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Peru


Video courtesy of Visit Peru tourism

Peru known as ‘Home of the Incas’ – a destination that has always evoked strong and dramatic imagery – the Incas, the Amazon, the Andes, the mighty condor, and Lima, “the City of the Kings” and former colonial capital of the Spanish New World. Indeed, there are few countries on Earth that can provide such a scintillating blend of history, culture, landscape and wildlife under one flag.

Most itineraries feature Cusco and Machu Picchu, but that is just the beginning of what Peru can offer throughout its three distinct climatic regions. Peru’s desert coast is the drawing board for the mysterious Nazca Lines just to the south of the capital Lima, as well as the nearby Paracas wildlife reserve, host to flamingos, sea lions and even penguins. Moving east, the landscape rises dramatically into the Andes with spectacular snow-capped peaks reaching heights of over 6,500 metres (21,300 feet) and valleys sheltering the Andean cities of Cusco, Ayacucho and Arequipa, amongst others. To the east of Arequipa, the cavernous Colca Canyon plunges to depths of over 3,400 metres (11,333 feet), twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, whilst Lake Titicaca, the supposed birth point of the first Incas, straddles Peru’s southern border with Bolivia at a breathtaking 3,810 metres (12,500 feet). Continuing eastwards, the Andes eventually give way to the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions where wildlife including 30 species of monkey, pink dolphins, giant otters, tortoises and the occasional jaguar are all on the list of possible sightings.

From desert to jungle, the Incas to the Spanish Conquerors, Peru is a destination where something can be found to fascinate both the experienced adventurer and the novice traveler.

The “City of Kings”, was once the centre of the Spanish-American Empire and today combines old world grandeur with new world hustle. The capital city boasts an impressive repertoire of first class museums and landmarks highlighting the country’s cultural heritage and makes for a perfect introduction before heading into the provinces. To the south of Lima, Peru’s famous Nazca Lines are found etched into the desert landscape. Best viewed from the air, a light aircraft can be taken from the city of Ica, a three hour drive from Lima, allowing for the lines to be seen in their full glory.
An extraordinary testament to Incan civilisation and was once the administrative centre of this empire that stretched through much of South America. The gateway to the heart of the former empire, Cusco offers access to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, as well as an impressive array of Incan ruins such as the nearby fortress of Sacsayhuaman which overlooks the city. It also offers a range of Spanish-influenced architecture with the 450-year-old cathedral and the La Compania church amongst many fine examples. Perhaps the building that best represents the blend of Incan and Spanish influence is the Koricancha –the former Temple of the Sun which has been converted into a church while retaining much of the original Incan structure. Located at almost 3,400 metres (11,000 feet) above sea level a little acclimatisation is recommended before venturing out to discover the city and its people.
Fast becoming a destination within itself, the Sacred Valley of the Incas has something to offer all travellers. Located within an hour of Cusco heading towards Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley was once the bread basket of the Incas and is now made up of an eclectic mix of market towns such as Pisac and Chincheros, impressive ruins like the mammoth fortress at Ollantaytambo, and a patchwork of rural land flanked by the mighty Andes. A visit to the valley provides an excellent look at rural Peru whilst offering great opportunities for the active traveller such as rafting, cycling, hiking and horseback riding. Located at 2,700 metres (8,860 feet), the Sacred Valley offers accommodation options in the Cusco region for travellers concerned about the higher altitude of the city itself.
Overlooking the raging Urubamba River at 2,350 metres (7,710 feet), the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu remained undiscovered by western civilisation until Hiram Bingham’s extraordinary rediscovery in 1911. Following Bingham’s find, excavations at the site revealed a plethora of articles once belonging to the Incas including skeletons, artefacts and woollen clothing, but no gold. Voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of The World, Machu Picchu provides a breathtaking insight into the Inca way of life and an opportunity to marvel at the extraordinary task of building with such intricacy when the Incas had not even discovered the wheel. However its destruction shall forever remain a secret as the Incas left no written records.
Located on the high plateaus of Peru’s Southern Andes, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake at 3,812 metres (15,500 ft) as well as South America’s largest. Once the centre of the formidable Tiawanaco culture that flourished long before the Incas with its centre in present day Bolivia, the area maintained its importance moving into the Incan age. According to local folklore, Mama Ocllo and Manco Capac, the first two Incas rose from the lake’s depths before descending to Cusco and establishing the roots of the empire. Today the lake is mostly visited for the floating reed Uros Islands and the people who live there, or the opportunity to visit one of the two island communities on Taquile and Amantani.
Located in the east of the country the Peruvian jungle is split into two distinct regions. To the north, the city of Iquitos is the access point into the Amazon basin and was once an important city in the rubber boom of the early 20th century. Today, impressive mansions still dot the city including the Iron House designed by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower. To this day the city remains cut off by road and sits on the Amazon River, providing the gateway into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve which can be explored either by boat or from one of the jungle lodges deep in the forest. Upon arrival at any of the lodges an immense world of flora and fauna opens up to the visitor that is often best appreciated from above by traversing the nearby system of canopy walkways which is currently the world’s largest. To the south, Puerto Maldonado is accessed by a short flight from Cusco. Although offering more rustic accommodation than the northern Amazon, the incredible biodiversity more than makes up for this, with over 1,000 species of birds, 15,000 species of plants, 13 species of monkeys, caimans and the elusive jaguar found in the nearby Manú National Park. Indeed, it is no wonder that Puerto Maldonado and Tambopata have been described as the biological capital of the world.
Being such a geographically diverse country within the tropical belt, the weather in Peru is determined both by altitude and season. While the traditional ‘high season’ is April – October, given the different regional weather conditions and the fact that the ruins are less crowded out of that season, many people prefer to travel in the November – March period making Peru a true all year round destination.

Coast (Ica, Chiclayo, Lima, Piura, Trujillo, Tumbes):
The northern region is warm year round with highs of up to 35ºC (95ºF) in the summer.

Central and southern regions have two well defined seasons, winter between April and October, and summer between November and March.

Highlands (Ancash, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Cusco, Puno):
This region has two seasons, a dry summer between April and October, and a wetter winter with a mix of sunshine and showers between November and March.

Rainforest (Iquitos, Madre de Dios, Manu):
High rainforest (over 2,300 ft asl / 700 m asl) has a temperate, subtropical climate with abundant rainfall. Lower rainforest (under 2,300 ft asl / 700 m asl) has two seasons, summer or dry season between April and October, when it is sunny and hot, and winter or rainy season between November and March, with frequent downpours.

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