Peru offers a world of discovery for adventure travellers. With 11 ecological regions, 84 of the world’s 117 different types of “life zones” and 12 world heritage sites, Peru is full of rich history and a culture. The country is split into three main regions by altitude, coast, mountains and jungle.
Sitting a top Peru’s cloud line at nearly 8000 ft. lies one of South America’s most well preserved World Heritage sites. Since it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911, Machu Picchu attracts millions of visitors each year. Nearly 2500 visitors tour the site everyday. This sacred Inca spot has received some serious tough love of which includes erosion and worn out trails, as well as a damaged stone pillar. To support social and environmentally conscious efforts, many travel operators are incorporating policies and mandates that uphold high travel standards.
Peru Travel Guide: Cusco, World Heritage Site
Cusco is a small, bustling city – only half a million people live in what was once the capital city of the Inca Empire. However, these days, some two million visitors come from around the world every year en route to Machu Picchu. From Cusco, travellers make their way to the start of the famed four-day Inca Trail hike or go all the way to Machu Picchu by train and bus. Cusco isn’t just a stopover – it’s worth spending a few days to explore.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cusco is the place of an historic Spanish conquest over the Incas. Today, it is modern city that preserves Inca traditions. For example, the Plaza de Armas, constructed by the Incan Empire, was taken over by Spanish colonial buildings in the 1500s and what remains is a combination of those two architectural styles.
Peru Travel: Foodie Destination
The wealth of its lands, heritage, and cultural influences gives Peru a unique reputation for being a great foodie destination. Each city has its own unique dish and no two places are ever the same. In Cusco, trendy restaurants, like Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse, where sizzling alpaca steaks are served on volcanic hot plates, are tucked into narrow cobblestone alleys once carved out by the Incas. You’ll also find great ceviche eateries in the plaza area. Don’t be surprised to see guinea pig on most menus – it’s a local favourite. Inside the Catholic cathedral, you’ll find hints of Incan homage to nature. It’s worth visiting the Plaza de Armas at night to sit on the steps and take in the city’s nightlife.
Peru Travel Tip: See the Saqsaywaman Ruins
Just a 15-minute drive outside of the city, take a guided tour through the Saqsaywaman ruins. With temples dedicated to earth and nature, it is believed that Saqsaywaman was one of the Inca’s most important religious sites where rituals were performed in honour of the Sun God and Mother Earth. If you are fortunate to visit in June, you’ll see the Festival of the Sun which sees a procession in traditional Incan dress descend on the ruins for an elaborate ceremony. Beyond the ruins, there are picture-perfect views of Cusco’s red tile-roof homes and llamas grazing in fields. Also, check out the nearby planetarium at night for a look at the stars and to learn how the Inca used the constellations to guide their agricultural production.
Machu Picchu Travel: The Journey
When you travel to Machu Picchu, the journey takes you through the picturesque Sacred Valley. The road winds through the majestic Andes, where industrious farmers have carved out agriculture terraces on mountain slopes. A likely stop is a look-out point to see the Urubamba River from high in the mountains. Further on is Chinchero, where travellers can learn more about the ancient art of weaving. The Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Collective is another weaving co-op where women from nearby villages give demonstrations and sell their handicrafts.
The last stop before arriving to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes, a town constructed along the banks of the Urubamba River to support massive numbers of tourists heading to and from Machu Picchu. Make-shift spas are popular here, offering trekkers a chance to recover from their hike. Try the ‘Inca Massage’ at the Vida Spa.
Machu Picchu Travel: Hike the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail passes through cloud forests, alpine tundra, and Inca ruins. There are several trail options, but many people plan to start the last day of the Inca trek long before sunrise in order to arrive at the Sun Gate to catch the first rays of sun hitting Machu Picchu. There are various options for travellers wanting to hike the Inca Trail. Among the most popular is a four- to five-day hike. For people who just want a sample of the trail, there is a one-day option. Peru limits the number of people on the trail to help conserve this heritage site. Still, 500 people are permitted daily on the main trail.
Machu Pichhu Travel Tip: Hike Lares Trek
There are other options to hike the Inca Trail. These days, as more people are aware of the impact foot traffic is having on the trail, travellers are being encouraged to explore equally worthwhile parts of the Inca, including the Lares Trek. What is great about this picturesque trail is you get to enjoy all the beauty of the environment and experience the same path the Inca were known to take travelling in the region – and you can relieve pressure on the main trail. And of course, your grand finale will be Machu Picchu.
The best time of year to hike the Inca Trail is from May – September. The trail is closed in February for maintenance.
Peru Travel Guide: Visit Machu Picchu
Declared a natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca citadel and the most familiar gateway into the Inca civilization. Whatever way you arrive to this Inca city more than 2,430 metres above sea level, it’s likely that your picture-perfect view from high above the ancient ruins will be shrouded in clouds. Eventually, clouds lift to reveal the stone structure, a testament to the strength and ingenuity of the Inca Empire.
Perched on a mountain in the Andes, archeologists have only been able to speculate on the actual use of this historic site. Some claim it was built for the Inca ruler Pachacuti, while others claim it was a temple for high priests and revered Inca women, the Virgins of the Sun. These women were responsible for preparing ritual food and weaving clothing for royalty and rituals.
Your visit to Machu Picchu will be incredible.