The Roof of Peru
The world could hardly offer a more spectacular natural stage for adventure sports, cultural discovery and archaeological exploration than the Peruvian Andes. Home to the world's highest tropical mountain (Huascarán) and the world's deepest canyon (Cotahuasi Canyon), this region spans diverse ecosystems, is studded with the remains of Pre-Columbian cultures and is populated by vibrant and hospitable people who carry on the traditions of their ancestors.
The "sierra", as the region is known, offers unlimited opportunities for outdoor adventure sports such as trekking, mountain climbing, river rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, paragliding, hang gliding, skiing, camping, fishing and horseback riding. While the sierra's most famous trek by far is the Inca Trail, an ancient Inca highway leading to Machu Picchu, the possibilities are endless. You could hike the high windswept plateau, along the edge of scenic canyons, through forested valleys or across rugged alpine landscapes. Mountain climbers of all abilities will find a challenge in Peru's numerous peaks, many of which surpass 19,500 feet. The Cordillera Blanca range, which includes Mt. Huascarán at 22,205 feet and beautifully pyramidal Mt. Alpamayo, offers superb mountain climbing as does the Huayhuash range. Other mountain ranges with excellent climbing include the volcanic range of Arequipa, the Vilcabamba range and the Vilcanota range. The Apurímac River Canyon and Cotahuasi River offer world-class river rafting through incredible landscapes and Lake Titicaca is a great place to kayak. Nearly the entire region is apt for mountain biking and there are routes which allow you to descend through distinct ecological tiers in just a few hours' time. Here you can ski down pristine glaciers and fish for trout in crystalline rivers and lakes.
Natural attractions abound in the Peruvian Andes, where vicuñas, pumas, spectacled bears, viscachas and deer still roam, condors and flamingos soar overhead and remarkable plants such as the Puya raimondii adorn the mountain slopes. Intriguing stone formations can be observed in the various stone forests and all across the country's rugged spine natural medicinal hot springs can be found, like those in Cajamarca where Emperor Atahualpa himself is said to have bathed.
To visit the sierra is to come face-to-face with ancient cultures and living traditions. Pre-Columbian ruins are scattered across the landscape and the Spanish left behind an impressive architectural legacy in the cities. Don't miss the temples of Koricancha, Chavín de Huántar and Kotosh, the fortresses of Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo, or the ancient city of Wari. The prehistoric petroglyphs of Toro Muerto are fascinating, as are the burial sites of Las Ventanas de Otuzco and the Chullpas of Sillustani. Grand colonial churches, monasteries and mansions still stand in cities such as Arequipa, Cuzco and Ayacucho.
The people of the sierra, meanwhile, continue to work the land, raise animals, dress, speak, celebrate, cook, worship and weave in ways that have changed little over the centuries. Wherever you go they'll invite you to participate in their lively festivals and solemn rituals, savor their uniquely earthy cuisine, and experience the warmth of traditional Andean hospitality.