It was 1532 when Fransisco Pizarro led his Spanish army into Peru and laid siege to the Inca civilization and since then Peru has held a fascination for visitors because of its diverse environment, vibrant culture and stunning landscapes. When you set off on a journey through Peru, you plunge into an authentic, unique and unparalleled experience. Here are my nine beautiful reasons why you must visit Peru before you die…
After visiting Machu Picchu, don’t skip Cusco. Its pre-Columbian buildings have given this city UNESCO World Heritage status, and its cobblestoned streets, great hotels, museums, nearby archaeological sites, and relaxed atmosphere make it worth spending at least a couple days here. There are many hotels, restaurants and bistros to suit all tastes along with cultural festivals and events for tourists to become more immersed in the Peruvian way of life.
You cannot visit Peru and not experience the heart of the powerful Inca Empire that gave us the architectural wonder of Machu Picchu. Your trip to Machu Picchu starts at Cusco which is about 8000 feet lower than the site, so you should acclimatise yourself to the height of Machu Picchu by spending a night or two getting used to the low altitude in Machu Picchu Pueblo- locally known as Aguas Calientes, this town nearest Machu Picchu- and drink plenty of tea, this is a local old wives tale to help avoid altitude sickness! When you arrive at Machu Picchu, peel away from the crowd rushing to the centre of the site and head to the Guard House, this provides a view of the area so you can get your bearings. There are options for hikes around the site, these cost extra and require good knees, good fitness and a healthy heart.
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is perhaps most famous for its ‘floating’ islands. The islands were created by the Uru people from locally sourced reeds, the islands could then be pushed into the deeper water of the lake if the Uru felt under threat. Uru people themselves offer fascinating motorboat tours of the islands explaining their culture and traditions which also allows them to supplement their income. Amantani is another island of Lake Titicaca, there is no machinery allowed on the island so all farming is done by hand. There are two peaks, Pachamama and Pachatata (mother and father Earth) with large ruins at the top. A visit here is really a step back in time, some of the residents of the islands open their homes for overnight stays- this option is definitely worth investigating.
The Nazca Lines are a collection of hundreds of large ancient carvings or designs carved into the ground of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru and have been a UNESCO site since 1994. The complexity of the representations vary, some are simple lines while others are more clear, there are over seventy animal carvings along with flora like trees and flowers with the largest of the figures measuring 370ft long (which is about as long as a football pitch). The site has been identified as that of the Nazca people and dates back to between 500BC and 500AD. The isolation of the windless plateau only adds to the patina of mystery surrounding the drawings, making it definitely worth a visit.
A visit to the colonial city of Lima is an absolute must when on a trip to Peru. The streets are loaded with history, culture and tradition. Whether it is bustling downtown with its street markets and vibrant nightlife or the opulent Spanish palaces or lazy beachfront, there is something for everyone in Lima. The city somehow manages to incorporate its diverse cultural and historical legacy into every corner of the city, ensuring that tourists leave with a strong sense of what being Peruvian really means.
Maras Salt Ponds
Located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is off the beaten track and often neglected in favour of Machu Picchu and other famous sites, but of course, it was around long before the Incas. Coming around the corner of the long, winding road through the high Andes site of Moray, the bleached, blinding white salt ponds pack a powerful punch when they come into view. Surrounded by the rusted brown colour of the valley slopes, the contrast makes the sight even more awe-inspiring. Although the Incas are famous for constructing some of Peru’s earliest architectural designs, it was the Chanapata Culture who shaped the salt ponds. The entrance fee is a paltry $24 and dipping your hand into the ponds to taste the raw salt is a unique experience. Renowned for its healing properties, it is possible to purchase some of the salt at the site to bring home and don’t forget to get your passport stamped with a unique novelty stamp.
Colca Canyon is Peru’s third most visited site annually and is one of the deepest in the world. The Peruvians who live here maintain their ancestral traditions and the ancient Incan stepped terraces. Here, condors can be seen close up, known as the Eternity Bird, they are a symbol of life and longevity, other wildlife thrives here like the Giant Hummingbird and of course, the alpaca. There is plenty of ancient (some as old as 6000 years) rock art to be seen derived from ancient civilisation and perhaps most interestingly, a lot of it depicts the domestication of the alpaca for its milk and wool. The Infiernillo Geyser, on the flanks of the volcano Hualca Hualca, is also worth a visit either by foot, horse or bike and availing of the few casas vivenciales (home stays) where tourists can stay with a local family in their home and share in their daily activities, will make this a truly unique experience.
Sacsayhuaman is an ancient walled complex overlooking Cusco. The Incas built Cusco in the shape of a puma, which was one of their symbols, with Sacsayhuaman as its head. Sacsayhuaman is considered one of man’s greatest building feats. The fortress walls were built with huge boulders that dwarf humans; pieces were cut to fit so mortar wasn’t needed. Today it is used by the Peruvians as a site to celebrate the Winter Solstice and new year. There are often re-enactments of ancient Incan celebrations which are definitely worth catching during your visit. Check with the local tourist office to see if events are occurring to try to coordinate your visit.
As the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were springing up across the globe, the ancient city of Caral of the Norte Chico civilization of Supe was thriving in Peru, South America’s oldest civilisation. Dating back to 2600BC and only full excavated during the 1990s, it is South America’s most intact city civilisation. Organising a visit is complex, there is no real infrastructure for independent tourists but some bus companies in Lima do offer tours and as it is a UNESCO site, a guided tour is mandatory to protect the site- brush up on your Spanish!
Peru is known to be the home of fascinating and diverse civilisations, the people today embody a mix of this cultural legacy that has been passed down, with the most important being the gratitude to Pachamam (Mother Earth) and the importance of living in harmony with nature. All visitors to Peru leave over-awed that in one country they can ride flat out over dunes, immerse themselves in the depths of a lush rainforest, and follow the footsteps of the Incas through their mountain trails. It is, therefore, no surprise that the World Travel Awards named it South America’s Leading Culinary Destination for five years running. What are you waiting for? Get booking!