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  • Overview

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin

    Shoppers, vendors and sightseers crowd the long pedestrian street that connects the striking Plaza Mayor to Lima's other main square, Plaza de Armas. Visitors will find the heart of the old town in these two locations, and invariably begin their sightseeing at one of them. Plaza de Armas' bronze fountain and old street lamps give it a gracefully colonial feel. Indeed, its story stretches back to the era of Spanish rule, when it was the central marketplace and the venue for bullfights. Today, several notable buildings surround the square, including the grand Spanish Baroque Cathedral, which occupies the site of an ancient Inca temple and houses the Museum of Religious Art and Treasures, and the impressive Government Palace, where the changing of the guard takes place. The Archbishop's Palace is also in the vicinity. Tourists should take in the Plaza San Martin as well. The square is a hive of activity, where shoe-shiners, street artists, and soapbox speakers surround its central fountain. On a cautionary note, visitors should avoid the usually peaceful and jovial Plaza San Martin when political protests and rallies are underway, as these can occasionally turn violent.

    Address: Jr. Junin and Jr. Carabaya.
    Lima Cathedral Lima Cathedral Judith Duk
    Museo de la Nacion (National Museum)

    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 the complicated ancient history, highlighting the many conquering cultures and their achievements. Among other things, visitors can view the art and history of the original inhabitants, and the Inca Empire. Regarding more recent history, one of the museum's highlights is an exhibition on Peru's internal conflict (1980 - 2000). Visitors can enjoy guided tours for a small fee, and will marvel at the size of the collection, which spans a few floors.

    Address: Avenida Javier Prado Este 2465, San Borja.
    Transport: Bus marked Javier Prado/Aviacion or taxi from Lima Centro or Miraflores.
    National Museum, Lima National Museum, Lima Chiwara
    Museo de Oro del Peru (Gold Museum)

    The Museo de Oro del Peru showcases several centuries of Peruvian gold craftsmanship. Its safe-rooms are housed in a fortress-like building and are crammed with treasures from the Incas and their predecessors. In fact, most of the artefacts are pre-Incan. The massive collection of jewellery, weaponry, gleaming gold statues and ceremonial objects has been exhibited around the world and is truly outstanding. Visitors will also see many other cultural artefacts, such as masks, clothing, mummies, wooden staffs, pre-Incan weapons and exquisite tapestries. Regarding access, travellers should note that the museum is in a residential area beyond the normal tourist route. It's well worth seeking out, though.

    Address: Avenida Alonso de Molina 1100, Monterrico.
    Incan Gold in Museo de Oro del Peru Incan Gold in Museo de Oro del Peru Manuel González Olaechea
    Museo Rafael Larco Herrera

    The museum houses a world-class collection of ancient ceramic items, with thousands of pre-Columbian clay pots on display. Most of its pieces come from the Moche Dynasty, whose people lived along Peru's northern coast between 100 and 700 AD. The Moche culture is recognised as having accomplished one of ancient Peru's most imaginative languages through the use of creative pottery. Indeed, their work provides wordless clues to all aspects of their civilisation. Visitors can learn about their dance, music, transport, religion and agriculture through their ceramic shapes and designs. The Moche are also renowned for their fascinating erotic pottery. Museum visitors will find examples on display in the separate 'Erotic Hall', and they depict ancient Peruvian sexual practices in a lifelike, explicit and often humorous way. Beyond pottery, the museum's collection includes crowns, masks, garments, statues and jewellery from around 4 000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian history. The Larco Museum is housed in an 18th-century mansion and is surrounded by a beautiful, award-winning garden. It remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lima.

    Address: 1515 Avenida Bolivar, Pueblo Libre.
    Museo Rafael Larco Herrera Museo Rafael Larco Herrera Lyndsay Ruell
    Church of San Francisco

    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 façade, as its 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 arches, 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. Tours are available in English. The Church of San Francisco is located just one block away from the Plaza Mayor, which is a UNESCO-listed site.

