The Expert's Travel Guide to Peru - Classic Vs Off The Beaten Track
Peru is a country truly spoiled by Mother Nature
Adventure is abundant within its borders; experience everything from jagged mountain ranges and stretching Altiplano plains to striking coastlines and communities whose feet remain firmly planted in colourful ancient culture.
From the spectacular ancient Inca settlement of Machu Picchu perched high in the soaring Andean peaks to virgin Amazonian rainforest and tribal villages, a Peru holiday promises adventure amidst dramatic landscapes. With new direct flight routes being announced and a blossoming reputation within the culinary world, there’s no better time to book a visit to one of South America’s most vibrant countries. Home to the captivating combination of fascinating ancient culture with a stunning natural backdrop, Peru has more than enough to whet the appetite of any thrill-seeking traveller.
Visit Lima and Cuzco to explore cosmopolitan cities, charming mountain villages and the mysterious ruins of lost civilisations for a taste of Peru’s rich cultural heritage. Follow Incan tracks through the craggy peaks of Vilcabamba, hop aboard a train through the Sacred Valley and brave bridges stretching over colossal Colca canyons where Andean condors soar overhead.
Our experts pick the four places you can’t miss on a trip to Peru, but also some of lesser known cities, culture and stretches of unspoilt beauty to consider.
LIMA, or NORTHERN PERU?
Both the old and the new collide to contrast and compliment in Lima. Rising high on the cliff tops overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Lima blends sophisticated metropolitan streets with colonial facades and ancient temples. Rich history is everywhere, with architecture dating back over five centuries and the stately Gold and Larco Herrera museums filled with archaeological finds for a glimpse into Peru’s Inca past. But you’ll also find the best of a Peru that’s increasingly confident of its 21st century style. Head to the bohemian Barranco district for hip galleries and contemporary art tucked between laid back lounges serving up joyful Pisco sours. Creeping onto the global fine-dining radar, Lima is home to world class cuisine; with Central voted Latin America’s No 1 restaurant in 2015.
OR NORTHERN PERU
If an authentic, crowd-free view of Peru is what you’re after, head to northern Peru. Rich in pre-Columbian history spend a day exploring the colourful colonial church-lined streets of Trujillo, a city that has barely changed in hundreds of years before delving further into the history books and visiting the vast ruins of an ancient adobe Chimor mud city at Chan Chan. Explore the little-known sacred Moche Pyramids before travelling to the impressive Moche Sun and Moon Temples, home to fantastically preserved, ornately decorated frieze walls.
CUZCO & SACRED VALLEY, or AREQUIPA / COLCA CANYON?
CUZCO & SACRED VALLEY
Once the capital of the Inca Empire Cuzco
is the archaeological capital of South America. The terracotta roofed town sprawls through the valley high in the Peruvian Andes and the town’s striking architecture reflects the distinct periods of Peru’s history – combining pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial history with contemporary modern development. Baroque-style churches, monasteries and squat white-washed houses were built over the Inca settlements. Visit the impressive Plaza de Armas, a lively open courtyard overlooked by the Cuzco Cathedral and join locals sipping their mate de coca. This is also a great base for exploring Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins within the valley.
OR AREQUIPA / COLCA CANYON
The Colca Canyon
dominates Peru’s southern region, where Andean Condors soar high above the world’s deepest canyons and indigenous cultures live in valleys still lined with Inca agricultural terraces. Wander through Arequipa’s pretty colonial architecture overlooked by the towering El Misti volcano and if you’ve a strong stomach, visit the Ica Juanita mummy – the preserved body of a girl sacrificed at the summit of Nevado Ampato.
MACHU PICCHU, or NAZCA?
One of the most distinguishable sights in the travelling world, the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu
Inca settlement are perched high in the Andes and command their position at the top spot of every traveller’s South America ‘to-do list’. Only accessible on foot, following the Inca Trail, or by train, the journey to reach the continent’s best-known archaeological site is as memorable as the view at the summit. The lost city of the Incas was only discovered by American Explorer, Hiram Bingham, in 1911 and now the extensive citadel in all of its fantastically preserved stonework glory is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Less well known, but no less impressive are the Nazca lines. These ancient geoglyphs, patterns and images etched into the landscape stretch across southern Peru’s Nazca Desert, so take to the skies as this spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site is best viewed from the air. Once you’ve spent an afternoon sandboarding down the desert dunes, visit the Ballestas Island, known as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’ thanks to its abundant wildlife and seal populations.
LAKE TITICACA, or THE AMAZON?
Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia and under the dazzling blue skies high in the Andes Mountains, the vast shimmering body of water of Lake Titicaca
is the largest navigable lake in the world. According to ancient Andean beliefs, Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. The lake and its shores have been settled by a succession of cultures for centuries and colourful local communities still farm the surrounding fields by hand accompanied, of course, by iconic tame llamas. Take to the deep waters and visit the floating reed communities – indigenous people still live on the island of Uros, while Taquile offers sweeping panoramas across the lake.
OR THE AMAZON
may not be off the beaten track, but it’s not often on visitors itineraries on a trip to Peru. Peru is actually home to the second-largest portion of the Amazon Rainforest after Brazil, and this vast expanse of primary rainforest is easily accessible from either Lima or Cuzco. There is little that needs to be said about one of the world’s great wildernesses, trek through the forest and listen to the cacophony of noise from the harpy eagles, capybara and toucans that make up the abundant wildlife and bird species at sunrise, and visit clay lick – where copper-coloured cliffs attract thousands of birds.