Tips: Peru Travel Guide by Region

Andean Highlands Travel Guide

The Andean Highlands are home to much of what draws people from all over the world to the country: mist-shrouded mountains, massive ruins of ancient civilizations, Pancho-clad women carrying baby llamas and vast tracts of unexplored wilderness.

Geography & Climate

The geography of the Andean Highlands shows wide contrasts, possessing large swaths of wet, fertile land along with the northern tip of world’s driest desert, the Atacama. The dry areas of the Peruvian Andes, located just south of Arequipa (the green marker on the map), are cooled by the Humboldt Current, a low salinity ocean flow which moves northwest along the west coast of South America, from southern Chile up to the northern coast of Peru. This current has a considerable cooling influence on coastal Peru as well as the plateau in the highlands where the Peruvian portion of the Atacama resides.

The Andean Highland’s agricultural regions are extremely fertile due to eroded soil carried down the mountains by glacier runoff. This provided the basis for South America’s only pre-Columbian state civilization, the Inca Empire.

The climate of the Andean Highlands is just as varied as its geography. The higher you go, the colder it gets; the low-lying valleys are temperate year round, with annual average temperatures of 18°C (64°F). At the highest elevations, it is almost always below freezing. The rainy season begins in September and runs through until April, peaking in February. During the rainiest times of the year, getting around the region can be tough, as many of the unpaved roads become swamped from water running down the mountains (not to mention the presence of mudslides). May through August is characterized by very dry conditions and cool mornings and nights. Above 5000m, snowfall is common during the dry season and very frequent during the wet season.

Sights & Attractions

The Andean Highlands are, and historically have been, home to many of Peru’s greatest cultural monuments, as well as some of the country’s most stunning geography. Thus, it’s no surprise that many of Peru’s greatest attractions are located in the Andean regions of the country.

In the southern highland regions of Peru lies the cultural capital of Andean South America, Cusco (blue marker on the map). Cusco and it’s surrounding area, the Sacred Valley, are Peru’s greatest tourism draw. As the center of the Inca Empire, this area’s many enormous ruins – including Machu Picchu – are set in a spectacular landscape of both wild jungles and sharp, frigid mountain peaks rising up into the clouds. Despite the abundance of visitors, the vast open expanses of this area mean there’s ample opportunity to leave it all behind and get a glimpse of the real Peru.

South of Cusco lies Peru’s second most populous city, Arequipa (green marker on the map). Set high in the Andes, the city is surrounded by some of Peru’s wildest terrain. Nearby you’ll find the high-altitude Atacama Desert, snow-covered (and active) volcanoes, salt lakes, thermal hot springs and the world’s deepest canyons.

The east of Arequipa, on the border between Peru and Bolivia, lies Lake Titicaca (turquoise place-marker on map). As well as being South America’s largest lake, Lake Titicaca is nearly 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea-level, making it the highest lake in the world.

North of Lima lie the central and northern portions of the Andean Highlands. This is frontier country; gone are the throngs of tourists and air conditioned buses. Nevertheless, their area is still teeming with stunning landscapes and ancient ruins that are every bit as impressive as the more well-known sites in the south.

The best hub for exploring the central portions of the highlands is the town of Tarma (yellow place marker on the map). Located approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Lima, you travel to Tarma from Lima in around 5 hours by bus. From Tarma, you can access many of the central highlands most impressive sites fairly easy. Tarma also serves as an access point to the Amazon Basin, which lies to the east of the town at the foot of the mountains.

Several hundred kilometers North of Tarma, way up in the mountains, lies the city of Huaraz (pink place-marker on map). While Huaraz itself is rather dull, the city draws many due to the incredible trekking in the surrounding areas. Just outside Huaraz, you’ll find sharp white-tipped mountain peaks overlooking lush green valleys, making the scenery here some of the best in the country. The most distinctive feature of Huaraz itself is the nearby Huascarán mountain, which towers over the city. The Huascarán is the highest mountain in Peru at nearly 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) and many who attempt to reach it’s summit begin their journey in Huaraz.

The northern portion of Peru’s highlands is the most remote and untamed part of the region. If you want to get away from the beaten path in Peru, this is the place for you. The best town to access this region is the city of Cajamarca (red place marker on the map). Besides the stunning wild terrain, the area surrounding Cajamarca is dotted with small towns where relatively few outsiders pass through due to their remoteness. They’re well worth a visit if you want to get a look at Peru beyond what’s commonly shown in the glossy pages of travel magazines.

Máncora Travel Guide

Mancora beach

Máncora is a seaside beach resort town on the northern part of Peru’s Pacific coast. Around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of Lima, Máncora is one of the northernmost towns in all of Peru. This part of the country receives the most year-round sunshine of anywhere in Peru and as a result, the town draws tourists every month of the year.

During the summer (December to March) Máncora can get very hot, with temperatures often exceeding 35°C (95°F). Even during the winter, it stays quite warm with daytime temperatures rarely dipping below 25°C (77°F). Máncora receives the least rainfall of almost anywhere on Peru’s coast, so you should expect plenty of sunshine regardless of which time of year you choose to visit. The warm El Niño current causes the ocean water around Máncora to be exceptionally warm, with average temperatures of around 24°C (75°F).

