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Top Peru Attractions

The first time you visit Peru, or any new destination, the question asked isn’t usually what attractions should be scene but what attraction to see first, what to expect, how to get there, and how much time is needed. We’ve provided tips, advice, and other information about the top tourist attractions in Peru to help with your itinerary planning.

Machu Picchu Machu Picchu
Cuzco Peru Cuzco Peru
Puerto Maldonado Puerto Maldonado
Lima Peru Lima Peru

Machu Picchu

Built by the Incas over 500 years ago, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction with over 500,000 people each year, and a U.N. Heritage site.

Machu PicchuMachu Picchu is a glorious man-made city sitting in the middle of a tropical mountain forest. Perched high above the clouds at 7,000 feet above sea level, the city remains quite intact with giant stone walls, old temples, and luscious green terraces. Located about 75 miles from Cuzco, Machu Picchu overlooks a canyon on the Urubamba river and the Andes mountains, as well as lots of greenery from the Amazon basin.

This colossal work of architecture is an incredible achievement for such a primitive culture. The stonemasonry and engineering are near construction perfection, remaining intact for centuries. Wandering through this ancient citadel, you will find a maze of temples and palaces reserved for the top Incan royalty. Two must-see temples are the Temple of the Sun--a circular tower with the best stonework, and Temple of the Moon with carved structures on boulders.

If you have the time, you can climb Huayna Picchu—the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu (where the Temple of the Moon is located). It is about an hour climb on the original Inca path; the view from the to p is worth it, as you can see the entire Machu Picchu and its valley.

Be prepared for a long travel to get here. There are only two ways: by rail and by foot. By rail, you must leave from Cuzco. Trains leave only early in the morning and you return the same day. Be prepared for a long trip, the train is about 4 ½ hours to Machu Picchu and 5 to 5 ½ hours return. You will start about 6:00 am and return to Cuzco around 9:30 at night. Pack food for the train—there is not much available. This is not the entire trip, once you get off the train, you take a bus ride for 30 minutes to the top, then hike the rest of the way. The train and the bus trip do have quite severe switchbacks, so take motion sickness pills if this will cause you pain. There are backpacker’s services available for this trip. You will not receive a tour guide, as many tourists prefer. The cost for the backpacker’s service is around US $35.00. This does not include entrance into Machu Picchu itself.

By foot, you can actually hike the Inca trail. This takes about 3-5 full days of hiking. Be sure to bring some sleeping/camping equipment with you. Many tourists do this and it is so popular, you must make reservations for the hike beforehand.

Many websites offer travel deals for the hike, which include tour guides.

Regular adult fare for entrance is US $20. Bring your International Student ID card for discounts. The park will close at dusk, but plenty of hostels and hotels will accommodate you if you decide to stay an extra day.

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Cuzco Peru

Cuzco PeruCuzco is a quaint town accessible basically by plane only. This city evokes a mystical feel, as if you were still in the ancient Incan times. Children play s occer in the streets, women roam about selling their homemade goods and crafts, and the parks fill with pigeons. The town is small and easily accessible, be sure to visit the magnificent Cathedral, the Church of LaMerced, and the Temple of San Blas. Shopping does not disappoint either, as you can easily barter for fleece sweaters, jackets, and blankets (at such a high elevation, these items become a necessity). When visiting the Plaza de Armas, you may see Peruvian military marching. The Museum of Religious Art, once a palace for the Incas, still maintains its intricate Moorish architecture and carvings. In the museum, you can find some Mesitizo artwork (both European and Indian influence). You can take tours of the city with English-speaking guides. You will learn about the history of the Incas, the Quechua language, and visit some old temples further out of town. It gets chilly, so be sure to take your sweater and wool mittens.

Cuzco is available by flight. Not many carriers fly into Cuzco; Lan Peru is about the cheapest option for arrival.

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Puerto Maldonado

Explore the Amazon in this beautiful national reserve park. Near the Madre de Dios, a large river in Puerto Maldonado, there are three conservation areas the Manu Biosphere Reserve, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, the Tambopata - Candamo Reserve, with intact populations of several endangered species, and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, home to 450 different species of birds.

Several companies will provide you with the full Amazon experience in Puerto Maldonado. You must fly from Cuzco to this national reserve. From there, a company bus will pick you up and take you to the Madre de Dios. A motor-boat is then waiting to wisk you off to some jungle adventure. On each side of the river, you will discover a world of palm trees, thick greenery, and crocodiles meandering about the edge of the water.

Each company has their own facilities located on the edge of the Madre de Dios at some point on the river. During your stay, you will be housed in thatched log cabins reminiscent of Treasure Island. Expect to live like the jungle people, with no hot water and no electricity, just the eerie sounds of the jungle. You will hear parakeets of every species, mosquitos, every bug humming its own tune.

Each company provides the delicious, savory meals. Expect some tasty seasonings of the jungle dishes, such as rice cooked i n palm leaves, tender meats with special sauces, and monkey bananas as sweet as candy.

During your time in the Amazon, you shall be treated to hikes deep into the jungle while experiencing plenty of mosquito bites, parakeets, monkeys, and the largest, most colorful butterflies in the world. At night, you can take a boat into Madre de Dios to search for crocodiles. Their eyes turn ruby red by your flashlight. After a long day’s hike, you can simply relax in your hammock and listen to the birds sing you to sleep. Silence in the jungle does not exist.

Package costs vary depending upon length of stay and tour company used.

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Lima Peru

The capitol of Peru, Lima is cosmopolitan and has that large-city feel, yet still maintains a culture true to its Indian roots. Sitting up against the Pacific Ocean, the fog and chilly air rolls in, but during the summer months (winter months in U.S.) the sun peaks its head out and millions flock to the beach. Although most buildings are governmental, you can still find historical sites and museums throughout the city. Its cobbled streets and traditional Catholic churches mixed with big city sophistication leads Lima to be a unique experience for the South American tourist.

Tourist attractions
In the center of town, known as the Plaza de Armas, you can see the President’s palace and all its glory. You cannot enter, but just take some pictures from behind the gates. In this area, you can visit the massive governmental buildings and the politicians roaming the streets. During the lunch hour, you can witness the changing of the guard. In the plaza are the cathedral, town hall, and library. Many manifestations against the government often take place in this plaza.

For the shopaholic, visit Miraflores—an eclectic area with outdoor markets, cafes, outdoor entertainment and various stores and restaurants. It invokes a Miami like feel in a city that is quite subdued. You can also see Kennedy Park in which artists sell their painting s every weekend.

Over forty museums are located in or around Lima, Peru with artifacts of the ancient Incan culture, textiles, and pottery. Most museums are either historical-archaeological or religious. Museums to see include the Museum of the Republic and Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, with collections of ancient Peruvian culture. If you do not have a weak stomach, visit the Museum of the Inquisition to view underground dungeons and torture chambers.

The Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology is open from Tuesday to Sunday 9:30-5:30. Plaza Bolivar s/n, Pueblo Libre. 463-5070

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Peru Travel Guides
 Frommer's Peru
 Lonely Planet Peru
 Let's Go Peru
 Fodors Peru