Peru is one of the world’s most varied countries. It is a multicultural nation, filled with traditions, a unique gastronomy and vast natural reserves. It is home to 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 84 of the planet’s 117 life zones. Peru is situated in the western part of South America and shares borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. Its enormous territory, covering more than 1.2 million square kilometres, is composed of three regions: Coast, Highlands and Jungle.
Thanks to a long history defined by major ancient civilizations, Peru is home to more than 5000 archaeological sites. Many of these remain shrouded in mystery, but are still capable of transporting visitors to the periods when such societies flourished.
Inca’s land is famed for its many wonders, from the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu and the dramatic mountains of the Sacred Valley to the buzzing life of Lima. Our trip starts here!
“I think Peru and the mountains and the Incas, everybody is aware of those, but Lima is something that people should discover—especially our food”. These are the words of Mario Testino, the photographer synonymous with the glitz and glamor of some of the world’s most iconic fashion shoots. The artist spends his life crossing continents to photograph international supermodels, Hollywood stars and royalty. But there’s nothing quite like unpacking in Lima, the city that he calls home.
Peru’s capital has long been overlooked, with many visitors hurrying through to explore the history of Cusco or the charm of Arequipa. In recent years however Lima’s star has risen, and rightly so. Where else can you walk ocean-front boulevards, dine on world-class ceviche, explore colonial churches and browse Andean craft markets all in the space of one day?
Where to start? With ceviche, of course. Any doubters of the divinity of this fresh fish dish need only pay a visit to Pescados Capitales, a pleasant coastal drive from Miraflores, one of the city’s most posh areas. More adventurous gastronomes may wish to try nearby Costanera 700. A staple in Miraflores’ dining scene for over 40 years, its menu pioneers the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavours.
Any amount of local delicacies can be worked off with a wander around Lima’s colonial core. You’ll find eye-catching architecture on every corner. The Church of San Francisco is famed for its canary-yellow facade, while Casa de Aliaga is the city’s oldest colonial mansion. In search of souvenirs? Sift through printed fabrics, tasselled bags and handmade jewellery at the Mercado Inca for original take-home treats.
The barrio of Barranco is the city’s coolest enclave. What was once a seaside retreat for Peru’s well-to-do aristocrats is now characterized by crumbling facades and vibrant street art. Meander around the cobbled streets lined with the candy-coloured colonial mansions that have been revamped into some of Lima’s trendiest boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars, and of course hotels. Probably one the most significant and stylish among them is Casa Republica Barranco where we stayed for a couple of nights.
When in Lima don’t miss a chance to meet and ride the world famous Peruvian Paso horses in Hacienda Mamacona; the bookings here are accepted under a special request. The owner, Mr Orlando Sanchez Miranda, is breeding here the best Paso horses for years now.
The Spanish Conquistadors did more than defeat the Incas in the 16th Century. They sowed the seeds for the evolution of a unique breed of horse, the Peruvian Paso Horse, which is often referred to today as the “smoothest ride in the world”. At the core of its popularity is the extraordinary natural four beat lateral gait that the Peruvian Paso horse unusually passes through the generations. In layman’s terms, the forelegs ‘almost prance’, like the horse is always on parade – a graceful, flowing motion called “termino”. Bred for luxury and endurance by a select group of prominent Peruvian families for over 450 years, this compact, sturdy horse evolved to ride long distances comfortably, often across savage Andean mountain ranges. Unsurprisingly, the breed developed a congenial nature as with the landowners having little time, the unfortunate individuals with a bad disposition were simply discarded.
“Brio” is the word most often used to describe the Peruvian Paso horse’s nature. Deceptively short as a term, it stands for intelligence, grace, pride, dignity, docility and gentleness. These horses are renowned for their love of people, particularly their owners whom they become extremely attached to.
Visiting Peru means experiencing at first-hand an astonishing culture, created by a people keen to show you the best their country has to offer, with its landscapes that touch the emotions, inspiring feelings that can never be forgotten…
After 450 years of quiet evolution and steadfast service, the Peruvian Paso horse is experiencing something of a boom in worldwide popularity. This is particularly true in the United States where it was introduced a mere thirty years ago.
After Lima we fly to Cusco, the Inca’s capital. In Cusco, every corner tells a story and every story is captivating, mystical and inviting. Imagine walking through streets with names like “Ataúd” (Coffin), Siete Culebras (Seven Serpents) and “Arpías” (Harpies). In these streets time seems to have stopped, every corner offers a piece of history, and the stones remain alive because they have survived intact.
It witnessed the arrival of the Spanish, and yet to this day it conserves an ancestral magic which captivates the thousands of visitors who each year form part of its living history. Vibrant is the word which best describes Cusco, as it is now transformed to the most important colonial center in the Andes, an axis of exploration and favorite destination for today’s international traveler.
When here we recommend to stay and dine in the best boutique hotel Inkaterra La Casona. Its 16th Century manor house stands on the training grounds for an elite army of Incas, and had Spanish Conquistador Diego de Almagro and ‘Libertador’ Simón Bolívar among its illustrious guests. After being harmoniously restored by Inkaterra throughout five years, emphasizing its original architecture, Inkaterra La Casona reflects the encounter of cultures and traditions across centuries. If you are not a guest of the hotel you can dine here only under a special request but it totally worth it!
