A land of extreme contrast with arid deserts and immense tropical forests bisected by the jagged spine of the Andes on its journey from Venezuela to the Southern tip of Chile.
Peru has become an extremely popular destination for tourists who flock to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, the highest lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, the Inca ruins of Arequipa and the tropical rainforest and cloud forests of the Amazon.
You cannot go to Peru and not trek the Inca trail to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Make sure you arrive at the great ruin sat the right time, as any later than 8 in the morning and you will be swamped by busloads of tourists. Get there nice and early, get your pictures and hen scurry back into the jungle.
Other activities in Peru include sand boarding and plenty of trekking. Trek high in the Andes, in the heights of the Cordillera Blanca. Camp in small villages on the mountain side and visit the lively backpacker town of Huaraz.
Most people seem to neglect to visit Lima as part of their tour of Peru, but it is definitely worth the visit. In the business district of Miraflores there is a pre-Inca archaeological site called la Huaca Pucllana. It was originally a temple and a village of the Lima people but then they were conquered and it became a burial ground. The centre of Lima contains the Plaza Mayor where the palacio del gobierno (government palace) and the cathedral are. Horse and carriage trips can be made around the plaza. Further down is the Plaza San Miguel which has more colonial architecture and a park in the middle of it. The main shopping street is Jiron de la Union. A bus can also be taken from the plaza mayor to the cero san cristobal (Hill of San Cristobal) which is the highest point in Lima and has a huge illuminated cross and a museum at the top. It has a great view of the whole of Lima with the mountains in the background and also views of the pacific. Whilst in Lima a visit to polvos azules is always good- it is pirate heaven! There you can get dvds of films not yet in the cinema but in dvd quality for 3 or 4 soles each (roughly 6.5 soles = £1) plus video games, electronics, clothes....just about anything, all really cheap and not stolen from tourists.
The areas to avoid of Lima are: La Victoria, Surquillo, parts of El Cercado (where the peruvian gangsters used to live but you won't need to go there anyway as it is the industrial area), Lurin (although the ruins there are worth the risk), San Juan de Miraflores (not to be confused with Miraflores). If you are going to the centre of Lima (plaza mayor) don't go alone- there are odd bods there and quite a few pickpockets. The safest areas are Miraflores, San Isidro, La Molina, Surco, San Borja.
Do not give money to begging children anywhere in Peru. Often the children work in gangs and while you are fishing out money for one child the rest pounce on you. Other times the children are on the streets asking for money because it is more profitable for their parents than going to school. However, if a child is selling you sweets, do give if you can because they are official street children and that money is pretty much all they'll have to live on.
Also anywhere in Peru, do not get into unmarked taxis. Before getting into any taxi (other than those you have called yourself) take the registration number from the plates, the license number from the side of the cab and the name of the driver- it should be hanging from the mirror. Doing this discourages the person from assaulting you because you can identify him easily, plus it gives you a chance to report him should something go wrong. Yellow taxis are the best. Also the bigger the taxi the bigger the price. The cheapest taxis are ticos which are small tin boxes on wheels. They are comfortable but crumple in an instant should you be in an accident.
Do not drive in Peru if you can avoid it. The roads are crazy and while there are rules, they are largely ignored. If you cannot weave through traffic you cannot drive in Peru, especially Lima. Public transport is so cheap driving is not really necessary.
The popular tour to do in Peru is called the tourist trail. This is arriving in Lima and taking a flight straight out to Cusco, then going to Machu Picchu, sometimes on the Inca trail, then a bus or flight to Arequipa, bus to Puno to see Lake Titicaca then back to Lima. This is all well and good but there is more to see.
