Choose your own adventure in Peru
Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca
Southern Peru is a land of extremes, from the deepest canyon on the planet (Colca Canyon, 4,160m deep) to the world’s highest lake (Lake Titicaca, 3,812m above sea level). Allot about five days for this large area, starting in the romantic colonial city of Arequipa. Spend a day exploring the gleaming Baroque churches made from white volcanic rock. Early the next day, head north past the region’s volcanoes and lava fields and spend a night making friends with the alpacas that roam the grounds of the atmospheric Las Casitas del Colca hotel close to the village of Yanque. Spend at least a day checking out the world’s largest flying bird (the Andean condor, wingspan 3.2m) and the indigenous villages that dot Colca Canyon, which subsist on terrace farming and alpaca herding. Then head back to Arequipa to catch the bus to Puno, gateway to Lake Titicaca. Use the eco-friendly Titilaka Lodge as your base for exploring the communities that have inhabited the shores and islands of the lake since 600 BC. See the floating cities that the Uros people build from reeds; learn the art of adobe brickmaking, farming and fishing on the Peninsula de Capachica; and do an overnight homestay with a local family on the islands of Isla Anapia and Isla Yuspique through the socially responsible All Ways Travel.
Ayacucho, Huancayo and Hualhuas
One of Peru’s least touristed regions, the central highlands are one of its most culturally rich. Hike or mountain bike between the adobe villages surrounding Huancayo, where artisans make many of the items that are later sold in the markets of Lima and Cusco like intricate silverwork and bright woven textiles. Then head to colonial Ayacucho to see its 33 baroque and Renaissance-style cathedrals, its artisan workshops and the Huari Incan ruins outside of town. Make time to hear some of the traditional huayno folk music. Accommodations in this region are basic, but charming lodges like Hotel Loma Verde near Huancayo and Hotel Marquez de Valdelirios in Ayacucho will do the trick. They can also help arrange excursions.
For beach lovers and party people
Peru as a surf mecca has long been one of the country’s best-kept secrets. But with the opening of the ultra-hip DCO Suites, the fishing village of Mancora has officially graduated from surf bum to stylish scenester. Come in the high season from December through March to catch some waves, load up on ultra-fresh beachfront ceviche and throw back a pisco or 12 in its rowdy bars.
For many years, most visitors saw only the inside of the Lima airport on their way to other cities. But with one of the world’s hottest dining scenes, bumping nightlife and a rugged adventure-friendly coastline (paragliding or kite-surfing, anyone?), Lima is increasingly becoming a must-see. Base yourself at the beachfront Miraflores Park Hotel, the ideal jumping off point for a food tour starting at the stunningly innovative Central and moving on to Astrid & Gaston, whose chef, Gaston Acurio, put Peruvian food on the international map. Also make a stop at Madam Tusan, chef Acurio’s modern interpretation of classic Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) food.