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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Peru is South America’s Hottest Destination

In Asia, South American fever continues apace with Peru poised as the hottest destination on the 
Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System Photo by Daniel Silva Yoshisatocontinent.  Its main attraction, Peru’s living culture, is a seamless and magical blend of heritage and contemporary, reflected in its cities, villages, landscapes, customs and expressions.

A product of its colourful and age-old history, the country’s historical and natural attractions not only enchant visitors, but also provide a solid foundation to its flourishing contemporary culture, which continually add to the lure for Asian travellers who seek to experience the wealth of experiences on offer.

One such element of this living culture is Peru’s burgeoning gastronomy scene, bursting with European, Asian, African and indigenous Peruvian flavours.  Not surprisingly then, that Peru has for two years running been awarded World’s Best Culinary Destination by the World Travel Awards, the leading tourist industry award of its kind.

With a large ethnically Asian population, Peruvian cuisine includes its very own Peruvian Chinese cuisine colloquially referred to as Chifa; while considered one of its national dishes, the Ceviche takes on a distinctly Japanese hue with its amalgamation of sashimi and piquant sauce, resulting in Tiradito, yet another staple in Peruvian cuisine.  Beyond Asia, there are prevalent influences of Peru’s Spanish conquers, as well as the slaves who came along with them, adding Arabic and African flavours to the mix.

Peru’s indigenous foods and culinary tradition which have been around for centuries also make the most of the territory’s fertile ecosystem which grows 3,000 varieties of potatoes alone, and leading Peruvian chefs experiment with native products such as maca, quinoa, amaranth and canihua as they give shape to a new culinary genre of novoanina – New Andean cuisine.

Visitors to the capital Lima can experience its pioneering restaurants, gourmet shops and markets including Surquillo Market, a must-stop for foodies with its enchanting display of fragrant herbs, spices, fresh vegetables, and an endless selection of exotic fruits.  The nearby San Isidro Market is an organic farmers market which takes place every Saturday in Lima Park, offering ingredients sourced from all across the country – from its coastline, the Amazon rainforest jungles, the arid dessert to the high peaks of the Andes.

In September, the second edition of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was hosted in Lima this year, with the coveted top two spots secured by Peruvian restaurants.  Chef Virgilio Martínez’s Central topped the ranking, followed by Diego Muñoz who helms Gastón Acurio’s eponymous restaurant Astrid y Gastón.  Central was also placed number 15 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014, its highest climber leaping from number 50 last year, while Astrid y Gastón was placed 18th.

In addition, an annual celebration of Peruvian food, Mistura took place for its seventh year running in 2014, one of the foremost food festivals and the largest of its kind on the continent.  This year, the event was kicked-off by the Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and featured 300 small Peruvian producers and 192 stalls selling a wide variety of Peruvian cuisine.

Besides the wealth of culinary experiences on offer, visitors have a countless other attractions to take in, for Peru is a sanctuary for both historical and natural wonders.

It is home to no less than twelve UNESCO World Heritage Sites* with its latest addition, Qhapaq Ñan inscribed on the World Heritage list just this year.  Qhapaq Ñan, Quechua for “Great Inca Road”, is a network created by the Incas that stretch over 30,000km through one of the most extreme geographical terrains that link the snow-capped Andean peaks to the coast through humid rainforests, deep valleys and expansive deserts.

Naturally, first time visitors to Peru are drawn to the legendary Machu Picchu and for this, the city of Cusco, is often considered as its base camp.  The old capital of the Incan Empire and itself an archaeological site, the cobblestoned streets and the walls of Incan palaces, temples and forts are steeped in history.  Pre-Columbian sites such as Qorikancha the Temple of the Sun and Aclla Wasi, the House of the Chosen Women all co-exist alongside more recent Colonial sites such as the San Blas Church, the iconic Plaza de Armas and its Colonial houses which are literally built on Incan foundations.

Beyond historical attractions, at the Museo de la Coca, visitors can learn about coca leaves, how the crop is planted, harvested as well as the plant’s medicinal and healing properties, which includes alleviating symptoms of altitude sickness.  At Choco Museo, visitors can sample hot chocolate and see the chocolate-making process starting with the cacao bean and participate in one of the chocolate making workshops.
Visitors cannot leave Cusco without trying the pan chuta bread, worth the visit to Oropesa district just 20kms from the imperial city where from midnight, bakers begin to knead these large circular loaves to be freshly baked in the morning, which are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

From Cusco, visitors should also allow time to explore the picturesque and ancestral villages of the nearby Sacred Valley.  The region’s warm climate and altitude makes the area ideal for agriculture, most famous for producing the giant corn prevalent throughout Peru, which also gives the region its distinct landscape.  The fields of verdant green reach out to the blue and expansive skies, dotted with candyfloss clouds against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The village of Maras is most famous for its salt mine, carved in to the side of a hill made up of over 3,000 pools and its produce, the distinct and rare pink salt is sold in local markets and throughout the country.
In Moray, unique circular terraces – a sunken amphitheatre - thought to be an ancient research centre for agricultural testing that allowed the Incans to work with 250 species of flora, draws visitors to marvel at its wonderment.
The charming village of Chinchero, known as the ‘land of the rainbow’ high on the Andean plain was considered one of the most important settlements of the empire due to its fertile land, the source of potatoes, olluco, oca, lima beans, barley and wheat.  Today, Chinchero market is one of the best places in Peru to buy Andean textiles and other Peruvian handicraft directly from the friendly local artisans dressed in brightly coloured traditional Andean clothing.

In the town of Urubamba, Lake Huaypo is an idyllic spot for a gourmet picnic after a day spent kayaking on the still crystalline waters of the lake at an elevation of 3,600 metres.

With all this and more, Peru offers a multitude of experiences for first time or returning visitors seeking their once-in-a-lifetime journey of discovery.

Lima is a one-stop flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport.

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