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May/June 2005 | True Peru

May/June 2005 | True Peru

Touring magical Machu Picchu, gay-gracious Lima, and other Peruvian wonders

For thousands of years, Peru's extraordinary beauty has been the backdrop for incredible cultural and spiritual expression. Today, it is one of the world's most welcoming and enticing destinations for gay travelers. More and more gay bars and restaurants are opening in Lima and Cuzco, and the country's best hotels warmly receive gay travelers without batting an eye.

In fact, one can find more rainbow flags in Peru than perhaps anywhere on earth. The gay pride symbol has been a major symbol of the Inca people for centuries. According to historians, the Incas regarded the rainbow as a gift from the sun god. Rainbow flags adorn governmental buildings, hotels, and of course flag poles throughout the country. While it is not intended as an official welcome to gay travelers, one can always pretend.

Peru is considered to be among the safest countries in South America, but that wasn't always the case. In the early '80s, Peru was beset by a terrorist group called the Shining Path. People were afraid to travel because the Shining Path controlled several areas of the country. When the reign of the Shining Path ended in the early '90s, Peru started to invest in tourism, developing new tours, five star hotels, and high service standards in order to attract foreign tourists. Today, Peru is prepared to receive everybody with open arms.

Zoom Vacations, a U.S.-based gay vacation company, has brought the largest gay group to Peru to date--48 people! A typical Peruvian journey will take you through the cultural heart of Lima, charming Cuzco, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas (all UNESCO World Heritage sights). But perhaps what will impress and inspire you most is a visit to one of the world's most important archeological sights: the ancient, mystical city of Machu Picchu.

The Incas built Machu Picchu, which literally means "Old Mountain," at the top of the Andes. It contains palaces, temples, elaborate stairs, and aqueducts built entirely from stone. Research suggests that it was abandoned for over 100 years before the Spanish invaded the area in the 1500s. Many visitors to Machu Picchu report feeling an extraordinary energy emanating as they walk among the ruins. Perhaps it's simply the beauty of the Inca's mass stone structures set atop the magnificent Andes Mountains over the winding Urubamba River below. Maybe it's just the lingering blessing of an ancient Inca Priest. Whatever it is, nothing can truly prepare a traveler for the "magic" of Machu Picchu.

The city used to have only one path, now known as the Inca Trail, that connected Machu Picchu to Cuzco, the capital city of the Incan Empire. This trail is now used as a sort of spiritual pilgrimage for tourists who wish to experience the discovery of an old metropolis as the early Incas did. The Inca trail takes anywhere from a week to a few days to hike, depending on where one picks it up, and the high altitude and steep terrain make it quite challenging.

The enchanting city of Cuzco is as rich in Incan ruins and Spanish colonial buildings as it is in fine restaurants and wonderful accommodations. Most notable is the Orient-Express Hotel Monasterio , a gay-friendly, luxurious, lovingly restored monastery-turned-hotel, whose staff will cater to your every need. They'll even pump oxygen into your room to compensate for the high elevation! Of course, the age-old chewing of the native coca leaf or drinking coca tea will also assuage the weary traveler.

Whether you choose to hike the Inca trail, or take the lavish Orient-Express Hiram Bingham Train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, it will be an unforgettable experience. However, do not leave the area without visiting the scenic Sacred Valley of the Incas. This area enjoys an agreeable climate and fertile plains, which make a rare and fruitful combination for the high Andes. It was also an early route to the jungle which gave the Incas access to the fruits and plants of the tropical lowlands. Today, the Sacred Valley contains many ancient Incan sites of interest, and offers opportunities such as white water rafting, horseback riding, parasailing, and more.

After a spiritual, eco-focused journey to the land of the Incas, round out your stay with a visit to Peru's vibrant gay-friendly capital. Lima's cosmopolitan atmosphere affects all aspects of the city--from art, to culture, to cuisine--making it a tourist's delight. Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, and native influences are apparent everywhere, inspiring unique architecture as well as a fusion cuisine unlike anywhere else in the world.

Only in Lima can you have an authentic lunch in South America's oldest inhabited mansion, La Casa Aliaga (located just off the main square in Lima, and exclusive to Zoom Vacations), just a few miles away from where you will enjoy a gourmet dinner in one of the world's best restaurants, Huaca Pucllana (Av. Arequipa 4698 in Miraflores), nestled against a 1,600-year-old ruin. You'll enjoy nouveau Peruvian cuisine items such as grilled pork chops with pur?e trio and sweet red chili comfit, and desserts such as "Suspiro de Lime?a": caramel cream topped with soft meringue sweetened with port wine.

While many of the world's metropolises have more vibrant gay scenes, Peru's largest city shines with stylish gay-friendly and gay-owned restaurants, and bars that are more balanced and mixed than one might find elsewhere. Most of the gay life can be found in Miraflores, one of Lima's neighborhoods bordering the coast.

"Gay life in Lima is great," says native Peruvian Ylan Chrem. "I have always considered Peruvians to be among the warmest people in the region and tourists from around the world are welcomed everywhere they go. Lima offers bars, discos, and saunas every day of the week, and luckily, nightlife does not start as late as in other South American cities."

Chrem says that the best disco in Lima is Down Town , which just opened a sister bar in Cuzco. It has a VIP area that you can access for three dollars. Most people start their night off at the mixed crowd disco, La Sede, from 11 p.m.-3 a.m., and then walk to Down Town. At La Sede the music is very '70s and '80s, featuring Rafaella Carra, ABBA, and other pop icons.

Native Peruvian Dany Gras says, "Lima's gay life is starting to grow, but that doesn't mean that it's boring. There is always something happening. Of course, these events can't be compared to the ones that happen in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, or Santiago. They are great, but smaller in scale."

Lima enjoys unusual yet wonderful weather conditions--it rains only a few days a year, however, its proximity on the coast, amidst gentle waters flowing to the ocean, makes it surprisingly lush and green.

"There is also incredible surfing," Gras says, "and people come from all over to dine in Lima's waterfront restaurants, and watch the surfers below."

Peru offers gay travelers a remarkably diverse and well-rounded vacation experience. You'll feel as though you've stepped back in time in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu, and Cuzco, and yet accommodations are quite modern and luxurious. And in Lima's funky discos and bars, you'll dance to the latest music, perhaps partying as if in ancient Inca times, when gay sexuality was accepted as a natural part of life.

Bryan Herb works for Zoom Vacations, a U.S.-based gay tour company that offers gay vacations to Peru. Lan Airlines offers non-stop flights from Miami and Los Angeles to Lima. Lan can also handle all of your inter-Peru travel (such as your necessary one hour flight from Lima to Cuzco).

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at if you have any new information.

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