Peru is a country brimming with culture and history. Learn how to make the most of a stay in this fascinating Inca country.
South America is a popular tourist destination, famous for its colonial towns and Spanish culture and attracts millions of visitors each year. Peru is the heart of the Inca Empire and is home to the most famous Inca ruin of all: Machu Picchu, now one of the new seven Wonders of the World.
First trip to Peru?
Here's how to get the most out of your trip, travelling through the Andean Mountains and taking in the ancient sites of the Incas.
Lima - Capital of Peru
Peru itself is a country with incredible history, home to the Inca’s, the Andes mountains are covered in ruins as reminders of the once powerful civilisation which ruled. The capital, Lima, known as the City of Kings has a population of over 8 million people and was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535.
In the heart of Old Lima, you can find the Cathedral, Museums and Archbishop’s Palace. The San Francisco Church and catacombs are a must see, this is where the locals used to bury their dead under the church and you can explore the underground graves and view skulls and bones - a unique experience.
For visitors who prefer to stay outside of the city, a short cab ride from Lima is the affluent coastal district of Miraflores, where visitors can find restaurants, good nightlife as well as great ocean views.
Cuzco – The City of Churches
Flights run daily from Lima to the capital of the Inca Empire - Cuzco. Situated 3,400 metres above sea level, this historical city is the oldest inhabited in South America, built in the dip of a valley. It attracts travellers who not only come for the Inca ruins but who want to take a step back in time. Known as ‘The City of Churches’, the city boasts tradition and legend with a grand cathedral which took a century to build.
To explore the city, take advantage of a two day pass which provides entry into museums, churches and the ruins, which are conveniently located on the city outskirts. The Museo Historical Regional and Museo Munipical de Arte Contemporaneo are museums not to miss. A city tour is the best way to combine all the sites of the ruins.
No one to this date knows how the Incas managed to transport the huge boulders of rock they used to build the forts and cities. You can see the remains of their dwellings and their unique water system which is still working today. Archaeologists are still working on excavating certain sites to discover new ruins, enabling them to piece together their rein. Each ruin has a sun temple where the Incas used to make sacrifices to the Pachamamma (mother earth).
For the adventurous, Cuzco is perfect for outdoor activities, such as: mountain biking, paragliding or even white water rafting.
The Sacred Valley is a lush agricultural region, spanning acres of hillside, situated between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Through the valley are the red walls of the ruins of Pisac, a citadel that was once the entrance to the gorge with rocky overhangs, where several ancient burial sites are hidden. Outside the grounds, you can find the Pisac village and market, where villagers come from miles around to barter and sell their produce. Here you can buy statues, books and handicrafts, perfect for those holiday gifts.
Nearby is the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, a fortress that overlooks the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. The huge steep terraces that guard the fortress are another reminder of the Incas amazing building techniques. “The city was named ‘Fortress of Ollantaytambo,’ by the Spaniards as it was difficult for them to conquer. It is one of the biggest cities to be discovered and served as an important military centre, defending the Sacred Valley. Built between 1439 and 1471 AD, there still remains unfinished structures.
Aquas Calientes/Machu Picchu
The new seventh Wonder of the World is accessible from the small town of Aquas Calientes, a frontier town nestled in the hills (named ‘hot water’ by the Spanish.) The town gets its name from the thermal pools and has two main streets separated by water. The roar of the Vilcanota River echoes around the town.
Tours from here to Machu Picchu start from 5.30am in the morning and you can visit the site of the lost city in all its mystical glory, which spans five square kilometres. Discovered in 1911 by an American historian, Hiram Baingham, the site became known to the rest of the world. Peru tourism now restricts the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to help preserve the environment. To travel independently you have to book ahead as places are limited.
The highest city in Peru is Puno, located at 3830m above sea level. This is the gateway to Lake Titicaca, a lake the size of an ocean which rests on the border of Peru and Bolivia, known as the birthplace of the Incas. A visit here is not complete without a boat trip out to the floating islands of the Uros People.
Centuries ago, the Uros people isolated themselves from the Collas and the Incas. Nowadays over 35 islands exist and only a small percentage are open to tourism. Up to six families live on each island and live off local fish and reeds. Each island can take up to one year to build and needs constant preservation. Here you can purchase colourful tapestries made by the islanders to support their environment.
Peru is brimming with culture and their history cannot fail to impress, but eating out in Peru is also a delight. From their national dish; ceviche, (raw fish marinated in lime juice and spices) to guinea pig, they cater for everyone’s tastes, how matter how adventurous.
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