Take me to Peru: discover a land of history, drama – and great food


Think Peru… Paddington Bear, pisco sours and Machu Picchu?

There’s much more to this exotic, diverse and contrasting South American destination than meets the eye – it’s a land full of colour, culture and coast, rich in history and geography, from the Andes mountains to the Amazon.

Travelling from the beautiful beaches and big surf of Máncora in the equatorial north, down to the bright, leafy cosmopolitan capital of Lima, and east to the Inca history of Cusco, Peru will surprise and delight in equal measures. And foodies – you’re in for a treat! Peruvian gastronomy is right up there with the best in the world.

Machu Picchu – one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and the most visited tourist destination in the country

Máncora

Located on Peru’s northwest coast, the charming town of Máncora attracts both surfers and sunseekers alike, and is one of Peru’s best-kept secrets.

It has a chilled, friendly and hippy vibe, and enjoys a warm, sunny climate all year round – temperatures average around 25°C, and cooling breezes roll in from the Pacific.

Start the day in paradise with the sand between your toes by staying at an ocean-facing house on Pocitas beach. vivamancora.com

Go whale watching in Máncora! Every year between July and October, they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica

Go whale watching in Máncora! Every year between July and October, they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica

Waking up in a luxury, ocean-facing house on Pocitas beach Máncora is the best way to start the day

Waking up in a luxury, ocean-facing house on Pocitas beach Máncora is the best way to start the day

Enjoy the town’s excellent seafood and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the humpback whales from July to October, when they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica.

Lima

As a starting point for most visitors, Peru’s capital does not disappoint. A bright, clean and friendly city of nine million people, so warm and welcoming it’s not surprising that a third of Peruvians call Lima home. 

The popular districts of San Isidro and Miraflores offer a mix of sea, city and lush parks full of olive trees and birdsong – Parque El Olivar is the perfect place for a morning stroll.

No visit to Lima would be complete without taking in the outstanding dining opportunities on offer in the city, so make a beeline for La Mar restaurant. lamarcebicheria.com 

Miraflores: the perfect mix of sea, city and lush parks full of olive trees and birdsong

Miraflores: the perfect mix of sea, city and lush parks full of olive trees and birdsong

The creation of Peruvian culinary genius Gastón Acurio, it serves the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Beat the queues by getting there at midday.

For some R&R after all the fine dining, spend a few nights at the Country Club Lima Hotel (countryclublimahotel.com). Opened in 1927, it is full of Spanish colonial charm, and has welcomed ambassadors and rock stars. It’s located in San Isidro, just 10 minutes by taxi from Miraflores.

Cusco & Machu Picchu

You couldn’t visit Peru without making a pilgrimage to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu – one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and the most visited tourist destination in the country.

Set high in the Andes, surrounded by cloud forest, this sacred symbol of the Inca empire is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and it was once home to around 1,000 people.

A journey to Machu Picchu usually starts in the city of Cusco, once the political and religious capital of the Inca empire. The arrival of the Spanish in 1532 saw Cusco’s temples and palaces converted into the magnificent churches and cathedral that you can see today.

A piece of standing history - the church of Santo Domingo, Cusco

A piece of standing history – the church of Santo Domingo, Cusco

Situated 10,000 feet above sea level, Cusco is higher than Machu Picchu (7,000 feet), and the ideal place to acclimatise for a couple of days after the one-hour flight from Lima. Explore its charming walkways and the stunning colonial architecture of the main square, the Plaza De Armas. 

Have dinner at one of Cusco’s superb restaurants (food is never far from your thoughts in Peru!), Cicciolina (cicciolinacuzco.com) being the favourite from all of my Peruvian travels. Immerse yourself in the history of the city by staying at the Palacio del Inka hotel (marriott.com), a mansion that dates back five centuries and showcases historic Peruvian culture and art.

Refreshed and well fed, it’s time for Machu Picchu. From your hotel in Cusco, take a bus or hire a driver to the town of Ollantaytambo, around two hours away in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, then join a spectacular 90-minute train ride (perurail.com) that winds its way into the Andes to Machu Picchu town. 

It is then just a short bus ride up to the lost city itself. Once at the summit, have your passport stamped, get that photo and tread in the footsteps of the Incas. Oh, and if you’re really lucky, grab a selfie with a llama.

One thing’s for sure, whichever combination you choose, the conclusion will ultimately be unforgettable. Peru… take me too!

Iberia flies daily from London Heathrow and Manchester to Lima via Madrid. iberia.com

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