Peru tours has long been the darling of adventure travel an country that combines the Amazon, the Andes, the ever-changing sands of desert dunes and the enigma of ruins of empires long lost cannot help but inspire adventure-lust. Broken into three distinct geographic regions desert, Andean mountains and tropical rainforest it almost feels as though Peru is several distinct countries rolled into one. In addition, its fresh local cuisine and vibrant culture means Peru continues to hold the allure that it has maintained for so long. Travel in Peru is definitely a memorable and multifaceted experience.
The currency is nuevo sol, try to carry small denomination notes and coins, especially when heading to markets as larger notes will likely not be accepted. Torn and defaced money may not be accepted by vendors, so make sure that any notes you receive are not overly damaged, neither too old.
ATMs are found almost everywhere and accept international cards such as Visa and Mastercard. Many ATMs will also let you withdraw amounts in both nuevo sol and US dollars. US dollars are often an acceptable form of payment in major tourist areas by businesses such as hotels and travel agents and handicraft markets.
Higher end restaurants and hotels may include a service charge and taxes on top of the bill. If service charge is not added a tip of 10% is usually appropriate. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped but tour leaders, locals guides and porters usually do.
Lima is Peru’s capital city and transport hub for the country. It is near to the coast and retains some of its colonial elegance that led it to be considered the most beautiful city in Latin America time ago. Nestled in the Andes, Cuzco is a buzzing colonial city and launchpad for those wishing to hike the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu. Its striking architecture, surrounding ruins and lively nightlife make it an attractive stop. Pisco and Nazca are located in the coastal area south of Lima and highlights include ancient remains, wildlife and desert scenery. Arequipa, lying inland from this region in the south of the country, provides access to the nearby Colca Canyon where condors can be seen gliding on the thermals. Near the Bolivian border, Puno is the main town and port for Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake and home of enchanting indigenous communities. The Amazon Jungle covers over half of Peru and the jungle city of Puerto Maldonado is the main gateway to explore the peruvian rainforest.
Peru’s people are made up of roughly 48% indigenous background, 36% mestizo (mixture of Spanish and native blood), 15% of European origin and 3% other. The country is predominantly Roman Catholic with 81% of people following this faith, 13% Evangelical and 6% other. The country is almost half Amerindians and it is important to be respectful of the local people, many of whom view the term indio as derogatory, preferring indígenas.
Peruvians are generally quite formal and handshaking is the most common form of meeting and greeting. Women may kiss on the cheek but it depends on the situation and visitors should follow the lead of the locals. Learning basic greetings in Spanish is an excellent way to break the ice and it is good manners to greet people properly including shop keepers and taxi drivers. A simple buenos dias (good morning), buenos tardes (good afternoon) or buenos noches (good evening) will go a long way.
The local view on punctuality has been affectionately labelled ‘Peruvian time’ and it is not considered rude for Peruvians to arrive half an hour to an hour late for personal meetings, but in case of guides and travel agencies this must not be expected.
Geography of Peru
Peru has over two thousand kilometres of coast with the Pacific Ocean and borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. It has a total land area of 1,279,999 square kilometres making it the third largest country in South America, slightly smaller than Alaska and twice the size of Texas. Peru’s terrain is divided by the Andes into three very different geographic zones. Along the coast and western edge of Peru, much of land is arid with deserts, sandy beaches and valleys. The highlands are dominated by the Andes and Peru has many peaks that stretch over five thousand metres. The northern Andes are lower and more humid, the central Andes are the tallest and steepest and the southern Andes are wider and flatter, also knowns as the high Andean plateau. The east of the country is dominated by vegetation and the sprawling Amazon Jungle. Jungle covers over half of the country.
Peru is listed as one of the six cradles of civilisation (others include China, Egypt and India), characterised by the combination of urbanisation and agricultural advancement. The earliest evidence of a civilised society appears at Caral, an archaeological site north of Lima which is believed to be the oldest city in the Americas, 4000 years older than the Incas. From around 1200 BC to 200 AD, village life and agriculture became established, this time is referred to as the Formative Era. It is during this time that the Chavin Cult took root and became widespread, based on the worship of nature spirits and the feline creator god.
