The Wowcher Guide to Peru

peru-banner-2

Long heralded as the Holy Grail of holiday destinations for travellers and trekkers alike, Peru is certainly the country to choose if you’re after a spot of adventure. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a nation that has a lot more to offer than backpacking trails and hikes to Machu Picchu – namely, the experience of a life time!

With an intricate history stretching back for thousands of years and a myriad of majestic landscapes to match, as well as thriving cities and a captivating culture to discover, Peru has something for even the least experienced of travellers in your midst. With that in mind, we decided to compile a one-stop-shop guide to the country, travelling from the southern regions right up to its northern border with Ecuador. So Peruvian panpipes at the ready – an Andean adventure awaits…

puno-11

Puno

The perfect place to start your Peruvian journey, Puno is a beautiful city located on the banks of Lake Titicaca, the vast body of water that lies between Peru and Bolivia. Wander down typically South American streets, stumble upon classically colonial churches and soak up the atmosphere of the country’s folkloric capital. Take a boat trip out onto the Lake Titicaca and visit the fascinating islas flotantes or floating reed islands of Uros and Taquile, home to indigenous communities who have lived for hundreds of years from and on the lake. Hop on the traditional boat between the islands – so called the ‘Mercedes Benz’ by the locals – taking in the 360 degree view of the lake and mountains beyond.

Top Tip:Take some time to adjust to the altitude. The city reaches 4725 metres above sea level at its highest point so you’re bound to feel a little light-headed at some point. Lots of Peru is at altitude, so this is the perfect opportunity to let your body acquaint itself.

cusco 1

Cusco

Once the capital of Incan Empire and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Cusco is like an open air museum. The reddish-brown buildings, cobbled streets and lack of sky scrapers mean the city somewhat melts into the surrounding landscape, making it very much a city of the mountains. The starting point for many travellers visiting Peru, the city is packed with tour companies selling trips to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu and, predictably, there are endless supplies of shops and stalls selling fabulous souvenirs. Plus you can enjoy a remarkable array of restaurants offering anything from burgers and chips to pasta, or perhaps more traditional dishes like yucca, ceviche or the Peruvian delicacy that is guinea pig – yes, you read that right!

Top Tip: Head to the Mercado Central de San Pedro and tuck into a two-course lunch for just 5 soles (roughly £1.25). Expect soup to start and then either meat or fish with rice, lentils, vegetables and chips. Likely to be the best value for money meal you’ll find in South America, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the locals on their lunch break for a truly authentic eating experience.

machi picchu

Machu Picchu

Voted in 2007 one of the Seven Wonders of the World and another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is one of the globe’s most spectacular sights. Believed to be the estate of an Inca king, the stunning archaeological site is thought to have been built circa 1450, and was saved from the ravages of the Spanish conquest due to their simple inability to find it. Thousands flock to the site every year to see the sun rise over the mountains and explore the ancient estate for themselves. The majority of tourists arrive at the site at the end of a two to five-day trek through the surround mountain ranges and villages. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, then Peru-se this exclusive deal to Machu Picchu and Rainbow Moutain.

Top Tip: Pack as light as possible for your trek up to Machu Picchu as the hike can be tough even on the fittest travellers. Save some energy for the last day, if you’re not lucky enough to be taking the bus, as you’ve got over a 3000-step climb up tricky stairs to take you to the entrance.

arequipa
Arequipa

After the dizzy heights and hilly hikes of Machu Picchu you might just fancy a spending a few days enjoying all the creature comforts of city living, and Arequipa, a beautiful city to the North East of the Cusco, is the perfect place to do just that. But don’t expect contemporary architecture and high-rise buildings because the city is surrounded by smoking volcanoes and snow-capped mountains that simply rise up and disappear into the clouds. Wander around an array of marvellous museums, markets and cafes before heading to one of the hotels or bars in the impressive Plaza de Armas for a rooftop drink as the sun goes down.

Top Tip: Use the city as a base from which to explore the Colca Canyon, speed through a whistle-stop day tour of one of the world’s deepest canyons or head out on a two to three-day hike through the canyon, valley and surrounding areas.

huacachina
Huacachina

Hidden in the desert that lies between central Peru and the Pacific Ocean is the magical oasis town of Huacachina. A haven for backpackers and holidaymakers alike, the small town just outside of the city of Ica is a location not to be missed as you travel through Peru. The sandboarding capital of South America, Huacachina is an outstanding place for you to give the adventure sport a go. Buckle up as you head out for a rollercoaster-ride into the sand dunes on one of the impossibly loud, gravity defying dune buggies that fly through the sand.

Top Tip: Head out for your boarding session in late afternoon and you’ll be treated to sunset over the oasis with your fellow sand-boarders – a sight you won’t forget for a long time.

lima
Lima

A city often overlooked or simply used as place from which to fly in and out of, Lima is not worth the bad rap it gets from many travellers who do nothing more than pass through it. Whilst a long stay is not necessary, a two-night sojourn to the city provides the perfect amount of time to see its top sights and sample some of the world-class cuisine it has to offer. Wander around the Miraflores neighbourhood in the heart of the city, the area around Parque Kennedy (that also happenes to be cat park) is packed with bars and restaurants and the buzz of the capital city. Head to Barranco for a slightly more bohemian vibe, with independent cafes and art galleries, notably the MATE Museo or Mario Testino Museum which exhibits some of the fashion photographer’s fabulous works. There is also an impressive light and water show most evenings in the Parque de la Reserva: combining music with bright colours and the history of Peru, it’s a fantastic way to spend an evening in the city!

Top Tip: Head to some of the old colonial hotels dotted around Plaza San Martín in the historic centre of the city and try the traditional Peruvian cocktail Pisco Sours – the mango flavour is particularly delicious!

mancora

Mancora

The final stop on our tour of Peru is the northern beach town of Mancora. Just south of the Ecuador border, it is another destination often overlooked by tourists moving between the two South American countries. Vast swathes of golden sand line the shore, and the waves along this stretch of coast make for a surfers haven. Up and down the seashore you’ll find lovely little b&bs, shabby chic beach shacks and houses to rent, as well huge hostels which could be mistaken for resort hotels, so you’ll not be short of choice when deciding to stay. So kick back, relax and enjoy your final days in the fabulous Peru, soaking up the tropical sunshine and indulging in the party vibes that the town exudes come nightfall.

Top Tip:Take a motor taxi out to the Muelle El Ñuro to see the gorgeous sea turtles that glide through the crystal clear waters, or head out on a boat trip and look out for the humpback whales that call this corner of the ocean home.