    Address: Corner of Lampa and Ancash Avenues.
    Church of San Francisco Church of San Francisco AgainErick
    Plaza de Armas

    The Plaza de Armas is Cuzco's graceful main square, and is lined with colonial-style covered walkways, and houses that contain souvenir shops. Visitors will also find bars, restaurants and travel agencies. A large cathedral is the most prominent structure overlooking 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, which portrays Jesus Christ and his disciples gathered around a table, which presents a platter of the local Inca delicacy, cuy (roasted guinea pig). La Compania is also on the plaza. It's one of Cuzco's most ornately decorated churches and is often floodlit at night. History lovers should make a point of walking the alleyway of Loreta, as it's lined with Incan stone walls.

    Church of la Compañía de Jesus, Cusco, Peru Church of la Compañía de Jesus, Cusco, Peru D. Gordon E. Robertson
    Coricancha Inca Ruins

    The sacred complex of Coricancha was considered the centre of the Inca world. Its name means something like 'Golden Enclosure', though Inca stonework is all that remains of the ancient Temple of the Sun. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of opulence that was 'fabulous beyond belief'. Spanish colonists constructed the Church of Santa Domingo on the site, destroying the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, though the Inca stone walls still stand, and are a testament to their superb architectural skills and sophisticated stone masonry. Visitors will find an underground archaeological site museum nearby. It contains a number of interesting pieces, including mummies, textiles and sacred idols. Tourists will have the best experience if they explore the site with a guide, as good tours provide context and bring the place to life.

    Address: Pampa del Castillo at Plazoleta Santo Domingo.
    Coricancha Inca Ruins, Peru Coricancha Inca Ruins, Peru Håkan Svensson
    Sacsayhuamán

    Of the four ruins near Cuzco, Sacsayhuamán is the closest and most remarkable. Spanish conquistadors used it as a quarry during their day, given its proximity to Cuzco and the dimensions of its stones. Indeed, the site provided many of the materials for the city's colonial buildings. The Spanish destroyed the original complex to such an extent that little is known about the actual purpose these magnificent buildings once served. That said, the complex is usually referred to as a fortress because of its high, impenetrable walls. Some believe it may just as easily have been a religious or ceremonial centre. The ruins cover an enormous area, but only 40 percent of the original complex remains. History lovers must visit, as the site offers a fine example of the Inca's extraordinary stone masonry. According to estimates, the complex took about 100 years to build, requiring thousands of labourers. The massive blocks of stone fit together perfectly without the aid of mortar. Each one weighs between 90 and 125 tonnes, and stands around 16ft (5m) tall.

    History buffs will note that the Inca and Spanish fought at the centre during the infamously bloody battle of 1536. The conflict left thousands of native people dead, providing food for circling condors. Since then, Cuzco's Coat of Arms has featured eight condors in memory of the event. Today, the site holds the annual celebrations of Cuzco's most important festival, Inti Raymi: the sun festival. Tourists should attend the colourful and spectacular affair if at all possible.

    Transport: A steep 40 minute (2km) walk up from the Plaza de Armas.
    Sacsayhuaman, Peru Sacsayhuaman, Peru Leon Petrosyan
    Chan Chan

    History lovers should make a point of visiting Chan Chan while they're in Peru. Once the Chimu Kingdom's capital, it 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. Today, it is considered an endangered UNESCO site, given that its adobe buildings are sensitive to time and the elements. Indeed, only one of the site's nine palaces has been properly excavated and opened to the public. Visitors will still see more than enough to paint a picture of what the city must have looked like. Highlights include the intricate depictions of birds, fish and otters on the walls, which add mesmerizing details to the massive site. Travellers will have the best experience if they visit with a guide.

    Address: Moche Valley, outside Trujillo.
    Chan Chan Chan Chan Yandi
    Santa Catalina Monastery

    The Santa Catalina Monastery is an enormous complex of rooms, chapels, plazas, ornate fountains, narrow cobbled streets, and beautifully decorated archways. High walls enclose these marvellous features. The thick and brightly painted walls also contain a number of cells, which once housed over 200 members of the female nobility. These women chose to shut themselves away from the world and devote their lives to prayer. The monastery opened its doors to the world some 400 years later, allowing visitors to wander through its exquisitely finished gates and admire its valuable collection of Spanish American religious art. Today, about 30 resident nuns live out of sight in the northern part of the complex. Visitors should make a point of seeing the monastery's Orange Tree Cloister, which is painted sky-blue and has wonderful murals on its vaulted arches. The huge 17th-century kitchen is another highly recommended sight.

