Ever since Hiram Bingham first described Machu Picchu as a “wonderland”, the fabled Inca city has become one of the most recognized images in the world, so much so that it virtually represents Peru, acting as a magnet for every visitor.
But it’s not even half the story. Peru has more ancient archaeological sites than any other country in South America, and more are being found all the time. Many are still off the beaten path and offer the more intrepid visitor the thrill of genuine exploration. Trekking to such sites, be it with an organized group or on your own, is one of the finest experiences the country has to offer.
There is also much more to Peru than old stones. Of the 117 recognized life zones on the planet, Peru has 84, from mangroves to cloudforest, mist-fuelled oases in the desert to glacial lakes. It also has 28 out of 32 climate types. Amazingly, 60% of the country is jungle, even though less than 6% of its population lives there. Despite ongoing development, much of the Peruvian Amazon remains intact, and this vast green carpet is home to some of the greatest diversity of plants and wildlife on the planet. Not a year goes by without the recording of plants and animals previously unknown to science.
Peru is also a country of fiestas, and it would be an unusual visit to Peru that did not encounter at least one. Masks and costumes tell centuries-old stories and reveal an intense spirituality which enriches daily life. Christian saints are carried through the streets as if they were the Inca emperors’ sacred remains. Pachamama – Mother Earth – is offered a drop of every drink, and animal spirits and old combats come alive in masquerades.
Peru is a wonderland, indeed, with the uncanny knack of springing new surprises at every turn.