A trip to Peru can by as chic and comfortable as it is enthralling, says Nick McCarthy.
Tucking into the national dish of Peru should have been a dilemma.
But with my mother in law’s departing warning still ringing in my ears “If you eat guinea pig I will never talk to you again” I happily tucked into the delicacy that resembled my beloved childhood pet.
Eating guinea pig was just one of the weird and wonderful things we experienced on our 14-day guided tour of Peru.
The trip featured a stay at a remote Amazon Jungle lodge, a high-altitude hike in the Andes mountains, a stay at Lake Titicaca and a visit to the lost Inca City of Machu Picchu.
The good news is that we did all of that without bunking in grotty hostels with students or enduring bumpy 20-hour bus rides.
Our Quest of the Gods tour was organised by G Adventures, which offer small group trips with comfortable hotels, plane transfers between cities and private coach travel.
We flew into Lima with KLM after a short hop from Birmingham to Amsterdam, avoiding expensive petrol and parking charges to fly from London.
The first port of call after the Pacific coast capital was a small jungle landing strip in the town of Puerto Maldonado, close to the border with Brazil.
We arrived at our Amazon lodges after a mammoth, sweaty but spectacular journey via bus and boat.
The jungle portion of the trip was supposed to be ‘roughing it’ so we were all pleasantly surprised to find comfortable, candle-lit cottages on stilts, a communal dining room serving up stunning food and even a bar.
We heeded the advice from our guides who warned us that a bite from almost any of the jungle inhabitants will “kill you or make you cry to your momma” and applied enough insect repellant to down an elephant.
We then launched straight into a night walk to find snakes, spiders and other super sized creepy crawlies.
After sleeping with one eye open we embarked on a dawn trek through the jungle and onto a piranha filled lake in dugout canoes.
And just when we thought we had chased enough dangerous animals we set off on a night adventure up the river in search of caymans.
We left the intense heat of the jungle the next morning after a dip in the river (apparently that was safe) and hopped on a short flight to Cusco, which is undoubtedly the most picturesque city in Peru.
The narrow cobbled streets of the ancient Inca capital are crammed with museums, shops, restaurants and bars.
And at more than 11,000 feet above sea level it’s the perfect place to acclimatise for the treks that take you on to nearby Machu Picchu.
The usual route up to the World Heritage Site is via a four-day hike along the Inca Trail, but the Peruvian government has started limiting passes to 500 per day.
The trip includes passes for everyone, but there is an alternative trek for anyone that misses out on a pass.
The Lares is a two-night, tougher and arguably more picturesque trek through The Andes.
It may not have the Inca ruins, but it gets up higher and gives you the rare and unforgettable experience of meeting the Quechua tribes in the mountains. The tough 35km route has barely been touched by tourism and our group of 12 Americans, Canadians and Australians did not see a single trekker on the three day journey.
We camped on the first night at nearly 14,000 feet and climbed up to nearly 15,000 on day two after a brief visit inside the home of a local family.
Altitude was a problem for some, but the support from the team of G Adventure porters, heardsmen and guides was incredible.
The staff carry everything on horses and backpacks and set up camps, a kitchen and a dining tent. There is even an emergency horse for anyone who really suffers with the thin air.