Rather than do the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, to the Sakantay- it is a lot quieter, you go to much less populous areas and see more picturesque things. Literally hundreds of tourists do the Inca Trail so it just feels like one big queue. Arrive at Machu Picchu as early as you can (it open at 6am) because the tourist train arrives there at 1pm and then it suddenly fills up with slow walking middle aged people. If you are tempted to walk up Wayna Picchu (the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu) book in advance as only 200 people are allowed to go up daily. It's worth it though as the views are impressive. When leaving Cusco by plane remember that you will have to pay your airport tax (around $8US per person) so don't spend all your money!
A great city to visit if you get the chance is Trujillo. It is a lovely colonial town and very picturesque. Iquitos is worth a visit too, as it sits on the edge of the jungle. From Pucallpa you can take a boat through the amazon rainforest which is lovely, but keep an ye on your possessions. Do not let them out of your sight. Some people make a very comfortable living stealing from sleeping tourists. Avoid the smaller towns in the jungle as the terrorist group el sendero luminoso (shining path) is still active around there. It isn't anything to worry about, just bear it in mind. WARNING: Malaria
Huaraz is a lovely mountainous region to the north east of Lima (about 6 hours in bus). It is very pretty but the altitude is a killer, as it is in Cusco. Just take it easy on your first day. It's great for skiing if you're into that, otherwise it is lovely for walking and horse riding as well as cycling.
In the north on the coast is Mancora. Mancora is surfing capital of South America and has many times been voted surfing capital of the world. It has white sandy beaches and great waves. There is also a wildlife sanctuary near by which has some lovely amazonian animals such as sloths. BEWARE: Malaria is common in this region.
To the south of Lima are the towns of Ica and Pisco, and the Nazca Lines. Ica and Pisco were hit very strongly by the earthquake in August 2007 and there isn't much left to the towns. Pisco is a crime hotspot so don't go there if you can avoid it. Ica has just rebuilt it's fallen hotels, so it is a great stop off for the Nazca Lines. The Nazca lines are drawings made in the desert by people of the Inca period and are vast. You can see them on foot, but it is preferable to take a small plane. This costs around $50. Book it while you are in Nazca so you can see the plane otherwise you may get duped. On the coast in the same area is a lovely national park. It has lots of rare species and backs onto the pacific where you can see seals :) However, it is not what it was as the earthquake killed quite a few animals and made many more run in fear. It is still worth a visit though.
Before you go to Peru make sure you have your tetanus, yellow fever, typhoid and polio vaccines up to date. Some others are available so ask your gp. If you are going to the following places malaria tablets are advised: Mancora, Tumbes, Iquitos, any part of the Amazon, Puno and the countryside around Cusco. Also beware: dengue fever is present in all of the aforementioned places, as well as the countryside of the Lima Province (Chosica). There is no vaccine for this, so wear lots of mosquito repellent and have a mosquito net over your bed.
Here are some prices you can expect to pay so you aren't ripped off: Taxi from Lima Airport to Miraflores: 15-20 soles. 30 soles absolute maximum (tourists have been known to be charged 30 dollars or more) Taxi from Lima Airport to Lima Centre- 10-15 soles, more if you have many bags. 25 soles maximum Taxi from Miraflores to Lima Centre- 9 soles Taxi from Miraflores to Polvos Azules- 5 soles Taxi from Cusco Airport to Cusco Centre- 3 to 5 soles Taxi from Cusco to Oxapampa: 30 soles per person 500ml bottle of water or soft drink- 1 sol (always check it is properly sealed) A bus ride from Miraflores to Lima centre- 1 sol A dvd in Polvos Azules- 4 soles max, 3 dvds for 10 soles
If you want to take a bus from Miraflores to Lima centre, get on Av. Arequipa (where pizza hut and parque kennedy are) and get off where the bus ends which is Tacna. Then walk straight ahead across the road. Be careful on the buses though- they are not in good shape and are filled to bursting point.
Finally, if you are going to Peru from Ecuador or vice versa, do not drive or take a bus or taxi. It is a dangerous border crossing and there are many armed robberies, and thefts done by the guards themselves. Fly there where possible.
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