Peru - the heart of the ancient Inca Empire is simply overflowing with archaeological treasures - so how does one choose where to go and which really are the best places to visit in Peru?
We've list our top places to visit in Peru below - from the enigmatic Machu Pichu and the cities of Lima and Cuzco to sites off the beaten track in the north where some of the country's best beaches are to be found.
Mysterious Machu Picchu, often called “The lost City of the Incas” is a stunning sight that will amaze and astound any visitor, and since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place. It was recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archaeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian Hiram Bingham to the site on July 24, 1911, that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many unanswered questions remain.
The ultimate way to experience the Inca city is by walking one of the trails that lead you to the sun gate where you can enter Machu Picchu at sunrise, with the mist rising up from the mountains and the enigmatic ruins illuminated in the first light of day, before the many tourists descend upon it. The most famous trail, known as the Inca Trail has limited places at any one time to preserve it, so book up in advance to secure your place!
Lake Titicaca is a huge lake located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. According to Incan mythology, it was from Lake Titicaca that the creator god Viracoca rose up to create the sun, moon, stars, and first human beings. Recently, a large temple was discovered submerged in the lake, adding to its mystery and fascination.
It contains several islands including a group of about 42 man made islands known as the Uros. These Islands are made of floating reeds. The original idea behind the islands was that they could steer away from any threat. Amantani is another small island on the Lake, home to about 800 families. There are no cars or hotels on the island and though there is a generator there, due to the rising cost of petroleum the people no longer use it so there is no longer electricity although some houses now have solar panels. The isolation from the mainland means that traditional culture still prevails and the people speak the ancient Inca language of Quecha. The islands are considered sacred places by many and on Amantani there are two mountain peaks called Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth), and ancient ruins on the top of both peaks. Many of our group tours visit Amantaní and you can really get to know the islanders by enjoying a homestay there.
The beautiful Amazon rainforest covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America, the majority of which is contained within Brazil, then Peru and smaller amounts in Ecuador and Bolivia and other South American countries.
Tropical rainforests are the richest of all the world's ecosystems. Although the Amazon covers only about 5% of the earths surface, stretching across 7.8 million kilometres squared, it contains about half of all living species of plants and animals, including hundreds of species of trees and thousands of species of insects, and is vital for the health of the earth, acting as giant lungs. Sadly, the Amazon is experiencing one of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet. Between August 2003 and 2004, an area the size of Belgium was destroyed. So now is the time to visit this natural marvel, not only to see it while it is still here but to help gain and spread awareness.
Many of our tours of Ecuador and Peru visit the Amazon jungle, where we stay in jungle lodges or on board a riverboat. Spend your time enjoying hiking, swimming, canoeing and photography. Try and spot some of the many mammals from armadillos, honey bears, sloths, to the 60 varieties of bats, tapirs, peccaries, jaguar, monkeys, manatees and much more. Birds are the richest group of Amazon vertebrates, at approximately 1000 species. You may see hummingbirds, toucans, and tanagers on land, and darters, herons and gulls on water. There are naturalists on-hand to ensure you make the most out of your time in this fascinating eco-system.
Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain south of Lima, the Nazca Lines are one of the most mystifying sights in all Latin America. Believed to have been etched into the desert floor between 500BC and 500AD, the Nazca Lines are amongst archaeology’s greatest enigmas due to their nature, size, and quantity. A mix of long lines and geometrical figures, the geoglyphs depict, amongst other things, a monkey, hummingbird, condor, and spider. No one really knows who made the lines or why they did so but theories abound from their purpose as a giant astronomical calendar to an extraterrestrial landing site. More recently theorists have presented the idea of the lines belonging to a water fertility cult that once ruled Peru’s southern desert. The mystery only makes the Nazca Lines more exciting to behold and they are best appreciated from the air where their striking vision comes into true form.
The stunning Colca Valley has been called many things - 'The Lost Valley of the Incas', 'The Valley of Wonders' and 'The Valley of Fire' amongst other names. It is the setting for the dramatic and awe inspiring Colca Canyon which over twice as deep as the more well known Grand Canyon and stunningly beautiful as well as the home for those elusive birds - the Andean Condors. The views from Condor pass and the sight of these birds with their 10 foot wing-span is likely to be the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.
The people of the villages of Colca Valley are well known for their colourful attire, from hats decorated with multi coloured ribbons to the intricate designs on their traditional clothing. The nearby hot springs at La Calera provide the perfect way to relax and regenerate and are said to be the best in Peru.