Peru – a land of extremes and intrigue – principally known for being home to the most important archaeological site in all of the Americas, offers in reality so much more. Its landscapes range from high Andean peaks, to sultry Amazon rainforests, from high altitude deserts and wild windswept coasts. Of course its great to travel with the Incas from Cusco to the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu, but its also possible to get off the beaten track, to explore remote ruins of the cloud warriors in the north, or afro-Peruvian beats along the pacific coast. Most of all it’s a diverse country that offers something for everyone. But for many, a trip to Peru will begin in Cusco.
As the ancient Inca capital, and the political power base in colonial times, Cusco has its fair share of sites. Sitting in a narrow valley surrounded by pine-covered hills, it’s a stunning place with enough cathedrals, churches, museums, galleries, cafes and shops to keep the modern traveller entertained for a week. Of course with one of the world’s foremost tourist attractions lying just up the road, most of the time Cusco is busy with locals and travellers alike, but don’t let that put you off; like many other similar locations, Cusco is popular for a reason… it’s simply a beautiful place to hang out.
As the traditional thoroughfare between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the lush agricultural Sacred Valley is littered with impressive Inca ruins. Probably the most famous are the sites of Pisac – where the famous terraces rise over a thousand feet from the valley floor to the mountaintop – and at Ullataytambo. Here again the site overs a great insight into the life of the Inca nation and some great views of the Sacred Valley. There are also some pretty towns and villages to explore; you can hike, horse ride, mountain bike or even paraglide; and you can stay in some pretty special accommodation.
But of course most people travelling this way have one goal in mind, and that’s to reach the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Pichu. There are many ways to get to the sacred Inca site: you can trek along the Inca Trail, or walk staying at beautiful mountain lodges, or you can horse ride, pretty much all the way there. Wild Frontiers offers a horse riding trip through the region.
There are plenty of trains to take you to Machu Picchu, but this is the most special. The Hiram Bingham service, operated by the Belmond Orient Express, offers a great way to climb through the Andean foothills to Machu Picchu, presenting great views – either from your seat of the observation car – delicious dining and champagne! Alighting at Aguas Calientes, buses then take us the last part of the journey to the actual site itself.
Although the exact purpose and function of Machu Picchu is still a matter of conjecture, there’s no denying that for the Incas this awe-inspiring ancient city must have been a very important ceremonial site. The quality of the buildings, of the intricate terracing, and the lofty position of the citadel itself, all point towards a hugely important cultural centre. Interestingly, it was never revealed to the Spanish invaders, and was only discovered in the early 20th century when American historian, Hiram Bingham, chanced upon it while searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba. Today it undoubtedly forms the highlight for most peoples’ trips to Peru.
For many that is tourism in Peru; but not for us at Wild Frontiers. For us this vast country offers much more. For a start there is the beautiful Lake Titicaca to check out, a giant inland sea, peppered by idyllic rural islands. (Use images from Bolivia) There is the picturesque town of Araquipa, back-dropped by the stunning El Misti volcano, and access point to the spectacular Colca Canyon, where you are pretty much guaranteed to see the mighty Andean condor fly. There are the quite extraordinary Nazca lines to fly above and Peru is one of the best places to visit the Amazon rainforest, where you are likely to stumble upon all manner of exotic animals. And in the country’s rarely visited northern highlands were we run one of our most successful group tours to visit, among other places, the fortress of Kuelap, and the home of the ancient cloud warriors of Chachopyas, and the newly discovered Gocta Falls.
And lastly of course there are the Peruvians themselves, whose colourful culture dates back into the mists of time, and who are as hospitable and friendly as any on the continent.
(245 or 246) For most tourism to Peru will revolve around three places, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and here at Macchu Pichu. But my advice is to remember, as amazing as those places are there’s a lot more travelling in Peru than just that. Come and see for yourself.