Whether you’ve visited all the glamorous capitals of the world or have spent every vacation of your adulthood racking up frequent-flier miles to major league baseball parks, you’ve never had an experience like Peru.
Situated along the Pacific coast of central South America between Ecuador and Chile, it boasts a civilization dating back more than 10 millennia, the oldest in the western hemisphere. From the mysterious Incan sanctuary of Machu Picchu high in the Andes, to the natural wonders of the rainforest with one of the most biodiverse varieties of flora and fauna in the world, a visit to Peru takes you back in time.
You can see the country on your own, of course, but the best Peru tours are with experts who can give you the most valuable experiences of the more commonly known locations to visit as well as guide you to places off the beaten tourist path.
The Lay of the Land
Peru is the third-largest country in South America, and at more than twice the size of France, is the 20th largest country in the world. It’s generally described as having three main regions:
- The Coast. The coast of Peru runs for 1,555 miles (2,500 km) along the Pacific Ocean, with terrain that includes wide beaches, fertile valleys and the Sechura Desert that runs inland to the foothills of the Andes. The beaches in the north of the country are warm all year, with a short rainy period in November and December. The arid central and southern coast has summery weather from November to March and winter weather from April to October.
- The Highlands. Interior from the coast are the Andes, with the highest point reaching over four miles (22,204 feet or 6768 meters) at the pinnacle of Mount Huascoron in the central part of the range. Summer in the highlands is April to October, with sunny days and little rain. In winter, from November to March, however, it rains heavily and warm daytime temperatures can swing to well below freezing at night.
- The Jungle. Beyond the Andes to the east, is a vast region of plains covered by vegetation in the Amazon River basin. There you’ll find cloud forests and lowland jungle with an astonishing 15,000 species of plant life, 1000 species of birds and 400 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The rainforest is humid year-round, naturally, but it only rains frequently from November to March. The best visiting is from April to October when it is fairly dry and the roads are easy to access.
Highlights of a Visit to Peru
Whether you’re interested in a wide-ranging tour of the country or want to concentrate on a specific kind of visit, these are some experience you shouldn’t miss:
- Immerse yourself in nature. An eco-tour will center on the Amazonian jungle and its rich resources of living things. You can glide through the waters by canoe or walk among the treetops to spot jaguars, pumas, spectacled bears, vibrant macaws, red howler monkeys, pink river dolphins and other exotic creatures.
- Visit Cusco. Traverse the spectacular scenery of the high plains and visit Cusco, the center of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes where the layers of history display themselves dramatically and locals are often seen on the streets in traditional clothing. Surrounded by age-old ruins, Cusco also has a lively modern night life.
- Explore Machu Picchu. Whether you get there via the classic Inca trail on a 10-hour trek from Cusco, or you take other transportation, what you’ll find at your destination is a marvel of ancient architecture. About the only thing scholars agree on is that Machu Picchu was meant for spiritual and ceremonial purposes; the rest is lost in the mists of history.
- See Lima. On the central coast, Lima is the capital of Peru and, with 10 million residents, is one of the largest cities in South America. It’s a thriving metropolis, but its heart is the historic colonial center that has been preserved since Lima’s founding in 1535.
- Enjoy the food. Peru is regarded as one of the world’s top destinations for foodies, and Lima is known as the culinary capital of South America. A classic dish created in Peru is ceviche, but the unofficial national dish of the country is the intriguing fusion lomo saltado, a hearty bowl of beef, onion, tomato and chilis stir-fried in soy sauce and served not only on rice but with French fries, too. ¡Buen provecho!