Best Time to Go
The peak tourist season is from June to August, but Peru is a year-round destination. It has three main zones: tropical Amazon jungle, arid coastal desert and Andean mountains, which cause dramatic regional variations. In general, June to September is high tourist season and the best time to visit most regions. Rainy season in the Andes starts in December and peaks between January and February, which means that it is not good time for hiking. Heavy rains in the mountains and jungle last from December to April. It is rainy and hot for most of the year, but between March and September there can be occasional cold snaps.
While the world has been changing, we have been exploring.
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Amazon Jungle: The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biologically diverse locations left in the world. Traveling along the Amazon and its main tributaries is a truly amazing adventure. Cruise options include four, five and eight days; or another option is to explore Amazonia from a jungle lodge in the depths of the wilderness. In both cases, wildlife is abundant, including herons, jacanas, macaws, howler and squirrel monkeys, primates and sloths. River trips explore the confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, and the point where the Amazon River takes its name, 3,862 km/2,400 mi. from the Atlantic. Riverbank settlements offer the chance to get acquainted with the traditional people of the forest. Daily activities may vary due to season or prevailing conditions for each day, but the list of options includes birding watching treks, boat journeys, swimming, fishing, walking on hanging bridges in the treetops or paddling traditional canoes. Siesta in a hammock, go for a guided botanical walk, or a nighttime stroll to see caiman and the Southern Hemisphere stars.
Arequipa & Colca Canyon: Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, is often acclaimed as the most beautiful. This “white city” was built using volcanic stone. It sits at an altitude of 2,325 m/7,627 ft. with a backdrop of snowy volcanoes. The Spanish founded Arequipa in 1540. The city’s landmarks include Santa Catalina Convent, dating from the 16th century, and the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by double-storied, arched colonial buildings and a huge cathedral. Its lovely twin towers collapsed in a 2001 earthquake. Here, too, in the high Andes of southern Peru is Colca Canyon, which reaches staggering depths of 3,353 m/11,000 ft., making it twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. This is the land of the great Andean condor and never-ending vistas.
Ausangate: This “rainbow” mountain is part of the Vilcanota Mountain range in the Peruvian Andes southeast of Cusco. With an elevation of 6,384m/20,945 ft. The mountain is important in Incan mythology. Every year the Quyllur Rit’i (Quechua for “star snow”) festival attracts thousands of Quechua pilgrims to a site about 20 km/12 mi. north of Ausangate at the mountain Qullqipunku. It takes place one week before the Corpus Christi feast. The region is inhabited by llama and alpaca herding communities, and constitutes one of the few remaining pastoralist societies in the world. High mountain trails are used by these herders to trade with agricultural communities at lower elevations. Currently, one of these trails, “the road of the Apu Ausangate”, is one of the most renowned treks in Peru. The area has four major geological features, the Andean uplift formed by Granits, the hanging glaciers and glacial erosional valleys, the Permian formation with its singular colors: red, ochre, and turquoise and the Cretaceous, limestone forests. It has created this rainbow mountain. This region has some great remote trekking options
Caral: Caral, or Caral-Chupacigarro, is the largest recorded site in the Andean region which dates before 2000 BCE. Indeed, Caral was a thriving metropolis at roughly the same time that Egypt’s great pyramids were being built. It appears to be the model for the urban design adopted by Andean civilizations that came and went over a period of 4,000 years. Caral may answer questions about the origins of the Andean civilizations and the development of the first cities. It is in the Supe Valley, some 200 km/124 mi. north of Lima. Caral may be the most ancient city of the Americas and a well-studied site of the Norte Chico civilization, a complex pre-Columbian society that encompassed as many as 30 major population centers. The civilization flourished between the fourth and second millennia BCE. It is thought the first city arose around 3500 BCE at Huaricanga in the Fortaleza area. Exceptionally well-preserved, the site is impressive in terms of its design and the complexity of its architecture, especially its monumental stone and earthen platform mounts and sunken circular courts. One of 18 urban settlements situated in the same area, Caral features complex and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures. A quipu (the knot system used in Andean civilizations to record information) found on the site testifies to the development and complexity of Caral society. The city’s plan and some of its components, including pyramidal structures and residence of the elite, show clear evidence of ceremonial functions, signifying a powerful religious ideology.
