Amazing and surprising, varied and spectacular, ancient and modern, familiar and alien – Peru is all of these things and that makes for a rich gap year experience. Bordered by the Pacific, it’s sandwiched between arid coastal desert and teeming Amazon rainforest. An even starker contrast – running down the centre of the country is the Andes, among the world’s highest and most spectacular mountain ranges.
Peru has one of the greatest adventure travel destinations in the world in the shape of the lost city of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes. You can reach it by train, but to relive the romance, walk the famous Inca Trail. There are also the mysterious Nazca Lines, vast carvings in the landscape, and the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. If you want more than hiking, there’s rainforest trekking and surfing, too.
Peru is an inexpensive destination, but that’s not the only reason it’s good for student travel. If you want to experience a world far removed from your own, you’ll find a country haunted by the Inca civilisation and its Spanish conquerors, with colourful Latin-style Catholic tradition and reminders of the pagan past all around. It has a modern side, of course, but walk among the Inca remains of Cuzco, the onetime capital, venture to Chachapoyas, ancient city of the “people of the clouds” or Arequipa, the “White City”, and you’ll see that it’s not just the air that’s rarefied here.
There are lots of chances to give something back here in Peru, with volunteer work projects involving underprivileged or disabled children, as well as conservation work with river turtles on the Amazon.