or it may be high adrenaline adventures like hiking to Mount Salkantay, zip lining in Manu National Park, and whitewater rafting in Rio Cola. Perhaps, you want to connect with local artisans in the San Blas district, learn to weave at Awanakancha, and then head over to the Museo de la Coca. Or perhaps you’d prefer, as I do, to explore a little of each. Whatever your final top five sites are, they’re the best sites to visit because they spark your curiosity!
Step Two: The Best Travel Agents are Professors and ISA Staff
As you start to compile your list, don’t forget the great resources around you. Odds are, you are taking classes related to Peru, and your professors are experts in their fields. Ask them about their favorite sites and why they enjoy visiting those places. This is valuable information you won’t find in any guidebook. In my first two history classes on Pre-Inca Civilizations, my professor talked about places like Chachapoyas, where the Kuelap civilization can be reached by cable car, and Calca, just six hours north of Cusco, which is an ancient trading post with thermal baths. Both are sites I didn’t know about, but now, can’t wait to see. Some classes and programs may include field trips too, try to take advantage of these unique opportunities!
Step Three: Quality over Quantity
Sure, you could spend every day in between classes and weekends cramming in as many sites as possible, but you may miss important details in the rush to get to them all. Take the time to fully immerse yourself in each site on your list. The more quality time at a site, the more you can learn. Also, spending time with your host family and peers is just as important and informative. Remember the enchanting mountains that filled the plane window as you landed, their serenity and tranquility is a direct message to any study abroad student: Enjoy what this new land has to offer by giving your time and appreciation to each incredible site you get to see.
The world awaits…discover it.