Machu Picchu is Peru’s and South America’s grandest Incan legacy, and most important archaeological site.
The site includes two areas: the agricultural, located to the south, and dominated by terraces; and the urban, to the north, made up of plazas and beautiful stone enclosures which served different purposes. There are some constructions that stand out, such as The Temple of the Sun, the Sacred Plaza, The Royal Mausoleum and the Main Temple. Machu Picchu stands at 2450 meters (8 040 feet) above sea level, though some parts are much higher.
Generally speaking, the weather is warm during the day, and cold at nights, with temperatures ranging from 8° C to 22° C (46° F to 72° F); though in the higher parts and at night, temperatures can reach O° C or below (42° F). The dry season in Machu Picchu goes from April to November and the rainy season from December to March. Being in a tropical location, some rain is expected during the dry season as well. The best time to go is said to be during the months of May and June. There are basically two ways to get there. The most common way is by train from Cusco, which takes about 3,5 to 5 hours, depending on the train. There are three companies that provide this service, so you can choose what suits your budget best. The train will drop you off in the town of Aguas Calientes, where you’ll take a 25 minute bus ride (8 km / 5 miles) up to Machu Picchu (whether it’s a public bus or arranged by your agency). It’s also possible to walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, which will take about an hour.
The other way to get there is to walk the Inca Trail, which normally takes four days, but there are shorter and longer routes.
You should bring mosquito repellent, water and some food, as there are no facilities in the citadel. The ruins are open to the public from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm (though always double check in case there are any changes).
The site has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and New World Wonder, and for that, please exercise care when visiting.
The imposing city of Cusco is the perfect blend of cultures, as it offers visitors both Incan ruins and Spanish colonial architecture. The historical center has been declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and some of the important sites to visit include: Hatun Rumiyuq Street, San Blas neighborhood, La Merced Church, the Cathedral, the “Plaza de Armas”, Coricancha and the Santo Domingo Convent. It is highly recommended to purchase the tourist ticket, which includes the entrance fee to many of Cusco’s surrounding attractions. The city is accessible by air from Lima and other cities as well, (by ground, it would take about 20 hours from Lima to Cusco). The airport is called Alejandro Velasco Astete.Also, there are trains from Puno and Arequipa, and buses from other cities as well. Generally speaking, the weather is cool, and there are two seasons: the rainy season from November to March, and the dry season from April to October. The city is located at 3400 meters (11 150 feet) above sea level, so cold weather is expected (wear several layers!), and precaution should be exercised to avoid altitude sickness (“Soroche” as called locally). For example, sleep well, drink lots of fluids (including coca tea) and take some time to acclimatize before you engage in physical activity. This city, though a huge attraction in itself, is also the gateway to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu. The 4 hour train to Machu Picchu departs from Cusco, and this is the most common way to visit the famed ruins. For travelers looking for adventures, Cusco is an excellent base too: white water rafting, biking and trekking are just one of the few activities available from here.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is located between Cusco and Machu Picchu, and runs along the Urubamba River. The place was widely inhabited by the Incas, due to its comfortable weather and fertile soils. For that reason, there are many attractions that are a must here, especially quaint towns and old Inca remains. Some of the best attractions are:
Pisac ruins and market: Pisac is a village located about one hour bus ride away from Cusco. Sunday is market day, and here you’ll find typical handicrafts as well as many other products. The ruins must be accessed by taxi 20 minutes) or hiking (about one hour). Here, you’ll find stone structures similar to the ones in Machu Picchu: temples, water ducts and terraces.
Ollantaytambo, is located 2,5 hours away from Cusco (by bus). This town keeps some of the original Inca architecture like walls and patios, and it is one of the most preserved examples of Incan urban organization.
There are other ruins and towns closer to Cusco, such as Puca Pucara, or Red Fort and Sacsayhuaman, a massive fortress where an important battle between the Incas and the Spaniards took place.
Also, Tambo Machay, or Inca baths, thought to be for noble use only. These are accessible by taxi, horse or hiking, or can be visited in a half day tour from Cusco.
Lima is Peru’s capital and biggest city. It is certainly not the biggest attraction in Peru, and so just a couple of days here will do. The city center is well worth the visit, as well as Barranco and Miraflores quarters. Some interesting sights in the city include the “Plaza de Armas”, where the city was supposedly founded. Around the plaza you’ll find the Cathedral and Government Palace. The San Francisco Church and Torre Tagle Palace, located close by, are one of the most spectacular colonial buildings in Lima.
