Everyone knows about Machu Picchu, the myth and mist shrouded Inca citadel, but don’t let it outshine the rest of the country. Peru has more archaeological sites than any other country in South America, and its vast, green carpet of jungle is home to the greatest diversity of plants and wildlife on the planet.
There’s more. Peru is the birthplace of surfing on Pacific waves, its rivers offer the scariest white-water rafting anywhere, and much of the Peruvian Andes, even now, are scarcely explored.
If you only visit one city, it has to be Cusco. High in the Andes it’s one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Colonial buildings have been built on Inca walls, there are Inca ruins on every side and the streets are filled with local mountain people, still clad in traditional dress.
Peru’s best-known archaeological site, Machu Picchu, is the main attraction for visitors, and rightly so. Set your alarm and get up early to beat the crowds and watch the sun rise over the mountains and fill the citadel with light.
Don’t overlook the other Andean attactions. The Colca Canyon is one of the world’s most spectacular, a natural rift to rival any in the world but made even more enchanting by condors soaring the thermals above local women tilling the fields in bowler hats.
Head west and the Andes drop down to sultry flatlands stretching out to the Pacific. This is where you’ll find the Nasca Lines written on the desert floor and the capital city, Lima. Go north to the elegant Trujillo, on Peru’s northern coast, and find Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world.
In the Cordillera Blanca, deep in the northern Andes, is the architectural splendour of the 2,500-year-old fortress temple of Chavín de Huántar. The surrounding peaks offer some of the best hiking, white-water rafting, mountaineering and mountain biking on the continent.
East of the Andes the Peruvian Amazon is the most diverse and naturally rich of the entire Amazon Delta. Eco-lodges run by indigenous communities personalise your understanding and introduce the aminals of the region. The gateway town is Iquitos, the only place in Peru where you can see pink river dolphins in the morning and experience the bustle of a frenetic Amazon port in the afternoon.