To rush to Machu Picchu is to miss so much else on offer.
I, like most people, was drawn to Peru for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing Machu Picchu. Tucked away in the mountains a short train ride from Cusco, Machu Picchu is without a doubt worth the trip alone. But, as impressive as it was, there was so much else I took from the country, that Machu Picchu became just one of many personal highlights of Peru.
Peru has coastal resorts (although the beaches are not up to European standards), dense jungle, impressive mountain regions and desert terrain. There are canyons to trek in, islands to explore, seals, penguins, lakes, dune boarding and desert oases.
The Peruvian people understand food
If any population understands food, it is the Peruvians. The cuisine available across the country, had me looking forward to dinner time all day and the affordable restaurants made daily eating out accessible.
The gem of Comida Peruana is undoubtedly Ceviche.
There are many variations on the traditional recipe of sea bass, lime juice, chilli, onion and salt, and all had their merits. The dish had me hooked and I ate it almost daily when I was at the coast. The chilli gives a strong kick which is almost instantly softened by the citrus of the lime juice.
Roasted chicken spiced with herbs litter the shop windows in Lima and are tantalisingly delicious.
Aji de gallina was also a favourite, containing shredded chicken in a rich and creamy sauce. For those brave souls looking to try a local delicacy, the cuy, or as we call it, guinea pig, is traditionally eaten at weddings in mountainous regions and is on menus throughout the country.
Limans have a very understandable and slow style of Spanish and they often use the word facile (translated as easy) as slang for “I agree” or “yeah, maybe”. This sums up Peruvian people. “facile”. They are an easygoing population. Everyone I met in the country, from teenagers in Pisco I spent an evening with, to Roy, the retired builder from Arequipa I ate with a couple of nights, to Katia, the engineer from Lima, was incredibly easy to talk to and welcoming. The people of Peru are fairly reserved and don’t approach you, but once you reach out to them they are eager to share their rich culture and history and, of course, a few Pisco sours.
The Limans are more liberal and cosmopolitan, while in places like Arequipa, the population are more conservative.
It is much safer than many South American countries
Even in Lima, where many Peruvians warn you to be careful, I never felt unsafe or threatened. Compared to other South American cities it had a much less intimidating vibe. I wouldn’t want to stay out of the tourist areas like Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro, but in these areas, there didn’t seem to be any issues with safety.
The dichotomy of Peruvian culture is something to behold
While the architecture has a heavy colonial influence, many places have kept their original names in the Quechua language. Within the people, a dichotomy between the colonial Spanish culture and the native Incan culture seemed to exist.
This was most evident in the guide I took for a trip to the Sacred Valley around Cusco. He heavily lamented the destruction of several Incan sites by the colonisers to build the church “monstrosity” in the town below. He cursed the loss of Incan astrology and religious beliefs, but in the next breath admitted that he was a devout Catholic and visited the said “monstrosity” every Sunday.
Machu Picchu may be the pinup for Peru, but there are so many gems to this nation that you will leave, as I did, with as many words of praise for Peruvian food, culture and people as I had photos of Machu Picchu.