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PERU

Get the Details On Our Peru Trip

Find out more about the trip, including activity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, included meals, and more

Trip Extension: Peru: Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lima

See the old traditions of the New World as you meet traditional tradespeople and soar to Machu Picchu.

06:42 | 1167 views

8 NIGHTS FROM $1,795

PRE-TRIP EXTENSION

Peru: Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lima

Days in Peru
7

Take a two-hour journey by train to Machu Picchu, the “Lost city of the Incas” which offers spectacular views into the gorge of the Urubamba River
Embark on an optional, ambitious hike to the Sun Gate at the end of the Inca trail, affording you a breathtaking panoramic view of the ruins
Explore the eclectic city of Lima, a bustling mix of pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, and modern architecture
Admire the lush scenery and terraced farms of the Sacred Valley

Trip Details

Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5

Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Peru: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Peru in January-February

January and February mark Peru’s wet season. You can expect rain at least once per day, but the season’s showers usher in the bounty of Mother Nature, including verdant, healthy vegetation blooms. Trekkers hoping to hike the Inca Trail will find it closed for cleaning and maintenance, but Machu Picchu remains open throughout the wet season and plays host to gloriously few visitors. And with fewer tourists to compete with, your travel dollar will go further.

Holidays & Events

  • Early January: Three Kings Day
  • Pisco Sour Day: The first Saturday of February is set aside to honor Peru's national drink

Must See

Carnival is celebrated across Peru with lively street parties, featuring water balloon fights. The end of the festivities is marked by the yunsa ritual, when a yunsa tree laden with gifts is brought to the festival. People dance around the tree, and couples compete to knock it down with an axe, releasing the gifts.

Watch this film to discover more about Peru

The Shamans of Peru Produced by David Conover and Compass Light Productions

Meet Peru's shamans and learn how they dedicate their lives to ancient rituals in an increasingly modern world.

13:53 | 3499 views

Peru in March-May

March, April, and May—Peru’s fall—usher in milder temperatures and the start of the dry season. The main tourist season hasn’t yet begun, so you can expect fewer crowds at Machu Picchu’s many ancient ruins and must-see sites. These are some of the best months to visit Machu Picchu—and if you do, you’ll witness the additional delight of orchids in bloom, which are visible on the train ride from Cuzco to Machu Picchu.

Holidays & Events

  • Early May: Feast day for Señor Muruhuay, who is renowned throughout Peru for his help in caring for the sick during a smallpox epidemic. In his honor, thousands of hopefuls embark on a pilgrimage or write a Carta a Dios, or Letter to God, asking for miracles or giving thanks for miracles already received. The Señor Muruhuay pilgrimage is considered one of the most important in Peru.

Watch this film to discover more about Peru

The Shamans of Peru Produced by David Conover and Compass Light Productions

Meet Peru's shamans and learn how they dedicate their lives to ancient rituals in an increasingly modern world.

13:53 | 3499 views

Peru in June-September

Peru’s winter months are the official peak of the dry season—and the tourist season for Machu Picchu. Drawn by cloudless skies, visitors flock to the mysterious ruins, which can see as many as 2,000 tourists a day. However, on some days visitors may also experience a dense fog known as La Garua, which blankets the city in a misty drizzle.

Peru’s winter months are the most popular time of year to visit, so it’s best to plan your visit in advance.

Holidays & Events

  • May 1: Labor Day
  • July 28-29: Fiestas Patrias. Peru’s national holidays are a two-day affair that celebrate the country’s independence from Spain in style: fireworks blaze across the night sky; the Gran Corso (Great Parade) dances through Lima with a trail of colorful floats, costumed performers, and marching bands; and Pisco sours flow freely from the nation’s watering holes.

Watch this film to discover more about Peru

The Shamans of Peru Produced by David Conover and Compass Light Productions

Meet Peru's shamans and learn how they dedicate their lives to ancient rituals in an increasingly modern world.

13:53 | 3499 views

Peru in October-December

October in Peru offers sunshine and mild temperatures, while late November heralds the start of the wet season. Despite the occasional downpour, December is still largely pleasant—and with fewer crowds in the ruins to compete with, many travelers are willing to risk getting a little wet for a chance of uninterrupted time at Machu Picchu’s popular attractions. This is also an excellent time of year for viewing wildlife and birds—of the latter, Peru has more species than any nation except for Colombia. 