Despite having only around 10,000 permanent residents, Máncora retains a lively feel year-round due to the constant stream of visitors it receives. The pristine white-sand beaches are perhaps the best on the entire Pacific coast of South America and draw surfers from around the world. Máncora is also a surprisingly cosmopolitan place considering how small it is; the town has an outstanding selection of restaurants (particularly if you’re a seafood lover), bars, nightclubs, and boutiques.

Sights & Attractions

By far, Máncora’s biggest draw is its world-class surfing conditions. While the surfing is great year-round, you’ll find the biggest waves between December and February. The beach extends several miles to the north and to the south so it’s generally not too difficult to escape the crowds (which can get large on the main beach).

Despite Máncora’s popularity among expert surfers, it’s not a bad place to learn. The waves are smaller towards the south end of the beach and gradually get larger as you head north. It’s good for beginners since you can get your bearings riding the smaller waves and gradually transition up to the larger ones. There are dozens of surf shops which offer board rentals (usually around 5 to 10 USD per day) as well as lessons (usually around 20 USD per hour).

Like many surf towns, Máncora has a raucous nightlife. There are dozens of bars and nightclubs just a few feet from the beach that are bumping every night. Fortunately, the waves rolling in and out tend to drown out most of the noise and it remains a relatively tranquil place for those who want to take it easy at night.

A few miles inland from Máncora is Parque Nacional Cerros de Amotape. These national park houses dry rainforest and many cascading waterfalls that make it a wonderful place to hike through. Birdwatchers will definitely want to make a visit as the forest is home to some of Peru’s most varied birdlife. You can arrange organized tours in Máncora or get a bus (or taxi) down the road and explore the place for yourself.

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 Coastal Peru Travel Guide

Spanning well over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) along the Pacific coastline, Coastal Peru‘s wide range of beaches, national parks, ancient ruins and lively cities offer boundless opportunities for exploration. After checking out bustling Lima, heading north you’ll find miles of uninterrupted coastline dotted with ancient ruins of the once mighty Inca empire. If surfing’s your thing, don’t forget to check out the country’s surfing spots, many regarded as being among the world’s finest. South of Peru’s capital is an arid desert coastline featuring spectacular cliffs as the desert gives way to the Pacific, palm-tree filled oases and quaint fishing villages.

Geography and Climate

Much of Peru’s coastal region is an arid desert, sporadically dotted with pockets of oases teeming with palm trees. The coast is fairly temperate year-round. In the northern portion of the coastline, the weather remains mild year-round, with temperatures fluctuating between 10°C and 20°C (50°F and 70°F) in any given month.

In the south, the weather attains higher highs and lower lows throughout the year; here summertime temperatures generally are between 24°C and 30°C (75°F and 86°F) while in the wintertime they fall to between 10°C and 20°C (50°F and 70°F). When it’s not summertime, the southern beaches are generally cast in a coastal fog and are thus generally deserted.

Not surprisingly, summer (from December to March – we’re below the equator, remember!) is the most popular time to visit Peru’s coast, particularly south of Lima. The northern coast gets sunshine year round and tends to have warmer water, despite the lower average temperatures during the summer.

Sights and Attractions

The Carr Panamericana (“Pan-American Highway”) runs the entire length of Peru’s coast, from Chile to Ecuador, and provides an excellent way to travel overland while exploring this region. Peru’s capital and largest city, Lima is located at the north-south midpoint of this highway. Like South America’s other megacities, the pace in Lima is hectic, the streets crowded, and things are always bustling. The central part of Lima is notable for its crumbly colonial architecture. Outside the city center is pristine Mira Flores, whose casinos and palm tree-lined boulevards look more like California than South America.

A few hours drive to the south is the town of Paracas, home to the Paracas National Reservation. This desert peninsula provides stunning scenery, as hot desert cliffs meet the deep blue of the Pacific. The town seaside town of Paracas is quite a pleasant place to visit in its own right, with an abundance of restaurants and bars right on the beach. The pace is slow here and the people are friendly, it’s a great place to unwind for a few days.

Nearby Paracas is Pisco, a town that was once a popular destination as well, but unfortunately is still recovering from a devastating 2007 earthquake whose epicenter was very close to the town. Much of the rubble from the earthquake has still not been cleared and the city is somewhat dangerous, as many of its residents are in a desperate state.

South of Paracas is one of the most popular attractions along the southern portions of the coast, the famous Nazca Lines. Located just outside the city of Nazca, these ancient and mysterious drawings spanning kilometers across the desert have been a source of intrigue since modern explorers first encountered them.

If you instead travel north from Lima along the coastal highway, after a couple hundred kilometers (120 miles) you’ll find the town of Barranca. Famous for its adobe temples and monumental ruins, Barranca is a great place to check out if you’re interested in exploring Peru’s rich cultural past.

If beaches are your thing, be sure to check out the town of Máncora, located in Peru’s far north, not far from the border with Ecuador. Here you’ll find Peru’s best beaches, as well as the sunniest place in the country. The town of Máncora draws surfers from all over the world, and also boasts numerous excellent restaurants and a bumping nightlife.

