When I first heard about Peru, I had no idea where it was on the map. Sure, South America. But where exactly? I did not know. For my explanations, I need to say – I was always bad with maps. I had to visit the place in order to pinpoint its location. Yet I know that with Peru, this is not just my problem. During my stay in Peru, many locals asked me “what do people say about us in Europe?” And I never knew what to say. Peru was simply not being mentioned. There was Argentina, Chile, Brazil. But Peru was somewhere on the sidelines.
Today, when I talk to people about my stay, they often ask me “how is it there?” or “what’s so special there?” They have little knowledge of Peru. And when asked about Peru after a long moment, they proudly reply “Machu Picchu!”. But Peru is more than Machu Picchu. Much, much more.
First of all – geographical diversity
Peru is located in the Andes. With its capital next to the Pacific Ocean, many people underestimate the country’s geographic diversity. The highest peak – Huascaran (6 768 m above sea level) is just 150 km in a straight line away from the ocean!
But you don’t have to look that far. Already 60 km from Lima, we can admire the Marcahuasi plateau. Marcahuasi was formed by volcanoes and it is breathtaking. It can be a one day get away, but I think everyone who reached it would unanimously agree – one day is not enough. First of all, acclimatization will be necessary. The lack of it won’t help you to adjust to the altitude of 4,000 m above sea level. In addition, you just have to have time for Marcahuasi. It is a unique and vast place, which takes 3 hours to get to. And the journey leads along winding and narrow roads (aviomarin recommended!). Visit Marcahuasi and let yourself fully enjoy the place.
You say Peru, you think Machu Picchu!
I also couldn’t miss Machu Picchu, the ancient city of the Inca. Why it Incas abandoned it remains a mystery to this day. Machu Picchu consists of levels known as terraces. Thousands of years ago the Incas possessed vast agricultural knowledge and experience. The different levels of terraces were to provide adequate fertility and temperature for various crops.
Machu Picchu is primarily a symbol of Inca culture and a huge complex of ruins and temples. They provide plenty of knowledge. The Machu Picchu sightseeing tour takes hours and is pointless if we forgo the guide. The guide will tell us about the application, history and importance of the various elements of the city. Machu Picchu is on the UNESCO list of 7 wonders of the world, and thus attracts over 2 million tourists annually. Also for this reason, talks are underway to build an airport between Cusco (the nearest airport) and Machu Picchu. The idea is highly criticized. The reason is that everything between Cusco and Machu Picchu is the Inca cultural heritage and is called the Sacred Valley.
Admission tickets range in price from $65 to $80 depending on what they contain. As if that was not enough – they have to be bought well in advance. Preferably at least a month earlier (if not more) if you want to buy a ticket for Machu Picchu itself. If you also dream of Huayna Picchu, i.e. the viewpoint located 360 m above the Inca town itself – then you have to think about the trip even faster.
Peru is much more than Machu Picchu itself
However, not everything revolves around Machu Picchu. The city of the Incas is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is the Inca cultural heritage that stretches for tens of kilometers. It is also a cluster of ruins, fortresses and salt terraces. A complete visit takes a few days. I have heard many people (I am one of them) who were more impressed by the Sacred Valley of the Incas than by Machu Picchu. Peruvian culture has much, much more up its sleeve. I am talking about places that tourists have never heard of. Or they have, but did not have time by ticking off the obligatory visit to Machu Picchu.
For those who have more time, I recommend going to Machu Picchu using one of the offered treks. You can decide between a cultural experience (Inca Trail) or opto for an physical effort (Salkantay Trek – thanks to which we will get the opportunity to admire the 6 271 meter peak).
Lima – one of the largest capitals
Lima (after Sao Paulo in Brazil) is the second most populous city in South America. It has a population of almost 10 million people and accounts for 30% of the entire Peruvian population. This city is always stuck in traffic jams. It stretches for many kilometers, making it a couple of hours for you to get from one end to the other. I remember the first time I came to Lima. I was fascinated. Astonished. Everything looked so… normal.
It does not differ much from European standards. I only noticed the differences when I first traveled outside the tourist and safe districts. Only then did I see what the other “face of Lima” looked like. These were not Brazilian favelas, but this part of the Lima emanated poverty. Houses, next to each other, so often without electricity and water. Built by residents, without any projects or building permits. They weree a huge threat. One defective brick, one old and weak material and the house could collapse at any moment. These weren’t places that I often went to. After all, I had no reason to be there. However, the realization that Lima is not just what I see around me has remained forever.
Politics – corrupt and yet stable
Corruption is the first word that comes to mind when asked about politics in Peru. No wonder – with the end of presidencies, and hence immunity, most presidents were put behind bars. Weird? For Peruvians, no.
