Eden Caceda heads off track.
Peru is a destination that is all too often neglected in the giant whirlwind continent that is South America. But with its blend of history, culture and natural beauty, there is truly no reason that Peru should not be a travel staple among the likes of Argentina and Brazil. While the capital Lima is amazing, if you seek a truly incredible holiday, head out of the city. Peru is home to the Amazon jungle, Andes Mountains, and Inca ruins; these places are the things of bucket lists and Wild Thornberry dreams and perfect for any traveller wanting to see the real Peru.
One may recognize the name from The Emperor’s New Groove, but the town has more to offer than just llamas and gold (though it has plenty of both). An idyllic small town among the towering mountains, Cusco is the epicentre for traditional culture in Peru. Adjusting to the high altitude at first is a nightmare but the short flight or bus trip from Lima is worth it. The streets have not been changed for hundreds of years and retain many plazas and streets of pre-Columbian times and colonial buildings, resulting in Cusco being declared a World Heritage Site. The Plaza De Armas, the town square is a rustic customary location where you can spot plenty of people in traditional dress and has been the scene of several major events in the city. At night the square comes to life with food and partying also acting as a guide to where you are located in the town. The walled ancient complex of Saksaywaman lies on top of a surrounding mountain and is an easy car ride away, providing the perfect opportunity to explore the enormous ruin and glimpse the beautiful views of both town and mountains. The party scene is strangely insane for this small town and there are plenty of other tourists and locals who love nothing more than a dance and some alcoholic Pisco Sour, the famous cocktail and “national drink”.
If you’re keen to embrace the beautiful landscape of Peru, the Inca Trail is just the thing. It takes four days to complete the 80 kilometre hike, so it’s a full on trek through the Andes mountain range. You’ll pass through early morning fog forests and intense alpine tundra and everything in between. The trek is not for everybody and training is necessary beforehand. It involves sleeping in tents, eating traditional food including roasted guinea pig and alpaca lasagna while following the exact pilgrimage track the Incan people did to the renowned Machu Picchu in ancient times. Any lover of history, architecture, geography or mountaineering will get a particular buzz from the trek, but the outlook of the spectacular mountain range and accompanying Incan ruins are breathtaking for anyone to witness. No matter what season you go, the nights are cold and dark but the daytime is always stunning. Toilets are the biggest issue on the trek and ensure you hire a porter to carry your belongings; thinking you can carry 25 kilograms for 4 days straight might seem like a good idea but altitude, terrain and weather make it worth dishing out someone else to care for your bags, knowing the money is going to a townsperson who likely needs it.
The Inca Trail ends here or you can go directly to Aguas Calientes, the accompanying tourist town, by train from Cusco. As a New Seven Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu is the most familiar icon of the Incan civilisation and the “lost city of the Incas”. Entering the site through the Sun Gate, available for those getting there by train and necessary for those hiking, is the only real way to appreciate the beauty of the location. The city is like a maze which gives the perfect reason to get lost among the culture and history. There is also the option to climb Huayna Picchu, the accompanying mountain that overlooks the ruins, but this is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Ensure that at least one full day is spent at Machu Picchu and even hire a guide to explain to you the meanings of the ancient artifacts, but if you don’t, make it a mission to see every corner of the ruin before it breaks down for good.
Originally published in BULL Magazine, June 3, 2013.