Land of the Incas
If you have only a few weeks to discover South America your choice should be definitely Perú, since you can find all its preferences in only one country. It combines andean culture with plenty of archeological sites, beautiful surfer towns and the jungle to a huge unforgettable adventure. The country consists basically of three parts, the very dry and desert like costal area, followed by the andean highlands with stunning snowcapped peaks up to 6000m and behind them the central jungle. The summer (from December till March) is quiet hot, perfect for beach vacation and surfing at the coast, while the dry season (June to August) offers the best climate for hiking in the Andes. The costs of living are a little higher than in Bolivia but still more than reasonable. Together with a decent standard of hostels and transportation systems the Andean state is one of the must dos for travelers.
1. What to experience in Peru: After this promising introduction you're certainly wondering where are all these awesome places and what's about them. To help you planning your trip to Peru, we created the following list of places on our route and further tourist attractions from the land of the Incas:
- Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley - perhaps the biggest attraction of Peru offers beautiful landscapes, many archeological sights and other nearby places of interest like the salt lakes of Maras for instance, as well as lovely remote villages and countless artesian fares. Click here to find out more about the Inca ruins and how to reach them on a budget.
- While visiting Machu Picchu you definitely come across Cusco - so plan a few days more to discover the nice old town of the former Inca capital - click here to get more information on what to do in Cusco.
- The Amazon - Peru is covered 60% by jungle and holds with that after Brazil the second biggest part of the South American rainforest. Popular places to start tours into the jungle are Tarrapoto or Iquitos which are both home of an incredible wildlife including bird species, dolphins, turtles, monkeys, jaguars, all kinds of lizards, spiders and snakes.
- Huaraz - the starting point to La Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range of the Peruvian Andes, which is famous for its incredible snowcapped peaks and stunning glaciers.
- Lobitos- click here to read more about Peru's secret surf capital.
- Mancora - just a few km northern of Lobitos. Famous surf spot and popular destination for party folks.
- Huacachina - the small desert village with natural oasis, surrounded by huge dunes is located close to the city Ica. The small settlement of barely 100 inhabitants is visited each year by several ten thousand tourist. Great place for sand boarding and Buggy rides.
- Arequipa - click here to read more about the white city located in the Colca Canyon with its breathtaking volcano Misti.
- Nazca - located pretty much in the middle between Arequipa and Lima is the access point to the world famous Nazca Lines. Incredible huge and ancient geoglyphs of different animals, geometric shapes, flowers and humans, created by the Nazca culture long before the Common Era. There are plenty of theories about the lines, but nothing really conclusive. Near the glyphs are several viewpoints to get at least a partly image of the figures. Because of their sheer size you should consider to take a flight to get a better image of them. You can book the airplane tours in Nazca, Cusco, Ica and Lima.
- Lima - go for a sightseeing trip in Peru's incredible huge metropolis and find out more about its awesome food culture. Click here for more information about South Americas second largest city.
- Lake Titicaca - the highest navigable lake is shared by Bolivia and Peru, it offers beautiful landscapes and breathtaking sunsets. One of the biggest attractions on the Peruvian site are the floating islands of the Uros tribe. The Uros are currently living on 49 of these islands, which they constructed from dried totora reeds. It's a magical place to get to know the local community and find out more about the living of Peru's indigenous people. The easiest way to reach the Lake is from Puno in the south of Peru.
If you decide for a trip to Peru you won't really miss anything, the andean state can easily keep up with western standards. At least in its urban areas you will have everything you need from hot showers (the tap water is not safe to drink), quiet a decent WIFI connection and a good working infrastructure. Also the connection between cities on larger distances is very good elaborated with daily leaving buses to almost every place in the country. We can really recommend you the company Civa which impresses with new and safe busses for a more than fair price. WIFI during the bus ride is yet still some way off. In most parts of the country you can find free of charge global network ATMs which is except of Bolivia kind of unusual in the rest of South America.
If you go to the campo (the countryside) all of that changes drastically. With a bit of luck you will have a pretty slow internet connection, but it's really not the standard, many houses and hostels are not supplied with running water and the bus connections are not that good, especially in the rural areas of the andes and the jungle. For that you get rewarded with stunning nature and an incredible wildlife.
In terms of safety Peru made a huge progression in the past 16 years. The internal conflict ended more or less in the year 2000 with the downfall of the militant communist group Sendero Luminoso. Which was as well the end of a very bloody part in the history of Peru with more than 70.000 victims. Since then terrorist attacks and kidnappings of tourists has been decreasing significantly. Nevertheless, there are still many cases of theft and robbery recorded, especially in touristic places like Cusco or Puno and the costal area around Lima. As well as a hell of a lot narco trafficking around the border to Ecuador and Colombia, which usually won't affect you much as a traveller. Anyway with a bit of common sense and the usual safety measures you wont have many troubles during your stay in Peru.
