India Travel: Festivals of India Every Traveler Must See

Home to various cultures, communities, religions and languages, it would only be logical for India to have some really unique and vibrant festivals. You've no doubt heard of Holi, the festival of color, and Diwali, the festival of light, both celebrated madly across the country. But what about the state and region-centric ones that aren't as well-known but equally magnificent, that every traveler to India should experience at least once?Starting from the northern tip and travelling down to the southern regions of the country, here's a look at some the most beautiful festivals from the various states of India.When planning a trip to India, check with a travel expert if you can squeeze in some of these colorful extravaganzas into your itinerary that will add that extra pizzazz to your vacation. One thing is guaranteed: you won't see anything quite like this anywhere else in the world.1)   The Ladakh Festival:In the land of beautiful monasteries and deep rooted buddhism, the Ladakh Festival is a 7-day long celebration in September. This eastern region of Kashmir state is a road-tripper's heaven, and you may want to time your car drive or bike ride through Ladakh to cath this festival (check exact dates with the travel expert) The fun starts in Leh (the capital) with an elaborate inauguration ceremony, and over the course of 7 days, spreads through the multiple villages of Ladakh, bringing together various cultural groups of the region and their unique Tibetan customs and traditions.On the menu you have everything from polo to dance competitions and village archery. The elaborate dance of cham is a sight to behold; it is performed only in certain buddhist sects and uses elaborate costumes and get-ups to signify things like the progress of the soul or the triumph of good over evil. Hugely culturally and spiritually significant to these smiley, friendly, peaceable people, this is, hands down, one of the most unique festivals of northern India. 2) Hornbill Festival:This is one of the most awaited and extravagant festivals in the entire north-east of India. It gets its name from the Hornbill bird, native to the state of Nagaland, which is where the fun and games take place for a week, usually between 1st and 10th of December, bringing together the multiple small tribes within the state. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThis one week of December has it all, from music concerts, arts and craft exhibitions, wrestling competitions, and each tribe showcasing their individual traditions and customs. It's also a fantastic opportunity for travelers journeying through Nagaland to taste the local, unique cuisine and to hear the traditional drumbeats, chants and lilting music of the various tribes.3) International Sand Art Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comApart from just celebrating various cultures and traditions, India also celebrates various art forms. This festival, which is just a year old, is held in the state of Odisha from 1st to 5th December every year, and is a must for all art lovers. It has a different theme every year, and is also used as platform to spread awareness on many issues such as global warming. It attracts artists from all over the world, providing them a platform to showcase their talent. The art does not restrict itself to sand, but also includes sculptures made of wood, stone and bronze. The talent displayed in the first year was prolific and prodigious; it's only going to get better. This year (2017) will see a hugely increased participation of Indian sculptors, as well as artists from Germany, USA, Singapore, Mexico, Spain and other countries.4)   Poush Mela:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThis Mela, which translates as “fair”, is organised in Shantiniketan (started by India's most celebrated poet, musician, author Rabindranath Tagore), which is located in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. A carnival of colour and sound, it is usually 3 days long, and begins on/around 23rd December.Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe festival is known for its splendid performances in music, theatre and poetry by the students of Shantiniketan and other tribal communities in West Bengal. Apart from the live performances, visitors also get to hear melodious Bengali folk music, notably that of the famous Baul musicians; it is also an excellent chance to explore the artistic handicrafts of the region. Once upon a time, this was only limited to the members of the Tagore family and handful of other people; today it attracts crowds from all over the world.5) Desert Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comHaving an elaborate history of royal dynasties dating back to medieval times, the state of Rajasthan has long since emerged the poster-child of India's cultural heritage; the Desert Festival brings all that into living, vivid color from 8th to 10th of February in the Thar desert in Jaisalmer. According to legend, Lord Krishna had prophesized that a descendant of the Yadav community would rule over the Trikuta Hill (the site of the famous Jaisalmer Fort today). It was believed that this prophecy came true when Rawal Jaiswal, a descendant of the Yadav community, established his kingdom here in 1196. This lead to celebrations throughout the kingdom and became an annual fair which today is known as the Desert Festival. The festivities begin with a procession from Jaisalmer Fort to the Poonam Singh Stadium. