Forgotten temples in the dense Amazon jungle, lost Inca cities, fabulous wildlife and extraordinary folklore. Peru has everything that adventure films are made of.
Most of the best Inca sites are in the Inca highlands around the beautiful city of Cuzco, once the capital of the Inca empire and now a World Heritage Site itself, as well as a bustling city. Book at least six months in advance if you want to do the famous 4-day Inca Trail hike, which usually starts at the 15th-century Inca dwellings at Ollantaytambo. You’ll have to use your imagination to get past the huge crowds at the final destination, Machu Picchu, but it’s worth it. Wait until the larger crowds have left, find a quiet spot away from the tourist crowds and contemplate your view of one of the most famous and spectacular archaeological sites in the world. Many other sites are located in the nearby Sacred Valley.
The list of great Peruvian ruins from pre-Columbian times is long, and not all of them are Inca. The ancient mud-brick capital of Chan Chan, built by the Chimú culture that arrived in the 15th century, is a World Heritage Site. Other popular sites include the tombs of Sipán, the ruined fortress of Kuelap, the pre-inca tombs of Sillustani and Caral, the oldest city in the Americas. The spectacular Nazca lines are particularly famous and a must-see from the air, although you’ll have to haggle a bit to get the right price.
Peru is home to 84 of the world’s 104 recognised ecological zones and is incredibly rich in biodiversity. With a wide range of landscapes and ecosystems, this country is a veritable Valhalla for all those who love wildlife. Peru is famous for its condors, llamas and jaguars, but it is also home to almost a third of the world’s bird species and no less than 4,000 butterflies.
One of the best places to see all this natural beauty is in the Manú National Park. This World Heritage Site is home to more than 15,000 species of plants, 1,000 different birds and around 220 mammals, including pumas, giant anteaters and many monkeys. The breathtaking Colca Canyon, dubbed the ‘deepest canyon in the world’, is Peru’s third most visited destination and is just a stone’s throw from the beautiful city of Arequipa. Get up close to the famous Andean condors that fly along the canyon’s high walls or buy a colourful souvenir handmade by one of the indigenous peoples who inhabit the picturesque Colca Valley. Of all the peaks in the Peruvian Andes, Huascarán (6,768m), in Huascarán National Park, is the highest of them all. This 3,000 square kilometre World Heritage Site is home to 663 glaciers, 296 lakes and 41 tributaries of three major rivers. The large city of Iquitos is a popular starting point for exploring the mystical Amazon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is also the capital of the Charapa culture. Among the long list of protected areas in Peru are the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, Rio Abiseo National Park and Cutervo National Park (with many caves).
The diversity of Peru’s people and cultures is reflected in a rich tradition of festivals, dance and music. In the Andes, the plaintive wail of the flute and the rhythm of the drum accompany songs describing indigenous life, while dancers masked as devils and spirits combine pagan and Christian beliefs. In the jungle, ceremonial music and dance provide a window into tribal life. And on the coast, a mix of elegant Spanish sounds and lively African rhythms reflect the conquest and subsequent enslavement of the New World. One of the must-see shows is the Caballo de Paso Peruano in Lima and on Peru’s northern coast. The Concurso del Caballo de Paso Peruano takes place in April and is a mixture of the Caballos and the dance called “Marinera” which is the cultural expression of the coast in Peru.
Head to the blue waters of Lake Titicaca to meet indigenous peasant women wearing bowler hats at high altitude and join in the celebrations of their ancient communities. Puno is a good starting point, also for a relaxing boat trip to the various islands and towns of the Altiplano on and around the lake, all with their own character and historical relics. If you fancy perfect beaches and sunbathing, head for the crowded beaches and resorts of Piura/Tumbes. Spend a day in one of Lima‘s many excellent museums and dance the night away in one of the city’s popular clubs. Buy shamanic herbs at the Chiclayo market and see the dozens of tombs in the area.