Peru - an enticing blend of ancient history and natural wonders

Pip
June 04, 2015

Tucked into South America’s west coast, Peru has long been a favourite tourist destination. While the country is home to one of the world’s most impressive ancient cities, Machu Picchu, it is also blessed with incredible landscapes. From the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the northern jungles of the Amazon and the turquoise waters of Lake Titicaca in the south, Peru’s diverse environments are embedded with an intriguing past. The archaeological remains of Incan cities, pyramids and temples illustrate Peru’s diverse ancestral legacy, while more recent Spanish colonial cities are testament to the country’s dramatic history of conquest and confrontation. With exciting wildlife spotting opportunities and unique sights found nowhere else on Earth, such as the Nazca Lines, Peru emerges as a magnificent holiday destination.

The Andes

Explore Machu Picchu’s Sacred Valley

Following in the footsteps of Peru’s ancestors along the Inca Trail will enrich your appreciation of what has recently been voted one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’.

Without a doubt, Peru’s most famous cultural site lies within the domed mountains of the Sacred Valley. For many, Machu Picchu is the reason they come to visit Peru, its appeal justified in its combination of natural beauty and Incan history. While Machu Picchu can be visited in one day, getting there is all part of the experience. Following in the footsteps of Peru’s ancestors along the Inca Trail or one of its lesser-known counterparts, such as the Lares Trek, will enrich your appreciation of what has recently been voted one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’.

Discover the Incan legacy of Cusco

The temple of the sun, in Cusco, was the most important temple in the Inca Empire.

Nearby Cusco, one of Peru’s most beautiful cities, is the centre of Quechua culture within the Andes and home to a vibrant Incan history. The streets of Cusco are lined with beautiful colonial architecture, built on top of the Incan walls which predate them, and a visible display of the city’s complex history. It is an intriguing place to wander, with indigenous people in traditional dress selling handicrafts while tourists come and go through the squares and plazas. The surrounding ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca-Pucara have each left their legacy on the region in unique layers of pre-Incan history.

Experience the stunning mountain scenery

The Andes are home to dramatic mountain scenery, high altitude lakes and fantastic trekking opportunities.

The Andes which stretch down the west coast of South America are home to dramatic mountain scenery, high altitude lakes and fantastic trekking opportunities. The towns which dot this steep terrain are home to a resilient Andean people and surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. Explore the charming square of Huancavelica, flanked by colonial architecture, of hike to the Mirador de Ayacucho for impressive views across the town of Ayacucho and the surrounding valley. Outdoor enthusiasts will be entranced by the mountainous trails and glacier-fed lakes around Huaraz, while the Laguna de Pacucha and ancient pyramid ruins of Sondor can be easily explored from Andahuaylas.

The south

Visit the World Heritage Listed city of Arequipa

Vicuñas can be spotted in Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, a high-altitude protected area of unusual rock formations which offers a fantastic wildlife.

Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, lies in the far south of the country, backed by volcanoes which provide the white stone, or ‘sillar’ used throughout the city’s buildings. Its historic centre is a designated World Heritage Site, rich in Spanish colonial architecture which dates back to the 16th Century, and it is a beautiful place to wander and soak up the history. Explore impressive colonial mansions which have been refurbished as living museums, together with grandiose Catholic churches and monasteries which cemented catholicism as Peru’s dominant religion after the Spanish conquest.

A great day trip from Arequipa is Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, a high-altitude protected area of unusual rock formations and fantastic wildlife. Spot vicuñas, guanacos and Andean deer grazing against the volcanic cones of El Misti and Chachani, while flamingos pose elegantly within shallow lakes.

Watch Condors glide over Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon where hundreds of huge-winged Condors can be seen soaring above this natural chasm from La Cruz del Condor Mirador.

From Arequipa, head through the beautiful town of Chivay to the Colca Canyon where hundreds of huge-winged Condors can be seen soaring above this natural chasm from La Cruz del Condor Mirador. This landscape of natural beauty offers plenty of short walking trails to take in the steep terrain and sweeping viewpoints, as well as the hanging tombs at nearby Choquetico and Litomaquetas. En route, don’t miss La Vicuña’s National Reserve at Pampas Cañahuas where hundreds of the charismatic Vicuña graze, or the impressive high-altitude pass of Abra Patapampa.

Visit the landscapes and people of Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake and the birthplace of the Incan civilisation.

In the far south of the country, along the border with Peru sits Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake and the birthplace of the Incan civilisation. This watery world of islands draped in Incan history, indigenous villages and natural beauty lures thousands of tourists every year to walk the trails which meander along its shores and explore the ruins.

From Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca a visit to the reed-woven Uros Islands is a must. Here, the inhabitants have created floating islands, boats and dwellings all from the tortora reed which grow along the lake’s shore. Meet the indigenous people who maintain this unique lifestyle and experience how it feels to float above Lake Titicaca on these man-made natural platforms. The nearby Sillustani Chullpas are also an interesting excursion - tower like tombs built to house the remains of complete Aymara families in the years before the Inca conquered the region in the 15th Century.

Discover the mystery of the Nazca Lines

The mysterious Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs believed to have been created by the Nazca people.

To the south west lies the mysterious Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs believed to have been created by the Nazca people between around 400 and 650 AD. Naturally preserved by the arid and isolated conditions, the lizard, monkey, hummingbird, tree and flower motifs hold a significance long disputed by historians, but thought to be of religious importance. By far the best way to view them is from the air and flying over this mystical landscape is an experience like nowhere else on Earth.

The Amazonian North

Explore Amazonian cities and the region’s famed jungle

Start your adventure into Peru’s Amazon in the city of Iquitos which lies on the banks of the great Amazon River. Prospering on the rubber boom at the start of the 20th Century, the city today is a beautiful blend of architecture and neighbourhoods, each with their own distinctive atmosphere drawing on either Amazonian or European roots. Head to the Belén market, the largest traditional market in the region, where everything imaginable is bought and sold, including natural rainforest medicines.

Iquitos is the launching point for excursions into the Amazon jungle and just under 200 kilometres to the southwest lies Pacaya–Samiria National Reserve, one of Peru’s largest protected areas. Home to a rich biodiversity, together with local villages, the reserve provides a refuge for a number of endangered species, including the red macaw and the pink Amazon dolphin. Take to the mighty Amazon river to explore this magnificent ecosystem of river inlets overhung with dense jungle, otherwise known as the ‘Mirrored Forest’.

Take to the mighty Amazon river to explore this magnificent ecosystem of river inlets, local villages and its rich biodiversity.

The West Coast

Visit the museums and galleries of the capital, Lima

For most, their Peruvian journey begins in the capital Lima, a city where the bustle of modernity is juxtaposed against the city’s Spanish colonial origins. Here, on the country’s west coast, a cosmopolitan population live amidst elaborate churches, mansions and monasteries which date back to the 16th Century. With a few days, explore Lima’s impressive museums, art galleries and restaurants, or relax along one of its beautiful stretches of beach. Alternatively, the archaeological site at the Temple of Pachacamac lies to the south of the city while Caral in the north is considered the oldest civilisation of America, with its pyramids and temples dating back to around 2,500 BC.

Located on the country’s west coast, Lima, a cosmopolitan population live amidst elaborate churches, mansions and monasteries which date back to the 16th Century.

Cruise Peru’s ‘Little Galapagos’ at Islas Ballestas

To the south of Lima is Paracas, the launching point for boat trips exploring Peru’s Islas Ballestas, otherwise known as the ‘Little Galapagos’. Here, Humboldt penguins, sea lions, fur seals and the iconic Blue-footed booby find sanctuary in the rocky islets. Large amounts of guano, harvested for fertiliser, are produced by the guanay cormorant and Peruvian pelican and this natural resource is an important part of the local economy. The archipelago is also home to La Candelabra, a three-pronged geoglyph believed to have once served as a maritime guide for sailors in the region.

Islas Ballestas, also known as the ‘Little Galapagos’. Here, Humboldt penguins, sea lions, fur seals and the iconic Blue-footed booby find sanctuary in the rocky islets.

Relax at the northern beach resort of Mancora

In the far north of the county, near the border with Ecuador, is Mancora, Peru’s premier beachside destination. Here, surfers and sun-lovers wile away the days on long stretches of sand or take to the waters to surf some of the country’s best breaks. The town of Mancora itself is home to boutique shops and a great artisan market, while the beaches either side are lined with resorts and restaurants, perfect for a few lazy days of sun and relaxation.

Combining Incan history and spectacular landscapes in Peru

While Machu Picchu stands as Peru’s star tourist drawcard, the country is blessed with numerous sites of cultural significance which are a living reminder of its Incan history and the indigenous groups which have forged a life here for centuries. Coupled with stunning Andean landscapes of dramatic mountains and high-altitude lakes, descending north to the steamy jungles of the Amazon and west to Peru’s impressive coastline, the country deserves more than just a flying visit. Embrace all that a holiday to Peru is willing to give and the memories will be both enduring and enriching.

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