I had wanted to visit Peru since studying the Incan Empire at primary school. Everything since, from documentaries to art and photography, had only fuelled my interest. A trip had consequently been on the cards for a long time, but I had never been much of a hiker, and so the classic Inca Trail route didnít hold much appeal. Well past my backpacking days, neither did I want to stay in hostels or ride on crowded buses. When I came across escorted tours the idea appealed instantly. Everything is planned by experienced experts from transport and accommodation to tours and visits. I booked my place on a two week tour- what would be the greatest adventure of my life.
Lima, City of Kings was an impressive start to the trip. Museums of gold and silver, antique architecture and memorials decorate the historic streets of the old town. Our guide made a very large city welcoming and accessible, and we learnt loads about the history of Peru to set us in good stead for the rest of the trip.
Arequipa was the next stop, surrounded by three formidable (yet reassuringly dormant) volcanoes. The picturesque valley and snowy peaks serve as an idyllic backdrop for this old colonial city, which is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Monasteries, cathedrals and traditional villages surround, give Arequipa a bygone charm which is uniquely its own.
The Colca Canyon marked the middle of the trip, an astounding natural wonder twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. At the Cruz del Condor we watched the magnificent native Condors soaring past canyon walls and riding on thermals. Later in the day, Puno provided a pretty contrast to the austere canyon. Pastel houses and winding avenues border the shore of Lake Titicaca, the worldís highest navigable lake. Fabled to be the birthplace of the Incas, the lake is steeped in myth and legend- the stories entertainingly recounted to us by our guide. The islands made of reeds are populated by traditionally dressed local artisans selling crafts.
If I was to choose my favourite Peruvian town it would have to be Cuzco. Surely one of the most beautiful in the Americas, the well preserved colonial architecture gives one the feeling of having stumbled back in time. Once the Incan capital, hillside lanes and stunning Spanish architecture are built around Incan stonework and mythology.
From there we explored several Incan sites within the Sacred Valley, from the tranquil magnificence of Ollantaytambo to the formidable cliff top Pisac. The precision of the stonework and the magnitude of the sites are astounding, and the stories told by the guides give a real sense of the ambitious, advanced civilization who constructed them.
Machu Picchu was saved as the trip finale, and what an ending it was. The spectacular lines and peaks of these mountain top ruins are etched into my memory, and the myths and histories surrounding them are just as incredible. Make sure to get the unique stamp on your passport.