This is an area of the world that not only has beautiful scenery and much to see, but also has an ancient heritage that is both mysterious and captivating. As we begin our journey to determine what is there to do in Peru, we may also be pleasantly surprised to uncover some fascinating mysteries which are about to be unveiled.
With Macchu Pinchu being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it is no surprise that this country in South America has much more to share than immediately meets the eye. Its beauty, diverse landscapes, wildlife, amazing history, vibrant atmosphere and people, and some of the best food in the world, provide the mystery and charm of this country.
A Little Background
Dating back one thousand years before the Incas, the Peruvian culture is cherished by its people. They pride themselves on their diversity and ability to adapt to their environment.
You will discover animals, plants, and other creatures here that cannot be found anywhere else on our planet. The magic and diversity of this part of the world is evident with the traditional practices of Medicine Men and Shaman as they honor and relate to the energy of Mother Earth. You will also find people living in tree houses and on floating grass islands.
The clothing worn by the people here is so vibrant and full of color. The women farm in high altitudes dressed in traditional garb with their pet llamas by their side. There are large sand dunes, ancient ruins where you can find hieroglyphic characters, stunning coastal towns, as well as European-style cities.
I cannot fail to mention that the food is some of the best in the world with chefs flying into Lima and Cusco from various parts of the world including Paris. A trip along the coast will provide some of the best seafood you can find anywhere.
A Few Things to Discover
One thing you will notice is that the history of this country is displayed in their architecture. After Spain took over in 1536 they built their churches on top of the Incan temples. Thus, their cities, such as Cusco, reflect a visible contrast between Incan architecture and the Spanish Colonial architecture.
One of the most bio diverse countries on the planet, Peru has ninety (90) distinct microclimates among its abundant rain forests. There are twenty-five thousand (25,000) plant species and nearly five thousand (5,000) species of animals and fish.
Here’s a short video to give you a feel for this most intriguing country.
Here’s a few more interesting bits of info:
- The National University of San Marcos was founded May 12, 1551, which makes it the oldest university in the Americas.
- The capital of Peru is Lima.
- Practically every weaving technique known in the world today was invented by the Peruvians.
- There are three (3) official languages in Peru (Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua).
- In the Amazon region there are thirteen (13) different indigenous languages.
- The Amazon River starts in Peru and is the longest river in the world starting near Machu Picchu and extending three thousand two hundred and seventy-eight (3,278) miles (5,275 km) to the Atlantic Ocean. The mouth of the river is one hundred and eighty-six (186) miles (299 km) wide.
- Known to the Incas as a sacred bird, the Giant Andean Condor has its home in Peru. Four (4) feet (1.2 meters) high with a wingspan of about fourteen (14) feet (4.2 meters) it can fly for hours without using its wings despite weighing up to twenty-seven (27) pounds (12.2 kilograms).
- Located on the border of Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is eleven thousand and four hundred thirty-six (11,436) feet (3485 meters) high making it the highest lake in the world. Below the surface are the ruins of an ancient city, and people live on the islands in the lake.
- Peru has the highest sand dune in the world at a height of three thousand and eight hundred sixty (3,860) feet (1176 meters). A lot of sand boarding is done around there.
- After the Himalayas, the Andes Mountain are the second largest mountain range in the world.
- Dating back to ancient times, the “rite of passage” for young boys is celebrated by a masked dance called Capac Quolla which can get quite intense.
- The ancient Peruvians buried food to honor their deceased and provide sustenance for them on their new journey into other dimensions. It is a sacrifice to Pachamama or Mother Earth.
- Cinchona is the National Tree of Peru with six (6) varieties. The bark of the tree contains quinine which is a remedy for malaria.
- Grown in the Amazon rain forest Camu-Camu is a fruit with sixty (60) times more Vitamin C than oranges.
- El Nino, the warm equatorial current, hits the coast of Peru around Christmas every year.
- In the entire Inca Empire, the city of Cusco was the most important as it governed from Ecuador to Chile.