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThese 3 days see a non-stop flurry of activities: Kalabaz (a group of local nomads) perform clever gymnastics, there are camel races, there are turban tying competitions, stalls with beautiful artwork and clothes, jewellery, textiles with beautiful mirror work that is unique to this state. Everyone seems to be dancing away to Rajashtani folk music that is heard throughout the three days. There is also Mau-Shri (a Mr. Desert muscle-man) competition. All of this is accompanied by delicious food sold at the hundreds of stalls. If you are ever traveling through Rajasthan, soaking up its forts and palaces, we strongly recommend a detour through the desert for this festival.6)   Pushkar Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comAnother Rajasthani extravaganza: the sand dunes of the Thar Desert come to life during the Pushkar Camel Fair, a major highlight of India for any traveler. The festival begins with the Kartik Shukla Ekadashi (which usually comes in the month of November, around the time of the full moon) and goes on for 14 days. Traditionally it served the purpose of trading camels; today it has grown into a celebration unlike any other in the state. Maintaining tradition, the trade of cattle animals including horses and sheep etc. still takes place, but the ship of the desert is focus of the festival. The camels can be seen getting washed and adorned by people. They are made to wear clothing with colourful and beautiful patterns. They are also made to wear silver bangles and other jewellery, ensuring that they look their best. These camels are then paraded and the best looking beast wins the pageant. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comDuring these five days of celebrations, traditional folk music and dance forms can be seen and heard every evening. There are camels races, there are hot air balloon displays (to see these beauties over the desert landscape is a visual treat). The festival has gained such popularity that it gets quite crowded during the 5 days, making it hard to find accommodation. Tip: Booking in advance is a must. 7)   Mysore Dasara:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe festival “Dasara” which celebrates the triumph of good over evil is celebrated all over the country, but Mysore is where you should be to catch the best of it. Also known as “Navratri” (meaning nine-nights) in some parts of the country, it comes to an end on the 10th day, known as Vijaydashmi. In Mysore, Karnataka, the festival assumes a royal character and the 10 days are celebrated with the utmost grandeur and splendor.  A practice that was started by the Vijaynagara Empire in the 15th century and continued by the Wodeyars of Mysore, it typically runs from end-September to early-October. There are grand parades where people wear colourful costumes depicting various characters out of Indian mythology and act out fantastic stories, especially the one about Goddess Chamundeshwari killing the demon Mahishasur on the 10th day of the festival (Vijaydashmi).Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe soldiers of the Royal Mysore Palace march in all their glory, accompanied by flamboyant floats signifying the important features of the country. Groups perform dance and music native to the state. The Royal Palace of Mysore is decorated beautifully with lights for all the 10 days, with stalls and exhibitions outside its gates selling everything from cosmetics, clothes, jewellery and of course delicious street food. Definitely worth checking out while traveling through Karnataka. 8)   Boat Race Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe backwaters of Kerala are known for two things: their pristine and untouched beauty (for the most part) and one crazy annual boat race. The most prominent feature of this festival are the elaborate ‘snake boats’, usually 100-200 feet in length, designed to fit a racing team of 100 rowers. Each village owns one such boat and flaunts it with great pride during the festival. This tradition has a history going back 400 years, and attracts huge crowds from the state, country and around the globe. Time your travel through the backwaters of Kerala to catch this event; there are few spectacles to match this. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comTeams train and prepare right through the year, and the energy levels during the race are cranked up to eleven. There are multiple boat races across Kerala, the main ones being The Prestigious Nehru Trophy Race held at Alleppey’s Punnamda Lake, the Champakkulam Moolam held on the Champakkulam Lake and the Aranmula Boat Race held in the Pampa River in Aranmula. The dates are subject to change each year but are typically in the monsoon months (July- September). The cheering parties lined up on the shore, and the songs and drumbeats to maintain the tempo of the rowers, create an environment of energy and enthusiasm that you won't forget in a hurry.If you wish to make this a part of your overall India journey, then plan a trip with an expert who will provide the best insider experiences and make sure you get ring-side viewing for these crazy and uniquely-Indian fiestas. 

Essential Guide: Planning your Trip to Cusco & Machu Picchu

It is not surprising that the sole purpose of any traveler visiting Peru (in this age of time-constrained vacations) is often just to experience mighty Machu Picchu and the old colonial architectural grandeur of Cusco.These destinations witness over a million visitors throughout the year and it certainly would be a grave mistake to miss out on these phenomenal corners of the country. Both Cusco and Machu Picchu are a tasty treat to satisfy any traveler's appetite; no doubt a travel expert in Peru will create the perfect customized itinerary according to your suitability to make your trip an unforgettable experience, but here's what you need to know before you even get started with the planning.Once the heart of the Inca Empire, the Peruvian city of Cusco draws thousands of tourists who are mesmerized by its archaeological antiquity, including the lost city of Machu Picchu, just 47 miles (75 km) away, situated in the midst of the serene Andes. Cusco is exquisitely preserved with old colonial architecture, evidence of a glory-rich past, and represents the center of the local Quechua culture.By merely walking through the streets, one can feel the aura of old-world charm and the layers of history in the Spanish colonial building erected atop Inca walls, while more modern aspects of tourist shopping and nightlife swirl in its midst. It is one of the more beautiful regions of the country which perfectly blends the ancient/traditional and modern lifestyles, apart from being a gateway to one of the exceptional wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.Perched high up in the mighty Andes, Machu Picchu was lost to the outside world for over 500 years and never found by the Spanish conquerors (thankfully, one