Peru may be known as a cradle of ancient civilizations, but its wild topography also makes it a wonderland of adventure. The icy mountain peaks of the Andes draw trekkers and climbers, the untamed desert coast is lapped by excellent waves for surfers, and for explorer types there’s the Amazon – a vast mass of wetlands and rainforest brimming with monkeys, macaws and slinky, rare felines. Get ready to gear up. Peru is one heck of a wild ride!
Hike the Inca Trail
A winding footpath climbs from the depths of the Urubamba Valley, through vaporous cloud forests, alongside the ruins of ancient way stations. For the Incas, this roadway was the main entry point to the exquisite estate of Machu Picchu. For the thousands of travellers who hike the trail every year, it is a pilgrimage – a rugged four-day trek through sumptuous scenery, and the final stop is the most spectacular archeological site in Peru.
Overnight on an island
In Andean belief, Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. Lay your eyes on its sapphire-coloured waters and it’s hard not to feel a certain magic. Spending the night on one of the lake’s islands is the best way to experience this place, with its small rural settlements where life is lived according to the rhythm of the seasons. The best part? Sunset surrounded by the lake’s gleaming waters.
Wander through the Amazon
The Amazon Basin is known for its intense biodiversity and riotous rainforest wilderness. Parque Nacional Manu protects one of its wildest, most remote corners. Located at the watershed of the Rio Manu, one of the many tributaries that eventually leads to the Amazon River, this wet web of rivers is a feast for wildlife spotting – from tapirs to ocelots to flocks of brilliant, cackling macaws.
Trek the Andes
The Cordillera Blanca, a majestic mountain range at the heart of Peru, can make the most devoted couch potato want to strap on a pack and go. A network of craggy peaks covered in dollops of gleaming white snow draw dedicated high-altitude trekkers who wind through alpine lakes and diminutive Andean villages. If the altitude doesn’t take your breath away, the vistas certainly will.
Search for sea life
Off the Paracas Peninsula, on the country’s southern coast, the small rocky outcroppings known as the Islas Ballestas don’t look like much from a distance. But hop in a boat and you’ll see a riot of wildlife: honking sea lions, preening Humboldt penguins and colonies of Peruvian boobies. The islands are known as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ for good reason.
Descend into a majestic canyon
The Cañón Del Colca is a wonderland of Andean panoramas: a deep canyon studded with idyllic villages and mountainsides carved by ancient terraces. Oh, and did we mention the condors that soar on the wind currents? Visitors can explore the canyon on day hikes or multiday treks. But there’s one thing no traveller should miss while here: the local delicacy known as chupe de camarones, a spicy shrimp bisque.
Surf the north coast
Peru’s lengthy coastline – more than 3000km long – offers a veritable buffet of experiences for the surfing set, with big swells and uncrowded breaks. For the best curls, wave riders head north up the coast from Lima to the languid settlements of Huanchaco, Chicama and Máncora, where surf, seafood and the slow life go perfectly together.
Visit mysterious ruins
The Andes are dotted with the remnants of ancient cities. Kuelap ranks among the most magnificent: a walled citadel built by the Chachapoyas people on the crest of a mountain in the northern Peruvian cloud forest. The views of the Utcubamba Valley are staggering, the ruins are unusual, and the journey here through timeless rural settlements is unforgettable.
Sandboard giant dunes
Huacachina, a tiny oasis in the southern Peruvian desert, offers one of the country’s more unusual adrenaline rushes: the opportunity to motor to the top of a dune the size of a small building, strap on a board, then fly down the face of a towering wall of sand. Not up for boarding? Take on the dunes in a buggy instead.
Soar over ancient glyphs
One of the earth’s greatest mysteries sits quietly on the arid Peruvian coast. The Nazca Lines consist of more than 70 ancient glyphs of animals and other shapes that are so big they can only be seen from the air. No one knows their purpose. For an incredible out-of-body experience, soar in a light-aircraft over these pre-Columbian pictograms in the early morning hours.