South America as a continent is vast. To give you a sense of scale, Australia fits inside Brazil which is just one of the many countries in South America. Peru lies on the west coast of South America and is home to Spanish influenced cites, the Quechua people and the fascinating Inca culture.
Fly into Lima, the capital and you are on the coast of the Pacific. Try the local seafood restaurants for a range of delicacies from the sea that goes way beyond fish and crustaceans. The history of Peru, as with much of the continent is strongly influenced by the Spanish conquistadors who came seeking gold and trading opportunities. They left behind some horrific actions, but some beautiful architecture especially the 16 and 17th century churches. See the royal palace and the main square.
For most people seeing the Amazon is a must, and Peru offers the river at its beginning. Unlike the famous Manaus wedding of the waters, in Peru you can still see the one side of the river from the other. Go upstream from Iquitos and stay in one of the jungle lodges and there is a good chance of seeing the pink river dolphins. Try your hand at pirahna fishing but keep your hands well clear of their teeth.
The jungle is amazing. Green everywhere, insects the size of cricket balls and tarantulas the size of the bottom of a bucket. Birds abound, as do monkeys, snakes and even the occasional jaguar. It pays to have a very good guide. If you are lucky you may experience a tropical storm. Experienced at night, I saw the jungle lit green by lightning. Incredible.
The other must see, and for most the reason to travel to Peru in the first place is to see the Inca culture at Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Only the most experience pilots fly the Cuzco route and only in daylight – and when you see the airport runway you realise why. Cuzco perches 11000 feet up in the Andes, surrounded by mountains, and you need to rest and acclimatize when you arrive. The city is beautiful – red tiled roofs and stunning drystone walls dating to Quechua times. On the town tour you will see the stone that has 14 sides and fits perfectly with its neighbours. The skill is breathtaking, and it is not just the thin air. In Cuzco you can try the local speciality of guinea pig – think stringy and quite tough.
From Cuzco the train takes you down 3000 feet through Ollyantaytambo and the sacred valley where the corn is delicious to Aqua Calientes. This is the town at the bottom of the hill that the once lost city of Machu Picchu sits on. Undiscovered for several hundred years this spectacularly well preserved ruin raises as many questions as it answers.
Walk to the Sungate for the view as the locals would have seen it from the Inca trail. If you want to do the walk make sure you book through a tour company as the numbers are controlled by permit. The bus takes you up a switchback road to the top. There are still flower beds planted by the inhabitants that bloom. And definitely stay overnight so that you have the city at its best in the quiet of early morning and you can explore at your own pace.
There is so much more to see in Peru, but this will have to serve as a taste. Peru is a smorgasbord to be savoured in all its colours.