However, this is not talk about democracy but democratization. And this is due to the 10-year Fujimoro dictatorship, which ended in 2000. His successors: Toledo, Humala and Kuczyński are currently awaiting legal proceedings. Alan Garcia Perez, the one in charge 10 years ago, committed suicide in fear of being accused of corruption. The current president, Martin Vizcarra, has much less opposition than his predecessors. Last year, he dissolved the Congress, which caused great outrage but also joy. Congress has repeatedly blocked anti-corruption bill in an attempt to protect politicians. The day after the dissolution of Congress, most politicians left Peru for fear of their lack of immunity.
What will be the next political fate of Peru? Nobody knows that. However, Peruvians are not afraid of a coup d’état, authoritarianism or nationalization of the economy. So you could say it looks pretty good. Compared to other South American countries – absolutely great!
For those hungry of more political knowledge, I encourage you to read this article >>
A huge part of Peruvian culture – food
It’s been known for a long time that the cuisine in Peru is famous for being one of the best in South America. I couldn’t believe it until I tried eating other South American cuisines. Peruvian food is beyond compare. It is extremely diversified. The country has nearly 500 typical dishes, 2,500 different kinds of soups and 250 types of desserts. It does impress. All thanks to external influences from four continents. Such a mixture must have given birth to something extraordinary, like Peruvian cuisine. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the most popular gastronomic specialties!
Ceviche – marinated pieces of fish, served with lime juice, red onion, chilli and salt to taste. Add a sweet potato/yuca and cancha (type of corn) and ceviche are ready. This is definitaly my favorite.
Lomo Saltado – favorite of all my friends. I do not fully understand its phenomenon. Although I wouldn’t choose polish shcabowy over lomo saltado. This combination of beef fried in soy sauce, tomatoes, onions and french fries has its charm.
Papa a la Huancaína – papa means potato, huancaína is a spicy creamy sauce. Served cold – usually with egg and olive. One of my favorite starters!
Chicha morada – a traditional Peruvian drink made of … corn. It doesn’t sound like that, but surprisingly it’s really tasty. The corn used to make the drink is purple in color, giving it a color similar to Coca-Cola. And like everything in Peru, a ton of sugar is added!
Inca Cola – It doesn’t quite fit the food category, but this article would be incomplete without Inca Cola. It is the national drink of Peruvians and is considered a substitute for Coca-Cola. Europeans often compare its taste to cough syrup. One thing is for sure, a yellow-brown, sweet drink will either steal your heart or make you nauseous with every sip.
I often hear the question: “but is it safe there?”
And as is often the case, the answer is not black and white. It is dangerous everywhere if you don’t take care of yourself. Indeed, during the four months I spent in Peru, I heard many times about stolen wallets or phones. Practically every day. You have to be careful at events or concerts especially. There are people who come there only to earn money from stolen goods.
Nevertheless, Peru is doing quite well when it comes to homicides, which are often indicative of a country’s crime rate. About 8 out of 1,000 deaths are the result of murder. This is one of the lowest scores in “dangerous South America”. For comparison, in the USA, out of 1000 deaths, about 7 are the result of murder, while in Poland there are less than 2 people.
• With my European approach to shopping, I spent the first weeks in Peru shopping in supermarkets. What was my surprise when it turned out that small shops offer lower prices. Not to mention the bazaars where you could buy food for pennies. Or a delicious two-course dinner for 3$!
• Peru is considered a “most correct Spanish” South American country. Not much slang is used, correct forms are spoken, and words are not shortened by truncating endings, as in Chile, for example. So it is very easy for Peruvians to understand. On my onward journey, many people have asked me if I have been to Peru. They said I had a South American accent, but I was speaking “too correctly” somehow.
• Reggaeton music is a very popular genre in South America. When I first came across this term, I was surprised it had nothing to do with reggae. It turned out that I followed a completely wrong lead. Reggaeton is a very rhythmic, not very substantive and perfect for dancing, music. I even came across the term “Spanish disco polo“. If you haven’t heard this music yet, you need to go and try it now! I fell in love with it.
• There are quite a few people who only speak the Quechua language. This is the second official language spoken by the Incas. In the south of Peru, around the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the influence of the Inca heritage is still very strong. They just don’t speak Spanish.
• The International Potato Center may sound fanatical, but it’s no joke. It is a center that stores over 13,000 samples of potatoes – both cultivated and wild. In Peru, we find about 3,800 varieties of potatoes out of about 4,000 existing worldwide. A real paradise for potato lovers!
• For all those who like to exalt themselves – good news! The probability that you will meet a Peruvian or a Peruvian who is taller than you is very close to zero. Their average height is 153 cm for women and 165 cm for men.
Peru – sink or soar?
For those who want a larger dose of Peru, please visit the dedicated photo gallery! And let me know what you think about Peru. Did I get your attention? Or maybe you think of Peru as your next destination? Let me know 🙂