On the west side of South America, lining the South Pacific Ocean is Peru. Best known as being the ancient heart of the Inca Empire, Peru is rich in natural resources and has a striking Andean culture easily recognisable by their colourful dress. There’s almost too much to do in Peru- Trek through the Amazon jungle or paddle down it in a dugout canoe, follow the Inca trail to the citadel of Machu Picchu and laze on the languid shores along the South Pacific Ocean. It’s a gift to be able to enjoy this ancient, beautiful land.
What to see and do
The most obvious thing to do is to head to Machu Picchu, but before that, make a stop at Cusco, the ‘birthplace of the world’. Today, it is still very much alive, a thriving town with colonial architecture and views of the undulating Sacred Valley all around. From here, what the Inca Trail across the Andes brings is a four day hike to Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca site that literally means ‘Old Peak’. Alternatively, you could train from Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba, but the hiking experience is well worth it if you’re up for the adventure.
Trace the ancient sites along the coast, stopping to lap up the beach life from town to town. Puerto Chicama and Máncora beach are sun worshippers’ hangouts. The Nasca Lines are a mystery of South America; a series of ancient geoglyphs drawn across the Nasca Plain. All kinds of animals and geometric shapes can be found, and although no one knows for sure, they might have been used for astronomy or worship.
Ica is a pleasant stop if you’ve been on the road for a while, a sunny town whose sustenance lies in wine and pisco and production. The latter is a grape brandy produced in Peru and Chile. Nearby, the desert oasis of Huacachina awaits, as well as the village of Cachiche, known for its preoccupation with witchcraft since the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
If it’s the Amazonian experience you’re after, head to the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria, one of the largest protected areas in Peru overflowing with eco diversity. Or edge closer to the border with Bolivia and Brazil at the Reserva Nacional Tambopata, where eco lodges are in abundance and you can spend days enjoying the company of indigenous people and exploring the Brazil-nut tree trails.
The wonders of Peru are many, not all at one go, perhaps, the treasures of Peru cannot be covered in one trip. Not a bad thing, at least there’s an excuse to return!
PeruRail operates daily Cuzco-Aguas Calientes (this will get you to Machu Picchu) and Cuzco-Puno services. Otherwise, your main mode of transport will be the bus, run by numerous companies throughout the country. There is a wide range of luxury to budget options; ladies opting for the latter might want to wear a long skirt as toilet stops may simply mean open spaces at the side of the road.
In the Amazon basin, you will almost inevitably have to travel by boat. This can range from large vessels to dug-out canoes. It is possible to sleep on vessels- rent a cabin or bring your own hammock!
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