Aguas Calientes is a town in the Urubamba River Valley, in southeast Peru. It’s known for its thermal baths and as a gateway to the nearby Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The town centre is full of eateries and shops, anchored by the central Mercado Artesanal, a craft market. Northwest, along the river, are Los Jardines de Mandor gardens with orchids and birds. The nearby Butterfly House is a local conservation also known as Machupicchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes, is the seat of the Machupicchu District which lies at the Vilcanota River. It is the closest access point to the historical site of Machu Picchu which is 6 km away or about 1.5 hours walk. Machupicchu Pueblo did not exist until the railroad was built, as it was a centre for construction workers. It took off after the railroad opened in 1931 and foreign tourists started arriving to visit the Machu Picchu ruins. It came into existence because enterprising individuals set up businesses serving the tourists, primarily restaurants and small hotels.
Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, was once capital of the Inca Empire, and is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. Plaza de Armas is the central square in the old city, with arcades, carved wooden balconies and Incan wall ruins. The baroque Santo Domingo Convent was built on top of the Incan Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha) and has archaeological remains of Inca stonework. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the starting point to the most spectacular things to do in Peru like Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. It is a very safe city, a little more expensive than other cities in Peru but the world-class restaurants are worth the extra dollars. Known to the Incas as the “navel of the world”, colourful Cusco was built by the Spanish on the remains of Inca temples and palaces and is as rich in human activity today as it must have been at the height of the empire.
Lake Titicaca, straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes Mountains, is one of South America's largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water. Said to be the birthplace of the Incas, it is home to numerous ruins and its waters are famously still and brightly reflective. Around it is Titicaca National Reserve, sheltering rare aquatic wildlife such as giant frogs. At 284m deep and more than 8300 sq km, it is an immense region both in terms of its history and the breadth of its magical landscape - the Titicaca Basin makes most people feel like they are on top of the world. Usually placid and mirror-like, the deep blue water reflects the vast sky back on itself. All along the horizon (which appears to bend away from you) the green Andean mountains can be seen raising their ancient backs towards the sun; over on the Bolivian side it is sometimes possible to make out the icecaps of the Cordillera Real mountain chain. The high altitude (3827m above sea level) means that recent arrivals from the coast should take it easy for a day or two, though those coming from Cusco will already have acclimatized.
Lima, the capital of Peru, lies on the country's arid Pacific coast. Though its colonial centre is preserved, it's a bustling metropolis and one of South America’s largest cities. It's home to the Museo Larco collection of pre-Columbian art and the Museo de la Nación, tracing the history of Peru’s ancient civilizations. The Plaza de Armas and the 16th-century cathedral are the heart of old Lima Centro. Explore the capital city’s museums and colonial architecture and enjoy the upmarket neighbourhood of Miraflores. Give in to tempting gourmet treats and exotic culinary experiences. Take a stroll through Parque del Amor with views of the Pacific Ocean, or Parque Kennedy for its evening craft market. Lima, filled with colonial-era riches, is the only capital in South America that faces the sea, and it is hailed as the gastronomic capital of Latin America.
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it is renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery. Long before dawn, visitors eagerly queue up outside the bus depot in Aguas Calientes, hoping to be one of the first persons to enter the site. The first 400 people who sign in are eligible to climb Huayna Picchu (the small green peak, shaped like a rhino horn, that appears in the background of many photos of Machu Picchu.) Almost no one bothers to ascend the pinnacle that anchors the opposite end of the site, which is usually called Machu Picchu Mountain. At 500 metres (1,640 feet) it is twice as tall, and the views it offers of the area surrounding the ruins, especially the white Urubamba River winding around Machu Picchu like a coiled snake, are spectacular.
Ollantaytambo is a village in the Sacred Valley of south Peru, set on the Urubamba River amid snow-capped mountains. It is known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain. The village's old town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings. Peruvians have been living here since the 13th century and it is called Ollanta by the locals. The terraced ruins of the fortress are impressive as are the soaring Andes mountains. Ollantaytambo altitude is 2800 metres - not as high as Cusco but expect to be short of breath especially when climbing to the top of the Ollantaytambo ruins.
Pisac is a village in southern Peru’s Sacred Valley region known for its lively handicrafts market in the main square. A path winds from the square past agricultural terraces up to Pisac Archaeological Park, a hilltop Incan citadel with ancient temples, plazas and the Intihuatana, a stone structure thought to have been a sundial. Views from the top stretch across the Quitamayo gorge and surrounding valley. This Andean, hippy town of Pisac has become a popular destination in the Sacred Valley – not just because of its proximity to Cusco. The small, Andean community keeps its traditional way of life and offers visitors spectacular Inca ruins that cling to the cliffside high above the town. The confluence of Andean traditions and new-age mysticism, together with plenty of textiles and souvenir shopping, makes Pisac an interesting visit.
