Planning your holiday in Peru
Peru is a country with a rich and varied cultural and architectural heritage. Facing the Pacific, it enjoys spectacular and varied scenery, including Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, and has a strong Inca and pre-Inca heritage, which includes the famous Lake Titicaca area, the Nazca Lines, and the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, with its Inca Trail to the lost city of Machu Picchu. It’s a fantastic place for a holiday and in this article, we’ll be looking at some hints and tips to make sure you can get the most out of your holiday in Peru!
Geography and Transport
Peru is split into 3 separate climatic zones: costa, sierra and selva (the coast, the mountains and the jungle). The character and culture of the three areas is remarkably distinct and can give your Peru holiday real variation although nowadays the country is inter-connected by a good road network, some amazing railway lines and excellent air services.
The coast mainly consists of a small fertile strip along the Pacific which merges slowly into the desert at the foothills of the Andes. In the very north and south of the country it is not unknown for it not to rain for years at a time but complex irrigation systems (some of which date back to Inca times) keep areas like the Pisco valley surprisingly fertile. The Panamerican highway travels the length of the coast, making travel within the coastal region both comfortable and speedy.
The Andes range covers the entire central region of Peru, from north to south. They offer some of the most spectacular views and some of the most interesting cultural experiences in the world. As mentioned above, in many areas you can still hear Quechua – the language of the Incas – spoken as a first language and the spiritual ideals of Inca culture remain strong. Today cities like Cusco combine stunning Inca and colonial architecture with thoroughly modern services but just a short distance away from the major urban areas, life carries on in a way which would be instantly recognisable to the Incas. The Andean areas are where most travellers spend the majority of their time while on holiday in Peru.
The Peruvian jungle is some of the most unspoilt rainforest in South America and much of it is protected under international law. The only access to large sections of the jungle (including the few cities) is by boat or plane and so it feels very different to the rest of the country – you get a real sense of arriving somewhere! The rainforest is home to a bewildering and spectacular array of wildlife, with more unique species being discovered every year!
The primary language in Peru is Spanish. This is almost identical to the Castilian Spanish of Madrid, albeit with slightly different pronunciation and a few vocabulary changes. In the high Andes, particularly around Cuzco and Puno, many people still speak Aymara or Quechua (the language of the Incas) as a first language, although almost all will also speak Spanish. Some English is often spoken in areas popular with holiday-makers and in staff of services that deal with international customers (eg: airports, banks, etc.) will invariably speak some English.
People in Peru
Peruvians are renowned even in South America for their friendliness and they are always keen to engage you in conversation. Even if they are hoping to sell you something they are still often curious to find out something about you and where you come from. The British are quite popular in Peru, although we still have something of a ‘Victorian’ reputation; we are usually seen as very polite and efficient but somewhat lacking in passion and, of course, quite unable to dance! The Peruvian expression for being on time is ‘A la hora ingles’ (English time) and if you try and explain about the current situation on British railways you are usually met with polite disbelief and an assumption that you are just being kind…
Food and Drink
Peruvian cuisine is excellent and a real highlight of any Peru holiday, with all the regions having different specialities. Coastal dishes owe a lot to African and Spanish influences, tending to be quite rich and often reasonably spicy. Seafood is, unsurprisingly, excellent and anything with chicken is usually a good bet. The coast is also the birthplace of the national dish: ceviche. This is a selection of fish pieces marinated in lime juice and is absolutely stunning – we urge you to try it even if you’re not usually too keen on fish! Good chicken dishes include aji de gallina – chicken in a spicy, creamy sauce.
Highland dishes tend to be more simple than coastal (and especially Limeńo) cuisine, concentrating on the excellence of the ingredients, but is just as delicious! Particular favourites include rocoto relleno (stuffed Andean peppers). These are the size and shape of the peppers we eat in England but have a rather spicy edge to them. They are usually stuffed with small pieces of beef and vegetables, although most places will do them with just vegetables on request. We’d also suggest that you try an alpaca steak at least once during your holiday in Peru: it’s a kind of heavenly mix between pork and beef and has to be tasted to be believed. Of course, for the adventurous then nothing will do but the Arequipa speciality of cuy – roasted guinea pig! It’s surprisingly good so long as you can deal with the guilt…
Rainforest cuisine features a great deal of fresh fruit – both on its own and as part of main dishes. An unusual one to try is chirimoya (which you can also find in fruit juices and milkshakes outside the jungle). It looks a bit like an apple but tastes like strawberries and cream! Chicken dishes are popular in the jungle, as they are elsewhere in Peru but tend to be served with yucca (a kind of manioc) rather than the usual rice or chips.
Of course, if you’re on holiday in Peru then you may well be wanting a couple of beers to unwind! Peru has several excellent national beers, probably the best of which is Cuzqueńa. All the beers are lagers but you can often get cerveza malta – a kind of dark, hoppy lager which is similar to an English Brown Ale. Peru is starting to make some good wines, particularly reds but is not as far down the road as Chile or Argentina in this respect. The country does, however, produce one of the great world brandies: Pisco. This is also the source for what must be one of the world’s best cocktails: the Pisco Sour. Made from Pisco brandy, egg-white, cane sugar syrup and limes it is a great aperitif, although you may find yourself drinking more than just one…
Also worth a mention is the fact that Peru is one of the only countries in the world where the local soft drink outsells Coke! The local ‘Inka-Cola’ is bright green and very sweet but is very refreshing and 100% Real Peru! Apart from fizzy drinks, Peruvians love milkshakes (often known as yoghurt) and all kinds of fruit juices and these can often hit the spot when you fancy a break in a shady café.
More ideas for your Peru holiday
I hope all this information has given you some tips for your holiday in Peru, so why not find out some more at The Real Peru Holiday Company and enjoy a fantastic holiday in Peru!