- The Incas defined the constellations of darkness in addition to light, and the streets of Cuzco are aligned with the stars at certain times of the year. The Incas had a great understanding of astronomy as each ritual stone and sun temple in Machu Picchu is in perfect alignment with the sun.
- The coca plant has been used in the Andes for thousands of years for its medicinal properties as well as having religious significance. The leaves of the coca plant help overcome hunger, thirst, and fatigue as well as being used for altitude sickness. A German grad student, Albert Niemann, isolated the active ingredient in the coca plant in the 19th century and called it cocaine.
- Of the ten (10) million alpacas worldwide three-quarters (3/4) of them are in Peru.
- The most expensive coffee in the world is Peruvian Dung Coffee
- Peru is the largest producer of gold, one hundred and sixty-two (162) tons per year worth in excess of seven (7) trillion dollars.
- The deepest canyon in the world is Cotahuasi near the city of Arequipa. It is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon at ten thousand six hundred and five (10,605) feet (3,232 meters).
- Peru is second to India in the amount of Shamans worldwide.
- There are over fifty-five (55) varieties of corn in Peru.
- A woman’s hat signifies the status of a relationship.
- Healthier with more protein and less fat than llama meat, guinea pigs or cuy are a delicacy and traditional dish.
- The first census was created by the ancient Incas using a system of knots for record keeping called quipus.
- The national drink of Peru is the Pisco Sour using Peruvian grape brandy. It was invented in the 1920s by Vaugn Morris, an American bartender.
- There are over three thousand (3,000) different varieties of potato in Peru.
Some Things to Do
This is such a diverse country that there are many choices as to activities both in the city and the wilderness. Here are a few things to consider.
- Swim with the Pink Dolphins — these pink dolphins cannot be found anywhere else in the world except in the Amazon River. You can either stay in the boat and observe or dive in and play around with these beautiful creatures.
- The Floating Restaurant and Swimming Pool –– take a boat out to the middle of the Amazon River and you will find Al Frio y al Fuego, a restaurant where you can swim, listen or dance to DJ music, and enjoy fresh local cuisine.
- Spend a night or two at The Treehouse Hotel — right in the middle of the Amazon you can experience being right in the midst of one of the richest animal and plant habitats anywhere in the world. Monkeys and exotic birds will be your alarm clock as you awaken in your canopy bed. The bungalows are connected by suspension bridges (it’s good if you are not afraid of heights).
- Check Out the Penguins — a boat ride out to the marine reserve in Paracas will allow you to view a bunch of penguins who lost their way from Antarctica many years ago.
- Explore the Amazon Rain forest — this vast rain forest covers two-thirds (2/3) of the entire country. You will experience many rare species of plants and animals. Many of the plants have healing properties. This experience is not for the weak of heart as there are no roads between villages so the only travel options are by boat or walking. The waters are filled with electric eels, piranhas, giant river otters, and anacondas. The Amazon River Cruises are like a safari on water. Be sure to explore the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.
- Stay at Skylodge Adventure Suites — built in 2013 this cliff side hotel is only accessible by hiking, ziplining, or rock climbing, and it takes three (3) to four (4) hours each way. One thousand three hundred and twelve (1312) feet (399 meters) above the sacred valley in Cusco these suspended bedrooms hand on a rock face. Quite an adventure for some, but I totally understand if you book your reservations elsewhere.
- Take a hike up Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain) — As part of the mystery of Peru there is very little if any information about this area. It takes about six (6) days to complete your hike. The painted hills are hid deep in the Andes and resemble a rainbow. At the end of the hike you will find a natural hot springs. Very few travelers have discovered this area.
- Visit Manu National Park — Located in southeastern Peru you will find two hundred and eighty-seven (287) species of reptiles, a thousand (1,000) species of birds, and twelve hundred (1,200) species of butterflies.
- Surf the Northern Coast of Peru — this is a paradise for surfers; the town of Chicama has the longest left-handed wave which measured 2.5 miles (4 km), while the town of Mancora has the largest left-handed point break. Surfing in Peru goes back two thousand (2,000) years.
