Destination: ¡Bienvenido a Peru!
Peru was just awarded Best Destination in the Americas by the Shanghai World Travel Fair 2017. The fair, one of the most important travel fairs in China, honoured Peru due to the South American nation’s efforts to attract Chinese visitors[i].
35,000 Chinese tourists visit Peru, the second largest tourist population from Asia after Japan. This is staggering growth from the 2,000 per year they were experiencing in 2012[ii]. The reasons are twofold. One, there were concentrated efforts by Peruvian authorities to advertise in main Chinese cities.
The second, and perhaps most important, is that, in 2016, Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski eliminated visa requirements for tourists and businessmen from China[iii] who already hold visas for the USA, the Schengen Zone, the UK, or Australia[iv].
So, in honour of their prestigious win and ongoing efforts, here’s why you should probably drop what you’re doing and visit Peru.
Going to Machu Picchu is, obviously, one of the hallmarks of any visit to Peru. The resplendent Incan ruins are stunning to behold, displaying the grandeur of Peru’s history, as well as making for some gorgeous Instagram content. The city was never revealed to the invading Spaniards, and was basically forgotten until the early 20th Century, so there is something truly awesome about trekking to see it.
The government, however, would like people to stop, um…stripping down and taking naked selfies at the historical monument. You may think it will expand your social media reach, and it may give you some kicks, but what it also does is disrespect the cultural heritage of the Peruvian people.
“Machu Picchu is visited by tourists of different ages, religions and ideologies,” said Alfredo Mormontoy Atayupanqui, director of archaeological resources for Peru’s Ministry of Culture[v].
“Nude behaviour may bring pleasure to a small percentage of people, but it causes discomfort and anger to others. We need to make sure other tourists don’t feel awkward.”
Now, if you do want to visit Machu Picchu, or Cuzco, or any other mountainous areas, you should be prepared to make some adjustments for the altitude. Considering that tourist areas range from the sea level Pacific beaches to its highest mountain of 22,204 feet, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise[vi].
To combat altitude sickness, which can make you very ill, drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep, and ease off the booze. If you want, you can also chew some coca leaves, or drink tea made from them. They are a natural stimulant. Coca leaves are also the base ingredient for making cocaine. The more you know.
The famous Inca trail – which terminates at Machu Picchu – should also be known as famously difficult, because of the large amount of steep, stone steps that make it up. Consider yourself fairly warned, especially if it ends up raining while you’re doing the trek; your dream holiday trek could turn into a bit of a nightmare. However, you could hire a porter to carry up to 20kg of your gear to make things easier, if you’ve got the extra cash.
Speaking of cash, that’s how you should approach most – if not all – transactions. Merchants generally don’t accept cards of any type, even if otherwise advertised. Keep a healthy amount of Peruvian soles on you, or US dollars. All the above should preferably be in smaller denomination bills so the merchants can make change. The merchants are also quite picky, and they may not accept bills that are torn or too worn out.
Now, what you’re going to want to spend most of your money on is food. Glorious food! Peru is famous for its ceviche: fresh, raw fish marinated with citrus juice and spiced with chillies or other spices. For those who don’t like seafood, there’s delicious slow-simmered stews, hearty grilled beef skewers, or delight in smooth Amazonian chocolate. ¡Muy delicioso!
The cuisine is culturally diverse, with influences from Spain, Africa, Asia, and indigenous cooking[vii].
You can wash that down with Peru’s drink of choice, pisco. The drink is usually mixed in cocktails, like the pisco sour, which is a mix of pisco, simple syrup, egg whites, ice, lime juice, and angostura bitters. This is because it can apparently be a little…hearty for the uninitiated.
Lima in particular is a “culinary hotspot” and is worth spending some time in[viii]. Not surprising considering Peru has won the award for World’s Leading Culinary Destination five times in a row (as of 2016)[ix].
For those of you who are fans of visiting the wildlife of this beautiful nation, there are a number of places where you can experience Peru’s beautiful animals. And the animals go beyond the famous llamas dotted in every traveller’s photograph! Jaguars can be seen moving stealthily through the jungle at the Manu Biosphere Reserve[x]; watch colourful macaws preening their feathers in the trees of the Tambopata National Reserve[xi]; and adorable Humboldt penguins gather on the islands of Lorenzo and Palomino, not too far from Lima[xii].
You can also visit with the one-of-a-kind pink Amazon river dolphins. The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is the perfect place to see them. The Reserve is also a great place to see threatened and endangered species like the giant river otter, the manatee, and the black alligator[xiii].
For those who dream of a beach holiday, Peru’s got you covered! Called the “Hawaii of Peru”, the northern city of Máncora is one of Peru’s most popular beaches[xiv]. This gorgeous, sandy beach stretches for kilometres, and is the perfect place to relax and get some sun on the Peruvian coast. The warm water is great for swimming, and perfect for anyone up for a surf.
