With the 32-nation World Cup 2018 soon to be contested in Russia, David Bowden takes a look at each country as a possible travel destination for Malaysians
THE World Cup was a touchy subject with most Peruvians up until a few months back when it knocked out New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1982. For a proud football nation, missing out on qualifying for the World Cup has always been a bitter pill to swallow but now Peruvians from the beaches of Lima’s Miraflores to the shores of Lake Titicaca are gripped by football fever.
Some four million tourists visit Peru annually but there is always room for more according to the tourism officials. Most visitors fly into Lima, the country’s main air gateway and enjoy all this coastal city offers with its trendy beachside precinct of Miraflores before heading off to other parts of the country.
While the Unesco World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu is engrained in most visitors understanding of the country, there are many other natural and cultural attractions from beach resorts along the coast, to remote villages in the Andes and isolated riverine settlements in the Amazon Basin. There’s an abundance of archaeological sites like Kuelap, Jaen and Celendin.
Machu Picchu is where every tourist to Peru wants to visit, to admire the mighty Inca civilisation that once dominated this mountainous location. Most will include the city of Cusco and the adjoining Sacred Valley despite the possibility of altitude sickness (tip — take things slowly).
Cusco was home to the Incas before the Spanish overran it and there’s evidence of both cultures in the city, with the Qurikancha being home to Inca foundations beneath the Spanish Convent of Santo Domingo.
Plaza de Armas is typical of several open plazas with the ornate La Catedral and Temple de la Compania de Jesus lining its grassy surrounds. Beyond the plazas are the ancient narrow winding alleyways of Barrio de San Blas with small shops selling crafts and arts next to cafes, restaurants and bars. Explore San Pedro Markets to admire the variety of corn and potatoes varieties.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham “discovered” Machu Picchu and a luxury train between Cusco and Machu Picchu is the most stylish way to explore the ruins.
Machu Picchu is the giant granite citadel perched high up in the Andes and built in the 15th century before being abandoned 100 years after the Spanish arrived. While it’s an undulating site, Machu Picchu is not that difficult to negotiate on foot.
Back towards Cusco, the scenic Sacred Valley is dissected by the Urubamba River and has a semi-arid landscape. Excellent produce is grown in the valley and served in its many restaurants. Local textiles are woven by Incan women and the archaeological sites of Ollantaytambo and Moray plus the Maras salt pans are not to be missed.
HIDDEN TOURISM GEMS
Coastal Peru is amazingly dry and is classified as semi-arid but visitors can take the opportunity to drive across coastal sand dunes in a sand buggy. Nearby, the Nazca Lines and its “astronaut figures” have baffled all who visit. Spend several days walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but get into training first.
Head east towards Lake Titicaca on the border with Bolivia or ride the new luxury Belmond Andean Explorer along one of the world’s highest railway routes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca. Fly to Iquitos in the north of Peru and spend some time in the wilds of the rainforested headwaters of the lush Amazon Basin. Adventurous visitors can wander through Canon del Colca, one of the world’s deepest canyons or mountain bike and trek around the Cordillera Blanca.
The food of Peru is considered by many to be the next big culinary step forward (if not already). Multiculturalism and habitat diversity ensure there’s incredible variety in the food available in the country.
Japanese-born chef and restaurateur Nobu refined his unique style in Peru before taking it to the world (including his restaurant in Kuala Lumpur). Central, Maido and Astrid Y Gaston restaurants are all in Lima and listed in the top 35 restaurants in the world.
In addition to scores of corn and potato varieties, superfood quinoa originates from Peru and is one of the specialty dishes in guinea pig. The national beverage is pisco sour and some impressive wines are also produced here. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy pachamanca (food cooked by hot rocks within the ground). Ceviche (prepared from raw fish) is a national dish.
Visit Lima during Mistura (October this year) to enjoy a gastronomic extravaganza. Peru is one of the leading coffee producers in the world. A wander through Lima’s Surquillo Market is highly recommended.
Population: 31.5 million
Area: 1.3 million km2 (Malaysia is 330,803 km2)
The Competition: Peru is in Group C of the World Cup against France, Australia and Denmark.