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

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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.

Di­verse ap­peal

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.“

Colour­ful fes­ti­vals

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.

Top ex­pe­ri­ences

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.

What’s new

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.

greatrail.com

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.

ex­plore.co.uk 

“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

float­ing is­lands”

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

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