Also the safety of transport and traffic increased a lot. The economic boom of the last years is doing good for the country and bus companies as well as the condition of roads, cars and the mind of their drivers are changing in a good way.
4. Costs: As already mentioned Peru is very reasonable for tourists. Basically everything from food over accommodation to particularly transport is below european average. A night in a backpackers hostel dormitory would be between 15 and 20 PEN (4 - 5€) a private room for two around 10€.
A lunch at one of the plenty markets or a local restaurant, with soup and main course can be between 5 and 10PEN (1,5 - 3€) and sometimes even includes a drink and a dessert. For around 20€ you will dine in a pretty fancy restaurant with 2 courses and wine. If you buy the ingredients on your own in the supermarket you won't make it way cheaper since many products are imported and consequently high in price. If you stick to mainly agricultural products and buy your ingredients on the local markets you'll get way more for your money, 10€ can be easily enough for your weekly demand of fruit and vegetables. Even tough thats already quiet cheap, you can always negotiate for a better price with the most of the venders. It kind of belongs to the culture and will keep their day more interesting.
The best whilst traveling Peru is the cheap transport, buses are so keen that it's not even worth it to try hitchhiking. Firstly it's not really known in Peru and even if you manage to stop somebody they'll ask you most probably for a fare. For a long distance bus ride from Lima to Talara which is approximately 1100km we payed 60PEN (17€) in the cheapest class. If you like it a little more comfortable you can have a bed sized seat with 2 meals for around 30€. Also the transport in the city is extremely inexpensive, with around 4€ for half an hour taxi ride in Lima for instance. Taxis are usually unmetered, so ask before for the price and don't forget to bargain for a better price, since the drivers tend to charge gringos way more than usual. A cheaper and way more secure alternative is Uber with a prior fixed price. In smaller cities and villages so called mototaxis (ricksha like engine powered vehicles) are very common but usually they’re more expensive and offer less comfort even tough there are more adventurous. Cheaper alternatives are buses or combis with 0,20€ the oneway ticket, the prices may vary from city to city.
One of the most awesome things in Peru is the food culture, its cuisine is considered by many people as one of the best in South America and maybe even in the whole world. Peru offers an incredible variety of exotic fruits and vegetables, it is for instance home of over 4000 different, native types of potatoes. Even more impressive is the production, over 80% of all fruit and veggie is harvested by local farmers, which brings way more diversion in taste, than the in Europe more common monoculture.
The dishes are in general quiet spicy, typical ingredients are chili or rocoto (a super spicy paprika look a like), garlic and lime. Also very characteristic for Peruvian food is the strong influence of the asian cuisine. In the so called Chifa restaurants which you will find in great numbers all over the country you can get authentic prepared Chinese food with native Peruvian ingredients. There is probably only one thing which is more popular - Pollo a la Brasa, the charcoal grilled chicken can be found just everywhere, in the widespread Pollerias or on the street directly from the BBQ. Good and cheap places to eat are local markets. Besides clothes and agricultural products you will find small restaurants, sometimes just somebody with a gas stove and a pot, selling daily changing meals.
The central jungle offers a very different type of cuisine with exotic fruits, roots and herbs. As well as quiet doubtable things like dolphins, turtles and even monkeys. I don't think I need to mention that its not good idea to have an endangered species for lunch. So if you have that urge to eat meat please confine yourself to animals which are not about to extinct to prevent the killing of those who aren’t, the following Peruvian dishes are good and tasty alternatives:
- Lomo Saltado - stir fried beef with different vegetables, in the andean region often prepared with alpaca.
- Cuy - roasted guinea pig, mostly served with potatoes and beans.
- Cevice - Peru's national dish consists of raw fish marinated in lime, chili and onions, served with rice and Chifle (plantain chips).
- Rocoto Relleno, a pretty spicy pepper stuffed with minced meat and cheese.
The following drinks are as well a must try during your Peru trip:
- Chicha Morada - a very sweet drink from boiled, purple corn, usually sold on the streets in cups or plastic bags.
- Chicha de Jora - a traditional corn beer from the Andes, the fermentation is brought up by chewing the corn first, because of this dubious process its only rarely available on local markets.
- Qusqueña - a very tasty beer from Cusco comes in four sorts: morada, trigo, roja and negra.
- Pisco, a grape brandy typical in Chile and Peru, used to prepare Peru's national drink Pisco Sour with lime, syrup and egg white.
- Inca Cola - a way too sweet bubble gum flavored bright yellow beverage. I can´t really recommend it but since it's so omnipresent you should try it at least.
- Mate de coca - an infusion with the leaves of the coca bush, very popular in the Peruvian highlands to prevent for the altitude sickness.
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