There are several archaeological museums as well. Additionally, do not miss Peru’s cuisine, worldwide known to be excellent, especially for their seafood!Attractions near the city include Pachamac, where there are some old Inca structures that are now restored, and Puruchuco, an old Inca cemetery (including mummies covered in textiles) and now a museum. The International Airport is called Jorge Chavez, and it is located about 30-60 minutes away from downtown (depending on traffic). The main domestic airlines are Lan and AeroCondor. There are several buses to the main cities, but it can take quite a long time, so flying is the easiest way to get places. The weather is usually foggy, except during the summer, from December to March. The best time to go is said to be from March to April. During the winter, the weather can be quite cold and gray. In and around Lima, beware at all times of your belongings. During the day, the city can be explored by foot, but at night, it’s better to take taxis.
Nazca is one of the most mystic destinations in Perú. The famous Nazca lines depict animal and geometrical shapes that can only be appreciated from the air. There are still many theories as to why there were made, but still, they are only theories…no one really knows how and why these ancient cultures constructed the lines. This archeological wonder was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Nazca is located along the Southern Peruvian coast, about 450 km (280 miles) away from Lima, from where it’s only accessible by bus (the bus ride takes about 6 hours). Once in Nazca, they offer flight tours (Aero Condor) over the lines, so you can see them from above. There is a small airstrip near Nazca, but no commercial airlines fly regularly from Lima. The weather is warm and comfortable year round, the warmest months being from December to March, when it can rain a little bit. This is one of the driest parts of the world, which has contributed to the preservation of the figures over the centuries. Some of the things to see around include, of course the Nazca Lines, the Chauchilla Cemetery, where there are very well preserved mummies and textiles; and the Cantalloc Aqueducts.
At night, it’s recommended to visit the Maria Reiche Planetarium, where you’ll hear lectures about the lines and then look at the stars and planets through special telescopes.
Arequipa is commonly referred to as the White City due to their construction material, a white volcanic stone unique to the area (“sillar”). This is also the country’s second largest city, and it is located 1 000 km (621 miles) south of Lima.
By bus, it takes about 16 hours, and by plane, about 45 minutes. There are also flights and overnight buses to Cusco, as well as direct buses to Juliaca Puno. The city lies in a beautiful valley, beneath the Misti, a cone shaped volcano, which can be visited. There are other volcanoes nearby, such as the Chachani and Pichu Pichu. The city center holds remarkable architectural landmarks and several museums. Important sights include the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral and Santa Catalina Convent. The city center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Activities available from this city include sightseeing, trekking, canoeing and wildlife viewing. Interesting sights nearby include the Laguna de Mejía National Sanctuary, a protected area for birds, and the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon, one of the world deepest.
This one day or two day tour is highly recommended for its scenery. If you go for two days, you can stay at Chivay, which will allow you to visit The Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint from which you can see the deepest part of the canyon and see the condors in flight. The weather in Arequipa is sunny and mild most of the year, with two distinct seasons: the wet (with actually little rain), from January to March, and the dry, with no rain at all, from April to December. The temperature varies greatly from day to night, so bring warm clothing for the evenings!
Lake Titicaca / Puno
Puno is located at 3825 meters (12 555 feet) above sea level, so the temperatures are cool. The dry season goes from May to October, with sunny days and very cold nights. The wet season goes from November to April, and is characterized by heavy rains.
The busiest time is from June to August. Some of the sights to see in the city center are the Cathedral, the Carlos Dreyer museum and the “Casa del Corregidor”.
Puno is located along the shores of Lake Titicaca, the area’s most important attraction. This beautiful deep blue lake holds two titles: the world’s highest navigable lake and largest lake in South America. The lake hosts over 40 islands, of which the most famous are Taquile, Amantani, Island of the Sun (on the Bolivian side) and the Uros floating islands (the Uros build islands and houses out of reeds). The nearest airport to Puno is Juliaca (about a 45 minute away bus ride), and there are daily flights from Lima (with a short stop in Arequipa), that last about two hours. It is possible to travel by bus from Lima (with a stop in Arequipa), but due to the connections, this might take up to 2 days! This area is known for its excellent quality knitwear. In fact, Puno is known to be the Folklore center of Peru, so culturally, the place is as rich as can be, with its music, dance and handicrafts.