Cusco & Urubamba (Sacred) Valley: At nearly 3,353 m/11,000 ft., Cusco basks in bright, cool high-altitude sunlight. It is masterfully laid out and brimming with Incan and Spanish treasures, cobblestone streets, lovely plazas and small shops offering everything from upscale clothing to traditional crafts. It has fine hotels and excellent restaurants. Urubamba Valley is fed by several rivers that course down through adjoining valleys and gorges. The valley contains outstanding archaeological remains and small villages. It was one of the Incan empire’s primary points for producing maize. Many descendants of the Inca in the area continue to carry on the old traditions. The popular Pisaq Indian Market is open daily, but the best day to visit is Sunday when locals go to market. The village of Chinchero is home to local artists skilled at back-strap weaving, a technique handed down through generations. Some designs date back two millennia. Willoq is another small Andean community known for the unique textile designs produced by the women and girls of the village. Ollantaytambo features Incan fortress ruins. The Incan agricultural terraces at Moray are about 50 km/31 mi. northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m/11,500 ft. This archaeological site might have been used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. In other words, Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station, and, as with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.
Gocta Waterfalls: Gocta Waterfalls ranks among the highest waterfalls in the world; sources vary on its actual ranking. Regardless, it is striking. A well-maintained, scenic path is easy walking, but it takes about two and a half hours to hike one way. Some sections have steep inclines, and horses can be hired for part of the journey, or can be pre-arranged for the way back. The trail crosses small streams and gorges spanned by short bridges. The falls flow into the Cocahuayco River. Although the waterfall was well known to locals for centuries, its existence was unknown to the outside until an expedition made in 2002.
Huaraz & Callejon de Huaylas: Huaraz is a city in Peru’s northern Callejón de Huaylas Valley. Capital of the Ancash Region, the city sits at more than 3,000 m/9,842 ft., with the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca range forming its dramatic eastern skyline. Among its variety of natural attractions are lovely lakes and valleys plus unique flora and fauna. The area is also features Chavin de Huatar, some 250 km/160 mi. north of Lima, at an elevation of 3,180 m/10,430 ft., east of the Cordillera Blanca. Occupation at this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been carbon dated to at least 3000 BCE. Ceremonial center activity occurred mostly toward the end of the second millennium, and through the middle of the first millennium BCE. The Chavin were a major pre-Inca culture. Some of the Chavin relics from here are on display in the Museo de la Nacion in Lima and the Museo Nacional de Chavín in Chavin itself. The Ancash area has strikingly varied scenery, with its high peaks, such as the snow-capped Huascaran Mountain at 6768 m/22,205 ft., hundreds of lakes, picturesque valleys and trails. The region is also known for Huascaran National Park, which protects a large section of Cordillera Blanca habitat in the central Andean mountains. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park includes threatened habitats and more than 100 different types of birds, including the Andean condor, and endangered mammals such as Andean cats and spectacled bears. This is also home to one of the iconic camelids of Peru, the vicunas. But it is the mountains themselves that draw most travelers, who come to hike and climb this ever-changing landscape that encompasses 300 lagoons or so, all glacial, and more than 600 in-tact glaciers. The scenery and wildlife are simply stunning.
Inca Trail: The six-day trek along the mythic Inca Trail travels the Piscacucho/Huayllabamba route along some of the very same trails used by ancient Incas. This high-altitude hike crosses rivers, cloud forest, valleys and mountain passes as high as Warmiwanusqa Pass at 4,199 m/13,776 ft. Trekkers encounter Inca ruins, cross cactus gardens and fields of corn. The final section of the trail is a stunningly beautiful traverse leading to the Sun Gate, which overlooks the citadel of Machu Picchu. Hiking the Inca trail has become a grand challenge, but the high altitude requires walkers be in excellent physical condition.
Kuelap, Chachapoyas & Leymebamba: The remarkable Kuelap has been called “Machu Picchu of the north.” It is the most important of the pre-Inca Chachapoya sites, and is one of the largest ancient stone complexes in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, few travelers ever see this amazing complex due to its remote location. The great fortress embraces more than 400 hundred interior buildings and massive exterior stone walls reaching up to 18 m/60 ft. The imposing site is some 600 m/1,968 ft. in length and sits at 3,000 m/9,843 ft. above sea level on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley. A cable car opened to improve access to the site. Once on top, the entrance is about a half-hour walk to the archaeological site on a paved uphill path. Horses are available. Revash is the site of cliff tombs that look like small houses with many pictographs. Leymebamba sits 74 km/46 mi. south of Chachapoyas, along the Utcubamba River at an altitude of 1,800 m/5,900 ft. The rural Leymebamba Museum outside the village was established in 2000, after burial tombs and dozens of mummies were discovered on a remote cliff above Laguna de los Condores. The pre-Inca Chachapoya civilization created this site as a sacred place to honor the dead. After it was found that looters were destroying the site, an NGO group, Centro Mallqui, set out to save them by removing the contents of the tombs to Leymebamba. The findings were deemed so singular that the museum was created for their protection. Today, more than 200 mummies, burial gifts and other artifacts are on display. The four main rooms exhibit ceramics, textiles, wooden figures, bones, and quipus (knotted strings used for accounting) with insightful narratives on Chachapoya life and culture.