might say; the reason is the Incas had abandoned it before their arrival, and the Spaniards had no reason to believe it even existed). A footnote: it was discovered by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. At a staggering height of 2,350 meters (7,710 feet) above sea level, surrounded by lush green forest cover and misty clouds, Machu Picchu's dramatic history and stunningly mesmerizing stone architecture is an enduring highlight of Peru.While visiting these sprawling ruins, it is advisable to explore them with a guide who can help you delve into the colorful secrets they hold.Major attractions of Machu PicchuIntihuatana: This beautifully carved rock located on the western side of Machu Picchu's urban sector is believed to have served as an astronomical tool for the sun-worshipping Incas, as well as for spiritual and religious ceremonies. In Quechua culture, the word 'Intihuatana' means 'to tie to the sun'.The Main Temple: Located in the urban sector of Machu Picchu, this rectangular shaped ruin is composed of large lithic stones and is adorned with colorful mantles, emblems, and the mummies of the most important of Inca leaders.The Sacred Plaza: This humongous ruin situated on the western side of Machu Picchu houses the three most important buildings - the main temple, the three windward temples and the priest's house which are stupendous in themselves and showcase a lot of the past glory of the ancient empire.The Sun Temple: One of the most iconic buildings in the ancient citadel, the Temple of the Sun located in the center of Machu Picchu's urban sector, and was constructed on top of a naturally formed rock. This is one of the few buildings on this site which features a curved outer wall.Tip: It is advisable that before stepping into this jewel of South America, the visitors need to get acclimated to the high altitude of Machu Picchu (just shy of 8000 feet). It is highly recommended that the visitors spend a night or two at Aguas Calientes (the nearest town to Machu Picchu); getting acclimated will help the traveler in minimizing the unpleasant effects of high altitude.How to get here?The most convenient way of reaching this heavenly abode is by taking a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The journey is a mesmerizing and scenic trip running right along the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, with the startling canyon walls on the other side. But first, a little more about Cusco: Cusco means "Center of the World" in the native language of Quechua, and is absolutely splendid, not just for its proximity to Machu Picchu and the colonial architecture, but also for its colorful fiestas and carnivals. It is one of those rare cities of the planet where an ancient (Inca) culture blends effortlessly with spirited Catholic rituals, and the topography boasts hints of the lush brush of the Amazon jungle. Not a wonder, then, it is one of Peru's key travel highlights.Centuries-old baroque cathedrals and the even more ancient Incan stone masonry exist cheek-by-jowl, much like their disparate parent cultures. Not a wonder that UNESCO promptly put it up on the World Heritage Site list in 1983. San Pedro Market: The bustling San Pedro Market (above) is located a short walk south of the main square and is worth visiting while you are in the city. This market attracts the visitors for its Alpaca wool jumpers, traditional Peruvian souvenirs and also to sample local food delicacies.Plaza de Armas: This busiest corner of the city is a great place to relax and watch the charm of the city unfurl before your eyes. Expect to see women wearing traditional Andean clothing, and lots of Llamas (you can also get a picture with them for a meager amount). Don't miss out on a tour of the Iglesia de la Compania (above).Editorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comInca Museum: If you are a huge fan of historic artifacts, then the Inca Museum, housed in an attractive colonial building is a must-see for Inca antiques, jewelry, pottery, textiles, and even mummies.Sacsayhuaman: Located on the northern outskirts of the city, this magnificent fortress once part of the Inca Empire never fails to impress visitors by its beauty and scale. This well-visited highlight of Peru is composed of large polished dry walls and massive boulders, some of which weigh up to 200 tons; these are the largest known stones seen or known of anywhere in the pre-colonial Americas. What's more, the fitting of these stones is so precise, it is impossible to fit a single piece of paper into some of the cracks! An ideal ways of getting immersed in any culture is by tasting its delicacies. There are several restaurants and cafes across Cusco offering a tasty fare of their local cuisine, and we recommend that you wander and sample. We list two of the most famous as well as best restaurants in the city which can impress your taste glands and fulfill your desires of craving Peruvian dishes.A Mi Manera, Triunfo 93: If you want to expose yourself to an exotic Peruvian delicacy (and have the stomach for it), then come to this eating house and order "cuy" or roasted guinea pig, which is one of the specialty dishes of Cusco and served traditionally as a whole by keeping the head and limbs attached to it.Pacha Papa, Plaroleta San Blas 120: If you want to try out some local Cusquenian dishes, but not something that you once had a pet, then hop to this place (we recommend the famous Alpaca stew).Apart from the remarkable architecture and gastronomical delights, Cusco is also home to an abundance of festivals celebrated throughout the year. The celebrations of Inti Raymi and Corpus Christi have a special significance in the heart of all Cusquenians.Editorial copyrights: /Shutterstock.comBest time to visit: Cusco and Machu Picchu can be best explored in the dry months of June to mid-September, when days are bright and sunny with mild temperature. Avoid visiting in the months of November through April, when heavy rains are expected, which might put a damper on your exploration.With eye-popping architecture, heart-stopping views, overwhelming natural beauty and a rare glimpse into an ancient past, Cusco and Machu Picchu should be the top priority for anyone's bucket lists. Why? Because there simply no place quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Top 10 Best Things To Do In (and around) Reykjavik

