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Peru is a large country on the Pacific coast of South America, encompassing a desert coastline, tropical rainforest, and soaring mountains, each with distinct environments. These dramatic landscapes offer an exceptional opportunity for travellers to experience a variety of adventures, an abundance of wildlife, a rich history and archaeological heritage, and the vivacious character of durable native cultures, all within one nation.
Fishing villages, fine beaches, agricultural lands, and Peru's major towns and cities, including the capital of Lima, are interspersed along the narrow belt of desert coastline that stretches the length of the country. The lush Amazon Basin takes up half of Peru and is an ecologically rich area of tropical rainforest that encompasses some of the world's most remote and least explored areas, sparsely populated and for the most part, inaccessible. Separating the coastal desert from the jungle is the splendid Andes mountain range, an endless chain of soaring peaks over 22,000 feet (7,000m) high, and home to millions of indigenous highland people, speaking the ancient Inca language of Quechua, and living in traditional villages with steeply terraced agricultural fields, with their wandering herds of llamas and alpacas.
An interesting history of ancient civilisations, tales of lost cities, undiscovered treasures, and unsolved mysteries make Peru one of the most exciting countries in the world. Travellers can marvel at the sophistication of pre-Colombian cultures and explore the many legacies left by the Inca Empire, particularly the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco. Hiking along the legendary royal Inca highway brings visitors to the awesome, majestic 'Lost City of the Incas', Machu Picchu. Boats transport tourists to the unique floating islands and the traditional world of the island people on Lake Titicaca. Travellers can wander around splendid colonial cities that have preserved their Spanish architecture, look into the depths of the world's deepest canyon, and contemplate the intriguing mystery of the Nazca Lines.
For the more adventurous, a number of powerful rivers race within Peru's borders such as the mighty Amazon. Experienced paddlers will find some challenging stretches of white-water, while novices can enjoy the country's gentler runs. The Urubamba Valley, the Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons, and the Rio Santa and Tambopata Rivers all have terrific options. Adventurers can also tackle many wonderful stretches near Arequipa, which makes a great base for rafting and kayaking holidays.
Peru, 'Land of the Incas', offers a stimulating and rewarding travel experience and is one of the most diverse and exhilarating of the South American destinations.
If there's one place in South America brimming with fascinating and awe-inspiring attractions, it's Peru. With wonders such as Macchu Pichu, the Colca Canyon, the mysterious Nazca lines, the Coricancha Inca Ruins and Pisco, it's no wonder Peru is one of South America's most popular tourist destinations. The country is a favourite with backpackers and budget travellers and it is possible to travel cheaply if necessary. However, Peru's most famous tourist activity, hiking the Inca Trail, is expensive and must be organised in advance as permits are required and very limited.
Cities like Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa are charming and atmospheric, if a little shabby, with lots of colour and run-down colonial buildings. Peru has an interesting and refreshingly unique cuisine and the restaurant scene in places like Lima is fun to investigate. Lima also has a vibrant nightlife and some decent museums.
A reliable swell, fairly warm water and consistent offshore winds make the country a tremendous surfing destination too, with local surfers generally heading to Lima with its great waves. The north coast in particular has long, empty waves in beautiful locations, plus one of the world's largest left-hand point breaks.
Getting around Peru is fairly cheap and easy with plenty of internal flights operating on an almost daily basis and an affordable and reasonably reliable public transport system. It's advisable to fly between cities when possible or rent a car and explore all this mystical country has to offer, although long-haul bus trips are also an option.
Shoppers, vendors and sightseers crowd the long pedestrian street connecting Plaza Mayor to Plaza de Armas. The heart of the old town is found in these locations, with the latter's bronze fountain and old street lamps providing an old-fashioned feel. Several notable buildings surround the square, such as the Spanish Baroque Cathedral occupying the site of an ancient Inca temple and housing the Museum of Religious Art and Treasures; the Government Palace; the Archbishop's Palace; and the Plaza San Martin, buzzing with street artists and soapbox speakers surrounding its central fountain.
