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Peru: Modern and ancient

Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner
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Photo of Machu Picchu
But for an offer from friends to stay at their Lima home, we might never have sampled this land of the Incas. Regrets? Only having overlooked it for so long. We allocated time between the capital, Cusco and the not-to-miss Machu Picchu. Our visit took place in early November, Peru’s late spring.

Accommodations were in Lima’s upscale Barranco district. We explored the neighborhood and Miraflores district to the north, both ideal for enjoying Lima’s charms on foot. The city was a riot of flowers flourishing in gardens, median strips, at the bases of trees and overflowing hanging baskets. Unforgettable.

Three things stood out on this trip: pacific cliffside attractions, posh boulevard boutiques and trendy restaurants. Miraflores’ sweet spot is a robust triangle. It fans west from Parque Kennedy (the central park) to the ocean and is bounded by Diagonal on the north and Paseo de la Republica on the south – ending at the cliffside Larcomar shopping zone. Parque de Amor at the cliff’s edge and Diagonal intersection has been Lima’s romantic spot forever, a nook for the ages that beckons all. Want to try something unique? Tandem paraglide off the cliffs at Parque Raimondi at $35 a fling.

For the “foodie” in you, Lima is recognized internationally as gustatory heaven. That’s right; many come here only to dine. One starts with ceviche. Although Ecuadorians might argue with Peruvians about who invented it, no doubt remains as to who perfected it. Citrus-marinated raw fish is robust; the ingredients are healthy, diverse and fresh. I recommend sampling Lima’s broad array of ceviche as one great thematic way to wander the city.

As to other menu offerings – fusion cuisine, a mixing of traditional Peruvian dishes with that of its many immigrants, is highlighted. Often called Mestizo fare, top local chefs also emphasize use of regionally indigenous foods. Light foods and tapas-like snacks are also readily available, so one can indulge at any time of day.

Photo of crafters in Peru
On to Cusco. Two warnings. If you land late in the day, watch your alcohol intake; headaches at 11,500 feet are downright ugly. Also, when taking off, your plane will use every inch of the runway. Not to worry; you’ll make it. Many others have before you.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and the oldest continuously occupied city in the Americas. A cultural center, the city is small and walkable. Almost everywhere offers a “Kodak moment.” Start at the Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square and home to Cusco’s main cathedral. Patronize the Central market. See the Barrio de San Blas. Absorb the architecture and Andean culture. Pay to have your picture taken with the colorful, high-hatted local women. Cusco is also a jumping-off point for many scenic day trips, including Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lake and Sacred Valley.

None rival the awe of Machu Picchu, the 15th century royal Inca citadel. Whether arriving by train or hiking the Inca Trail, this Wonder of the World is unmissable. It projects power, strength and engineering brilliance. Near perfection with its Ashlar masonry (dry stone without mortar). Project yourself living in that impregnable fortress surrounded by towering peaks 500 years ago. That experience comes with a mystery; its occupants disappeared after 100 years.

Peru is a South American eye-opener that belongs on everyone’s bucket list; please add it right now.



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