7 reasons Peru should be on your bucket list
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When you think of Peru, Machu Picchu probably springs straight to mind. But there’s so much more to this country than just one spot. Peru is a land filled to the brim with culture, adventure and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.
None of us can travel at the moment, but this is the perfect time to plan your next adventure and dream of the places that you want to discover. Here’s why Peru should be at the top of your wish list.
1. The north of the country is a tourist-free paradise
In Lima, the country’s capital, the streets are awash with tourists in hiking boots, ready to hit the same trail to Machu Picchu. But up in the north, you can head to some of the country’s most historic, impressive sights and have them all to yourself.
Kuélap is a fortified city both older and higher than Machu Picchu and receives only a fraction of its visitors. Best of all, you reach it via cable car instead of a lengthy trek. I also walked around Huaca Rajada, where the tomb of the Lord of Sipán was discovered, with only a tiny burrowing owl for company.
2. The food is incredible
As soon as I touched down, there was only one dish I wanted to eat — ceviche. And boy, did it live up to the hype. The national dish is far heartier than you might expect, with huge chunks of fish (often seabass) marinated in the citrusy “tigre de leche” and served with giant corn and sweet potato.
There’s a dish called Lomo Saltado, in which strips of marinated steak are fried with peppers and chips, then served with rice. It’s a carb-on-carb-mountain that’s so filthy it couldn’t not be delicious. It’s not the only hefty dish you should try — Papas a la Huancaína is potatoes covered in a cheese sauce, and Causa is a kind of terrine made with mashed potatoes and either a layer of vegetables or meat. Heaven.
3. There really are alpacas and llamas everywhere…
…and they’re adorable. I saw a gaggle wandering around the ancient stone ruins of Kuélap, grazing on the grass growing between crumbling stone settlements and popping up between the odd group of visitors. The llama was revered by the Incas, who used them for both transport and food, and they were often buried in the chambers with Moche warriors. Nowadays, they’re used more as a photo opp.
4. There’s history around every corner
If you’re a history nerd, you’ll be in heaven. Everywhere you turn you’ll find another ancient site, like Chan Chan, the world’s largest adobe (a type of clay brick) city, or the El Brujo Archaeological Complex where you can clap eyes on the Lady of Cao, a mummified Moche warrior. The Temples of the Sun and Moon are gigantic adobe temples that predate the Inca period and are covered in intricate carvings and colourings.
5. Charming cities like Trujillo
Up on the northern coast, Trujillo is a dreamy little town with pastel-coloured churches and baroque steeples aplenty. When the sun begins to set, everyone congregates in the main square to catch up and make plans for dinner or drinks nearby. Things are a little crazier in Chiclayo, a buzzing city with incredible street food, and there’s great surf (and ceviche) in Huanchaco.
6. Endless rolling mountains
Whether you’re tackling them on foot or on a long drive, the mountain views are simply mesmerising. I stayed a few nights in Chachapoyas, a tiny little town at the foothills of the Andes. But for most places you go, the backdrop of the mountains is beguiling. From the hair-raising roads that snake up the mountainside, to the views you get between gasps for air on a steep trek, there’s a constant backdrop that’ll leave you hypnotised.
7. You’ll want all the Pisco Sours
There is only one cocktail that hits the spot at the end of the day, and that’s a Pisco Sour. Served all over the country, this zinger blends Pisco with lemon or lime juice, egg white and syrup for a punchy, endlessly refreshing drink with a smack of frothy creaminess at the end. Somewhat dangerously, it always seems to be happy hour somewhere, which means you’ll get two for the price of one. Just keep an eye on your final tally if you’re at altitude.
How to get there on points and miles
There’s only one airline that flies direct from the U.K. to Lima, and that’s British Airways. It flies from Gatwick (LGW) three times a week between April and October and twice weekly over the northern winter. If you’re flying with Avios, you’ll need:
- 19,500 in World Traveller (economy)
- 39,000 in World Traveller Plus (premium economy)
- 75,000 in Club World (business class)
Per person, one-way on off-peak dates plus fees, taxes and fuel surcharges. Otherwise, return economy flights start at around £475 in September. Virgin Atlantic doesn’t fly to Peru, though you can fly its partners Delta via Atlanta (ATL), Air France via Paris (CDG) or KLM via Amsterdam (AMS).
You expect to pay the following, off-peak one way per person, plus fees, taxes and surcharges:
- 17,000 in economy
- 34,000 in premium economy
- 87,500 in business class.
You’ll probably need to spend a night in Lima before heading elsewhere, but you won’t need any more than a day to explore the city — it’s generally seen as a bit of a stop-gap before continuing a journey. Bear in mind that security in Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) can be lengthy — you’ll definitely need to arrive at least three hours prior to a flight, even a domestic one.
There’s far more to Peru than just the big hitters. This is a country to take your time exploring, to follow your nose and dig a little deeper. If you do, you’ll definitely love what you find.
Featured photo by Yadid Levy/robertharding/Getty Images
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