Official languages: Spanish, Quechua and Aymara
Currency: The Nuevo sol
Anyone who has ever dreamed of exploring ancient cultures and discovering the secrets of ruined cities will surely have considered travelling to Peru at some point. This is one of the world’s most mysterious and enchanting countries, yet it also has a good tourist infrastructure that makes it easy to explore. The starting point for many visitors is the thriving capital of Lima but the adventure is only just beginning when you touch down here. The name of Cusco means “navel of the world”, which tells us all we need to know about how important this city was to the Inca empire. These days it is where many international tourists come to gaze in wonder at a city that still has a wonderfully old time feel to it. Of course, from Cusco there is only one possible destination for the adventurous traveller with a passion for exploring the world’s most amazing sights; the once lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. Anyone who is short of time could take the train out here but it is really worth making the effort to take the trekking option. After a few days of reasonably gentle trekking it is a stunning moment to stand and watch the sun rise behind Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun. There are few moments as memorable as this in life and it is something incredibly special to share with your travel partner. The rest of the country isn’t exactly short of tourist attractions. From the mystical lines drawn in the ground at Nazca to the pretty white city of Arequipa and the beautiful Lake Titicaca, the things to do and see just keep on coming. The rich cultural legacy of the country isn’t just seen in the architecture and the other places of cultural interest. It can also be experienced in the food, which offers a genuine type of fusion cuisine, and in the faces of the people who live here. A trip to Peru is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience for most people and it is something that they are unlikely to ever forget.
Must see places in Peru
The big, bustling capital of Lima is an exciting place to learn more about the Peruvian people and culture. This is a cosmopolitan city, with a wide diversity of inhabitants. This diversity can be seen in areas such as the local cuisine, which offers international delights as well as the national fish dish of ceviche. As this is the only South American capital that sits on the banks of the Pacific, it feels very different from most of the continent’s other great cities, with surfing and other sea sports possible not too far from the centre.
The journey to Machu Picchu starts in Cusco. Whether you choose to head out to this brilliant city by train or on a multi-day hike there is something very special waiting for you at the end. This Inc city was abandoned and forgotten about for centuries but is now one of the world’s most desired travel destinations. The unlikely and romantic setting of Machu Picchu up in the mountains is simply impossible to describe in words.
The northwest part of Peru is rather lighter on tourist attractions than other regions. However, the large city of Trujillo is well worth visiting. Among the top things to do here are go surfing, lounge on the beach and eat fresh seafood. For a more cultural experience you could head out to see the ruins left behind by the ancient Chan Chan civilisation, as well as the ruins at Huaca de la Luna y Sol.
The area around this small desert town in Peru has intrigued and fascinated visitors for centuries. The reason for this is that it is home to the mystifying Nazca lines. There are figures and geometric shapes that were drawn into the desert floor at an unknown time and by unknown people. The theories for the existence of these lines range from runways for spaceships to some sort of astrological chart. A short trip over the lines in a private plane is sure to be one of the highlights of any trip to Peru.
While Cusco is used as a base for travellers who want to visit the glorious Machu Picchu, there is far more to it than that. This ancient city was once the capital of the Inca Empire and considered the centre of the world. Even today, it is filled with reminders of its amazing past, with the famous twelve angled stone an example of the Inca genius for architecture. Cusco is a stunningly pretty city that is usually filled with tourists from all over the world. A trip out to the incredible Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman is a must for most visitors here. The high altitude makes it necessary to spend a few days here before trekking to Machu Picchu, which is no bad thing.
If you have ever wondered where the drink called Pisco comes from then this is where you will find out the answer. As well as giving thirsty travellers a chance to drink some of the stuff at source, this is also a good base from which to explore some of the natural wonders of this part of the country. The Paracas national park is close to the city and Tambo Colorado is another interesting destination not far from Pisco.
This city in the Northern Highlands is well known for the carnaval held here on an annual basis. The exuberant celebrations typically involve water and paint being splashed about and a number of parades. The countryside around Cajamarca is very pleasant and there is a fine waterfall not too far from the city that is worth visiting.
