There is no single image that can capture the essence of Peru.

I’m soon heading out on what I’d call the “starter tour” of Peru. Ten days visiting some of the high spots: Cusco, Sacred Valley, Manchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and, of course, Lima.

But 10 days is barely enough time to scratch the surface.

There’s more to Peru than llamas.

Start with the country’s almost incomprehensible geographic diversity. Just a bit bigger than Alaska, Peru boasts the world’s highest city (the mining town La Rinconada, at 16, 700 ft), a 1500 mile Pacific coastline, sand dunes of the Huacachina desert oasis, glaciers and dense jungles, and the soaring the Andean peaks surrounding Manchu Picchu.

 Kingdom Compass on Unsplash

And the Amazon rainforest. In fact, this region covers over 60% of Peru, the second-largest chunk within a single country. (Brazil has the most).

 Zachary Spears on Unsplash

Literature provides a contextual glimpse of Peruvian culture

Any of the guidebooks — FodorsEyewitnessLonely Planet, or for that matter, Wikipedia — will take you through the drill, but what’s the larger context?

It’s found in stories.

Mario Vargas Llosa, a prolific Peruvian whom the New York Times dubbed the “elder statesman of Latin America literature.” He is an essayist, novelist, and political activist.

He has the soul of his country in his heart.

His skills brought me to the fantastical reaches of Peru’s Amazonian tribes in the 1950’s: The Storyteller.

His Lima-centered Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is something I’m saving for the plane.

Then there is the grim tale depicting Peru’s grinding stand-off with guerilla Maoists of the Shining Path in the 1980’s: Death in the Andes.

The novel gives us a quick brush stroke, a tiny keyhole glimpse of conflict through the eyes of the characters, both noble and not so much.

I’ve found a probing intellect in Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture.

While not meant to be a “travel book” per se, I find thought-provoking for the serious traveler in our “post-culture” world.

He laments a global sameness, an aspirational materialism stoking the world’s economic engine, the primacy of image over the word. All, he posits, have contrived to change what it means for a society to have a culture.

Culture has little to do with quantity, everything to do with quality. — Mario Vargas Llosa

In travel, culture matters. A lot. 


Other Must-Reads for Peru

These provide an insight into Peru you won’t find in travel guides, on Trip Advisor, or even the most informed travel itineraries.

It’s the work you’ve got to do to get behind the brochures.

 • The Peru Reader

If you have the time or inclination for just one book before traveling to Peru, make it this one. A collection of essays, short stories, legends and biographies, this provides a look at the diversity that makes Peru so fascinating.

• Turn Right at Machu Picchu

This one is on every list of must-reads on Peru. Focusing on the history of the Incas, it retraces the steps of Hiram Bingham, the early 20th-century explorer who claimed to “find” the lost traces of the remarkable Incan civilization near modern-day Cusco.

• The Lost City of the Incas 

The seminal work of Hiram Bingham. You might as well read his first-hand account, written soon after his 1911 exploration that made him famous.

The Upshot

‘If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.’ James Michener

A pan-curious writer and traveler, reflecting on a life well-lived. Women 60+, let’s do this!
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A pan-curious writer and traveler, reflecting on a life well-lived. Women 60+, let’s do this!

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