Peru is one of those few countries that seem to have mastered being modern and traditional at the same time. The majority of the population is Amerindian, with Quechua and Aymara people still speaking the same language as they did during the times of the Inca. There is also a sizeable population of European descent who have brought with them Spanish culture. Unlike other areas of South America, however, the Spanish culture didn't completely replace the culture of the Amerindians, instead it seems to melt into it. When you add minorities from Africa and the Far East, you truly have one of South America's most multi-ethnic countries.
From the cuisine to the sights, Peru has a lot to offer. Whether its modern Lima with its Skyscrapers in Downtown or the bars and restaurants in Miraflores, or Ollantaytambo with its beautiful snowcapped mountains and preserved Incan culture, Peru certainly has a little something for everybody.
I didn't get to explore the northern part of the country and I heard amazing stories about Arequipa, however, here are my 5 favourite things about Peru.
Imagine Mayfair, but on the Pacific Coast. Thats basically Miraflores. An upmarket area with expensive houses, expensive restaurants and expensive shops. Thats usually the opposite of what I like, its why I didn't enjoy Dubai so much, but standing on the cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean its a pretty spectacular experience.
I was shown around the area by a local bakery shop owner and she seemed to love the area and some of that rubbed off onto me. Walking along the coast line takes you past tennis courts, parks, outdoor gyms and even a hang gliding centre. It's definitely the most scenic part of Lima.
4. Aguas Calientes
Also known as Machu Picchu town, Aguas Calientes sits at the foot of the famous Incan site. You arrive into the town via a train, one that runs right through the main street. I can't begin to tell you how weird it is to be sitting in the top floor of a restaurant and just watching the top of a train go inches past your window.
The town is also famous for its hot springs, which were very busy when I went, even though it was pretty late in the day. Unfortunately, I went while it was raining so the springs were probably a littler cooler than they should have been. The town also has a market (that is very expensive) and is situated next to Urubamba river which provides a melodic sound no matter where you are in the town.
An extraordinary city nestled in the Urubamba Valley, Cusco was the capital of the Ancient Incan Empire and is UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located at over 3,400m it is the perfect place to acclimatise before a trek to Machu Picchu, but the altitude definitely makes walking around the city a little bit more difficult. However, the city has the charm of a small European Alpine city with its stone cobbled streets, hilly terrain and small community feel. The city is also known for its many Incan museums and ruins (including the Inca Wasi). Cusco also has a number of local markets, the largest being the San Pedro Market, great places to eat and a lively nightlife scene.
This was a city that really caught me off guard and I was blown away by its beauty. You can read more about Cusco here.
2. Machu Picchu
One of the 7 Wonders of the World, its not hard to see why Machu Picchu is such a popular destination. Turning the corner and first seeing the site is a memory that will stay with me forever, and even though pictures you see of it look spectacular, believe me, they do not do it justice.
The site was built in 1450 but abandoned just a century later with the arrival of the Spanish and remained hidden for almost 400 years. Machu Picchu gives a very good insight into how the Inca civilisation would have lived and there is no escaping the feeling of being in a pretty special place. If the archeological site doesn't impress you, the surrounding mountains and valley definitely will.
It's important to go early in the morning as the area does get busy by around 8am, but if you can get there before 6:30am, you have a couple of hours to explore in relative peace.
1. Quarry Trail & Ollantaytambo
Without a doubt my favourite part of Peru was the area encompassing the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Ollantaytambo is a town that falls directly in this valley, and although a small town, it has easily some of the best scenery of any inhabited place I have seen. Surrounded by mountains and Incan ruins, the town has a bit of everything.
Ollantaytambo is also the starting place for the Quarry Trail. The trail is a 3 day trek that reaches 4,550m above sea level. Its a challenging 3 days with altitude sickness, constantly changing temperatures and the lack of a defined path all making the climb difficult, however, the views are unlike anything else. The sight of Mount Veronica from the second pass is incredible and makes you realise why the Quechua believe it is a sacred mountain.
The trek is also a good setting to meet and get to know fellow travellers. The Quarry Trail is much quieter than the Inca Trek, in fact over the 3 days, our group of 5 didn't bump into anyone else which brought the 5 of us closer together. You can read about the Quarry Trail and my visit to Machu Picchu here and my trip to Ollantaytambo here. For those of you interested in doing either the Inca Trek or the Quarry Trail, don't forget to read about my list of things to take.
The old town in Lima is home to some of the oldest buildings in South America, including the famous Monastery of San Francisco which I really enjoyed. Peru has also earned the moniker of the gastro capital of South America and the cuisine is pretty special.
Is there anything on the list you didn't enjoy or anything that I have left out? Have you visited Arequipa or the Nazca Lines? Leave me a comment or Tweet me @travellingsingh
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.