Must-do activities in Peru
Top of the list is without doubt Machu Picchu. This remote Inca temple, perched on a mountaintop in the remote southern Andes, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This designation is in recognition of the achievements of its pre-Columbian architects. Enter the site before dawn, then sit and wait for the first rays of sun to spill over the surrounding granite peaks to illuminate the well-preserved stone buildings, paths and terraces.
The mysteries of the London Underground are nothing compared with the Nasca Lines, another UNESCO World Heritage site. These drawings of animals, etched in the sand for eternity by an ancient civilisation, are only visible from the air. Hop in a light aeroplane at Nasca airport for a perfect – if stomach-churning – view.
The engineering prowess of the ancient Peruvians remains evident at the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, where whole villages float on rafts made of reeds. You can see them on an island-hopping trip and admire the elaborately crafted reed boats that locals use to travel around the islands.
Parasailers glide above the Malecón in Lima © Ros Walford
Peru – yes it can be a city break destination
Lima, Peru’s vast capital city, is definitely a place that a small bear could get lost in. Get your bearings in the central district of Miraflores; walk along (or parasail from) the elegant Malecón cliff-top promenade, and later make the most of the city’s best shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife.
Peru’s second city, Arequipa, is a calmer affair – a grid of streets lined with low-rise colonial townhouses punctuated with leafy plazas.
Finally, Cusco is the charming departure point for trips to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Visit Cusco Cathedral, explore the megalithic ruins at Sacsayhuamán and experience a night out at high altitude.
Cusco Cathedral © Ros Walford
A brief guide to Peru trekking
The most popular trek in Peru is, of course, the Inca Trail, a 4-day jungle and mountain hike that passes a series of important archeological sites in the Sacred Valley and ends at Machu Picchu. If that does not appeal, the region is rich with uncrowded alternative treks, including the high-mountain Salkantay Trail and the easier Lares Trek.
The beautiful Colca Canyon is Peru’s equivalent of the USA’s Grand Canyon, but at 3,270 metres (10,725 feet) it’s twice as deep. After a day’s hike down arid slopes to a green valley below you’ll be rewarded with a dip in hot springs beneath the stars. Be prepared that the next day you’ll need to climb up the near-vertical gorge before breakfast…not for the faint of heart.
The Cordillera Blanca is the highest tropical mountain range in the world. With 35 peaks above 6,000 metres – including Mount Huascarán (6,768 metres), the highest mountain in Peru – serious mountaineers and modest hikers alike are drawn to this pristine land of glaciers, waterfalls and emerald lakes set between diamond-sharp peaks.
The cordillera blanca mountain range © Ros Walford
Where to surf in Peru
Máncora in the far north is Peru’s surfing mecca. This long strip of white sand beside a laid-back former fishing village has endless sun, warm water and great waves.
Try surfing of a different kind at Huacachina’s giant dunes. Take a board and skim down the golden mountains that tower up to 200 metres above the lagoon – or avoid a mouthful of sand and take a dune buggy instead.
The dunes at Huacachina © Ros Walford
Where to go to spot wildlife
If you want to meet Paddington’s relatives, the most likely place to find brown spectacled bears is in mountainous northern Peru. You’ll have far better chances of spotting wildlife – such as jaguars, pink river dolphins, caiman and a cacophony of birds – in the Amazon. Top spots include the jungle city of Iquitos or at Puerto Maldonado and Manu Biosphere Reserve and National Park.
The Ballestas Islands, within the coastal moonscape of the Paracas National Reserve, are Peru’s Galapagos. Sail out to the guano-covered rock stacks to see seals, sea lions, pelicans and the Humboldt penguins, which are kept cool by the Humboldt Current flowing up from Antarctica.
Colca Canyon is the place to get up close to a condor, the world’s biggest birds, as they use their impressive 3-metre wingspan to float on thermals above the arid ravine.
Eating and drinking in Peru
Contrary to what our duffel-wearing friend would have you believe, Peruvian food is not all about marmalade sandwiches. Instead, there’s a highly varied cuisine. Of course, the gastronomic highlight is ceviche – raw fish marinated in lime juice until beautifully tender. Check out Lima’s world-class restaurants for more tips on where to eat in the city .
In rural areas, you’re likely to be served hearty dishes, such as lomo saltado (beef stir fry) or aji de gallina (chicken stew), served with potatoes or rice. You may even encounter alpaca or cuy (oven-roasted guinea pig). Lunchtime snacks include empanadas, a meat- or cheese-filled pastry parcel that can easily be stowed in a small suitcase or under your hat.
To drink, try chicha morada (an infusion of corn, cinnamon and cloves). The alcoholic highlight is the cocktail pisco sour, made of the spirit pisco, lemon juice, sugar and raw egg foam.
Now, that’s got to be worth coming back for…
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Images: Ros Walford