Latin America

Peru: Discovering the Unexpected

written by | Posted on April 1st, 2009

Travels to this South American country offer countless possibilities – tracking ancient civilizations, culinary feasts and jungle adventures.

The history of Peru stretches far back into antiquity, centuries before the Incas, and there are wondrous things to see and do along the coast and inland up north. Along the coast, colonial Trujillo is surrounded by the dramatic remains of the seventh century desert kingdoms of the Mochica and Chimu civilizations, such as the adobe metropolis of Chan Chan. A 2-hour drive north to Chiclayo puts travelers in the midst of the Lambayeque culture with its pyramids at Tucume and the remains of the Lord of Sipan. Inland, in the cloud forests of Amazonas, travelers will find “the other Machu Picchu,” the famed Kuelap fortress built by the Chachapoyas civilization and accessible from Chiclayo or Cajamarca, where, incidentally, the Spanish executed the Inca Emperor Atahualpa in the 16th century.

Myths and Mountains offers a 7-day Archaeological Jewels of Northern Peru tour, flying from Lima to Trujillo for two nights visiting Chan Chan (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the pyramids of the sun and moon. Travel is overland to Chiclayo, for a 2-night stay touring the Tucume pyramids and climbing Cerro La Raya. Travelers then continue overland to Cajamarca, a beautiful city of Andean baroque architecture, with visits to the Ventanillas de Otuzco archaeological complex, and the spectacular aqueduct at Cumbemayo. The return to Lima is by air. Tours are scheduled for July 25 and Sept. 12, and the cost is $2,850 pp dbl, based on four persons; custom dates are also available.

Tara Tours has designed a 7-night Kuelap and Sipan tour called Peru’s Hidden Treasures. After a first night in Lima, travelers fly to Chiclayo, with an afternoon visit to the Bruning Museum housing outstanding artifacts from the Lambayeque region and a visit to the archaeological site of Sipan and Pampa Grande. From here, it’s a long, spectacular drive into Chachapoyas country for a 4-night stay at the charming Hostal El Chillo and a full program of sightseeing: the clifftop funeral structures of Revash; the Leimebamba Museum with its pre-Inca mummies; the fortress of Kuelap; and Macro, a lookout post high above the Utcubamba River, from which the Chachapoyas people communicated by fire signals. The final night is spent in Chiclayo before flying back to Lima. Departures are Mondays and Thursdays, May-October; cost is $3,076 pp dbl, with roundtrip air on American Airlines from Miami.

dine around There is good reason for Bon Appetit magazine to have chosen Lima as the culinary destination of the year in its January 2009 issue. The article points out that the world owes a culinary debt to Peru: there would be no chocolate in Switzerland; no potatoes in Ireland; no chilies for curry in India. Nowadays, the gastronomic winds are blowing the other way and world cuisines are coming home to roost in Lima’s wonderful restaurants serving up a delicious fusion of Peruvian cuisine with Chinese, Japanese, Inca, Spanish, Italian and African influences. Lima, of course, is the culinary capital of these new cooking traditions, and the dining scene is rich. Here, there’s everything from top gourmet restaurants by the sea or housed in restored colonial mansions, to typicalcevicherias (specializing in ceviche—a raw fish and shell fish marinated in lime juice with chile peppers and served with corn, sweet potato and raw onion), huariques (small family bistros), chifas (Chinese restaurants), chicken-only restaurants, and even respectable pizzerias.

Beyond the capital, too, travelers have some dining treats ahead in Cusco and the Sacred Valley with tasty dishes highlighting Inca-era ingredients—potatoes, corn, fruit and herbs—all folded into a culinary style called novoandina cuisine.

Yampu Latin America Tours (previously known as Kontiki Tours) offers a Culinary Tour of Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley that dines around several corners of Peru, with plenty of time to see the major sites along the way. Clients will take a food-shopping tour in the Lima street markets, learn to make ceviche and Peru’s pisco sour cocktail; cook with a well-known chef in the Sacred Valley; watch potatoes harvested and prepared in an Andean village; dine deliciously in all kinds of restaurants—from the gastronomic Astrid y Gaston restaurant in Lima to the cafe at the pre-Columbian Museum in Cusco. The 9-night tour spends a total of three nights each in Lima and Cusco, two nights in the Sacred Valley and one night at Machu Picchu. Costs pp dbl are $4,639 (four-star hotels), $5,576 (five-star) and $6,500 (deluxe); the prices include roundtrip air from Miami and local air in Peru, all overland transportation, accommodations, most meals and private guides.