Peru; One Country, Several Destinations
Writer Margie Butte
Peru is the cradle of South America’s ancient civilizations. A land wrapped in 10,000 years of history, Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire. This diverse and compact country packs a punch for the senses, from breathtaking scenery, ancient ruins and rich culture, heritage and folklore to dazzling local crafts and markets with mouthwatering flavors.
Be mesmerized by ancient sites like Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. Discover the depths of the Colca Canyon or the heights of Lake Titicaca and the natural diversity of Manu National Park. Sink your teeth into the culinary delights that have made Peruvian tables famous throughout the globe. Rest your head at some of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious hotels and resorts. Explore Peru’s ancient mysticism and healing traditions, or indulge in more modern and cosmopolitan retail therapy.
Peru continues to rise as one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and its culinary scene has had foodies buzzing in the last few years. From traditional local food to gourmet haute fusion, Peru’s tables are turning the heads of international chefs and lovers of cuisine. You can’t leave Peru without having tasted a beautiful bowl of fresh ceviche, or a hearty plate of lomo saltado with a cold and potent pisco sour. Exploring the country’s cuisine may turn out to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip!
Peru can be visited all year round, and the country experiences two main seasons. The dry season between May and October sees sunny days, bright blue skies and chilly nights. It is an excellent time to be in Peru, but being the peak season, early booking is crucial. Between November and mid-April, visitors will notice more rain, with January and February being the wettest months to visit. Travel at this time does offer the advantage of fewer visitors, greener scenery and some lower rates for flights and hotels. Although the Amazon also experiences more rain between November and March, this should not deter you from visiting — flora and fauna will still be abundant, and there are always breaks in the showers.
A Land of Hidden Treasures
Here are just a few of the amazing destinations in Peru that draw travelers from around the world.
Lima, formerly known as the “City of Kings,” is a major South American capital bustling with living history and modern activity. It’s an ethnic melting pot featuring a blend of European, Asian and indigenous cultures. Set on the Pacific coast, Lima is surrounded by sea, islands, mountains and desert. Lima delights visitors with a vibrant nightlife, outstanding cuisine, elegant hotels, world-class museums, fine art galleries, boutiques, artsy laid-back neighborhoods and the inviting shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Paracas, a four-hour drive south of Lima, is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and a base for exploration of the fascinating Nazca culture. Here you will see enormous ancient geoglyphs scratched out on the desert sand. These Nazca Lines, scratched on the surface of the desert sand between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500, are among archaeology’s greatest mystery because of their quality, nature, size and continuity, covering an area measuring 37 miles long and one mile wide. Because of their size, these images are best appreciated from the sky.
Arequipa, just a one-hour flight from Lima, is the gateway to the magnificent Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon on Earth and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Travelers will fall in love with its regal architecture, fine shopping, culinary scene, museums and the remarkable Santa Catalina Convent, a miniature city within a city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arequipa, founded in 1540, is known as the “White City” because of its particularly beautiful downtown, with buildings finished in white volcanic stone. This bustling city is also blessed with one of the world’s most beautiful backdrops: an arc of snow-capped volcanoes stretching more than 19,000 feet. Among the sports activities enjoyed in the area are trekking, rafting, climbing and mountain biking.
Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, was voted a favorite city in Latin America by Travel + Leisure readers for the past three years. It is considered the architectural capital of the Americas due to its incredible mix of colonial and ancient Incan architecture full of magnificent stone palaces and temples decorated with gold. The conquering Spanish were impressed, and so instead of destroying Cusco, they built their colonial city atop these solid foundations. Cusco was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1983, and it is without a doubt one of the most important destinations in Peru with a dynamic history.
Machu Picchu, the legendary and magical “Lost City of the Inca” or citadel, is without a doubt one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Nature Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it rises high above green-covered Andes mountains, 7,972 feet above sea level in the steamy cloud forest some 50 miles northwest of Cusco. Its beauty touches visitors’ senses and is considered one of the most extraordinary examples of spectacular architecture in the world, while mystery surrounds it.
Puno lies on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,421 feet above sea level. The lake provides the natural separation between Peru and Bolivia and has a surface area exceeding 3,100 square miles, not counting its more than 40 islands. The best-known of the islands are the Uros, “floating islands” named after the people who inhabit them, who continue to follow the ways of their ancestors established hundreds of years ago: fishing, hunting, farming and craft-making. The city of Puno, on the other hand, keeps pace with today while celebrating its origins with festivals, music and dance. Another great place to experience the rich culture of the area is the city market, a colorful collection of people, goods and foods. There are daily flights from Lima to Puno. In May 2017, look for the Belmond Andean Explorer’s launch of a luxury sleeper train journey from Cusco to Lake Titicaca for a unique way to experience Peru’s natural wonders.
Puerto Maldonado, the capital town in the Southern Amazon rainforest, is linked by short daily flights from Cusco and Lima. This is the launching point for land-based exploration of the Amazon jungle. The town’s proximity makes it one of the most easily accessible animal jungles in the entire Amazon Basin. Visitors have access to an increasing number of eco-lodges, national reserves and thriving wildlife on the nearby rivers. Puerto Maldonado offers travelers more chances to see, feel and hear the Amazonian jungle than anywhere else in Peru.
Iquitos is an important port city and the gateway to the Amazon River, the longest river on Earth. It is also the starting point for wildlife trips into the northern part of the Peruvian jungle. The largest city in the Peruvian jungle, Iquitos is the epitome of a steamy Amazon city. Hemmed in by lakes, rivers and green forest on all sides, the only way in or out is by boat or plane, so once you are there, the Amazon is very accessible. This part of the rainforest is home to some ancient Amazonian tribes, as well as an immense variety of wildlife and aquatic life.
Whatever your pleasure or passion, you are sure to find it in the cities, highlands, valleys, rivers, lakes and jungles of Peru. Most famous for Machu Picchu, which is a trip of a lifetime, Peru should be on everybody’s bucket list if it is not already. You won’t regret taking the trip! Before going, make sure you find out what required travel vaccines you will need.
Margie Boutté, owner/luxury travel consultant of Elite Travel of Scottsdale and Grayhawk resident, has been designing unforgettable travel experiences for clients nationally for over 20 years. Her motto is, “If you can imagine the dream, I can create the reality.” Margie, an affiliate of Montecito Village Travel – A Virtuoso Member, holds numerous specialist certifications with hotels/resorts, cruise lines, destinations, Virtuoso & Virtuoso Cruise Host accreditation, and keeps current through continuing education and travels. She has traveled to 153 cities in 33 countries around the world.