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Paracas Travel Guide

The nearby towns of Paracas and Pisco are important ports lying around 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Lima. Paracas is named for one of the most highly developed pre-Inca civilizations and so is of significant historical interest. In 2007, the region was rocked by a huge earthquake whose epicenter was very close to Pisco. The town was devastated and still has not fully recovered; there are many crumbled buildings whose rubble has not been cleared and many people remain homeless.

Paracas was relatively unscathed from the quake and is quite a pleasant place to visit. The seaside beachfront town has plenty of bars and restaurants and is relatively cheap. It’s also the jump off point for exploring some nearby natural attractions, including the Paracas National Reservation and the Islas Ballestas.

What to do in Paracas?

Most visitors to Paracas are drawn there to explore the nearby nature reserves but it’s a nice place to just unwind, walk around and have a Cerveza or two on the beach. Paracas is oriented along the main street, Malecon El Chaco, which runs right along the beach. It’s a tiny place so you can walk to pretty much anywhere in town from here.

Paracas’ main dock, Muelle El Chaco is off Malecon El Chaco and from it, you can get boat tours of the nearby Islas Ballestas. The Islas Ballestas are a series of islands just off the coast that is home to an abundance of wildlife.

The Islas Ballestas boat tour meanders through the many islands and you’ll see all sorts of creatures, including herds of sea lions basking on the rocks, flocks of thousands of Peruvian pelicans, Humboldt penguins, and the odd dolphin. The trip takes around 2 hours and is in an open-air speedboat, so you may get sprayed with a little seawater. The ride can be a little rough, particularly if the water is wavy, so keep that in mind if you’re prone to motion sickness.

While exploring the Islas Ballestas, you’ll also come across the enormous Candelabra geoglyph etched into the ground on one of the islands. Reminiscent of the Nazca Lines, the three-pronged trident-like drawing is nearly 200 meters across and was created by one of the indigenous cultures predating the Incas.

Paracas’ biggest attraction is the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. The reservation consists of the vast desert occupying most of the Paracas Peninsula, coastal areas and a tropical desert extending to the south. The entry to the reserve is around 3 kilometers (2 miles) south of the center of Paracas. You can enter on your own, with admission costing around S5 (1.50 USD) or you can get a guided tour which will pick you up from your hotel and drive you around the reservation stopping at all the major sites. This will cost around S50 (15 USD) and can be booked from the tourist office on Malecon El Chaco in Paracas (you can also get a full day tour of both Islas Ballestas and the reserve – inquire about this at the tourist office). The sandy desert of the reserve can be very hot, so be sure to bring plenty of water.

Inside Reserva Nacional de Paracas, you’ll find a vast desert with plenty of visible fossils on what was once the ocean floor. Towards the coast, there are some brilliant cliffs as the hot desert meets the Pacific ocean. There are many small fishing villages along the coast inside the park where you can get some excellent ceviche, a dish made from fresh raw fish marinated in fresh lemon juice and spiced with chili peppers.

If you decide to check out Pisco, the town is centered around the main square called Plaza de Armas. There’s a market one block away from the plaza that is worth checking out if you’re in town. Walking through Pisco you’ll see a lot of rubble and makeshift buildings. Considering that Pisco was once a bustling city noted for its colonial-era buildings (almost all of which were destroyed in the earthquake), walking through the town is a sobering reminder of the power of Mother Nature. Pisco is around 12 kilometers (8 miles) from Paracas and you can get a taxi between them for around 3 USD.

Accommodations

Paracas has plenty of hostels and hotels; this seems to be what most of the buildings in town are. Like most anything in Paracas, they are all within walking distance of the main dock, Muelle El Chaco. Prices are quite cheap here, even by Peru standards. You can get a private room right on the beach for around 12 USD.

Restaurants

Considering how small the town is, Paracas has quite a few restaurants. Nearby the dock, they’re quite touristy. If you walk across the main street to the side opposite the beach and head south a few blocks things are quite a bit cheaper and the food much more varied. Their local economy is largely supported by fishing, so you can get some excellent freshly caught seafood. There are not many restaurants open early – before 11 am – so many of the hotels and hostels provide a continental breakfast. There’s also a small bakery near the center of town where you can purchase fresh bread and pastries that are open early.

Nightlife

Paracas is a laid-back seaside town, so there are no nightclubs. If you want to have a few drinks, there’s plenty of bars right on the beach. You can also buy your own beer and sip them on the beach and watch the sun go down.

Safety

Paracas is very safe, you don’t have much to worry about there. Pisco can be a little rough, especially at night, during which time you shouldn’t walk alone nor venture far from Plaza de Armas.

Getting In and Out

Paracas has the main bus terminal that’s a short walk (less than 10 minutes) from the middle of town.

There are multiple daily bus trips between Paracas and Lima (costing around 11 USD and taking around 4 hours), Paracas and Nazca (11 USD, 4 hours) and between Paracas and Arequipa (20 USD, 14 hours).

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Peru Surf Guide

Peru is one of the world’s premier surfing destinations and offers waves for everyone from first timers to professionals. The sport is extremely popular in the country, which has produced some of the sports top professionals, including Sofia Mulanovich, the 2004 female world champion, Luis Miguel “Magoo” De La Rosa and Cristobal de Col, the 2011 World Junior Champion.

