- 30 million
- Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Mention Peru and most people think Machu Picchu. It is spectacular and so are the other magical Inca cities you can visit on strenuous treks in the surrounding areas. Those who do more than merely fly in and fly out of the Sacred Valley ‘to do Machu Picchu’, though, will be richly rewarded.
The vast coastline, where the desert meets surf, is most popular in the slightly greener north (the location of cosmopolitan capital Lima), but it’s the south where you’ll find the unexpected. There are islands off the shore that act as wildlife havens, remote fishing villages and spectacular dunes that seem to stretch forever. Here’s where you’ll go to fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines, visit the Ica Valley where grape varieties like quebranta and negra criolla are grown to make pisco, and go dune buggying in the oasis village of Huacachina.
Amazon jungle takes up 60 per cent of the country, and is one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. There are companies that run cruises, from basic to luxury, down the Amazon River, or you could head to the likes of Manú National Park to hang out in the cloud forest watching for spider monkeys and jaguars.
Cusco, high in the Andes and once the capital of the Inca Empire, is the perfect place to adjust to the high altitude. Take a chocolate-making class, get a good view of the whole city from the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, give a woman in colourful traditional outfits a couple of dollars so you can take a photo of her with her llama, or spend some time wandering the aisles with a freshly squeezed juice in the vast San Pedro Market. Cusco is also the place to try cuy (guinea pig) if that’s what floats your culinary boat. Whatever you do, spend some time exploring this fascinating city before you sprint off to Machu Picchu.