Peru is a large country on the Pacific coast of South America, encompassing a desert coastline, tropical rainforest and soaring mountains, each with distinct environments. These offer an exceptional opportunity for travellers to experience a variety of landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, a rich history and archaeological heritage, and the vivacious character of durable native cultures, all within one nation.
Fishing villages, fine beaches, agricultural lands, and Peru's major towns and cities, including the capital of Lima, are interspersed along the narrow belt of desert coastline that stretches the length of the country. The lush Amazon Basin takes up half of Peru and is an ecologically rich area of tropical rainforest that encompasses some of the world's most remote and least explored areas, sparsely populated and for the most part, inaccessible. Separating the coastal desert from the jungle is the splendid Andes mountain range, an endless chain of soaring peaks over 22,000 feet (7,000m) high, and home to millions of indigenous highland people, speaking the ancient Inca language of Quechua, and living in traditional villages with steeply terraced agricultural fields, with their wandering herds of llamas and alpacas.
An interesting history of ancient civilisations, tales of lost cities, undiscovered treasures, and unsolved mysteries make Peru one of the most exciting countries to visit. Travellers can marvel at the sophistication of pre-Colombian cultures and explore the many legacies left by the imperial Inca Empire, particularly the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco. Hiking along the legendary ancient royal Inca highway brings visitors to the awesome, majestic 'Lost City of the Incas', Machu Picchu. Boats transport tourists to the unique floating islands and the traditional world of the island people on Lake Titicaca. Travellers can wander around splendid colonial cities that have preserved their Spanish architecture, look into the depths of the world's deepest canyon, and contemplate the intriguing mystery of the Nazca Lines.
Peru, 'Land of the Incas', offers a stimulating and rewarding travel experience and is one of the most diverse and exhilarating of the South American destinations.
The official currency is Nuevo Sol (PEN) divided into 100
cÃ©ntimos. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, but all
major international credit cards, including Diners Club and
MasterCard, are accepted in many, but not all, establishments.
Outside Lima facilities may be more limited. Travellers cheques may
also be difficult to exchange in small towns and villages, and
travellers are advised to have cash on hand. US Dollars are the
easiest currency to exchange and plenty of restaurants, hotels and
shops in the main cities accept dollars for payment.
Casas de cambio(exchange bureaux) often give better rates
than hotels and banks and can be found in any town on the tourist
circuit. ATMs are available in the main cities.
|PEN 1 =||US$ 0.36||Â£ 0.24||C$ 0.37||A$ 0.35||R 3.05||EUR 0.29||NZ$ 0.46|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
There are several health issues to consider for travel to Peru. Those entering the country from an infected area require a yellow fever certificate, and outbreaks of yellow fever do occur; vaccination is recommended but is not necessary for Lima, Cuzco or Machu Picchu. No other vaccinations are officially required but visitors are advised to take precautions especially if planning to travel to jungle regions. Immunisation against typhoid is sensible. Malaria is a risk all year round in the lowland areas, except for Lima and the coastal regions to the south, and dengue fever is on the increase. There have been a number of incidents of rabies transmitted by bites from vampire bats in the Madre de Dios and Puno provinces, and near the border with Ecuador; visitors are advised to have a course of rabies injections and not to sleep in the open. Chagas' disease, Cholera and cases of the plague do occur. The most common ailments for travellers are diarrhoea and altitude sickness. Drink only bottled water, avoid drinks with ice, and be wary of food bought from street vendors. Health care is good in the major cities (better at private clinics than at public hospitals) but is expensive; health insurance is essential. Screening for HIV is inadequate and visitors should avoid blood transfusions.
All travellers require return or onward tickets, all documents required for onward travel and proof of funds. If travelling for business purposes, a visa is required. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
PROMPERU (Commission for the Promotion of Peru), Lima: +51 (0)1 224 3279 or www.peru.info
Foreign Embassies in Peru
Positioned halfway down the dry and dusty desert coastline of Peru, the city of Lima is hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean on the one side and the foothills of the Andes mountain range on the other. A sprawling and chaotic city, the capital of Peru is overcrowded, polluted and a noisy metropolis. The stark contrast between poverty and wealth is most visible in the miles of dusty shantytowns that stretch along the coast on either side of the city, and the glitzy apartment and office buildings of the affluent seaside suburbs.
During the days of Spanish colonial rule the city was regarded as the most important and prosperous city in Spanish America and was the finest in the region, known as 'The City of Kings'. Today the splendour may have paled, but Lima is still an animated and bustling city with an exciting mix of nationalities and styles; a city crammed with culture, a rich heritage and eight million people.
