Peru is one of the world’s most beautiful and inspiring countries in the world, combining incredible mountainous terrain with rich jungle, arid desert and fascinating pre-Columbian ruins. The country has everything a traveller could ever desire, with world-famous tourist spots like Machu Picchu, breath-taking hikes, unique cuisine and fantastic opportunities for extreme sports. If Peru isn’t already top of your bucket list, then it certainly should be.
Peru is known for having the “costa, sierra y selva” three diverse regions of highland, coast and jungle. For beautiful highland views, head to Arequipa or “White City”; this lies beneath Misti Volcano, a stunning, snow-capped backdrop which is absolutely beautiful on a clear day. For incredible jungle, fly to Puerto Maldonado, the ‘jungle frontier town’, then hop on a motorised canoe and enter a world of lush greenery, dripping foliage and flashes of colour, as macaws flit from treetop to treetop. For coastal wildlife, try Paracas; take a boat ride to see huge colonies of sea lions, penguins and seabirds; the fresh sea air set against long stretches of desert coast line is glorious.
Machu Picchu is the most renowned of Peru’s ancient sites, and is one of the New Seven Wonders of The World. However, a fascinating set of ruins are scattered around the Inca capital of Cusco and should be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu. Sacsahuaman is an incredible complex overlooking Cusco, and was thought to once be a royal fortress; some of the huge stones here are estimated to weigh over 300 tonnes. The ruins are like rows of irregular Lego bricks which combine to form a secret, mystical jigsaw puzzle.
Pisac ruins, overlooking the Urubamba River, Northeast of Cusco, offer amazing views of the Sacred Valley and are one of Peru’s only remaining intihuatanas, carved rocks once used for astronomical observation. Pisac town, which is directly below the ruins, has a fantastic craft market which is also well worth a visit. Tipon, an incredible five century old, fully-working water system built with finely cut stone fountains, is also really impressive.
The Inca Trail is undeniably one of the best treks in South America and is also regarded as one of the top five treks around the globe, combining breath taking mountain views, dense jungle exploration with a host of ancient ruins like Llactapata, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna and finally Machu Picchu. The Classic Inca Trail will provide all of the popular sites, allowing you to meet fellow travellers and share experiences along the way. However, for something a little off the beaten track, try a Community Trek, which combines a more varied, quieter route with opportunities to volunteer with local villagers. We helped locals plant crops and with their school lessons; our guide also organised horses and mules from local communities to help carry our equipment, very useful when your legs are about to collapse on you, especially at these altitudes!
Peru is fantastic for adrenaline addicts, with a host of paragliding, sand boarding, surfing and dune buggy activities, which will add particular variety to your trip. Huacachina, South America’s only natural oasis, is well worth a visit for sand boarding. This beautiful isolated pool is surrounded by huge sand dunes which glint and glide in the sunshine. You can hire a board and skim down the dunes as if you were on snow, it’s really good fun.
Alternatively, Peru’s beaches are absolutely beautiful and are perfect for surfing; I had surf lessons on the popular Punta Sal beach, which is nice and quiet in the low season. Alternatively you must try paragliding off the coastal cliffs of Lima; this has some truly breath-taking views of the ocean and will leave your heart well and truly in your mouth.
Peru’s culinary skills are becoming more and more appreciated by Westerners, from traditional ceviche dishes, which combine raw seafood with zesty line marinade, to village delicacies like Cuy (roasted Guinea pig). Combining influences from Spanish, Chinese, Italian and German settlers and their respective cuisines, with staple local ingredients like corn, potatoes, avocado and chilli peppers, Peruvian food is really colourful and flavourful. Rocoto relleno is an Arequipan dish made from stuffed rocoto chilis. These really hot chillies are stuffed with spiced beef or pork, onions and olives and then cooked with potatoes and covered with cheese and milk – absolutely delicious.
About the Author: Why Peru should be at the top of everyone’s list has been written by Helene Cooper who is a keen globetrotter and has spent much of her life trekking and exploring all seven continents. Helene currently writes for Dragoman.