Peru is well-known for being the home to one of the Seven Wonders of The World, Machu Picchu, and colourfully dressed llamas. But it isn't exactly the first place one would think of when considering Muslim-friendly destinations. Well, we're here to prove this otherwise!
This South American country has so much more to offer. Rich in historical and archaeological remnants of the Incan empire (possibly the largest early 16th century empire in the world), it almost seems like you're time travelling to a different era of civilisation.
If you're a thrifty traveller like me, planning this trip way ahead of time will help save your Sol (the Peruvian currency...see what I did there? ?). By the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll be inspired to lace up your hiking shoes and experience the sights, smells and sounds of picturesque Peru. Here are 8 reasons to add this spectacular country to your travel bucket list!
1. Explore the capital city Lima
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Lima is the capital city of Peru. With a population of over 10 million people, it is the third largest city in the Americas. Due to the proximity of this coastal city to the Pacific Ocean, Lima has two seasons: summer (December through March) and winter (May through September).
#HHWT Tip: Winter months are the best time to visit as it’s the dry season, especially if you’re planning to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!
Centro historic de Lima (Historic Centre)
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The historic centre used to be the colonial capital when Spanish explorer Francisco Pizzaro conquered Peru and founded the city of Lima. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is laden with colonial, Spanish and French-style architecture lining the streets. Look up and you’ll notice the beautiful wooden balconies and carvings on the building facades!
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Located in the heart of the historic centre is Plaza Mayor, home to some of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings in the city. Surrounding this central plaza is the Municipal Palace, The Basilica Cathedral of Lima, Casa del Oidor, Archbishop's Palace, Palace of the Union and the Government Palace where you can catch the daily midday changing of the guard! Back in the 1570s, Plaza Mayor was a site for public executions ?. Now, the gallows are no more and in its place is a beautiful water fountain.
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Barranco is one of the most colourful cities in the world! This bohemian neighbourhood overlooking the beach radiates edgy and artistic vibes. This probably has a lot to do with the museums, art galleries, hip cafes and bright coloured buildings occupied by the creative and the talented. Coupled with the occasional sea breeze, Barranco is THE most romantic spot in the city ?.
Lima Art Museum
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See the evolution of cultures, customs and conquerors through visual displays of art. This modern museum with chequered marble floors exhibits Peruvian ceramics, textiles, ceremonial relics and artworks dating back to the pre-Columbian era. Learn about the lives of the early inhabitants of Peru through paintings and the modernisation of the country through photography. Even if you're not into art, the museum's exterior is picture-worthy too!
Islam in Peru
Credit: Asociacion Islamica del Peru on Facebook
Islam was introduced when Spanish Moors arrived on the coast of Peru in the 1560s. Back then, those who identified as Muslims were prosecuted. Now, although the Muslim population makes up less than 0.2%, the small and vibrant community thrives in the heart of this bustling city. While you won't find a proper mosque in Lima, the Asociacion Islamica del Peru is the main centre for Muslim gatherings and prayers.
Address: Jiron Tacna 556, Magdalena del Mar, Lima.
2. Trek up Machu Picchu
Take a four-day walk up to one of the most magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site sitting atop the Andes mountains. Machu Picchu, in the Quechua (indigenous people of South America) native language, means "Old Mountain" and is also known as "The Lost City of the Incas". If you're looking for that Peruvian magic, you’ll find it here as you gaze down into the misty mountains surrounding the archaeological ruin.
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu. One of the popular options is to hike the classic Inca Trail, an age-old path that will take you between mountains and across rivers with breathtaking views along the way.
As you go higher up the mountain, you will see the Inca villages and terraces of the ancient citadel carved into the slopes. This is the site of one of the oldest civilisation in the world, with unique Incan engineering and architecture that has stood the test of time.
However, it is compulsory to book a spot with a tour group (permit included) in advance as the government has restricted the number of visitors allowed and banned independent trekking.
3. Street food to die for
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A lot of Peruvian cuisines are seafood, potato and corn-based. While it is challenging to find a Halal certified eatery (aside from the Arab and Lebanese restaurants in the cities), here are some must-try street grubs that are Muslim-friendly.
Imagine sashimi doused in citrus juice, onion, salt, chilli and herbs. That's what ceviche is! This national dish is a little spicy with a tangy kick - you're bound to find this addictive.
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It's layers of potatoes, vegetables, egg and chicken. Alternatively, you can swap the chicken with peas, corn or seafood. It's like a casserole made of potatoes and leftovers!
