An overview

An overview

First, welcome. This is by far the most comprehensive guide on the web - nearly a gigabyte of information. That makes it quite complex to it quite complex to organise. We hope that navigation is intuitive, but you may want to glance at the User's Guide.

Please contact us with any suggestions you may have or any errors which you may have noted. We offer free upgrades to our clients which contain these modifications, as well as any pictures which you may care to send us. (There are details on how this is approached on our web site, which also offers pictures and ideas from our clients.)

Why Perú?

Probably the best way to illustrate the attraction of Perú is to describe what happened to the author yesterday, during a day spent in the Callejón de Huaylas.

A Quechua-speaking friend and I set out across the puna - the high heath lands of the Andes - driving in the sparkling thin air under a porcelain blue sky. The golden plains of the puna were fringed with distant, deep blue snow peaks. We rolled past sheep and alpacas, by cattle browsing semi-submerged in the shallow lakes, by herds of small, lithe horses and the villages of the herders who tend them. We met only the occasional colossal truck, massively bound for the coast and full of honey and lambs wool, eucalyptus wood and peaches.

We dropped down off the main road at 4500m, wandering down a dusty road. The word "Andes" is derived from the Quechua word for terraced fields, and these lay all around, spotted with barley, alfalfa, maize. Little stone enclosures preserve crops from the wandering livestock. Donkeys scattered before our car. We followed a cliff round and down to a dense little town at about 3000m, perched over a valley brim-full with blue light and watched over by glittering snow peaks.

We were delighted to find that the town was in fiesta. A local grandee was launching his son into respectability with a bull fight, marching bands an a display of horsemanship. Two competing brass bands were processing around the plaza de armas, each playing in a different key. Rockets exploded overhead. A crowd surged up and down the streets, dressed in every imaginable colour, clutching babies and bottles of beer, lunch and things to sell or exchange. Ladies who had come down from the hill farms to sell their produce were dressed in their best seven-layer skirts and white straw hats. Each presided over mounds of herbs, offered guinea pigs and chicks for sale, wandered about knitting or just watched the fun.

The bull ring was still in preparation for the events of the evening. Rings of trucks had been drawn up to contain the crowd and to offer vantage. The groundlings were between consigned to the unsafe space between them and the flimsy palings of the ring. My friend encountered many acquaintances, and he and they spent ten minutes in mock-combat in the middle of the ring, with small boys playing at being the bull. This got us invited to a private enclosure, where people were dancing to the traditional festival music of the sierra. (Click here to hear this, and here to stop it.)

This event led to further invitations and we were soon in a cheese factory with seven men, three donkeys and several hundred maturing cheeses. Flushed with beer and cheese, we headed for the Sixteenth century baroque church - the original idea behind the trip - to find that the rocketeers were mustering their strength for an ear-splitting salvo. The bullfight was about to begin.

Teetering on a flimsy wooden platform, we watched the first bull enter, dressed in a decorative collar. The matador - the son of a local farmer - lured him to the centre and spent several minutes teasing the animal. His elegant passes were cheered on by the crowd. Eventually the bull stopped responding and stood panting whilst others lassoed it and led it away. Small boys dashed about the ring, pretending to be matadors. (Many may well have started to learn to handle bulls in this way on their farm, beginning at the age of eight or so years.)

Another bull was introduced, to meet a far less able matador, who stumbled, made clumsy passes and was, in all probability, very drunk. He was rescued, to jeers from the crowd. An espontaneo rushed in, also drunk. The bull wandered off, uninterested, and then charged the palings. The crowd recoiled, screams and shouts blending with exclamations and laughter. Beer circulated and the band played on.

After a (very) late lunch of the fine local trout - and a slice of a whole roast pig, a local delicacy - we set off on our return trip to Huaraz.

Yesterday was a memorable but far from unique day in the Andes. There are few countries which can offer this degree of physical beauty, an accessible but distinctive society, historical association and astounding diversity. Lunching under our snow peaks, we were 50 kilometres from both desert and deep jungle. Spotted amongst the golden ichu ('ee-chew') grass of the puna were snowballs of cactus, blooming at 4000m. Orchids were growing in the rocks by a waterfall during our descent. Huge butterflies were wandering around during the bull fight. We saw countless birds during our drive. This guide is intended to help you decide what you want to do in this vast, largely unvisited country.

The aims of this guide

The guide is aimed at people who want to get off the beaten track, and who enjoy doing unusual things. It is, therefore, intended to help you understand what is possible, advisable and probably unwise in Perú. The guide is not intended as a substitute for the conventional guide books, which give detailed information on the primary tourist sites, on hotels and the like. We list some of the best of these on our web site.

This guide can be enjoyed at two levels. It contains a very large number of photographs, and many people buy our products simply because they enjoy armchair exploration of foreign places, or because they are trying to make up their minds where to go for their next holiday.

The second level - and where this guide offers unique insight - is concerned with finding new ways to enjoy the astounding diversity that Perú has to offer. Virtually everyone who visits Perú comes to Lima, the capital. About half visit Cuzco, a few percent go to Lake Titicaca and less than one percent visit the pretty city of Ayacucho. A very small fraction go anywhere else, despite the astounding scope for fun, exploration, challenge and excitement that the country has to offer.

Perú is a vast country, with complex geography, several virtually parallel societies and an extraordinary wealth of wildlife, geology, archeological remains and historical legacies. We try to give you some insight into these areas of interest, showing how they can be woven into a completely unique, safe and practical trip.

One burden that must lie on you is, however, to decide what it is that you want to do. Perú is just too big and too complex for you to simply turn up, expecting to find options laid out for you. There are, of course, standard package trips. Standard packages must provide an anodyne blend of something for everyone, and nothing which can possibly alarm or offend anyone. Our clients have, by and large, rather exhausted the limited charms that such products have to offer. You probably want to find something more focused, more customised and more to your personal taste. We offer you ideas, and a toolkit with which to specify what you want to achieve. Perú is well-equipped with travel agencies which can deliver the support needed to accomplish this, and our web site directs you to some of these. There is an extensive section here on the styles of travel which you may want to adopt.

Travel in pursuit of your particular interests needs to combine elements of what to do and where to do it. In addition, you will be concerned with the issues of cost, time and security. The bulk of this guide describes the back-roads and little-visited areas of Perú, thereby addressing the issues of both resources and "where".

However, we have cross-referenced these with pages which review some of the generic issues of "what" you may care to do.

  Butterflies and other insects
  Field sports from surfing to fishing , bullfghting to kayaking
  Orchids and other plants
  Birds and other animals
  Archaeology and historical investigations
  Religious and spiritual interests

This guide is written to help you make up your mind on this: if you want to participate in an exploration after lost cities in the jungle, study hummingbirds in the Andes or fish for trout amidst a desert canyon, we can set you on your way. Of course, trout or butterflies, parrots or ruins all exist in abundance, and creating a meaningful plan means dealing with local agencies in order to establish the practical details: car hire or public transport, guides or unassisted travel, official input or a "permits only" trip - very much and so forth. Our web site points to organisations which can help you achieve your goals. It is, however, absolutely in your hands to define what you want, and how much time and money you want to spend on this. This is a guide intended for individualists who know their own mind, and who want to study the options before taking a decision.