A mystical aura permeates the extraordinary travel gem of Peru. Its many attractions include lush cloud forests, sacred valleys, high deserts and serene canyon lands, as well as ancient Inca ruins, mysterious geoglyphs and indigenous Andean cultures. Join us as we go in search of Peru’s sacred treasures.
Lima – Priceless Treasures of the Ancients
Three thousand years of Peruvian history inhabit the galleries of Lima’s Museo Larco and offer a superb introduction to Peru. Considered by many as the premier attraction of the city, the privately owned museum is housed in an 18th-century colonial mansion standing atop the ruins of a 7th-century pyramid. It contains an unrivaled collection of ancient Peruvian gold, silver and jewelry along with textiles, metalwork, ceramics and masterpieces of pre-Columbian art from the Moche, Nazca, Chimú and Inca civilizations. The museum deftly presents the different societies in chronological order for easy navigation.
The popular Erotic Gallery features ceramics from the Moche culture, which prospered on Peru’s northern coast from 100 to 700 A.D. Intimate moments from daily life and mythology are depicted in three-dimensions on these unusual, fascinating objects. One of the few museums in the world to allow access to its hinterlands, the Larco permits visitors to view its storage area, containing a mind-boggling 45,000 archaeological objects. This unique opportunity to see how priceless articles are stored and catalogued is not to be missed. After such a dizzying display, you can take a break on the tranquil terrace of Café del Museo for a sampling of Peruvian bites and a pisco sour, Peru’s national drink.
Nazca – Grand Desert Enigmas
The epic geoglyphs and geometric line clearings in the arid plateau of Peru’s Pampa Colorada (Red Plain) entice many to take an overland flight to gaze upon these mythical and mysterious symbols of the ancients. Imprinted centuries ago by the Nazca, a civilization that flourished on Peru’s southern coast between 200 B.C. and 750 A.D., the Nazca Lines cover a swath of coastal plain measuring an astonishing 15 miles by 37 miles. The etchings range from plain lines to stylized human forms, imaginary beings, plants and animals, which include hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys and lizards—some as large as a football field. Together, these creations are considered the most outstanding geoglyphs in the world for their dimension and diversity, and are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Created by clearing away the dark red topsoil and surface stones of the desert plateau to reveal the lighter underlying subsoil, the designs continue to be preserved by the arid climate. Much conjecture and debate surrounds the collective purpose of the geoglyphs: They may have been fashioned as an astronomical calendar for crop planting and harvesting, used as a pathway for ceremonial processions or foot races, purposed for rituals of immortality for the dead, or created for the gods to gaze upon from their lofty perches. While their function is shrouded in mystery, there is no doubt the tracings are best viewed from above. Make the journey from Lima to Nazca by air or via a seven-hour overland bus trip, then join a tour or hire your own pilot to fly over the area.
Aguas Calientes – A Cloud Forest of Feathers
The mystical and fabled Machu Picchu draws thousands of visitors every year to the sacred site near Cuzco, southeast of Lima. Many travelers miss the gems of the surrounding region unless they embark on a multiple-day trek over the Inca Trail to get there. These sites include a fabulous cloud forest bursting with spectacular animal species and exuberant plant life. Drenched in 100% humidity from the ubiquitous clouds, fog and mist that envelop it, the lush highland jungle is home to a brilliant mosaic of exotic birds, rushing waterfalls and vibrant orchids and ferns.
As a side trip on your journey to Machu Picchu, consider a guided walk through the jungle with seasoned birdwatchers to spot hundreds of rare and endemic species, such as the brilliant Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Golden-headed Quetzals, toucanets, parrots, tropical tanagers and a fantastic array of hummingbirds. On a five-hour outing over mostly flat terrain, Gladys Jiménez and Jim Sykes of Lost City Bird Guides will illustrate the beauty of life in the cloud forest with intriguing facts about the birds and their habitat. Gladys is a Peruvian native and high-mountain trekking guide; Jim is a Seattle transplant and mountain-climbing enthusiast with a decades-long relationship with Peru. Let them whisk you into the still-living and magical world of the Incas while sharing interesting insights on the culture and politics of modern Peru.
Ollantaytambo – Weaving with the Quechua
Although its original dwellers have long since gone, the celestial Sacred Valley of the Incas is still inhabited by their living descendents. Team up with the small nonprofit Awamaki, and you’ll see a human side of the Sacred Valley missed by trekkers who only want to see Machu Picchu. Giving visitors the rare opportunity to witness Quechua artisans at work and providing economic opportunities for impoverished local women at the same time, Awamaki offers a refreshing, sustainable approach to tourism in the area around Ollantaytambo.
Accompanied by a respectful guide and a very small group, the four-hour tour of nearby Patacancha includes a weaving demonstration, home visit and time for shopping; opt to add a mouthwatering pachamanca (underground earth oven) meal to complete the experience. The Cloud Forest Natural Dye Workshop teaches natural dye methods and time-honored designs, and lets guests walk the high jungle while learning to forage and identify native dye plants, tree roots, bark and leaves. More extensive 10-day Andean Weaving Retreats are also offered.
Arequipa – Mystical Canyonlands
Located in the south of the country, Peru’s answer to the Grand Canyon has become one of its top adventure destinations. Long before a group of Polish rafters descended to the river on the canyon floor in 1981 bringing it to the world’s attention, the Incas developed the area with a network of irrigation channels and terraces in the 15th century. The Spanish later discovered the nearby Caylloma silver mine and built plantations nearby. Almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and a picture of extraordinary wonder, Colca Canyon manifests its primordial grandeur with canyon walls that rise over 10,000 feet, rock towers that go on for miles, thermal springs and giant birds like the Andean condor that sail overhead in clear, blue skies. Alpacas, llamas and herds of wild vicuñas populate the terrain, while Incan ruins, quaint Franciscan churches and small indigenous towns perched on canyon rims evoke the history of Peru. Adventure and trekking tours are a big draw, but local culture, high-quality handicrafts and canyon viewing beckon with their own allure.