If all the best things come in small packages, then Reykjavik is a prime example. Full of hidden charms at every corner, travelers are often both surprised and impressed that such a small capital city has so much to offer in the way of culture, arts and activities.Nobody will know the nooks and crannies of the city quite like an on-ground travel expert, so get in touch with one to squeeze the best out of your Reykjavik explorations. They can guide you with all the essential information regarding Reykjavik’s rich culture, history and natural environment, of which, as we mentioned, there is no shortage.Here are some great absolute must-dos to get you started in and around Iceland’s amazing capital.1) The Golden Circle TourFirst up, let’s get the country’s most popular route out of the way. As we all know, no trip to Reykjavik is complete without The Golden Circle Route (a key highlight of Iceland) to witness the country’s unique landscapes. This day trip boasts historic sites (Thingvellir National Park) , beautiful villages, volcanic craters, geysers (in particular the iconic Strokkur Geysir), and the magnificent Gulfoss waterfalls (below); all this can be part of a larger excursion through Iceland as well. It’s a long-ish journey and a pleasant drive with breathtaking scenery all around; you’ll likely enjoy it more at your own pace on self drive/guided with a rental car, which can be easily booked by your local travel operators.2) Eat At LaekjarbrekkaEditorial Copyrights: El Coleccionista de Instantes Fotografía & VideoIf you’re looking for an unforgettable, intimate evening of fine-dining in Reykjavik, then make sure to try and get reservations at Leakjarbrekka – the oldest, most iconic restaurant in the heart of city. Editorial Copyrights: Ralf SmallkaaTry scrumptious Icelandic platters like hakarl (Iceland’s national dish, the fermented shark), lobster, puffin, reindeer carpaccio, smoked lamb and wash it down with shot of Brennivin aka “Black  Death” (Iceland's signature distilled beverage). With dim lights and candlelit tables, this place is a couple’s delight, but is great for families with kids too.3) Pay A Visit To The Hallgrimskirkja ChurchAs the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so the Hallgrimskirkja Church is to Iceland. Seen from almost anywhere in Rekjavík, the gigantic concrete structure is Iceland's largest Lutheran parish church. Get a birds-eye view of the city’s silhouette by taking an elevator trip up the 74.5m-high tower.Enjoy the geometrically-beautiful exterior, inspired by the unique shapes created when lava cools into basalt rock. Try and experience an organ recital or concert on the 15 meter tall pipe organ; check the schedules, and if you're in for an audio treat if one coincides with your stay in Reykjavik.4) Harpa Concert HallEditorial Copyrights:f11photo / Shutterstock.comIf you take a walk around town, it's clear that the capital has a lot more to offer in weirdly tasteful cutting-edge architecturethan just the Hallgrimskirkja Church.Editorial Copyrights:KeongDaGreat / Shutterstock.comHave your local experts take you on an exclusive guided tour of the Harpa Concert Hall. Get access to areas that are usually only open to performers, and stand in the footsteps of the legends where they prepare before going on stage. Learn how Icelandic nature, volcanoes and the Arctic light shaped the award winning architecture and the remarkable glass facade of the house. For those who wish for more than just music events, you can get a drink, eat some great food, or shop; this is also a great place to hang out in the day.5) Explore Reykjavik’s Bar Scene Editorial Copyrights: ryan harveyReykjavík has a fantastic bar scene. Some call it the ‘Ibiza of the North’; although that may be a bit of a generous exaggeration, for such a small city, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do once the sun sets (which it won't, in summer; all the better!). And after a long day of glacier hiking, sightseeing and cliff climbing, it’s probably a good idea to do a pub crawl tour of Reykjavik's charming nightlife.Editorial Copyrights: James BrooksParty in true Scandinavian style; walk into any bar, and you are likely to find it packed with cheerful groups of very friendly locals and tourists sipping brew and singing along to live bands (whose covers are sometimes better than the originals). You can also learn about the art of beer brewing, Viking style!6) Whale Watching From Reykjavik HarbourTake a trip to the harbor and try and get yourself on a traditional Icelandic fishing boat (your travel expert can help), for a spin around the area where you will encounter whales, many species of island birds and breath-taking sceneries including an incredible view of the city, the islands Engey and Videy, and the majestic mountains surrounding Reykjavík. This excursion is strongly recommended for bird watchers, families and nature lovers.Editorial Copyrights: Bahadir Yeniceri / Shutterstock.com7) The Weekend Kolaportid Flea MarketEditorial Copyrights: gregpooWhile we all love taking a stroll in malls with all the international brands flaunting their collections, going to a local flea market has its own charm. It gives us a great outlook at how locals interact and allows us to try local foods.Editorial Copyrights: Jonas Forth We highly recommend all shopaholics to flock to the weekend Kolaportid Flea Market, held in the old harbor area, a few minutes from the city center. Browse through stalls offering vintage clothing, used books, DVD’s, knick knacks, antiques, cool toys for kids, woolen goods and more. In addition, you can also find a small food court to delight your taste buds.Note: Most vendors only accept cash; there is an ATM located inside the market but the line can be quite long, so it is recommended to withdraw cash in advance.8) Search for Street Art/GraffitiEditorial Copyrights: Daria Medvedeva / Shutterstock.comEnter the hidden world of street art and graffiti. Get an experienced street photographer to accompany you, or go on your own with directions from a local expert, and you will be introduced to Reykjavik’s unique art installations. This will be