From 200 to 1100 AD, various distinct culture emerged including the Mochica and the Nasca. The Inca Empire emerged from 1200-1532 AD and established a period of unity as they took over rival cultures. The Incas were initially based in the valleys around Cuzco and expanded their control to the coast and into Bolivia, northern Chile and southern Colombia. The Inca Empire’s over-extension eventually led to civil war, tearing the empire asunder.
In 1532 Spanish explorers led by Francisco Pizzaro arrived in the Inca Empire. Taking advantage of the civil war, Pizzaro captured Inca ruler Atahualpa and massacred thousands of Inca warriors with the help of mounted cavalry, canons and the element of surprise. With Atahualpa held captive, Pizzaro was essentially in control of the Inca Empire and ransomed him for gold, before eventually killing him. Pizarro then moved down to Cuzco, installing a puppet emperor and in merely a few years had replaced the empire with a working colonial model. Alongside colonialism, disease was the greatest threat to the Inca society and in less than 50 years the population dropped from 32 million to only five million due to ailments such as small pox, bubonic plague and influenza.
Peru’s riches made it important and Lima became the seat of one of two Spanish vice-royalties in the Americas. Gold, silver and other treasures were extracted from all over Peru, sent to Lima and from there onto Spain via Panama. Spanish conquerors extracted tribute from local people and took over towns, attempting to convert local populations to Christianity. There were a number of native rebellions and protests over harsh treatment.
By the late 18th century, the world was changing. The North America colonies were gaining independence and Peru’s people at all levels of society were discontent. When San Martin arrived in Peru, having already liberated Argentina and Chile he declared Peruvian Independence on July 28, 1821. The following year, San Martin met with Simon Bolivar, who had previously freed Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador and left Bolivar to continue liberating Peru. Despite gaining independence, Peru still had trouble including a brief war with the Spanish in 1866 and another with Chile in 1879-83 over natural resources in southern Peru, which they lost along with a sizeable portion of land.
The 20th century was characterised by a series of military coups and dictatorships, until civilian rule returned in 1980. From the 1980s to 1990s Peru was terrorised by Maoist guerilla group Sendero Luminoso, and during this time between 40,000 and 60,000 people died or disappeared. By the late 1980s, Peru’s economy was in ruins with hyperinflation and regular demonstrations and protests. President Alan Garcia was exiled after being accused of embezzling millions of dollars (although he would later be voted back in as president in 2006). In 1990 Alberto Fujimori was voted in as president and began a plan of severe austerity measures that were labelled ‘Fujishock’ and were able to stabilise the economy but at a massive cost to its people. Since the beginning of the 21st century Peru has enjoyed greater stability and economic growth.
Best time to visit Peru
Peru tours has diverse geography means that its seasons are slightly less than straightforward. The country falls in the southern hemisphere in the tropical and subtropical belts meaning most of the country has two seasons – wet and dry. The rainy season happens between December and February and this is the quietest time for travellers everywhere except on the coast, where sunny weather makes it the most popular time of year for beach activities.
The dry season is between June and August making this the most popular time for hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu. It is also the driest time in the Amazon Jungle, making it better for wildlife viewing, although be aware it is hot and humid in the jungle year-round. The coast, by contrast, is generally cool and misty though generally there is no need for more than a sweater at most.
On either side, the shoulder seasons provide a compromise between the two, with fewer travellers than the height of the dry season and the occasional rainstorms in the highlands.
When travel to Peru tours
The Inca Trail is closed for the month of February for maintenance, so those wishing to complete the hike should travel outside this month is without doubt the most requested for Peru tours.
As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Peru follows many of the churches celebrations, including its very own Carnaval, a smaller version of the elaborate events held in Brazil on the days proceeding the beginning of Lent. Carnaval in Peru is marked with parades, dancing, partying and water fights and falls in February and March (dates change year to year). Semana Santa (holy week) is the week leading up to Easter and is celebrated with stunning religious processions.
Inti Raymi in late June is the greatest of the Inca celebrations, marking the winter soltice. At Sacsayhuamen ruins at Cuzco, it is marked by an elaborate Inca play with vibrant costumes and characters from Incan mythology and history including the sun god, the Inca Queen and the high priest.
Guide to food in Peru
Peru’s cuisine has been experiencing a surge in popularity in recent years with chic Peruvian restaurants opening up in the world’s major cities and Lima coming to its own as a major culinary destination. The food on offer is a mixture of indigenous Indian cooking and hundreds of years of colonial influence, mostly Spanish, Italian and Chinise. As such western-style food such as burgers and fries, sausages, kebabs and empanadas are prevalent. Some packages includes this kind of experience for Peru tours.
The national dish is ceviche, a room temperature dish of acid-cooked fish marinated in lime juice, chillis, onions and coriander and served alongside sweet potato, corn and onions. Another local speciality is guinea pig which is usually oven-roasted and served with chips.
Salads are widely available, including huevos de la rusa (egg salad) and tomato salad. Stuffed avocado, called palta rellena, is a tasty snack and papas a la Huancaina are potatoes served cold with a spicy cheese sauce.
In Peru’s regions, the food varies. In the mountains, poptatoes and rice are staples served with meat. In the jungle bananas, plantain and yuca and more prevalent, along with rice and river fish. Occasionally this is supplemented by game such as wild pig.
Peru is also known for its beer and popular brews include Pilsen, Cristal and Cusqueña.
Peru tours – Top Attractions and Highlights
1. Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
This ruined Inca citadel was only rediscovered to the world in the early 20th century and despite its popularity with travellers it retains its mystery and dramatic air. Surrounded by steep peaks in the heart of the Andes, the ruins are accessible by train and bus or, for the more adventurous, by four day Inca walking path.
2. Amazon Jungle
Covering over half the country, the Amazon Jungle is an ecological treasure. Venture out from jungle cities Puerto Maldonado or Iquitos to experience one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. Spot monkeys, birds, river turtles, caiman, river otters and capybara in one of the world’s most important natural areas.
3. Lake Titicaca
As the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca is a marvel in itself. What draws many people to its waters however, is the unique cultures that live on the lake. Floating islands made of reeds are home to the Uros people who have been living this way for centuries. The (non-floating) islands also offer homestay opportunities where you can partake in the traditional way of life.
4. Ballestas Islands
These island lie off the coast of Peru, south of Lima, and offer refuge for many wildlife species. Home to sea lions, dolphins and Humboldt penguins, the archipelago can only be explored by boat as the islands themselves are protected. You can also see an array of interesting sea birds here including guanay cormorant, the Peruvian booby and the Peruvian pelican.
5. Nazca Lines
Found spread over 500 square kilometres of desert, these surreal line drawings have puzzled academics for many years. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s great mysteries. The best way to see the glyphs, including the lizard, monkey and condor, is by air. There are scenic flights available from the nearby town of Nazca.
6. Colca Canyon
Once colonised by pre-Inca civilisations, Colca Canyon is both a cultural and a natural highlight. It’s 3400 metres at its deepest point and 100kms long and the thermals caused by the canyon are the territory of the mighty condor, who float by on their updraughts.
Towering sand dunes will make you feel as though you are traversing the Sahara desert while the idyllic Huacachina Oasis stands out as an emerald jewel amongst the gold. With palm trees encircling its lagoon, the oasis is a tranquil setting, although as a hub for adventure activities it is not always tranquillity that visitors are after!
The nation’s capital, Lima’s museums are a great way to learn about its culture and early civilisations. As one of the world’s six cradles of civilisation, Peru is not short of items of antiquity. Once your curiosity is sated, wander through the city’s colonial heart to see its Baroque churches, before indulge in some of Lima’s famous food scene.
In an area that has been continuously inhabited since pre-colonial times, it is little wonder Cuzco is home to some delightful historic treasures. It was once the capital of the Inca empire and still holds the remnants of Inca temples which exist alongside elegant cathedrals and bustling squares. As the gateway to Machu Picchu it is also a bustling hub with lively nightlife.