Peru Pictures Guide, South America 2017-05-17T06:48:41+00:00

Peru Pictures and Visitor Information

cusco sacsuhuayman stones, Peru

Sacsuhuayman fortress stones, Cusco, Peru

Why vacation in Peru?

This country is supremely and exquisitely varied, bizarre, vibrant and spectacular, not only South America’s most colourful, diverse and fascinating country but arguably the world’s most striking tourist destination.
Peru is culture overload champion but historically fascinating too, with Inca versus Spanish stories scattered throughout the Andean areas in addition to Inca remnants.

The world’s most colourful country and the number one holiday target in South America, Peru’s tourist attractions range include Amazon jungles via Iquitos, the bizarre Nazca lines in the desert via colonial Lima and the stunning white city of Arequipa and Colca Canyon.

Then there are the unreal Uros floating villages on the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca and the bleak and beautiful high plains – Altiplano – roamed by llamas.

Finally, saving the best for last, comes the gorgeous old Inca town of Cusco (aka Cuzco), the totally awesome ruins of Machu Picchu (Pichu) and superb trekking amid the Andes mountains and ruined Inca forts, particularly along the astoundingly varied and picturesque Inca Trail.

Peru is also becoming recognised as an adventure activity destination, with surfing, sand boarding, 4×4 rides, dune buggies, alpine climbing, rafting, rappelling, downhill racing, rallying, skiing, and mountain climbing all on offer if spectacular hiking is not enough. Check organised holidays in Peru here.

Main Peruvian tourist destinations

Machu Picchu terraces, Peru

Machu Picchu terraces

The original and finest ‘lost city’, this Inca town displays incredible stonework and sophistication in an unparalleled location on a mountain top surrounded by Andean peaks and the Urubamba River. But, inevitably, over-touristed, so go there at the right time!

an Inca Trail hiker, Peru

The Inca fort of Runkuraqay on day two of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Photo by Jim.

The Camino des Incas is definitely the most spectacular hike we’ve ever made, from sub-tropical forests up to the snow line and back on an Inca garden trail through the Andes, finally arriving at Machu Picchu. Astonishing.

Inca Trail weather: The dry season is a much better bet for this great walk as regular rain will not only spoil views, wet tents and make paths slippery but streams may become impassable.
The best season for hiking the Inca Trail is May-October, the dry season with warm, sunny days, highs around 20-25C/68F but chilly, near zero nights (it is winter after all! ).
November-March is the wet season, with especially heavy rain December-February, daily highs also around 20C but warmer nights around 6C/42F.

Note also that the Trail is closed in February for cleaning and maintenance.

Choquequirao: Machu Picchu has become so overrun with tourists recently that authorities, with financial assistance from France, are working hard to excavate and improve access to an alternative and even more isolated site.
Choquequirao -‘Cradle of Gold’ in the Quechua language, is 80kms (50miles) away from Machu Picchu, hanging on to a mountain ridge 1, 800m (6, 000ft) above the Apurimac river and 3, 000m above sea level, near the small village of Cachora. It’s a two day trek.

Cusco town, Peru

A view of Cusco, gateway to Machu Picchu. Photo by Martin St-Amant.

A lovely little low-rise town surrounded by the Andes mountains, Cuzco is partially Inca stonework, partially Spanish colonial, and totally stunning.

Cuzco and Machu Picchu, are of course the top attractions in Peru, though the hassles and cost of hiking the Inca Trail are tilting preferences away to other regions as far as treks are concerned.

Cuzco (aka Cusco) is a delightful little town with mostly lower walls built by the Inca several hundred years ago and upper parts pure Spanish colonial. The city is packed with spectacular buildings, colourful locals, foreign restaurants and overlooked by the magnificent Inca fortress of Saksaywaman (Sacsayhuaman) alone would be worth a trip to Peru, but it is also the gateway to a sight that is on a par with the Pyramids at Giza – Machu Picchu.

Five hours by train from Cusco or a few days walking on the exquisite, precipitous Inca Trail gets you to this awesome ‘Lost City’ of the Incas, but stay over a few days if you can and try to grab some solitude there.

A boy on Lake Titicaca reed boat, Peru

A traditional Lake Titicaca reed boat in action.

Puno is not a pretty Inca city but it has colour and life thanks to the Peruvian Andean people, the bizarre floating villages on Lake Titicaca and the surrounding Altiplano.

Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3, 820 metres, and the home of alien spaceships according to Shirley Maclean.
In fact some quite alien people, the Uros, live on the lake, on floating, one metre thick, reed-floored islands, including a floating church and football pitch. The reeds rot away underneath and are constantly replaced on top, so if you put your foot down firmly you may find yourself in deep water. It’s fascinating but becoming increasingly commercialised – for a small fee a Uros man will takes tourists for a paddle in a reed canoe; the trouble is he requires a much larger amount to take them back to the island.
Taquile is another unusual and interesting Titicaca island worth visiting, where men spend their time knitting while ladies make the yarn, tho’ it’s more about tourist sales than tribal gratification these days. Lake Titicaca Photos and More Information

Titicaca’s port of Puno is an attractive town but has lively markets, colourful people and is the port from which to explore Lake Titicaca; it’s also a transit point between Bolivia and Cuzco. Puno leads the world in bowler hatters, all women, while the surrounding, barren altiplano (high plain) is llama country.

One of my clearest memories of Puno is of being beaten with a bunch of spring onions by an exotically dressed, mad Indian hatter when – after asking a couple of market ladies if I could take their photo, one said yes and one said no – so I took a picture of the yes woman and was promptly thumped by the no woman.

A Baby llama and girl on the Altiplano, Peru

A baby llama and llamherd on the Altiplano, Peru’s high plains.

This surreal high plain is bleak, blasted and populated mainly by large herds of alpaca and llamas shepherded by ruddy-faced kids. Take the train across the Altiplano from Puno to Cusco.

Llamas, though blessed with cute faces and curvaceous fluffy bottoms, are – like alpaca and vicuna – of the camel family and detest humans as much if not more, than their desert brethren. Close encounters with a llama will yield at the least a faceful of rank, green spit, if not a bite to bone.

Santa Catalina monastery cloister, Arequipa, Peru

Santa Catalina monastery in Arequipa. Photo by Jim.

The ‘White City’ of Arequipa, built by the Spanish is about halfway up the Andes so a good spot to acclimatise before Cusco. It’s also magnificently white, has some sensational buildings and night life and runs tours to Colca Canyon.

The ‘White City’ of Arequipa, 2, 400m up the Andes mountains, is not only home to some grand Spanish buildings built from white volcanic rock and stunning Andean folk music but also more than its fair share of rateros as well as some outstanding festivals.
Nearby is the Colca Canyon, Peru’s deepest canyon offering some Inca terraces, circling Condors, massive peaky views and tough two-day hikes top-bottom-top.
Arequipa is a good place to start acclimatising to higher altitudes before heading further uphill to Puno and Cuzco.

Hiking Colca Canyon, near Arequipa. Photo by Jim.

Most tourists do the Colca Canyon trip over a couple of days, with about 5 hours in the canyon (trekking is spectacular) and only an hour at Cruz del Condor, staying in the canyon for one night. Picking up a package in Arequipa is easy or just take a local bus if you have plenty of time.
Cabanaconde is a good town to stay over and do some proper hikes; a local bus takes about 5 hours to get there.

If you have to do it in one day it’s a lot of travel time: you leave Arequipa about 3 am and drive for 5-6 hours straight to Cruz Del Condor to probably see some condors. After that you will drive back, stopping off at some interesting viewpoints and towns along the way and then arriving in Arequipa by 8 pm.

Low-end travellers head up the Amazon River to a Rainforest camp at sunset, Peru

Low-end travellers head up the Amazon River to a rainforest camp. Photo by Joshjrowe.

The Peruvian Amazon rainforest is less spoilt, cheaper and has more friendly locals than over the border in Manaus, Brazil. Jungle walks, canoe trips, piranha fishing, dolphin and monkey spotting, tarantula cuddling, and alligator catching are all available within a few hours boat ride of Iquitos, though don’t expect to see a mass of wildlife in the rainforest. They, along with a large selection of deadly snakes, mostly go to work at night.

Paracas National Reserve is also good for bird watching and sea lions.

Lima

Lima’s Miraflores district, an the upmarket area with lovely cliff walks. Don’t bother with swimming off the grubby beach unless you’re seriously germ-resistant.

The capital of Peru, Lima is worth a few days if the usual winter fog isn’t hanging about. Central city buildings are Spanish colonial, hotels and museums are good, local cuisine is excellent and low-cost. Since most tourists fly into/out of Lima they will have to hang out a day or two in Lima anyway.

Plaza de Armas building, Lima, Peru

Lima’s Plaza de Armas (practically every Peruvian city has a Plaza de Armas). Photo by Avodrocc.

Nazca Lines from the air, Peru

One of the best Nazca graphics, seen from a small plane. Note the human/alien standing bottom left. Photo by Leupold Lowenthal.