a great opportunity to explore the streets and the city's urban art history with your camera.Editorial Copyrights: Nokuro / Shutterstock.com9) Warm up at Coffee ShopsEditorial Copyrights: Ben Husmann Iceland’s cold, windy climate has made coffee the beverage of choice; the appeal of coffeehouses is twofold for most Icelanders: they want good coffee, but more importantly, they want a nice and quant place to read, write, sketch, create, chat and while away those endless days (or nights) before (or in between) hitting the bars. Editorial Copyrights: marc falardeauAs a result, Reykjavik boasts a flourishing coffee shop culture, with unique cafés lining every street in the downtown area. Step in, connect with the locals, taste some fantastic coffee and warm yourselves up on particularly cold and windy days.10) Lake Tjörnin & Hljómskálagardurinn ParkEditorial Copyrights: Ben Husmann While in Reykjavik, we strongly recommend including Lake Tjörnin and Hljómskálagardurinn Park (both situated in close proximity) as a day trip, particularly if traveling with family.  A must visit destination for any season, the whole area surrounding the lake presents great views, and there’s no shortage of colorful Icelandic homes to admire.  Editorial Copyrights: Suvodeb BanerjeeFeed the ducks, geese and swans with bread crumbs (a great pastime for young kids), check out the multitude of statues lining the Hljómskálagardurinn Park, and visit the House of Music in the park (House of Music is a literal translation of 'Hljómskálagardurinn'), a popular venue for concerts and outdoor performances. In winter, when the lake is frozen, the place becomes a huge arcade for winter sports like ice skating and ice hockey. And if art takes your fancy, the National Art Gallery nearby is a great place to wander.Start customising your Reykjavik experiences right away. 

Wildlife Spotting in Peru: A Guide To The Ballestas Islands

Steeped in wild landscapes from the Andean peaks to the Amazon forests, mystical Peru has always been on the bucket list of any traveler who wants to get up close and personal with nature. The major attractions of Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima, the Inca Trail and the Amazon are always high up on the list of things to do; but what about the lesser known, but equally astounding, destinations in Peru like the Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas)?Just mention wildlife, and our Peru travel experts will prepare a customized itinerary that will include these remarkable and well-protected islands. Here's a quick info-guide to what to expect when you get there.The staggeringly beautiful Ballestas Islands, located 12 miles off the southern coast of Peru, and roughly 250 km south of the capital city, Lima, can be easily done on a dedicated day trip. Often referred to as the 'poor man's Galapagos', this key highlight of Peru is accessible only via organized boat tours, but sadly, unlike the Galapagos, visitors cannot disembark on the island. The reddish rocks of the islands start to protrude out of the ocean as your boat steers toward them, and the visual effect is quite wonderful. Photographers, be warned, you may need to protect your cameras from splashing waves; this is after all the wild Pacific Ocean, even if it's only a hop from the coast. Winds and violent wave-action have scarred and carved these rocky protrusions into beautiful arches, caves and crevices, leaving distinctive and funky striped patterns, something only nature could conjure up patiently over millennia.Wildlife spotting: The first thing you notice is birds, birds and more birds. Weird, indigenous, unique and completely at home here. A trip to the Ballestas would somehow not be complete without a knowledgable naturalist who will point out and educate you on the almost comical idiosyncrasies of the delightful and majestic Peruvian Pelicans, the fierce Red-legged Cormorants, the downright cute Inca Terns and multilingual (and threatened) Peruvian Boobies with their trumpet-like honks and elegant whistles. Get closer, and it's a wall of bird-sounds; countless birds swooping overhead and squawking, shrieking, whistling, cooing; it's loud, it's musical, it's nature's audio at its mellifluous best. Speaking of all the overhead swooping, it is advisable to wear a hat: guano showers (an elegant term for bird droppings) are very common. In fact, the Peruvian Boobie has made it to the List of Threatened Species precisely because of the guano (fertilizer) industry. Apart from the birds, these islands house the indigenous Humboldt Penguins (named after the cold current that swings past this section of the coast), large colonies of very vocal sea lions and the absolutely adorable fur seals. Sea lions often approach the tourist boats, checking them out with wide-eyed curiosity. If you hear a sound that you cannot attribute to any bird, it's very likely the sea-lion cries echoing throughout the islands, an audio phenomenon found nowhere else on this planet. And yes, if you're lucky, pods of dolphins will generally escort you in to the islands.And yes, it can be disappointing that one cannot disembark onto the islands. But you can appreciate that it is home to some of the rarest species of fauna, and it needs to be protected by the government. After swishing and swirling around these islands, the outward boat journey will take you past the famous and mysterious Candelabra, a giant figure which is over 200 m high, and etched into the sandy hills. There have been numerous theories (a mix of extremely creative and outlandishly hilarious) attached to it, like it served as a navigational guide to ancient sailors, or it was the creation of some sort of extraterrestrial species. Editorial copyrights: ShutterstockBest time to visit: This region of Peru enjoys idyllic blue skies, dry days and breathtaking views in the summer months of December to February. Moreover, the Sea Lion birth season runs from January to March, so to catch a glimpse of these exuberant creatures at their breathless, tranquil, procreative best, it is advisable you plan accordingly. Editorial copyrights: Shutterstock  Rugged beauty, rare (and delightful) wildlife, and a sense of adventure. That's a 3-in-1 you shouldn't miss on your next trip to Peru.