Papas a la Huancaina
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And it was all yellow. This is a simple dish made of sliced potatoes and covered in cheese, garlic, evaporated milk, lime juice, boiled eggs and saltine crackers. It may not look appetising but this creamy dish is surprisingly spicy at the same time.
4. Marvel at the salt pans of Maras
The thousands of bleached white and brown rectangular pools cascading down the steep valley near Maras has been producing salt for the locals since the time of the Inca Empire. These evaporation pools are filled by a natural spring of salt water through crossing streams. Once the water evaporates in the dry air, all that's left behind are the salt crystals which are then scraped, packed and sold in the local market. Not only is the view stunning, the salt harvested here is also said to have health benefits due to its high content of calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. So be sure to grab yourself a bag or two!
5. Experience historical Cusco city
Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire. But when the Spanish came and conquered, Cusco was stripped of its riches and architectures. Set high at an altitude of 3,399 metres above sea level, Cusco remains one of the most popular tourist spots in Peru with plenty to offer!
Plaza de Armas
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This plaza is the heart of Cusco. The granite red buildings surrounding the town square transports you to a different time. Explore the Spanish stone arcades tunnelling through the town with plenty of local shops and cafes for you to pass through.
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Hovering above Cusco city is the Incan military fortress. When you arrive at the foot of the fortress you will see Quechua women selling souvenirs and flocks of colourfully dressed llamas milling about. There isn't much left of what was once a grand fortress but the panoramic view of Cusco from the top of the fortress is worth it ?.
Barrio de San Blas
This part of the city is filled with artisanal and local crafts shops. Tread carefully on the charming cobblestone roads of San Blas as you roam for unique souvenirs to bring home.
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The San Pedro market is humongous! From fresh fruits to trinkets, from ponchos to home décor, this is where people from all over the region assemble to sell their goods. The booths and stalls spill onto the streets outside of the market as well. You'll get your taste of the Peruvian culture while traipsing through the endless rows of goodies.
6. Visit jaw-dropping Lake Titicaca
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Beautiful and breathtaking, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. Located in southern Peru, the lake sits 3,800 metres above sea level and crosses the borders of Peru and Bolivia. You will catch a glimpse of a unique ecosystem which homes various water birds and aquatic species. To give you an idea of how big this lake is, there are six islands on the lake itself and it takes more than five hours to cross from the Peru side of the lake into Bolivia. Blue skies as far as your eyes can see, Lake Titicaca is truly picture perfect ?.
7. Stroll through hip Arequipa
Arequipa, known as the White City, is the hub for textile manufacturing and agriculture. But what makes this UNESCO World Heritage Site a photographer's dream is the three volcanoes sitting in the backdrop. Arequipa is fast becoming a popular tourist-friendly destination rivalling Cusco City.
Plaza de Yanahuara
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If you want to escape the hectic city, visit Plaza de Yanahuara. Here, you’ll get a taste of the local scene with beautiful archways framing the faraway volcanoes.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
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This colourful colonial monastery attracts tourists like bees to honey! There's a photo-op waiting to happen at every corner you turn. Vibrant walls, flowering bushes and trees makes this town within a town an insta-worthy attraction.
8. Descend into the depths of Colca Canyon
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Hiking through the Colca Canyon is no mean feat. Located to the northwest of Arequipa, Colca Canyon is the world's second deepest canyon at a depth of 3,270 metres. But you'll be treated to landscape views that change with every kilometre you hike ?.
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Take a bus to Cabanaconde where your journey begins. It is a 4-hour descend into Llahuar, a small village near the foot of the canyon where you will find hostels and riverside hot springs. Then, make your way to Sangalle for an overnight stay. The next day, be prepared for a steep climb back to Cabanaconde. You'll be challenged by the increasing altitude, steep trails and walls of boulders along the way. The villages offer food and accommodations, so you won't go hungry (or need to pitch a tent!).
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Soak in the natural hot springs you'll find dotted along the route for a bit of well-earned rest and relaxation. Worry not! There are changing rooms and bathrooms on-site for your comfort.
If you're not up for the long hike and would just like to birdwatch, head over to Cruz del Condor viewpoint and watch the largest flying bird on earth, the native Giant Andean condors, soar above.
Unlike Machu Picchu, you can trek up the Canyon by yourself. No permits needed!
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The list of things to see and do just goes on and on! Peru is a vast country with a fusion of history, culture, arts and archaeological ruins. Experience ancient magic, check off one of the Seven Wonders of The World and the various UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get ready for an adventure of a lifetime! ?