Top Experiences in Peru
Join a Celebration
Clanging bells, chanting, and wafting incense rouse you before dawn. You peer out your window: scores of people draped in bright colorful costumes walk down the street carrying a saint's figure. Catholic observances, indigenous traditions, and history pack the calendar with fiestas (festivals)—from Lima's birthday in January to the nationwide Semana Santa in spring, to the Inca ritual Inti Raymi, held near Cusco on June 24.
Puno is best known for its traditional Carnaval, but each November citizens reenact the birth of the first Inca emperor, Manco Capac, who, legend has it, rose out of Lake Titicaca. Among the crosses, saints, and colorful costumes, townspeople try their luck at bingo, beauty queens compete for the crown, Huayno music blasts from speakers, and the beer flows freely.
Explore a Market
Wandering through a market provides a wonderful window into the lives of local people. All of Peru's cities have central markets, some of the more interesting of which include Cusco's Mercado Central, the Mercado San Camillo in Arequipa, and the market in the neighborhood of Belén, in Iquitos. Certain highland towns are known for their market days, when vendors set up shop on central streets, one of the most popular of which is Pisac, in the Sacred Valley. Vendors pack their stalls with everything from dried potato chunks to medicinal herbs to love potions. They'll likely invite you to step inside for a look, and if you see something you need, don't forget to bargain.
Visit the Wild Things
Squirrel monkeys leap between branches, fish break the muddy water's surface, mealy parrots squawk in the treetops. The colors and sounds of the Amazon Basin's wildlife are unforgettable, and each of those creatures has a story, because they all play specific roles in the complex web of jungle life. Peru is one of the easiest countries in which to experience the beauty and diversity of the Amazon, whether on the river that region was named for or one of its many tributaries. There are dozens of nature lodges and cruise boats that can take you deep into that wilderness to admire its exuberant scenery and see some of the thousands of species that live there, most of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Enjoy the Dances
Peruvian folkloric dances vary dramatically between the coast and mountains. The coastal marinera is performed to the music of a brass band by a courting couple who execute elegant, complex movements, but never touch. Afro-Peruvian dance, which is also coastal, is more sensual, performed to the music of guitars and the rhythm of a cajón, a sonorous wooden box on which the percussionist sits. Andean dances are more varied and spectacular, with many more dancers in colorful costumes. The most impressive one is the danza de tijeras (scissors dance), which involves gymnastic leaps with scissors in hand. Folk dancing plays a central role in the country's festivals, but any of the above can be enjoyed at the varied peñas and dinner shows in Lima and other cities.
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