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Peru's irresistible attraction is impossible to pinpoint: with its stunning Andean landscapes, large slice of tropical untouched rainforest and breathtaking remnants of one of the oldest ancient civilizations, it really does have it all and is spectacular. Indeed, the amazing Incan ruins of Machu Picchu are almost enough incentive for any trip to Peru. Considered one of the forgotten wonders of the modern world, the city was built in the sixteenth century as a holy city on the mountain of Machu Picchu by the Incan emperor. Overlooking the Urubambu River and the formidable Andean ranges, travellers to the city will undoubtedly find it a surreal destination.
That said, Peru's array of attractions ensures that travellers will find themselves in the pleasant dilemma of picking which one to focus their attention on.
Some of the oldest civilizations appeared circa 6000 BC in the coastal provinces of Chilca and Paracas, and in the highland province of Callejón de Huaylas. Over the following three thousand years, inhabitants switched from nomadic lifestyles to cultivating land, as evidence from sites such as Jiskairumoko, Kotosh, and Huaca Prieta demonstrates. The first more familiar cultures are the Norte Chico civilization, from c. 3000 BC, and the Chavin culture, which emerged c. 900 BC. The Paracas culture emerged on the southern coast around 300 BC. Coastal cultures such as the Moche and Nazca flourished from about 100 BC to about 700 AD.
The Incas created the vastest dynasty of pre-Columbian America. The empire reached its greatest extension at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It dominated a territory that included from north to south Ecuador, part of Colombia, the northern half of Chile, and the north-west part of Argentina; and from west to east, from Bolivia to the Amazonian forests and Peru. The empire originated from a tribe based in Cuzco, which became the capital.
Francisco Pizarro and his brothers were attracted by the news of a rich and fabulous kingdom. In 1532, they arrived in the country, which they called Peru. At that moment, the Inca Empire was preoccupied by a five-year civil war between two princes, Huáscar and Atahualpa. Taking advantage of this, Pizarro c.s., on November 16, 1532, while the natives were in a celebration in Cajamarca, in a surprise move captured the Inca Atahualpa during the Battle of Cajamarca. When Huascar was killed, the Spanish tried and convicted Atahualpa of the murder, executing him by strangulation.
A census taken by the last Quipucamayoc indicated that there were 12 million inhabitants of Inca Peru; 45 years later, under viceroy Toledo, the census figures amounted to only 1,1 million Indians.
Lima was established as a center for many political and administrative institutions. In 1542, the Viceroyalty of Peru was built to unite Spanish royal authority over its vast territories across South America that includes Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and half of Venezuela.
Jose de San Martin of Argentina proclaimed the independence of Peru in Lima on July 28, 1821 as a result of many uprisings towards independence. But it was only in 1879 when Spain finally recognized Peru’s sovereignty. Soon after, Peru engaged in many intermittent territorial disputes conflicts with its neighbors such as Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador. Political and economic stability were attained during the early 1900s, after the Pacific War was over and the government begun initiating numerous social reforms.
After a dozen years of military rule, Peru returned to democratic leadership in 1980, but experienced economic problems and the growth of a violent insurgency. President Alberto Fujimori's election in 1990 ushered in a decade that saw a dramatic turnaround in the economy and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity.
The presidential election of 2006 saw the return of Alan Garcia who, after a disappointing presidential term from 1985 to 1990, returned to the presidency with promises to improve social conditions and maintain fiscal responsibility
Peru has 3 main geographical regions: the coast, the Andes mountains and the jungle around the Amazon River. The weather and landscape varies distinctly because of this clear division into 3 regions.
The coastal strip is a dry and relatively cool area, especially when you consider that it is actually in the tropics. But the cold Humboldt Current means that cold air, which is heavier than warm air, stays below the warm air. It is also drier, which means less rain fall, so some areas don't see more than about 50 mm of rain a year, sometimes less, although foggy and cloudy days are much more common. Nothing much grows here, nor in the Andes or Amazon areas. Instead, there is a fertile zone in between the coastal area and the Andes, where weather conditions are fine enough to grow crops and raise some stock. Behind this zone the Andes towers up to over 6,700 metres, one of the highest mountain ranges in the western hemisphere. Then the land drops dramatically again towards the low-lying area of the Amazon basin, where tropical rainforest and rivers are the norm - and roads, people and bearable temperatures are not. Peru shares international borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile.