Lima dominates the country's political and commercial life and is the major gateway to the rest of the country. The city retains some of its original charm and has much to offer the visitor. Some of Peru's best museums, restaurants and nightlife are here, and the old colonial centre holds a certain elegance with its beautiful churches and convents, graceful old mansions, central plazas and classic colonial-style buildings. The outstanding art and archaeology museums provide an excellent introduction to the history and culture that visitors will come across in other parts of the country.
One of the most beautiful and rugged parts of Peru nestles in the Andean Highlands of the Huaraz region northeast of Lima, part of the HuascarÃ¡n National Park that is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Trust site. This area is the climbing and hiking centre of Peru and the spectacular CallejÃ³n de Huaylas Valley is a magnet for thousands of travellers looking for beautiful mountain scenery, superb hiking opportunities, glacial lakes and quaint mountain villages and markets.
Wedged between the dramatic snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca and the dry, dark Cordillera Negra range, the wide valley is split by the powerful Santa River. It is fringed by a group of picturesque little villages and towns that serve as starting points for hiking expeditions into the Andes. Situated among them is the town of Huaraz, a tourist hub and the primary base for exploring the area, which is surrounded by peaks of over 16,500 feet (5,000m). Towering above them all is Peru's highest mountain, HuascarÃ¡n.
The valley gave rise to the ancient ChavÃn civilisation and the spectacular 1,500 year old ruins of the ChavÃn de HuÃ¡ntar temple can be visited just hours away from Huaraz, stunningly set among the majestic peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. The region also offers hot springs at Monterrey, immense glacial lakes like Lago ParÃ³n and spectacular lookout points from the narrow and twisting roads leading into the valley.
The sacred capital of the Inca Empire and known to the early Incas as the 'navel of the world', Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America. Gateway to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the city is filled with the Inca legacy, evident in the straight cobbled streets lined with the remains of exquisite stone walls built by the Incas, examples of ancient stonework incorporated into the structure of colonial churches and buildings, and the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas that fill the streets with their bright dress and colourful handicrafts.
A vibrant and exciting city, it is one of South America's biggest tourist destinations with a thriving traditional culture, ancient ruins, archaeological treasures, and magnificent colonial architecture. Chief among its attractions are the Inca Trail (culminating at the magnificent hidden city of Machu Picchu), the villages and archaeological ruins in the nearby Sacred Valley, and the Inca fortress of SacsayhuamÃ¡n overlooking the imperial city.
Despite its popularity, Cusco remains relatively unspoiled and its beautiful setting in the Andean mountains, at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,400m), is guaranteed to leave visitors breathless. Cobbled streets run steeply up the hills and are lined with quaint whitewashed houses, steps are bordered by craft stalls watched over by traditionally dressed indigenous women, and elevated church bell towers offer fantastic views over the red-tiled roofs.
The heart of the city is the stately Plaza de Armas, dominated by the Cathedral and framed by colonial arcades and wooden balconies that house souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and tour agencies. Flying over the Spanish colonial structures around the plaza is the Peruvian national flag together with the rainbow coloured flag of the Inca Empire, emphasizing the unique blend of the ancient, colonial and modern day Peru that characterises the spectacular city of Cusco.
Visitors can enjoy the attractions of the city and surrounding areas at a reduced rate by taking advantage of the Cusco Tourist Ticket, which costs US$10 and allow entry to 16 sites within a 10-day period. The ticket can be bought at any of the sites, which include Puca Pucara, Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay, Qenko, the Cathedral, San Blas, the museum of Santa Catalina, the site museum at Qorikancha, the museum of regional history, the museum of religious art, the museum of the municipal palace, Chincheros, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, TipÃ³n and Pikillaqta.
Characterised by its many beautiful colonial buildings made from a locally-mined light-coloured volcanic stone, Arequipa is also known as the 'White City'. Its elegant historic centre is endowed with some of the country's finest colonial churches and mansions, many of which have been turned into museums or galleries.
The second largest city in Peru, Arequipa is one of the country's most attractive cities, prettily situated among white-capped volcanic peaks; however a conceited manner of distinguished self-importance pervades the atmosphere earning the inhabitants a reputation for snootiness towards the rest of their fellow countrymen, indignant to claims of greater cultural importance by other cities. A strong and very tangible rivalry exists between the capital city of Lima and Arequipa.
The beautiful Plaza de Armas, with its gardens and central fountain, is the focus of urban life and evening social activities, framed by impressive colonial arcades and architecture and the elegant white faÃ§ade of the huge Cathedral. One of the city's highlights is the remarkable Santa Catalina Convent, a complex enclosing a complete city within a city, and one of the country's most fascinating colonial religious buildings.