The most famous surfing spot in Peru is the town of Máncora, located on the northern coast of Peru not far from the border with Ecuador. Máncora boasts the largest left point break in the world. While Máncora draws its fair share of world-class surfers, it also has a beginner-friendly beach break and is a great place for first-timers to learn the sport.

Despite having only around 10,000 permanent residents, Máncora has a lot of amenities for a town that size due to the hundreds of thousands of surfers who flock there each year. The beach town has a wide array of restaurants and nightclubs for such a small place. There are multiple daily buses running up and down the Peruvian coast, making it easy to get to Máncora from Lima.

Another place worthy of mention is Chicama. The small coastal city is located in the northwest region of the country, just north of the city of Trujillo. Chicama features the biggest left-hand wave in the world, over 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long. There a large number of excellent surf spots near Chicama make it uncrowded waves easy to find.

Like Máncora, Chicama can be reached by taking one of the many daily buses that head north from Lima up the Pan-American highway.

Lima, Peru’s capital, and largest city is also an excellent place to catch some waves. Playa Costa Verde (nicknamed Waikiki), located in the upscale Miraflores area of Lima, is a very popular surf spot and has good breaks year-round. Playa La Herradura is another one of Lima’s more popular surfing spots, featuring waves up to 6 meters (18 feet) during good swells.

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Cusco Travel Guide

Cusco, the heart of South America’s Andean culture, is one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, this thousand-year-old city located high in the Andes mountains is the America’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Many of Cusco’s streets, plazas and buildings date back to pre-Columbian times, giving the city a distinctly different feel from any other in the new world.

While it’s steeped in history, this is not just a city of the past. Nowadays, Cusco is a vibrant city, full of open-air markets, cobblestone plazas, outstanding restaurants and a lively nightlife.

Sights and Attractions of Cusco

Cusco is centered around Plaza de Armas, a bustling square full of entertainers, merchants, fountains, and sightseers. Plaza de Armas is surrounded on all sides by some of the city’s finest architectural monuments. Among these, are two beautiful churches, the Catedral de Santo Domingo and the Iglesia del Triunfo. The cathedral serves as the repository for much of the city’s colonial art, as well as many works by Quechua artists. Iglesia del Triunfo is the city’s oldest church, having been built in 1536. It is the resting place of the remains of the famous Inca historian Garcilaso de la Vega, who was born in Cusco in 1538.

A few blocks southeast of Plaza de Armas lies Qorikancha, ancient Inca ruins of what was once the richest temple in the entire empire. Built during the mid-1400s, the building’s outside was once entirely plated with gold (which has long since been stripped away). Nevertheless, the remaining stone walls of the structure are an example of some of the finest architecture of the Inca Empire, having withstood several earthquakes that reduced other nearby buildings to rubble. The fitting of much of the slabs of stone used to construct Qorikancha that in many cases you cannot tell where one stone ends and the next begins. You can enter the building (for around 3 USD) during the day, where you’ll get a much deeper look at the incredible craftsmanship used to construct this monument.

Cusco’s primary market, Mercado Central de San Pedro, is just a few blocks southwest of Plaza de Armas and definitely worth checking out. There are merchants selling clothes (particularly of the traditional Andean variety – llama wool sweaters and hats, leather goods, etc.), arts and crafts, fresh produce, meat, live poultry, seafood and plenty of snacks as well. The market can be found at the corner of Calle Santa Clara and Tupac Amaru, four blocks southwest of Plaza de Armas.

Besides checking out the notable sites, try and allow some time for just wandering around Cusco. The narrow cobblestone alleys surrounded by colonial buildings often give way to beautiful views out into the surrounding hills.

Accommodations in Cusco

Cusco has accommodations of all types, from cheap hostels to luxuries hotels. The most popular area to stay is right around Plaza de Armas since this will make it easy to access most of the city’s sites as well be in close proximity to numerous restaurants, bars, shops, etc. Another popular area to stay in is San Blas, located around a kilometer to the northeast of Plaza de Armas. Rates tend to be a bit cheaper here, and since it’s up to the hill, it offers excellent views over the city.

The costs (and availability) of accommodation is highly dependent on the time of year. During the rainy season (September to February, roughly), there are relatively few visitors since traveling to Cusco overland can be difficult and so most places will offer steep discounts. The busiest time of year by far is June through August. During these times, be sure to book ahead. With this in mind, expect to pay between 8 and 12 USD for a bed in a hostel. For a decent hotel room, you’ll probably be paying in the range of 25 to 50 USD. At the high-end of things, 100 to 200 USD should get you a room in luxurious hotels featuring all the amenities. In all cases, a simple breakfast is often included in your room.

Restaurants

Cusco is located in the agricultural heartland of Peru’s southern Andes, so it’s no surprise there’s a wide range of outstanding cuisine available.

There are many restaurants right on Plaza de Armas, though they tend to be on the touristy side and a little overpriced. Wandering a few blocks in any direction and you’ll find an abundance of restaurants at all price levels. Almost every restaurant offers a daily set meal, called menú, which provides outstanding value. Eating this way will typically only set you back between 1 and 3 USD for a filling meal along with soup and a beverage.

