I was starting to get a bit worried that my trip had peaked a bit too soon. Much as I loved Guatemala & Colombia, neither could quite compare to how much I adored Mexico. And then I got to Peru, and I fell in love all over again. Here’s why.
Before I left the UK, the single thing in the trip I was most looking forward to was trekking in the Andes. It didn’t disappoint. The Colca Canyon and the mountains round Machu Picchu were special enough, but it was the northern Cordilleras that really stand out: The three weeks I spent around Huaraz is the highlight of my trip so far. From the moment I arrived in the city after a long night bus from Lima, and saw the stunning, snow-capped Cordillera Blanca rising up behind, I was hooked. My first hikes to Laguna Churup and the four day Santa Cruz trek were simply breathtaking, but nothing could have prepared me for the Huayhuash circuit. Nine days of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen, and in the most remote, peaceful wilderness too, it was a very moving experience. I’ll definitely be back to do more hiking in the area one day.
If the mountains were an expected highlight, Peruvian food turned out to be a totally unexpected one. I’d never heard the food was quite that awesome, and it meant eating out returned to being something to look forward to (rather than slightly dread as it had been in Colombia). My personal favourite was Rocoto Relleno – roundish, spicey Peruvian chilis, stuffed with a creamy meat sauce. Absolutely delicious. But there were plenty of other dishes to rave about – the national dish, ceviche (raw white fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice, with raw onion and chopped chilis) was always a delight, so delicated and refreshing; another menu staple, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried meat, onions, vegetables and potatoes) was a pretty reliable hit too, and especially nice made with Alpaca instead of the usual beef. Alpaca meat generally was a surprise hit, quite like beef, and often very tender. Peru is home of the potato too, so they feature quite heavily on menus, with my favourite being Papas a la Huancaina (in a creamy, herby, mild chili sauce). One surprise was the Peruvian’s fondness for one of my favourite desserts, Lemon Meringue Pie (which I’d previously assumed was quite English, but turns out to be even more popular over in Peru), as well as lots of other great cakes. Final surprise was the best supermarkets I’ve come across so far in my trip, in fact some were so good they were even better than the ones back home, meaning it was even easy to make great meals myself thanks to all the fantastic local fresh ingredients.
Sadly, so far on my trip, I haven’t had all that much interaction with indigenous people. Quite often, they are wary of tourists (for various, understandable reasons), which makes interacting and talking to them hard, especially when there are many who don’t speak great Spanish. It was quite different in Peru. From the moment I arrived in Huaraz, the local people were incredibly friendly, always smiling and saying hello. Once, when I was the only gringo on a collectivo up into the mountains, I had the whole bus talking to me, asking me questions about England, and how I was finding Peru. In the one village we came across on the Huayhuash circuit, I spent quite a while chatting to the family of the local shopkeeper, and ended up having a real laugh. At the end of the trek, I got to have a really interesting talk with another local about what the area was like when the Shining Path guerillas were still active in the area, and how much life has improved since. Outside of the mountains, everyone I met was equally friendly too, and they made traveling round the country a real joy. They certainly know how to party too – the night out clubbing I had in Lima was the best I’ve had so far, and the two nights Adrian & I went to see Peruvian live music (and both times were the only gringos in the house) were awesome too, with a really lively crowd on both occasions.
Aside from all that hiking, I had loads of fun with various activities and excursions in Peru, including flying over the Nasca Lines and especially sandboarding on the giant dunes around Huacachina, although I’m gutted I missed out on rafting in Cusco because I couldn’t get a group together. All the pre-Hispanic history is of course very special too, with the ruins of the Inca Trail (as well as Machu Picchu itself, of course) being the best I’ve seen this trip. The colonial cities of Cusco & Arequipa are both stunning too, as well as having some the best restaurants and finest nightlife I’ve come across on my trip.
All in all, it was a pretty spectacular six weeks. Muchas Gracias Peru!