The following is a list of geographical regions and the 25 administrative regions plus a province (Lima) they are divided into. There is also a administrative region, called Lima, so it gets confusing sometimes.
|Central Coast||Lima Region, Lima Province, Callao|
|Southern Coast||Arequipa, Ica, Moquegua and Tacna|
|Northern Coast||Ancash, La Libertad, Lambayeque, Piura, Tumbes|
|Southern Sierra||Ayacucho, Apurimac, Huancavelica|
|Cordillera Blanca||Huanuco, Pasco, Junin|
|Northern Sierra||San Martin, Cajamarcas|
|Central East||Madre de Dios, Ucayali|
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and sits beneath the stunning El Misti Volcano. Known as 'The White City' due to the fact that many of the cities buildings are made from a white volcanic rock, it lies at approximately 2,300 metres, giving it a pleasent year round temperature. It is also the gateway to the Colca Canyon. The historic centre of Arequipa was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
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Main article: Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu does not need a real introduction, since it's one of the most famous attractions in Peru, South America and the world at large. Not known to the outside world until about 100 years ago, when it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, this former Inca city can only be reached by train or by a multi day hike on the Inca Trail.
The Colca Canyon is a very spectacular landscape in the south of Peru and although it can be done as a daytrip from Arequipa, it needs at least several days to explore, both by car and on foot. The deepest part of the canyon reaches a depth of over 3,000 metres and travelling to the canyon will mean you have to travel by car up to 4,800 metres. This can be literally a breathtaking experience. You will be rewarded with magnificent views and great wildlife, like vicunas (wild relative of llama and alpaca) and the mighty Andean condor. For the adventurous types there are multiple day hikes, with camping en route.
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Manú National Park is a very large park and is located in the south of Peru, north of the city of Cuzco. The park ranges in elevation from 150 to 4,200 metres above sea-level, meaning high biological diversity in this area and is therefore on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Over 850 species of birds call this park home and species like the giant otter and the giant armadillo also live in this great park. Even jaguars are often sighted in the park. The park is most easliy reached by a 45-minute flight from Cusco.
The Nazca Lines are located in the south of Peru, about 400 kilometres south of the capital Lima and represent one of those almost unearthy experience you can have on our planet when you fly above them.
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The historical cities of Lima and Arequipa are both on the Unesco World Heritage list and represent one of the finest examples of colonial building styles in the country. Arequipa is one of the most favorites cities amongst travellers in Peru with its integration of European and native building techniques and characteristics.
Although Puno itself is not of particular interest, it is a perfect base to explore Lake Titicaca and its islands, including the floating Uros islands. Although the latter ones are relatively touristy it nevertheless is worth visiting. Other islands including the Isla del Sol, Isla Amantani and Isla Taquile.
Like many other countries in the Amazon Rainforest, Peru offers the opportunity to travel along the mighty Amazon river from Pucallpa all the way to the border with Brazil and Colombia. There are some fine opportunities to base yourself in forest lodges from the city of Iquitos in the northeast of the country, the largest city in the world only to be reached by boat or plane.
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Peru offers one of the most scenic mountain ranges in the continent and Huascaran National Park in the Cordillera Blanca is probably the most spectactular. Mountains to be climbed include Mount Huascaran (6,768 metres above sea level) and it is best to base yourself in the town of Huaraz first.
Generally, Peru has a dry and cool season from June to September and a wetter, warmer season from December to February. But both temperature and rainfall (or snow in the mountains) vary enormously according to elevation or the geographical zone it is in. For example, rainfall is almost non-existent along the coastline and Lima has very little rainfall a year. South from Lima, the Atacama desert goes years without a single drop of rain at all. Temperatures in Lima are consistent throughout the year, with January to March a bit warmer with temperatures during the day around 25 °C. Nights don't cool off as much in Lima as they do in places like Arequipa, which is a bit cooler during the day but has night temperatures close to 0 °C, which is basically a consequence of its elevation of 2,300 metres. Higher, at 3,300 metres, Cusco has even colder temperatures with nights below zero in July and August and a distinct rainy season from December to March. The Amazon basin has its own climate, with high rainfall every month (although December to March are particularly wet) and temperatures of 30 °C or more during the day and barely below 20 °C at night.
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The Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) in Lima is the most important international airport. It has direct flights from several cities in the USA, like Miami, and from Europe (Amsterdam and Madrid). It has also good connections with main cities in South America, including Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, La Paz, Santiago and Quito. A rather alternative way of leaving the country is by water plane from Iquitos to the triple frontier with Brazil and Colombia in the Amazon.
Peru has good bus connections with neighbouring countries and even beyond to countries like Colombia. Daily connections link La Paz in Bolivia with both Puno and Cusco in Peru. Also, buses make their way from Lima south and north along the Panamerican Highway towards Santiago de Chile and all the way north to Quito and on to Bogota.
