Traveling for me, having left my close-knit, visually stunning home of Yorkshire, is all about the everyday experience of it all. Not just the majesty of incredible wonders, but also the tiny details between the people and their day-to-day lives, the smells and sounds, or the distinct absence of either. All that makes the senses purr. Peru is a country which grabbed me by the scruff and tossed me around from one sensual experience to another, within a matter of minutes as opposed to months.
I spent a month in this amazingly diverse country, and only left with a longing for more of it.It has an addictive quality which has scarcely been matched throughout the rest of my journey. In the moment, I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was that caught me particularly, but once over the border, it was clear that it was simply the perfect amalgamation of everything the Paisde los Incas affords its visitors. From hospitality beyond comparison and the sheer affordability and visual delight offered by trips, travels, and excursions, to the colors and smells emanating from every marketplace in every town, it was an ensemble of everything that should be sought in the world, to ensure that every moment lived is a special one, filled with feeling.
Close Links to Their Ancestry
Peruvians take their early cultures very seriously. Where many on the continent have seemingly given up on the pre-conquistador period in their history, Peru celebrates it wholeheartedly and fiercely. While in Cusco, I happened to arrive during the festival of the sun, Inti Raymi. It was the most important celebration during Inca times, and the tradition – although with less human sacrifice – continues proudly. Local tribal leaders come together in a ceremony, which includes an offering of livestock to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the hope of a blessed harvest in return. The celebrations in both Cusco and all across the Andes end up lasting for a few weeks, with performances of local actors in the Plaza de Armas of any particular town, fireworks, music, drinks, and an incredible spread of Cuy, which is the local delicacy of Guinea Pig.
Traditional, colorful dress is also still worn by many of the women in Peru as day-to-day clothing, particularly in Andean regions. This usually includes a sun hat of some kind, which varies greatly and is commonly unique to the village or town to which one belongs; colorful, hand-woven dresses and carry pouches for small children, and finally complimented by a pair of sandals.
Andean villagers enjoying the view in traditional dress.
Something that stunned me the most when travelling through Peru was the sheer diversity of landscapes on offer. Starting with rugged coastline and world-class surfing in the Northern Pacific regions of the country, the views magically transform into never-ending sandscapes of desert dunes a little further south along the same coast towards Huacachina, a now man-maintained desert oasis surrounded by enormous sand banks, where sandboarding and dune buggying are the perfect afternoon adrenaline fix, topped off with the most picturesque sunsets possible.
The theme continues when heading towards the Andes, where suddenly the vastest of mountain ranges litter the skyline, until all at once I would find myself deep in the midst of it all. Once within the Andean ranges, the landscapes change even more dramatically, due to altitude alterations and volcanic activity. Within an hour’s trek, I could go from almost entirely barren, snow-capped mountain peaks to tropical cloud forests. Within the same range sits the utterly incredible Rainbow Mountain, countless colors created by sedimentary layers of chemically stained rock.It happens to be one of four similar mountains in the world and the highest of its kind.
All of the above are spectacular enough without being reminded of one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring landscapes on Earth, the Amazon rainforest, with 13% of the jungle calling home to Peru. This in itself provides countless opportunity for the ever-changing, with almost three million different species of flora and fauna to gawp at, listen to, and certainly smell.
Peruvians are people who live wearing their heart on their sleeve. While there, I experienced nothing but open arms and open minds. They will protest wrongdoing and embrace positivity; they hold tradition in high esteem while looking to stay on top of the latest trends; they laugh in the street with one-another, while wanting to get to know visitors to their region. I became a regular with one juice seller in Cusco’s San Pedro market as she would top me up free of charge just so we could exchange stories.She would tell me about her life, all of the best places to eat in the city, how much I should be paying, where in the country I should expect the best of a certain something, etc., and in return I would share what little I could in comparison. More than simply being hospitable, Peruvians are confident and strong in identifying with themselves, their past, and their future; it is never for show.
Skiing down sand dunes in Huacachina.
The diversity of sensual experiences doesn’t stop at smell, sight, and touch, with Peru having an abundance of delicacies to devour. For those of us who had a pet guinea pig as younger selves, or those with younger family members in tow, the Andean treat of cuy may be a little too much to handle. In restaurants, it will be served sliced having been roasted, making it slightly less easy to identify, however, on the street, it is skewered whole. Alpaca is another local staple, reared similarly to cattle or sheep in many parts of the world, and is usually served a la plancha, otherwise known as grilled.
Peruvian food identifies very strongly with Chinese influences, with Chifas being a big part of Peru’s food culture, Chifas are, for all intents and purposes, Chinese restaurants, serving many of the dishes you would find back home at your local favorite with a select few differences.
Another hugely popular dish, and my absolute favorite Latin American food, is ceviche. Seafood cooked in citrus juices of varying assortments and served up with onions, chilli, a side of toasted corn kernels, and washed down with a cold local beer, or chicha morada, a soft drink made from purple corn. My favorite variation is the classic leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, which is a perfect blend of sour, savory, and spice that has to be tasted to be believed.
Mixed seafood platter at Bam Bam, Lima.
Diversity is a term which is thrown around rather flimsily in the modern age, but Peru is a true exception, and a throwback to when diversity meant genuinely different and a challenge to the norm, and is never truly realized until it is experienced.