Holidays & Events

  • October 8: Battle of Angamos, which commemorates a naval battle fought between Peru and Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).
  • November 1: All Saints’ Day
  • December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Must See

Christmas Eve (December 24) is a festive event throughout this predominantly Catholic country, but in Cuzco, Santurantikuy Market is the place to be. The market is a riot of activity as shoppers buy last-minute presents, Andean vendors sell local plants and grasses for the nativity manger, and families enjoy seasonal treats like hot chocolate.

Watch this film to discover more about Peru

The Shamans of Peru Produced by David Conover and Compass Light Productions

Meet Peru's shamans and learn how they dedicate their lives to ancient rituals in an increasingly modern world.

13:53 | 3499 views

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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450, and then abandoned in the wake of the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, its existence was known only to local Quechua peasants until a 1911 expedition by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham brought it to the attention of the world at large. Today it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Although it is Peru’s most well-known attraction, it is still shrouded in an aura of mystery. Much of the site is still claimed by the jungle, and archaeologists haven’t decided conclusively what the “lost city” was used for in its heyday; the two most common theories posit that it was either an estate for the Inca emperor, or a sacred religious site for the nobility.

The site is located nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, set between two imposing Andean peaks. The ancient Inca who built it were master architects, fitting together granite stone without mortar to create structures which amazingly still stand today (with the help of vigilant conservationists). Visitors can walk among the ruins, discovering key sites like the Temple of the Sun, and the ritual stone of Intihuatana, and hike to the Sun Gate for a panoramic view of the site as a whole.

Experience Machu Picchu with us on:

The Inca Trail

While many (understandably) opt to head to Machu Picchu by vehicle, hiking the Inca trail is a challenge that many daring individuals chose to undertake. And when they do, they are rewarded with unparalleled scenery such as forests obscured by clouds, jungle-dwelling wildlife, and myriad relics left behind by a lost people. The trail is 26 miles long from beginning to end.

For those who are looking to behold mystifying history without the 26-mile hike, some of the ruins lay fairly close to Machu Picchu and require less of a trek. The Sun Gate, for example, sits at the Machu Picchu end of the trail and is a one-hour hike from the ruins. It’s believed that imperial guards strategically used this remote entrance to monitor who had access to the city. Travelers who hike here experience an unmatched overhead view of Machu Picchu. Alternatively, the Inca Bridge is also a short distance from the city and showcases a mysterious and impressive architectural feat. A path is cut into the face of a cliff for safe passage. However, a gap was left in one section that the Incans bridged with logs, but then removed when under threat of enemy invasion.

Also close by is the peculiarly shaped Intihuatana (place to tie up the sun) Stone. This is one of the many relics of the trail that’s shrouded in a fog of mystery, as it was likely used for astronomical studies and a keystone of Incan rituals. What information it afforded the ancient residents and what they did with it, however, is still unknown.

Experience the Inca Trail with us on:

Cuzco

The mountain metropolis of Cuzco was the old capital city of the Inca empire, and is the oldest continuously-habited city in South America. Situated more than 11,000 feet above sea level in the Andes, Cuzco is the first stop for many travelers on their way to Machu Picchu, but it’s a travel destination in its own right, too.

Cuzco’s blend of cultures surrounds you; as you navigate the narrow cobblestone streets, winding up and down steep hills, you’ll find Inca temples, Spanish churches, chic modern shops and restaurants, and more. The heart of the city is the Plaza de Armas, which once stood at the center of the Inca empire, and was regarded by them as the “navel of the world.” When the Spanish came, they left their mark, building two churches flanking the plaza, La Compania and La Catedral.

The city was once the center of the Inca’s prosperous textile industry, and even today it’s a great place to shop if you’re in the market for authentic alpaca-fur clothing.

Experience Cuzco with us on:

Sacred Valley

The Urubamba River Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley, is a region of the Peruvian countryside 10 miles north of Cuzco. Travelers are drawn here for a number of reasons, including hiking, rafting, and visiting the archeological sites and quiet hamlets dotting the landscape.

One of the most popular sites here is Ollantaytambo, where you’ll find the ruins of a mighty citadel, where the Inca bravely fought a successful defense against the invading Spanish armies. The stone-terraced complex also served as a temple, and in modern times, the nearby village is a good place to browse for souvenirs in open-air craft markets.