When the Incas moved north of Cusco to the Urubamba Valley, they knew they had come across sacred land. With a rolling river mirroring the Milky Way, fertile soil in which crops could flourish and a pleasant year-round climate, this land would become home to one of the world’s greatest civilisations. They left long ago, but the valley remains honoured, seemingly untouched by the hands of modernity. This is a place to unwind, to uncover rich history, but most of all to reconnect with nature.
Many factors drew the Incas to the Sacred Valley, among them the oxygen-rich air. At an altitude lower than Cusco this is a great place to acclimatise. So, sit back, sip a cup of coca tea and drink in the delights of nature.
When you’re ready to explore, saddle up and head out on horseback or a car tour. Excursions take in the ruins at Huaran—a site that seem all the more spectacular with the wind ruffling through your hair. Seeking adventure? Hire a bicycle and explore on your own. There are trails snaking up into the Andes. Stop to admire the breathtaking vistas before zipping back to your hotel. One of the best ones is Sol y Luna.
Of course, the river is just as exhilarating. Pass Inca remains as you raft downstream on the Ollantaytambo rapids, before enjoying an alfresco lunch on the banks of the Urubamba. Ollantaytambo itself is well worth exploring. Wander the quaint village’s cobblestoned streets and climb the Incan fortress. It’s a steep ascent but views from the top more than make up for it.
If you want to explore further, there are more archaeological wonders back towards Cusco. The curved agricultural terraces at Pisac dazzle, while the remains show how Incan masonry developed over the years. Soak up the serene surroundings, then ramble down into town. The market is a full of vibrant woven goods, stunning crafts and tantalising street food vendors. So follow your nose and eat like a local—we recommend creamy corn soup and empanadas fresh from the oven.
At Chinchero, you’ll find ruins flanked by snow-capped peaks and a gorgeous colonial church built on Inca ruins. It’s the centre of weaving too. Here, patterns differ from those you’ll find in Pisac. Watch as the local women work wool into brilliant colours.
Charming Cusco and mythical Machu Picchu may steal the headlines but those who take the time to explore the Sacred Valley will find it has treasures to rival both. A good guide such as Marvels Peru will show you where to find them.
When HIRAM BINGHAM returned from Machu Picchu in 1911, he told tales of a mystical ancient city perched high in the Andean Mountains: “In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.”
Some doubted the drama and magic he ascribed to this sky-hanging citadel. After all, no man had laid eyes on it since the Incas fled in the 16th century. Yet in the years since Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu, all who have made the pilgrimage concur—this is truly one of the most enchanting places on earth.
Indeed, at first sight, Machu Picchu overwhelms. It is sprawling and spectacular, with agricultural terraces giving way to sheer cliffs and temples climbing up into the clouds. Such breath-taking beauty should be enjoyed in tranquillity. Get there early and see the sacred stones in solitude.
At 3,051 metres above sea level, Machu Picchu peak offers magnificent panoramas of the citadel and across the Andes. The two-hour ascent is challenging and requires a separate ticket, so you may prefer to head to the Guard House—especially if you’re not one for taking the stairs. The alternative trek to the Sun Gate is step free and rewarding, while the narrow Inca bridge that winds around the mountain is an incredible feat of engineering. Don’t worry if you can’t decide what to see—it’s highly recommended to take tailor tours just for you. The one we used and highly recommend is Marvels Peru Tours. The amazing guide Vilma knows all the secret paths and mystical local stories which you won’t read in books.
While the citadel rightly takes centre stage, Machu Picchu is also blessed with rich and diverse wildlife. Llamas roam freely among the ruins and spectacled bears ramble around the mountainside. It’s paradise for bird lovers too. Take flora and fauna tour and keep your eyes out for rarities such as the green jay or Andean cock-of-the-rock. If you’re worn out by a hard day’s trekking, why not visit the thermal springs in Aguas Calientes? Situated in the shadow of the Andes, the regenerative waters promise to cure a variety of ailments.
Peru is filled with amazing attractions! Visiting Peru means experiencing at first-hand an astonishing culture, created by a people keen to show you the best their country has to offer, with its landscapes that touch the emotions, inspiring feelings that can never be forgotten. Peru is rich because its wealth cannot be measured in material things; its richness lies in the smile of a Cusco child, at the end of a fork, beneath feet that stride across sandy beaches, in the brush of a leaf in tropical forests, in the racing wind at the top of a mountain, in the heat on your face as the sun shines down.
It is difficult to explain in words what being in Peru means, because whether you find yourself in the Sacred Valley looking into the face of that Cusco child, or in Máncora eating a fine cebiche, or in La Libertad surfing waves, or in Tambopata hiking a jungle trail, or at Machu Picchu when the cloud forest clears and the bright sun caresses your face… Even if with these words we can give you a sense of what it feels like to be in Peru, it can never be the same as experiencing it for yourself.
Special thanks to Marvels Peru for its tailored individual tours. For bookings: www.marvelsperu.com or call + 51 984 757 973.
For bookings in Hacienda Mamacona please write to [email protected]