Nightlife

The nightlife in Cusco is excellent, with a huge concentration of bars and clubs around Plaza de Armas (particularly around the northwest side of the square). Most places open early but don’t really get busy until near midnight. Walking around the streets northwest of Plaza de Armas you’ll find plenty of guys trying to coax you to come into their club with an offer of a free drink. You can usually extract two or three free drink coupons out of them, go in, have some drinks, leave, and then repeat at the next place. Works well if you want to drink for free.

Safety

Cusco is generally safe, especially around the areas frequented by tourists. You should avoid walking through deserted areas late at night by yourself. Overly intoxicated tourists walking back to their hotel late at night make easy prey for thieves.

Since Cusco is located at such a high altitude, it’s common for visitors to suffer from altitude sickness during their first few days in the city as their body gets used to the thinner air. During the time, take care, not to overexert yourself or consume too much alcohol.

Getting In and Out

There are several flights each day between Lima and Cusco. Almost all of these flights will be arriving/departing from Cusco’s Aeropuerto Internacional Alejandro Velasco Astete. A return flight between Cusco and Lima generally costs around 300 USD, though you can occasionally find tickets for much less during the odd sale.

There are also daily flights between Cusco and other Peruvian cities, such as Arequipa, Juliaca and Puerto Maldonado. The only international city which has direct flights to Cusco is La Paz, Bolivia.

The main airlines with flights to and from Cusco are Latam, Star Perú and Avianca.

Cusco’s main bus station, terminal Terrestre, is about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) southeast of Plaza de Armas. It’s a fairly nice walk, provided you don’t have to carry too much luggage, otherwise a taxi will just cost a few dollars. All international buses and most long-distance buses will depart from here.

There are multiple daily bus connections between Cusco and most other major Peruvian destinations, as well as to La Paz. The following table summarizes approximate costs and travel times for relatively high-end tourist buses between Cusco and other cities in Peru. Note that the prices will be much lower (and the commute much less comfortable) if you opt for an economy bus.

Destination Approx. cost (USD) Duration (hours)
Arequipa 12 8-9
Juliaca 9 5-6
La Paz (Bolivia) 25 12-14
Lima 30-50 18-20
Nazca 20-30 11-12
Puno 11 6-7
Tacna 25 17
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Lima Travel Guide

Lima is everything you’d expect of a massive, bustling, rough-around-the-edges South American city. Peru’s capital and largest city hit you in the face when you first arrive; the chaotic streets, crumbling slums amidst colonial mansions, and seemingly never-ending fog that covers the city can be overwhelming at first. But if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find much to like about the place.

The city was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes living in the area and was eventually integrated into the Inca Empire during the mid-1400s. In 1532, the Inca Empire was overtaken by the Spanish conquistadors. Soon, Lima was one of the most important and powerful cities in all of Spain’s Latin American empire and remained so for over a century. A devastating 1687 earthquake in the midst of a recession marked a turning point in Lima’s history, and soon the city was overtaken by Buenos Aires as the Spaniard’s preeminent Latin American city. Despite this, Lima’s remains beautiful colonial architecture as well as many ruins and monuments dating back to pre-Hispanic times.

Sights and Attractions

The center of Lima, and it’s colonial heart, is the area around Plaza Mayor (blue place marker on map) (Plaza Mayor is also known as Plaza de Armas, though another small plaza located on the edge of the city shares this name – keep this in mind as the latter one is located in a rough area and not somewhere you want to mistakenly end up). Surrounding the plaza are a number of colonial mansions, cathedrals, and churches, museums, and restaurants. One of the most impressive buildings in this area is Iglesia de Santo Domingo. The massive pink church was originally built in the 1500s and serves as the resting place for several Peruvian saints. Another famous church on Plaza Mayor is the Catedral de Lima, the city’s original church, dating back to 1535. On the north side of the plaza lies the large palace Casa de Pizarro, the Peruvian government headquarters. The massive palace is recognizable by the wrought iron gates and a small army of guards protecting it.

Most of the area around Plaza Mayor is filled with people strolling around and extremely safe. However, just to the northwest of Plaza Mayor lies a small bridge going over an (often dry) river leading to the neighborhood of Rímac (caution symbol on the map). Rímac is a pretty rough place and you don’t want to venture too far past that bridge. The bridge itself almost always has heavily armed guards on it (protecting the nearby government palace) so strolling just across it is fine. But once you’re on the other side, be cautious about walking too far; Rímac is a fairly poor area and tourists are often mugged.

Around five blocks southwest of Plaza Mayor is another place of interest, Plaza San Martin (red place marker on the map). The area around Plaza San Martin is very pristine, looking more like a European capital than Peru. It’s a nice little walk from Plaza Mayor to Plaza San Martin, especially if you take Jr De La Union, the pedestrian-only street going from one plaza to the other. Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, shops, and boutiques as well as street performers and much (occasionally overzealous) people trying to sell you things. There’s at least a half dozen museums near Plaza San Martin, so it’s a great place to be if you’re interested in learning more about Peru’s history and culture.

