Peru Travel Guide
From the deserts of the coast, to the Andean highlands, to the humid jungles of its eastern frontier, Peru is a country of amazing contrasts. The same holds true when you look at its cultural aspects, as the people that live here form a mosaic that mixes together Amerindian peoples, Spanish, Italians, as well as those of African and Asian origin.
Their collective back stories, their cuisines, and the types of creative expression that they have engaged in will make your time exploring this country one that is filled with wonder and awe.
Currency: Peruvian Soles
Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
What To Do
If you are entering Peru from the north, one place you will definitely want to go to cool off from the heat of the desert is the beach town of Mancora. While much of the Peruvian coast is uncharacteristically cold due to the influence of an Antarctic current offshore, the ocean water around these parts is usually 25 degrees Celsius or warmer, making it one of the last places along the western coast of South America where one can experience tropical water temperatures.
While the town itself is not the glitziest place you’ll ever see, the people that live here are genuine, making it a refreshing stop on the road compared to other places with similar credentials.
During high season, the nightlife here is rocking and rolling, as many well-to-do people from the bigger cities in Peru will come here on their holiday. At other times of the year, it may be shockingly quiet, but due to the fact that this part of the country is a hot equatorial desert, you will still have many sunny and dry days to make your time at the beach a delightful one.
When you do make it to Lima, the capital of Peru, the one place that you should visit before heading out of the city for other major tourist destinations in the country is the Monastery of San Francisco.
Located in the atmospheric Old Town of this sprawling metropolis, this UNESCO recognized cathedral is home to a silver icon that honors Jude the Apostle, and it has a library that is renowned the world over for its ancient book collection and colonial era paintings.
As well, there are a series of catacombs that contain many excavated bones, many of which have been organized in mesmerizing patterns.
After spending a few days exploring the spectacular architecture of the city of Arequipa, make plans with a tour agency to explore the depths of the Colca Canyon.
Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, with its lowest point being 10,000 feet below its highest point, the valley along its descent plays host to a variety of people that lived here long before the Incas came to power in this region.
Homestays are a major attraction in this area, as they give the traveler the chance to eavesdrop on the daily lives of the people that have lived here for eons.
There is also an opportunity to see the massive Andean Condor, an endangered but massive bird that make its home in the walls of this canyon.
Most travelers then proceed to the Cusco area, where most of the focus is directed toward gathering supplies for the subsequent trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
While you are in the process of preparing for that and acclimatizing to the altitude as well, wander around town and explore the local sights, the best of which will be the Cusco Cathedral.
An impressive structure built more than 350 years ago, this church is also recognized by UNESCO for its brilliant Gothic Renaissance design, as well as an extensive collection of local artifacts, relics, and colonial art.
After a few days of adjusting to the thin air, you can either take a train trip to the town of Agua Calientes (a great option for those seeking a more comfortable experience, or those who are short on time), or you can trek along the Inca Trail, which will lead you to the lost city of Machu Picchu over the course of a few days.
If you elect to take the hike to Machu Picchu, you will have to take a train or bus first to the trailhead, which is located just outside Ollaytantambo. Those trekking between the months of June to August will have the best weather out of all the year, but of course, this means that the trail will be crowded, and thus, you will have to book well in advance if you wish to come here at that time.
The trails is closed during the month of February, as park staff take the opportunity to clean up the garbage left behind by inconsiderate tourists during the rainiest month of the season. Please, do not be one of these fools!
If you are on your way to Bolivia after Peru, you will want to make your exit from the country via the city of Puno. It is here where you will have easy access to Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side, as well as access to the Uros Floating Islands.
These are artificial islands made of reeds that allow the indigenous people that reside on them to live on the lake. Due to the nature of their construction, they can move their homes at a moment’s notice, an adaptation that was made necessary by their encounters with hostile tribes over the eons, which included run-ins with the Incas when they became the dominant force in the region many centuries ago.
Their homesteads available that allow you to spend the night on the lake with local families; coughing only the equivalent of $10 a night for a bed, dinner, and breakfast, it is a deal that will allow you to have a formative travel experience that will be among the best that you have had in your life.
What To Eat
While the dry desert that forms much of the land mass of Peru along the Pacific coast has traditionally struggled to produce much in the way of food for the country (though this is changing with improvements in irrigation technology), the ocean off the coast of Peru has long been a bountiful source of nutrition for the entire country.
The cold water currents, colliding with tropical waters to the north, has created an environment that has allowed marine life to flourish. As such, it is not a surprise that the national dish of Peru is Ceviche, which is a medley of raw fish, onions, and chili peppers, which is all marinated in citrus juice, typically that of a lime or an orange.
While Ceviche is found all over Latin America, a key difference between that which is found in Peru and elsewhere is that Peruvian Ceviche typically does not have tomato included. That said, in this modern Age, many different types of Ceviche can be enjoyed, so don’t be shy when picking it out on a menu at any of the restaurant you visit in Peru.
If you prefer eating animals that live on land rather than those that reside in the sea, but you still want to have something exotic and unique to Peru, then enjoying some Anticuchos will be something that you will probably enjoy.
Consisting of grilled beef heart that has been generously spiced with aji, garlic, and cumin, it may turn off those that are aren’t into organ meats, but for those looking to down on the wild side, it will be something that will challenge you, as well as introducing you to a food that has been eaten by people here long before the Spanish arrived.
When in Arequipa, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy some Rocoto Relleno. Consisting of a bell pepper that has been stuffed with spiced ground beef, it comes served with the side of cheesy potatoes, making for a meal that you will certainly remember when people ask you about the best dishes that you ate during your vacation in Peru.
If you’re looking for a uniquely Peruvian drink to have with any of the above meals, we strongly suggest that you have a Pisco Sour.
Made by mixing egg whites with the local brandy that gives this drink its name, it is a bracing but delicious drink that will make you linger when it comes to consuming it, as each sip you take will bring you that much closer to ending what is a truly enjoyable experience.