Once home to the great Inca civilisation, Peru remains deeply connected to its ancestral heritage. However the country is much more than the sum of its indigenous parts, boasting as it does some breath-taking scenery and a variety of landscapes including coastal deserts, snow-capped Andean peaks and dense jungle. Spanish colonial cities full of character contrast with traditional communities operating almost untouched in the Amazon or on Lake Titicaca.
Football is the national sport of Peru
On the west coast of Peru there is a stretch of desert where more than half the population live.
Lima is the largest provence of Peru.
The Amazon, the world's largest rainforest covers nearly half of Peru.
What to see
A giant sprawling metropolis with a colonial heart that hides some sensational treasures and boasts a burgeoning restaurant scene.
The White City, in the lee of the perfectly conical El Misti volcano is a well-preserved colonial-era jewel famous for the citadel-sized Santa Catalina monastery.
High in the Cordillera Blanca this is a bustling climbing and trekking centre for people looking to explore the Andes.
Internationally famous surf spot that’s laidback and welcoming of everyone, whether they ride the waves or not.
The former Inca capital is a fascinating historic centre full of ruins and significant sites and acts as an excellent base for exploring the Sacred Valley or beginning one of the Inca trails in the region. Liveley, fun and filled with people it is a vibrant place to spend time.
South America’s premier ruin, this Inca site is instantly recognisable and rightly world-renowned. No matter how many times you have seen it, the first view as you emerge from the Inca Trail is utterly breathtaking.
The world’s highest navigable lake, separating Peru and Bolivia, is literally breathtaking. It is also home to a series of indigenous communities, whose traditional practices thrive on the islands in the midst of the lake.
There are isolated eco lodges, wildlife reserves and remote rainforest to explore along South America’s longest river.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
One of the world’s steepest and deepest canyons, with sheer cliffs more than a kilometre in height rising from a river to scratch the sky. Stop here for breathtaking views and the chance to watch condors rising on thermals.
Alternative Inca sites
Machu Picchu grabs the headlines but there are a host of other stunning sites that are less-visited and equally spectacular. Check out Choquequirao close to Cusco, or Espiritu Pampa, the site of the last rebel Inca city, still buried deep within the jungle.
The Incas are just one of the many cultures to have left Peru with an architectural and archaeological heritage to rival anywhere in the world – visit the Chachapoyan mountaintop fortress of Kuélap or Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, to get an impression of what else is available to see.
Complex geometric patterns and animal outlines etched into the desert and stony pampa are best seen from a light aircraft. Go sand-boarding on the nearby dunes for an alternative activity.
Parque Nacional Manu
Peru’s Amazonian jungle includes high altitude cloud forest and lowland jungle, packed with wildlife and birds
When to go
Weather & Seasons: The best time to visit is during the dry season from June to August. It never rains in Lima although the city spends six months a year shrouded in sea mist. The coast is also dry most of the year. The mountains and jungle receive heavy rain from December to April though.
Important Dates and Festivals: The country celebrates several thousand fiestas and festivals every year. Many are held in homage to a patron saint, with Easter and Semana Santa a particularly important celebration, Traditional Inca festivities are also maintained and usually centred around Pachamama, the earth goddess. Inti Raymi in Cusco marks the winter solstice and harvest every June. Qollyor Riti is an ice festival that is led by Ukuku or Bear Men and Puno Day is a flamboyant celebration featuring street dancing and fancy dress.
Getting there / aroundFlights:The main internationalairportis in Lima (LIM) although there is also one in Cusco (CUZ). The internal air network is relatively comprehensive and affordable.
Rail: There are several scenicrailwaysincluding a spectacular journey from Lake Titicaca to Cusco via Puno and Juliaca and from Cusco to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu.
Road: Roads are generally in a reasonable state, and bus or coach travel is straightforward. Heavy rain can bring about floods and landslides though, often leaving roads impassable.
Short Trips: The classic Gringo Trail takes two to four weeks and ensures that you travel from Lima south along the coast to Arequipa, via Nazca. Head inland to Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca then push north to Cusco in order to tackle the Inca Trail and explore Machu Picchu before flying or overlanding back to Lima.
Longer Trips: A run north along the Pan American Highway to Huaraz, Trujillo, Chiclayo and Máncora, stopping to take in the Andes and the archaeological sites along the way will take three weeks. If you want to get a taste for everything, a whirlwind tour involving some flying will take four weeks, with loops south and north from Lima as well as flights to and from Iquitos, the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by road, to explore the jungle.
Overall Country Guides: There are comprehensive guidebooks for Peru available from Footprint, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Dorling Kindersley also publishes a guide to Peru in their Eyewitness series. Footprint also prduces a guide to Peru, Bolivia and Ecudaor for people travelling throughout the region.
