When invited on an educational journey to Peru, my mother and I weren’t sure what to expect. What we learned caused me to absolutely fall in love with the country. From the vibrant culture and delicious cuisine, to the country’s magnificent landscape and friendly people, Peru is a magical place.
Our journey was hosted by Limatours, a Peruvian company which includes a local host. While I often travel on my own, I can’t imagine going to Peru without a local guide. Their knowledge and love for the country provided an authentic and deeper understanding of the culture.
We started in Lima, the country’s capital—a vibrant oceanside city on a narrow coastal strip of land. There’s fabulous shopping, colonial architecture and museums full of Incan history and artifacts. Lima also is a culinary capital of South America with a vibrant and creative gastronomic scene featuring traditional Peruvian dishes and decadent street food, including ceviche, superb seafood dishes and a Peruvian delicacy called Cuy (guinea pig).
Next we flew to Cusco, a city 12,000 feet above sea level. I recommend traveling right from Cusco to the beautiful Sacred Valley to better acclimate to the high altitude. You can see Incan ruins along the way to Pisac, a rustic Andean village at the foot of an original Inca settlement, which boasts a plaza filled with local artisans selling alpaca textiles, musical instruments, carvings, necklaces and replicas of ancient Incan pieces.
Along the Urubamba River was our next stop, Ollantaytambo, amid snow-capped mountains. Here we experienced a fabulous Pachamanca farm lunch at El Albergue with fresh ingredients cooked in a traditional "earth oven." We dined al fresco, enjoying cooked meats, vegetables and other farm-fresh dishes while soaking in the magnificent scenery. The adjacent town of Aguas Calientes is a sort of gateway to Peru’s most famous site, Machu Picchu; it's the last stop with plenty of accommodations (from luxury properties to hostels) before entering the ancient ruins.
Our journey up to Machu Picchu itself was storybook-perfect. On a cold, rainy morning, we watched the clouds rolling in while riding a train to the park entrance. After disembarking we trekked a trail before finally seeing our first view of this masterpiece of architecture. As the clouds magically cleared our mouths dropped in awe. We spent the next two hours with our guide, amazed by the “Old Mountain,” an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The next stop was the ancient Incan capital of Cusco, a mixture of pre-Columbian ruins and Spanish colonial architecture. As a Spain travel specialist, I found the history intriguing while appreciating the Spanish influence in the Catholic cathedrals. We also enjoyed a visit to Sacsayhuaman, a citadel on the northern outskirts of another UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Cusco also features a Bohemian quarter filled with lots of sights and stylish cafes.
I’ve traveled quite a bit and no place has touched me as deeply as Peru. I fell in love with the history, culture, food and people.
About the Author: Travel Advisor Jill Rodriguez and her mother, Sue Shimkus of Lake Zurich Travel, journeyed to Peru earlier this year to create lasting memories. To learn more be sure to visit LZTravel.com or call 847.438.5551.