Besides the architecture and museums, the countryside around Arequipa holds many attractions for the visitor, including the relatively easy climb up the El Misti volcano. The Colca Valley offers superb landscapes, with agricultural terraces and snow-covered mountains, villages with narrow streets and ornate churches, and the dizzying Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and an excellent place to see the giant condors.
Nearly half of Peru lies within the Amazon Basin and the dense Amazon Jungle represents over 50 percent of the rain forest on the entire planet. It is an immense and, for the most part, inaccessible region, and is sparsely populated.
Believed to be the most biologically diverse region in the world, the rain forest and its rivers teem with mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and plants. Much of the area remains untouched and largely unexplored, with numerous varieties of plant species growing underneath the vast canopy. Pink dolphins, jaguars, tapirs, caiman crocodiles and giant anaconda snakes share the region with the many indigenous tribes that are spread throughout the jungle, living as they have done for thousands of years.
Jungle eco-tourism has taken off in Peru and the number of travellers choosing to include the Amazon in their itinerary is steadily growing. The best place to access the northern Amazon Basin is from the city of Iquitos, connected to the outside world by air and river only, and the largest jungle city in the Basin. It is situated on the mighty Amazon River, the biggest in the world, flowing across the continent from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, covering an incredible 4,030 miles (6,500km) with numerous tributaries. The vast system of rivers forms the primary method of transport within the Amazon Basin and dugout canoes or motorboats give visitors the opportunity to explore the labyrinthine waterways or to travel between jungle towns.
Regarded as the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,580 feet (3,825m), Lake Titicaca covers 3,861 square miles (10,000 sq km) and is shared by neighbouring Bolivia and Peru. It has clear water, numerous islands and most importantly a place in Inca history. To many Peruvians, it is a revered and mythical place: legend has it that the founders of the Inca Empire, descendants of the sun, rose from the waters of the lake to create the ancient civilisation. The Uros Indians today live on unique man-made floating islands in the lake, believing they are the direct descendants of the Inca royalty.
For centuries the Uros people have built their homes and made their boats from the abundant source of reeds that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The islands are made from many springy layers of reeds that are continually added to replace the rotting layers below and it is not uncommon for the islands to drift after heavy rains. Fisherman can be seen navigating the water channels in beautifully crafted, sturdy 'canoes', some with reed figureheads forming a creative extension of the prow. Excursions to the floating islands have become rather commercialised and many visitors are put off by the throngs of children begging for sweets and the persistence of the souvenir sellers, but its popularity remains due to the fact this unusual and fascinating way of life is not found anywhere else in the world.
Further out into the lake and therefore less visited, but more beautiful, are the two fixed islands of Taquile and Amantani, with a genuine traditional lifestyle without electricity or solid infrastructure that gives visitors a glimpse of pre-colonial Andean Peru. The inhabitants of the attractive island of Taquile still use age-old weaving techniques and wear colourful traditional clothes, and the steep-sided fertile shores are covered in pre-Inca agricultural terraces that are the basis for the island's self-sufficient economy. The larger island of Amantani is a basket-weavers island and traditional crafts like stone masonry, and Inca structures of agriculture and trade are still practiced.
Day tours can be arranged from Puno, taking travellers to the Floating Islands, and the two natural islands where traditional hospitality and accommodation is provided by the local residents; or boat trips depart for each island individually at various times throughout the day.
Considered one of the best tourist destinations in Peru's northern highlands, Cajamarca is often called the 'Cusco of the North'. The town has a major advantage over Cusco however, in that it has maintained its small-town atmosphere and Andean traditions, and isn't overrun with tourists.
Cajamarca is known as the city where the Inca empire came to an end at the bloody Battle of Cajamarca in 1532. The steps on Santa Apolonia Hill lead up to the famous Inca Seat, from which Incan leaders would address their subjects. There are several other archaeological sites around the city, including the pre-Colombian Cumbe Mayo aqueduct, the pre-Incan necropolis of Ventanillas de Otuzco, and the monoliths and museum of Kuntur Wasi.
The pastoral region around Cajamarca is very fertile, and produces some excellent dairy products, including cheese and ice cream, and chocolate that are available in abundance in town. The attractive city centre is full of colonial buildings, centred around the Plaza de Armas. There are around a dozen beautiful churches, as well as stately mansions from the 17th and 18th century.
Cajamarca is located 8,900 feet (2,700m) above sea level, so tourists should take the time to acclimatise themselves to the thinner air. It is advisable to allow at least one day of relative inactivity, while staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
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