ruins of Machu Picchu
– the remnants of a centuries-old civilization shrouded in mist and mystery --
perch defiantly on a mountain more than 2,400m above sea level. The site has
captured explorers’ imaginations for generations, deservedly becoming one of
the world’s great travel destinations.
to Peru and seeing only Machu Picchu is like going to the Grand Canyon and
saying you have truly seen the United States. The dramatic extremes of the
country — from the lush riot of the Amazon to the mysterious deserts of the south,
the culinary flair of Lima
to the boho-chic beaches of Mancora — hold something for every traveller. So this
choose-your-own-adventure guide details how to combine the classic sites with
additional stops broken down by interest.
The must sees
visit to the ruins will figure highly in your trip. But how you see it depends on your priorities for the rest of your time
If you are interested in Incan immersion, try a four-day hike which starts in the Sacred Valley
and passes more than 30 other ruins before summiting at the big show. Those
shorter on time should take the glam three-and-a-half hour Hiram
Bingham train from Cusco -- the largest nearby city -- to Machupicchu Town at
the base of the ruins, bed down at the luxe eco-lodge Inkaterra or its more
affordable sister hotel El Mapi and
do a day tour of the ruins the following morning. Either hotel can organize
capital of the Incan Empire and later the target of Spanish conquistadores, the
city is today a hybrid of cultures, with ancient stone temples frankensteined
into colonial cathedrals. Because of its elevation (3,400m above sea level), it
is best to properly explore the city after your trip to Machu Picchu, whose
slightly lower elevation makes it easier to acclimatise. You can cover quite a
bit of the city in two days -- from the Santo Domingo cathedral built on top of
Incan ruins to the Incan
Sacsayhuaman stone fortress that dates back a millennium to the alpaca and
handicraft boutiques. Pick a central hotel like Second Home,
an artist-owned budget bed and breakfast in the funky San Blas neighbourhood,
or Inkaterra La Casona, a luxury
hotel housed in a 1585 colonial mansion located off the main square.
For nature nuts and adrenaline seekers
One of the
most biodiverse (and endangered) places on Earth, the Amazon covers more than
60% of Peru
with a densely wild jungle of macaws and piranhas, pink dolphins and jaguars. The
muggy heat, extremely difficult navigation and natural dangers (poisonous frogs
or anacondas anyone?) means the region is not
for the faint of heart. But outfitters like the Aqua
Expeditions riverboat and the Reserva
Amazonica lodge provide safe, eco-friendly trips into the wilderness.
Southern desert coast
were not the only ancients to rule areas of Peru. Explore the ingenious
cultures of the Chincha, Paracas and Nasca, all of which carved out an
existence in the rugged deserts along the Pacific Coast.
Here you can sandboard down dunes in Ica; see penguins, seals and sea lions in
Islas Ballestas; and take a stomach-churning Cessna flight over the mysterious
Nasca Lines, a collection of more than 1,500 large-scale drawings covering 492sqkm
that were carved into the landscape an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Casa
Andina Nasca hotel can connect you with the safest flight operators.
Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash
climbers should carve out time in the Peruvian Andes in the northern and
central part of the country, including the Cordillera Blanca, the highest
mountain range in the world outside of the Himalayas. Spend at least two days hiking and summiting
the 6,768m Huascaran, which towers over
glittering high-altitude lakes. Then move on to the jagged
peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash for stunning views of the Andean
glaciers. The town of Huaraz
serves as a staging ground for these adventures and others, including mountain
biking, ice-climbing, skiing, paragliding, and kayaking. Most climbers stay at Le Casa de
Zarela hostel, the ideal place to get the lowdown on the best tour operators.
For history buffs and culture vultures
Colca Canyon and Lake
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
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
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.
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