Puno is a city in southern Peru on Lake Titicaca, one of South America's largest lakes and the world's highest navigable body of water. A regional trading hub, the city's also considered Peru's "folkloric capital," owing to its traditional festivals featuring vibrant music and dancing. Landmarks include the Andean baroque-style Puno Cathedral and the Yavari, a 19th-century steamship. The fascinating floating Uros Islands are what draw visitors to Puno in droves. Founded by the Uros people hundreds of years ago, the islands have been artificially made from native totora reeds and once served as a refuge from the expansion of the Inca empire. These days, the Uros meticulously maintain their traditional homes to attract visitors and although undeniably touristy, the incredible ingenuity of these resilient people make the attraction entirely worthwhile.
The Sacred Valley is a region in Peru's Andean highlands. The beautiful Río Urubamba Valley, known as El Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley), is about 15km north of Cuzco as the condor flies, via a narrow road of hairpin turns. Along with the nearby town of Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, it formed the heart of the Inca Empire. Stretching roughly 60km, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Its myriad trekking routes are deservedly gaining in popularity. Adrenaline activities range from rafting to rock climbing.
The main draw for most travellers to Peru is trekking through the awe-inspiring Andes to the world famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. As well as this treasure, Peru also boasts a staggering array of landscapes, puzzling geoglyphs in the arid plains of Nazca, the lush Amazon jungle in the east and excellent surf in the northwest of the country.
There is so much to discover when travelling in Peru, from exotic jungle to coastal desert via the breath-taking peaks of the Andes.
Lima, Peru’s capital, with its array of lifestyles, cultures, and colonial elegance, has interesting museums and galleries, as well as lively bars and excellent restaurants. Cusco, which is also the gateway to Machu Picchu, has a wealth of preserved Incan architecture, along with a buzzing nightlife making it a highlight for any trip to Peru.
The southern part of Peru covers the mysterious Nazca Lines which are a series of giant animal figures and geometric shapes, etched into the bleak landscape of the Pampa. Further south is Peru’s second city and UNESCO World Heritage site, Arequipa, and within easy reach is Colco Canyon. Twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon it is a trekkers delight.
Lake Titicaca is the world’s largest high-altitude body of water and is an undeniably calming and magical sight, with the deep blue water reflecting from the vast clear sky. The Amazon, which is teeming with wildlife covers over half of Peru and wonderful to explore.
When to Visit
Spring (September to November) is an ideal time to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu, as it rarely rains. Due to the good weather this does make the areas busier. Coastal temperatures are much cooler, but still quite pleasant, as is Lima and Trujillo.
It is hot in the rainforest and is a good time to explore its flora, fauna, and wildlife. It is also a good time to visit Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
Summer (December to February) can be the best time of year to visit especially travelling to the coastal regions in the north. Expect temperatures to be hot and sunny with little rain fall. In the Andes and Amazon Basin expect the rainy season with water levels high, but flora and fauna abundant. Note that the Inca Trail often closes during February due to possible landslides. Machu Picchu does remain open during this time.
Autumn (March to May) time is still hot in the coastal areas, but temperatures do begin to drop. In Machu Picchu it is the end of the rainy season and by May expect the area to be warmer and drier. This time of year tends to be a little quieter. In the Amazon this is the rainy season, and the vegetation is lush.
Winter (June to August) can be busy at Machu Picchu as it the peak time to visit. At this time of year there is less rain in the Andes and a good time for trekking and climbing. You will see stunning clear blue skies and mountain peaks. A grey mist shrouds Lima at this time of year and the temperatures are much milder on the coast.
It is the dry season in the Amazon and temperatures are hot and humid with much less rainfall.
The currency of Peru is nuevo sol (‘new sun’) and comes in denominations of S10, S20, S50, S100 and (rarely) S200. It is divided into 100 céntimos, with copper-coloured coins of S0.05, S0.10 and S0.20, and silver-coloured S0.50 and S1 coins. In addition, there are bimetallic S2 and S5 coins with a copper-coloured centre inside a silver-coloured ring.
US dollars are accepted by many tourist-oriented businesses, though you will need nuevos soles to pay for local transportation, meals and other incidentals.
Counterfeit bills (in both US dollars and nuevo soles) often circulate in Peru. Merchants question both worn and large-denomination bills. Travellers should also refuse to accept them.
To detect fakes, check for a sheer watermark and examine a metal strip crossing the note that repeats Peru in neat, not misshapen, letters. Coloured thread, holographs and writing along the top of the bill should be embossed, not glued on.
ATMs are widely available but note that not all foreign cards work in the ATMs. Bring more than one option with you and be sure to alert your home bank that you are traveling in Peru.
Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, major shops and restaurants.
Visas and Vaccinations
You must have all visas (and vaccination) certificates that are necessary to enter or pass through Peru.
Visa requirements are subject to change so please check with a Visa Service Company in the country in which you are located or you can check details online instantly with companies such as CIBT Visas (https://cibtvisas.co.uk/. Visas can be obtained through the relevant embassy or consulate.
General Note: Some countries refuse admission to travellers not meeting their accepted standards of dress or appearance (even if they hold a visa). Entry may also be refused to certain countries if your passport bears stamps or visas (valid or expired) for Israel.
A useful general health advice website for travellers is http://www.who.int/ith/en/ and there are also advice sites in individual countries.
Please note it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct, current visa and vaccination information and that you act on it.