There are not many border crossings in the Amazon but from Puerto Maldonado you can take buses to the border of Brazil, where you have to cross the river by foot and take buses from there onwards. Crossing the border actually can be done on foot or by boat and is between Inapari (Peru) and Assis Brazil (Brazil), from where it is a further 4.5 hours to Rio Branco.
Lake Titicaca has some expensive options for getting to Peru from Bolivia or the other way around. A more realistic option of leaving Peru by boat is from Iquitos to the triple frontier with Brazil and Colombia, travelling the mighty Amazon river. This takes about 10 hours by fast boat and 2 days by slow boat. There also is a crossing in the extreme southeast (close to Bolivia) where you can cross the Rio Acre by ferry from Inapari to Assia Brazil. Finally, there are even possibilities to get a cargo ship to Ecuador about once every 10 days.
There is a good internal flight network operated by LAN Peru among others. You can fly to all major cities in Peru from Lima and many of the flights have several stops (for example Lima -> Cusco -> Juliaca (Puno) -> Arequipa -> Lima) so it is possible to travel between these cities without returning to Lima. This doesn't apply to all cities though and although there are plans for direct flights between for example Cusco and Iquitos, it still involves flying to Lima first. Domestic destinations other than those mentioned above include Andahuaylas, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Huánuco, Piura, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, Trujillo, Tumbes and other cities. Other carriers include Star Peru, TACA Peru, Aero Condor Peru and LC Busre.
It is possible to Travel between Cusco and Machu Picchu and Cusco and Puno by train. Check the Peru Rail website for more information. There are also tourist service on renovated trains between Lima and Huancayo, usually twice each month. This spectacular route is the second highest railway in the world after the railway in Tibet was completed recently. For more information regarding schedule and prices, including buying tickets, check the Ferro Carril Central website.
The Pan American highway runs through (or at least nearby) to all the major cities close to the coast. Heading inland and into the Andes roads between major cities are largely in good condition and mostly tarmac. However straying from these roads will usually involve travelling on dirt tracks of varying grades, during the rainy season road travel can take considerably longer and some roads may be impassable. Roads in the Amazon are particularly perilous and ideally you would want a 4x4. Places like Iquitos aren't even accessible by land so need to go here.
To discover Peru by car is a comfortable way and highly recommendable, but for travelling securely you should observe two things: take a good road map with you and travel well informed about your route.
If you want you can rent cars in major cities and airports from companies such as Hertz and Avis. The minimum age to rent a car is 18.
Peru has and an excellent and cheap bus network that runs between all the major towns and tourist attractions. They range from the cheap and crowded local buses to the air conditioned first class inter city buses with tvs, reclining seats and hostess services, but even these are cheap compared to other countries. Longer trips often have overnight buses available and if you buy one of the better class tickets you will easily be able to sleep.
There are numerous companies and one of the biggest and most reliable is Cruz del Sur. Also, Ormeno is recommended for being punctual and has reliable and frequent services between most major cities and towns.
For an overview of schedules and connections, also international ones, see thebusschedule.com.
Travelling by boat in Peru usually is a good way to get around in the Amazonian area. There are services between Pucallpa and Iquitos, taking 4 days downstream and up to week upstream. From Iquitos, you can travel further to the border with Colombia and Brazil at Tabatinga, taking 1 or 2 days on a slowboat, much less on one of the regular fast boats. There are also boats on Lake Titicaca, if you want to visit several islands (including the floating islands on a tour) from Puno. Finally, you can get to several of the islands off the coast of Peru, including tours to the Ballestas Islands, where there is an abundance of wildlife waiting for you.
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See also Money Matters
The local currency is the Nuevo Sol, often written as 'S/'. US dollars are widely accepted and prices for hotels and flights are often quoted in USD. You will not have trouble changing Pounds Sterling or Euros in the cities. All of the tourist cities and towns have cambios where you can change money, and often you will find people changing money on the street sometimes they offer a better deal, sometimes they will rip you off so take care if using the street changers. Try to get your money in the smallest denominations you can (no higher than S/50) or you will find it very difficult to spend the larger notes outside of large hotels or expensive restaurants and you may find yourself standing by a stall for five minutes whilst the owner runs around looking for change.
Peru in one of the best places in South America to learn Spanish and there are many language schools offering Spanish courses. There are quite a few options, with some of the best ones being:
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Latin American Spanish, and Peruvian Spanish, do differ slightly in pronunciation and some words compared to European Spanish, it's unlikely that you will not be understood if you are speaking European Spanish.
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Peru has a wide range of traditional foods as well as the ever popular pollerias (chicken restaurants). Meals can be had for less than US$1 in many restaurants across the country and eating in one of the most expensive restaurants in town is unlikely to set you back more than US$20.