Note: In this region of Peru, it is important to note that certain locales, while fascinating, are extremely difficult to reach due to bad roads, weather and other factors. We mention them here because these remote sights are for the true adventure traveler.
Lake Titicaca: On the border of Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable body of water at more than 3,658 m/12,000 ft. In addition to its altitude, this scenic lake is known for its indigenous cultures. This is the home of dozens of the floating reed islands of the Uros people. Established in 1668, Puno is the capital and largest city the region. It spreads along the shores of the lake, and is considered the folklore capital of Peru for its wealth of artistic and cultural heritage, especially in dance. Taquile Island is about 32 km/20 mi. from Puno and known for its weavers. It once served as a prison when Peru was a Spanish colony and it remained so even into the 20th century. Pre-Inca ruins are found on the highest part of the island.
Lima: Peru’s capital city stretches along the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1535, it was the seat of Spanish power in the New World for three centuries. In the 17th century, it had a trading network that stretched to Europe and the Philippines. The city center is noted for colonial architecture such as the Plaza de Armas, the presidential palace, the ornate 16th-century cathedral and the catacombs of the Convento de San Francisco. The capital, and starting point for most visitors, Lima enjoys a considerable legacy of art from its colonial period, and its museums are bursting with artifacts of gold, ceramic and weavings unearthed from the country’s ancient settlements. The Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum has a captivating collection of pre-Inca artifacts – pottery, gold and silver works, mummies, and more. It also features a truly unusual, one-of-kind collection of erotic ceramics from the Chimu, Mohica and other pre-Inca civilizations. Lima has developed a renowned cuisine that fuses Andean and Spanish traditions with culinary influences from many countries.
Machu Picchu: The 15th-century Lost City of the Incas is as much about an experience as it is about a place. Machu Picchu stands at an altitude of 2,430 m/7,972 ft. in an extraordinarily beautiful natural Andean setting. This amazing urban creation encompasses giant walls, terraces and ramps seem to have been cut naturally into the continuous rock escarpments. For many, a visit here is an extraordinary, even spiritual experience; for everyone, it is dazzling and dramatic. Built around 1460, it was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers 100 years later during the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire. It is classic Inca style with polished, dry-stone walls. Mysteries still linger such as how the Inca moved the large rocks used to construct the city. Each stone block was carefully carved to fit with the other stones without cement or mortar. Machu Picchu is quite simply inspiring.
Nazca Lines & Paracas: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fascinating Nazca and Palpa Lines are enigmatic figures in the desert that are some 2,000 years old. Questions remain as to their origins and purpose. The patterns of lines are put into perspective from the air, when they transform into monkey, spider, bird, fish and reptile, ranging in size up to 305 m/1,000 ft. Scenic flights (weather permitting) from Ica fly above these ancient earth drawings. The resort town of Paracas, nearby, is where the desert and the sea come together. The Paracas culture was an important Andean society that existed in Peru between approximately 750 BCE and 100 CE, known for the high quality of its textiles and weavings. Cliffs are home to millions of birds, both resident and migratory species rim the town’s beaches. From here, boats take travelers out to see the Islas Ballestas, where the wildlife has been likened to the Galapagos. Unlike Galapagos, however, no boats may land on these islands to avoid disturbing the sea lion colonies, Humboldt penguins, and colonies of seabirds.
Northern Peru: Northern Peru encompasses such a rich array of distinctive and ancient pre-Colombian cultures that include Chimu of Trujillo, Moche of Chiclayo, and pre-Chavin and Inca of Cajamarca. Founded in 1536, Trujillo has a cathedral, ten colonial churches, convents and monasteries. It serves as a base to explore Chan, Huanchaco Beach, Huaca del Sol y la Luna and El Brujo. The metropolis of Chan, the ancient capital of the Chimu Empire, was built entirely of mud and adobe bricks. Huanchaco Beach is home to the famous “Caballitos de Totora,” reed watercrafts used by Peruvian fishermen for 3,000 years. Chiclayo is a rural Indian village with a history dating to the 16th century. It features a neoclassical cathedral and a daily market. A major regional center, it experienced successive occupations by the people of Lambayeque/Sican (800-1350), who left behind pyramids and the 2,000-year-old royal tomb of Lord of Sipan. Excavations here have yielded fine examples of art. Tucume is south of the La Leche River on a plain around La Raya Mountain, and includes 26 major pyramids and mounds. Cajamarca in the northern highlands of Peru has been around more than two millennia with traces of pre-Chavín and Inca cultures that can still be seen in surrounding archaeological sites. Cajamarca brings together three ingredients that make it an unforgettable destination – magnificent colonial architecture, beautiful landscapes and extraordinary history. Here, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro captured the Incan leader, Atahualpa, who, despite complying with the agreed ransom, was killed. The conquerors then laid out the city in the Spanish style of colonial buildings, monuments, the cathedral, and the churches of San Francisco, Bethlehem and the Recoleta District.
