With a climate that ranges from desert dry to tropical lush to freeze-your-North-Face-off in the Andes, Peru packs a ton of diversity between its sea level elevation Pacific beaches and the 22,204 foot top of its highest mountain, Nevado Huascaran.
There's pisco. There's ceviche. And, yes, there's that famous trail.
Don't worry, we'll get to all of those. First some things you may not already know.
1. Lima is worth seeing
While most international travelers land in Peru's current capital, many immediately continue on to the country's former capital, Cuzco, in their rush to get to Machu Picchu.
That's a mistake.
Lima is Peru's largest city by far. It's home to more than a quarter of Peru's roughly 30 million people, has wonderful food, the beautiful Miraflores district (where you can drink while overlooking beaches lined with small rocks that form eye-catching patterns each time the tide rolls out) and excellent museums.
The Museo Larco and its Erotic Gallery is devoted to sculptures from more than a thousand years ago celebrating sexual congress in all of its least procreative forms. Reproductions of these works pop up all over Peru, notably in the form of a bottle of pisco shaped like a fellow in an extremely good mood.
Museo Larco (Larco Museum), Bolivar 1515, Lima; +51 1 461 1312
2. You're gonna love the ceviche
Fresh, raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with chili peppers and sometimes other tongue-tingling spices, ceviche is Peru's most popular dish, a must-try for any visitor.
In Lima, internationally famed La Mar is a great place to try it, but ceviche is prepared differently throughout the country, from humble street stalls to elegant restaurants.
La Mar, 770 Av. La Mar, Lima; +51 1 421 3365
3. There's more to Peru than Incas
Most tourists come to Peru to see Machu Picchu or other Inca ruins, with maybe a few Catholic churches thrown in for balance. This makes it easy to conclude, "There were the Incas, then the Spanish came, which brings us to where we are now."
In fact, the Inca were a bit like Mitt Romney's Bain Capital: They had a knack for taking control of long-established things and making them their own. The Incan state didn't emerge until the 1200s. It became an empire in the 1400s, and its final sovereign emperor died in 1533, officially ending the period of constructing the buildings and roads that lure visitors to this day.
That said, the Norte Chico people of Peru built a civilization 5,000 years ago and the centuries that followed saw the emergence of other significant cultures, such as the Paracas and the Moche.
Was the Incan era a highlight of Peruvian history? Unquestionably.
But when Peruvian museums boast artifacts from before Christ, focusing exclusively on Atahualpa and his predecessors is akin to being so impressed by books that you conclude world history began with the Gutenberg press.
4. Pisco rules
Peru's beverage of choice is pisco, a brandy made from grapes. It's also adored in Chile, inspiring an epic rivalry over which nation is its true birthplace.
Available in numerous brands at varying prices, pisco is usually consumed in cocktail form, meaning other ingredients largely hide its nuances, which can be a good thing for novices unaccustomed to pisco's blowtorch nuances.
The most famous cocktail is the pisco sour, consisting of lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, ice and Angostura bitters. There are assorted variations, such as the coca sour for those who feel the pisco sour requires more bitterness.
If you'd rather just have a beer, you're in luck -- the local brews are good, with Cusqueña being a particularly refreshing option.
5. Cash is king, ideally in small bills