Arequipa & Canyon Country
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and one of the most popular cultural destinations in the country. Located high in the Andes mountains – over 2,300 meters (7,600 feet) above sea level – Arequipa is a regional hub of the southern part of Peru’s Andean highlands. The city is filled with colonial-era Spanish buildings built of white volcanic rock, giving the city its nickname La Ciudad Blanca (The White City).
Sights & Attractions
Like seemingly every other city in Peru, Arequipa is centered around the main square called Plaza de Armas. In and around the plaza you’ll find the city’s most impressive architectural monuments, including Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This massive convent looks more like a fortress and is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in all of Peru. Built in 1580, a maze-like network of corridors runs through the building allowing you to explore its impressive collection of art and well-maintained decor. You can pay around 10 USD for a guided tour of the building or explore it on your own in return for an optional small donation.
Hiking & Trekking
The stunning canyons that surround Arequipa make for some excellent hiking. The best time for hiking in the area is during the dry season (April to November). While it’s possible to hike year-round, during the wet season could cover will obscure many of the stunning views (not to mention the increased risk of mud slides).
The most popular and well-traveled area for hiking around Arequipa is Cañón del Colca. While you can hire a guide in Arequipa for around 60 USD per day (note: it’s much cheaper if you wait until arriving in Arequipa to book this instead of doing so over the internet or telephone), experienced hikers will be fine on their own. Numerous villages dot the area and so, provided you’ve got a map, you’ll never have too far to go for a rest or to stock up on provisions.
The El Misti volcano towers over Arequipa and while its summit is over 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) above sea-level, it’s considered one of the easiest climbs in the world for a mountain of that size. That said, it shouldn’t be taken lightly and acclimatization is essential (most climbers do this by spending a week or so in Cusco before moving on to Arequipa).
Unless you have extensive mountaineering experience, hiring a guide is highly recommended. There are numerous routes you can take up the mountain of varying difficulty, but most can be completed in two days. Hiring a guide in Arequipa for a two-day trip will usually cost around 60 USD per person and should include all needed equipment. The mountain is best climbed from September to November, with it being less cold the later you go.
Huaraz The Cordilleras Travel Guide
The mountain town of Huaraz is located around 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Lima and draws outdoors enthusiasts from all over the world. Huaraz is located in the heart of the Callejón de Huaylas valley, bounded on the east by the snowcapped Cordillera Blanca and on the west by the bare Cordillera Negra. The Cordillera Blanca includes Huascarán which, at 6,768 meters (22,205 feet) above sea-level, is Peru’s highest peak (and the third highest in the western hemisphere). The Huascarán ominously towers over Huaraz and is visible from all parts of the city.
By far, the city of Huaraz’ greatest attraction is that serves as a jumping-off point for exploring the stunning natural attractions nearby. While it’s no Cusco, Huaraz is home to a decent selection of quality restaurants, bars, and accommodations. The city has a very alpine feel to it, amplified by the stunning mountain peaks towering over it. With a population of around 50,000, you’ll be able to find all the provisions you might need before setting off on a trek through the nearby wilderness.
Sights & Attractions
The mountains around Huaraz offer outstanding opportunities for hiking, trekking, and mountaineering at a wide range of difficulty levels. There are dozens of trekking and mountaineering companies through Huaraz where you can rent equipment, hire guides and find an appropriate trek, based on your experience and physical condition. While you can hike anywhere in the area year-round, the best time to go is the dry season, between May and September, when the views are clearest and the risk of landslides low.
Regardless of what activities you undertake in the area keep in mind that the entire region is located at a very high altitude and you shouldn’t exert yourself until you’ve had time to acclimatize. Be sure to allow yourself a few days getting used to the altitude in Huaraz before venturing out into any of the surrounding areas.
The Huascarán is the best-known mountain in the Huaraz area and there are several routes to the summit. However, it’s a fairly difficult climb and should not be undertaken by those without mountain climbing experience. The mountain is located in Parque Nacional Huascarán and there is a lot to do here besides summiting the Huascarán. Hikers of all levels will find a trail to suit them. The park contains hundreds of lakes and glaciers, providing some incredible scenery. Wildlife enthusiasts should keep an eye out for some of the unique animals that reside in the park, including the spectacled bear and the Andean condor. Daily admission to the park costs around 2 USD (a one-month pass is also available for around 20 USD).
One of the most popular hikes in the Huaraz area is the Santa Cruz trek. Many mountaineers regard this trek as providing the finest mountain scenery on the planet. The trek covers around 50 kilometers (30 miles) and requires four days. The scenery here is absolutely stunning and includes many waterfalls, pale blue lakes, and beautiful views of some of the Andes’ highest peaks. The trek is considered to be of moderate difficulty; while you don’t need extensive trekking experience, you should be in decent shape before attempting this. You can do it on your own (though in this case, you should probably have a fair bit of wilderness experience) or with go on a guided trek which can be booked in Huaraz and typically includes food, camping equipment, and mules to carry everything. These cost around 200 USD per person if you book in Huaraz (and often many times more if you book online or by phone from overseas).
