Destinations

Top Things to do in Peru

The best things to do in Peru...

Visiting the Inca ceremonial site of Machu Picchu rightly takes the plaudits as ‘the top thing to do’ when in Peru, but the country has a whole range of fantastic sights snapping at the lofty heels of the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ (the name given to it, inaccurately, by American academic and explorer Hiram Bingham).

That said, Machu Picchu takes some beating – its location alone is spectacular: a mountain high above the Urubamba river that has seemingly been rearranged, Lego-style, as a terraced citadel on a saddle between two peaks. If you’ve trekked the Inca Trail, which takes you past a multitude of other Inca construction en route, you’ll appreciate the majesty of this archaeological wonder all the more.

Still, if you’d like an Inca site all to yourself, then the rougher-hewn Choquequirao – The Cradle of Gold – is a better bet. Although the 20-mile trek in from the village of Cachora is by no means as impressive as the Inca Trail, you’ll be rewarded with much more space and time to make your own ‘discoveries’ amidst the partially excavated ruins. 

Feeling ambitious? Choque quirao and Machu Picchu can be combined in one trek, requiring seven days on the trail.

Sure to set pulses racing is Keshwa Chaca, the only remaining example of the grass bridges that the Inca used to span the canyons that cleft their mountain network. Renewed in 2003 using the traditional technique of weaving grass into ever-bigger braids, Keshwa Chaca stretches across a 100-foot-wide section of the Apurimac River as it snakes its way towards Cuzco.

If you’re scheduled to be in Cuzco in June, then enjoying a fiesta could be just the thing to do. Inti Raymi is a festival that re-enacts the Inca Festival of the Sun and is held on 24th June every year at the old Inca fortification of Sacsayhuaman. Less commercial and significantly tougher to get to is Qoyllur’Riti – an Inca-era ‘snow star’ festival co-opted by the Catholic Church. Taking place on a glacier high up in the Sinakara Valley some seven-to-eight hours by road from Cuzco, the festival’s combination of high altitude and colourful costumes should get your head spinning. 

It’s brilliant but bitterly cold.

Those in search of adrenaline shots can choose from a top trio of white-water rafting on the spectacular Apurimac and Urubamba rivers, surfing at chilled-out beaches just south of the border with Ecuador and sandboarding the dunes at Huacachina.

Part of the Ica region, Huacachina is just a few miles from Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands – often billed as Peru’s answer to the Galapagos. Here, birdlife ranges from boobies to penguins and sea life from turtles to dolphins and whales. One word of warning, though: ‘paracas’ means ‘raining sand’ in Quechua, so be prepared for some extreme exfoliation if you venture into the park.

Another of the Ica Region’s highlights are the Nazca Lines – hundreds of giant animal and geometric designs scrawled all over the Pampa de San Jose. 

To make the experience a little trippier, set your imagination soaring by taking a flight over the Lines from the Nazca airstrip.

Further south still, almost 2,400 metres above sea level, is the attractive colonial city of Arequipa. Presided over by the vast cone of El Misti volcano, Arequipa is a good base from which to visit Colca Canyon. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon may not be as geographically awesome as its American rival but it certainly has its own trump cards: a trek through the canyon will bring you face-to-face with remote indigenous communities and have you gawping skyward at the many condors spiralling into the firmament.

If it’s trekking you’re after then the Cordillera Blanca, in central-western Peru, is arguably the ultimate destination in South America. The highest range of the Peruvian Andes, the Cordillera Blanca shines imposingly like an immense jawbone of white-capped canine teeth protruding from the uplands. With the biggest peak a dizzying 6,768 metres, this is serious hiking and climbing country – but those relatively fit and acclimatised to the altitude can enjoy some exceptional trekking along vertiginous passes and between charming villages.

Second only to Brazil in terms of its share of Amazon rainforest, Peru plunges from the high spine of the Andes down to the east through the Yungus and into the rainforest proper. Iquitos in the north and Puerto Maldonaldo in the south are the typical riverine jumping off points for jungle expeditions, but Manu National Park is the easiest accessible expanse of rainforest from Cuzco. All three offer the chance to journey through dense foliage in search of the thousands of species of flora and fauna that fill Peru’s green lungs to bursting.

Among the other options also worthy of consideration are Lima, the capital, Lake Titicaca and its floating reed islands, and the ruined abode city of Chan Chan.

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