In a utopian world all on its own, Peru is awash with once-in-a-lifetime experiences that really take some beating.
A land of llamas, eerie geological formations and the stalwart ruins of Machu Picchu, there's something inescapably epic about this Latino country, pitched between the coastal desert and the verdant Amazon Rainforest.
Adrenalin junkies will lose their hearts, whether hiking the slopes of the Andes mountain range, cycling beneath condors in the Colca Canyon, or feeling the full throttle of the Urubamba River on a white water rafting trip. Yet while adventure pops up along every road and under every nook and cranny, culture buffs have plenty to get excited about too.
Peru's epicentre of high-octane thrills is a favourite among South American aficionados. Horse-riding? Check. Motorbiking along salt flats? Check? Trekking to a wonder of the world? Check. Capsizing while white-water rafting? Check. The gateway to Machu Picchu, it lays claim to being the historic capital of the Inca Empire and in 1983 was declared a World heritage Site by UNESCO. And with good reason.
Enamoured by Quechua-speaking Inca descendants selling crafts in plazas and languidly wandering its narrow, cobbled streets, travellers often spend a good few days here, acclimatising to its mighty elevation of 3,399m while tucking into Peruvian specialities and planning their pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
Set on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the higgledy-piggledy city of Puno is an intriguing stopover before journeying to the floating Uros Islands. Unusually constructed from dried totora reeds, this cluster of homes can be visited on a daytrip where you can glimpse into the lives of the locals as they potter around their rudimentary islands.
Not-to-be-missed is a homestay on the islands of Taquile and Amantani. Bedding down with locals may sound a little challenging, but how often can you say you've delved into roast guinea pig with a Peruvian family before watching the crimson-red sun melt into Titicaca's horizon?
Get beyond the grey cacophony of Lima and you have a remarkable city worth a couple of days' exploration. Ensconced in fog, it's no beauty on first glance, but pick away at its gritty facade and you'll be rewarded with all manner of intriguing sites, from pre-Colombian temples perched between skyscrapers and pretty colonial mansions with Moorish-style balconies hinting as its history as a foreign enclave.
Too few travellers escape the city for the cool climes of Cusco or Arequipa without giving Lima so much as a second glance — something which is utterly unjustified. From exploring its stately museums and fascinating history to sampling its hot new love affair with haute cuisine, Peru's capital is a cultural mirage that's not-to-be-missed.