Peru's distinctive culture may make it seem like a whole other world. But experiencing it isn't difficult. Sample a few local pleasures and you'll fit right in.
Exploring the Past
Machu Picchu is amazing, but there's plenty more to see of Peru's fascinating past. Stand at Cajamarca where Inca Atahualpa was captured by Spanish leader Francisco Pizzaro. Explore the ancient Moche culture by walking about its adobe pyramids. Puzzle over the mysterious Nazca Lines from the sky. Then enjoy city life in Spanish-influenced Lima, Trujillo, and Arequipa, with their colonial-era mansions, churches, monasteries, and museums.
Peruvian history is best understood by visiting its people and experiencing its cultures. The islands of Lake Titicaca reveal a slice of raw ancient Andean culture. It's as if time has frozen while Quechua and Aymará families live and work off the land, eating and dressing as they did in the 16th century. It's not much different in the highlands around Cusco, where Quechua-speaking folks farm terraces thousands of years old.
Savoring the Flavors
Peru's culinary cornucopia is as varied and dazzling as its ancient sites and natural wonders. The traditional cuisines of its three geographic regions—the coast, highlands, and jungle—contain dozens of distinctive dishes, which have in turn inspired countless variations and inventions by the country's chefs. The classic dishes of the coast include some spicy seafood concoctions, as well as stewed or sautéed meats. They are complemented by the hearty soups, potato- and quinoa-based dishes of the highlands, and the tropical flavors of the Amazon Basin, which include river fish and jungle fruits.
Regional cuisines have been melded and reinvented in the kitchens of Peru's hotels and restaurants, making every trip a culinary adventure. The greatest selection of traditional and nouveau Peruvian cuisine can be found in Lima, which has become a destination for gastronomical tours and cooking classes.
Life in the Andes, or the sierra, has changed little through the centuries. In many villages Quechua is still the only language spoken. There are few cars and computers, no ATMs, and no restaurants, though you will see locals carrying cell phones. Families live in stone and adobe huts and plumbing is a hole in the ground.
Nearly every family raises animals for food and transport. Parents harvest crops from the ancient terraces while children attend school. Cold temperatures call for hearty foods like soup, potatoes, bread, quinoa, and meats.
When it comes to fiestas, these villagers know how to let loose. No major floats needed. Parades consist of local instruments, traditional folk dances that reenact Peruvian history, hand-sewn clothing embroidered with bright colors, a crowd, and lots of alcohol.
It may be best known for its cultural treasures, but Peru is also prodigious playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. The mountains around Cusco, and the Cordillera Blanca, are traversed by an array of trekking routes, whereas their peaks provide challenges for seasoned mountaineers. Several highland rivers offer formidable white-water rafting routes, whereas the lowland rivers are routes for exploring the jungle. The Pacific coast has a dozen world-class surf breaks, as well as smaller swells appropriate for learning that sport.
If you include activities such as mountain biking, paragliding, and zip-line tours through the forest canopy, you'll have enough outdoor adventure options to keep your adrenal glands pumping for much of your vacation.
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