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Peru - Overview

Peru’s appeal is endless, with a range of natural and man-made wonders. The arid coastal region was once home to ancient civilisations who carved their legacy into the desert. The highlands, home to the condor and countless indigenous communities, were the heartland of the Inca Empire and the ruins of their forts, cities and temples can be seen in abundance from the country’s far north to it’s southern corner near Lake Titicaca, alongside the colonial gems of Cuzco and Arequipa. To the east, the mountains shelve away and give in to the dense vegetation and rich fauna of the Amazon basin.

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains lies Lima, the capital of Peru. “The City of Kings” as it was named by its founder Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is now a bustling metropolis of 9 million inhabitants. The city is home to some of Peru’s biggest and best museums as well as a host of shops, bars and restaurants. Temples, sanctuaries and human dwellings stand as testimony to the indigenous people who made this region one of the most important cultural centres of pre-Inca and Inca civilisations. Today a modern city awaits visitors with open arms to share with them the richness of its Andean, European, Oriental and African heritage. Further south, you can take flights over the desert to view the mysterious Nazca Lines and visit the Ballestas Islands wildlife sanctuary, home to birds such as cormorants and penguins, along with sea lions and fur seals.

Straddling the border with Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the legendary birthplace of the Inca Empire, South America’s largest lake and the world’s highest navigable lake. Remote islands on the lake are home to communities whose way of life has changed little since the Spanish conquest. The scenery is stunning with distant snow-capped mountains offering a backdrop to the sparkling blue waters. Both the altiplanic city of Puno and the Andean inland country of Bolivia, depict the strengths of Quechua and Aymara hospitable natives who have managed through centuries to sustain a productive lifestyle in this most extraordinary region where the heavens meet the earth. The genesis myths of the pre-Inca, Inca and Aymara cultures originated at Lake Titicaca.

Best visited in the dry season from April to October, the highland region around Cuzco is the heartland of the Inca Empire. This city is known as the Navel of the World and is the Archaeological Capital of the Americas. Cuzco has dazzled visitors with the perfection of it’s massive stone constructions and with the richness of its culture. It is the gateway to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca citadel. Cuzco, was once the Inca capital and the buildings in the city centre mix colonial and Inca stonework. The whole region is dotted with forts and temples, most notably in the Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley. Several hundred metres lower than Cuzco, the valley is a perfect place to stay for those wishing to acclimatise slowly to the high altitude.

The second most important city in Peru, Arequipa lies a the foot of the snow-capped “El Misti” volcano. A colonial city built from distinctive white volcanic stone, enjoys a beautiful climate and has an array of colonial churches and mansions. The well-preserved Monastery of Santa Catalina is the most impressive religious example of the architecture characteristics of the 16th & 17th centuries. The Colca Canyon, a few hours drive to the north, is one of the world’s deepest and it’s rugged walls are covered in agricultural terraces. The canyon is home to traditional farming communities and huge condors, best seen in the mornings as they soar on the warm air currents.

The ruins at Machu Picchu, spectacularly located on a spur high above the river, are the highlight of any trip to Peru. Forgotten for centuries, they were brought to international attention in 1911 when explored by the archaeologist Hiram Bingham. They can be reached either by train from Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, or by foot along ancient Inca roads (known as the Inca Trail), but however you get there you will be rewarded with stunning views and amazing photographic opportunities.

The Amazon basin extends into the whole of eastern Peru, and is best visited from Puerto Maldonado, a short flight from Cuzco, and from Iquitos, a former rubber trading town in the north of Peru. There is an abundance of plant life and wildlife including colourful birds, butterflies, dragonflies, alligators, giant otters, turtles, frogs and monkeys which are best seen from one of the jungle lodges or on an extended Amazon Cruise. The evergreen pristine rainforest awaits anyone who loves nature and wants to preserve it for future generations.

When to visit
Lima and the coast are generally dry. During the coastal Summer (late December to early April) temperatures can rise to 26°C. The rest of the year is cooler with an average temperature of 18°C, although a coastal fog known as ‘Garua’ produces low clouds. In the Andean region, the wet season runs from November to March with January and February being the wettest months.

A note on Altitude: Due to the altitude of the areas around Cuzco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa & the Colca Canyon, visitors should try not to overexert themselves during the first couple of days of their stay. Coca tea, available at most hotels and restaurants, can help to relieve mild symptoms of altitude sickness, but for more information and advice, consult your doctor.

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