Peru... a new view
Try as they might, few destinations can rival Peru when it comes to adventure and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But what makes Peru so effortlessly incredible is the tantalising mix of world-famous sights standing alongside equally enthralling undiscovered gems. So whether you’re a first timer wanting to complete your travel ‘must-sees’ or a returning visitor hoping to escape the crowds, here’s my pick of the very best…
Like Cuzco? Try Arequipa.
Peru was colonised by the Spanish for centuries, and their legacy lives on in the countless colonial towns bursting with charm and history. The most celebrated of these is Cuzco, famed for its temples and handsome plaza dominated by the cathedral erected between 1560 and 1668, using stones brought from Sacsayhuaman. It may serve as the gateway to Machu Picchu but Cuzco is a destination in its own right, a thriving hub of culture and culinary greatness. Set picturesquely at the foot of the 6,000-metre snow-capped El Misti volcano, Arequipa is arguably the loveliest city in Peru. A Unesco-listed colonial gem, wander the elegant tree-lined streets and explore the squares' magnificent buildings dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, including its famed cathedral and churches.
El Misti volcano, Arequipa
Like the Inca Trail? Try the Huchuy Qosqo trail.
Arguably the most famous hike in the world, the Inca Trail has long been a rite of passage. Combining tropical jungle, mountain highs and verdant cloud forest dotted with points of interest from the days of the Incas, trekkers receive the ultimate reward at the end of the challenging 43km journey: the wondrous sight of Machu Picchu. The original trail, which was used by Bingham, ascends to 4,200 metres at a point known as Dead Woman's Pass on the second day. Not for the faint hearted. Or why not try the Huchuy Qosqo trail? Also requiring a good level of fitness but a shorter experience, the trail follows old Inca paths across the Sacred Valley on a 17km route that takes around two days to complete. Highlights along the way include canyons, lakes and the rarely visited settlement of Huchuy Qosqo (meaning 'Little Cuzco') complete with ancient Incan stone buildings.
Like the Amazon rainforest? Try the Ballestas islands
Who doesn't dream of sailing through the Amazon? This mighty waterway slices through the world's largest rainforest, a haven for rare wildlife and remote indigenous tribes encapsulating the very essence of adventure. Follow jungle trails to discover the 2.5 million species of flora and fauna before cruising down the river in search of piranhas and pink river dolphins. Wildlife lovers wanting more should head to the Ballestas islands on a morning boat excursion off the Paracas peninsula south of Lima. The islands are an amazing microcosm, home to an extraordinary abundance of wildlife including the Peruvian booby, pelicans, Humboldt penguins, sea lions and sometimes even flamingoes and dolphins.
Brown pelicans and guanay cormorants, Ballestas Islands
Like Sacsayhuaman? Try the Sun and Moon Pyramids.
Seven decades in the making and the handiwork of a workforce of 20,000 men, the colossal stonewalls of Sacsayhuaman – made of boulders weighing up to 200 tonnes – have become world-renowned for good reason. As one of the most accessible historical archaeological remains in Peru, located just outside Cuzco, experts believe it was built close to the city as a place of worship to the sun. Just try not to laugh when you say its name. Equally as interesting are the Sun and Moon Pyramids near Trujillo. Standing 43 metres in height, legend has it that 250,000 men built them in just three days. Designed for ceremonial purposes, they include secret tombs where ancient murals were discovered alongside mummified bodies and the remains of sacrificed warriors.
Like Machu Picchu? Try Kuelap
Emerging from the swirling cloud forest, the fabled archaeological remains of Machu Picchu never fail to pack a visual punch. Rediscovered in 1911, this pioneering Incan citadel stands 2,430 metres above sea level and was constructed in the mid-15th century for a population of over a thousand people. Their architectural prowess remains impressive to this day. Hidden in the cloud forests of Chachapoyas is Kuelap, a striking and sophisticated pre-Inca settlement, whose fortress ramparts undulate for half a kilometre along the soaring ridgetops. Dating back to the 14th century, Kuelap offers incredible views of the landscape, and its 500 plus structures are an insight into the once great 'Warrior of the Clouds' Chachapoyas civilisation.
PERU AT A GLANCE by Cox & Kings
April to October is Peru's dry season and the best time to visit if you are planning to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Spring and autumn weather varies with plenty of sunny days.
Eat & Drink
Join the locals for lunch at a picanter’a, a traditional eatery serving authentic Arequipan cuisine. The menu is set for each day of the week, usually involving soup and a small second dish. A popular dish is chupe de camarones: prawns sautŽed with chillies and cooked with beans, sweetcorn, cheese, milk and potatoes. Wash the meal down with a glass of chicha de jora, an alcoholic corn beer that was drunk by the Incas.
Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cuzco
Located in the heart of Cuzco, this converted 16th-century Jesuit monastery is one of the world's most stylish and atmospheric hotels.
Hotel Libertador, Arequipa
The Libertador offers elegant accommodation and peaceful gardens in a quiet location, with views of El Misti volcano.
Spanish catholic chapel, Arequipa
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