As a teenager, I was captivated by the Tintin comic series created by Herge. The fascinating element about these adventures was the writer's weaving of factual and fictional lands in adding depth to his plots. One such quest was Tintin's adventure where the trail leads the cast of characters to the mystifying Andean landscape of Peru. Ever since, it has been a dream of mine to visit and experience firsthand, this exotic territory. While packing bags and heading to Peru is not easy, with proper planning and research, it is workable as it was for me.
Our first stop at Peru was the capital city of Lima, which is well connected with major US and European cities. Moving around Lima is a great experience for someone interested in appreciating the urban verve in South America. For folks with tourism on mind, areas like Miraflores and Barranco have some good hotels. Other advantages include abundant eateries and proximity to the Pacific coastline. Historical places of significance like the Plaza San Martin and Plaza de Armas are in the older city. I suggest a night tour around Lima to fully admire the three phases of the city, viz.: pre-colonial, post-colonial and contemporary. The impressive architecture at the Palacio De Gobierno, Palacio Arzobispal and the Cathedral Basilica, with its Spanish influences, is worth exploring. Other notable places of interest are the three museums (Larco, National Museum and Peruvian Gold Museum), which chronicle the Peruvian history.
Lima offers an excellent opportunity for foodies to explore the Peruvian cuisine. Pisco Sour, a flavourful concoction of Peruvian liquor and lemon is an essential part of a Peruvian meal. For teetotallers, a non-alcoholic variety of Chi Cha, a beverage made of purple corn is a definite recommendation. Peru's national delicacy is Ceviche, a type of seafood salad and a must for every seafood lover. Peruvian cuisine provides an elaborate selection for vegetarians too.
From Lima, we took a short flight to Cusco, the Archeological capital of the Americas. Cusco, with its distinct narrow cobbled pathways, is a charming little town located on the high altitudes of the Andes. Saqsayhuaman and related archaeological sites in the northern part of Cusco offer a chance to appreciate the Incan aptitude at designing quake resistant structures. Qorikancha, a present-day convent, was superimposed on the ancient Incan structure, by the Spanish settlers. In consequence, it provides a varying blend of ancient and modern architecture.
Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”. Situated 110 km northwest of Cusco, Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the most recognisable icon of the Incan empire. There are generally two options for getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco. A backpacker's option is to take the arduous four-day 60-mile Inca trail through rustic Peru. The easier option is to buy tickets on the Peruvian Rail service to Aguas Calientes (“Hot Springs”). The town is at the foothills of the historic site and one can find a range of lodging services here.
Machu Picchu (the “Old Mountain”), built in the 15th century, is a breathtaking structure spread over 20 hectares on a mountain ridge some 2500 metres above sea level. The magnitude of this massive undertaking is even more mind-boggling given the stones were painstakingly hauled by humans uphill for miles. The site is divided into various sectors with designated walking trails. The agricultural sector consists of a series of terraces cut into the mountain sides, which the Incas used for cultivation. The urban sector is made of houses, storage spaces, a fountain system and royal enclosures. It also houses an Astronomical Observatory. Interspersed among the sectors are some sacred structures, viz.: Temple of the Sun, Temple of the three windows, and Temple of the Condor.
While a walk around the ruins gives one a closer look, there are two options that provide a panoramic “postcard” view of the ruins. The first option is a demanding stair-stepped trail to an adjacent mountain called the Huayna Picchu (“Young Mountain”). The easier option is to take a trail to Intipunku (“Gate of the Sun”) on the western side of the site. Either way, a glimpse of Machu Picchu is an experience of a lifetime.
A striking part of our trip to Peru was the hospitality of the Peruvian people in spite of the language barrier. In fact, we were astonished at their knowledge of Bollywood, which ranged from Mother India to Shah Rukh Khan. As our week-long holiday in Peru concluded and we headed back home, all we had were memories of the incredible places we visited and wonderful people we met. A trip to Peru is one unforgettable experience filled with roads truly less travelled.