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Travel to Peru: on the trail of the Incas

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Peru is one of the most popular South American countries, due to its alluring sense of adventure, incredible landscape and the incomparable mystery surrounding its indigenous history. One of the most incredible countries in the world, facing out onto the Pacific Ocean from stunning mountains, surrounded by ancient South-American history at every turn, there is far more to Peru than Machu Pichu.

Travel guide

Lovely Lima

As the capital city, on the coast and surrounded by impressive mountainous terrain, Lima is an original and very different city from many you will have come across. The streets are lined with palm trees and many different colours cover the buildings. Lima is built up with modern, sky-rise buildings in parts, while in others it boasts very old, beautiful architecture which makes it a city of wonderful fusion. Although the Peruvians predate Spanish colonisation by many years, the establishment of the viceroyalty transformed the city into a buzzing political and economic centre of South America. Today you can still see the stunning Catholic cathedrals, churches, monasteries and mansions that dominate areas of the city, portraying the powerful Spanish influence. The buildings are constructed with a combination of adobe and bamboo to ensure flexibility during earthquakes, which has worked considering many of the older buildings are still standing in good condition today. La Catedral de Lima lies on the site that was intended for the first church in Lima and despite being stripped of its elaborate baroque style interior due to the change in fashion, it is a very interesting place to look around and there are still plenty of stunning designs to admire. The many museums that you can find in the centre of the bustling city display gold, ceramics and some of the most textiles in the world will demonstrate to you quite how sophisticated and inspiring the long lost civilisations of Peru were.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is of course one of the main reasons so many people travel from all over the globe to Peru. They come flocking to see the magnificent piece of history that is shrouded in mystery a mere 7,970ft above sea level. It is the best known example of the remains of the fascinating Inca civilisation, and the most spectacular archaeological site on the continent. Historians believe it was built in the mid-1400s, but was abandoned only a century later due to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Be prepared to hike up to the unforgettable location very early in the morning to avoid the rush and also to be able to spend enough time there. You have to follow a route known as the Inca Trail which can take around four days to get up to the main attraction and down again if you start 75 miles away at the beginning, or you can do the two day experience and start closer. All the walking will be completely worth it and in fact it will make you appreciate the beautiful country so much more after exploring deepest Peru, passing through the minute mountain villages and seeing the sights from such a height.

Sacred Valley

The Sacred valley, which is now very much a tourist destination of its own right, is home to meandering, narrow paths through luscious, tall hills, authentic colonial citadels such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo where there are popular artisan markets, and isolated intriguing villages in which friendly natives wearing their bright smiles and colourful ponchos live and work hard on the land. It is an eye-opening pilgrimage through Peru's seemingly untouched land, where glorious surprises await you at every corner.

Cuzco, Cusco or Qos'qo

Cuzco is the ancient capital of the Incas, houses their palaces and reigns over the valley that leads up to the majestic Machu Picchu. It will be one of the most confusing and interesting places, due to its magical location and growing popularity with tourists who keep coming up to some of Peru's highest points to experience the country's historical jewel. With traditional Catholic churches towering above modest, detailed Inca temples, and the mountains keeping the city centre protected it is an eclectic mix of modern hustle and bustle and the pride of being one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Skipping out on this city would be huge mistake while visiting Peru because it is a true taste of the rich heritage in Peru.

Our Editorial team's advice

Peru is a wonderful country for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is their wanting to modernise alongside their visitors' countries while never forgetting their own traditional heritage. It is such an inspiring place due to the population, so be sure to be extremely friendly and kind when passing through the tiny villages if you are thinking of doing a trek in their wonderful mountain ranges.

Many visitors who have gone and come back give the advice that you should bring half the clothes you think necessary and almost double the amount you think necessary! If you are planning on venturing across the valleys laid out at extremely high altitude in some places, be prepared for strenuous walking with the sturdy shoes, and be prepared for some bouts of altitude sickness. It is definitely manageable with the right hydrations tablets and sickness pills, and it is most likely that you will not need them - better to be safe than sorry.

