By Ben Lerwill | September 2017 | 10 minute read
International visitor numbers to Peru have more than tripled since the year 2000 and last year British Airways’ new direct flights from Gatwick to Lima helped annual arrivals from the UK climb almost 10%. Visitors remain drawn by the country’s heady mix of Andes and Amazon and a rich cultural appeal but the capital and its surrounding attractions continue to evolve.
“Peru has gone from strength to strength and is leading the South American revival. Its gastronomy is making headlines on a global scale and it’s no longer the one-stop shop of people just wanting to tick Machu Picchu off their bucket lists. It has desert, mountains, jungles and beaches, so it’s developed into a destination offering something for all tastes”
GRAEME BULL, PRODUCT MANAGER, ABERCROMBIE & KENT
Holy water: Visit Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water and, according to Incan belief, the birthplace of the sun and the moon. See the floating reed islands
A different way: Walking to Machu Picchu doesn’t have to involve the often overcrowded Inca Trail. Spectacular alternatives exist, including the longer and far quieter Choquequirao Trail
Fine lines: View the incredible mystical geometry of the Nazca Lines from above on a scenic desert flight. The lines are thought to have been made around 1,500 years ago by a pre-Incan civilization
Wild wonders: Venture into the Peruvian Amazon for the chance to spot giant otter, caiman and capybara in their rainforest habitat
Dune adventures: The lagoon of Huacachina is a desert oasis that attracts dune-buggy riders and sandboarders
Eat ceviche: Peru’s most famous dish now winning over fans in the UK is refreshing, delicious and healthy– try fresh fish soaked in chillies and lime juice
Cuzco and Sacred valley: Incas called this spot the belly button of the world and Cuzco today still holds the key to ancient Andean culture. The countryside beyond ranges from towering high peaks to orchid-rich cloud forests
Highs and lows: Arequipa is a colonial city packed with museums and churches. The nearby Colca Canyon is one of the deepest in the world, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon
Handicraft markets: As well as rainbow-coloured textiles you’ll find everything from lamas to lamps. Pisac in the Sacred Valley holds an artisan market every Sunday which draws hundreds of vendors
The big smoke: Lima’s eclectic neighbourhoods range from its colonial heart, Lima Centro, to modern Miraflores, where tourists shop by day and party by night. The capital is developing quite a culinary scene and has plenty of ‘Cevicherias’ to keep those taste buds tingling.
Shopping in Cusco
Even if it weren’t for the dizzy altitude at which it sits, Cusco’s Mercado de San Pedro would still leave me feeling slightly giddy. The stalls here – heaped with oranges and orchids, ponchos, pineapples, incense and intestines – sit at some 3,400 metres above sea level.
Combined with the piped music playing incessantly above shoppers’ heads, the market creates an archetypically Peruvian jumble of smells, sounds and colours – but reader sensitivity prevents me from describing the details of the guinea-pig stall.
I walk the aisles in a daze, still acclimatising to arriving in the Andean highlands. The week ahead holds mountain hikes and lost cities, but for now I am wandering Cusco itself, the one-time Incan capital.
Outside, women in vivid traditional dress lead llamas across the square, posing for photos for a few coins at a time. I find a restaurant that serves just one dish, but serves it exceptionally well – fried pork cuts with mint, lime juice and corn – and feel fortunate to be here, passing the hours away in this rainbow-striped city in the mountains.
In the afternoon I visit Coricancha, the temple complex that the Incas considered to be the heart of the world. There was a time, before the conquistadors arrived, when the walls and doors here were covered in pure gold. Its history means that even today the place somehow seems to shine.
What the experts say
“The last few years we have seen a move away from Machu Picchu towards other lesser-known areas. Visitors are becoming more and more interested in finding alternative and authentic local experiences. We aim to increase consumer demand through advertising and will continue working closely with the travel trade, especially LATA, to educate agents on destination news and tourism offerings in Peru.
“With the travel agent in mind, we’ve created a tool called ‘Peru Agent’s Sales Companion’ which is a free app available to help travel professionals generate demand and convert bookings for Peru. It works on both IOS and Android devices and the platform features new and shareable content as well as insider tips, videos, itineraries, and brochures. It makes selling Peru much easier!”
ELISABETH HAKIM, INCOMING TOURISM COORDINATOR UK & NORTH AMERICA, PROMPERÚ
Ticketing: Entry conditions to Machu Picchu changed in July. Visitors can now only enter with an official tour guide, with tickets granting entry either for the morning (from 06.00 to noon) or the afternoon (from noon to 17.30pm). Group sizes are limited to 16.
Attractions: The Belmond Andean Explorer was inaugurated earlier this year and is billed as South America’s first luxury sleeper train. It travels between Cusco and the UNESCO-listed city of Arequipa via Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon, and features five-star cabins and high-end dining. The journey, which can be done in either direction, takes two nights. The new Kuélap Cable Car gives access to an ancient site billed as ‘the second Machu Picchu’, a settlement built by the Chachapoyas between the sixth and 16th centuries. The cable car covers two and a half miles and is based in the Amazonas region in Peru’s north.
Inkaterra opened its Amazonian research centre to guests in June, letting travellers explore the Tambopata National Reserve. Meanwhile, Peru’s spectacled bears will be in the spotlight again when Paddington 2 is released in UK cinemas in November.
Flights: British Airways has announced that its direct service from Gatwick to Lima will be suspended over the coming winter season, and will commence again in March 2018.
As of July, LATAM started flying a non-stop domestic route between Cusco and Trujillo, making it easier to combine the north and south of Peru.
Cruising: Delfin Amazon Cruises unveiled a new vessel in May. Delfin III holds 43 passengers and has begun cruising on the Peruvian Amazon.
Where to book it
Journey Latin America runs 21-day small-group tours in Peru priced from £3,778pp. The deal includes all flights, transfers, accommodation and some meals. The Condor: Peru In Depth itinerary focuses on exploring Peru’s natural landscapes and takes guests to the desert, Andes and Amazon.
Distinctive Americas’ 16-day Classic Peru itinerary is priced from £4,195pp including all flights, transfers, accommodation, excursions and breakfasts. The itinerary takes in Lima, Arequipa, the Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.