Outside the city center is the popular area of Miraflores (purple place market on map). Set on a series of cliffs overlooking the Pacific, Miraflores’ high-rise hotels, casinos, upscale stores and restaurants make it feel more like California than South America. Miraflores’ is well known for its beaches and nightclubs and is a favorite spot among Lima’s elites. Many of Miraflores’ bars, restaurants and nightclubs are centered around Calle de las Pizzas (literally Pizza Street ), which becomes packed with young people on weekends. If you’re interested in surfing, check out Miraflores’ Playa Costa Verde (a.k.a., Waikiki), which has good breaks year round.

Just south of Miraflores, also on the coast, is the neighborhood of Barranco (green place marker on the map). This area is Lima’s most popular nightlife destination and has a wide range of bars, clubs, and restaurants. Barranco’s oceanfront locale and many beaches make it a nice place to stroll around.

Accommodations

The most popular area of Lima to stay in is Miraflores, which has every type of accommodation, from hostels to upscale hotels (including a recently opened Ritz-Carlton. Most places include breakfast and you can expect to pay between 8 and 12 USD for a bed in a hostel dormitory, 25 to 35 USD for a private room in a midrange hotel and 200 USD (and up) for a room in one of the area’s many high-end hotels.

Central Lima, the area around Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin, also has plenty of accommodation options and due to the heavy security presence, there is quite safe to walk around, even during the night. Prices are slightly lower here than in Miraflores, with beds in budget hostels for as low as 5 USD per night. If you’re looking to shell out a little bit more money, you can get a private room in the luxurious (but aging) Gran Hotel Bolívar for around 75 USD per night. At the high-end of things, there is the Lima Sheraton, the most luxurious hotel in central Lima. Even here prices are quite reasonable considering the caliber of the place, with rooms starting at around 150 USD.

If you’re arriving in Lima by air late at night consider staying near the airport your first night, and make sure you have something booked in advance (see the safety section below for more on this).

Restaurants

Lima has one of the best and most varied restaurant scenes on the continent. While there are many styles of cuisine to choose from here, ceviche should be on your “must try” list. Made from fresh raw fish, ceviche is generally considered to be Peru’s national dish. The fish – often sea bass – is marinated in citrus juices and spiced with chili peppers, then served with corn on the cob, sweet potato, and various other goods.

The trendiest (and most expensive) restaurants in Lima are found in Miraflores. In central Lima, the restaurants are much less touristed and so cheaper and perhaps more authentic. Miraflores has more variety; you’ll find everything from sushi to Italian restaurants while central Lima offers better Andean cuisine.

Nightlife

Lima has an excellent nightlife, by far the best in the country. The most upscale bars and clubs are found in Miraflores. The massive nightclub Gotica is the city’s impressive night spot, but with the cover around 20 USD, it’s incredibly expensive by Peruvian standards. Nevertheless, it’s the prime spot for Lima’s trendiest locals and if you want to experience the epitome of Lima’s nightlife you’ll want to check the place out.

Barranco is also a happening nighttime spot, less upscale and more laid back than Miraflores. Barranco’s many bars and clubs are concentrated around Parque Municipal, which itself is full of parties on weekend nights.

Safety

Most of the places mentioned above are relatively safe, but regardless if where you are in Lima, it’s wise to remain vigilant at all times. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or clothes that may draw attention to yourself. While you’re walking about and not using your camera it’s a good idea to keep it in your bag or pocket. During the day, Plaza San Martin, Plaza Mayor and central Miraflores are very safe and there’s plenty of tourists strolling around, as well as a strong police presence, so you don’t have much to worry about in those areas.

It’s easy to wander a few blocks from many of the touristed places in Lima and suddenly find yourself approaching a dangerous slum (e.g., the example of Rímac given above). In general, if you notice the crowds getting thinner, the buildings getting more run down and locals giving you a concerned look, you should turn back. You don’t necessarily need to avoid every poor area of the city but you shouldn’t walk into any of them without having done a little research first. A hotel concierge should be able to give you a quick overview of what specific areas nearby you should avoid.

If you’re arriving at Lima’s airport late at night, you’ll definitely want to have accommodations booked in advance, preferably nearby. When you leave the secured area of the terminal you’ll be greeted by a raucous throng of locals offering to set you up with hotels or taxis. It’s not uncommon for them to promise you an upscale place, agree on a price, and then drop you off at a run-down hotel in a crime-infested part of the city. You can avoid all this chaos by booking somewhere in advance and arranging for them to pick you up at the airport (which all reputable hotels and hostels near the airport offer), where you’ll be greeted by someone carrying a sign with your name and the hotel’s name.

Getting In & Out

Lima is the hub of the country as well as the gateway to almost all international locations, so the city is very well connected. If you’re arriving or leaving on an international flight, it will almost certainly be through Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez, the city’s main airport. There are multiple daily flights from Lima to every major destination in Peru.

If you’re traveling to or from Lima by bus, you’ll need to do a little planning in advance. The city does not have a central bus station, instead, each company operates its own terminal, which makes it a bit of a headache to organize a trip. Some of the bus terminals are in rather rough neighborhoods so, unless you know otherwise, it’s a good idea to take a taxi to or from whichever terminal you need to access. One area, where several bus companies have terminal nearby, is the south of La Victoria (a bit rough in places). I’ve marked two of the terminals in this area on the map with the bus icons, Cruz del Sur and Ormeño. The two companies are two of the more reputable bus operators and serve all the major destinations.

