By Patricia Cotti
Are you interested in visiting a diverse land that offers desert, ocean, coastline, capital cities and valleys? I have a suggestion. Visit Peru and you will have it all in one destination.
Peru is a country slightly larger than twice the size of Texas, located in the west central part of South America. It is bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north; Chile to the south and Brazil to the east. Geographically, there are three major regions: the coast, highlands dominated by the Andes Mountains and the jungle or Amazon Forest. There are, however, 84 biodiversity zones.
I flew into Lima, Peru’s capital city, where my great adventure began. Founded in 1535 by the Spanish, Lima has a rich colonial past. The historic center, a UNESCO world heritage city, has some of the finest examples of colonial architecture. The Cathedral, the Convent of San Francisco and the elaborate wood carved balconies speak of the rich Spanish heritage. The Larco Herrera Museum is a showcase for the Pre-Columbian history of Peru and, definitely, worth a visit. The suburbs of Lima have become the chic, bustling neighborhoods of Lima. Many of Lima’s best hotels, shopping centers and restaurants are located in the seaside suburb of Miraflores. There is an exciting vibe everywhere. The restaurants are packed with young affluent professionals on the move.
About two hours south along the coast, the geography changes to a vast desert. The land becomes arid and barren. Yet, there are amazing surprises. At Nasca, there are glyphs of animals and plants drawn by the ancient Peruvians. They are only visible from the air even though the ancients had no means of flight. Today, they remain an enigma. Off the coast are the Ballestas Islands—lovingly called “the poor man’s Galapagos”. This is a wild life refuge that is the habitat of sea lions, Humboldt Penguins and migratory birds that feed on the vast supply of anchovies. For the adventurous, you can explore the dunes in an SUV; view the sun set on the vast desert and end the day with dinner in a tent under the stars—Remarkable!
Cusco, another UNESCO city, is the next stop and, perhaps, the most familiar Peruvian city. 90% of all the tourists to Peru visit Cusco. Located at 10,500 feet above sea level, high in the Andes Mountains, Cusco stands as the center of the Inca universe. Today, Inca descendants live among the ancient ruins, farm on Inca terraces and celebrate the festivities of their ancestors. In Cusco, visitors can explore Inca buildings bearing large polished dry stone walls that fit perfectly together without mortar and sleep in exquisite modern hotels that use Inca foundations. It is a magical city and jumping off point for a visit to the Sacred Valley and Machu Piccu.
The Sacred Valley is 8,800 feet above sea level. The valley is fed by the Urubamba River and a lush setting for agriculture. The traditional Inca farming on the mountain is by agricultural terraces that descend like vast steps down the mountains. Peru overall has over 3,500 varieties of potatoes and numerous varieties of corn. Organic farming is increasingly popular. Consequently, restaurants and cooking classes prosper.
Machu Piccu is the iconic image of Peru. Located at 6,685 feet above sea level, it is reached by a train from the Sacred Valley followed by a bus ride along switch backs cut into the mountain. The path is dramatic but the sight of the Inca city is awesome and takes one’s breath away. The magical citadel arises out of the midst of a group of green covered mountains surrounded by the mighty Urubamba River. Not only is it a beautiful location but the visitor becomes part of an intact ancient world. Why was Machu Piccu built? How was it built? What was the significance to the Incas? Machu Piccu was used by the Ancient Inca Civilization yet left unfinished. The answers to the questions remain unresolved. Some believe that it was a magical place protected by the four mountain gods and the river. Perhaps, it was an astronomical calendar. Although the questions remain, the site is a tribute to Inca architectural precision and tantalizes the visitor. It is truly a “Bucket List” experience. Machu Picchu can receive up to 3300 visitors per day throughout its different routes. The more adventurous arrive by hiking the Inca Trail, which is limited to 500 people a day, in much the same way as the ancient people.
I had adventures on the desert dunes; saw the fauna of the Ballestas Islands; swam on a beach; hiked on a mountain; walked the capital city both its colonial and modern area; visited great Inca sites to learn about the past and visited the people to learn about the present. I stayed in fine properties with modern conveniences that respected the setting. I ate excellent Peruvian Cuisine. Many dishes were from the sea served with local sauces and unique varieties of potatoes, corn and quinoa. I shopped for my Peruvian treasures in markets and boutiques. Believe it or not, I just touched the surface of the country.
It was a remarkable and diverse experience. Peru is a hot destination. It is a great value destination offering a discovery around every corner. You must visit Peru and you will be amazed. It is an experience that is truly unforgettable!