The beach at Paracas, and the surrounding Ballesta islands, might be perfect for you if you got excited about seeing Peruvian wildlife. Called “Peru’s Galápagos”, the area is home to the above-mentioned Humboldt penguins, as well as sea lions, fur seals, dolphins, and the blue-footed booby bird. The beach is not far from the main village of El Chaco, which boasts a lively scene of restaurants and bars.
And, hey, remember how we mentioned that Lima was worth sticking around in? Well, that’s not just because of the food. The beachfronts in the city are beautiful, if somewhat crowded at times, and offer upwards of a dozen surf schools and paragliding companies.
The water of Peru can even heal you. At least, that’s according to locals who know of the Boiling River (Shanay-timpishka), a trek and a half from the nearest city of Pucallpa[xv]. The small town of Mayantuyacu acts as a healing centre for those seeking the water’s supposed medicinal attributes. The water can reach up to almost 95 degrees Celsius (200° Fahrenheit), and the mud that surrounds it can cause third degree burns.
While you’re near the Amazon river, visiting a national reserve or seeking the healing waters of the Boiling River, why not stop off at Iquitos? In June, they host the Festival of San Juan, which is an ideal time to hang with the locals and partake of their food, music, and art. It’s one of the top ten places recommended by the Peru Bureau of Tourism, so who are you to argue?
The city of Iquitos was founded in 1757, but it started to boom in 1881 with the rubber-tapping trade. The architecture is a mix of rustic, local homes, as well as resplendent Art Nouveau buildings. One of these, the Casa de Fierro, was designed by French architect Gustave Eiffel[xvi]. Recognize the name? You should. It’s attached to a very famous tower in Paris.
Another hallmark of the Peruvian nation is the bright colours common in their fabric crafts. The woven fabrics are integral to Andean culture, and provide an important source of income for the locals who make them.
According to the residents of the island of Taquile, which resides in the famous Lake Titicaca, weaving is for women, and knitting is men’s work[xvii]. Boys are trained in the art from age eight, and are crafters of the iconic chuyo hats that are so popular among visitors.
Be careful to buy only the gorgeous, handmade offerings of the local Andean people, however. Organizations like Awamaki and The Little Market (co-founded by Lauren Conrad from The Hills) improve the lives of these artisans and connect them to global markets. Everything is made in beautiful, bright colours from natural fibres, and will liven up any home, or outfit.
Weaving is such a strong part of the culture in Peru, that it precipitated great feats of engineering, like the Keshwa Chaca (Q’eswachaka) handwoven bridge. Made from woven grass, the bridge stretches across 118 feet across, and 60 feet above, the river in Apurimac Canyon[xviii]. Handwoven bridges have been a part of the trail and roadway system for over 500 years, and the punishment for tampering with such a bridge was death. Yikes!
Better hurry to see it, though, because it’s actually one of the last one of its kind left. All the others have decayed over time, or had to be taken down. Keshwa Chaca is looked after by the locals of Quehue, where they have destroyed and rebuilt it in an annual ceremony in order to address its sagging condition.
Of course, we would be remiss in not telling you about the potential dangers any tourist might be facing on a trip to Peru. Like in any country, thieves and pickpockets can abound, so keep your valuables close at hand, and limit the amount of jewellery you wear[xix].
If you want to fly over the gorgeous Nazca Lines, be wary of “cowboy” pilots. These operators could end up costing you your life if you’re not careful[xx]. After several air crash tragedies, the Peruvian government grounded all planes for safety testing. Only seven out of 48 passed muster. This included only four companies out of fourteen: Aero Diana, Aero Paracas, Alas Peruanas, and Travel Air. Seven planes, four companies – for a while there, the odds were not in your favour.
Take only licensed taxis and travel only with reputable tour service providers. Really, this is good advice for any country that you visit. Surprisingly, there are also different types of trains available: some for locals, some for only Peruvians, and some for tourists. Keep your eyes peeled!
There is also a risk of thieves pretending to be a plain-clothes policeman[xxi]. While this is a pretty unlikely occurrence, if someone does approach you asking for official papers or anything else, insist on going straight to the police station[xxii].
After that little segment of doom and gloom, it’s important to remember just how fun Peru can be. It’s the perfect opportunity to practice your Español with some friendly locals, while wining and dining the night away. Would the Shanghai World Travel Fair lead you astray? Everyone in our office is packed and ready to go. ¡Vamonos!
[v] Evie Liu for CNN, “Peru to tourists: ‘Stop getting naked at Machu Picchu!’”, March 20, 2014.
[viii] Rough Guides, “Peru: From Inca ruins to Pisco sours, and everything in between”, accessed May 15, 2017.
[xx] Phil Sylvester for World Nomads, “Nazca Lines of Peru – Tips for choosing a safe flight”, July 1, 2015.
[xxi] Claudia Cuskelly for Express, “WARNING: Could YOU fall victim to scam police officers on YOUR summer 2017 holiday?”, February 11, 2017.