From Inca ruins to pisco sours, and everything in between
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 is 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 color on market day, and local fiestas are celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm.
Peru's 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.
Although Trujillo does not attract the hype of Lima or Cusco, Peru’s third city charms with its colonial architecture and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Another attraction is Arequipa; the beautiful and intriguing white stone city is watched over by the awesome, ice-capped volcano of El Misti. Dating back over 2500 years, the large Chavín de Huantar temple has many striking stone carvings and gargoyles, both externally and within its subterranean chambers.
Just as the ruined citadel of Kuelap is one of the most fascinating archeological sites in the Andes, Ayacucho's bustling streets, impressive churches, passionate religious processions and unique artesanía make this Andean city a standout.
Wildlife and adventure
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 its sights – such as jaguars slinking through the jungle, caimans sunning themselves on riverbanks and dazzling macaws gathering at Amazon clay licks – all within the visitor’s grasp. For those looking for adrenaline-fuelled fun, choose from trekking ancient trails and whitewater rafting to paragliding and hurtling through the desert on dune-buggy rides.
While Peru’s most popular surfer hangout Máncora features gorgeous beaches and buzzing nightlife, at the Valley of the Pyramids, over twenty adobe pyramids built by a pre-Inca civilization surround a sacred mountain at Túcume in the northern deserts. Twice the size of the Grand Canyon, the enormous Colca, one of the deepest canyons in the world, is also one of Peru’s biggest destinations.
Take a helicopter tour to get the full impact of these intricate symbols, etched into the Nascalines deserts of southern Peru.
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.
Part restaurant, part laboratory, Central reinvents Andean cuisine and rescues age-old Peruvian edibles you would find nowhere else. The hip bar-restaurant El Batan de Tayta serves creative versions of traditional dishes and great fusion cuisine, plated with style on pieces of granite and inverted terracotta roof tiles. To accompany your meal there is a full menu of exotic sours, chilcanos (a broth of fish chunks flavored with the native cilantro herb) and cocktails made from local gourmet ingredients. If you are feeling brave, order the caspioleta de hormigas – an outlandish cocktail featuring edible ants, vanilla, cognac and cinnamon.
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 is a place where the resourceful and open-minded traveler 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.