An energetic city of nearly 10 million people, Spanish-built Lima combines an old-world colonial heart with the hustle of a developing metropolis. At the city center, cathedrals preside over graceful town squares from which the spreading metropolis radiates outwards — more and more with each passing year. Public transportation has not been able to keep up with urban sprawl, particularly because the city’s location on a major fault line prevents any development of an underground rail system. Visitors should plan to stay in hotels close to their points of interest, or risk spending their time stuck in traffic.
First row: The Plaza San Martin (first two photos) and balconies overlooking the Plaza Mayor (also knows as the Plaza de Armas).
Second row: In the upscale Miraflores district, El Parque del Amor overlooks the Pacific (first two pictures). A street market is open for business.
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A Carnaval parade in Lima is an energetic, chaotic celebration of Peru’s many indigenous cultures.
To say that Peru is rich in archaeological sites and antiquities is like saying the Amazon is rich in vegetation. At the Huacha Pucllana archaeological site, diners can peer into the guts of an ongoing excavation while sipping Pisco sours.
The images below from Lima’s Larco Museum in Lima offer an introduction to the iconography and spiritual significance of pre-Columbian art. The extensive collection includes funerary jars, textiles, and gold and silver faceplates, head-dresses, and jewelry, all of which illuminated the Inca and pre-Inca spiritual worldview. The art in the Larco illuminates the culture’s veneration of duality (opposite and complementary forces such as male-female, sun-moon, gold-silver) and the three planes of existence (the sky, home of the gods,represented by the condor; the underworld, home of the dead, represented by the snake, and the living world of the earth, represented by the puma; all interact with each other in cycles, creating the natural cycles seen on earth). The funeral shroud (first picture) represents the entire iconography of both duality and the three planes of existence with its use of colors, interlocking cyclical patterns, and animal images.
An entire exhibit is devoted to pre-Columbian erotic art, which honors the role of sex as part of the cycle of life and the earth’s fertility. In the last picture (bottom right), skeletal figures represent the dead, who are contribute to the cycle of death and rebirth by spilling their seed onto the earth.
Peruvian cuisine has caught fire in international gourmet circles. The home of ceviche is also the home of Asian-Hispanic fusion cuisine, as represented by world-renowned chef Nobu, who moved here from Japan to start a sushi restaurant before moving on to Argentina, back to Japan, and thence to Alaska and finally Los Angeles. In addition to goumet fare, local Peruvian cuisine is both hearty and exotic. Peruvians say that if you haven’t tried these five foods and drinks, you haven’t really been to Peru: Pisco sours, coca tea, Inca cola, guinea pig, and alpaca. For more on Peruvian cuisine check out Feasting Like Inca Kings.
Below: Fusion delicacies on the Inca Princess train to Machu Picchu; seafood morsels at the Lima Westin, and Peru’s staples of maize and potatoes — of which they have several thousand varieties.
The capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco was home to Coricancha (Qurikancha or Qorikancha in Quechua), the most important huacha, or Inca shrine, dedicated primarily to the sun god. The Spanish destroyed Inca temples and built their churches on their foundations. The Inca walls have no mortar, yet they have withstood earthquakes that have destroyed all the other structures in Cusco several times.
Photos, first row: Santa Domingo, built on Coricancha. Inca buildings were built in a slight trapezoidal shape (visible in the second photo). No mortar was used; the Inca walls are held together with an interlocking peg-and-holes devices that might remind the modern visitor of giant Lego blocks (the holes are visible at the upper left of the third photo).
Second row: left: Churches, balconies (popular because no taxes are levied on their square footage), and mountains are hallmarks of Cusco scenery. Middle: Many of Cusco’s boutique hotels are of Colonial design, built around a courtyard (Shown here, La Casona Cusco). Right: Away from the bustle of the tourist shops around the Plaza des Armas, locals at the San Pedro Market go about their business.
The Sacred Valley
Located between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, where trains leave for Machu Picchu throughout the year, the Sacred Valley follows the Urubamba River; its Quechua name, Willkamayu, means sacred river. This was the heart of the Inca Empire and one of the empire’s main points for agriculture, particularly maize. Inkaterra’s new luxury hotel (picture at bottom right), The Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba is located a short drive from the train station at Ollantaytambo, is a convenient departure point for Machu Picchu.
Riding the Rails
Peru Rail and Inca Rail both operate trains from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu (tickets from Cusco to Machu Picchu include a bus or taxi transfer; train service from Cusco ceased after mudslide damage). In the high season, trains also run from Poroy, eight miles from Cusco, and tickets include a bus transfer. There are several trains daily, with different classes of service. For a real treat, Inca Rail also offers a luxury car for private rental for up to 12 passengers. The “Inca Princess” has swivel armchairs and a lounge area, its own toilet, authentic local decor, and food and beverage service (including a full bar and cuisine featuring locally sourced ingredients).
Photos, first row: Inside the Inca Princess. The station at Ollantaytambo. Winding through the Urubamba Valley.
Second row: The Urubamba is too fierce for rafting. The beginning of the Inca Trail. Musicians on board the Inca Princess.
The lost city of the Incas. One of the world’s archaeological wonders. A misty, mysterious, place that reveals just exactly why one would start to worship the sun.
Oh, and did you know? It’s pronounced Ma-chu PiK- chu? Yes, that seemingly extra “c” is there for a reason: Spanish is a phonetic language; it doesn’t waste any letters.
The alpacas at Machu Picchu were left behind from a film shoot, and spend their time keeping the grass “mowed.” Weather at Machu Picchu can change dramatically in a day. A tour takes in the living areas, religious and spiritual centers, the farming terraces, and the storerooms and workrooms. At bottom right, a symbolic entrance to the underworld is marked by a staircase representing the planes of the Incan spiritual world.
Puerto Maldonado (in the south of Peru near the Bolivian and Brazilian borders) and Iquitos (in the north) are the two embarkation points for trips into the Amazon basin. About a half an hour from Puerto Maldonado in the south, the Inkaterra Amazonica offers an eco-luxury experience, with private casitas and a range of wildlife hikes, river excursions, and bird-watching opportunities along the Madre de Dios River, a tributary of the Amazon near the Tambopata National Reserve, one of Peru’s most biologically rich and diverse regions.
Photos: First row: A casita overlooks a marsh where birds and howler monkeys can be seen and heard. A boardwalk leads into the jungle. A series of seven swinging bridges introduce visitors to the rainforest canopy. Second row: We clocked more than six miles on the round-trip mud-hike to Lake Sandoval; the trip included a bird- and monkey- watching canoe ride. A 300-year old ficus tree. Travel in the Amazon is by boat.