Best festivals in Peru (and where to find them)

Truly believing in the phrase, ‘life is a celebration’, Peru is home to a number of festivals that are based on its history, culture and mythology, probably the most of any South American country. Usually rooted in religion, both pre and post Christian, they have a few things in common: pomp, colour, flamboyance, bonhomie, lots of food, lots of drink and lots of fun.   For anyone planning to visit the country, we have listed 10 of the most beautiful festivals you should partake of; our travel experts can help and guide you by creating a customised itinerary according to your requirements. 1) Fiesta Del Inti Raymi: Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comInti meaning “sun” and Raymi meaning “celebration”, the ‘Festival of Sun’ takes place on the 24th of June every year in Cusco (the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere). The festival includes dance, music and a theatrical re-enactment of the royal ceremony that finds its origin in the Inca Empire of the 15th century. The festivities even include famous actors playing the Sapa Inca (Sun King) and his wife, who are carried on grand thrones along with their priest and nobles in a procession to Sacsayhuaman, a fortress overlooking Cusco, where the King delivers a speech in Queachua, the Incan language. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comCelebrating the Sun God, the most venerated deity of the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi is the second largest festival in South America today. It provides a great opportunity for travellers to hear traditional Peruvian music and know about the culture, history and mythology of the country.2) Mistura Culinary Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comPeruvian cuisine: a happy meeting-place of the best ingredients and cooking styles of three continents. A country where the chefs are treated like celebrities and the food is considered to be the pride of the nation. That is why the Mistura Culinary Festival (good enough to be a key travel highlight of Peru) was created: to give an opportunity for Peruvian cuisine to shine. Usually held in the second week of September in Lima, the festival attracts large crowds from around the globe. Things may get a little hectic, accommodation-wise, so you'd be better off booking well in advance. Prices may be high, but we're talking a feast fit for kings, queens and princelings. Well worth it! 3) Fiesta De La Vendimia:Wine lovers, rejoice: this 2-day festival is celebrated in Ica city, around 4 hours by road to the south of Lima. Taking place in the second week of March, the festival creates an ambience of fun through music, dance and activities including specialised wine tastings and wine-making tours. Floats are paraded through the streets, and the chosen Queen of the Wine Festival beauty pageant gets into a grape-smooshing session with her hand-maidens, which will eventually be fermented and drunk by all! The streets come alive with Afro-Peruvian music, non-stop dancing, and pisca (a grape brandy that originated here and famous for its aroma and taste) flows freely. Pace yourselves!4) El Señor De Los Milagros:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.com‘The Lord of Miracles’ is one of the most beautiful and elaborate religious processions of popular Catholicism in Peru. It takes place in Lima in the month of October, which in Peru is also known as el mes morado which translates as “Purple Month”. Legend has it that a mural of Christ, painted by an Angolan slave, was the only wall that survived a disastrous earthquake that wiped out almost all of Lima and Callao in the 17th century. A miracle indeed! Almost 400 years later, it is this image of Jesus Christ that forms the focal point of the celebration. As per tradition, the people who follow this faith wear purple on the day of the celebration and carry the image of Jesus Christ from its home church, Las Nazarenas, in a procession to the other colonial churches in the area.  Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe grandeur of streets covered in purple-attired faithfuls, along with beautiful decorations of the image, makes it a visual treat for festival-goers. It also gives people an opportunity to taste some local cuisine that is associated with the festival. The main dishes made during this time are a sweet layered pastry known as turrón, a skewered meat dish known as anticuchos and pumpkin fritters known as picarons. Tip: pack (or buy) something purple to fit in!5) Virgen Del Carmen:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThis festival takes place in Paucartambo (4 hours east of Cusco), usually from the 15th-18th of July, and it will test your fun-stamina. Imagine four days of non-stop dance, music, drinks and more mouth-watering food than you can eat. The festivities are all about the representations of good and the evil, with animated performances that include some of the most inventive dance choreography you've (probably) ever seen. They keep increasing their level of their performance, until, on the 4th day it finally leads to a battle between the two, where the good triumphs over evil. