Having travelled extensively through Latin America, I thought I knew what was coming as I landed in Lima: incredibly friendly people, vibrant and colourful markets, weird, but delicious food, jaw-dropping landscapes and great weather. Although I wasn't wrong, I was by no means prepared...
Peru is typically Latin American and the perfect introduction to South America for first timers to (easily the best) continent. It is also the most incredibly diverse country I have ever been to. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, however, given its size little old Peru has really crammed in as much as it can, making it the perfect destination for those intrepid travellers wanting to experience it all.
Culture is automatically what springs to mind when people think of Peru because it is home to the world famous ancient Incan citadel - Machu Picchu. Regardless of whether you take the more adventurous route of the 5 day Inca Trail hike, the 7 day Salkantay trek or simply get the train from Cusco, Machu Picchu has been named as one of the seven wonders of the modern world for a reason. The creativity of the Incas is apparent at every turn; everything from the drainage system to the position of the sun was thought through, and the fact that it is still almost fully intact today is testament to their ingenuity and resourcefulness. I could bang on about this particular ruin forever, however, there are hundreds more that are just as impressive and definitely worth visiting, including Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and the Temple of the Sun in Cusco.
Peru has the second-largest portion of the Amazon rainforest after Brazil, taking up a massive 60% of the country. I was lucky enough to explore the area surrounding Puerto Maldonado in the South East, very close to the border with Bolivia. The Madre de Dios River that runs along the Tambopata Reserve is home to a diverse eco system that attracts the more courageous luxury traveller, willing to 'rough it' in the rustic lodges that are nestled in the river front jungle, less than an hour from the airport. The lodges here are brilliantly run and offer a variety of interesting and exciting excursions in the rainforest, allowing guests to learn about the flora and fauna that is indigenous to the area.
Desert & Canyons
The strip of land between Peru's highlands and the ocean is desert, meaning it is another totally different environment to experience. The south is home to the city of Arequipa and the dramatic Colca Canyon, an exciting contrast to the Andes and rainforest. Arequipa is an almost perpetually sunny colonial city surrounded by volcanoes and with a great selection of museums. Colca Canyon is a five hour drive from the city through dramatic landscapes dotted with wild vicunas and their domestic alpaca cousins. The Colca Valley is made up of green patchwork terraces (the best way to make the most of the fertile land), and morphs into the Canyon as the river winds its way through both. Visiting the Canyon is a great way to see the majestic condor in flight; watching the second largest bird on the planet soar overhead is a truly memorable experience.
Last but not least, the capital city is now something that Peru should be proud of. Following years of domestic terrorism and unstable governments, Lima is now on the straight and narrow and is rapidly becoming South America's prime gastronomic centre. Exciting new restaurants are popping up all over the city offering tourists and locals alike an enticing array of some of the best seafood in the world, alongside typical Peruvian dishes. This, in addition to a host of new hotels and the intriguing history of the colonial centre, is drawing more and more travellers in to the capital, and rightly so.
A Bucket list Destination..
Despite not even having mentioned Lake Titicaca and the popular surfing beaches, it is abundantly clear that Peru has a huge amount to offer for a relatively small country and should be a MUST on everyone's bucket list. Do not worry if you think it all sounds a bit too adventurous and rustic for you because, although an itinerary to Peru does involve a lot of moving around, some of the best hotels in South America have been built in this country, making for a very comfortable, luxurious and spoiling trip as well as once in a lifetime experience.