About Time: You Explored the Best of PeruBy Angelica Malin
Peru is shaping up to be the hottest destination for 2016. It’s an exciting time for Peru, with the launch of a new direct flight from Gatwick with British Airways, and a wealth of amazing things to do Peru, the country is perfect for a new generation of travellers.
Marisol Mosquera saw this coming a long way off – she launched bespoke tour operator Aracari twenty years ago, designing tailor-made luxury tours in Peru and Bolivia for travel-savvy Brits. She’s quite the lady to know; through her treasure trove of knowledge, advice and connections, Marisol offers the curious traveller unparalleled access to Peru’s vibrant cultural scene, whilst supporting and giving back to local communities.
Over the past two decades, she’s watched Peru’s tourism offering go from strength to strength, backed by incredible natural beauty, a world-renowned foodie scene and a profusion of plush boutique hotels. Here, she shares her top tips for Peru’s most unique and must-do experiences in 2016:
Far up in Peru’s remote Northern reaches, sandwiched between the rainforest-covered Cordillera Oriental and the arid Cordillera Central Andean peaks, lies Chachapoyas. Only accessible via a dirt road, this is the home of the cloud people – an ancient pre-Incan civilisation, so-called because the town’s unique high cloud forest position means it’s often shrouded in mist and fog. The area is scattered with ruins from the pre-Incan period, including the magnificent Kuelap fortress – considered the most important ruins in Peru after Machu Picchu – and the Easter Island-esque sarcophagi of Karajia. The cloud forest location also contributes to incredible biodiversity, with an abundance of unique plants and animals, plus some of the world’s highest and most impressive waterfalls.
Peruvian food has been huge in the UK for some time now. However, Lima’s foodie scene is amongst the most diverse in the world: from the Cantonese fusion ‘chifa’ cuisine which is ubiquitous in Lima’s Calle Capon Chinatown; to the indigenous ingredients and meats of the Andean region; and the unique fruits of the endless Amazon rainforest. All along the coastline, of course, is delicious ceviche – the freshest of fish and shellfish, simply marinated in citrus juices and blended aji limo hot pepper.
Aracari can organise private foodie tours of the city’s bustling marketplaces with top local chefs, to give a locals eye view of the gourmet gastronomy on offer. We also have resident gastronomic guru Maria-Julia Raffo on hand to sniff out the very best new dishes in Lima and navigate the gourmet and local dining scene in Lima to offer an unrivalled foodie experience. For a taster, click here to download our free Ebook – Culinary Travel in Peru.
Unlike Brazil, with its infamous golden sand beaches, Peru is not known as a fly-and-flop destination. However, for the traveller willing to get off the beaten track, there are endless stretches of incredible beaches just waiting to be explored. Heading north towards the country’s border with Ecuador, the Northern Beaches region offers spectacular beaches and quaint fishing towns such as Mancora.
Enjoying wave after wave rolling in from the vast Pacific ocean, the beaches also boast impressive surfing – including the world’s longest surfable wave at Chicama, offering 2.5 minutes of uninterrupted surfing over a 2.2 km break. There’s been a flurry of new hotel openings over the past few years, including the luxurious Arennas Mancora and the laidback, wellbeing-focused KiChic resort.
The Sacred Valley is often skipped as people head straight for the towering ruins of Machu Picchu. However, this lush and beautiful valley is actually hugely historically significant and certainly worth taking the time to explore. Perhaps the most unique way to see the valley is through a stay at the Sky Lodge – a series of pods suspended from the cliff face, hundreds of feet above the valley floor. It’s not one for vertigo-sufferers, but the experience of watching the sun rise and illuminate the valley floor from your secret perch above is not one to be missed.
The Galapagos are world-renowned for their wildlife but the lesser known Ballestas Islands off Peru’s southern coast also offer a hugely important sanctuary for marine birds including blue-footed boobys and Humboldt penguins, as well as huge numbers of sea lions and dolphins. Much closer to the mainland than the Galapagos, the islands are nevertheless little known by western tourists and offer a chance to experience the incredible wildlife of Latin America’s coastline without the crowds.
The vast Amazon rainforest is not limited to Brazil: the rainforest and its river stretches far into the surrounding nations, with the mighty river starting in the mountains of southern Peru. 60 per cent of the country is covered by rainforest, making it an ideal place to experience the jungle without the crowds. Jaguars, tapirs, anteaters and anacondas abound in this biodiverse wonderland, whilst indigenous tribes scattered throughout the region offer fascinating glimpses into an entirely separate way of life.
During the wet season, the water levels rise by up to 85%, turning the rainforest into a wetland only navigable by boat.Manu National Park – a 1.8 million hectare rainforest reserve – is believed by many to have the greatest biodiversity of any reserve on earth, with over 15,000 identified plant species. The accommodation may be basic and the journey long, but the experiences in the Peruvian amazon are unforgettable.
Pisco is the ultimate Peruvian tipple – ubiquitous is bars across the country, either is straight drinks or mixed up in a classic pisco sour. This sweet and fiery spirit, distilled from grapes, is a must-try for any visitor to the country. Aracari can organise visits to Tacama – the oldest winery in South America and one of the most established pisco makers.
Guests can learn about the combination of traditional processes and cutting-edge technology used to produce exceptional piscos, sample the many varieties on offer and enjoy a special lunch on the terrace of the family’s hacienda.
It’s tough, it’s hilly and it’s far from a walk in the park. However, the Inca Trail is one of the most iconic Peruvian experiences and offers a unique perspective on the fascinating Incan civilisation.
The four- to five-day trek starts near the historic city of Cusco and weaves through the Andes, taking in countless fantastical ruins and ancient temples, before arriving at the one and only Machu Picchu. It’s a trail trekkers’ tradition to arrive before dawn to watch the sun rise over the ruins from the famous Sun Gate.
Even today, there is a huge amount of mystery surrounding the spectacular Nazca lines of southern Peru. The enormous images, etched into the soil of the desert, represent various folkloric creatures from Incan civilisation, and the sheer scale is breathtaking. The only way to get a true idea of the size is from the air: private planes offer fly-overs of the lines with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Discuss the host of theories that surround these enigmatic geoglyphs with Aracari’s expert Ana Maria Cogorno, director of the Asociación Maria Reiche Internacional para el Arte & Ciencia and one of the most respected voices on the Lines.
Lima is home to an enormous array of galleries and museums; it’s a culture-lover’s dream. Some of the very best experiences are offered by the small private art collections scattered around the city, offering a glimpse into the unique Peruvian art scene. Aracari can offer exclusive private tours of many private galleries and collections, such as renowned artists Jaime Liebana’s private collection of antiques and art at his home in the centre of Lima’s hip Barranco district. Considered one of the most important collectors of popular Peruvian art – both traditional and contemporary – Liebana’s personal abode is brimming with one-of-a-kind objects dating from decades of curation.
Aracari (www.aracari.com) offers an 11 day Discover Peru itinerary, taking in history, gastronomy and culture in Lima, Incan ruins in Cusco and Machu Picchu, beach time in Paracas, wildlife in the Ballestas Islands, wine tasting at Tacama, the Nazca lines and more; from US $7,599 per person. Price includes all accommodation, some meals, entrance tickets, English-speaking guides throughout, transfers to and from the airport and all airport taxes.