Peru: Colourful festivals and eco-touring
With a capital that is one of South America’s culinary hot spots, Machu Picchu, colourful festivals and world-leading ecotourism projects, it is little wonder interest in Peru is booming, says Michelle Jackson
I’m standing on Machu Picchu and, as clouds roll over the crest of the mountains and hug the sacred Inca ruins, the view takes my breath away.
Julio, my guide, warns me to expect four seasons in one day, so I’m prepared with a hat, rain coat and sun cream.
A wind picks up, a contrast to the blistering sun and clear blue sky that I stood under in the mile-long queue for the bus to take me here from Aguas Calientes.
It’s a wait that could have been avoided if I’d climbed up a steep path through rough terrain for 90 minutes.
There’s also a more luxurious option: stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel located at the entrance to Machu Picchu, and take a private bus transfer to the Inca citadel. A stay at the hotel offers first access, when the gates open at 6am, before the crowds arrive.
But I’m sharing my moment with around 2,000 others – in July a new maximum numbers limit of 4000 visitors a day was set by the Peruvian government.
The route around the site is made of jagged stairs and to navigate my eyes are peeled on every step I take; there’s no rush and plenty of green space to find a corner to sit and breathe in the views.
Allow two hours to explore the main buildings and the ‘must see’ Temple of the Sun, which acts as an astronomic observatory recording the winter and summer solstice.
For an extra $70 I have the option to return tomorrow morning, but instead have booked a Peruvian massage, in one of the many salons in Aguas Calientes. Starting at under $10, a massage is one of Peru’s best kept secrets.
The number of UK visitors to Peru has been growing steadily since 2010, reaching an alltime high of 69,506 in 2017.
Its appeal is far ranging: Peru is one of the most diverse countries in the world for flora and fauna, with an abundance of natural landscapes teaming with wildlife and hundreds of endemic species.
From the wilds of the Amazon to the Andes Mountains, Peru is already wellknown as a paradise for bird watching and other wildlife as well as the exploration of remote and mythical natural landscapes, some of which are still untouched.
Julian Appleyard, Commercial Director at Great Rail Journeys, says: “Peru is an incredible country, with so much to see and a wealth of ancient history. Machu Picchu is the obvious reason to visit Peru – it’s the country’s most popular attraction for good reasons.
“However, my favourite excursion is a
Lake Titicaca cruise. It takes guests out to the Uros floating islands, where incredible flotillas made from totora reeds are populated by the enterprising Uros people. The flotillas are just incredible to see.“
I started my Peru journey in Lima, Peru’s capital. Now served daily from London Gatwick by Air Europa (via Madrid), this is also the culinary capital of South America.
Restaurants, Maido, CENTRAL and Astrid y Gastón, retained their status among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017, but for a mixture of humble and trendy cuisine the district of Barranco is bustling with atmosphere and value-priced restaurants.
Peru is also a destination for clients looking for culture and colour: festivals are held every month and Cusco in particular seems in a constant state of preparation for its next event. Among the best is the Virgen del Carmen Festival in July, with its colourful procession along typical Peruvian village streets to celebrate and worship the Virgin of El Carmen in Paucartambo.
Visitors can enjoy music and singing in Quechua (the local language), from groups representing passages of Peru’s history.
And on June 24 each year, Cusco celebrates the most famous festival in the Inca calendar: Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun. The winter solstice and local harvest are the driving force behind this celebration in honour of Wiracocha, the God of the Sun. Now the second-largest festival in Latin America, it attracts over 200,000 who visit Cusco for the parties and fireworks.
Whilst Cusco parties the night away, just two kilometres from the town professors, archaeologists and historians script a performance of an Inca ritual in the fortress of Sacsayhuamán.
Many ecotourism and community projects are being developed in the Peruvian Amazon, such as the work of Rainforest Expeditions.
Founded in 1982, this Peruvian ecotourism company offers authentic educational ecotourism experiences designed to help preserve the areas in which the company operates.
Rainforest Expeditions has three lodges: Posada Amazonas, Refugio Amazonas, and the Centro de Investigaciones Tambopata (Tambopata Research Centre). Tourists are encouraged to learn about nature and the area’s local people whilst aiding the various conservation efforts.
