Peru is a magical destination, abundant with ancient ruins dating back to the Incas in the 13th century. Spiritual pursuits play an important role in Peruvian culture, which has one of the world’s largest populations of Shamans living here, second only to India. Significant exports include gold, coffee, corn, cotton and the Arabica bean. We have Peru to thank for the potato as it grows over 3,000 varieties. Spanish, Quechua and Aymara are the three main languages spoken, although 13 additional languages are thought to be used. Peru’s Cerro Blanco is the largest sand dune on the planet, standing at an immense height of 1,176 metres.
Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforests and Incan ruins treat you to a mystical world of natural beauty, vibrant civilizations, other-worldly relics and colonial towns.
Why not begin your South American adventure with a journey to the Galapagos Islands?
The mysterious world of the ancient Inca Empire pairs nicely with the flavours of a modern gastronomic powerhouse.
Those who have visited this sacred country will fondly recount the generous, kind-hearted nature of locals who enjoy exchanging stories and traditions. Intricate patterns woven into colourful handcrafts, together with wooden carvings, handmade jewellery and traditional paintings, demonstrate the exceptional skill of local artisans.
As Peru’s capital, the stunning city of Lima is fondly known as the 'City of Kings' and has a wealth of reminders of life in the Old World. Owing to its numerous historical monuments, Lima’s Historic Centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Lima Cathedral, first built in the 16th century, then rebuilt following earthquake damage in the 18th century, has 16 chapels in total and is also home to the Religious Art Museum.
Curious adventurers frequently visit the San Francisco Monastery’s shadowy catacombs - a burial site up until the 1800s that contains thousands of bones and skulls, arranged in circular pits. Also within the Historic Centre is Huaca Pucllana, the ruins of a 1500-year-old pre-Incan pyramid that is beautifully illuminated at night. Peru's Sacred Valley, was once at the heart of the Incan Empire. Today, its colourful, traditional market in the town of Chinchero attracts visitors from all over the world. Close by in the town of Maras, the spectacular terraced salt pans, which date back to Incan times and have been passed down through the generations, give an incredible view of the Andean scenery. West of Maras, head to Moray to view the enormous circular terraces that resemble an amphitheatre and are thought to have been used for agricultural experiments in Incan times.
Additional impressive Inca ruins can be found at the town of Ollantaytambo, recognised as a National Archaeological Site. Perhaps one of the most sought-after destinations in Peru is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. This enigmatic 'Lost City of the Incas' includes the fascinating Temple of the Sun at Korikancha, the Sacred Plaza and the Intihuatana, which is believed to be an ancient sun clock. Back in the modern world, Plaza de Armas (or Plaza Mayor) is the ideal spot for shopping. Cruising Lake Titicaca, South America’s largest lake, will give you the opportunity to see the famous floating islands of Uros. Here, locals bundle reeds from the lake to build floating platforms, houses and canoes. A short distance onwards will bring you to the island of Amantani, known for its weaving and breathtaking landscape.
Spices and strong flavours are to be expected in Peruvian cuisine, together with fresh, healthy meal options. The national dish is ceviche – a marinated fresh fish dish. ‘Lima causa’ is another popular dish, consisting of potato, avocado, tomato and tuna fish. For those who keep guinea pigs as pets, ‘cuy’ is not a good plan to try as this Peruvian delicacy does not disguise the animal it comes from! Either fried or roasted to give it a crispy skin, you can expect to see a whole guinea pig served in full form and it is typically eaten using hands instead of using cutlery.
If you’d like to stick to more familiar meats, ‘lomo saltado’ is Peru’s answer to steak and chips. Marinated strips of sirloin steak are mixed with onions, tomatoes and French fries, then usually served with rice. Another beef dish is ‘antichucos’ - grilled beef heart served on skewers. Like beef, alpaca meat is commonly served in Peru. Be sure to try ‘pachamanca’ - a spicy meat dish of either mutton, lamb, chicken, guinea pig or pork, that is baked underground on hot stones. ‘Pollo a la brasa’ brings together a blend of soy sauce, lime juice, paprika, pepper, oregano, cumin and garlic as a marinade on grilled chicken. Vegetarians will have plenty to choose from too, with dishes such as ‘escribano arequipeno’ (potato salad with peppers), ‘ensalada de pallares’ (a lima butter bean salad in a citrus dressing), and ‘empanadas’ (small pastries that can either be meat-filled or vegetarian). Those with a sweet tooth are in luck as Peruvian ‘dulces’ (sweets or desserts) are abundant.
One of the most popular is ‘suspiro limeño’ - a delicious combination of caramelised sugar, cinnamon, Port wine and meringue. ‘Pie de limon’ (lime pie), ‘crema volteada’ (crème caramel), ‘torta de chocolate’ (chocolate cake), ‘piona’ (a sponge cake roll with jam or jelly inside and coated with powdered sugar), ‘mazamorra morada’ (a thick type of jam or jelly made from purple corn, giving it a unique flavour), and ‘leche asada’ (a roasted custard dish) are just some of the delights you can try. Peru also boasts some wonderful tropical fruits, including the lucuma - a fleshy fruit that is a yellow-orange colour and has a sweet, caramel taste. It can be eaten raw, cooked, dried or used as a sweetener in powered form.
As the highly regarded national drink, ‘pisco sour’ even has the holiday ‘National Pisco Sour Day’ dedicated to it! This sweet liquor includes Pisco, lime juice and sugar syrup. Those who enjoy beer should sample the foamy ‘chica de jora’, made from an Andean yellow corn, and ‘chica de fruitilla’ - a pink-coloured, sweeter version of chica de jora, made with strawberries and yellow corn. Peruvian branded beers include Pilsen Callao, Cristal and Cusqueña. For a non-alcoholic traditional flavour of Peru, ‘chica morada’ is comprised of purple corn (giving it a distinct dark purple colour), cinnamon, cloves, pineapple and sugar. Delicious fruit juices made with pineapple, papaya, guava and banana to name just a few can be found everywhere.
Landscape and wildlife
Peru is a wildlife hotspot with more than 500 mammal species, including armadillos, sloths, monkeys, tamarins, foxes, bush dogs, weasels, giant otters, maned wolves, deer, jaguars, pumas, spectacled bears, llamas, alpacas, killer whales, pilot whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and dolphins. Peru’s bird population is one of the world’s most diverse, with more than 1,800 known species and new breeds still being discovered. Reptiles and amphibians are also plentiful, with tortoises, crocodiles, caimans, and numerous types of turtles and frogs making up the Peruvian animal kingdom. The immense biodiversity in this incredible country can be attributed to the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes all being found here, plus a multitude of natural areas and ecosystems.