The Best of Peru: Famous Travel Icons
In 2011, I visited Peru, and, as much as I adored it, I oddly never wound up writing about my trip in detail on here. I am working on a post about my time in Ollantaytambo, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu, but, in the meanwhile, Jonathan has shared some of his best tips for seeing the stunning country. We connected on Twitter over our passion for travel, and I learned that he spent a year traveling South America and now runs tours in Peru, Ecuador, in Bolivia. Without further ado, here’s the best of Peru, alongside a few of Jonathan’s stunning photos.
Travelling to any new destination is always preceded by a mixture of excitement – the dreams and thoughts of the adventures, sounds, foods and experiences that await you – and apprehension – the nervousness around not knowing exactly how things work in a particular country, hoping you like the accommodation, worrying that you packed your passport!
For anyone that has travelled to Peru, it is very apparent that all those fears and worries are unjustified, as arriving in Peru immediately makes you realise you have landed in a true travellers’ destination, geared up for tourism in a way that makes the people, the travel, and the accommodation comfortable and welcoming, but still managing to maintain that aura of adventure and excitement that surrounds the exotic cuisines, wondering landscapes, and mystical, mythical and magical ancient culture and history.
Peru is a vast country to travel, not just in terms of size, but also due to the quantity of geographical and historical sights to visit, and it is often difficult when planning a trip to decide what to visit or include, particularly if you only have a few weeks’ vacation from work to holiday in Peru.
Here is our guide to the best of Peru, covering both the world-famous sights and – in an upcoming part two – the lesser-known secrets.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and world famous travel destination, no list of things to see and do on a holiday in Peru is complete without the inclusion of Machu Picchu. Whichever way you choose to arrive at Machu Picchu, either on foot via the famous four-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, or by train and then bus on a tour from Cuzco, it cannot be denied that the first glimpse of Machu Picchu in the flesh is an awe-inspiring moment that lives with travellers forever.
Aside from the famous postcard photo of Machu Picchu, the site has so much more to offer tourists, and tours of the site will explain the fascinating history of the Inca Empire, their amazing stone-masonry techniques, the ingenious ways they used to provide flowing water throughout the ruin, and the agriculture on the famous Inca terraces. It is also possible to climb up Huayna Picchu, the hill in the background of Machu Picchu, and Machu Picchu Mountain, to give access to additional Inca ruins and wonderful views over the site and surrounding region.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site within Peru (in total, Peru has 12), and yet another world famous travel icon, the Nazca Lines are just as famous for their mysticism and mythology as they are for how impressive they are to observe. Although theories still debate how these lines were formed, it is generally believed that these monstrous geoglyphs were created by the Nazca Culture, in around 500AD.
For those afraid of heights, it is possible to observe some of the shapes from a observation tower looking out over the Peruvian desert, but for the brave and adventurous (and those with a stomach for this kind of adventure!) nothing can beat a flight over the lines, with standard tourist flights lasting around 40 minutes on a fixed route flying over most of the most famous lines, including the whale, money, hummingbird, spider, alien, and some of the giant trapezium shapes that criss-cross the desert. There is nothing else like it on earth!
The Amazon Jungle is so vast, straddling a number of countries, that for travellers unfamiliar with Latin America, it is difficult to know where to begin or how to visit this famous rain forest. The beauty of visiting the jungle on a holiday to Peru is that Peru allows easy access to both the jungle and the Andes mountain regions, meaning you can experience much more of Latin America all in the one holiday, whereas visiting the jungle in countries such as Brazil can be both expensive and involve extensive travel. The other advantage is that Peru has some of the most bio-diverse jungle habitat in the world, so for paradise bird-watchers and wildlife lovers, it is difficult to do better than the jungles of Peru.
There are three main jungle regions in Peru where tourism is possible: Manu, Tambopata, and the Iquitos Region. All regions have their pros and cons: Iquitos Region has poorer wildlife options due to the proximity of humans in the city of Iquitos but is situated on the Amazon River (rather than a tributary), and so it is possible to spot pink river dolphins. Manu is world famous for its biodiversity and wildlife opportunities and is the better option for bird-watchers, but journey times to / from the region can be lengthy (via a long road journey from Cuzco), and lodge standards are not quite up to the other regions. Tambopata is a good all-round option with exceptional wildlife biodiversity and a good standard of lodges. The truth, though, is that whichever jungle region you tour while in Peru, you will see wildlife and have an incredible adventure – nothing beats slowly snoozing to a dream like sleep in a jungle lodge listening to the incredible sounds of the jungle by night.
Simply put, Cuzco is beautiful. The city has a magical calm about it, and it is the kind of place where simply sitting and watching the world go by still feels very special. The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers so much to travellers with its endless collection of plazas, churches, cathedrals museums, art galleries, markets, shops, archaeological ruins and much much more. Cuzco is the access city for Machu Picchu, with most tourists that visit the ruin arriving via Cuzco airport, but, if you have time, Cuzco deserves two or three days in its own right and is a must-visit destination on a Peru holiday.
Some of the art galleries in the city feature incredible art from the Cuzco School. The Inca ruins of Korikancha and Saqsayhuaman (amongst others) are all within the city as well. The city also has deep-rooted connections to the history and ultimate downfall of the Inca Empire. On top of that, some of the best hotels in Latin America are within a few blocks of the central plaza. Do not miss it.
Stay tuned for part two, The Best of Peru: Off the Beaten Path & Lesser Known Secrets!
This post was written by Jonathan, who has lived in and traveled through Peru extensively, and who now works for the travel company Go Andes, specialists for Peru holidays and travel to Latin America.