Machu Picchu, in the Quechua language, means “old peak.” At an elevation of 2,430 meters (7,972 feet), it is one of the most revered and important sites in all of Latin America. So important is the site that in 2007 Machu Picchu was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The stonework at Machu Picchu is an outstanding example of the use of natural materials in creating distinctive architecture. Immense walls, terraces, and ramps appear to be natural parts of the steep and rocky slopes.
Sitting at 3,300 metres above sea level (10,826 feet), Cusco is located in the Watanay Valley, which was once a large glacial lake, “Ballivian Lake”. Cusco city centre has managed to preserve many of its edifices, plazas, and streets from both pre-Inca and colonial times, and is by any measure an architectural delight. In fact, it’s history is so relished that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
The Inca Trail. To Machu Picchu. Built 500 years ago by the Inca themselves. It is, without a doubt, one of the most famous treks in the world. The Classic Inca Trail tour begins in the Sacred Valley and ends in a cloudy, forested, almost-mystical region where Macchu Pichu resides – the world-famous, Lost City of the Inca.
El Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley) of the Incas is located 15 km (9miles) north of the Inca capital of Cusco at 2,800 meters. The Sacred Valley was once the Inca Empire’s main point for the extraction of natural wealth, and one of the most important areas for the production of corn in Peru.
Deeply engrained in Andean traditions of the Altiplano, Arequipa is found in south-western Peru and is the second biggest city in the country. It sits at 2,335 metres above sea level (7,661 feet) and is home to three local volcanoes: solitary, cone-shaped Misti (5,822 metres, or 19,100 feet); the snow-topped Chachani (6,075 metres, or 19,900 feet); and the somewhat distant Picchu Picchu (5,425 metres, 17,800 feet). The volcanoes elevation reaches approximately 20,000 feet.
Produced by the erosive force of the Colca River, the Colca Canyon – 180 km (111 miles) north of Arequipa, in the department of Chivay – is about 70 km (43 miles) long and has a depth of 3,191 metres (10,500 feet), making it the second deepest canyon in the world. (It is second only to its neighbour, Cotahuasi Canyon, which is 160 metres deeper, or 525 feet.)
The Ballestas Islands, a small group of islands that sit just offshore from the Paracas peninsula, are also known as the “poor man’s Galapagos” or “the mini Galapagos of Peru”. They offer visitors unparalleled wildlife viewing and breathtaking scenery.
Ica is located on the Ica River, about 300 km south of Lima, along the desert coast of southern Peru on the Panamericana Highway. Ica is the capital of the Ica region. The area was long inhabited by various cultures of indigenous people before the Spanish conqueror Geronimo Luis de Cabrera claimed its founding in 1563.
The department of Nazca is one of the five departments that comprise the province of Ica. Situated between the town of Nazca and Palpa on the south coast, and above the valley of the “Rio Nazca”, Nazca sits at 520 meters (1,700 feet) and has a dry and sunny climate.
Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, stretches from south-eastern Peru to western Bolivia. It sits at 3,810 meters above sea level (12,500 feet), is the longest lake in South America, and is also the cradle of Incan civilization. Did we say long?!? Titicaca is an astounding 196 km long (122 miles), has an average width of 56 km (35 miles), and an average depth of 107 meters (351 feet). Not surprisingly, the lake’s cold, blue waters stand in beautiful contrast to the parched Altiplano.
Lima, a city at once a bustling metropolis and a living history museum, is Peru’s capital, as well as the gateway to the entire country. With pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern-day elements at play in its social structure, Lima can rightly be described as an ethnic melting pot. And a population of 8.5 million makes Lima the country’s largest city. Recognizing the cultural diversity of both Lima and Peru in general, UNESCO – in 1988 – designated Lima as a World Heritage Site.
The Pearl of the North
Chiclayo is slightly off the beaten track despite being the fourth largest city in Peru and the capital of the Lambayeque region in the North. Chiclayo is a popular destination for tourists interested in the Moche culture, archeological sites and treasures, most notably that of Lord Sipan, who is known as “King Tutankhamun of the Americas”. Other destinations such as the Pomac Forest natural reserve; the colorful “Modelo” Market selling souvenirs, fruit, clothing; and the beauty of the Pimental surfing beach make visiting Chiclayo worthwhile.
Chachapoyas, meaning cloud forest, is a colonial market town located in the Amazonas region in Northern Peru. Visiting this remote part of the country is worthwhile as there are so many interesting places to explore including the stunning Yumbilla and Gocta waterfalls. Kuelap, the largest pre-Inca ruins in South America and Karajia, sarcophagi built directly into the cliff, are two such worthwhile gems. Or alternatively, you can venture to the Leymebamba museum to learn more about the history of the funerary and cultural traditions of the Chachapoya people.