Peru fascinates not only with its multicultural heritage, ranging from Inca ancestors to Spanish conquistadores, but also with the huge variety of landscapes including the Andes Mountains, Nazca Desert and Amazon Jungle. Add to this the world’s highest lake, superb beaches and the Inca Trail, and this becomes an out-of-this-world destination.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Inca ruins, women in bowler hats, men in floppy hats, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, llamas, floating villages, pretty Cuzco, Nazca lines, 2,000 kinds of potatoes, pisco sour, alpaca wool sweaters.

What’s Not: Altitude sickness, room tax, raw fish, thieves and pickpockets, uninspiring cuisine, earthquakes, counterfeit money, diarrhea, needle-eye toilets, tourist crowds at Machu Picchu, shoeshine kids, spitting llamas.

When to Go

You can find a total of 32 types of climate on Earth and Peru has 28 of them.

Winter (June to September) is not very cold, but often cloudy. Inland temperatures can get quite cool. April, July and August are the best months to visit.

Summer (January to March) is hot and humid with cool nights.

The wet season (December to May) is mainly restricted to the interior.

Getting There & Away

Lima is the main port of arrival and domestic air services are limited and costly. Bus services are extensive and cheap, but often crowded and can be slow due to the poor road quality. There are three railway lines, with the most popular one being from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. Inter-city travel is mainly by bus or taxi, even in Lima.

Health & Safety

Crime is widespread and often targeted at tourists. Avoid groups of young males and be as inconspicuous as possible. Police officers may fish for bribes. Beware of altitude sickness and only drink bottled water and eat well-cooked meat and fish. As Peru is near the Equator, the sun is particularly strong and may leave you looking more like a lobster than ceviche!

Food & Hospitality

Food is hot and spicy and staples are rice and potatoes. Ceviche is raw, marinated fish, which is delicious but can easily upset your stomach. There is a refreshing absence of international fast-food chains. Hotel quality in the provinces varies greatly, but most are of a decent standard. Hotels in residential areas often do not cater to tourists, but are popular with couples looking for a by-the-hour stay.

Itineraries

Eight days is the least you need to enjoy some of the main attractions.

  • A day or two in Lima with historic squares and churches.
  • Two or three days in Cuzco, one of the world’s prettiest towns, with Inca built lower walls and Spanish colonial upper walls.
  • Four days to take in Machu Picchu, the strange and splendidly built Inca settlement on a tabletop mountain enclosed by Andean peaks.

Extra time

  • Three or four days at Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and home to traditional reed homes and boats.
  • A day or two days in the Nazca Desert admiring strange, mysterious drawings that are visible only by plane.
  • Four or five days in the Amazon, getting a boat to jungle camps with buzzing, humming and screeching atmospheres.
  • A couple of days in Arequipa acclimatizing for the trek to Machu Picchu. The nearby Colca Canyon offers spectacular views and passing condors.

Highlights

Plaza de Armas: in Lima is a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring paths, gardens and a stylish bronze fountain.

Caral: is a 5,000-year-old city near Lima. It was discovered in 1994 and has recently opened to tourists after years of excavation.

Cuzco: is a mesmerizing blend of Inca and colonial Spanish styles. Nearly every street has some Inca walls and colorful murals.

Church of Santo Domingo: was built on the foundations of the Inca Temple of the Sun. Solid gold sheets covered its walls until the gold-hungry Spanish invaders found it.

Machu Picchu: with highlights including the ceremonial baths, the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Three Windows and the carved rock pillar used by Inca astronomers to forecast the solstices.

Lake Titicaca: with pre-1000 AD remains from the Pucara and Tiahuanaco cultures, an old steamship and distinct traditions.

Activities

Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the colonial churches and cathedrals, Inca ruins and fascinating colonial history.

Trekking: the 22kms to Machu Picchu is the best walk you’ll ever take. The town of Huaraz is a popular starting point for other magnificent Andean treks.

Flying: above the Nazca Lines, south of Lima, drawn with sand and stone and illustrating animals.

Wildlife watching: is particularly good in Amazon jungle camps. Try the Paracas reserve for birds and sea lions.

Beach life: can be enjoyed up north, with excellent beaches around the town of Mancora. There’s surfing, horseback riding, warm water and lots of sunshine.

Festivals & Events

Many main festivals are based around the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar and often involve great spectacle, particularly in indigenous highland villages.

February: Carnival is especially popular in the highlands and water fights leave everyone soaked.

June: Inti Raymi reigns supreme among Inca festivals with fantastic dances and parades.

November: All Souls Day is celebrated with gifts of food, drink and flowers brought to family graves.

November: Puno Day features gaudy costumes and dancing in the street around Lake Titicaca.