The trees engulf me as I walk into the forest and the sounds of the jungle fill my head. Every step is a leap of faith and an adventure waiting to begin. The Amazonian rainforests of Peru are mysterious and beautiful, a combination that never ceases to excite me. The forests beckon to me to go further, but I wake up with a start only to realise that it was all a dream. As I go through the day I am unable to get the jungle or mystical Peru out of my thoughts.
Often journeys start from a thought and my dream leads me to plan a trip to the South American country that features on many travellers’ bucket lists including mine. If I could go to Peru here’s what my journey would look like.
The capital city Lima is a perfect introduction to Peru, a complex and multifaceted country; it’s the best place to start a Peruvian sojourn. Founded as the City of Kings, Lima played an important role during the Incan Empire. Today, as a metropolis with over eight million residents, it’s a thriving and bustling city. Modern and ancient Andean culture coexist, creating a fascinating mix of new and old. Walk down the city’s streets to explore temples, squares and stately homes dating back hundreds of years. But a visit to Lima isn’t complete without tasting Peruvian cuisine which has taken the world by storm.
If Lima is an introduction to Peru, a visit to Cusco is taking a step towards discovering the soul of the country. A gateway to the citadel of Machu Picchu, Cusco deserves to be more than a transit point as it’s home to several extraordinary archaeological wonders. Roaming Huacaypata, the main square, to experience life in what is one of the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited cities is highly recommended. As is visiting the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, built over the remains of the ancient Inca temple of Koricancha.
Lake Titicaca is considered the birthplace of the Incas.
From Cusco hop on board the luxurious Hiram Bingham train and make the journey up to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Named after the explorer who discovered the site in 1911, the train offers unparalleled views of the ever-changing landscape from a dedicated observation wagon. Built in the midst of a rich, tropical mountain forest and at an elevation of 7972 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is considered to be the pièce de résistance of the Incan Empire. According to UNESCO, it is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Incan civilization.
A country that has it all, from lofty snow-clad peaks, steamy impenetrable forests and a large coastline, possibly the best way to discover Peru is to traverse these distances and enjoy the different scenery. The newly launched Belmond Andean Explorer train covers the scenic route between Cusco and Arequipa over a two-day period. En route step off the train to explore the natural beauty of Lake Titicaca, considered the birthplace of the Incas. Clear azure skies flank the shimmering blue waters of the lake, the largest of its kind in South America and the highest navigable water body in the world. Around the lake people continue to live and work in much the same way as their ancestors did hundreds of years back, including planting crops by hand. Women wearing colourful petticoats and bowler hats add spots of colour to vast farmlands.
From Arequipa make the journey to the valley of the Colca River to experience another side of Andean culture. The Colca Canyon approximately 11,155 feet at its deepest point is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in North America. Life within the canyon goes on as it has for centuries. In villages dating back to colonial times, there are some fine examples of Andean Baroque architecture, such as the temples of Yanque and Lari. Look out for Colca’s man-made terraced fields cut into the slopes of the canyon, where locals grow potatoes, barley, beans and quinoa. In the north side of the Colca River visit villages known for their embroidery and alpaca wool products.
Gocta Waterfall is said to be one of the highest in the world.
With nearly 60 per cent of the country covered under forests, some of the finest experiences in Peru are to be had in the jungles. While there are many ways in which you can explore the Amazonian forests of Peru, cruising down the mighty Amazon as it makes its way through lush jungles teeming with wildlife takes you right into the thick of action. Glide past pink dolphins, as you enjoy a lavish breakfast. Spend afternoons out on the deck observing a variety of multicoloured birds and go to bed with the sounds of the jungle serenading you. For the more adventurous go on an outing in search of the alligators found in the black waters of the Amazon. The forests are home to several communities who live by the river which is their main source of livelihood. Interact with these gentle folk while learning a thing or two about surviving in the wild.
Along the valley of the Utcubamba River explore hundreds of archaeological sites belonging to the “Warriors of the Clouds” or the people who inhabit the clouds forests of the Amazon. The Leymebamba Museum exhibits 219 mummies and objects found in the Lagoon of the Condors, as well as textiles, pottery, and weapons discovered around the area. Visit the awe-inspiring Karajia sarcophagi, 1,000-year-old pre-Inca tombs that are two meters long and placed on top of a cliff, moulded in clay and decorated with geometrical motifs. In Gocta, soak in the majesty of the 2,529 feet waterfall, said to be one of the highest in the world. Surrounded by unique flora and fauna, the path to Gocta is wildly beautiful.
For a more relaxed jungle experience head to Tambopata National Reserve in the Southeastern jungles of Peru. Enjoy the sunrise on the scenic Sandoval Lake with alligators and several exotic birds for company. Go on a jungle walk to discover some fabulous plants and end the day lying in a hammock as nightfall envelopes the forest.
Apart from the Inca trail going up to Machu Picchu, another magnificent trekking route is up the Vinicunca mountain. Deposits of mineral and sedimentary rock of different colours give the impression of a rainbow covering the slopes. This extraordinary place is surrounded by turquoise lakes and the great Ausangate peak, the sacred mountain where the Andean people perform ancient rituals as way of thanking mother earth.
Enjoy the sea and desert at the Paracas National Reserve. Sail towards the Ballestas Islands on a luxury catamaran in the day and spend the night under the stars in a private campsite. Listen to varying theories about the three-pronged candelabra symbol seen on the sand dunes and make up your own.
A land with many fascinating sites, extraordinary landscapes, rich culture and spectacular natural beauty, a trip to Peru is undoubtedly one of a kind.
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