Everything is mind-boggling in Peru!
Needless to say, Peru is amazing! I’ve been asked by everyone what my highlight was but honestly - I just can’t choose one! Everything I did, and every place I visited just amazed me - and it was a perfect mix of cultural immersion, interactive history lesson and traditional adventure travel. I loved learning about the 5000-year old ancient civilizations of the Incas, visiting local villages, hiking into the Andes Mountains, and exploring the Amazon Rainforest to get up-close with wildlife (including a baby anaconda!).
Our journey began in Peru’s capital of Limu – a sprawling metropolis on the arid Pacific Coast that is apparently the second-driest capital in the world. Founded in 1535, Lima’s colonial centre is well preserved but it’s one of south American’s largest cities – think crowds, colonial facades and a city that rises above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. Lima is home to various museums including the Museo Larco, which houses a collection of re-Columbian art, and the Museo de la Nacion, which traces the history of Peru’s ancient civilizations. Not many people know this – but apparently Lima is known as a gastronomical giant of South America – and boasts several of the world’s top restaurants!
The five-day Lares Trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of my two weeks in Peru – we hiked through remote mountain hamlets and learnt about Sacred Valley and the Incas, we also had an immersive experience by visiting small local villages. Our expert guides took us along seldom-travelled highland trails, past llamas and alpacas, past impossibly turquoise lakes and waterfalls – and all of this surrounded by snowy peaks like in a postcard! On day three of the trek we climbed from Cancani to Huacahuasi, which took about four hours and took us to a mountain pass 4219 m above sea level. That night we stayed at Huacahuasi Lodge, which had a glass-fronted restaurant and bar with incredible views across the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Amazing!
Amazon by boat
We boarded our boat Delfin III at Nauta, a small riverside town on the shores of the Maranon River. The boat offers total luxury – but also an immersive rainforest experience. With capacity for 43 passengers, it has eight suites with floor-to-ceiling views, not to mention and indoor and outdoor lounge, sun deck with plunge pool, a spa and gym – what more could you ask for? As we left the wharf, the guests moved to the observation deck, full of excitement about the journey ahead and sipping an exotic cocktail of local fruits and pisco – the beloved national brandy liquor of Peru. The next few days were spent exploring the Samiria, Yanayacu and Pucate River and its tributaries, creeks and lagoons, all teeming with incredible wildlife. What I loved was the mix of relaxation and exploration – over the next few days there were several opportunities to board the skiffs (small motorised boats) to explore smaller waterways, and get on terra firma to stretch your legs, visit markets with amazing arts and crafts and follow our guides into the forest floor of the Amazon.
I was expecting to see a dolphin, maybe a monkey and a few fish……but after our first skiff adventure and jungle walk I got back to the boat having seen grey and PINK dolphins, a baby anaconda, a boa constrictor, a tarantula and poison dart frog, Caimans, river otters, piranhas, monkeys and a heap of birds were to follow. The unique and endangered pink dolphins (scientific name, Inia Geoffrensis) are born grey but go increasingly pink each year as their skin becomes more translucent, allowing the blood to show through. Our guide had an expert eye and was amazing at pinpointing all the biodiversity of the region – the richness of the Amazon and its wildlife can be elusive. One day we even had the opportunity to swim in the jungle with the famous pink dolphins – get better work stories!
Question: What do Peruvians eat? Answer: Ceviche, ceviche and more ceviche. Yum! The local dish of Peru is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, and often served with fiery slivers of chilli, and corn. Peru is fantastic for food-lovers - geographic and cultural diversity means a complex cuisine of Spanish, Indigenous, African and Asian influence. The truth is, fusion existed here long before it was invented by five-star restaurants! Try the meat skewers, slow-simmered stews, velvety Amazonian chocolate – everything was amazing. My hands-down favourite was the ceviche but although it was easy to find in places such a Lima where the city lays next to the ocean but it gets harder to find (and less fresh!) when you get deeper into the Sacred Valley. On the Lares Trek we were surprised with a Pachamanca lunch in a small village called Viacha. Natively meaning ‘earth oven’ or earth pot’, this dish is cooked underground for several hours with the aid of hot stones. This dish typically consists of a variety of meats (including guinea pig – delicious!), yucca, corn, potatoes and green lima beans. Similar to a New Zealand hangi but the flavours are completely different!