Peru Feature

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Sun, Surf, and Seafood

During the summer months (December-April), beach lovers around Peru head west to enjoy a day of surfing the Pacific Ocean waves, sunbathing, and devouring the country's freshest seafood.

Máncora. This fishing town on Peru's northern coast is the country's worst-kept secret. Ask any Peruvian which is the best beach in Peru and they will all mention this stretch of pale-gray sand lined with coconut palms and hotels. Máncora is sunny year-round and visited by beach lovers from Lima and abroad.

Huanchaco. This beach town west of Trujillo has a long left-hand point break that is complemented by an ample dining and lodging selection. Surfers of all skill levels can find suitable waves year-round, and take lessons, if needed, but the biggest swells roll in between March and August.

Lima. While the ocean views from Miraflores and Barranco are impressive, the capital's greatest marine asset is the food. Lima has restaurants that specialize in everything, but cebicherías (restaurants dedicated to seafood) are the place to head for lunch. Check out Punta Sal, Segundo Muelle, and Chef Gaston Acurio's upscale "Cebichería La Mar."

South of Lima. Urbanites from Lima flock southward from December to April to beach resorts such as San Vicente de Cañete, a couple of hours from the capital. Cerro Azul, a small beach town in Cañete, is a tranquil alternative to the beaches closer to Lima. In contrast, Asia, also in Cañete, is where the wealthiest Limeños summer.

Ancient Archaeological Sites

The main reason most travelers visit Peru is to see the ancient ruins left by the Inca and older civilizations. Machu Picchu is the biggie, but don't stop there. Here are a few archaeological sites that are worth the trip.

Caral. Four hours north of Lima, the archaeological ruins of Caral in the Supe Valley shocked the world when their origins were discovered to date back to 2627 BC —1,500 years earlier than what was believed to be the age of South America's oldest civilization. Growing numbers of visitors make the day trip to Peru's most recently discovered ancient wonder.

Chan Chan. This capital of the pre-Inca Chimú empire was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. A 5-km (3-mile) trip from the northern city of Trujillo, Chan Chan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's threatened by erosion because of its close proximity to the coast, which experiences heavy seasonal rains.

Choquequirau. The Inca ruins of Choquequirau, in Cusco province, is the ideal destination for hikers who want to stray from the beaten trail. Five-day trekking tours are available to this remote site, which has been called "Machu Picchu's sacred sister" because of the similarities in architecture.

Ollantaytambo. Sixty kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Cusco, the extensive Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo is one of the few locations where the Incas managed to defeat Spanish conquistadors. The fort held a temple, with a ceremonial center greeting those who manage to get to the top.

Natural Beauty

With more than 50 natural areas or conservation units—in the form of national parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and protected rain forests—Peru is a great place to experience tropical nature.

Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon. The two deepest canyons in the world are in Peru's dry, southern Andes. Dipping down 10,600 feet and 11,000 feet respectively, they are skirted by hiking trails, whereas the rivers that flow through them offer intense kayaking and rafting. Near this exceptional geology are villages offering glimpses into the indigenous culture.

Huascarán National Park. Towering over the town of Huaraz, this park was established to protect the flora and fauna and landscapes of the Cordillera Blanca, or "White Mountain Chain." A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to such rare species as the spectacled bear and the Andean condor.

Manu Biosphere Reserve. This remote protected area extends from the cloud forest to the rain forest, and is home to an array of rare species that includes the cock of the rock, giant river otter, and jaguar. Its mountains, rivers, ox-bow lakes, and forests are also stunningly beautiful.

Tambopata National Park. This vast rain-forest reserve covers an area where relatively few people live, so it suffers less hunting than other areas of the Amazon Basin, and is consequently one of the best places to see wildlife. This, together with its proximity to the Puerto Maldonado airport, make Tambopata one of the country's most popular natural destinations.

Museums

It could be argued that Peru is one big open-air museum. However, a little background information before you head to the ruins is always helpful. Museums in Peru do an excellent job of documenting the history and culture of a country overflowing with both.

Museo de Oro. Lima's Gold Museum has an extensive collection of pre-Columbian jewelry, pottery, textiles and other artifacts; not just gold. You should, however, visit it with a guide or pay for the recorded tour, in order to better understand what you're admiring.

Museo Nacional Sicán. Twenty kilometers (12.5 miles) north of Chiclayo, this modern museum focuses on the ancient Sicán civilization, which originated in AD 750. Learn about the life and death of one of their leaders, the Lord of Sicán, who represented the "natural world" in their culture.

Museo Rafael Larco Herrera. Recently refurbished, Lima's finest museum was constructed on the site of a pre-Columbian pyramid. It's most famous for its titillating collection of erotic ceramics, but it has more than 40,000 other ceramic pieces, textiles, and gold work on display.

Museo Santury. Home to the famed "Juanita, the Inca princess" mummy, the Museo de la Universidad Católica de Santa María, as it's formally known, is an obligatory stop for anyone visiting the city of Arequipa. Juanita was discovered in southern Peru and is now kept in a cold glass box to preserve her body so that future visitors can learn about her sacrificial death.

Updated: 06-2013

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