From the Incas to the Amazon

A mystical journey through Peru’s "orchid season” reveals the country’s mysterious, enlivened, and inviting sides—without sapping your bank account.
Peru travel
Misty Mountain Top: The ancient city of Machu Picchu (Ted Stedman)

Imagine a diverse land superlative on almost every level: Ice-capped peaks soaring above 20,000 feet riddled with hiking routes. Expansive, dense, verdant tropical jungle nurtured by the largest of all rivers, with a population of flora and fauna so diverse that’d make most world zoos jade green with envy. Magnificent ruins and a proud ancestral civilization that still remains a vital part of the contemporary social fabric. An immense coastline that invites more idle time than any traveler should be blessed to have...

It might sound a bit mythical, but it's no myth—it's Peru. And travelers jonesing for a combination of adventure, historical culture, curiosities, and mysticism will find that South America’s third-largest country qualifies as a certifiable Shangri-La. The Andes’ thrusting peaks, steep valleys, and remote cloudforests have innumerable trekking circuits and archaeological treasure troves like the famed Inca Trail and the enigmatic Machu Picchu citadel—iconic symbols that even armchair tourists recognize. East of the Andes lies the Peruvian Amazon Basin, a labyrinth of jungle and river so impenetrable that only intrepid travelers need apply. In wild contrast is Peru’s coastal Pacific quarter, where the ocean’s rain-defecting Humboldt Current has spawned a sinewy desert, and where Lima’s big-city hubbub and sandy beach walkabouts are for the taking.

You could pack your bags for the high 'n' "dry" season running from April to October, when highland trails are in prime condition for trekkers. But not surprisingly, that's also prime touristo season, meaning lodging prices and airfare are maxed out. But if you're not committed to dicey high-altitude endeavors (which become endlessly more dicey outside of the dry season), the "orchid season"—as Peruvians brilliantly call their wet season—offers some serious savings. Besides the better deals, the weather imparts a dramatic quality. Ephemeral mists waft above Inconnu ruins and orchids are as profuse as pisco sours, the ubiquitous national cocktail gringos either love or hate (clue: raw egg whites). Along the central coast and in Lima you can usually count on dry weather. And the Peruvian Amazon? Look at it this way: the hothouse humidity means you’re always soaked from sweat anyway. Travel is mostly by boat, so no worrying about conditions of the access roads. Just score hip boots, bring outerwear, and it's business as usual.


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Published: 23 Aug 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Peru

$179
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Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores
$195
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Novotel Cusco
$127
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Hotel Los Portales Piura
$109-$229
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Atton San Isidro

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