The Namibian desert and the Botswana savannas are unforgettable experiences for any traveller; the green of the rice crops and the rain forests of Southeast Asia, on the other hand, give the passionate yogi a sense of invincible calm. There is, however, a country in Latin America capable of enchanting with an incredible variety of cultures, its thousand-year-old architecture and lush natural habitats, from north to south. We are talking about Peru, one of the most up-and-coming travel destinations. Glasses of pisco and bowls of ceviche served in the restaurants of big cities, have a completely different taste in the clubs of Lima and Cusco, where you can also participate in traditional rituals in the Sacred Valley, as well as admire the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu up-close. Here are five must-sees that make Peru such a unique country.
‘The city of kings’. The first stop on a trip to Peru could only be the capital Lima which is steeped in historical and cultural symbols from its colonial Spanish past. For those who venture into this city for the first time, take a stroll among the neoclassical buildings that parade along the Jirón de la Unión, a pedestrian street that connects Plaza Mayor to Plaza San Martin. Restaurants, boutiques and cafes show a side of Lima which, although full of history, looks to the future with vivacity. Afterwards, head to the Pinacoteca Municipal Ignacio Merino to admire works of Peruvian artists from the modern era. The Museo de Arte de Lima will give you an insight into art from pre-Columbian times to the present day. After satisfying the thirst for culture, it’s time to move on to taste. The Mercado de Surquillo, near Miraflores, is a foodie paradise where you’ll be carried away by the intense scent of spices, the colours of fruit and vegetables and the warm welcome of local vendors. Not to be missed are camote (sweet potatoes), rocoto (a type of chilli pepper) and ginseng.
Cusco, in the highlands of the Andes, was once the capital of the Inca Empire. What makes Cusco fascinating is its mix of millennial history and European charm, clearly visible in the Spanish Baroque style of its churches and palaces. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, this centre lends itself for a day or two’s break before venturing into the Sacred Valley. Begin your day with a walk in the Plaza de Armas where you can stop to drink, in the company of the locals, a cup of excellent Peruvian coffee before, of course, moving on to the stronger flavours of the pisco – to which a museum is also dedicated! The Cathedral of Cusco, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a treasure trove of paintings and other artefacts that best represent the Inca culture.
Another reason to visit Cusco is its proximity to the famous Vinicunca – the rainbow mountain. It’s no easy feat to reach, given the altitude and the difficulty of the paths, but the view once you get there more than rewards all your efforts.
When in Peru it is impossible to resist the call of the Amazon rainforest. Reachable by plane from Cusco (arriving in Puerto Maldonado), a visit here offers experiences you might have deemed impossible, such as intrepid night safaris. If you intend to stay longer, we also recommend canoeing trips to Lake Sandoval or a boat ride on the Rio Madre de Dios, plus a visit to the Rescue Center of Taricaya (created to safeguard the eggs of the Taricaya turtle). For thrill-seekers, get a birds-eye view from the Canopy Tree, a walkway suspended over cotton trees!
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
A trip to the Inca trail starts from Cusco with the road that leads up to Machu Picchu. Among the gentler hills of the Andes, there are villages where locals pass on their ancient traditions to future generations. Whether on horseback, by foot, canoe or bicycle, this strip of land can be discovered through streams, hills and archaeological sites. Raqchi is known for the Wiracocha temple, the tallest Inca structure of its kind, while Chinchero is famous for its fabrics. In Písac the eco-sustainable approach unites tourism with the indigenous peoples. Maras is famed for its ancient salt extraction which has left roughly 3000 ponds (the salt pans) behind, and the Moray fields are said to hide the secrets behind the advanced agricultural methods of the Inca people. The last stop before reaching Machu Picchu? Ollantaytambo, an authentic example of houses and streets in the time of the Tawantinsuyo.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1911 Machu Picchu is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and must be seen at least once in a lifetime. Adventurers reach it after four days of hiking, while the more comfortable ones prefer to admire the view from the window of a train. Both are incredible ways to witness this spectacle that will ultimately leave you speechless. Although some parts have been rebuilt in the past to better show the original architecture, this site is still full of mystery. Although teaming with tourists, it’s a sight that still should not be missed; however, you can also visit some lesser-known sites such as Kuelap, Chavin de Huantar and Chan Chan. History aside, Machu Picchu, surrounded by impressive nature, is also home to certain species of llamas and alpacas, the most famous (and much loved) animals of Peru!
Legend has it that the sun god was born from the waters of Lake Titicaca, and Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the founders of the Inca Empire also emerged. In the southern part of Peru, on the border with Bolivia, Titicaca is considered the highest navigable lake in the world. A land has been home to many civilizations – Tiahuanaco, Collas, Quechuas and Aymaras – that have all left an indelible mark on today’s cultures. The inhabitants of the lake are now the Uros, known for their floating houses, built from ‘totora’, an autochthonous plant also used for boats. There is no better destination to experience life like a local. A visit to the islands of Amantani or Taquile will see you greeted with wide smiles, interesting stories and authentic culinary goodies. What the various corners of this lake have in common is the unique panorama, framed by ruins, lonely plateaus and some of the highest peaks in the Andes.