For anyone interested in history, Peru, with its remarkable Inca ruins
pre-Columbian artifacts, has long been the pre-eminent destination in
The country offers countless other pleasures as well:
landscapes, wonderful crafts, and very friendly people.
High in the Andes, bewitching Machu Picchu was
most probably a centre of the Inca religion
Photo: Martin Sivek
Although there's no law against
homosexuality, the machismo principle still rules in Peru, and gays
lesbians tend to keep a very low profile. But there are signs things
changing. Notably, Lima Tours, the country's biggest travel agency, has
making a determined effort to attract gay and lesbian tourists, Among
things, it has produced a useful flyer, "Gay Life in Peru," listing
discos, gay bathhouses, and other meeting spots.
Peru comprises three very different geographical regions, each with its
particular climate. This can make packing for and scheduling your trip
Lima lies in the narrow desert belt between the Andes and the ocean,
high temperatures and little rainfall. But don't expect blue skies; a
mist blankets the coast April through December. In the mountains,
the dry season - May to September - is wonderfully sunny and warm, but
evenings can get chilly. The rest of the year it's usually raining.
Descending eastward into the jungle, it's hot and sticky year round,
there's nearly constant rain from October through March. All in all,
time to visit Peru is from mid-April to June, when the rainy season has
passed but the highlands are still verdant.
With nearly 8 million inhabitants - about a third of the country's
- Lima is a sprawling, congested mish-mash of old and new, elegant and
tawdry, rich and poor. Founded by conquistador Francisco Pizarro in
Lima soon became the wealthiest Spanish city in the New World.
that colonial splendour can still be felt amid the hubbub, especially
Plaza de Armas, the lovely main square overlooked by the Cathedral and
majestic yellow bell towers. Check out the gorgeous mosaics in the
housing Pizarro's sarcophagus; one surprisingly sexy picture shows the
conquistador sending faint-of-heart soldiers back naked to Spain. A
blocks away is the 17th-century Monastery of Saint Francis, noted for
macabre catacombs, centuries-old library, and exquisite Seville
just off the main square is Casa Aliaga, a sumptuously furnished
mansion built in 1535 (visits must be arranged through Lima Tours).
Although Lima boasts some good public museums - especially the Museo de
Nación, which offers an archeological survey of Peru's 3,000-year
the best collections of pre-Columbian art are in private hands.
the marvelous Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which among its vast holdings
set aside a room devoted to pottery with an erotic theme - though none
featuring homosexual matings are on display. Museo Enrico Poli, housed
collector's own home, is in a class by itself. Over the past
Poli has assembled a dazzling assortment of colonial silver and
ceramics. But most spectacular is his treasure-trove of gold artifacts
discovered in ancient tombs in northwestern Peru in the 1980s. You need to make
an appointment 24-48 hours in advance as the items are displayed in a private home.
Most of the city's gay life is located in the fashionable Miraflores
district, five miles south of downtown. Gay-friendly spots include
Café Café and the elegant sidewalk restaurant Haiti.
Sample a Pisco sour,
Peru's national cocktail of egg, lime juice, and brandy, as you trade
with that adorable creature at the next table.
High in the Andes, Cuzco, a short flight from Lima, seems
away. From here the Incas once ruled an empire that covered most of
extended into Ecuador and Chile. Their civilization flourished for a
then the Europeans arrived.
The Spanish built churches and haciendas on top of Inca temples and
but couldn't erase the memory of Cuzco's former glory.
Flag hoisted at a historic building in Cuzco |
In many colonial
buildings, you still see Inca walls with their remarkable polygonal
The temple complex called Coricancha, once lined with precious metals,
stripped and looted, then incorporated into the foundations of the
Santo Domingo. Today, part of Coricancha is again visible, providing a
stunning example of Inca architecture. Other important ruins can be
just outside Cuzco; most impressive is the Inca fortress Sacsayhuamán
(pronounced "sexy woman"!), site of bloody warfare with the Spanish.
The great majority of Cuzco's 300,000 people are Quechua, descendents
Incas. On first arriving, you might think Cuzco is the queerest city in
world; everywhere rainbow flags are flying. Actually, this colourful
banner is the Inca Flag - what you are seeing is a display of Quechua
At 11,000 feet above sea level, Cuzco is one of the highest cities in
world, so avoid strenuous activity until you've acclimatized. It's
to bring medicine for altitude sickness; the native remedy - drinking
made from coca leaves - can help, too. You may also want to first spend
relaxing days in the nearby Urubamba valley, about 2,000 feet lower
Also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the area is dotted with
from picturesque farming terraces to the magnificent Ollantaytambo
Here, too, are the markets of Pisac and Chinchero, where you can
colourful woven goods of fine alpaca wool - rugs, blankets, and
You'll be charmed by children in native dress posing for pictures with
llamas (be sure to give the children a sol, a coin worth about 20p).
Activities such as rafting and horseback riding are great ways to
valley's extraordinary beauty.
Further along the valley, enigmatic Machu Picchu climbs the side of a
mountain in an intricate arrangement of ghostly plazas, terraces, and
temples. Archeologists believe this was once a major Inca religious
but no one knows for sure why it was built or why it was deserted.
awe-inspiring, the site is accessible by bus from the nearby town of
Calientes. For the full effect, arrive early to see the mists lifting
If you have enough time, you might consider exploring Peru's third
spending a couple days at a rainforest lodge. There are several in the
Tambopata-Candamo Reserve Zone in southeastern Peru, and they are
reasonably priced. It's a wonderful opportunity for you to see something
spectacular and develop a love of the Amazon Rainforest.
Enjoying the love found in Peru |
One of the best is the remote Sandoval Lake Lodge; getting there
40-minute boat trip from Puerto Maldonado, followed by a 1.5 mile
trek, then a half-hour canoe ride across a shimmering lake. The
are rustic but comfortable, the food excellent, and the guides
knowledgeable. Touring the lake at dawn and dusk, you're likely to see
monkeys, parrots, giant river otters and the bizarre-looking hoatzin
bring a good pair of binoculars. Less charming are the ubiquitous
so don't forget your insect repellant and malaria pills, and get a
fever vaccination before you arrive.
From fast-paced Lima, to the bewitching Andean highlands, to the
jungle, Peru offers a seemingly infinite variety of delights. And now
than ever, it's opening its arms to gay and lesbian travellers.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Café Café (Martír Olaya 250, Miraflores, Lima; T: +511-445-1165).
Casa de Aliaga (Jirón de la Unión 224, Lima, call Lima Tours to book visits).
Haiti (Diagonal 160, on the Oval, Miraflores, Lima; T: +511-445-0539).
Lima Tours (T: +511-424-5110; Website)
Museo de la Nación (Javier Prado Oeste 2466, San Borja, Lima; T: +511-476-9875).
Museo Enrico Poli (Lord Cochrane 466, Miraflores, Lima, 0051-422-2437, 0051-440-7100).
Museo Rafael Larco Herrera (Bolívar 1515, Pueblo Libre, Lima; T: +511-461-1312, +511-261-3397).
Martin Sivek has written extensively on international gay and lesbian culture.
Revised November 2022