Sacsuhuayman fortress stones, Cusco, Peru Pictures.
Main Peruvian tourist destinations
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.
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 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 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.
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’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.
Lima’s Plaza de Armas (practically every Peruvian city has a Plaza de Armas). Photo by Avodrocc.
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.
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.
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.