Peru

Hidden treasures for those that look

Mention Peru to most and their first response will almost certainly be: Machu Picchu! For better or worse the famed citadel has become virtually synonymous with its host nation. But despite Machu Picchu's unarguable majesty, there is so much more to the rest of the country than these attention-stealing ruins. Pre-Columbian cultures left their indelible mark the length and breadth of Peru while the Incas were still in metaphorically short pants. Beyond archaeology there's world-beating cuisine and a buzzing arts scene in Lima, inconceivably vast Andean landscapes, oh and we haven't even mentioned the Amazon rainforest, which occupies a good two-thirds of the country's territory. Sure, come for the ruins. But leave plenty of time for the rest - you won't regret it.

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Things to do in Peru

Our recommended experiences and activities

Birdwatching in Manú National Park

Head to Manú National Park for some of the best birdwatching anywhere on earth. Peru’s largest national park is home to around 10 percent of the world’s bird species and is one of the most diverse protected areas on earth.

Typical stay: 5 days

Alternatives to the Inca Trail alternatives

Yep, you read that right. Lares, Salkantay and Ausangate are all fine alternatives to the overpopular Inca Trail, but for something really different look into Choquequirao, Qhapaq Ñan, or head to the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash around the city of Huaraz.

Typical stay: 8 days

Visit Peru’s other 'lost city'

While the crowds flock to Machu Picchu take a real adventure to the ruins of Kuélap, in the northern Andes. Predating Machu Picchu by some 900 years, Kuélap offers a glimpse of the diversity of Peru's Pre-Columbian civilisations.

Explore Lima's arts scene

Frequently seen as little more than a transit hub for Machu Picchu, Lima is in fact one of Latin America's great cities. World-leading gastronomy jostles with a flourishing arts scene, easily filling several days of deep cultural immersion.

Eat like a king in Lima

Lima’s chefs cook up a storm with the fruits of the sea, mountains and jungle. But it’s not all fine dining and exclusive restaurants: Peru’s is an egalitarian cuisine and you’ll find excellent food at street stalls, local markets and neighbourhood cantinas.

Typical stay: 3 days

Meet a thriving indigenous culture

Peru is a predominantly indigenous society, which long predates Hispanic influence. Get off the tourist trail and you’ll encounter a distinctive culture of traditional music, festivals and intricate crafts.

Typical stay: 5 days

Colonial Arequipa

Peru’s historic second city, la Ciudad Blanca (the White City) is distinguished by its UNESCO-listed colonial era architecture, fiery cuisine and dramatic setting in the shadow of snow-capped volcanoes.

Typical stay: 2 days

Chavín de Huántar

“The birthplace of South American culture” dates back to around 1,000 BC and was once one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Andean civilisation.

Typical stay: 1 day

Hike to Choquequirao

Machu Picchu’s quieter and much harder to reach “sister city” in the rugged Vilcabamba region. Indeed, if any Inca ruin can give the more celebrated site a run for its money, it’s this one.

Typical stay: 5 days

Explore coastal cultures

The Inca steal all the limelight but in historical terms they were mere upstarts. Visit Chan Chan, the Moche Valley and Sipán on Peru’s northern coast for a sense of Peruvian culture before the age of the Inca.

Typical stay: 3 days

Cusco region

The main appeal for most visitors, Cusco the Sacred Valley and, of course, Machu Picchu, feature on virtually everyone’s route -- and with good reason.

Typical stay: 5 days

When to visit Peru

Seasons and climate

Peru’s climate varies depending on where you choose to go, with the country split into three distinct regions: Amazon rainforest, mountainous highlands and the coast. Each region has its own climate, with the rainforest typically hot and wet, the mountains dry and temperate with variations in temperature, and the coast sunny and dry.

While Peru’s seasons can be generally split into wet (October-April) and dry (May-September), the country’s geographical diversity means there’s always somewhere worth visiting no matter the time of year. Just be prepared for the temperature change in the highlands — days can be warm and sunny, but temperatures plummet at night.

Peru_Cusco_weather-chart

Month-by-month

January and February are two of the wettest months to visit Amazonian Peru, with the Inca Trail closing during February for maintenance and cleaning. Instead, head to Peru’s coastal regions or the Chan Chan ruins at Trujillo where the weather is warm and sunny.

March and April see the rains continue across the highlands, but this can be a good time to book permits and treks as travellers wait for the drier summer months. Colonial Arequipa and its smouldering volcanoes in the far south are dry and pleasantly warm around Easter.

The summer months are the peak months for Peru’s historical ruins. Permits for the Inca Trail can book up months in advance as the rains recede in the highlands. Remember that temperatures can drop quickly at night, so pack appropriately.

By September, the crowds are beginning to disperse as the dry season comes to an end. This shoulder season is an excellent time to visit the Amazonian cloud forests around Chachapoyas, with wild flowers in full bloom and an abundance of birdlife. You’ll also find treks less busy — at least until December, when the holiday season brings the crowds back to Peru.

Events and holidays

The wetter months at the start of the year means that celebrations are few and far between until February’s Candlemas, which is especially lively in the mountainous regions. Expect folkloric music and dance over a two-week period.

Peru’s carnival might not be as well-known as Brazil’s, but it is still wildly celebrated across the entire country. Held just before Lent each year, carnival is a riot of parades, costumes and plenty of dancing.

For a taste of an Inca celebration, visit Cusco during June for Inti Raymi (festival of the sun). Held to mark the winter solstice, the Inca festival attracted 25,000 revellers to Cusco. Today, visitors can watch the procession from Cusco to Sacsayhuaman, which culminates in the ritual sacrifice of a llama.

The high season also sees Peru mark its independence day on July 28th and 29th, with festivities in the southern cities beginning earlier than their northern neighbours.

November is Peru’s festival month, with the start of the month celebrating All Saints Day before the world-famous All Souls Day (Dia de Los Muertos on November 2nd). Families take offerings of food and flowers to family graves, with festive parades in Andean towns. Finally, Puno Week (starting November 5th) sees street parades celebrate the emergence of Manco Capac — the first Inca.

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