You want to get the most out of your trip to Peru in the time that you have available. Here are some ideas for structuring your travels. Unless you have a solid month to spend, you probably won’t get to see as much of Peru as you’d wish, at least on a first trip. Peru is deceptively large, and at least as important are the considerable geographic and transportation barriers that complicate zipping around the country. Some regions require difficult travel by land, with no air access. It’s ill-advised to try to do too much in too short a period; in addition to travel distances and transportation routes, you’ve got to take into account other factors—such as jet lag and acclimatization to high altitude—that require most visitors to slow down. Of course, slowing down is never a bad thing, so feel free to trim the itinerary, too—particularly since several of the itineraries are go, go, go—and add days in a particularly relaxing place, such as the Sacred Valley or the beaches south of Lima.
Regions in Brief
Peru shares borders with Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south. It lies just below the Equator and is the third-largest country in South America—larger than France and Spain combined, covering an area of nearly 1,300,000 sq. km (500,000 sq. miles). Peruvians will tell you that their country comprises three distinct geological components: coast, sierra (highlands), and selva (jungle). The capital, Lima, and most major cities are on the coast, but the Amazon rainforest, which makes up nearly two-thirds of Peru, and the bold Andes mountain range dominate its topography.
The Central Coast: The Pacific coastal region is a narrow strip that runs from one end of the country to the other (a distance of some 2,200km/1,400 miles) and is almost entirely desert. Lima, the capital, lies about halfway down the coast. To the south, in one of the driest areas on Earth, are Pisco, Ica, and Paracas, the cradle of several of Peru’s most important ancient civilizations, as well as the Ballestas Islands, promoted locally as “Peru’s Galápagos” for their diverse indigenous fauna. The area is especially prone to earthquakes, such as the devastating one that struck the region in August 2007.
Cusco & the Sacred Valley: The dramatic Andes mountains in south-central Peru contain the country’s most famous sights, including the former Inca capital of Cusco and scenic highland villages that run the length of the beautiful Sacred Valley. Cusco sits at an elevation of some 3,400m (11,000 ft.). The valley is dotted with singularly impressive Inca ruins, of which Machu Picchu (and the Inca Trail leading to it) is undoubtedly the star. Indigenous culture is particularly strong in the region.
Machu Picchu: You immediately get a sense of how quickly the landscape can change on the train ride between Cusco and Machu Picchu when you suddenly have the need to take off your jacket. The ancient city is found in the high jungle 2,430m (7,972 ft.) above sea level, a meeting point between the Andes and the Amazon Basin. The sparsely populated surrounding region is home to various tropical microclimates teeming with rare flora and fauna that includes countless species of orchids, as well as spectacled bears, condors, and the Andean cock-of-the-rock.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.