The following table gives approximate costs and travel durations to get from Lima and various other cities by bus. The given costs are for luxury buses, where available (mostly long distance trips). If you opt for normal buses, you can expect to pay around 40% less.

Destination Approx. cost (USD) Duration (hours)
Arequipa 25 14-16
Cusco 45 29-33
Huaraz 25 8-9
Máncora 45 14
Nazca 25 8
Paracas/Pisco 12 4
Nazca 20-30 11-12
Puno 25 21
Tacna 50 18
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Nazca Travel Guide

Nazca‘s main claim to fame is the nearby Nazca Lines. While it definitely has a touristy feel to it, the town is in pretty good shape with well-maintained infrastructure and plenty of decent restaurants and accommodations.

Nazca has a metropolitan population of just over 50,000 but it is spread over a fairly large area and so it feels a lot smaller. The city’s core area is less than a kilometer across, so you can walk anywhere in town easily. The center of the city is based around Plaza de Armas (red marker on the map, see below). The main bus terminal is just a few hundred meters down Ave Callao, the town’s main street (denoted by the bus icon on the map). On Callao, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, accommodations, internet cafes and tourist offices.

The Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the center of Nazca. To fully appreciate the size and scale of these drawings, you’ll need to take an observation flight over them. These flights take off during the morning and early afternoon when visibility is highest. The flights take around half of an hour and cost between 50 and 70 USD. They can be booked from within Nazca and your transportation to and from Nazca will be included. You can also take a taxi to the airport yourself and buy a ticket there.

Map

The core of the city of Nazca, with the bus station and Plaza de Armas, marked.

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Amazon Basin Travel Guide


The Amazon Basin shaded in light green.

The Amazon Basin region of Peru is vast, covering most of the country’s territory. Despite this, only 5% of Peruvians live in this area, due in part to much of the region being very isolated and hard to reach. Because of this, traveling this region is demanding but for those up to the challenge, exploring Peru’s frontier is an adventure like no other.

Geography & Climate

The Peruvian Amazon basin is part of the Amazon Rainforest, the world’s largest rainforest and home to much of the planet’s plant and animal species. Towering broad-leaved trees compose most of the plant life. These trees form a canopy over the forest floor and themselves support a rich flora of plant life; orchids, lichens, mosses and many other plants live attached to the branches of these trees. The undergrowth of the Amazon is mostly composed of ferns, small trees, and large vines which grow up the trees to capture sunlight. This relatively sparse undergrowth makes it possible for animals (and people) to walk through the forest without too much difficulty.

The Amazon Basin has a typical tropical rainforest climate, with no pronounced difference between summer and winter. Typically it is hot, humid and wet throughout the year, with heavy and frequent rainfall. Daytime temperatures are usually between 30°C and 35°C (85°F and 95°F) while at night temperatures dip down to between 15°C and 25°C (59°F and 77°F).

Sights and Attractions

Not surprisingly, most visitors are drawn to the Amazon Basin by its many natural wonders. Since much of the Amazon remains unexplored, giving an exhaustive list of the plant and animal life which live there is impossible. Nevertheless, from what has been explored, it’s undeniable that the Amazon Rainforest is the most species-rich environment on the planet; home to nearly 3 million species of insect, over 50,000 species of plants, and some 3,000 mammals and birds. In fact, one out of five of all birds on the planet live in the Amazon rainforest.

The town of Puerto Maldonado (location indicated by the red place marker on the map) provides perhaps the easiest access to the Amazon in Peru and has the added advantage of being located just a few hundred kilometers from popular Cusco. From here you are in close proximity to some of the most animal-rich portions of the entire Amazon.

The northern portion of the Peruvian Amazon is where the famous Amazon River begins. This is the rawest and untamed area of the Amazon Basin and provides the opportunity to see the rainforest in its most undisturbed state. The usual jump off point for exploring this area is the town of Yurimaguas (location indicated by the yellow place marker on the map).

The Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are a collection of enormous drawings – some spanning nearly 300 meters (900 feet) wide – created by an ancient pre-Incan civilization. They are located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru, around 20 kilometers north of the town of Nazca. How and why the drawings were created has stumped archaeologists since they first began studying them. The dozens of drawings include a monkey, a hummingbird, a fish, a spider, a shark, llamas, lizards and a bizarre alien-like figure.

The lines were drawn by digging trenches into the reddish desert that revealed white stone beneath. Because of the region’s extreme dryness, lack of the wind and its isolation, the lines have been remarkably well preserved. The Nazca desert is one of the driest places on Earth and the temperature remains around 27°C (80°F) the entire year. Anthropologists have differing interpretations as to what the purpose of the lines was, but generally, believe they were of spiritual importance for the ancient civilization that created them.

The Nazca Lines first drew the attention of the modern world when planes began flying over the area during the 1930s. During these flights, people began noticing the strange markings on the ground and anthropologists began investigating them. Of particular intrigue to scholars was understanding how a civilization could have created such massive drawings without any aerial assistance. The lines are far too large to be viewed from ground level and so whoever created them would have had to do so blindly.