The small, laid back city of Ica offers visitors the chance for some exhilarating sandboarding action on the large sand dunes just out of town. It is also well known among travellers for the number of cool little tuk tuk style taxi that buzz around town. It is an interesting place to spend some time. The city was damaged in the 2007 earthquake that rocked the region but repair work has progressed well in making it a suitable destination for tourists again.
The majestic Lake Titicaca sits on the border with Bolivia and offers a fantastic chance to get a glimpse into a traditional way of life. A short trip to the island of Taquile will transport you to a different world, as the locals carry out ancient customs on their beautiful island. Perhaps even more interesting are the floating islands of Uros. They are made of reed and need to be rebuilt on a regular basis.
The second biggest city in Peru, Arequipa is renowned for its beautiful white colonial buildings. This has given it the name of The White City and it is without doubt one of the prettiest cities in the region. As well as being an attractive place to stroll around, Arequipa is also a fantastic base from which to head out on a trip to the massive Colca Canyon. The city is overlooked by the imposing and perfectly shaped El Misti volcano.
Things to do in Peru
Peru is a wonderful country to visit, as it is has a great diversity of tourist attractions, from some of the world’s most famous sights to low key treasures.
See the Ruined Cities
Few countries whisper of ancient civilisations the way that Peru does. This amazing country has, of course, Machu Picchu in pride of place among its historic wonders. A visit here is something that is the end result of many years of dreaming and planning for many people. However, the outstanding Inca city in the mountains is far from the only abandoned city we can see here. The likes of the Chan Chan ruins in the north of the country are also fascinating and easy to visit.
Check Out the Lines
The mystery of the Nazca lines is something that draws many tourists to this small and laid back city in one of the world’s driest deserts. It is an unforgettable experience to soar up into the sky in a tiny plane and then look down to see the shapes and symbols far below. It is worth making a detour just to see those very special lines but there are also some other attractions round here worth seeing.
Explore Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is a very special place that some people claim is a powerful source of energy. Whether this is true or not, there is no denying that this is a magical part of Peru. A trip out on a small boar from Puno to see some of the islands in the lake is a wonderful way to experience the magic of Titicaca.
Enjoy local food
Peruvian cuisine has a brilliant reputation, largely due to the fusion of different cuisines that make it up. The indigenous ingredients and recipes have been added to over the centuries with European, Asian and African influences. Ceviche is the dish that most tourists are keen to try but other typical dishes make great use of potatoes, beans, rice, quinoa and corn, among other things.
Head to the Beach
Peru might not be world famous for its beaches but there are some excellent places to head down to the water, especially in the northern part of the country. This is a terrific way to end a trip to Peru after some time in the colder, higher parts of the country. The powerful Pacific Ocean waves mean that some spots are ideal for surfing, while swimming isn’t recommended in some places.
Pick the time right
Tourists visit Peru from May to October
The high season for travel here is the dry season, from May to October, while many visitors also arrive at the turn of the year. The dry season usually sees clear, sunny days, although in the highland areas the nights can get very cold. This is the best time of year to trek to Machu Picchu. It is also the finest time to check out the more tropical areas, such as in the Amazon Basin region, as there will be fewer mosquitoes and lower humidity levels. The varying levels of altitude in Peru mean that the climate changes from one region to another. Generally speaking, the dry months of the year are from May to October, which is also when temperatures are lower. The rest of the year is usually warmer and wetter, although the northern part of the country and the region around Nazca are among the driest places on the planet. The Amazon Basin zone is hotter and more humid all year round.
Did you know?
The massive Inca empire was once ruled from Cusco, which still retains many signs of its imperial past.
The popularity of the main tourist sites here means that there is a loop round the country that many visitors follow. Some people call this the Gringo Trail and it is the easiest way to see the likes of Lima, Nazca, Lake Titicaca and Cusco. You are likely to meet other travellers on this route too.
Be sure to book your hike to Machu Picchu in advance, as otherwise you might need to hang around for several days waiting for a group with spaces in it. However, also factor in some time in Cusco to enjoy the city and get used to the altitude.
When you first arrive to a new city taxi drivers will often try and persuade you to go to a hotel they recommend. It is usually cheaper to do your own research before travelling and then not be persuaded to change your mind.
Take care in the showers. Most hotels will have a shower head that has an electrical component to heat the water. Don’t touch it while the water is running.