Machu Picchu is Latin America’s foremost archaeological sites and is a must for any first-time traveller to Peru, together with Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This area is exciting and dynamic with white water rafting and mountain biking for those seeking an adrenalin rush, museums, Andean markets, Inca ruins and fantastic sights for visitors with more leisurely interests. If time permits Lake Titicaca, the Nazca lines, the Colca Canyon and/or a trip into the Amazon rainforest might appeal. The undiscovered north is beginning to open up as investigations using modern technology at Kuelap and Chan Chan begin to reveal more about the pre-Inca Chachapoya, Chimu and Mochica civilizations.
Machu Picchu is the foremost Inca site and is one of the highlights of any trip to Peru. Coming here is always an adventure, whether you are travelling by train from the Sacred Valley of the Incas or arriving through the Sun Gate after hiking one of the traditional Inca Trails but entry is limited to 2500 per day so you are advised to book early.
There are regular trains run by Peru Rail, Inca Rail and Machu Picchu Train leaving either from Poroy, Urubamba or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley which we can combine with road transfers to/from your hotel in Cuzco.
The luxurious Hiram Bingham service run by Peru Rail offers brunch on the way there and dinner on the way back.
The Presidential class carriage on the Inca Rail service has capacity for just eight passengers and includes an excellent menu and panoramic views.
The first bus from the local village of Aguas Calientes leaves at 5.30 am. The last bus down departs from Machu Picchu at 5.30 pm.
Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire and is built in the Spanish colonial style upon Inca foundations. Cuzco is friendly, vibrant and exciting and there is always plenty to do here with a good choice of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs and fantastic handcraft shops. It is also an excellent base to relax and acclimatize to the altitude.
In the cathedral there is a painting of the last supper depicting Christ and his disciples tucking into that well-known Peruvian delicacy, guinea pig. On a hill overlooking the city is the mighty fortress of Sacsayhuaman, which is definitely worth a visit. There are other ruins nearby too.
Cuzco is the gateway to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Inca Trail and, of course, for visiting Machu Picchu. It is worth spending three or four nights in Cuzco, a night or two in the Sacred Valley and a night either at Machu Picchu or in the local village, Aguas Calientes. Please allow extra time if you are planning to hike the Inca Trail or take one of the other treks to Machu Picchu.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is dotted with villages, Inca sites, Andean markets and activities such as white-water rafting, riding and mountain biking.
We recommend you spend a night or three here before travelling to (or coming back from) Machu Picchu. Excursions to both the Inca agricultural research centre at Moray and the Maras salt pools are thoroughly recommended if time permits.
The Sacred Valley is at a slightly lower altitude than Cuzco.
It is worth climbing to the top of the temple fortress at Ollantaytambo to see the six huge trapezoidal granite blocks in the appropriately named wall of the Six Monoliths to fully appreciate the skill and craftsmanship of the Inca stonemasons.
To the right, on the high ground as you face the site, are the storage rooms (qollqa in Quechua) where Inca administrators stored and distributed food grown in the Sacred Valley via their network of roads.
The traditional Inca Trail continues to appeal to travellers who wish to hike for three or four days to arrive at Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.
There are usually around 15 passengers in an international group but with your Inca Trail guide, cook and porters the party will be around 45. We can also arrange the Inca Trail on a private basis, for just two people, a guide, cook and two porters.
We also book the 4 day Salkantay route to Machu Picchu and a six-night, 7 day high-altitude trek using basic lodges. Another option is a one day hike (approx 6 hours) which is ideal for those who don’t want to suffer the discomforts of camping or basic lodges.
Early booking is essential.
Although Peru is widely thought of as an Andean country in fact two-thirds of the land lies in the Amazon basin. There are three main gateways from which to explore the rainforest: Iquitos in the north, Puerto Maldonado to the East of Cuzco or Boca Manu from which to enter the Manu Biosphere Reserve.
The Tambopata National Park near Puerto Maldonado is home to over 20,000 plant species, over 900 species of birds, 91 mammals, a thousand types of butterfly, 127 types of amphibians and reptiles. You are unlikely to see jaguars or harpy eagles but various types of monkey, black caiman, red-bellied macaws, hoatzin and giant otters can usually be seen.
The ‘white city’ of Arequipa, at 2380m, is very attractive with the backdrop of the snow-capped El Misti volcano. The colonial heart of the city is exemplified by the main square, the Plaza de Armas, constructed of white volcanic stone known as sillar.
In colonial times it was the tradition for the second sons and daughters of wealthy Spanish families to enter the church, contributing substantial sums to monasteries and convents. We thoroughly recommend a tour of the Santa Catalina convent to explore the alleys, streets and cloisters of this walled retreat within the city, which, at its height was home to around 150 nuns and some 300 servants, some of whom were slaves.