Cajamarca is considered one of the best tourist destinations in Peru's northern highlands, with the Andean traditions very much alive and well. It's also where the Inca Empire fell during a bloody battle with the Spanish in 1532. The steps on Santa Apolonia Hill lead up to the famous Inca Seat, from which leaders would address their subjects. Other archaeological sites include the monoliths of Kuntur Wasi, the pre-Colombian Cumbe Mayo aqueduct and the pre-Incan necropolis of Ventanillas de Otuzco. Foodies will enjoy the town's cheese, ice-cream and chocolate, while its attractive centre is filled with colonial buildings, beautiful churches and stately period mansions. Travellers may also want to see the Incan Baths in Banos del Inca, often used as homeopathic treatment for bone disease.
Located in Lima, the anthropological and archaeological museum's exhibits trace the history of Peru's ancient civilisations. All in all, they provide an outstanding overview of the country's archaeological richness. The museum's chronological layout guides visitors through complicated ancient history, highlighting the many conquering cultures and their achievements. Visitors can view the history of the original inhabitants and the Inca Empire, as well as an exhibition on Peru's internal conflict which began in 1980. Visitors can enjoy guided tours for a small fee and will marvel at the size of the collection, which spans a few floors.
The world-famous Inca Trail is the toast of South America's hikes. Constructed as a royal road to the citadel of Machu Picchu, the stone-paved walk ventures deep into cloud forests and provides dramatic climbs up the mountains. The beautiful but arduous four-day trail is part of the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. Hikers cross over three high-altitude mountain passes and come across scattered Inca ruins, with exotic vegetation and awe-inspiring views being constant companions. The ancient royal route reaches the stone Sun Gate, from where Machu Picchu becomes visible and Huayna Picchu's looming peak dominates the background. Visitors must arrange hikes through an official Inca Trail agency as independent trekking is prohibited, with permits ideally booked long in advance.
Housed in an 18th-century mansion and surrounded by an award-winning garden, the Larco Museum houses a world-class collection of ancient ceramics. Most of the pieces come from the Moche Dynasty, who lived along Peru's northern coast between 100 and 700 AD. They're said to have accomplished the region's most imaginative languages through creative pottery, through which visitors can learn about their dance, music and religion, as well as transport and agriculture. The collection also includes crowns, masks and erotica, as well as statues and jewellery from around 4,000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian history.
Nearly half of Peru lies within the sweltering Amazon Basin, where an untouched rainforest conceals every foot and fang. Believed to be the most biologically diverse region in the world, it's sparsely populated and largely inaccessible. Many of the country's indigenous tribes also call the jungle home, adding another layer to the destination's allure. Nature lovers find the basin irresistible, yielding to the pull of jaguars, pink dolphins and giant anacondas. The city of Iquitos is the best place from which to access the northern basin. Situated on the mighty Amazon River and humid all year round, Iquitos was originally founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1754, and has grown into a bustling city.
A block away from the Plaza Mayor, San Francisco is the most spectacular of Lima's colonial churches. Thankfully, locals and visitors can still enjoy its striking white and yellow towers and stone facade, as it's one of the few buildings to survive the earthquake of 1746. Its famous underground catacombs contain the bones and skulls of around 70 000 people, while columns, mosaic tiles and a Moorish-style ceiling decorate its exquisite interior. The Baroque church also has a superb 17th-century library full of antique texts and a room of painted masterpieces by Flemish greats Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. Visitors must take a guided tour if they want to explore the church and catacombs.
The Plaza de Armas is Cuzco's graceful main square, lined with colonial-style covered walkways and houses containing souvenir shops. Visitors will also find bars, restaurants and travel agencies, while a large cathedral overlooks the square. Its elaborately carved wooden altar is covered in gold and silver plate, and its carved wooden choir stalls are regarded as Peru's finest. Cathedral visitors usually linger over The Last Supper painting, where the table has a platter of the local Inca delicacy of roasted guinea pig. One of Cuzco's most ornately decorated churches, La Compania is also on the plaza. History lovers should make a point of walking the alleyway of Loreta, as it's lined with Incan stone walls.
The sacred complex of Coricancha was considered the centre of the Inca world, with the walls and floors of the Temple of the Sun once covered in sheets of solid gold and accompanied by golden statues. But Spanish colonists constructed the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, destroying the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, though the stone walls still stand and bear testament to their sophisticated masonry. Visitors will find an underground archaeological site museum nearby, containing a number of interesting pieces such as mummies, textiles and sacred idols.
