Peru is as complex as its most intricate weavings. Festivals mix ancient pageantry with stomping brass bands. The urban vanguard beams with artistry and innovation. Trails mark the way from dense jungle to glacial peaks.
All Things Ancient
A visit to South America isn’t complete without a pilgrimage to the glorious Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, but, the truth is, this feted site is just a flash in a 5000-year history of peoples. Walk through the dusted remnants of a vast ancient city at Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian ruins in all the Americas. Fly over the puzzling geoglyphs etched into the arid earth at Nazca. Or venture into the rugged wilds that hem the stalwart fortress of Kuelap. Lima’s great museums, with priceless ceramics, gold and some of the finest textiles in the world, reveal in full detail the sophistication, skill and passion of these lost civilizations. Visit remote communities and see how old ways live on. Immerse yourself, and you will leave Peru a little closer to the past.
Pleasure & the Palate
Some cultures are haunted by the existential. For many Peruvians, the question that gnaws at them daily would seem simple: what to eat? Ceviche with slivers of fiery chili and corn, stews simmered for hours in beer and cilantro, velvety Amazonian chocolate. In the capital of Latin cooking, so many choices can be perplexing. Great geographic and cultural diversity has brought ingredients – ranging from highland tubers to tropical jungle fruits – to a cuisine created with the complex history of Spanish, indigenous, African and Asian influence. The truth is, fusion existed here long before it came with airs. Treat your taste buds with missions to the chaotic markets. Sample grilled anticuchos (beef skewers) on the street corners and splurge a little on exquisite novoandina (Peruvian nouvelle) cuisine. Because going hungry was never an option.
Giant sand dunes, chiseled peaks and Pacific breaks a few heartbeats away from the capital’s rush-hour traffic: from downtown Lima to smack-dab nowhere, this vast country translates to paradise for the active traveler. All the usual suspects – rafting, paragliding, zip lines and bike trails – are present. But that doesn’t mean your adventure has to be an Olympic event. It could be spotting scarlet macaws and following big cat tracks in the Amazon, watching the sun set over the dusty remnants of an ancient civilization, or joining a holy pilgrimage to an Andean peak believed to be a god. Our advice? Don’t rush. Set out to do less than you think you should. Delays pop up. Festivals can swallow you whole for days. And that’s when you realize: the adventure is getting there.
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Grit your teeth, shield your eyes and get stuck into this decathlon of desert challenges. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Blokart in the Mojave Desert, USA Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. Image by Kyle Monk / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images.
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Peru's best festivals
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On its surface, Lima is no thing of beauty.
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Zip up your wetsuit, cinch your helmet: we bring you the biggest, baddest and raddest rivers for rafting the world over – and all guided commercially for your convenience. Sun Kosi River, Nepal Raft negotiating the 'Meatgrinder' rapid on Sun Kosi River. Image by Anders Blomqvist / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
Highlights of the Machu Picchu region
Scan the canopy for wildlife from the comfort of our intimate and exclusive G Lodge Amazon, contemplate mountain vistas or take an optional flight over the Nazca Lines—this epic journey explores the geography, culture and history of Peru, offering you the perfect blend of guided excursions and free time.
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Trek the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and explore Cusco
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Lonely Planet has produced this article for PromPeru. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality. Peru may be known as a cradle of ancient civilisations, but its wild topography also makes it a wonderland of adventure.