Trips to Peru

Peru is a tapestry of environments: the temperate sands of the Pacific Coast and the grand formations of the Andes, the buzzing greenery of the Amazon Rainforest and the cool tranquillity of Lake Titicaca. On the urban front, cities like Lima and Cusco overflow with a fusion of native and European cultures, expressed in everything from their time-honoured architecture to the diverse cuisine available in their restaurants.

Indeed, if there is one thing which Peru has in plentiful supply, it is cultural heritage – most notably represented by the site of Machu Picchu, which pays testament to the powerful Incan Empire. This was just one of many civilizations to have made a mark on the country’s canvas, leaving behind customs which are continued by native communities today.

While most sources suggest that the name ‘Peru’ comes from the local Quechua word for ‘river’, some claim that it instead derives from a phrase in the same language meaning ‘land of abundance’. This would not be surprising in the slightest, as even a short amount of time spent in the country will show. Peru, with its explosion of environments, blend of traditions, and living connections to an incredible past, is abundant in every sense of the term.

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Geography and Climate

Larger than the joint size of France and Spain, Peru is traditionally split into three environmental regions. Making up the western stretch is the coast, a collection of desert strips and valleys which remain warm and dry in the summer, and humidly mild in the winter. It is worth noting that Peru’s location in the Southern Hemisphere means that its summer and winter period are different – so November to March is summer, and April to October is winter.

Sierra occupies most of the centre, with the impressive Andes Mountains elevating the landscape. This is best visited in the period of April to October, when the days are filled with sun and rain is at a minimum.

Spreading from the centre to the east of Peru is the Amazon Rainforest. Covering around three-fifths of the country’s area, it is the largest region by far, comprised of hilly cloud forests and verdant plains. The rainforest remains humid throughout the year, with heavy rains from November to March and comparatively dry weather in other months.

Our holidays take you to locations in all three regions: bustling Lima on the coast, the glorious Sacred Valley of the Incas in the centre, and a sustainable lodge in the eastern rainforest.

Food and Drink

Peru is consistently regarded as the world’s foremost culinary destination, with its cuisine commanding international acclaim. Primarily combining native and Spanish influences, Peruvian food also draws on African, Chinese, and European gastronomy.

Dishes from the coastal regions include herby, spicy seafood stews, tasty steamed fish, and a nationwide favourite, ‘ceviche’. This is made from uncooked fish marinated in citrus juices with chilli and onion, served fresh – the acidic juice effectively pickles the fish, making it safe to consume raw.

Andean cuisine is characteristically hearty, with meats like beef and lamb mixed with a variety of wholesome ingredients: think potatoes, peppers, and beans, as well as grains like maize, kiwicha (amaranth), and world-renowned quinoa. Two less-expected ingredients are guinea pig (or ‘cuy’) and alpaca – something for more intrepid taste buds to try!

Food from the Amazon features some rather more exotic additions. Be sure to sample ‘juanes’, parcels of bijao leaves filled with a mixture of chicken and rice, much like a Peruvian tamale. Palm heart, also known as ‘chonta’, features prominently in these parts and is frequently used in salads.

Peru’s cuisine is ultimately a model of gastronomical traditions coming together, and nowhere is better to experience this than the city-based food scene. It is possible to find everything from Novo-Andean cooking to ‘chifa’, Peruvian-Chinese fusion. Get exploring on arrival and have a culinary adventure during your stay.

History and Culture

Long before the Incas came to power, Peru was home to a range of civilizations which prospered in different regions of the country. From 900 to 200 BCE, the Chavín people occupied the central west, spreading their recognisable style of art further around the country – jaguars, serpents, and birds being common symbols.

Near the turn of the new millennium, the Nazca civilization was established on Peru’s south coast. It is remembered for its striking pottery designs and, most famously, the extraordinary Nazca Lines: giant glyphs of fauna and flora scored into the desert land. The Moche people, now highly admired for their unparalleled metalwork, existed at the same time.

The Incas emerged more than a thousand years later, starting off as a small tribe with their capital at Cusco. Following the ascension in 1438 of their appropriately named ruler Pachacuti – ‘Shaker of the Earth’ – they went on to change the face of the continent. Rapidly conquering their neighbours in a little less than a century, the Incas came to rule over ten to twelve million subjects, with an empire stretching from what is now Ecuador to the Maule River in Chile.

Our Peru holidays take you to some of the greatest Incan monuments – not only Machu Picchu, which may have been made for Pachacuti himself, but also the spectacular Ollantaytambo Fortress and the Temple of Creator God Viracocha at the site of Raqchi. The Incas were masters of construction, building a magnificent system of roads and shaping the landscape for their agricultural purposes – as at the immense farming pits of Moray, which you will visit on our trips.

European diseases like smallpox, brought over by Spanish explorers of Central America, triggered the fall of the Incas. Civil war eventually gripped the empire, as two successors struggled for the throne. A force led by Spaniard Francisco Pizarro invaded in 1532, using technological superiority, help from rebellious subjected groups, and ruthless intrigue to overthrow the Incas. Pizarro established his capital at Lima in 1535, and Peru was maintained as a colony of Spain for the next few centuries. Colonial architecture is as historically significant as that of Incas, and you will be able to see it for yourself in Lima and Cusco.

Following a series of uprisings, the country gained its independence in 1824. The middle to late 1800s saw a mass influx of Chinese workers to Peru, who not only brought their skills with them, but also their cuisine. This, of course, had a monumental influence on local gastronomy. While Peru experienced rocky shifts in the balance of power during the 20th century, it has since emerged as a prosperous South American nation with a vibrant tourism industry, transporting visitors back into its colourful and complex past.

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