Nearby Pisac also offers a look at village life in the Sacred Valley, as well as the ruins of another Inca fortress, sitting atop a hill guarding the entrance to the valley. Pisac is an excellent example of the Incas’ innovative terrace farming techniques, which allowed them to cultivate crops at an altitude that would otherwise be inhospitable to agriculture.

Experience the Sacred Valley with us on:

Lima

Peru’s capital city is tied strongly to its colonial past. Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, who named it Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings), it served as a colonial stronghold until it was liberated in 1821 during the Peruvian War of Independence. With nearly 10 million people, the modern capital city of Lima is home to almost one third of Peru’s population.

The city today is a mix of old and new, as pre-Columbian buildings stand side by side with stately Spanish colonial homes and Baroque churches along Parisian-style streets. Additionally, the city is continuously expanding as residents construct new shantytowns on the city’s frontiers. Some of Lima’s more famous locales include its UNESCO-recognized historic center, the San Francisco Monastery, Santo Domingo Church, the upscale Miraflores district, and its Baroque cathedral.

Lima is a culinary capital, too. From trendy restaurants serving expensive dishes, to street carts offering more budget-minded options, Lima is a great place to try Peruvian specialties like ceviche, lomo saltado (marinated beef), or for the truly adventurous eater, guinea pig. After your meal, relax and wash it down with a Pisco Sour, Peru’s delectable national drink, made from lime juice, sugar, egg white and Angostura bitters.

Experience Lima with us on:

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Peru with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

True or false: There are no current inhabitants of Machu Picchu. Find out here.

ARTICLE

Peru takes great pride in its native bird: the Andean Condor. Learn about it here.

ARTICLE

Learn more about the stars in the night sky—as seen by the Incas.

RECIPE

Bring the flavors of Peru into your home with this hearty stew recipe.

5 Myths of Machu Picchu Debunked

by Zack Gross, for O.A.T.

1. Machu Picchu is the legendary “Lost City” of the Incas
Hiram Bingham III stumbled upon Machu Picchu in pursuit of Vilcabamba, the last Inca city to fall to the Spanish conquistadores. It’s evident from his writings that when he saw it, he was convinced he had finally discovered the “lost city.” Nestled between the Andes Mountains and seemingly floating among the clouds, it’s no wonder the mystical remains of Machu Picchu seemed to be the culmination of his quest. If you’ve fallen prey to this common misconception, please find solace in the fact that Hiram Bingham did too. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be until after Bingham died that his error would come to light. It is now widely believed that the true lost city of Vilcabamba was located at a site called Espiritu Pampa, which Bingham also visited, but didn’t attribute as much importance to in his writings.

2. You can see all of the ruins
We’ve all heard the expression “just the tip of the iceberg.” Well, the same could be said about what you’ll see of Machu Picchu. Surprisingly, there’s much more to these ruins than meets the eye, as a majority of the Inca’s handwork actually resides under the ground. Before the wheel arrived in the New World, and long before steel and concrete became the blood and bones of construction work, the Inca people built the walls and terraces of Machu Picchu with only stones. Without even using mortar, they built an entire complex of buildings with stones cut so perfectly and placed so closely together that the cracks between them can’t even be penetrated by a credit card. Inching up to the edges of cliffs overlooking the Urubamba River, the stone city that stretches boldly across this high ridge in the Andes is actually perched above an underground irrigation system and building foundations. The underground foundations of Machu Picchu are so strong, in fact, that when earthquakes hit, the perfectly placed stones are said to “dance” and then fall right back into place.

3. There are no current inhabitants of Machu Picchu
Built over 500 years ago, and mysteriously abandoned in the early 16th century, Machu Picchu hasn’t had any human inhabitants for a long time. However, there are quite a few animals that still call this incredible place home. Not only are there plenty of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas roaming the ruins—“nature’s lawn mowers,” as the locals lovingly call them—there are also some rare and endangered species dwelling in the surrounding tropical rain forest. South America’s only native bear—the spectacled bear—resides here, along with the world’s smallest species of deer (the pudu), and ocelots, to name a few.

