From exotic jungle to coastal desert via the breathtaking peaks of the Andes, Peru’s staggering variety of places to visit means the potential for adventure is boundless. Whether you want to trek the hallowed Inca Trail, drink pisco sours in a sleepy colonial town, swim with pink dolphins or paddle your way down the Amazon in a dugout canoe – or all of the above – this is a country that’s ripe for exploring. Wherever you go, Peru’s vibrant Andean culture, one of the most exciting in the Americas, will brighten your travels: tucked-away highland towns explode into colour on market day, and local fiestas are celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm.
This immense wealth of sights and experiences has its roots in one of the world’s richest heritages, topped by the Inca Empire and its fabulous archeological gems, not to mention the monumental adobe temples and pre-Inca ruins along the desert coast. Magical Machu Picchu may be the big gun in Peru’s archeological arsenal, but there are plenty of other fascinating sites too – and important new discoveries are constantly being unearthed.
Boasting access to the highest tropical mountain range in the world as well as one of the best preserved areas of virgin Amazon rainforest, Peru’s wildlife is as diverse as you’d expect, and sights such as jaguars slinking through the jungle, caimans sunning themselves on riverbanks and dazzling macaws gathering at Amazon clay licks are all within the visitor’s grasp. For those looking for adrenaline-fuelled fun, a host of outdoor activities are on offer, from trekking ancient trails and whitewater rafting to paragliding and hurtling through the desert on dune-buggy rides.
Equally, a trip to Peru could focus on more restful pursuits. Widely touted as one of the world’s culinary hotspots, the country – and Lima in particular – offers an array of exotic tastes to appeal to curious palates, as well as a laidback, vibrant dining scene, ranging from backstreet cevicherías to gourmet restaurants. And in the big cities, you can expect buzzing nightlife too.
Despite it all, simple, unaffected pleasures remain in place. The country’s prevailing attitude is that there is always enough time for a chat, a ceviche, or another drink. Peru is accepting of its visitors – it’s a place where the resourceful and open-minded traveller can break through barriers of class, race and language far more easily than most of its inhabitants can. Even the Amazon jungle region – nearly two-thirds of the country’s landmass, but home to a mere fraction of its population – is accessible for the most part, with countless tour operators on hand to organize trips to even the furthest-flung corners. Now all you have to do is figure out where to start.Read More
Best of the fiestas
Best of the fiestas
Peruvians love any excuse for a celebration. In Andean towns and villages, especially, communities host a huge number of festivals. Most of these have some link to the religious calendar, and the major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter – infused with indigenous elements – still provide the basis for the biggest festivities. Cusco in particular is a great place for holidays that involve some sort of Inca ritual, Puno is renowned as the capital of Andean music and folkloric tradition, and in the hills around Huaraz, it’s common to stumble across a village fiesta, with its explosion of human energy and noise, bright colours and a mixture of pagan and Catholic symbolism. Costumed processions, eating and drinking are the core activities of village celebrations, and gatherings are an excuse for locals to show off their musical talents and dance moves.
Peru’s astonishing ecological diversity has helped to produce an exciting cuisine. The national dish – ceviche – is made from fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and chillies, then served with sweet potato, a cob of corn and salad. Washed down at Sunday lunchtime with a cool Cusqueña beer, it’s an experience not to be missed.
Cuy (roast guinea pig), an exotic local speciality, is also worth a try, even if the thought may be off-putting. Street snacks are tasty and good value – grilled meats and empanadas are available almost anywhere, alongside delicious tropical produce. Finally, don’t leave without sampling the national tipple, pisco sour: a mix of Peruvian pisco, lime, syrup, egg white and bitters – delicious and surprisingly potent.