Day trips from Arequipa are the most popular way to see the canyons, and there are hundreds to choose from. Visitors can splurge for an overnight stay on the canyon floor at Las Casitas del Colca, (or English Translation) a luxury eco-lodge, or at the Colca Lodge, Spa & Hot Springs earthier adventurers can stay in village homes booked through Sumac Yanque Ayllu. Home stays offer visitors a more authentic experience and give the local community a much-needed source of revenue.
Iquitos – Cruising the Amazon in Style
Operating on the upper Amazon in northeast Peru, Delfin Amazon Cruises is a private, boutique operator that strives to make each journey intimate and extraordinary for its handful of guests. Rigged and outfitted to appeal to travelers who prefer comfort, safety and luxury while exploring Peru, the company’s two riverboats offer spacious interiors, large panoramic windows, running hot water, warm ambience, superb hospitality and unique personal touches not found elsewhere in the rainforest.
Twice-daily excursions with naturalist guides take guests to visit local villages, kayak and swim in the Amazon, search for wildlife and fish for piranhas. The more adventurous can opt for mud therapy on the riverbanks, a flooded forest hike or a night safari (boots and ponchos provided). Monkeys, birds, sloths, caimans and river dolphins make intermittent appearances along the way. After an outing, you can return to your luxury roost for superb meals of local produce, fruit and fish, served with decorative touches provided by local craftspeople. Relax with fellow guests, then retire to a deck hammock with a pisco sour to take in the breathtaking scenery of one the world’s great wildernesses.
Travel Tips: Peru
Staying healthy, preparing for weather conditions, altitude adjustments, visiting sacred sites, and bringing home the goods–before you take your trip to Peru, read these travel tips.
Yellow Fever & Malaria
While visitors to Peru are not required to get vaccinations, the yellow fever vaccination is recommended for travelers to regions below 7,546 feet (2,300 meters) in elevation, including the entire region of Amazonas (it is not recommended for Lima, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail). Be sure to get your vaccination at least four to eight weeks before departure to ensure that it has time to take effect. If you plan to continue on to other countries within six days of your visit to Peru, you may need to furnish proof of yellow fever vaccination for entry. Malaria is also a risk in regions below 6,561 feet (2,000 meters). Preventative measures such as insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and prescription antimalarials are a must. Consult your health-care provider or a travel health clinic for more specific recommendations, and check for updates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prior to departure.
Peru’s Varied & Variable Weather
Peru experiences a dry season and a wet season. The peak months for travel—July and August—fall during the country’s driest period, which runs from May through September. The climate varies greatly across Peru’s three major geographic regions: coastal (temperate; foggy from April to December, and hot and humid from January to March); mountain and Andean (cold and dry); and Amazon and jungle (hot and humid with frequent downpours).
Keep in mind that the weather in Peru is notoriously variable, so plan for all seasons when packing. If you’re traveling to high elevations such as Cuzco, think warm, waterproof and layered. Casual attire is the norm for sightseeing, and comfort should be your first priority. Peru is not a formal place, so one smart-casual ensemble for a finer restaurant should be enough. A good-quality pair of walking or hiking shoes is mandatory, particularly if you plan on taking to the trails. See our selection of walking shoes.
Anyone traveling to Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titicaca and other destinations in the high Andes should plan for altitude adjustment, which varies from person to person. Education and preparation are key to preventing and combating symptoms of soroche (altitude sickness), which may include nausea, difficulty breathing and extreme fatigue. Staying at mid-elevation areas for a few days before ascending to higher elevations may help you acclimate. Here are a few recommendations for your first few days at high altitude:
- Avoid strenuous physical activity
- Drink at least 1 quart (1 liter) of fluids per day and avoid alcoholic beverages
- Eat small portions of high-carbohydrate food
- Get ample rest
- Stay warm
- Avoid sleeping pills and tranquilizers
- Chew coca leaves or drink mate de coca, a tea made with coca leaves
If you have heart issues or other medical conditions, consult with your physician before you travel.
For more information, visit: www.inkanatura.com/travel_essential_altitude_sickness.asp
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Peru’s celebrated Inca Trail has many routes and branches, but its most coveted path takes trekkers to the Lost City of the Incas. The classic, four-day, 26-mile trek transports visitors through mountains, cloud forest, jungle, Inca ruins and tunnels, and delivers them at sunrise to the sacred site of Machu Picchu. Travelers hoping to make the journey should start by choosing a guide company, route, duration (from two to seven days), group size and time of year. The next step is to secure reservations and trail permits. The $50 permits are limited to 500 per day and only 200 actually go to trekkers (the rest are assigned to guides, assistants, porters and cooks). Finally, be sure to outfit yourself with the proper gear for the expedition. See our selection of gear and travel accessories.
For more information, visit: www.incatrailperu.com
Illegal for Export
Peruvian laws prohibit the sale and exportation of any item deemed a work of National Cultural Heritage. Included in the ban are archaeological materials from the pre-Hispanic cultures including ceramics, textiles and paintings, and certain ethnological artifacts from the colonial period such as paintings and ritual objects. Shop for reproductions only at reputable dealers and insist on documentation from the National Institute of Culture (INC) confirming that the object is a reproduction and may be exported. You can find INC offices in all major cities in Peru and at Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima.
For more information about legal souvenirs, visit: