Skip to navigation Skip to content
Search
  • *

Mysterious ruins, lonely mountain peaks and a fascinating culture await, as you explore the enigma of Peru

Long and thin, Peru stretches a staggering 1,500 miles along South America’s Pacific coastline, and is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. As you travel inland from the coast, arid desert gives way to fertile valleys and the lofty peaks of the Andean cordillera, before plunging down into a vast tract of tropical Amazon rainforest.

This is a land home to an incredible array of both natural and manmade wonders, with a mind-boggling number of pre-Columbian ruins to explore and a veritable kaleidoscope of plant and animal wildlife. Follow in the footsteps of explorer Hiram Bingham and discover the majestic Machu Picchu, learn about tribal cultures in the Sacred Valley and set a tentative foot on to the floating reed islands of high-altitude Lake Titicaca.

 

Things to do

Take a narrow-gauge railway journey through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, explore the beautiful city of Arequipa or cruise enchanting Lake Titicaca – our escorted tours take in all the highlights and then some! For a high-altitude experience, book our Andes Active Explorer holiday and travel from the Peruvian Andes into Bolivia and Chile.

Discover both ancient and modern culture on city tours of Lima and Cusco, or combine a trip to Machu Picchu with a holiday in the Galapagos Islands. Peru is also a stop on several of our cruises - explore South and Central America and the Caribbean by boat, or book a berth on our epic Around the World cruise.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

This is the heartland of the Inca Empire and everywhere you look you’ll see evidence of this remarkable kingdom. Perched among the peaks of the high Andes is the famed Machu Picchu, and in the surrounding Urubamba River valley (the Sacred Valley) you’ll find a whole host of archaeological treasures, from the Inca citadels of Ollantaytambo and Pisac, to the impressive concentric circles of Moray.

Cusco is the main base for travellers in the region – as such it has many lively streets and bars, as well as museums showcasing indigenous crafts. There are lots archaeological sites to explore too.

Puno

Both a province and a city, Puno lies in the high Andean plains at an altitude or more than 13,000 feet above sea level – take deep breaths! The city of Puno sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca and is a fun, if somewhat ramshackle place, from where travellers gaze out across the impossibly blue lake and take boat trips to discover the fascinating indigenous cultures on the islands of Taquile and Amantani, as well as the famed floating reed islands of Uros.

Lima

This sprawling city stretches along the Pacific coastal desert and is fast becoming a foodie mecca. Far and away the culinary capital of South America, Lima is the place to be when it comes to fine dining. Feast on the fresh flavours of ceviche, Asian fusion and Andean fare, then sip a pisco sour or three and catch a live folk music show in the lively neighbourhoods of Barranco or Miraflores.

Northern Coastal Peru

As well as being popular with Pacific coast surfers, the north is home to many of Peru’s less famous pre-Columbian archaeological sites. Explore the sedate and well-preserved colonial city centres of Trujillo and Chiclayo, before taking in the impressive ancient adobe city of Chan-Chan, once the largest city in all of the Americas.

Southern Coastal Peru

To the south, the desert turns into a playground in the oasis town of Huacachina, where the adventurous cruise down giant dunes atop sand boards. The mysterious Nazca Lines are etched into the dry, desert plains here, while the protected Paracas Peninsula is busy with birdlife. Much further south, the delightful colonial town of Arequipa drowses at the feet of three volcanoes, while condors soar through the breathtaking Colca Canyon nearby.

 

Culture

Peru is a melting pot of cultures with the heart of the ancient Inca Empire at its root. This enchanting country is peppered with archaeological sites and lost civilisations, leaving a legacy on the country’s traditions and customs of today.

In 1532, Spain defeated and captured the Incan Emperor, and officially established Peru. For hundreds of years Peru was under the control of the Spanish, heavily influencing the Peruvian way of life, from their language and cuisine to their music, art and religion.

Although Catholicism is predominant – another legacy of the Spanish – Peru’s culture allows for freedom of religion among its people. A traditional way of life is still practiced by the highland Indians who live in the Peruvian Andes, arguably the most spectacular mountains on the continent.

Local specialities worth tasting include ceviche – seafood cooked in lemon or lime juice and lechón – suckling pig, all washed down with a zingy Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink made using brandy, lemon juice, egg whites and sugar.

You may, however, wish to avoid the traditional dish, cuy (‘coo-ee’) which is better known as guinea pig. Amazingly, an estimated 65 million are consumed annually in Peru.

Paddington Bear aside, there may not be many famous Peruvians that spring to mind, although renowned fashion photographer Mario Testino – who’s captured the likes of Diana, Princess of Wales and Kate Moss on camera – was born in Peru.

Taking a look back at Peru’s past, the earliest inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, with coastal settlements beginning to take shape in around 3,000 BC. Archaeological evidence reveals that sophisticated civilisations developed from around this time, with temples and agricultural finds still being excavated to this day. In around AD 100 the Moche civilisation came to power in the North, and later the Chimu, but all the while Peru was split into various tribal chieftains.

It was not until the dawning of the most famous of Peru’s pre-Columbian civilisations – the Inca Empire - that expansionism really took hold in Peru. Yet despite all their fame, the Inca’s were only actually in power for less than a century.

The Cusco region of the Andes was their initial stronghold, and from the mid 15th century they expanded their empire rapidly, battling as far north as Colombia and as far south as central Chile, as well as conquering much of the Andean regions of Bolivia and Argentina. It was during this time that they built a network of mountaintop citadels – most famously, Machu Picchu.

After invading the Aztec and Mayan lands of Central America, the Spanish turned their attention to Peru in the early 1500s. Arriving in the midst of civil war, and with far superior military clout, they quickly drove the Incas into the mountains and seized power. Spain went on to found Lima, and from there they controlled Peru for the proceeding centuries.

In 1780 an indigenous uprising was brutally quashed by the Spanish and Túpac Amaru II, the last known royal Inca, was executed. In the early 19th century, much of Spanish-ruled South America began to demand independence, and in 1826 Peru joined them. It wasn’t all plain sailing from there, and in the years that followed there was war, dictatorships and military coups to endure.

Today though, the country is at peace and optimistically looks to the future.

 


Places in Peru

Machu Picchu

A journey to mysterious Machu Picchu