Nazca Desert: 450 kms south of Lima (6 hours drive on the Pan-American Highway which sounds grand, but isn’t) and you’ll hit the Nazca Desert and the celebrated Nazca Lines, over thirty huge, clearly drawn images – monkey, spider, humming bird, whale, and a humanoid that Eric Von Danniken swears is alien – as well as more than a hundred geometric patterns, are cut into the desert’s stony crust.
Sizes vary from 4 metres to 10 kms, and are perfectly drawn.
The big mystery is that a) they can only be seen from the air, no problem these days if you have $40 to spare, but how many aircraft were there 1, 000 years ago? b) why did the advanced civilisation in Nazca collapse?

The massive, ancient graphics can only be properly seen from small planes, which are, of course, available for short flights. However, there are steps and hillocks you can climb to get a bit of a view without the benefit of wings.

Weather

Best seasons: May, June, September, October.
OK: April, July, August (winter)
Worst: December-February (rains; apart from miserable conditions the Inca Trail may be a washout and officially closes in February for cleaning)

Length of stay

Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 8 days (Lima-Cuzco-Machu Picchu), but beware of flight delays.
Recommended: 2 weeks – 8 weeks if you want to experience the Amazon areas, the lowlands, the mid Andes (Arequipa etc), the high Andes (Puno and Cuzco), and do some serious trekking.

Beaches

Lima has a reasonable strand of mucky sand on the Pacific ocean but we wouldn’t trust the water quality, though walking along the shore is pleasant.

It’s a bit of a distance up north but there are excellent beaches around the town of Mancora, with fine surfing, horse riding, warm water, lots of sunshine and plenty of accommodation.
110 kms from Ecuador so it’s a good stop off en route to Lima. Peru’s best beaches are Punta Sal and Punta Veleros but they are 1, 165 kms from Lima, so fly to Piura then do another 130kms on wheels.

Peru Costs 2013

• Jim did Chile, Bolivia and Peru over 8 weeks at the end of 2012. The highlights for him were Easter Island and the Amazon Jungle via Peru’s Iquitos where he did 3 nights jungle lodge + speedboat to get there + 2 jungle walks/canoe trips daily $450 pp. Flight Cusco-Lima-Iquitos-Lima $800 pp.

• Machu Picchu walk was excellent but really expensive at $600 per person and generally a booking 3 months in advance is needed so consider the ‘new’ ancient site of Choquequirao instead though the Inca workmanship is not at all comparable to Machu Picchu.

• In fact all the Andean countries are expensive now. Machu Picchu day pass $60 pp. Colca Canyon 4 day hiking with tents $200 pp. Puno-Cusco train $150 (but superb luxury bus was only $30 pp, Cruz del Sur).

• Money. Cost of using a credit card to buy stuff was usually charged at 5. 6%. But getting cash from a ‘Global’ (the usual) ATM cost $10 each time! And maximum $300 per day. So, if you feel lucky bring a substantial amount of cash with you but look after it carefully, keeping most in the hotel safe and your carry-around money in a sock! Or try a pre-paid cash card, tho’ we’re not sure of the charges attached to that.

• mid October-November-early December got NO RAIN at all. Yay!

Machu Picchu panorama, Peru

Machu Picchu panorama by Martin St-Amant. Text by bugbog.

Festivals

Check guide books for precise dates:
Early Feb, Candlemas, Puno mainly +Cuzco, Arequipa, 2 weeks.
March/April, Holy (Easter)Week, esp. Cusco. Puno + All Peru, 1 week.
June 24, Inti Raymi, Cuzco, 1 week, a wonderfully colourful occasion in an extraordinarily beautiful town.
July, Paucartambo, 74km from Cusco.

The Inti Raymi, ‘Festival of the Sun’, is a colourful religious ceremony in honour of the Inca sun god, Inti, marking the summer solstice. With a week of festivities, the actual day of Inti Raymi is June 24 in Cusco.

Electricity:
220v, mostly 2 flat pin plugs needed, occasionally 2 round pins.

Some survival advice

• never carry a wallet in your back pocket or a shoulder bag/camera loosely on your shoulder.
• never put your camera or bag down in a Peruvian café or restaurant without putting an arm/leg through a strap.
• people showing you the way somewhere will probably expect a tip, just like most people you photograph. Check in advance.
• acclimatise to the Andean altitude before setting off on the Inca Trail where some passes go over 4, 000m.

Tourist Visas for Peru at an airport or land border

These are granted on arrival for most nationalities (your passport must be valid for at least 6 months and have 2 empty pages) and last for 90 days.
OK: Citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, all South American countries, all countries within the European Union and Switzerland, South Africans, Brunei, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.

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