As the world enters yet another week of lockdown, the prospect of embarking on an overseas expedition may seem bleak. Though travel could be out of the question for a while yet, this may just be the perfect time to do some research about the hidden wonders of our world – and hatch your master-plan for a post-quarantine adventure.
Peru is a destination on the list of most that backpack South America, and for very good reason. Few countries can rival the diverse natural splendor found in Peru – be it the rainforests exploding with exotic life, the vast and noble ranges of the Andes mountains, the serene Nazca desert, or any of its thousand miles of sun-bathed coastline.
Notorious adventurer and the man behind the popular travel blog ‘The Broke Backpacker’, Will Hatton, believes his time in Peru to be one of the ‘greatest highlights of his travelling career.’ To tide us over in these trying times, we asked Will to share with us some of what makes Peru so very special, and the things that any self-respecting traveler shouldn’t miss out on.
Lima, Peru’s capital, situated on the beautiful Pacific coast and shadowed by the Andes to the East, is home to more than 10 million people – over a third of the country lives here! Will tells us that this colourful city is often overlooked by travelers as they make a beeline straight toward iconic sites like Machu Picchu, but explains that they’re really missing out on something rather special.
A full and varied culture is to be found on the streets of Lima, and the city is built atop centuries of rich history. Catacombs just beneath foot hold the remains of some 25,000 people, many of their bones arranged in eerie geometric patterns. Only having been rediscovered 50 years ago it is said that there are some passages which remain uncharted to this day. Spooky. The city is also brimming with colonial heritage, many of its older being buildings architecturally European.
For the Adventurous: Trek the Andes
Just 24 miles from the center of Lima are the foothills of Andes mountains. The Andes are the world’s longest range of mountains, sprawling over an unimaginable 4500 miles. These solemn giants possess an almost indescribable beauty, and are an essential experience for any truly adventurous mountaineer worthy of their crampons.
Will particularly recommends a thorough exploration of ‘The Sacred Valley’ (an area nestled in the lowland hills of the Andes), before you make any further ascent. Here there are to be found a collection of ‘traditional’ villages, inhabited by an incredible hospitable people that hold a lifestyle starkly different from our own. He advises you traverse this region by motorbike, testament to its remoteness and solitude.
Stride through Rainbow Mountain
Peru hosts some of the world’s tallest mountains and deepest canyons, none more beautiful than Rainbow mountain. It is possible to organize several-day treks to the mountain, or opt for a horseback ride on the six-mile journey to the top. Marvel at the alpaca herds, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and untouched desert landscapes along the way.
Marvel at Machu Picchu
Perhaps the crown-jewel experience for anybody blessed enough to find themselves in Peru (yes, we’ve all seen the Instagram posts), missing out this veritable wonder of the world would make this list truly incomplete. Built over 500 years ago by order of two great rulers of the Inca, this mysterious stone citadel is perched on a ridge over 2300 meters tall. The ‘Old Mountain’, as its name is said to mean in the local Quechua language, is a staggering marvel of human endeavor, and has amazed visitors since it was fully excavated in the early 20th Century.
There is great speculation about the purpose of the site, with its layout prompting many to claim that it holds some kind of astronomical significance – mapping the movement of celestial bodies. Whatever the truth, there is a reason that over half a million visitors flock to visit the site every year.
Delve Through the Amazonian Rainforest
Descending from the Andes toward the East, you find yourself at the edge of the staggeringly vast Amazonian rainforest. Harboring 1 in 10 of the world’s known species, this tropical rainforest is home to the greatest collection of animals and plants found anywhere on the planet.
One of the least troublesome ways to explore the rainforest is by boat, navigating through one of the forest’s many natural waterways and rivers. The Amazon is a truly wild place, and Hatton states the importance of finding a good guide and treating them well, because as he put it, ‘your life depends on it, mate’. Perhaps he’ll even point you in the direction of some Ayahuasca, which you can learn more about here.
Explore The ‘Cloud Forests’ Of The Chacapoya
More ancient than the Inca are the ‘Chacapoya’, or ‘cloud warriors’ – a distinct culture that existed for thousands of years in the cloud forests of the Peruvian Amazon, before being eradicated in the 18th Century by conquest. These forests are named for their ever-persistent fog, hanging low above the ground and granting the forest an unshakably ethereal feeling.
Though now gone from this world, they left much behind them. Sturdy fortresses of precisely worked stone, large enduring monuments, and ritual burial sites are their legacy, and can be found at many sites throughout Northern Peru. All written information about this culture was produced by second or third hand sources, ensuring that forever more they shall be shrouded deep in mystery.
Wander The Southern Deserts
If somehow you are not yet satisfied with the diverse climates of Peru, perhaps including a visit to Peru’s southern desert regions will solve that problem. The desert is home to the utterly mysterious Nazca Lines, a series of hundreds of vast symbols purposefully etched into the earth thousands of years ago, some hundreds of meters in size and unable to be comprehended from the ground.
Their purpose is entirely unknown, and they were assumed to be for the irrigation of farmland until a researcher in the 1940s examined them from the air, realizing one to be in the clear shape of a bird. Perhaps you will unlock some greater insight!
If you’re interested in a purposeful trip to Peru and seek to dig a bit deeper into the culture through the people, check out Discover Corps’ Peru: Children of the Andes vacation designed for families and friends.
Rebekah Brandstratter is a 26-year-old from Liverpool, England, who had a gap year when she was 19 but never left. When she’s not busy adventuring around unusual places, she’s on her laptop, writing about her experiences for a living. Her claim to fame is that while she was working in the Australian outback, she got to act as a midwife for her now favorite lamb called “Shaunetta.”
All photos owned by author.