There is a raw, natural beauty that attracts travellers to Peru, the third largest country in South America. The country boasts a 1,000 mile-long Pacific coastline, fertile highlands fed by the Andes and, of course, a large swath of the Amazon Rainforest – it’s a bit like Costa Rica in terms of biodiversity – just on a grander scale! The scenery alone would be enough to draw adventurers from around the globe, but when you add to the mix a captivating and mythical history and a vibrant Latin American culture, you’ve got a traveller’s dream destination. Peru is indeed an ‘Empire of Hidden Treasures’ and for many years we’ve been privileged to share some of these treasures, Active-Style; hiking to Machu Picchu, kayaking the world’s highest navigable lake, cycling the Sacred Valley – and you’ll find lots of information about those activities on our website, but we thought we’d explain some of the other features of Peru that you’ll encounter.
With a diverse range of exotic flavours, Peru is the culinary capital of the world. We can guarantee there’ll be no shortage of interesting and aromatic food options to wet your taste buds. The root vegetables, often picked from lush valleys, provide the staple for various soups and sauces. Along with lean meats like alpaca, guinea pig (‘cuy’; a Peruvian delicacy), you’ll also get an expansive combination of tropical fruits. The ancient Inca civilisations were well known for their advanced grain cultivation, with Quinoa being the ‘mother grain’ with a rich source of protein, so you’ll see plenty of that and at least a dozen varieties of potatoes, suiting the highland soils and climate.
You’ll find the meals will contain exotic Peruvian spices, but watch out, as some restaurants have a tendency to douse their dishes with their aji (chili pepper) and ajo (garlic)!
Our favourite dish, and still by far the yummiest cuisine of its kind, is the all famous Peruvian ceviche; this is a locally caught marinated seafood salad made with wine juice. We’ve heard from our guides and guests this is the best tasting ceviche ever, simply delectable!
Altitude in the Andes
There is no escaping the altitude when you visit Peru – the ancient city of Cuzco is at 3,400 metres – a shock to the system when you initially arrive. And, if you choose to hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you’ll reach an altitude of 4,215 metres. But as our guides will tell you, there are a few local remedies to help you along on your adventure. Our guides will give you a warm herbal tea known as mate de coca, made by infusing raw coca leaves (native to South America) and this very mild stimulant helps alleviate the effects of altitude.
Another plant which has other desirable qualities, to help you along on your adventure, is the Maca (a relative of the radish), which has been said to enhance your strength, aid your endurance and is commonly hailed as an aphrodisiac.
Most importantly when you arrive in the Andes it pays to take it easy for a day or two, to acclimatise, eat sparingly and stay hydrated. Our local guides will make a point to remind you of this along your journey!
Essentials to pack
There are a number of essential items that we recommend you pack before heading to Peru – but we’ll give you a head start and provide you with a full gear list in your Active pack prior to your departure. This will outline everything from your hiking boots right through to insect repellent!
Because Peru has three main climatic zones, weather patterns can vary between each cardinal destination: The Amazon Tropical Jungle to the East; the arid coastal desert to the West; and the Andean Mountains and highlands in the middle. With the changeable weather formations from these climatic zones we suggest taking a selection of clothing and footwear which will cater for all seasons. For example make sure you take your trail runners or running shoes, they’ll come in handy when you cycle the golden hills of the Cuzco valley, pack your jandals or light sandals too so you can whip these on for a bit of sea kayaking around Lake Titicaca – trust us, when we say your jandals will be great in the evenings when you want to kick back and relax and take in the ambience of Peru.
June through to August is Peru’s drier season, compared to December to March which is the wettest, but nevertheless even during the wettest period it barely rains for more than a few hours a day. If in doubt and you’re unsure on what to bring, our friendly team at Active HQ are here to assist.
Don’t worry too much about energy snacks and drinks, our guides have this covered. If you wish to bring some too however – that’s absolutely fine with us, especially if you have special dietary requirements.
Meet the locals
Peru is a multi-ethnic country formed by a combination of different groups over five centuries. A fascinating culture with three main regions – the coast, the jungle, and the mountains, each region represents a reflection of its people through their various lifestyle choices and social behaviours. The culture of Peru is strongly influenced by the primary groups of Amerindian and Spanish traditions, however the various African, European, and Asian groups adds a unique flavour to this mix of cultural diversity.
There are several religious festivals that take place throughout the calendar year and these add further colour and vibrancy to the culture of Peru. Christian festivals, blended with native religious festivals have put Peru on the map as a world class destination for religious fiesta celebrations! For example, the celebration of Corpus Cristi held in Cusco, is one of the most colourful and traditional ceremonies held each year. The festival, which takes place sixty days after Easter, represents fifteen saints and virgins organised in several processions, arriving from different places to the Cathedral of Cusco in order to “greet” the body of Christ. The night before the main event, 12 traditional dishes will be prepared and consumed; dishes such as cuy chiriuchu, beer, chichi (local beer) and bread will be served to all. On the day of the event you will hear the melodious sounds of the Maria Angola, the largest church bell in Peru built during the 16th century. Other vibrant religious festivals held each year are the Inti Raymi, Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmer and Dia de Todos Santos.
The literature, the sights and sounds, the music, the dancing, the combination of religious and native cultural festivals is a celebration of what Peru is all about. The strength and involvement from local groups creates strong synergies between the various cultures at these events; and we can highly recommend taking part in any one of these festivals if you can – they are incredible and so rewarding to watch.
Many people visit Peru to witness Machu Picchu or take a dugout canoe along an Amazonian River, but what we’ve touched on here, is that the experiences on offer in Peru are as varied as the countries’ biodiversity. Tammy Whalen recently joined Active on the Ultimate Peru Adventure ‘Jaquar’ trip and she sums things up pretty well:
“Peru is definitely a trip of a lifetime and Active South America knows all the hidden gems for you to explore from hikes to restaurant selection. Cynthia, our tour guide, absolutely thought of everything to make our trip itinerary seamless, from bottled water every night down to having bowls of water to wash our hands in before eating while hiking. I cannot say enough fabulous things about Cynthia, who no doubt played a huge role in making the trip as memorable as it was.”