    Tourists should walk along the narrow street known as Calle Toledo as well. It is the oldest part of the monastery and leads to the open-air laundry, where nuns washed their clothes in large jugs filled from the canal. Unlike any other church compound, Santa Catalina is a masterpiece of colonial architecture, and is the most fascinating religious complex in Peru.

    Address: Santa Catalina 301.
    Santa Catalina Monastery Santa Catalina Monastery Jialiang Gao
    Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries)

    This small museum's most famous attraction is the 600-year-old frozen body of a young Inca girl named, Juanita. It was 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 a number of funeral offerings - which are also on display. The body was encased in ice and preserved by the freezing temperatures for hundreds of years. It was found along with other ice mummies after a volcanic eruption melted the ice and exposed the tomb. The Ice Maiden is displayed in a refrigerated glass case, and analysis of her DNA has afforded great insights into the Inca culture. An interesting video documents the discovery and is included as part of the compulsory tour. Visitors will encounter other interesting artefacts from archaeological sites in the surrounding mountains. The museum is located very near the Plaza des Armas in Arequipa, in the historic area of the city.

    Address: Calle la Merced 110, Arequipa
    Museo Santuarios Andinos Museo Santuarios Andinos Otra vez me hice Mujer
    The Colca Canyon

    The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa, and the world's second deepest canyon. Culture lovers will relish the extremely picturesque valley, which is home to huge mountains, grand churches, lively market places and herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor Lookout is the region's most popular viewing point, and the best place to see giant condors soaring above the dramatic depths of the canyon below. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, which is some three hours from Arequipa. It offers a good range of restaurants, bus services and accommodation, and is an excellent base from which to explore the area. Hikers will find many trails in the surrounding hills. They can also venture down to the bottom of the canyon and overnight in one of the tiny Indian settlements below. Travellers can choose from a number of tour operators, whose packages range from hikes to multi-day adventures. Visitors can set off alone and enjoy self-guided tours too.

    Transport: Public bus from Terminal Terrestre or San Juan de Dios 510, Arequipa. Organised tours also visit the canyon daily. It is a five-hour journey.
    Colca Canyon, Peru Colca Canyon, Peru Judith Duk

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    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.

    Jorge Chávez International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated seven miles (12km) from Lima.
    Time: Local time is GMT -5.
    Getting to the city: Buses and minibuses service the city centre. Travellers will find their stops outside the airport gates. They travel to the city, stopping along the main avenues.
    Car Rental: Avis, Budget and Hertz offer services at the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis can be pre-booked or found outside the airport terminals.
    Fascilities: Facilities at the airport include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, a post office, a couple of restaurants, shops, left luggage and a tourist information desk. There are disabled facilities; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
    Parking Parking is charged at PEN 7 per hour and PEN 49 per day, and is located across from the main terminal building.
    Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport
    Location: The airport is located two miles (3km) from downtown Cuzco.
    Time: Local time is GMT -5
    Getting to the city: There are no trains or buses from the airport, so taxis or a rented car are the only options to reach destinations in the city. Some hotels offer a pick-up service from the airport that should be arranged prior to arrival.
    Car Rental: Car rental companies represented at the airport include Hertz, Avis, and Europcar.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis from the airport can be arranged from booths within the terminal. Visitors should not use unmarked taxis and should negotiate a price before setting off to their destination.
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include restaurants, a club lounge, shops, ATMs, and massage facilities.
    Parking Parking is available at the airport.
    Money:

    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.

    Language:

    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.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pronged plugs with flat blades as well as plugs with two round prongs are in use.

    Entry Requirements:

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    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.

    Travel Health:

    Travellers heading to Peru will need a yellow fever certificate if they're entering from an infected area. They should also remember that Peru experiences some outbreaks of the disease. Travellers will need to receive vaccinations for certain regions, though not for Cuzco, Lima and Machu Picchu.

    They won't officially need any other vaccinations, but are advised to take precautions if travelling to jungle regions. Immunisation against typhoid is sensible. Malaria is a year-round risk in the lowland areas (except Lima and the coastal regions to the south), and dengue fever is on the increase. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended as well, and incidents of bat-bite-transmitted rabies have been reported in the Puno and Madre de Dios provinces, and near the border with Ecuador. Visitors should have a course of rabies injections and not sleep in the open if they plan to spend time in these areas.

