Perhaps it’s the steep terraces spilling down the sides of Machu Picchu, surrounded by craggy peaks and puffs of wispy cloud, or the views down Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, that make it easy to see Peru as a land of giant mountains. The truth, however, is that this is one of the most contradictory countries in South America.
Of course you can’t ignore the Andes, which, at over 6,000m high and more than 400km wide in places, run the entire length of the country, providing breathtaking views, great trekking opportunities and room for condors to stretch their enormous wingspans. Just remember that they separate two highly contrasting landscapes. In the north, some of the least-touched stretches of the Amazon lie within the borders of Peru, easily accessed from the frontier town of Iquitos on a growing number of luxury river ships. While far in the south is a splendid desert coastline, studded with colossal adobe temples and the ruins of several pre-Inca civilisations.
Equally varied are the ways in which people have lived in such places. In Cusco, rightfully known as the archaeological capital of the Americas, colonial architecture straddles Inca ruins. On Lake Titicaca, locals live on floating islands made from the tortora reeds that grow in the area. While in modern-day Lima, Peruvian chefs are gaining worldwide acclaim for their ground-breaking food.