Few places strike excitement into the heart of the intrepid explorer like Peru does. It features heavily on nearly everyone’s bucket list and is consistently pigeon-holed into the category of holidays known elusively as ‘the trip of a lifetime!’ But what makes it so alluring? Possibly the culture or the colourful lifestyle or vibrant cities but mainly it is because of the awe-inspiring scenery that can be encountered through many of the treks available to tourists. Here are some of the best, beautiful and most breath-taking…
Naturally when one thinks of Peru, the first thing that comes to mind are the Incas- the mysterious, advanced civilisation that inhabited Peru centuries ago and were wiped out by the Conquistadores during the Voyages of Exploration of the 16th century. Due to its stunning views and historical importance it must be featured here, and it must be first! In a mere 26 miles (43km) explorers manage to experience stunning mountain panorama, cloud-covered forest and subtropical jungle before reaching their prize: Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was the centre of Inca power and reputedly laden with gold, but while there are many Incan sites along the route, none catches the breath as much as Machu Picchu which, evidences the Incan feats of architecture and engineering while also giving way to a unique culture. Aside from this famed site, there is also the colonial gem that is Cusco which has a fascinating hybrid culture. Definitely worth a place on the bucket list but more importantly, definitely worth the visit- what are you waiting for?
Santa Cruz Trek
For something a little different, try this trek, stretching east, it is pocked with turquoise, clear lakes and graceful waterfalls along with sheer granite drops and glaciers. The Punta Union pass is only reachable by foot or mule along the spectacular 50km Santa Cruz trail which was part of the ancient Inca road and runs delicately through a series of remote mountain villages before meandering into the heart of the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range. Even though the trek sounds daunting- the mountains themselves can be visited as a day trip from Lima. Be warned- although the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are the most famous Peruvian sites, the views from the mountains are more stunning as well, Machu Picchu is visited by thousands while only a handful visit Cordillera Blanca so there’s firstly, no need to book ahead but you also get a greater sense of solitude and communion with nature. It has been protected by UNESCO since 1985 and there are opportunities to see condors, mountain cats, pumas and llamas as well as experiencing the Quechua-speaking people whose lifestyle remains little changed since the time of the Incas- so it’s almost like stepping into both a nature and history book.
The Lares Trek
Although the Lares Trek is not considered technical, the altitude can affect some individuals so is not for the faint-hearted and it is impossible to know how altitude can affect you. Also, it is important to note that due to the height, it can get quite cold with the temperature dropping to zero degrees at night- so if you’re thinking of this one, don’t forget the thermals and warm sleeping bag! You can buy handmade, inexpensive woolly hats and gloves at Cusco which, is important for the local economy but aside from these precautions, it is an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail where, you go off the beaten track, away from the multitude of tourists and experience authentic Andean communities and culture. The environment of high mountains, deep valleys and clear lakes, gives an insight into the way of life of the people of the area, as it once was. Throughout the trek, cooks will prepare specialist high-energy, wholesome meals of rice, eggs, chicken and vegetables which, adds to the overall authenticity of the experience- giving you a sensation of living off the land. The trip allows you to take in the mountainous views, capture the picturesque scenery and take a dip in the hot springs of Lares. At the end of the trip, it is possible to carry on by train to Machu Picchu to continue the Inca experience.
If it’s good enough to be featured on National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine’s list of 25 Best Treks in the World, it’s good enough for our list! What sets the Salkantay Trek apart from some of the others is that it’s open to everyone and there’s no limitations in terms of space or permits. The trek itself is an ancient and remote foot route located in the same region as the Inca Trail mirroring the stunning mountainous and rainforest experience. Mt. Salkantay is a breath-taking glacier-capped mountain that was worshipped by locals for centuries- the word Salkantay itself means: Savage Mountain, and it definitely is that. The trek offers more solitude than other routes and is more conducive to contemplation which, this sacred site deserves. It is ideal for travellers looking for a more authentic experience and want to experience more than just ticking off a bucket list without, losing any of the natural beauty, cultural experiences or Incan history- with a visit to the site of Llactapata.