Tambopata National Reserve: Tambopata National Reserve is part of the great Tambopata Madidi Wilderness on the Peru-Bolivia border. The Tambopata River watershed is one of the world’s richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity. The area includes forest flora species of economic importance such as cedar, mahogany and palm trees as well as endangered giant river otters and vulnerable species such as anteater, giant armadillo, black spider monkey, jaguar, pink river dolphin, yellow-headed river turtle and anaconda. Tambopata National Reserve is also strikingly beautiful with lush vegetation, rivers and cascading waterfalls. The reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park have been listed as vulnerable due to threats that include gold mining, illegal logging and excessive extraction of other natural resources.
Day 1: Lima, Peru
Founded in 1535, Peru’s capital city was the seat of Spanish power in the New World for three centuries.
Day 2: Lima
The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site honored for its exquisite Spanish colonial architecture.
Day 3: Lima / Cusco / Urubamba (Sacred) Valley
The Sacred Valley boasts a wealth of Inca sights. The Awamaki project promotes the traditional Andean craft of textile design, offering Andean women a way to earn income through artisan weaving.
Day 4: Sacred Valley
The ruins of Moray are ancient agricultural circular and concentric terraces, built by the Incas as a seed-producing area for the principal crops of the empire.
Day 5: Sacred Valley / Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, rises some 2,408 m/7,900 ft. and rests within a spectacular framework of jungle and rugged mountain peaks.
Day 6: Machu Picchu / Cusco
The afternoon train to Cusco travels back through spectacular mountain scenery to charming Cusco.
Day 7: Cusco / Chachapoyas
The city of Chachapoyas, founded in 1538, remains largely unknown, but this hidden gem is home to culture of the same name, and is the capital of the Amazonas Region.
Day 8: Chachapoyas / Gocta Waterfalls
Gocta Waterfalls is among the highest waterfalls in the world, and trails allow access to the base of the waterfall either on foot or on horseback.
Day 9: Gocta Waterfalls / Kuelap / Leymebamba
Kuelap is known as the “little Machu Picchu,” is one of the largest ancient stone complexes in the Western Hemisphere.
Day 10: Leymebamba / Depart
Leymebamba Museum is home to mummies and archaeological materials recovered from Laguna de los Cóndores.
Day 11: Chachapoyas / Lima / Depart
Amazon Jungle (4-8 days)
Whether by cruise ship or jungle lodge, discovering one of the last truly undomesticated places on earth is a remarkable and singular experience.
Arequipa & Colca Canyon (4 days)
Built of white volcanic stone, Arequipa is the gateway to Colca Canyon, which is some 3,353 m/11,000 ft. deep, making it twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Ausangate (2 days)
The “rainbow” mountain, colored red, ochre and turquoise by eons of geological processes, is part of the Vilcanota Mountain range in the Andes southeast of Cusco. It played an important role in Incan mythology and offers some spectacular trekking.
Caral (2 days)
Caral, or Caral-Chupacigarro, some 124 miles north of Lima, was a thriving metropolis at roughly the same time that Egypt’s great pyramids were being built.
Huaraz & Callejon de Huaylas (5 days)
Encompassing much of the Cordillera Blanca is Huarascán National Park, home to Andean condors and jaguars as well as Peru’s tallest mountain. This is just a small taste of the cultural richness of Áncash – a destination that promises adrenaline-filled experiences.
Inca Trail (6 days)
The Inca Trail is a classic hiking adventure that follows in the footsteps of the ancient Inca. The reward at trail’s end is magnificent Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas.
Lake Titicaca (4 days)
In addition to the lake’s fame as the world’s highest navigable lake, it is also home to distinctive cultural groups.
Nazca Lines & Paracas (3 days)
The fascinating 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines in the high desert still offer countless unanswered questions. The desert and the sea meet at the nearby resort town of Paracas.
Northern Peru (6 days)
The most important pre-Inca cultures were developed in Northern Peru such as the Lord of Sipan and Tucume Pyramids in Chiclayo; the oldest adobe city of Chan Chan in Trujillo; and Cajamarca, where the Inca Empire fell.
Tambopata National Reserve (4 days)
The reserve is strikingly beautiful with lush vegetation, rivers and cascading waterfalls.
Land only, double occupancy: $700-$1100 per person, per day.