Places to see
Once the center of the Inca Empire, this colorful and picturesque city with almost 300,000 residents remains an important city in Peru to this day. Although Cuzco was heavily damaged by the Spaniards, the remains of the old Inca city are still visible. Walls, doorways, foundations, arches and even decorative stonework are found throughout the city.
The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
This is a 3-4 day trek that is considered to be the most spectacular trekking experience in South America. Its route passes through a 13,000-foot (4,000 m) Andean pass beyond which lie some of the most astounding artifacts of the Inca civilization. Most of these attractions have been completely undisturbed for hundreds of years, and much of the trek’s fascination comes from the sensation of trekking into a region sealed off from time.
The trail ends at the sacred city of Machu Picchu, retracing the route by which the Incas ascended to this ceremonial centre. So intact is the city that at times it seems its former residents have only recently walked away.
Parque Nacional Huascaràn and Huaràz
Far to the north of Lima, this park occupies a one-hundred mile stretch of the Cordillera Blanca, an area of the Andes that is renowned as one of the most exciting trekking regions of South America. Part of the reason for this excitement is the area’s incredible concentration of dramatic, snow-capped mountains – more than 25 of its peaks exceed 19,500 feet (5,950 m). The center of trekking activity in the park, and in its surrounding region, is the modest city of Huaràz. Treks of all sorts, for beginners as well as for experts, and lasting anywhere from one day to ten, are easily arranged.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city, the major city of the southern part of the country, and, in the minds of its proud residents, virtually an independent city-state. It is known as the white city, since much of its building are constructed of sillar, a very light-colored volcanic rock. Arequipa lies in a scenic valley bordered by magnificent mountains that include the snowcapped volcanic cone of El Misti (5,825 m), Chachani (6,075 m) and Pichu Pichu (5,664 m). More than 800,000 people live in the city.
Arequipa enjoys an abundance of very fine seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings. Undoubtedly, the most famous of these is the Convent of Santa Catalina, which when it became open to the public in 1970 revealed a world of luxurious seclusion that was sealed off from the rest of the world for almost four centuries.
To this day, there is no agreement on whether Colca Canyon is the deepest terrestrial chasm in the world, but no one challenges the fact that it is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights. Standing on the canyon’s edge, the great expanse of space overwhelms the senses, commanding respect for nature’s creative forces. Carved over eons by the Colca River, it stretches about 60 kilometers from its eastern extremity at the town of Chivay to Cabanaconde, in the west. By the time the river reaches Cabanaconde, it has fallen about 1,300 meters in elevation.
Small towns and villages sit atop the canyon banks on both sides, beginning with Chivay, which is known for its hot springs and as the main portal for exploring the chasm. Moving west on the canyon’s southern edge, travelers encounter the villages of Achoma and Maca, where local women wear intricate and colourful mountain dresses identical to those of their ancestors. At the nearby Mirador ruz del Condor, visitors are often lucky enough to see the giant Andean condors as they ride the thermals rising from the canyon floor.
Although they have become better understood in recent years, the Nazca Lines are still one of the world’s most impressive ancient mysteries. Located about two hundred miles south of Lima and stretching for more than 30 miles along a flat, arid desert plateau, the Nazca Lines consist of a series of enormous and intricate drawings of birds, animals, and geometric figures. The figures were scratched into the desert crust about two millenia ago, and the region’s extreme dryness has preserved them nearly intact. The function and meaning of the Nazca Lines remains unclear, although they seem to bear some relation to astronomical cycles. Ground travel is now illegal in the area. Flights over the Nazca lines are offered from Lima and from the town of Nazca.
The Amazon Basin
Peru is the source of the Amazon Basin, which originates in the highlands of the east, an area mostly inaccessible to humans. The region is full of incredible biological diversity. It is the home of rare, splendid and reclusive creatures such as the jaguar, Andean spectacled bear, giant otter, and tapir. The bird population of the Amazon Basin, and of Peru for that matter, is on a completely different level than the rest of the world. With 1,700 species of birds, the country is an unparalleled destination for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts.
Though the legendary Amazon gathers its strength from a thousand tributaries, its name begins at the town of Iquitos, where three major source rivers wash together, marking the beginning of a current that traverses the continent. By the time the Amazon River reaches the Pacific Ocean, it will have traveled nearly 4,000 miles.
The area surrounding Iquitos is ideal for viewing wildlife, and the smaller rivers are the best places for excursions. Travel by boat is the best way to access the various lodges awaiting in the forests and also a good way to see the wildlife roaming the river banks.
Manu National Park
Covering more than 13,000 sq. km., Manu is the largest and one of the most remote of Peru’s parks. It is home to an extraordinary abundance and diversity of wildlife, including ocelots, jaguars, alligators, otters and about a thousand species of birds.