Getting There & Away
The small airline LC Busre services daily flights between Lima and Huaraz. The flight takes around one hour and a one-way trip costs around 100 to 160 USD (depending on the time of year).
There are multiple daily bus connections between Lima and Huaraz. The trip takes between six and eight hours. The cost will depend on which level of service you choose; at the high-end, a comfortable full-service bus will cost around 20 USD while budget trips cost around 6 USD.
The Inca Trail Travel Guide
The Inca Trail, running around 45km from the green marker to the red marker, Machu Picchu.
Perhaps the most famous hike on Earth, thousands of visitors come to Peru each year to trek the Inca Trail. While the total distance is only around 45 kilometers (28 miles), the trail meanders up and down several Andean mountains, requiring 4 days to complete and culminating with an awe-inspiring sunrise arrival at Machu Picchu. While hiking the trail you’ll be amazed by the stunning views of white-capped mountains, cloud forests and deep river valleys.
The trek begins around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Cusco near the village of Chillca. From here the trail climbs gradually upwards alongside the Río Urubamba until you reach the area of Wayllabamba, around 12 kilometers from where you started. Many groups choose to camp here for the first night. In any case, you’ll have some spectacular views of the snow-capped peak of Nevado Verónica, one of the Andes tallest mountains.
Continuing from here, you’ll cross Ríos Llullucha and begin a steep 4-kilometer ascent through a lush and humid forest. Eventually, you’ll emerge from the forest into an open area called Llulluchapampa where water and campsites are available. This is a common place to break for the second night.
From Llulluchapampa you’ll begin a tough 3-hour climb up to the pass of Warmiwañusca, also known as Dead Woman’s Pass. At around 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) above sea level, this is the highest point reached on the trek. Far below lies Río Pacamayo, which is where the trail continues to along a steep descent. Around the river are campsites where many groups spend their third night. After crossing the river, you’ll come to the impressive ruin of Runkurakay, a circular citadel-like fort with stunning views out into the mountains.
After Runkurakay, you’ll cross the eastern, Amazon end of the Andes and the vegetation becomes noticeably lusher. The trail passes the ruins of Sayaqmarka, once a fortified Incan town overlooking the mountains which offer spectacular views. From here you’ll climb upward through a majestic cloud forest, eventually reaching the top of the final peak of the trek, at 3,700 meters (12,100 feet) above sea level.
Just below this final peak are the cloud shrouded ruins of Phuyupatamarca, one of the most beautiful sites on the entire Inca Trail. From here you’ll make a nerve wracking steep descent towards the cloud forests below, and where most groups spend their final night.
Early the next morning, the final leg of the trek begins. The trail is windy here, but relatively flat. You’ll pass the last ruins Intipata, before Machu Picchu, and then around 2 hours later reach Intipunku, the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu and catch your first glimpse of the city as the sun rises.
When To Go
The Inca Trail is open year round, except for February, when they perform maintenance on the trail (and it’s so rainy trekking would be next to impossible anyways). The most popular times to go are June through August. This is the driest time of the year and when temperatures are coolest. The months of December and January are the least busy times, as the high amount of rain makes the trek much harder and the views less impressive. There’s also a risk of landslides and flooding during these months, making the trek riskier than at other times of the year.
Inca Trail Regulations & Costs
Access to the Inca Trail is tightly regulated; you cannot just walk onto it yourself and start trekking. Getting onto the trail requires a permit, only 500 of which are issued per day. Only licensed tour operators can obtain these permits, meaning you’ll need to book through one of these if you want to go. The standard trek is four days, and typically includes food, camping gear, porters to carry your stuff and a guide, costing between 350 and 500 USD. During the busy season, June through August, you’ll need to book at least six months in advance. Outside of this, a few weeks often suffices, but don’t count it – try and book as far ahead as possible if you want to ensure yourself a spot on the trail.
Machu Picchu Travel Guide
Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous archeological sites, is perhaps South America’s most awe-inspiring monument. The Spaniards, who conquered much of the continent during the 1500s, never discovered the ancient city located high in the Andes mountains. After the fall of the Inca Empire towards the end of the 16th century, Machu Picchu was forgotten about until American historian Hiram Bingham rediscovered it while trekking through the Andes in 1911.
Although the site has been extensively studied over the past century, much of Machu Picchu’s past remains clouded in mystery. Machu Picchu’s incredible location and the elaborate trails leading towards it, including the Inca Trail, suggest it was one of the most important cities of the Inca Empire, serving as a hub for trade between the Andean highland and Amazon regions of the empire.