Arequipa is the gateway to the Colca Canyon which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, peppered with unspoiled villages, Inca terraces and bridges.
It is also an excellent vantage place to see condors, vicunas, llamas and alpacas.
The Mirador, Cruz del Condor (Condor Crossing point) is the deepest point of the canyon offering spectacular views but your enjoyment may be marred by the number of people and how well or badly they behave:
On a good day there will just be a few like-minded experienced travellers; on a bad day, groups of teenagers whooping and shouting.
The Andean Explorer train is certainly the most luxurious and leisurely way to reach Lake Titicaca from Cuzco, with comfortable carriages in the style of the 1930s, excellent food and top-notch service.
The ten hour journey offers spectacular scenery and you should keep your eyes peeled for llamas and vicunas.
The train operates four times a week (in either direction) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between April and October. From November to March there is no Friday service.
For the Incas, Lake Titicaca was the birthplace of their gods. Today, small boats take you across the water to visit the floating reed islands inhabited by the Uros Indians. We also arrange trips to other islands on Lake Titicaca: Taquile or Amantani can be reached in a day trip from Puno (albeit quite a long day) but we also offer the opportunity to arrange an overnight stay.
The journey by road and hydrofoil or catamaran around and across Lake Titicaca into Bolivia via Copacabana and the Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol) is stunning.
Lima is unjustly derided in most guidebooks but offers many attractions. The colonial part of town has been steadily restored over the last 25 years and there are some lovely squares, museums, buildings and churches to visit, notably the Plaza de Armas and the 16th century Santo Domingo church.
The district of Miraflores is the vibrant heart of the modern city. It is worth visiting the Larcomar centre which has a variety of handicraft shops, restaurants and cafes with great ocean views.
Aguas Calientes (sometimes also called Pueblo Machu Picchu) is an attractive little village next to the Urubamba River. There is a good market here, plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels for all budgets.
The themal baths from which the village derives its name are open until 8pm every day but facilities are very basic.
The museum in the village is open Wed-Sun, 9am-4pm.
About 3 miles from Trujillo is Chan Chan, the adobe ruins of the Imperial City of the Chimu kings – who surrendered to the Incas in 1471, after 11 years of siege.
Chan Chan is reputed to be the largest adobe city in the world.
Further north, at Chiclayo and Tucume are other pre-Inca sites, pyramids and museums including the important Royal Tombs of Sipan.
In the heart of the little-known Chachapoyas region of Peru is Kuelap, a pre-Inca walled city which appears to have been constructed over 600 years. It contained three times more stone than the Great Pyrimid at Giza. It was rediscovered in 1843 but is only just beginning to be properly investigated using all modern methods. Nearby at Ravash are colourful burial chambers built high up on the side of a cliff, only reachable on foot or on horseback. A spectacular area just waiting to be discovered.
The Maras salt pools have been in use since Inca times to evaporate salty water from a local subterranean stream. There are about a thousand of them, each one usually less than 4 square metres in area and none deeper than 30 cm. An extraordinary sight.
This site appears to have been used by the Incas as an agricultural research station. Temperatures and the amount of sunlight and shade vary on each circular terrace helping the Incas determine which crops to grow where in the fertile lands of their Sacred Valley.
An excursion to Paracas National Reserve is your best option for viewing marine birdlife and sea lions in Peru. The caves and arches of the Ballestas islands, created by the powerful combination of wind and sea erosion, are a haven for a large concentration of seabirds. The Ballestas Islands were once most famous for collecting guano for use in fertilizer.
Paracas is about four hours south of Lima down the Panamerican Highway. Boat trips to the Ballestas Islands leave early in the morning, before the wind picks up and the sea gets too rough.
We can build in a 2 day/1 night extension from Lima to overnight in Paracas where there is now a good choice of hotels to suit all budgets.
The Nazca desert is most famous for the mysterious lines and giant drawings which extend over 190 sq. miles (nearly 500 sq. kms). They are believed to have been created by three pre-Inca societies between 900BC and 700AD. Their purpose is unknown but amongst the theories are that they represent an astronomical calendar or some form of dedication to water and/or fertility.
Whilst you can see some of the lines and drawings from a viewing tower, the Nazca Lines are best seen from the air.We do not currently book flights over the Nazca Lines as there have been a number of fatal crashes in the last ten years. You are advised to check your insurance policy should you decide to book your own flight.
ADVICE AND EXPERTISE
We hope that some of the following pointers and tips provide helpful information for all travellers to Peru. For further details about Peru including visas, vaccinations, money and travel advice, please visit our information pages.