Of the four ruins near Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman is the closest and most remarkable. Spanish conquistadors used it as a quarry during their day, providing many of the materials for the city's colonial buildings. It's often referred to as a fortress because of its high, impenetrable walls but some believe it to be a religious or ceremonial centre. According to estimates, the complex took about 100 years to build, requiring thousands of labourers. The massive blocks of stone fit together perfectly, each weighing between 90 and 125 tonnes, and standing around 16ft (5m) tall. History buffs will note that the Inca and Spanish fought at the centre during the infamously bloody battle of 1536. Today, the site holds the annual celebrations of Cuzco's most important festival, the colourful Inti Raymi.
Nestled in the Andean Highlands, the Huaraz region is one of the most rugged and beautiful parts of Peru. Found in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, the wide valley wedged between dramatic snow-capped mountains is the country's climbing and hiking centre. The spectacular Callejón de Huaylas Valley boasts glacial lakes like Lago Parón, beautiful mountain scenery and superb hiking opportunities. Visitors will find a group of picturesque villages on its fringes serving as starting points for Andes hiking expeditions, with Peru's highest peak, Huascaran, towering above. Travellers can visit the spectacular ruins of the Chavin de Huantar temple or the remains of ancient Chan Chan, or relax in the hot springs at Monterrey.
Known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this breathtakingly beautiful and fertile valley stretches between the villages of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Travellers will navigate it on the winding Urubamba River, with ancient Inca ruins watching from the hilltops above. Agricultural terraces flank the steep sides of a mountain crowned by alarmingly narrow trails, all leading to the cliff-hugging citadel above Pisac with massive stone doorways and stairways cut into rock. The temple-fortress of ancient Ollantaytambo also sits on the cliff edge. Originally developed as an Inca administrative centre, its layout is one of the few remaining models of an Inca grid plan. The ruins include the Royal Chamber, the Princess Baths and the Temple of the Sun.
Once the Chimu Kingdom's capital, Chan Chan was home to around 60 000 inhabitants and was wealthy in gold, silver and ceramics. Most of its treasures disappeared with Spanish looters generations ago, though it remains the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. Only one of the UNESCO site's nine palaces has been properly excavated and opened to the public, but visitors will still see more than enough to paint a picture of what the city must have looked like. Highlights include the intricate murals of birds, fish and otters, which add mesmerizing details to the massive site.
The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is regarded as the most significant archaeological site in South America, perched high in the Andes. Fortunately, Spanish colonists didn't discover and destroy the structure, as it's completely concealed from below. The site is surrounded by grazing llamas and steep agricultural terraces, and consists of a central plaza, towers, palaces and water canals, as well as ornate fountains and a sacred ceremonial area of royal tombs and intricately carved temples. The sacred Temple of the Sun is one of the site's highlights, with the mountain of Huayna Picchu forming a dramatic backdrop to the city.
The Santa Catalina Monastery is an enormous complex of rooms, chapels and plazas, coupled with ornate fountains, cobbled streets and beautifully archways. The high and brightly painted walls contain a number of cells, which over time housed over 200 members of the female nobility. Visitors can admire its valuable collection of Spanish American religious art, the huge 17th-century kitchen, or the murals on the vaulted arches of the sky-blue Orange Tree Cloister. A beautiful church compound, Santa Catalina is a masterpiece of colonial architecture and the most fascinating religious complex in Peru.
This small museum's most famous attraction is the 600-year-old frozen body of a young Inca girl named Juanita, discovered in near-perfect condition on the top of the Ampato Volcano in 1995. She was sacrificed to the mountain gods and buried in a tomb with funeral offerings, her body encased in ice and preserved by the freezing temperatures for centuries. It was found along with other ice mummies after a volcanic eruption melted the ice and exposed the tomb. The Ice Maiden is exhibited in a refrigerated glass case and analysis of her DNA has afforded great insights into the Inca culture, while other artefacts from surrounding sites are also on display.
