With a growth rate that could emulate anywhere on the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, Peru’s namesake ‘Asia’ is a nebulous commercial area south of Lima that incorporates more than 30 beaches (many of which have limited access), thousands of pricey holiday homes, and a humongous shopping mall known as El Sur Plaza Boulevard. Most of the action is centered on the 97.
Cuzco & the Sacred Valley
Incas deemed this spot the belly button of the world. A visit to Cuzco tumbles you back into the cosmic realm of ancient Andean culture – knocked down and fused with the colonial splendors of Spanish conquest, only to be repackaged as a thriving tourist mecca. Yet Cuzco is only the gateway.
Cosmopolitan Inca capital, Cuzco (also Cusco, or Qosq’o in Quechua) today thrives with a measure of contradiction. Ornate cathedrals squat over Inca temples, massage hawkers ply the narrow cobblestone streets, a woman in traditional skirt and bowler offers bottled water to a pet llama while the finest boutiques sell alpaca knits for small fortunes.
The best-protected tract of the world’s most biodiverse forest, the strange, sweltering, seductive country-within-a-country that is Peru’s Amazon Basin, is changing. Its sheer vastness and impenetrability has long protected its indigenous communities and diverse wildlife from external eyes. Tribes still exist here that have never had contact with outside civilization.
If it’s breathtaking ancient ruins or immersion in uninterrupted wilderness that you crave during your Peruvian voyage, listen up. The rocky, remote central highlands can match the country’s better-known destinations for these things and more: with the almost absolute absence of other travelers.
Arequipa & Canyon Country
Arequipa province is Peru’s big combo ticket. Authentic historical immersion and white-knuckle Andean adventure inhabit the same breathing space here. Imagine the cultural riches of one of South America’s finest colonial cities just a few hours’ drive from the world’s two deepest canyons and you’ll get a hint of the dramatic contrasts.
Huaraz & the Cordilleras
Ground zero for outdoor-adventure worship in Peru, the Cordilleras are one of the preeminent hiking, trekking and backpacking spots in South America. Every which way you throw your gaze, perennially glaciered white peaks razor their way through expansive mantles of lime-green valleys.
In Andean belief, Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. In addition, it’s the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. Banner blue skies contrast with bitterly cold nights. Enthralling and in many ways singular, the shimmering deep blue Lake Titicaca is the longtime home of highland cultures steeped in the old ways.
With a regal plaza, concrete block buildings and crumbling bricks that blend into the hills, Puno has its share of both grit and cheer. It serves as the jumping-off point for Lake Titicaca and is a convenient stop for those traveling between Cuzco and La Paz. But it may just capture your heart with its own rackety charm.
Huaraz is the restless capital of this Andean adventure kingdom and its rooftops command exhaustive panoramas of the city's dominion: one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world. Nearly wiped out by the earthquake of 1970, Huaraz isn’t going to win any Andean-village beauty contests anytime soon, but it does have personality – and personality goes a long way.