    Diarrhoea and altitude sickness are the most common ailments for visitors. As precautionary measures, travellers should only drink bottled water, avoid drinks with ice, and be wary of street-vendor food. Healthcare is good in the major cities, particularly at private clinics rather than public hospitals. It's expensive, though, and health insurance is essential. Screening for HIV is inadequate and visitors should avoid blood transfusions.

    The zika virus is a factor, though rarely at elevations above 2000 metres (6500 feet). For this reason, Cuzco and Machu Picchu should be zika-free. Travellers should still protect themselves from mosquito bites.

    Tipping:

    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.

    Safety Information:

    Most visits to Peru are trouble-free and the usual sensible precautions should be enough to keep travellers safe. That said, thieves remain a problem. Travellers should be especially cautious in crowded areas, on public transport, at bus and train stations, and in the centre of Lima at night. Visitors should take extra care in Lima and Cuzco, where there's a risk of street and violent crime.

    Foreigners have also been attacked while trekking in the Huayhuash region near Huaraz and should seek safety advice before setting out. Thieves and muggers operate in Huaraz and Arequipa as well.

    Women in particular should only take taxis that have been pre-booked by a hotel or an official company. Travellers arriving at Lima International Airport should be wary of thieves posing as taxi drivers or tour operators.

    Visitors should avoid all political gatherings and demonstrations, as these have the potential for violence.

    Local Customs:

    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:

    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.

    Communications:

    The international access code for Peru is +51. Wifi access is available in most hotels, modern restaurants and cafés.

    Duty Free:

    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.

    Useful Contacts:

    PROMPERU (Commission for the Promotion of Peru), Lima: +51 1 616 7300 or https://www.peru.travel/biddingbook/home_en.html

    Peru Embassies:

    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, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 440 1030.

    Peruvian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 7351.

    Peruvian Consulate, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 567 6951.

    Peruvian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 213 8943.

    Foreign Embassies in Peru :

    United States Embassy, Lima: +51 1 618 2000.

    British Embassy, Lima: +51 1 617 3000.

    Canadian Embassy, Lima: +51 1 319 3200.

    South African Embassy, Lima: +51 1 612 4848.

    Australian Embassy, Lima: +51 1 630 0500.

    Irish Honorary Consulate, Lima, Peru: +51 1 222 5252.

    New Zealand Embassy in Chile (also responsible for Peru): +56 2 2616 3000.

    Peru Emergency Numbers : 911 (General); 105 (Police); 106 (Ambulance).
    Peru
    Pisco

    Pisco is a small port and fishing village, and is best known for its fiery white-grape brandy of the same name. One of Peru's major ancient civilisations, the Paracas, established their culture in the area. They left an astounding collection of antiquities, which travellers can see in Lima's museums. The area's main appeal is as a base from which to explore the nearby Paracas National Reserve, where visitors can view an incredible variety of birds and marine life. Boat tours of the Ballestas Islands are another of the area's drawcards. The islands are off limits to people, but the boat tours afford spectacular close up views of the wildlife. Visitors will see thousands of resident and migratory birds, including terns, penguins, cormorants, flamingos, pelicans and red boobies. Huge colonies of sea lions line the shores, and dolphins, turtles and whales populate the surrounding waters. Boats also pass the famous Candelabra on their way to the islands. The pre-historic drawing is etched into the sandstone cliffs overlooking the bay.

    Address: Pisco is 150 miles (95km) south of Lima.
    El Candelabro, near Pisco, Peru El Candelabro, near Pisco, Peru Aguakina
    The Nazca Lines

    Nazca is a small desert town in southern Peru. Named after the Nazca civilisation, the area is famous for the mysterious lines and diagrams etched into the surrounding desert floor. Visitors will also find some interesting museums and archaeological sites, including the Chauchilla Cemetery, where 12 exposed underground tombs contain skeletons and preserved mummified forms. That said, 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, the only way to view them is from the air. Pilots will point out the outlines of intriguing bird and animal representations, such as the Condor, Monkey, Spider, Hummingbird, and the unusual cartoon-like character known as the Astronaut. These figures were made by removing sun-darkened stones from the desert floor to expose the lighter coloured stones below, and were created over a thousand years ago.