At the time of Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, it was overgrown with thick vegetation. In the time since, this has been cleared and Machu Picchu is in pristine condition, despite the nearly 3,000 daily visitors it receives during the high season.
At the foot of the steep mountain on which Machu Picchu sits lies the town of Aguas Calientes. It’s the primary access point to Machu Picchu and all visitors to the site must pass through it, thus it’s very touristy and being there you won’t even feel like you’re in Peru. In spite of it being a blatant tourist town, Aguas Calientes is a pleasant enough place with plenty of nice hostels, hotels, and restaurants (though noticeably more expensive than the rest of Peru). If you arrive in Aguas Calientes on foot after completing one of the many treks, there are hot springs at the top of Ave. Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes. Admission is around 3 USD and there’s nothing better than sitting back in a hot spring with a beer after a grueling multiday trek through the mountains.
Aguas Calientes is situated on the Urubamba River and you can hear the sound of its rapids throughout much of the town. The river achieved some notoriety when, in January 2010 during the rainy season, it overflowed and caused extensive flooding in Aguas Calientes, requiring tourists to be evacuated by helicopter. Don’t worry, though; outside of the rainy season, the level of the water is typically 20 or more feet below the river wall and it’s extremely unlikely to flood during this time.
When To Go
Machu Picchu is open all year round, though the most popular time to visit is between June and August. During the wettest months – December to March – trekking there is very difficult (and dangerous, due to landslides); the Inca Trail is closed the month of February. If you go during the rainy season, it’ll be a lot less crowded but it very well could be cloudy and rainy the entire time you’re there, making it difficult to see far enough to appreciate the vastness of Machu Picchu. You have a little wiggle room to go during September or late August/early May where (with a little luck) the weather should be fairly good and the crowds not too big (all the photos you see on this page were taken towards the end of April).
Getting to Machu Picchu
If you want to see Machu Picchu, you’re going to need to get the Aguas Calientes first. To do this, you have three options: take the train from Cusco, or take a bus from Santa Teresa.
Taking a train from Cusco takes around 3 hours and costs approximately 65 USD. There’s one train making a round trip daily that departs Cusco at 7 am and heads back at 3 pm. Santa Teresa is a small town not far from Aguas Calientes. You can get a train from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes for around 10 USD. By catching a bus from Cusco to Santa Teresa (for around 12 USD) and then continuing on the train, you can get to Aguas Calientes for a lot less money (albeit less conveniently).
Regardless of how you decide to commute to Machu Picchu (I highly recommend making a trek, assuming you have the time and are up to it), it’s worth it to arrive early in the morning. The site is open to the public from 5 am to 5 pm, with the busiest times between 11 am and 3 pm. None of the public transport options will get you to Aguas Calientes early enough to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu – which is stunning. So, if you wish to see this you’ll either need to trek there or spend a night in Aguas Calientes.
It takes around two hours to hike up the last part of the Inca Trail, which begins just outside Aguas Calientes and takes you up to Machu Picchu. If you want to arrive at Machu Picchu in time for sunrise, you’ll need to get up by 2:30 am. The hike is somewhat demanding, as the path is rough and steep. So you’ll want to be in okay physical shape to try this. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with being one of the first visitors to Machu Picchu, getting to watch the sunrise and roam the site before the throngs of visitors arrive on buses.
Alternatively, there are frequent buses going up and down the mountain from Aguas Calientes throughout the day.
A Day in Machu Picchu
Once you’ve made your way up to Machu Picchu, you’ll probably just want to wander around for an hour or two and take it all in. The sharp mountain peaks surrounding Machu Picchu ensure the views are stunning in all directions. There are plenty of locals offering guided tours at the front gate. Their quality will be highly variable, so if you’re looking for that sort of thing it’s best to arrange it at the tourist office in Cusco in advance.
Overlooking Machu Picchu is Huayna Picchu – that sharp mountain peak you see in the background of the standard Machu Picchu photo. It’s actually part of the city; the Incas built terraces and temples up there, as well as a winding trail to get there from the north end of Machu Picchu. The top of Huayna Picchu is around 2,700 meters (8,900 feet) above sea level, so it’s around about 400 meters (1,200 feet) above Machu Picchu. It takes around 45 minutes to traverse the winding path up to Huayna Picchu. It’s steep in some places and moderately difficult, though well worth it for the incredible bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu it provides.
Around the main entrance to Machu Picchu, you’ll find washrooms (which cost around 1S to use) and a cafeteria (that is ridiculously expensive). You’re not allowed to bring food or any disposable beverage bottles inside the park. You can buy water at the cafeteria but that will be very expensive so try and bring your own water in a thermos or Nalgene type bottle to avoid having to buy it there.