Discovering Peru

“My first trip to Latin America – specifically Peru – was met with trepidation. However, upon arrival into Lima Airport one humid March evening those feelings immediately disappeared. From exotic jungle to coastal desert via the breath-taking peaks of the Andes, Peru has a staggering variety of places to visit and it seemed the potential for adventure was limitless.

For me the main attraction was Peru’s vibrant Andean culture, with tucked-away highland towns exploding into colour on market day and local fiestas being celebrated with wholehearted enthusiasm.

After a night in Lima we took an early flight to Cusco; a bustling colonial city, it was once the heart of the Inca Empire and is surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes and ruins in Peru.

Cusco offers outstanding hiking, the most famous being the Inca trail. A four day trek into the Sacred Valley ends with the jewel in the crown – Machu Picchu.  The journey starts with a vibrant train ride through the sacred valley where the ancient Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo perch high above the stunning valley, and ends with a steep climb to the Sun gate at the entrance to Machu Picchu – one of the world’s most famous and awe-inspiring sites.

From Cusco we took the train to Puno – a destination I had wanted to visit for many years. It’s the location of the world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, and is home to the Uros islands which are man-made floating villages which have existed on the Lake since Inca times. There we visited two of the populated islands, Amantani and Taquile, where the traditional lifestyles of these communities give you a genuine taste of pre-Conquest Andean Peru.

This is where we left Peru and headed on to Bolivia via the exotic Copacabana on the shores of the Lake, arriving in La Paz for our next adventure.”

This article, first featured in the Sale, Hale and Altrincham Handbook, was written by Phillipa Gough who has travelled extensively around Latin America but was reflecting on her first visit to Peru.

Lima is a surprisingly easy destination to get to from Manchester. KLM offer a connection via Amsterdam which leaves at 8 o’clock in the morning, getting you into Lima for 6 o’clock in the evening (local time) with fares starting from as low as £600 in Economy and £1600 in Business Class.  Other airlines offering flights from Manchester to Lima (with one connection) are Air France, Air Canada and there’s even an option to go to Orlando with Thomas Cook and onwards with LAN.

Once there, there is a dazzling array of things to see and do, and it doesn’t have to include high-altitude trekking. You can get around by train, small coach, private car, small aircraft (regularly to see the Nazca Lines) and even Amazonian cruises through the Peruvian rainforest to see endangered species such as the pink Amazon dolphin, black cayman and three toed sloth. You can visit Tambopata Research Centre which was built for tourists and to protect the nearby macaw clay-lick, currently the world’s largest and featured in National Geographic Magazine.

Many people choose to include Peru as part of a South American Odyssey, continuing to Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and/or Brazil.   You can choose to have a tailor-made itinerary created for you or travel as part of an organized tour.  This is no longer the preserve of the gap-year traveller; Saga offers an organized tour taking in many of the region’s most popular attractions and there are many specialized tour-operators offering unique experiences.

Cruising is another excellent option to consider when you’re planning to visit the region, especially if you like a bit of luxury and some home comforts at the end of a hard day sight-seeing! Regent offer a 21 night cruise starting in Lima and travelling down the west coast of South America, around Cape Horn, then up the south east coast (via the Falkland Islands) ending with the Gaucho Fiesta in vibrant Buenos Aires.

Regarding practicalities, South America is much safer than its reputation of old but as with anywhere in the world there are still no-go places. A little research and/or some local intelligence from your concierge or tour guide – or knowledgeable travel agent – will tell you where to avoid less salubrious areas.

Peru is 5 hours behind GMT. UK passport holders do not need visas for any South American countries but you must have 6 month’s validity in your passport.  To check which vaccinations you need for your trip check the excellent Scottish NHS site ‘Fit for Travel’ http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx

Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru’s most famous author and many of his works are based upon his experiences in his home country.  South American literature is full of magical realism, other fiction to consider reading would be works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende and the trilogy by Louis de Bernieres.

The Motorcycle Diaries, a biopic about Che Guevara, has some stunning scenes of Machu Picchu which whilst being fantastic still do not adequately portray the magnificence of this sight.

Peru offers so many truly amazing experiences. The culture, scenery, people and nature are sure to give you some unforgettable memories of travelling around this unique country.