Rafting: White-water rafting in the Sacred Valley, near Cusco, is categorised as a 3:5 ‘difficulty level’ and is perfectly safe for the less adventurous (children can manage it too). It costs $55pp for a full day, rafting nine kilometres through the Sacred Valley. Lunch is included. In the saddle: Horseback riding
(horsebackridingcusco.com) in the hills surrounding Cusco offers spectacular views and is an adventurous way to see the sacred temples that are off-road and not on the general tour circuit. I took the mystical tour with my teenage son: our horses navigated cliff edges with aplomb, leaving us exhilarated.
For the kids: Suggest the Magic Water Circuit at The Park of the Reserve in Lima. Thirteen fountains line this 19-acre site, there’s a play park for small kids and two shows are performed nightly. Entry is just $1.50.
On your bike: Bicycle hire
(greenbikeperu.com) is a great way to enjoy Lima, with many bike lanes running down the middle of the larger avenues. Join a guided tour and cycle past the
Paddington Bear Sculpture in the park above the Larcomar shopping centre.
Culture vultures: Fans of art and culture will find much to do in the trendy Barranco district, most notably, the Mario Testino Gallery or MATE (mate.pe/en), home to the photographer who captured Europe’s most beautiful celebrities during the eighties and nineties, including Kate Moss and Princess Diana.
Hotels: Hyatt Centric (hyatt.com) will open its first South American property in Lima this year. With 254 guestrooms it will be located on Avenida Jorge Basadre in the heart of the San Isidro neighbourhood, one the city’s most upscale areas.
The luxury Ananay Hotel Group (ananay
hotels.com) plans to open its fifth property in 2018, a new 41-room boutique hotel in one of the most beautiful old houses in Arequipa, Peru’s White City. Downtown Arequipa was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity Site by UNESCO in 2000, due to its Baroque and neo-classical Spanish Colonial architecture
Airlines: In May Avianca (avianca.com) increased its Heathrow to Cusco indirect route from three times a week to a daily service. The route flies via Bogota with a three-hour stopover each way.
LATAM Airlines’ new domestic routes include Cusco to Trujillo, connecting Peru’s north and south and ending the need to transit through Lima.
Food for thought: Virgilio Martinez, who runs the Lima restaurant Central, has opened MIL (milentro.pe), which sits 11,706 feet above sea level. It is Latin America’s most talked about dining experience. An oxygen mask is at hand to perk up O2 levels. A seven-course meal costs about £100. Black Tomato will be offering trips to MIL as part of its Tasting Notes series. Transport: Travellers heading to Machu Picchu have had more choice of train travel since March 2018, following the inauguration of a new service by Inca Rail
(incarail.com): the Machu Picchu Train is Peru’s first scenic train with dome-like windows. Epicurian escapes: The Mistura Food Festival, the annual Peruvian gastronomic fair, now one of the largest in Latin America, is held each October in Lima. The fair, which takes place September
6-16 2018, showcases the best of Peruvian cuisine under one roof. Visitors can take part in cooking classes given by top local and international chefs.
Tourist Board: Peru’s tourism body, PROMPERÚ, officially launched its new international marketing campaign ‘Peru, the richest country in the world’ the message is that being rich is based on experiences, including travel, not acquiring more material possessions.
Where to book it
GREAT RAIL JOURNEYS –
0800 240 4470
The 14-day Machu Picchu & the Andes tour is an high-altitude adventure starting from £3,395pp. The tour combines scenic rail journeys with Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a Lake Titicaca cruise, the Colca Canyon and guided tours of Lima, Cusco, Arequipa and
Pisac. Departures are March 28, May 2, September 19 and October 3 2019.
EXPLORE – 01252 884 737
The nine-day Highlights of Peru option visits the capital city of Lima, the old Inca capital Cusco and the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Prices start from £1543pp. The deal includes B&B, an Explore leader and local guides.
“Machu Picchu is the obvious reason to visit Peru but my favourite excursion is a Lake Titicaca cruise. It takes guests out to the Uros
Julian Appleyard, Great Rail Journeys
Opposite page: A tourist and ‘local’ lama at Machu Picchu. This page: schoolchildren at Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Incas; the Cusco Plaza de Arms