In September of this year, my partner and I joined a National Geographic tour that explored Peru, the beautiful “Land of the Incas”. Machu Picchu may be the iconic symbol of Peru, and rightfully so, but I discovered there is so much more to inspire awe. Above is an inspiration board I composed based on the visual delights of Peru and my experience of it’s intriguing history and refreshing hospitality.
Peru is a country of exquisite beauty. It greets the Pacific Ocean on the west, where its coastal deserts are among the most arid in the world. Running the length of Peru are the majestic Andes. Woven throughout are verdant valleys and lush rainforests. I wasn’t fully aware of Peru’s treasures when I placed “Visit Machu Picchu” at the top of my bucket list several years ago.
Dominant in my memory is the stunning landscape - the rich siennas, ochres, and lavenders of the mountainsides; the steely charcoals and earthy pewters of granite and centuries-old rocks that terrace the lush green hillsides. Deep, mysterious hues of rainforest foliage fill the distance. Tree branches dripping with orchids and bright bromeliads, requiring no care other than nature’s abundant light and moisture-rich air, blur past the windows of the train as we make our way to Agua Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu.
If you can’t grow a plant in Peru, it’s because you simply haven’t planted. The staggering variety of botanical subjects was an unforgettable delight for this gardener. Cacti, palm trees, fuschia, bougainvillea, jasmine, hibiscus, brugmansia (angel’s trumpet), eucalyptus, and many others I had never seen before. Sol Y Luna, the first resort we stayed at after arriving in Cusco, was a botanical fantasy-land with gorgeous flowering plants at every turn.
The people of Peru are friendly, practical, and hard-working. Their strong, high cheekbones and intensely dark eyes are characteristic of their Incan ancestors. Many of the women weave iconic textiles from alpaca fibers. They work for hours on intricate patterns for shawls, bedcovers, pillows, hats and other items that tourists, like myself, are eager to buy. I couldn’t help but feel they are being cheated by a system that pays the lion’s share to the distributors instead of the creators.
Alpacas and llamas provide the fibers for the striking textiles found in every market. It’s hard not to fall in love with these charming creatures. I found their features very similar to a giraffe - big, beautiful eyes and a mouth that seems to smile. They come in many varieties with interesting, furry coats of different colors and textures. Some of them seem to know how important they truly are.
Machu Picchu might have been my original aim for planning my visit, but I quickly discovered Peru has many treasures that are every bit as wondrous and inspiring.