- Check out the Nasca Lines — discovered in 1927 there are more than seventy (70) large animal and human geoglyphs along the high desert plateau between Palpa and Nazca. These are best seen from the air as there are about ten thousand (10,000) lines and some of them are thirty (30) miles (48 km) long. They represent one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.
- The Great Restaurants and Cuisine in Lima — Lima has numerous restaurants with great food which are quite often visited by top chefs from around the world, so don’t be shy about checking a few out. Lima is currently experiencing a surge in growth and has become a destination unto itself with new boutique hotels, restaurants, and museums popping up. The well curated Larco Museum has an extensive exhibit of local erotic ceramics/pottery and right in the heart of the city you will discover the eighteen hundred (1,800) year old ruins of Huaca Pucllana. Other ares to visit are the catacombs below the Monastery of San Francisco, the Palacio de Gobierno, and the Plaza de Armas in the colonial section of town. You can get loaner bikes to bike around the neighborhoods and check out some shops, cafes, or the great bar scene. The Mario Testino Museum exhibits works of famous photographers. Right next door is the Pedro de Osma Museum where you will find colonial art is this gorgeous mansion with stunning gardens.
- The Mystery of Machu Picchu — you can take a day trip to check out this area or you can do a four (4) day hike of the Inca trail (about 26 miles or 42 km) to enter the city through the Sun Gate where you can catch a fantastic sunrise above the ruined city. You can get there from Cusco by bus, taxi, or PeruRail. It may be good to spend a night in Cusco to acclimate to the high altitude.
- Experience the Sacred Valley — along the Urubamba River between Cusco and Machu Picchu lies the Sacred Valley where there are many ancient communities to be explored around the mountain passes and surrounding valleys. There are the ruins at Picas, as well as Centro Textil Urpi Centro Cultural Parwa where you can learn some weaving techniques, as well as purchase fair-trade alpaca clothing and accessories for much less than the tourist traps in Lima and Cusco. You can also pick up some artisanal pink salt at the mines of Maras. There are also the Incan crop terraces at Moray which are quite interesting to view.
- The High Altitude of Cusco — this is the former Incan Imperial capital. Its original streets were constructed to look like a jaguar. You will find some mummies at Museo Inka, and then there is the former religious center, Coricancha, the Temple of the Sun. The central area is Plaza de Armas. For extensive views of the city walk through the San Blas district where you will also find many cafes and local shops.
- The Beaches — in the northwest part of the country you will find many alluring beaches with Mancora being where the surfers hang out. Also, there is the resort town of Huanchaco, and the colonial town of Trujillo.
- Lake Titicaca — it is the highest navigable lake in the world and is the base of Aymara and Quechua culture. You can take hikes and bike rides through colonial towns and pre-Columbian settlements. You can spend a day on the water on a private yacht from one of the lodges.
- Arequipa — due to its white volcanic stone architecture, this city is a World Cultural Heritage site. In the surrounding area you can mountain bike, hike, and do some whitewater rafting around Colca Canyon.
Many Reasons to Visit this Mystical Place
Whether for the food and city life in Lima, or the magical wonders of Machu Picchu, you will find much to keep you busy in Peru. There is so much more to see beyond the cities, excellent restaurants, and a few tourist attractions. There is a mystery about this area which will be unveiled with a little time and perseverance.
Just being in the mountains and tropical rain forests creates an aura of other worldly delight; it is like getting back to your roots on this wonderful planet. The landscapes range from high altitude scenes in the Andes to the ancient ruins and Amazon marshes. Add to this the sunny and uncrowded beaches and you have an adventure of a lifetime. The colonial towns are most interesting as well.
There are many direct flights from major cities to Lima. LATAM is the main airline due to a recent merger of TAM and LAN airlines.
The fervor over Peruvian food can be attributed to cookbook author and Peruvian restaurateur, Gastón Acurio. This cuisine has become of the mainstays of international dining.
Given all this activity, mystery, and adventure you may just want to add Peru to your list of destinations to explore.
All the Best in your Travels,