New and undiscovered attractions are raising Peru’s tourism profile, says Chris Moss
Beyond the Inca Trail
In recent years the Peruvian government and local tourism agencies have developed many new trails, long and short, to take pressure off the classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Some go out to alternative Inca sites such as the remote Choquequirao while others are softer options, such as a trek to the vineyards around Ica, or more hardcore hikes in less heavily trafficked mountain ranges, including the Cordillera Blanca. There are also new paths to Machu Picchu: the High Inca Trail, for example, is aimed at those keen to do a tough, week-long mountain hike, via the breathtaking Salkantay Pass, and requires the use of porters, horses and tents. This walk joins the latter part of the classic trail, so hikers arrive in Machu Picchu along with everyone else via the iconic Sun Gate.
The capital is rising up with the Peruvian economy. Ceviche has put the city’s rich and varied gastronomy on the global map — Gaston Acurio, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and other acclaimed local chefs run world-class restaurants as well as cooking classes. The city boasts a remarkable ancient site, the 1,800 year-old Huaca Pucllana ruins, as well as the Museo Larco, a private museum specialising in ancient erotic objets d’art. The historic centre is well-suited to walking and cycling tours, and is full of old churches, traditional shops, and atmospheric restaurants and hotel bars, such as the one at the Grand Hotel Maury, where, legend has it, the pisco sour was invented. South of Lima is the Pisco valley and Paracas Nature Reserve, which is excellent for birdlife. Both are ideal stopping off points en route to the Ballestas Islands or Nazca Lines.
Peru’s second city is only about one-tenth of the size of Lima, but boxes above its weight in terms of local pride, cuisine and architectural assets. Overlooked by three dramatic volcanoes, the city has quite a dramatic setting. Two popular excursions are into the Colca Canyon (2-3 days) and to the base of the Misti volcano, which can be summited in a two-day excursion. Seismic activity hasn’t damaged the baroque-style edifices built between the 16th and 18th century using the local white volcanic sillar rock — the city is known as the White City — and in 2000 the historic centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several of the best-loved Peruvian dishes hail from Arequipa, including rocoto relleno (a comfort food made from ground beef, egg and melted cheese) and chupe de camarones (aromatic shrimp soup). These are best enjoyed in the bustling, communal, picanteria restaurants.
Chachapoyas & the Central Amazon
Heading inland from Chiclayo is a long and winding road to Gocta, only discovered in 2002 and one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. This marks the entry point into Chachapoyas, named after the 8th-15th century civilisation. The best-known Chachapoya site is Kuelap, a stunning citadel high up in the mountains; condors are often seen here wheeling above the clouds. The next key stop is Leymebamba for Centro Mallqui, a museum displaying 200 mummies found in a nearby lake. Short hikes are more typical on this tour and the river is a constant presence; several tributaries run into the mighty Maranon, the principal source of the Amazon.
Manu National Park wildlife
There are a staggering 1,830 different bird species in Peru, placing it safely towards the top in the world list of megadiverse countries. The species range from the huge Andean condor to the
short-tailed hummingbird, the second smallest bird on the planet, with all manner of colourful macaws, tyrant flycatchers, kingfishers, toucans and tanagers in between. An astonishing 331 bird species were spotted in a single day — a world record — in Manu National Park, accessed via Puerto Maldonado and increasingly a favourite among tourists as well as birdwatchers. The park is also exceptionally good for seeing butterflies and orchids, and is home to storied mammals including the spectacled bear, jaguar, giant otter and giant anteater.
Lake Titicaca island
The high-plains town of Puno and the shores of South America’s biggest lake have both long been established stops on the backpacker trail, and are increasingly popular add-ons for group tours from Cusco. There’s now also the option of taking a traditional boat out to visit the lake island of Amantani. Beautiful textiles are made by a local cooperative and wheat, quinoa and potatoes are grown here by the 3,500 Quechua- and Aymara-speaking inhabitants. Visitors can climb two small peaks named Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) to see Inca and earlier Tiwanaku ruins at the summits. Electricity is only available between 6-11pm, so stopovers are still tricky.
Iquitos Amazon cruise
Companies such as Aqua Expeditions, Delfin, G Adventures and International Expeditions operate a range of three- to 10-day luxury cruises along the Amazon, for an opportunity to penetrate deep into the Amazon system and visit the remote Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, where there’s an excellent chance of seeing pink dolphins and piranha, capuchin monkeys and three-toed sloths, as well as dozens of bird species. Vessels are being upgraded, with new boats such as the 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica, being kitted out with 15 outward-facing, 220sq ft cabins with private balconies, a fitness centre and a 1,000sq ft observation deck. Smaller vessels are used for piranha fishing and to see giant otters. Haimark launches The Amazon Discovery in June, offering 22 cabins on six-night itineraries.