Traditional meats include Guinea Pig and Alpaca, though by far the most popular meat is chicken. There are many traditional dishes such as lomo saltado (stir fried beef strips, onion, pepper and chips), empanadas (shredded meat wrapped in pastry and deep fried) and ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice - be picky where you eat this as it's particularly susceptible to bugs).
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Peru. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Peru. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A and yellow fever (only for the eastern parts in the Amazon) vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country, but only below 2,000 metres in the east of the country and along the border with Ecuador. It is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
The Travel Medicine & International Vaccination Center is the first medicine center for travellers in Peru and represents a joint effort of GIPEIT (Peruvian Group for Research in Infectious and Tropical Diseases) and the Tropical Medicine Institute “Daniel A. Carrión” of the UNMSM. This is a center affiliated with the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) through its members. It offers specialized individual attention to travellers, and give direction to companies, public and private institutions through consultancies and conferences.
If you have any medical problems you can visit a pharmacy (farmacia) in most towns and cities who will be able to give you tablets for many problems, eg cipro for a badly upset stomach, or antibiotics for chest infections. Medicine is cheap and the pharmacist will give advice for free. If you need stitching up or want to seek proper medical attention even the smallest of villages will usually have a clinic where you can be seen by a doctor for next to nothing.
See also Travel Safety
There is a high security presence in cities like Lima and Cusco that are popular with tourists and you should safe from any violent crimes in the main areas of these cities. The main problem you will face is pick pocketing, so try to ensure your money/wallet/purse is securely stored and keep your hands in your pockets in high risk areas like markets and bus stations.
You should also try to use only official taxis, which will normally have large stickers on the wind screen and the number plate written on the rearside panel of the car. Still, even in those cases, taxi drivers are sometimes involved in robbing tourists. Don't let any other person in the car with you and preferably call a taxi from your hotel, restaurant or café before. That way the taxi is registrated in the general system.
If you do run into problems you should seek the tourist police who will be able to help you. However if your reporting a theft then it can take hours to fill in the forms as the police are cracking down on tourists making false claims which unfairly make the country look like it suffers from higher crime rates than it actually does.
Internet cafés can be found in all towns and cities and usually costs less than US$1 per hour. Connection speeds are obviously considerably lower the more remote you are and the more people using the café.
See also International Telephone Calls
Peru's country code is +51.
Phone cards are cheap and easily available from shops or vendors who hang around pay phones. You'll often see people with a bundle of mobile phones who act as pay phones, they'll be shouting 'llamadas'. Telephone booths are primarily used for making local calls. Calling to other countries from Peru is expensive.
Check the Serpost website, the national postal service (a private company), for more information about prices and options regarding the sending of postcards, letters and parcels. The post service is relatively efficient and post offices can be found in most cities and (larger) towns. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 8:00pm Monday to Saturday and some are open on Sundays from 9:00am to 1:00pm. Postcards are available from street vendors and shops at any touristy area, and stamps are generally available as well, though sometimes only at the post office itself. It takes at least 10 days to send a postcard to North America and prices start at S/5.5. To Europe it is S/7.8 and it takes even a bit longer, around 2 weeks. For little extra money, you can choose 'expresso' services. For large parcels and quantities, you can use both Serpost or a company like DHL which is faster and offers the same prices, though it is still relatively expensive. UPS for some reason is much more expensive in Peru!
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Ask Sander a question about Peru
I explored a decent part of Peru during a month-long visit. Did the classic gringo trail (Lima, Arequipa (+ Colca Canyon), Puno, Cuzco (+ Inca Trail to Machu Picchu), and then went up north to Caraz to do some hiking in the Cordillera Blanca.
Ask luisjesus a question about Peru
All about Places, ruins, food, discos, guides, buses, prices, hotels, flights, restaurants, tickets, museums, beaches, Spanish classes, city tours. All the information you NEED to know about Peru.
I am Luis from Peru, and I can help you. I have been travelling around my country, and I would like to share my experiences, and advices to make your trip safe and unforgettable.
Enjoy your trip
Ask csfreixo a question about Peru
I've done the route La Paz (BO) - Titicaca Lake - Cuzco(PE) by land some time ago. Any tips? Get in touch, so.
Ask ehuaman a question about Peru
It is my country. I know almost everything about perú. I am a traveler too
Ask cbr600 a question about Peru
I spent a couple of months travelling around Peru in 2008 and I returned here in 2011 and am still here, working voluntarily with an organisation dealing with marine conservation. I am currently based in Lima, spending a lot of time working out of the port of Pucusana.
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