Many Peruvians revere Lake Titicaca as legend says the founders of the Inca rose from its waters. Today, the Uros people live on man-made floating islands, fishing in beautiful carved canoes atop the highest navigable lake on the planet. Tourists will find a splendid mix of indigenous and colonial structures in nearby Puno, as well as mestizo art and crafts. Puno is also reputedly the centre of Peruvian folklore, with its inhabitants descending from the Aymara and Quechua Andean tribes. Visitors can experience some of the country's most vibrant traditional festivals, such as February's feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria and its main event: the Dance of The Devils.
The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa and the world's second deepest canyon. The picturesque valley is home to huge mountains, grand churches and lively market places, as well as herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor is the region's most popular viewing point, and the best place to see giant condors soaring over the dramatic depths. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, offering a good range of hiking trails, bus services and accommodation. Travellers can choose from a number of tour operators or set off for a solo adventure.
Located in Peru's central highlands and crossed by two mountain ranges, Ayacucho is home to some of the country's most significant archaeological attractions, as well as gorgeous, pastel-coloured colonial buildings. An ancient capital city, some of the oldest prehistoric remains found in America and richly decorated churches are all part of the destination's inheritance. Ayacucho is a relatively unknown tourism gem due largely to previous political unrest. Fortunately, travellers are rediscovering it, with the best time to visit around Easter when the city's carnival celebrations are in full swing.
Peru has three climate zones, one of which governs the coastal region. Its desert landscape is caused by the cold Humboldt Current, which prevents cloud formation over the land. Lima is generally sunny and humid, with next to no rainfall, though it experiences heavy sea mists from April to November. The northern coast has hot, sunny summers, with occasional rain showers. The coast gets less arid farther north, as the effect of the Humboldt Current decreases.
The Andes region is cool, and its wet season runs from October to April. Its dry season lasts from May to September. During the dry season, days in the highlands are clear and sunny, though nights become very cold - especially at altitude.
The forested region of the Amazon Basin has an equatorial climate, where conditions involve hot weather and frequent rain throughout the year.
The peak tourist season runs from May to October, particularly in July and August. Winter (June to September) is the best time to walk the Inca Trail, given the wonderful visibility travellers can expect during the clear, sunny days. This is also a good time to visit the jungle basin, as there are fewer mosquitoes.
The official currency is Sol (PEN), divided into 100 céntimos. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, but all major international credit cards are accepted in many, but not all, establishments. Outside of big cities, facilities may be more limited. US Dollars are the easiest currency to exchange and plenty of restaurants, hotels, and shops in the main cities accept dollars for payment. Casas de cambio (exchange bureaux) often give better rates than hotels and banks and can be found in any town on the tourist circuit. ATMs are available in the main cities.
Spanish is the official language. In areas where they are predominant, Quechua, Aymara and other aboriginal languages also have official status. English is spoken only in major tourist centres and hotels.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pronged plugs with flat blades as well as plugs with two round prongs are in use.
US nationals: US nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
UK nationals: British nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
AU nationals: Australian nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. Holders of APEC Business Travel Cards validated for travel to Peru do not require visas for stays of up to three months. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
ZA nationals: South African nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 183 days. Holders of APEC Business Travel Cards validated for travel to Peru do not require visas for stays of up to three months. A passport valid for 6 months from the arrival date is required.
All travellers require passports, return or onward tickets, all documents required for onward travel and proof of funds. If travelling for business purposes, a visa is required. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the visitor's intended date of departure from the travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travellers heading to Peru will need a yellow fever certificate if they're entering from an infected area, and are advised to take precautions if travelling to jungle regions. Immunisation against typhoid is sensible, as are precautions against malaria, dengue fever and zika virus. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended, as well as a course of rabies injections if journeying into the wilderness. Diarrhoea and altitude sickness are the most common ailments, so travellers should only drink bottled water, avoid drinks with ice and be wary of street food. Healthcare is good in the major cities, particularly at private clinics rather than public hospitals, but travel insurance remains essential.
Most restaurants add a service charge of 10 percent, which will be indicated by the words propina or servicio near the bottom of the bill. Even if a service charge has been added, the waiter can be offered an additional 10 percent for exceptional service; this is also the going rate for tipping where a service charge has not been added. In hotels, porters expect about US$1 per bag. Taxi drivers are not tipped (the fare should be set before departure). Tour guides are customarily tipped.
