Images of Incas, llamas and deep, dark jungles conjure up a magical picture of Peru. But there is plenty more for you to discover in this diverse and fascinating country, blessed with attractions, activities and culture to rival any other South American destination. Whether you are looking for a family vacation or a solo backpacking voyage, there are numerous reasons to visit Peru.
1. Peru's Pre-Columbian Ruins
Machu Picchu may be the king of Peru's ancient sites, but it is certainly not the only jewel in Peru's archeological crown. A fine selection of fascinating ruins lies scattered around the old Inca capital of Cusco, while many cities have pre-Columbian constructions sitting nearby. Highlights include:
2. Culinary Delights
Peruvian cuisine is rapidly making its mark on the global culinary map, and with good reason. Travelers can indulge in a wide variety of regional delights, including arguably the continent's finest ceviche (raw seafood in a lime marinade), traditional specialties such as alpaca steak and roasted cuy (the infamous guinea pig), and tasty, leaf-wrapped Peruvian snacks like juanes, tamales and humitas.
For taste-bud jangling oddities, dip in to a pan of roasted ants or shut your eyes before forcing down a juicy jungle grub.
As any Peruvian child will happily tell you, Peru is the proud owner of costa, sierra y selva -- the three geographic regions of coast, highland and jungle. Even during a short visit, Peru's diversity is more than evident. A 14-hour bus ride can take you from the desert coast to the chilly heights of the Andean range, before plunging down into the vast Peruvian Amazon.
Amazon tours can take you even further into the jungle, or you can hop on a passenger ferry and head all the way to the coast of Brazil.
4. A Trekker's Paradise
Peru's distinct environmental regions provide excellent trekking options for both experienced hikers and casual trekkers alike. There are plenty of trails to choose from, including multi-day slogs and one-day walks. Some of the most popular treks include:
- The Inca Trail and alternative treks to Machu Picchu
- High altitude Andean treks from Huaraz
- The descent into Colca Canyon near Arequipa
- Demanding alpine treks on the Alpamayo Circuit in the Cordillera Blanca
- Multi-day treks into the Peruvian Amazon
5. Vibrant Cultural Festivals
The Peruvian year is dotted with colorful festivals. During Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, religious processions block the streets with a fascinating blend of colonial and indigenous traditions. Cusco celebrates the great Inca festival of Inti Raymi on June 24, making it a popular time to visit Peru and Machu Picchu. In the jungle, the same day marks the Festival of San Juan, a day of wine and relaxation along the riverbanks followed by an epic night of dancing.
Don't forget Peru's Independence Day on July 28. Military parades march through the streets by day, while raucous parties and endless fireworks ensure a long and lively night.
6. Visit Peru's Wonderful Wildlife
With eight national parks, eight national reserves and seven national sanctuaries, nature lovers have more than enough reasons to visit Peru. Highlights include:
- Manú National Park, the largest biosphere reserve in Peru, with more than 1,000 species of birds
- Tingo Maria National Park with its cave-dwelling guácharos (oil birds)
- Huascarán National Park, home to cougars, jaguars, tapirs, wild Peruvian camelids and more
- Paracas National Reserve, protecting a marine ecosystem which includes Humboldt penguins, sea lions, dolphins and turtles
- Titicaca National Reserve helps to preserve Peru's most mystical lake and its surrounding environment
7. Mystic Peru
Peru has a rich tradition of healers and spiritual advisors, from Andean curanderos to Amazonian shamans. You can take a spiritual journey with an ayahuasca ceremony, or maybe have a guinea pig rubdown to extract the impurities from your body.
8. Extreme Sports
Adrenalin junkies won't have much time to get bored in Peru. There are plenty of things to jump off, climb up and slide down, including:
- Paragliding off the coastal cliffs of Lima
- Sandboarding down giant dunes near Huacachina
- Taking a dune buggy for a spin in the desert
- Surfing some serious waves along Peru's extensive coastline
- Rock and ice climbing in the Cordillera Blanca range
- River running in the Amazon's upper reaches
9. Peruvian Hospitality
Whether quietly reserved or smilingly helpful, Peruvians are always happy to welcome tourists to their proud nation. With just a basic command of Spanish, you will never be short of a local or two for a bout of cultural chitchat over a cool beer or a freshly squeezed fruit juice. Peruvians also love to dance, so be prepared to bust out some moves.
Be aware that English speakers are rare, especially in the provinces. It may seem like a chore, but learn some Spanish and you will reap the rewards when you set foot on Peruvian soil.
10. An Affordable Experience
Budget backpackers can visit Peru on the cheap, taking advantage of the low prices. With set lunches for less than US$2, hostels for US$10 a night and cheap long distance bus travel, you can easily stretch your budget from the coastal strip to the depths of the Amazon jungle.