No matter where you go, your first stop will be Lima. It’s been around for a long time. Way before the Spanish arrived, it was home to ancient cultures. Museo Larco showcases 5,000 years of Peruvian history including pre-Columbian erotic art and a gold and silver gallery.
Located in Miraflores, the Huaca Pucllana ruins are ancient. Archeologists believe it was a ceremonial and administrative center between 200 and 700 A.D. Its adobe pyramid contains a museum with artifacts from its glory days. Today, Miraflores is an upscale neighborhood with resorts, fine shops and the beach.
But, Lima is very much a Spanish city. The ornate Lima Cathedral, which began construction in 1535, has 15 chapels. Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, is buried there. You might want to explore the Spanish Baroque-styled Monastery of San Francisco (1673) with its 25,000 antique texts. Catacombs sit beneath it.
A “must-see” modern addition to Lima is the Parque de la Reserva. At night, the huge interactive 13-fountain complex becomes a spectacle. Color schemes change and jets are synchronized to music.
The laser and picture show plus the 115-foot walk-through tunnel of water are amazing.
Most visitors come to Peru to see the Incan city of Machu Picchu. The UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) region was built in the 15th century. It boasts 170 buildings, fountains and temples. Precision stonework was created without the use of metal tools. One of its most striking features is its 600 terraces which were not only used for farming but also to keep the city from falling off the mountain. Since 1911, when Hiram Bingham discovered it, scientists have still not uncovered all its many secrets.
You can reach this amazing Incan site by train, plane and feet. Those with time constraints can do a day trip by train from Lima or fly to Aguas Calientes and take a 20-minute bus to the site. Be aware that the mountain road constantly twists and turns, making the 20-minute ride seem like forever.
You can also fly to Cusco, another World Heritage Site. From there, a day trip is also possible. Know that the city is 10,800 feet above sea level, so take some time to acclimate when you get there. Visit the Cusco Cathedral, built in 1550. It dominates the Plaza de Armas. Cusco also has fine hotels, restaurants and
The more physically fit can hike to Machu Picchu. The 26-mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can take four- to five-days. Parts are very steep. It is necessary to book it as soon as possible. Only 500 people at a time are allowed on it and a permit is required. A scenic alternative is the Salkantay Trek. Besides spectacular scenery, the approximately 22-mile, five-day hike interacts more with the locals and the culture. No permit is required.
Another popular destination is the Amazon. Many discover it on a four- or five-day luxury cruise with Delfin Amazon Cruises (www.delfinamazoncruises.com). Forty miles at its widest, the Amazon starts in Peru’s Andes Mountains and then rushes 4,000 miles to its mouth in Belém, Brazil. The Amazon, with an unrivaled diversity of life -- 4,000 species of birds including 120 types of hummingbirds, 20,000 different plants and 2,000 species of fish - is a microcosm of mystery.
Bright pink dolphins, giant otters, caiman and piranhas inhabit the river. Bordering the shores are rainforest and small villages. Some locals hunt with primitive blow guns using darts dipped with curare -- poisons from frogs, ants and plants. Friendly natives often keep three-toed sloths as pets. They kind of remind me of koala bears.
Plains of Nazca
No one has yet figured out why the Nazca people, who inhabited barren Southern Peru desert plains from around 100 BC until about AD 750, created those mysterious geometric lines and shapes. Various ginormous drawings include a monkey, hummingbird, human and spider. They cover about 125 square miles and are visible only from the air.
Many theories swirl about them. Some believe that they were offerings to the gods or a sacred path of worship. Others believe they marked sources of water in the desert. The most out-there theory, literally, was fostered by Erich Von Daniken in his 1969 book, Chariots of the Gods. He believed that they could have been landing sites for aliens and that the lines were gouged by spacecraft. No matter why they were created, they are unique and worth the two-day trip to see them.
Peru is full of phenomena. You may be able to only see one or two, no matter. Their uniqueness is unforgettable.