Our arrival to Peru wasn’t as we planned – we hadn’t exactly engineered the scenario where we fled from neighbouring Bolivia on a midnight flight. Nevertheless, it meant that we arrived in the coastal capital of Lima, rather than crossing the border on foot at Lake Titicaca. Not to worry. Our south to north itinerary was flipped on its head, and after four days of dedicated recovery time in Lima’s surprisingly luxurious Miraflores, we hit the coastal road southwards. The medieval Incan city of Cusco was our ultimate destination, but we had a number of exciting stops to make along the way.
Growing up, I’d always pictured Peru and the other nations of equatorial South America to be covered in dense jungle. The coastal route was therefore quite the shock. From Lima to the southern city of Arequipa, the landscape is unyieldingly brown and the vegetation sparse. It’s a wonder that the small settlements dotted along the highway can even divine drinking water from their surroundings, let alone grow crops. Yet there is beauty to be found. Paracas, where the desert meets the ocean, offers quaint seaside living and dramatic coastal vistas. Further south, the immense sand dune system bordering Ica city plays host to the picturesque Huacachina oasis, a Mecca for sandboarding. And of course, there is the world famous Nazca lines that have been the intrigue of archaeologists the world over for decades.
Our coastal journey terminated in the ‘white city’ of Arequipa – in my opinion the most beautiful city in Peru. A simple grid of streets and plazas intersected by a largely untouched riverbed, Arequipa mixes old world architecture with a cosmopolitan pulse – all at the feet of a pair of towering (5000+ metre) volcanoes.
From Arequipa, we took the road into the Andes, passing through increasingly green valleys. Eventually we reached the city that was once the stronghold of the Incan civilisation, Cusco. Nowadays Cusco is Peru’s tourism capital, offering far more than just tours to Machu Picchu. The city itself still displays original Incan architecture, and the surrounding mountains are replete with jaw-dropping attractions, both natural and cultural.
After five days in Cusco, we boarded a plane for Lima and onwards to Mexico. Peru had been exactly the world class destination that we had hoped it would be, and perhaps more importantly, was a bastion of peace and harmony during a time when it felt like the rest of South America was going to hell in a hand basket.
– words by Andy