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comOne of the main aspects of this festival is a vibrant procession where they carry the Virgen Carmen around the city, which usually takes place on the 3rd day. The natives dress up in various ethnic attires and enact stories from Peruvian history. What better way to get a crash-course in history, mythology and the culture of a country?  6) Semana Santa:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comA week before Easter is considered to be the Holy Week (literal translation: Semana Santa). It is celebrated throughout the country, the main attractions being in Cusco, Ayacucho and Arequipa. Don't get fooled by the spiritual and holy overtones; the week-long festivities are celebrated with fun-filled (and some sombre) processions, plays, open markets, dance, and plenty of food and drink. It is a week where the people of the country come out to showcase their best, and is an excellent opportunity to witness this passion-play of devotion and, come Easter Sunday, unbridled joy. 7) Puno Week:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThis is a festival dedicated to Manco Capac, who according to legend, rose from the waters of Lake Titicaca (the highest lake in the world) and founded the Inca Empire. It is celebrated in the month of November with plenty of verve, vigour and alcohol. The people of Puno gather together and sing and dance in the praise of their land, and enact stories through vivid street-plays of how the land was founded and established. A heady mix of vibrant colour, song, dance, and overall fiesta on a grand scale. 8) Virgen De La Candelaria:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comIt is one of the biggest Catholic feasts in Peru, held in the city of Puno, and celebrated in the first two weeks of February, usually from the 2nd - 18th. The theme is not strictly 'Catholic religious', although the Virgen de la Candelaria (aka La Morenita) is the patron saint of Puno, and yes, February 2nd does mark the 40th day from the birth of Christ. This kindly patron saint also once saved the entire town from the marauding Spaniards via a 'miracle', always something to celebrate and be thankful for. However, the emphasis is more on pre-Columbian ritulas of mining and agriculture (harvest time, especially). More than 300 dance groups gather here, attired in vibrantly colourful costumes, and - you got it - it's two weeks of song and dance paying homage to “Pachamama”, or Mother Earth. Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comVarious communities come and represent themselves in the series of parades over these 2 fun-filled weeks. The festival also has a spectacular spread of dishes associated with it, which adds to the whole experience.9) Fiesta De La Cruz:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThis festival is celebrated throughout the country on the 3rd of May and is also known as the “Festival of Crosses”. The celebrations take place by carrying decorated crosses of various communities and churches in a procession through the streets. It is also one of the few places where the famous scissor dancers can be seen. They get their name from the iron rods that they hold in their hands and use it to make rhythmic sounds which are accompanied by a violinist and harpist. The elements of dance, music and fireworks add to the carnival-like feel and energetic ambience of this religious and vibrant festival.10)   Trujillo Marinera Festival:Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comAttracting dance lovers and contestants from all over the country, Trujillo is home to the Marinera dance-form, and the Peruvians have proudly created a festival around it. You can see its very obvious colonial influences, usually telling a story of how two people fell in love (where the women uses a white handkerchief as a prop). This flirtatious, energetic yet elegant dance performance can be seen at its finest here. The Marinera has also been declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation by the Peruvian government.Editorial credit:  / Shutterstock.comThe festival is usually held towards the end of January, and the Marinera National Dance competition organised by Trujillo Club Libertad is hands-down the main attraction. Apart from this, there are also many exhibitions in the main square area where locals and the visitors come together to dance and celebrate. There you have it. An ancient civilisation, strongly rooted in culture and tradition, but who knows how to take to the streets and have fun, Andean-style, and wants you to join in as well. Pack your dancing/walking/festival shoes the next time you plan your holiday; it would be a shame to return home without experiencing at least one (or several) of these grand fiestas.

