Thursday, 6 October 2011 1:53 PM
Choosing to visit South America as part of your gap year travels can certainly be an exciting and thrilling prospect. But while there is a wealth of amazing destinations located throughout the continent, one country you should certainly take in is Peru.
Indeed, the nation provides so many fantastic gap year opportunities that you're bound to find it has something for you, whether you're keen to spend time volunteering, soaking up local culture and history, or taking part in exciting adventure activities.
However, if it is the prospect of the latter that really attracts you to going on a South America gap year, Peru certainly ticks all right boxes.
Travelling through the nation on a gap year will definitely give you the chance to do this and its dramatic hills and mountains offer plenty of opportunity for you to go hiking.
Indeed, part of the Andes - the world's largest continental mountain range - runs through central Peru, so trekking through this can make for lots of exciting adventures.
However, perhaps one of the biggest draws for those travelling through Peru on a gap year is the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu. Situated on a ridge above the Urubamba Valley and standing some 2,430 metres above sea level, this 15th century site was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and offers a fascinating insight into ancient civilisation.
Although it is possible to reach Machu Picchu by train - which can make for a fantastic daytrip, especially if you are pushed for time and keen to see a range of other destinations across South America - to get a true experience of the site's wonder, it is best to hike there along the Inca Trail. This trek will take around four days to complete, largely due to the fact you have to acclimatise to the progressively thinner air.
While the walk can be arduous at times, as you make your way to Machu Picchu you'll take in stunning landscapes and see amazing wildlife. And when you catch first sight of the city through the sun gate, you will know that all your exertions have been worth their while.
But Peru's landscape isn't solely limited to magnificent mountains and hills and, as its dramatic geography also encompasses arid deserts and part of the Amazon rainforest, there will certainly be lots of variety about the places you can take in.
However, if you also fancy spending some time giving back during your South America gap year, volunteering in Peru can be a great way to do this.
There a range of projects located across the country that give you the opportunity to do work that will benefit local communities, including teaching disadvantaged children and helping to care for young people who have disabilities. If you'd prefer to get involved in animal conservation you can assist in efforts to look after river turtles in the Amazon.
Going on a boat trip around Lake Titicaca is another must-do for anyone travelling through the country on a gap year. Sitting 3,811 metres above sea level, this is the highest navigable lake in the world and straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. On the Peruvian side, you'll find the island of Amantani, and here you'll be able to spend time with indigenous tribes, watching them go about traditional lifestyles and farming the land by hand.
Surfing, Latin dance classes, mountain-biking and exploring the bustling city of Cusco are just a selection of the other things you can get up to while travelling through Peru on your gap year.
Whatever you decide to do, however, you can be confident that spending even just a few weeks in the South American country is sure to be an experience that will stay with you forever.