    Experts have not discovered why they were created, nor how they were designed. For tourists, the Nazca Lines are among the strangest and most unforgettable sights in the country. They're a legacy of the ancient Nazca culture and one of South America's great mysteries.

    Address: Nazca is a few miles in from the coast, 238 miles (383km) southeast of Lima.
    Transport: Ormeno and Civa are two of the best bus companies with offices in Nazca.
    The Nazca Plane, Peru The Nazca Plane, Peru Brattarb
    The Sacred Valley (Urubamba River Valley)

    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. The river's course also passes a sprinkling of small, traditional settlements. Visitors should note that the centrally situated Urubamba town has a decent tourist infrastructure, and is becoming a popular base from which to explore the valley. The region's most-visited sites are the citadel above Pisac and the fortress of Ollantaytambo. Culture lovers will enjoy the quaint village of Pisac, which is known for its interesting Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning markets. Agricultural terraces flank the steep sides of the mountain and have seen many centuries of use. Alarmingly narrow trails lie above them and lead to the cliff-hugging citadel. Visitors will find massive stone doorways and stairways cut into the rock.

    The road terminates at the far end of the Sacred Valley, where travellers will encounter the ancient traditional town of Ollantaytambo. Its temple-fortress clings to the nearby cliffs. Originally developed as an Inca administrative centre, the town's layout is one of the few remaining models of an Inca grid plan, and the existing town lies on the remaining Inca foundations. The ruins include the Royal Chamber, the Princess Baths and the Temple of the Sun.

    Transport: Pisac is a one-hour bus journey from Cuzco. The Pisac citadel is a 30-minute walk from behind the main square or 20 minutes by taxi. Ollantaytambo is situated on the Cusco-Machu Picchu train route, or can be reached by bus with a change at Urubamba.
    The Sacred Valley, Peru The Sacred Valley, Peru Charles Gadbois
    Machu Picchu

    The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is regarded as the most significant archaeological site in South America, and one of the finest examples of landscape architecture in the world. It is the most enthralling of the region's citadels, and lies high in the Andes. Fortunately, Spanish colonists didn't discover and destroy the structure, as it's completely concealed from below. In fact, the western world didn't find it until an American explorer stumbled across its thickly overgrown ruins in 1911. The site is surrounded by grazing llamas and steep agricultural terraces, and consists of a central plaza, towers, palaces, water canals, ornate fountains, food storehouses, perfectly balanced archways 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. Another is the mountain called, Huayna Picchu, which forms a dramatic backdrop to the city. All told, 'The Lost City of the Incas' has an abiding sense of majesty and mystery, despite its popularity among tourists.

    Transport: Trains leave from Cuzco and Urubamba to Aguas Calientes, where a bus transports passengers to the ruins. There is also a path leading up to the ruins from Aguas Calientes for those who prefer to walk.
    Opening time: Daily 6am-5pm. Huayna Picchu closes at 3pm.
    Machu Picchu Machu Picchu Brian Snelson
    Ayacucho

    Located in Peru's central highlands and crossed by two mountain ranges, Ayacucho has much to delight history lovers. Indeed, the region 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 pre-historic remains found in America, and richly decorated churches are all part of the destination's inheritance. Ayacucho is a relatively unknown tourism gem, though, due largely to political unrest. That is, as the capital of an isolated and traditionally poor department, it allowed Professor Abimael Guzman to foster the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist Revolutionary movement, causing thousands of deaths in the region during the 1980s and 1990s. Fortunately, travellers are rediscovering Ayacucho. The best time to visit is around Easter, when the city's carnival celebrations are in full swing.

    Willkawaman Cathedral, Ayacucho Willkawaman Cathedral, Ayacucho
    Marcahuasi

    Marcahuasi is a plateau in the Andes. Travellers who are interested in the mythical side of Peruvian culture will find it a wonderful excursion from nearby Lima. The mountains are home to some massive and remarkable rock formations of mysterious origin, which seem to depict various animals, human faces, and other symbols. There is debate about whether the formations are natural or man-made, and theories abound as to how the sculptures could have been made and why. 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. The dramatic landscape doesn't see many tourists. Marcahuasi has camp sites 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. Local guides are also available.

    View from Marcahuasi. View from Marcahuasi. Martintoy