Amazon Basin: Iquitos, Manu & Puerto Maldonado
The Amazon Basin takes up all the Eastern part of Peru. The destination is obviously for nature and adventure lovers, seeking for eco lodges and lots of wildlife viewing. The weather in the jungle is typical of tropical rainforests: very humid year round! Be prepared for mosquitoes, so come prepared with repellent! Some of the places to visit in the Amazon area include:
Iquitos, the largest city in the Amazon area is located in the northern part. The city is completely surrounded by jungle, so the only way to get there is by plane (or boat, but that’s not really advisable). The flight from Lima takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes (about 1100 km / 627 miles).
The city was developed during the rubber era, back in the late 1800’s. The centre of the city is the “Plaza de Armas”, and around it, there are neighborhoods and commercial centers. Transportation around the city is usually done by motor taxis; though there are also regular taxis (it’s also possible to rent a motorcycle or a car). Iquitos is the perfect base for visiting the jungle, whether for bird watching hikes, or Amazon boat tours. Nearby sights include Lake Quistochoa, with beautiful jungle where it’s possible to hike.
Further South, Puerto Maldonado is located, right at the coming together of the Madre de Dios and Tampobata Rivers. This jungle destination is inhabited mostly by native tribes that live from the jungle’s natural resources. Puerto Maldonado is accessible from Lima and Cusco by daily flights (by road from Cusco, the journey is terribly slow!). From there, you’ll reach your jungle lodge by boat. From here, it’s possible to visit the Tambopata National Reserve.
The famous Manu National Park is the largest protected natural area in Peru, and it’s accessible from Cusco by road (an adventurous and winding two day trip!). The biodiversity in this pristine UNESCO World Heritage Site is astonishing. This diversity is due to the fact that the reserve covers a quite large altitudinal gradient, and so all the ecological zones possible in the Amazon Basin. There are a few lodges where to stay at, and visits to the protected area are restricted, so it’s recommended to book well in advance!
Trujillo and Chan Chan
Trujillo is located 555 km (346 miles) north of Lima. There are daily flights available from the capital, as well as buses (8 hour ride from Lima). This is the country’s third largest city. In the city center, the main attractions are the Plaza Mayor, the Casa Calonge and Casa de la Emancipación, the Cathedral, and other churches such as El Carmen, La Merced and San Francisco.
The weather is generally dry, and the temperatures mild. During the summer, from December to April, the temperatures are higher, ranging from 22°C to 32°C (72°F-90°F), and its more humid; during winter (May to November), the temperatures range from 13°C to 20°C (55°F-68°F). The area used to be inhabited by the Mochica and Chimu cultures, which left a very rich archaeological legacy. The most important site is nearby Chan Chan (meaning sun sun), an old pre-Columbian citadel built out of adobe (it’s actually one of the biggest adobe cities in the world). This (endangered) World Heritage Site is located just 5 km (3 miles) away from Trujillo. Unfortunately for many years the site has been at the mercy of bad weather and plunderers; but still it is a “must see” destination. This was the capital of the Chimu culture, and it’s estimated that over 100 000 people used to live there.
Other important sites nearby include the Huaca Del Sol and Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon), legacy of the Mochica culture, and located just 5 km (3 miles) south of Trujillo. Here, a series of monuments are said to have served for ceremonial, housing and administrative purposes. In its facades, there are drawings and figures that depict gods, priests and warriors. It is suggested to combine this trip with a visit to Chiclayo, located 206 km (128 miles) away.
Chiclayo and Sipan
The friendly city of Chiclayo is known best for being a commercial center, but also for the archaeological sites around it, especially from the Mochica, Chimu and Sican, all pre Incan cultures. The city is located 763 km (475 miles) from Lima, and a bit over 200 km (128 miles) from Trujillo.
There is an international airport at the city, and there are flight connections as well as buses to several cities. In the city, there is some sightseeing to do: the Cathedral, the Palacio Municipal and the Plaza de Armas. There are many archaeological sites around, but the most famous one is the Lord of Sipan, a recently discovered (in 1987) intact tomb of an important leader. The tomb contained jewelry, pottery, and precious metals such as gold, silver and copper. Also, remains of several human and animal skeletons. Some of the objects found can be appreciated in the Royal Tombs of Sipan MuseumOther recommendable museums include the Sican National Museum and the Brüning Museum. Other archaeological attractions nearby include Tucume, and there are other quaint towns around such as Monsefú, Puerto Etén and Pimentel.