4. Machu Picchu was originally a nunnery or convent
When Bingham dug up skeletons at Machu Picchu, a leading expert at the time told him that the remains were mostly female. Based on this finding, Bingham surmised that the city was built as a nunnery or convent. He even went on to suggest that it may have been home to the Virgins of the Sun, a sect of Inca women who lived in religious compounds. However, it was later found—upon further examination of the remains—that there was actually a relatively balanced mix of male and female inhabitants, and that the characteristically small stature of the Inca people probably misled early 20th-century scientists. Interestingly enough, their small physiques are actually a manifestation of the Inca’s deep-rooted connections to life in the mountains. Over centuries of living high in the Andes, they developed a shorter stature, larger lungs, and more red-blood cells, all of which aid in respiration and circulation at high altitudes.

5. Your trip to Machu Picchu can wait
If Machu Picchu has always been one of your dream destinations, don’t wait! There has never been a better time to go, as new rules and restrictions are under discussion that would limit the impact of tourism on the spectacular ruins. The Ministry of Culture in Cusco has, for example, considered limiting the number of people who can visit each day, and the amount of time you are permitted to spend in each area of the ruins. While we support any decision that will help preserve this wonder of the world, we urge you to go there soon to maximize the ease of exploration and your enjoyment of the ruins on your own terms.

The Andean Condor

How an ancient symbol is flying high again

by David Valdes Greenwood, from Dispatches

In the plaintive original lyrics of El Condor Pasa, the most famous Peruvian song of all time, the singer pleads,

“Wait for me in Cuzco, in the main plaza!
Wait for me in Cuzco, in the main plaza,
So we can go together to walk in Machu Picchu.”

For all the longing in every line, the object of the entreaties is not the singer’s beloved—or, for that matter, even human. The subject of the ballad is the Andean Condor itself, the mighty bird which has been a symbol of Peruvian culture since the time of the Inca. And the singer, a Quechua mine worker in the city, is pleading with the condor to fly him back to the Andes.

For Peru, the condor represents legend, history, nature, and tradition all in one. Believed by the earliest Andeans to be the emissary of the Sun God and the ruler of the air, the bird was immortalized in the Temple of the Condor at Machu Picchu. There, the ingenious builders added stone blocks to a natural outcropping to replicate wings that rose above a carved condor head with a beak and ruffled collar. To this day, wherever you travel throughout the land of the Incas, the bird’s image is represented in statuary, artwork, graphics, and even textiles. From coffee shops to a regional airline, the logo of a condor is one way of proclaiming that a business is truly Peruvian.

Despite being so well-loved, the species was facing near extinction by the late 20th century, its numbers having dwindled from hunting and loss of habitat. In 1970, the breed was placed on the international “endangered species” list. In the 40 years since, Peru and its neighboring nations have strengthened environmental laws, implemented education plans to help their citizens better understand the value of preservation, and introduced captive-born condors into the wild. As a result, the species has stabilized in numbers to the point where it is currently listed as “Near Threatened,” one step up from “Vulnerable,” which in turn is an improvement over endangered.

When you see a condor up close—or even soaring high overhead— it’s hard to imagine such a creature ever seeming vulnerable.

Its sheer physical impressiveness makes it rare among its avian peers: Weighing up to 35 pounds, it boasts a wingspan of ten feet. How big is that? Imagine a bird with a body the size of a four-year-old boy and wings that unfurled beyond the width of a school bus. Not surprisingly, the Andean Condor one of the largest flying birds on Earth.

It is also among the most enigmatic. Because a condor has no voice box, it never sings or squawks its feelings. Playing the strong, silent type, the vulture only betrays its emotions when its face flushes. A condor likes to keep its face meticulously clean, so when strong emotions send blood rushing to its cheeks, the thin skin darkens noticeably. This is as close as a condor gets to making a fuss.

The silence of a condor extends to how it flies. Once airborne, it can remain aloft without any noisy flapping, carried along for miles on thermal currents of air, like a hang glider. This combination of songlessness and stillness in flight deepens the mystique of the breed.

While the condor always plays it cool, the people of Peru don’t hold back. They unabashedly love their soaring symbol, just as their ancestors did. And with the condor population rebounding, it seems they’ll be singing its praises for years to come.

