A virtual tour of Peru through films, food, books and music

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There’s something fitting about a virtual guide to Peru. For would-be conquistadores, it was a land of fantasy and imagination. The very name of the country would have conjured up illusions of untold treasures, Inca emperors, wild beasts and heathen practices. Lima was the seat of Spain’s South American imperial territories for 300 years; it was where you had to be if you wanted to acquire booty, land, or influence. But it was traversed by impassable mountains and treacherous rivers, fringed by dark jungles in the east and uncharted seas to the west.

Explorers chased visions and mirages across Peru, too. Francisco de Orellana, the first European to explore the Amazon, in 1541, reported pitched battles between female warriors straight out of myth. Machu Picchu “discoverer” Hiram Bingham called one of the sites he unearthed the “Plain of Ghosts”. Archaeologists are still searching for lost cities – and occasionally finding one, as happened in 2002 when a team led by American Gary Ziegler and British writer and explorer Hugh Thomson identified Cota Coca in the Vilcabamba area of southern Peru.

British writer and explorer Hugh Thomson (left) and American archaeologist Gary Ziegler. Photograph: PA

But to get under the skin of this huge, diverse country, you need to be open to contemporary society as well as ancient sites, political realities as well as dreamy visions. Peru is one of the most culturally rich nations in the Americas, and its indigenous people continue to play an important role in daily life; it’s sometimes said you can only feel the depth of the Andean experience by running your fingers across one of the beautiful hand-woven textiles.…

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