Most visits to Peru are trouble-free and sensible precautions should be enough to keep travellers safe. There have been a few incidents on treks through the Huayhuash region near Huaraz and should seek safety advice before setting out. Travellers should only take official taxis as thieves can pose as drivers or tour operators.
Visitors should not take photographs of anything relating to the military. Many locals will ask for a tip in return for being the subject of a photograph. In some places, this is the primary source of income. Homosexuality, although legal, is frowned upon. Gay travellers should keep a low profile outside gay clubs. Visitors should avoid wearing any native Indian clothing as this will be seen as insulting, regardless of their intentions.
Business centres on the capital, Lima, and is usually conducted in a formal and somewhat conservative manner. It's worth noting that foreigners will need a business visa from a local Peruvian Consulate.
Dress should be formal, with suits and ties being the norm. Titles and surnames are usually used upon greeting, and handshakes are standard for men and women. Business cards are usually exchanged and it is useful to have them printed in Spanish on one side, though English is fairly common. In fact, any effort to speak Spanish will be well received.
Women may encounter sexism. Punctuality is important, though meetings are not likely to begin on time. Business hours can vary but are usually from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Some businesses close for a siesta from 1pm to 3pm.
The international access code for Peru is +51. Wifi access is available in most hotels, modern restaurants and cafés.
Travellers over the age of 18 do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 3 litres of alcoholic beverages; and gifts to the value of US$500. Items such as sausages, salami, ham and cheese may only be brought in if accompanied by an original sanitary certificate. The import of ham from Italy and Portugal is prohibited. The export of cultural or artistic items from the country is not permitted.
PROMPERU (Commission for the Promotion of Peru), Lima: +51 1 616 7300 or https://www.peru.travel/biddingbook/home_en.html
Peruvian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 833 9860.
Peruvian Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7235 3802.
Peruvian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 1777.
Peruvian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 7351.
Peruvian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 440 1030.
Peruvian Consulate, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 567 6951.
Peruvian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 213 8943.
United States Embassy, Lima: +51 1 618 2000.
British Embassy, Lima: +51 1 617 3000.
Canadian Embassy, Lima: +51 1 319 3200.
Australian Embassy, Lima: +51 1 630 0500.
South African Embassy, Lima: +51 1 612 4848.
Irish Honorary Consulate, Lima, Peru: +51 1 222 5252.
New Zealand Embassy in Chile (also responsible for Peru): +56 2 2616 3000.
Pisco is a small port and fishing village, best known for its fiery white-grape brandy. One of Peru's major ancient civilisations, the Paracas established their culture in the area and left an astounding collection of antiquities now housed in Lima's museums. The nearby Paracas National Reserve contains an incredible variety of wildlife, with boat tours of the Ballestas Islands affording spectacular close up views of the animals.There are thousands of resident and migratory birds, such as penguins, flamingos and pelicans, and the waters are home to sea lions, dolphins, turtles and whales. Boats pass the famous Candelabra on their way to the islands, the prehistoric drawing etched into the sandstone cliffs overlooking the bay.
Nazca is a small desert town in southern Peru, famous for the mysterious lines and diagrams etched into the surrounding desert floor thousands of years ago. Visitors will also find interesting museums and archaeological sites, including the Chauchilla Cemetery where 12 exposed underground tombs contain skeletons and preserved mummies. The town's main attraction is an aerial flight over the Nazca Lines, which are spread over miles of the region's vast desert terrain. The dimensions of these enormous figures, spirals and geometric designs are so large that the only way to view them is from the air. Pilots will point out animal representations such as the Condor, Spider and Hummingbird and the unusual character known as the Astronaut.
Marcahuasi is a plateau in the Andes, where travellers interested in the mythical side of Peruvian culture will find a wonderful excursion from nearby Lima. The mountains are home to some massive rock formations of mysterious origin, depicting various animals, human faces and other symbols. Visitors will also see ruins on the north side of the plateau, where more than 50 structures stand in varying states of dilapidation. Some locals view the plateau with superstitious awe and consider it a spiritual site of great power. Marcahuasi has campsites and the views from the plateau are breathtakingly beautiful. Nights can be freezing cold, though. Visitors can rent tents, mattresses and other equipment in the village of San Pedro de Casta, which is the gateway to Marcahuasi.
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