South America doesn’t get much more evocative of generations gone by than Peru. Its mix of ancient civilisations and dramatic archaeology, set among some of the most extraordinary landscapes on the planet, means few destinations have as much to offer cultural visitors.
The old Inca settlement of Machu Picchu, now said to be the most visited site on the entire continent, is just the poster child – it’s utterly magnificent, of course, but it’s just one of many highlights served up by the country. From mountain range to jungle, beach to the desert, colonial town to a cosmopolitan city, it’s a truly wonderful place to travel.
The coastal capital, Lima, can seem chaotic at times, but scratch the surface and you’ll unearth some great museums and nightclubs, not to mention some of the region’s best food and drink – from ceviche (raw fish in citrus) to cecina (dried pork) and from Peruvian wine (yes, really) to pisco sours.
But the country’s real appeal lies outside the capital. Contrasting beautifully with Lima is the ancient capital of Cusco with its winding cobbled streets and 1,000-plus years of history. It’s the gateway for visitors to the unmissable Machu Picchu, as well as those walking the Inca trail, but it makes for a colourful destination in its own right. There’s no better place to learn more about the country’s earlier times and the upheaval of the Spanish conquest.
Elsewhere in the country, the Nazca Lines, the beautifully excavated ruins of Chan Chan and the Chachapoya fortress of Kuelap boggle the mind. These extraordinary complexes are all set amid stunning landscapes.
But Peru doesn’t solely involve rushing up and down mountains or traipsing around ruins. If you’re searching for a relaxing beach destination, head to Máncora, which is popular with sun-seekers and surfers. A little more subdued, but no less beautiful, is the quaint coastal town of Huanchaco, where you can sit on the beach and watch fishermen ply their trade on traditional reed canoes. It’s a far cry from the lofty Andes and a testament to Peru’s staggering diversity.