Stargazing with the Incas

Finding constellations in stone and shadows

by Tom Lepisto, from Dispatches

On clear nights in the Peruvian Andes, the sight of the stars twinkling high above the mountains is dazzling. When you look up from the vicinity of Cuzco or the Sacred Valley, though, you get more than just a beautiful view—you are also seeing the night sky as the Incas did
centuries ago. With no modern city lights to interfere with the view, the stars and the Milky Way gleamed brilliantly for these ancient sky-watchers. They held these celestial visions sacred, observing them carefully for both religious and practical reasons.

The Incas had their own names for groupings of stars like the Pleiades—the cluster we know as the “Seven Sisters,” for the number of stars a keen-eyed observer can count without a telescope. To Incan eyes, this stellar assemblage resembled a handful of seeds, so they called it the Collca, meaning storehouse.

At the latitude of the Sacred Valley, thirteen degrees south of the equator, the Collca/Pleiades cluster drops out of sight below the nighttime horizon every year in April. It reappears in early June, shortly before the winter solstice. This timing, along with other celestial observations, helped farmers to schedule their planting and harvesting, and the return of the Collca to visibility was marked with a sacred ceremony.

The Southern Cross, called Crux in modern astronomy, is another constellation that the Incas found useful. There is no Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the North Star, but the two stars on the long axis of the Southern Cross can be used to draw a line that points due south. In Machu Picchu, near the Intihuatana sun stone in the city’s Sacred District, there is another carved stone that shows the Incas knew this fact well. Its diamond (or kite-like) shape mimics the outline of the Southern Cross, and it is precisely oriented on a north-south axis matching
that of the constellation.

The Incas regarded the Milky Way, which they called Mayu, as a celestial river. For part of each year, Mayu’s orientation in the sky parallels the course of the Vilcanota (Urubamba) River through the Sacred Valley, contributing to the Incan view of objects in the night sky as sacred reflections of their counterparts on the ground.

Another unique feature of Incan astronomy—found in no other culture on Earth—was the recognition of dark constellations in the shadowy parts of the Milky Way. Today, we know these dark areas are caused by non-luminous clouds of dust and gas that obscure the stars beyond them. The Incas saw shapes in these shadows that represented more connections between earth and sky, including Hamp’atu (the Toad), Atoq (the Fox), Yutu (the Tinamou, a partridge-like bird), and Machacuay (the Serpent, viewed positively by the Incas as the god of all things beneath the earth).

Three of the most prominent dark constellations further demonstrate the links the Incas made between worlds above and below. The largest of these shadowshapes is the Llama, with the Baby Llama underneath it and the Shepherd standing watch next to them. The large Llama is the only one of the dark constellations to also include stars, with the bright beacons known today as Alpha and Beta Centauri representing its eyes. In the dark skies of centuries ago, all of these sights were surely awe-inspiring nightly reminders of the Incan worldview. Today, we can still see how these ancient people bound heaven and earth together by putting the Southern Cross on the ground and placing the llamas with their shepherd in the sky.

A good look at the night sky anywhere offers a mind-expanding vista of other worlds. But in the Andean realm of the Incas, it also yields a look deep into the spirit of their culture—whose propensity for stargazing still resonates with anyone who has ever looked upward on a clear night and contemplated our connections to the cosmos.

Recipe: Peruvian Stew

from Harriet's Corner

While quinoa has only recently become popular in North American cuisine, it has been used by South America’s indigenous population (particularly the Incas) for thousands of years—and is still praised for its nutritional properties. Often called a “supergrain,” quinoa is rich in protein, fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, and manganese. This fall, warm yourself up—and indulge in the many benefits of quinoa—with this recipe for Peruvian quinoa stew.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, sliced (1/4-inch thick)
1 bell pepper (any color), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup zucchini, cubed
2 cups undrained canned tomatoes
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder (or more, to taste)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 pinch cayenne (or more, to taste)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup vegetable stock
Salt, to taste
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Rinse quinoa well, and place in a pot with water. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until soft. Set aside.
  2. While the quinoa cooks, sauté onions and garlic in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the celery and carrots. Cook for 5 additional minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, and tomatoes, as well as the cumin, chili powder, coriander, cayenne, and oregano. Cook for a few additional minutes, then stir in vegetable stock. Cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until vegetables soften.
  5. Stir in the cooked quinoa and add salt to taste. Before serving, sprinkle chopped cilantro on top if desired.

Serves: 4

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