Observation flights over the lines are offered during the morning and early afternoon. These take place in small aircraft – usually holding 6 to 12 people – and give a good view of all the drawings. These flights last around 30 minutes and bank fairly hard left and right, so if you’re prone to motion sickness you might want to take some anti-nausea pills before. The flights typically cost 50 USD per person, though that can rise to around 70 USD during peak season.

Lake Titicaca Travel Guide

Lake Titicaca sits on the border between Peru and Bolivia and is a favorite destination for visitors to Peru’s Andean Highlands. It is the largest lake in South America and, sitting 3,811 meters (12,500 feet) above sea-level, it is the highest lake in the world. Lake Titicaca is fed by a large network of rivers carrying runoff from glaciers located high in the Andes mountains. The vast lake and the associated rivers are the lifeblood of the surrounding area’s agricultural economy.

Lake Titicaca’s distinctively blue water is constantly being refreshed by the ongoing flow of glacier water from the numerous snow-capped mountain peaks not far from the lake. As a result, it has what is perhaps the purest water of any lake on Earth. The area around Lake Titicaca possesses some of the most fertile soil in all of Peru and supports the countless farms dotting the surrounding valleys. This is the heartland of Andean South America and is a must visit for both nature lovers and anyone looking to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle of Peru’s traditional Andean culture.

Geography & Climate

Lake Titicaca is made up of two nearly separate sub-lakes that are connected by the Strait of Tiquina. The narrow strait is near pinches Lake Titicaca in two, being only around 800 meters (2,600 feet) across at its narrowest point. The much larger of these two sub-basins is called Lago Grande and makes up most of Lake Titicaca. The average depth in Lago Grande is around 135 meters (445 feet), with a maximum depth of 285 meters (935 feet). Overall, Lake Titicaca’s average depth is 107 meters (351 feet).

The lake is fed by five major river systems, namely the Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané and Suchez rivers. Besides these, dozens of smaller streams also flow into the river. A notable characteristic of Lake Titicaca is its distinctive blue color. This is owed to the extremely low level of impurities present in its waters, which are constantly revitalized by new runoff from the glaciers each year. Forty-one islands are contained within Lake Titicaca, many of which are home to sizeable populations of people who make a living fishing the lake’s waters.

Lake Titicaca has an Alpine climate, meaning the temperatures are cool year-round. Winters (June to September) are dry and can get very cold during the night. In winter, daytime temperatures average around 7°C (45°F) while at night it often dips just below freezing. During the rest of the year, daytime temperatures remain cool with highs of around 16°C (61°F).

Map


Lake Titicaca with place-markers indicating Puno (red), the Capachica Peninsula (green), Taquile Island (turquoise) and Amantaní Island (yellow)

Sights & Attractions

On the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca lies the town of Puno (red marker on the map). The bustling little city of 120,000 people is one of the best jump-off points for exploring Lake Titicaca and is also a worthwhile destination in its own right. Puno is a hub for trade between Peru and Bolivia and has long been one of the economic hubs of the Lake Titicaca area. The eminently walkable city is a cultural center of Andean Peru and is known as Peru’s folklore capital. Puno retains a festive spirit year-round and the towns many bars are abuzz every night of the week.

Jaunting into the northwestern part of Lake Titicaca is the Capachica Peninsula (green marker on the map). If you’re looking to get away from it all and experience natural serenity and traditional Peruvian culture then this is the place for you. The tiny towns dotting this peninsula are surrounded by beautiful hilly forests and sustain themselves from both the river and the fertile soil it feeds. The culture here is notably traditional with a style of dress looking like something out of a postcard. It is rather remote and you’re unlikely to come across an ATM or an internet connection. The only accommodation options are homestays (which can be pre-arranged in Puno), which provides a rich cultural experience.

The residents of Lake Titicaca’s islands live very traditional agrarian lifestyles which have been relatively unchanged over the past couple hundred years due to their remoteness. The tranquil beauty of these islands is paradise for those looking to get away from it all. There are one, two and three-day tours of each of the islands of Uros, Taquile and Amantaní (purple, turquoise and yellow place-markers, respectively, on the map) that depart from Puno. As with the Capachica Peninsula, the only accommodation options on these islands are homestays.

Getting There & Away

As mentioned above, Puno is the best starting point for exploring the Lake Titicaca area. The nearest airport is in the (rather drab) town of Juliaca, around an hour away.

It’s possible to travel between Puno and Cusco by train, though it’s not cheap, costing over 200 USD. That said, the ride is quite luxurious and is a nice way to see some of the beautiful scenery between the two towns.

Puno has a large central bus station and has regular connections with a long list of destinations. The most reliable operators with service to and from Puno are Inka Express, Cruz del Sur, and Ormeño. The following table summarizes approximate travel times and costs for trips between Puno and various destinations. Note the prices given are for upscale, high-end buses (where available). Budget options will cost around 40% less (and will often take a little longer).

Destination Approx. cost (USD) Duration (hours)
Arequipa 8 5
Capachica 6 2
Cusco 8 6
Juliaca 2 1
Lima 30-50 18-21


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