The weather in Peru can be a bit wet, with their rainy season falling in the mountains from May to November which although may seem like a bad time to go trekking in the Andes or do the Inca trail, never actually is as bad as you may think. Furthermore, it is far less touristy at this time so if you pack your waterproof jacket and head up to Machu Picchu you will have a wonderful time. In comparison, this time of year is exceptionally hot and sunny by the coast in Peru so if you are planning a beach holiday this would be the time to go in order to maximise your tan.

It is sensible to keep things in a money belt tucked away under your clothing if you're in one of the busy cities, just as a precaution. Generally it is very safe but you can sometimes hear of pick-pockets so it is always better to be cautious.

pros

  • +Many adventure opportunities
  • +Everything is very cheap, even travel within the country
  • +Discover a half-lost culture through festivals, rituals and traditions

cons

  • -Roads aren't suitable for driving in the rain season
  • -The altitude can be draining for some
  • -Bus journeys can be exhausting due to long transit times

Traditions

Arts and crafts are a huge part of the Peruvian culture, as you can see from their impressive variety of stitching patterns, colours, and ranges of details put into their ceramics too. The creativity is not just a huge part of Peruvian identity but it is also sometimes the only way some families survive.

There are over 3,000 popular festivals every year celebrated in Peru and many of them revolve around the Christian calendar, coinciding with a Saints day or other holidays that were introduced in the colonial period. However, lots of the festivals are also related to pagan beliefs, or myths and the native communities.

Food

Peruvian food is mouth-wateringly delicious, from smoky meats to luscious seafood and thousands of species of potatoes to liven things up!

If Peru were to have a national dish it would be difficult to name it precisely but the seafood dish known as ceviche would come close to the people's favourite. Peru's coast has one of the most bountiful sources of seafood in the world, and the locals love to mix the raw fresh catch with a deliciously zingy citrus juice. The acid in the fruits apparently ?cooks' the fish, giving it a gentle flavour and an exquisite consistency. The dish is usually spiced with red onion and aji pepper and typically served with corn or sweet potato at lunchtime.

Many tourists are slightly shocked by another delicacy in Peru, which is the popular meat of guinea pigs, or known by the locals as ?cuy'. It is a household staple in the Andes and you will most likely come across it while you are trekking up in the mountainous areas of the country. It is usually baked or barbequed on a spit, and has a similarly pleasant, gamy taste to rabbit or wild fowl.

Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes! If you come across one of the many food markets in Peru you will note the abundance and selection of potatoes you will find yourself confronted with. They are cooked with and created into delicious dishes you will never have seen before. For example, lomo saltado, which is like a kind of stir fry of which the base is chunky pieces of fried potato in a sauce with beef, onions, peppers and a delectable sauce similar to soy sauce. Not for a carbophobic considering the Peruvians usually serve this on a bed of rice.

Souvenirs

Most cities and towns have markets where you can find stalls selling goods made from Alpaca wool, such as scarves, hats and jumper - which are surprisingly soft! You can also bring back some Pisco, a Peruvian and Chilean grape brandy made along the west coast of South America. There are several different kinds of Pisco - made with different grapes and varying in strength.

What to see

The White cordillera , The Nevado Huascarán , Peru
The Cordillera Blanca
The Amazon jungle , Peru
The Amazon jungle
Misti volcano and Colca canyon , Volcanoes and canyons , Peru
Misti volcano and Colca canyon
Lake Titicaca , Peru
Lake Titicaca
Maras salt mines , Peru
Maras salt mines
Beaches and surf spots , The coastal landscape of Peru , Peru
Beaches and surf spots
Exotic wildlife , An example of a Peruvian jaguar , Peru
Exotic wildlife
The Condor , The Andean Condor, Peru , Peru
The Condor
The Amazonian vegetation , The Peruvian Amazon , Peru
The Amazonian vegetation
Paracas national reserve , The Paracas Peninsula, Peru , Peru
Paracas national reserve
Pampa Galeras , Pampa Galeras Reserve, Peru , Peru
Pampa Galeras
Machu Picchu , Machu Picchu, Peru , Peru
Machu Picchu
The Nazca lines , The Nazca Lines, Peru , Peru
The Nazca lines
Chan Chan citadel , Chan Chan, Peru , Peru
Chan Chan citadel
Vilcashuaman , Vilcashuamán Cathedral, Peru , Peru
Vilcashuaman