Trekking Guides: People travelling to Cusco or proposing to trek any of the Inca trails should pick up the definitive Trailblazer guide to The Inca Trail, Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Nature Guides: There’s a basic bird book, Birds of Peru, available from New Holland. Bradt also produces a guide to Peruvian Wildlife, covering everything from condors to spectacled bears.
MapsCountry Maps: Freytag & Berndt and ITMB publish a complete map of Peru. There are also more detailed maps of Lima & Central Peru and Cusco & Peru South available from ITMB.
Street Maps: Street plans of Arequipa, Cusco, Lima and Trujillo available from Editorial Lima 2000.
Trekking: Editorial Lima 2000 are also responsible for a basic overview of the Cordillera Blanca & Huayhuash whilst Alpenvereinskarte produce more detailed trekking scale maps of theCordillera Blanca South.
Inca Trail Map: Editorial Lima 2000 has a decent map of The Inca Trail
Lost City of the Incas tells of the search for Vilcabamba, the city of the title, in the course of which a number of sites are uncovered including Choquequirao and Machu Picchu.
The Conquest of the Incasby John Hemming is the seminal work on the subject whilst Hugh Thomson’s account The White Rock is a more contemporary, similarly excellent take on a similar subject. Thomson is also the author of Cochineal Red, a tour through the country looking at a number of pre-columbian cultures as well as the Incas themselves. John Hemming’s Monuments of the Incas is a reasonably academic larger format, photographic look at the various ruins whilst Max Milligan’s Realm of the Incas is a beautifully shot coffee table type book that captures the essence of the country.
Personal accounts of exploring Peru are available in the form of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s slight but nonetheless entertaining and insightful Three Letters from the Andes, Dervla Murphy’s classic account Eight Feet in the Andes and Matthew Parris’ book Inca Kola, named after the local counterpart to the American beverage. Joe Simpson’s attempted ascent and subsequent nail-biting escape from Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash is recounted in Touching the Void.
Local author Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru’s best-known novelist. Death in the Andes is his stand-out work. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is a loosely autobiographical book set in Lima, whilst The Time of the Hero is based on his experiences in a Peruvian military academy, and Conversations in the Cathedral looks at power and politics in 1950s Peru. Daniel Alarcon is a rising star of the Peruvain literary scene and writes well about a country recovering from civil war in Lost City Radio.
Celebrated travel writer Colin Thubron used a real-life trek as the basis for his novel To the Last City, whilst Henry Shukman also penned a colourful account of the quest for a mythical city, full of intrigue, treachery and adventure, in The Lost City.
On the coast seek out ceviche, seafood marinated in lime juice, or chupe de camarones, a soup made from shrimps, egg, cream, potatoes and peppers. Anticuchos, beef marinated then barbecued, and sopa criolla, beef and noodle soup, are also popular. Sooner or later you will also encounter cuy, or guinea pig, which can be cooked in a variety of ways but is generally presented whole.
The potent Pisco is a type of grape brandy, most usually found as the base ingredient in Pisco Sour cocktails, Peru’s national drink. Coca Tea is also widespread, especially in the Andes, and is useful for combating altitude sickness.
Sight & Sound
Music: Peruvian music is largely regional, with African-influenced landós popular on the coast, indigenous huaynos, including the much imitated El Condor Pasa, heard in the Andes, criolla waltzs danced to in coastal cities and chicha, a fusion of huayno and Colombian cumbia, played in the Amazon region. Popular singers include Arturo ‘Zambo’ Cavero, Chabuca Granda and Susana Baca.
Film: The prominent German filmmaker Werner Herzog has had a long love-hate affair with the Peruvian Amazon, apparent in his films Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Fitzcarraldo.
Spanish and Quechua are the main languages.
Language Books: To get by pick up Lonely Planet’s Latin American Spanish Phrasebook, or their Quechua Phrasebook. Berlitz also publishes a Latin American Spanish: Phrase Book & Dictionary.
The Nuevo sol is made up of 100 centimos.
There are no visa requirements for UK or US citizens staying up to 90 days.
Vaccinations: Cholera, Hep A, Hep B, Rabies, Typhoid and Yellow Fever are recommended.
Malaria is also present in places.
Safety, FO travel advice
The country is generally safe, with the majority of crime opportunistic or petty. Tourists in Lima and Cusco though should be more vigilant.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Peruvian country representatives can be found
in the UK at52 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9SP. Tel:- 020 7235 1917
and in the US at 1700 Massachusetts Avenue, NW , Washington , DC20036. Tel 202 833 9860.
There are no tourist boards in either country.
For more information visit www.promperu.gob.pe or www.andeantravelweb.com/peru/.
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