Top 10 Unique Things to do in Peru

Peru, the land of hidden treasures, is often perceived as a backpacker destination with heavy emphasis on the usual treks to Machu Picchu and other sacred destinations in the Andes. There is no doubt Machu Picchu gets all the fame and glory, but with endless desert coastlines, rugged mountain scenery, vast swathes of dense Amazon forest and a plethora of gastronomic delights, there is plenty to pick and choose from while you’re here. Hence, we have listed out 10 phenomenal must-have experiences that reflect Peru in its true essence.Once you’re geared up to explore whatever Peru throws at you, our travel experts will conjure up the perfect customized itinerary for you, which will extend way beyond the beaten track.1) Inca TrailLet's get this out of the way, because this is special, oft-done or not. Arduous yet awe-inspiring, hiking the Inca Tail trough the sacred valley of Machu Picchu is a must-do, life changing experience. All the challenges are totally worth it when the mist lifts to expose the emerald peaks and terraced ruins of the magical ancient city as you complete the memorable trek, one of the world’s greatest, using stone Inca stairways to pass remote villages and fields terraced into sheer Andean slopes.Editorial copyrights: Wendy HarmanWe also recommend a luxury Inca Trail tour, which will cover all the major highlights, including the Sacred Valley of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Spots fill up quickly; we recommend making reservations several months in advance (up to a year if you’re going during peak season).2) Trek the Colca CanyonThe second deepest canyon in the world, and almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Colca Valley is a colorful Andean landscape with a pre-Inca heritage and colonial-Spanish architecture.  You can visit the canyon independently, but it can be more hassle than it’s worth. Hence, we recommend an exclusive guided tour in the able hands of a local operators.Explore the deep canyon studded with idyllic villages and mountainsides carved by ancient terraces. Enjoy spotting condors that soar on the wind currents. When you make it back up to the top, locals will welcome you with exquisite Andean food and drinks at roadside stalls. Allow yourself to indulge in a sublime local delicacy known as chupe de camarones (spicy shrimp bisque).3) Discover the Taste of PeruEditorial copyrights: Thomas S.Peruvian cuisine is considered one of the most diverse in the world. Thanks to its many influences, the cuisine combines the flavors of four continents, making it an ideal spot for a culinary tour in South America. Take private tours of wineries, visit local markets and learn the secrets of Peruvian cuisine with local chefs. And there's no better way to immerse in a country than to eat its food!Do check our essential guide to Peruvian cuisine for more insights before you dive into exotic and mouth-watering world of Peruvian gastronomy.4) Explore the Capital – LimaEditorial copyrights: Anthony Gonzalez ReyesWhile most international travelers land in Peru's current capital, many flock straight to the country's former capital, Cusco, in the rush to get to Machu Picchu, without plumbing the wonders of Lima. An honest mistake, and we attribute it to lack of information. The city of Lima (Peru's largest city) has also turned itself into a cultural phenomenon with great cuisine and a thriving arts scene. There is something for everybody in this extravagant town. We strongly recommend booking accommodations in the trendy Miraflores or Barranco districts, so that you can experience the best nightlife, restaurants, and shopping as soon as you step out.5) Surfing at Máncora BeachPeru is a must-surf destination for pro surfers all over the world. For a good surfing experience (not to mention a spectacular beach for just lounging on), make sure you visit the beach town of Mancora, cheekily called the Hawaii of Peru. There are many surfing schools here; sign up for a private lesson – it's never too late to learn a new skill.Just 13 km south of Mancora are the laid-back beaches of Los Organos, also famous for their mom-and-pop cevicherias as they are are for their magnificent sunsets. Also in the vicinity are Vichayito and Los Pocitas, white sands, calm waters and superb for swimming, sunning and kitesurfing.  6) Chocolate making in CuscoFor the lovers of everything choco, kids especially, here’s a chance to satisfy your sweet tooth on a mouth-watering walking tour of the Choco Museum at Cusco. The chocolate museum houses every bit of information you need about production of chocolate, right from its birth as a cacao bean to the final chocolate bar that melts in your mouth. Have the kids participate in the chocolate making workshops, after which they can take home their unique DIY creations.What better gifts for friends and family back home than hand-made chocolate bars.7) Explore the Amazon on a Luxury RiverboatThe Peruvian part of the Amazon jungle is perhaps the most diverse and prolific section of all. There is something undefinably and exquisitely peaceful about relaxing on a riverboat in the middle of the mystical Amazon rainforest, as you glide past the world's most famous rainforest with colourful birds all around and the odd caiman basking on river-shores.Sail down the Madre de Dios River on a private luxury riverboat, sampling the finest Peruvian and international cuisine, as you admire and soak in the vastness and sheer magnitude of the Amazon.8) Take a flight over the Nazca LinesLocated in the Nazca Desert plains, the Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs that range from animal figures to geometric designs.  Although it is unknown who exactly created these (aliens? bored pranksters?), they have mesmerized tourists and historians for decades. Editorial copyrights: ilkerenderIf you plan to visit the lines, we recommend spending at least one night in Nazca. The best way to view these extraordinary pictograms is by soaring over them in a light-aircraft, early in the morning. You can get your travel experts to book the best airplane tours from Lima, Ica and Nazca. If you’re keen to keep your feet on the ground, though, make for the mirador (viewpoint), 2km north of Palpa.9) Sandboard Down Giant DunesBefore you head out to view the awe-inspiring Nazca Lines, ask your travel experts to take you on an adrenaline adventure over the vast sand dunes of Ica in the quaint desert oasis town of Huacachina – Peru’s sand-boarding Mecca. Motor to the top of a dune the size of a small building, and whiz down a 300 ft. sand dune, standing or headfirst. It's so much fun, you'll have a hard time tearing yourself and your family away when the day is done.In case you aren’t up for boarding, try racing dune buggies up and down the dunes at full-throttle. Who said you cannot have the adrenaline-junkie time of your life in a desert?10) Explore Wildlife at the Ballestas IslandsEditorial copyrights: Patrick NouhaillerHop onto a small boat from the charming city of Pisco or the town of Paracas and make your way to the serene Ballestas Islands just off the coast. Along with the Amazon Rainforest and Paracas National park, the Ballestas offer the best wildlife experience in Peru. Not a wonder then that they are dubbed the Galapagos of Peru These uninhabited islands house many rare birds, including pelicans, penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns. It’s also common to spot sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and whales in the park.