The Huayhuash Circuit
Located in the Andes but with Himalayan characteristics, it is a more difficult trek than the Cordillera Blanca. Although challenging, the 165 kilometre circuit of the Huayhuash is some of the best trekking in South America where you can experience some of the most stunning wilderness, azure glacial lakes and fragile eco-systems as well as indigenous communities eking out a living in the hamlets between the alpine meadows and towering peaks. It offers some of the most spectacular photo opportunities that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world. For the lover of high mountain regions, it would be hard to beat this exceptional trek, it is also possible for trips to Machu Picchu or Cusco at the end if desired (and if you have any memory left in your camera after snapping the outstanding views of the circuit!). Tour operators offer excellent instruction, guidance and service throughout these treks and provide meals and water, as well as porters for carrying luggage- in the form of llamas!
Choquequirao means “cradle of gold” and was an important part of the Incan empire and was left relatively untouched by the Conquistadores. This trek offers a unique opportunity to experience the many micro-climates of the Andes region as well as the unrivalled snow-capped peaks. Many of the trips are tailor-made and led by experienced guides who are both knowledgeable about the area and it’s history. The area is a film directors dream with it’s cloud covered jungle and ancient Incan settlements, the stairways and buildings often cut directly into the mountain side. It is often nicknamed the “sister” of Machu Picchu and while it is mobbed by paparazzi and tourists, Choquequirao remains relatively deserted. It is not surprising however due to the adventurous trekking but the final result pales the sweat and hardship into oblivion and it is hard not to feel completely humbled by this Incan sanctuary lost in the mountain ranges.
El Misti, Arequipa
Misti, as she is fondly known as, is a volcano looming over five thousand feet above the city of Arequipa and is said to be the guardian of the city. Over the years, Misti has attracted many adventurous climbers who are attracted by the prospect of scaling her symmetrical peak to reach the iron cross erected on her summit in 1901 and witness the curling, sulphurous, yellow volcanic gas in her crater while, all the while, taking in the spectacular views all around. Experts recommend climbing between July and November and taking a guide with you is recommended, as few can do the climb in a day and parts of the trek can be dangerous. Although there are many routes, the most popular starting point is Chiguata and from there it is a rough eight hour climb to base camp and then a further eight hours to the summit but the sliding return only takes half that time! In 1998, several mummies were found under the crater rim confirming it’s sanctification during the Incan period and it should be treated with the same reverence that the Incas afforded it and heed local advice. Or if you’re feeling less than adventurous admire the view of the statuesque mountain from the comforts of Arequipa and you can still admire the white volcanic stone, as most of the city’s colonial buildings are made from it!
Someone once said that Peru was both blessed and cursed with the presence of Machu Picchu while it brings much needed tourist dollars to remote communities and awareness about conservationism, it also has become synonymous with Peru when in fact Peru has much more to offer. A huge tract of the Amazon rainforest lies within its boundaries and visitors can trek through this amazing jungle as well as exploring the Andes where you can discover Lake Titicaca- one of the highest lakes in the world. Even at that, you’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Peru.
Want to explore Peru in luxury?
Trekking doesn’t always have to mean cutting your comforts! One of the leading tour operators in Peru, Machu Travel Peru offer travel packages that combine high standards with good-value travel. If you are eager to explore the famous Inca Trail they offer a luxury Peru package called Andean Footsteps and Inca Trail which is a completely luxury and customized package which allows you to follow in the footsteps of the Incas to Machu Picchu. You’ll also visit the magical cities of Lima and Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, meet Andean local people, have the opportunity to ride a horse alongside the Urubamba River and be invited to a local house to witness cooking lessons on Peruvian dishes. They also offer many other interesting Peruvian tours.