The best time to visit Peru is probably April-May or September-October, the changeover between wet and dry seasons. In July/August it is dry, but temperatures can fall dramatically at altitude in the Andean winter. December/January is warm but wet. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is closed in February.
Wet Season: October – May
Dry Season: June- September
When travelling in the Andes you should bear in mind that you will be at fairly high altitude, over 3100m (10,000ft) in Cuzco, higher if you are travelling into the Colca Canyon, walking the Inca Trail or visiting Lake Titicaca.
So if you have a heart condition or are very asthmatic you should check with your doctor.
You should always advise your travel insurers of any pre-existing medical condition.
Peruvian cuisine is gaining a significant and enthusiastic international reputation. Indeed, over the last few years a number of Peruvian restaurants have opened across the UK with the greatest concentration in London.
Peru’s signature dish, apart from guinea pig, is ceviche (marinated seafood). Papas a la Huancaina are boiled potatoes with a spicy cheese sauce, a good starter. Lomo Saltado is a stir-fried beef dish with peppers and potatoes. Aji de Gallina is a garlic and spicy cream chicken dish traditionally served with both rice and potatoes.
If your camera has rechargeable batteries it might be difficult or impossible to charge in remote places such as the jungle or the Inca Trail.
If your camera requires batteries, we suggest you keep spare supplies on you.
It is only ever polite to ask permission to take photographs of people and, depending on the situation, you may be asked to leave a tip (or purchase an item). It is also a good idea to show any photos you have taken on your digital camera.
Mountain biking in the area between Cuzco and the Sacred Valley adds another dimension to a holiday. The scenery here is at its best between April and June, after the wet season, when the countryside is lush and the flowers are in bloom.
We arrange rafting trips suitable for all levels of experience and ability. There are trips suitable for beginners on the Urubamba river to adrenaline adventures for the more experienced in the white-water rapids of the Apurimac river.
We offer a range of bird watching trips suitable for those with no experience in the Tambopata to tours for serious birders with highly-experienced and professional local guides in Manu.
The Tambopata National Park near Puerto Maldonado has over nine hundred recorded species of birds as well as a thousand types of butterfly whilst the Manu Biosphere Reserve has more than a thousand species of birds as well as jaguars, giant otters and 13 species of primates. Manu is also home to uncontacted indigenous tribes. So it is very special and because it is so remote (a couple of days by land and water, or chartering a special flight), it is inevitably very expensive.
On any itinerary there is always time to browse in the shops and local markets for weavings and wall-hangings. The range of handicrafts, ceramics, art and jewellery is impressive and it is always interesting talking to artists and artisans about their work. Alpaca jumpers (you will be offered “chompas” in the markets), scarves and gloves keep you beautifully warm in the Andes.
Haggling is an acceptable part of shopping but please don’t go over the top to get a few extra Peruvian soles off a purchase if you have already secured a discount. Please bear in mind that what might amount to small change to you can actually make a big difference to the household income of the seller.
The Yavari is the oldest steamboat on Lake Titicaca. She was originally built in kit form in Liverpool in 1861 and then packaged up and delivered to Arica, on the Pacific Coast. From here the 2766 pieces were carried by mule from sea level up to 3825m (12,500 ft) for reassembly at Lake Titicaca (all of which took six years). Her steam engines used to run on wood and llama droppings.
Today the Yavari has been beautifully restored and is open to visitors as a museum and as a guesthouse in Puno. Worth a visit, if time permits.
Please take a look at our tailor-made section for detailed, day-by-day itineraries which include Peru with neighbouring countries.
Peru and the Galapagos: Sacred Valley – Cuzco – Machu Picchu – Quito – Galagapos Cruise
Peru, Bolivia Chile: Cuzco – Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu – Lake Titicaca – La Paz – Uyuni Salt Flats – Atacama Desert
Peru, Bolivia, Brazil: Cuzco – Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu – Lake Titicaca – La Paz – Iguazu Falls – Rio de Janeiro
The Latin America travel industry is working together to support social projects throughout the region.
These projects are helping to transform lives, providing clean water, dental or medical support and practical training to provide people with new skills in Mexico, Central and South America.
The Central and South America Revealed group are proud to support the LATA Foundation, which is helping 10 core projects in 2015 including an important reforestation project in Peru.
It usually takes 250 people five hours to plant ten thousand trees in a day. This is part of an ambitious reforestation project which the travel industry for Latin America is supporting, aiming to plant a million trees by 2020.
In just one day last November, they managed to plant 50,000 trees in a single day.
The total number of trees planted so far is now around 300,000, of which the LATA Foundation has funded some 10%.
With your support we can help the LATA Foundation plant more.