A first-timer’s guide to Peru

The South American nation of Peru is a glittering land of colour and light, riotous fiestas and monumental landscapes. From the awe-inspiring Inca ruins of Machu Picchu to the enigmatic geoglyphs at Nazca, the lush Amazon rainforest and excellent surfing beaches in the northwest, it offers a wealth of treasures for travellers. To help you plan your own journey around the country, here is Ros Walford’s guide to Peru.

Not to be missed activities in Peru

Top of the list is without doubt Machu Picchu . This remote Inca temple, perched on a mountaintop in the remote southern Andes, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This designation is in recognition of the astonishing achievements of its pre-Columbian architects. Enter the site before dawn, then sit and wait for the sunrise. The first rays of the sun spill over the surrounding peaks to illuminate the well-preserved stone buildings, paths and terraces.

The mysteries of the London Underground are nothing compared with the Nasca Lines, another UNESCO World Heritage site. These drawings of animals, etched in the sand for eternity by an ancient civilisation, are only visible from the air. Hop in a light aeroplane at Nasca airstrip to take in perfect – if at times stomach-churning – views.

The engineering prowess of the ancient Peruvians remains evident at the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, where entire villages float on rafts made of reeds. See them on an island-hopping trip and admire the elaborately crafted reed boats on which locals travel between the islands.

Cities in Peru

Lima , Peru’s vast capital, spreads out from its colonial heart into a dynamic metropolis that is one of the largest in South America. Get your bearings in the central district of Miraflores; walk along (or parasail from) the elegant Malecón cliff-top promenade, before making the most of the city’s best shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife.

Peru’s second city, Arequipa , is a calmer affair – a grid of streets lined with low-rise colonial townhouses and peppered with leafy plazas.

Cusco is the charming departure point for trips to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Visit Cusco Cathedral, explore the megalithic ruins at Sacsayhuamán and experience a night out at high altitude.

A brief guide to Peru trekking

The most popular trek in Peru is, of course, the Inca Trail , a 4-day jungle and mountain hike that passes through a series of important archeological sites in the Sacred Valley before culminating at the dramatic hilltop site at Machu Picchu. If you prefer to hike away from the crowds, the region is rich with alternative treks, including the high-mountain Salkantay Trail and the easier Lares Trek.

The beautiful Colca Canyon is Peru’s equivalent of the USA’s Grand Canyon, but at 3,270 metres (10,725 feet) it’s twice as deep. After a hike down arid slopes to the green valley below, enjoy a dip in hot springs underneath the stars. Bear in mind that the next day you’ll need to climb up the near-vertical gorge before breakfast… not for the faint-hearted.

The Cordillera Blanca is the highest tropical mountain range in the world. Its 35 peaks above 6,000 metres include Mount Huascarán (6,768 metres), the highest mountain in Peru. Mountaineers and hikers alike are drawn to this pristine region of glaciers, waterfalls and emerald lakes set amid diamond-sharp peaks.

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