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Peru could be the most exotic place that you would visit in a lifetime. Scenic beauty, adventure activities, an eerie, mysterious history, and some of the most amazing experiences in the laps of nature- Peru has all of it to offer. The ancient and mysterious Incan civilization is well-heard of throughout the world but Peru has so much more to offer than the old remains of Machu Picchu. You could be fishing for piranhas in the great Amazon, take on an adventurous trek on the Andes, explore and try to decipher the enigmatic Nazca Lines, or simply experience the touches of modern life in Lima. Here are the top 10 places in Peru that you just have to visit at least once in a lifetime.
Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
The ruins of Machu Picchu are one of the most impressive and well-known ruins in the world. It is set above the Urubamba River at a height of 300 meters and has a stunning backdrop of tall, lush green mountains, often interspersed with clouds. The fine, ancient city was discovered by Hiram Bringham quite recently in 1911 and he always believed it to be the “Lost City of the Incas”. Machi Picchu is very easy to reach since there are regular train services to the place. You can catch a train to Aguas Calientes through 3 different stops, namely, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Urubamba. A 20-minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes will take you up the hill to the ancient city. The best time to visit this stunning place is between June to August but a couple of months on either side of this duration also gets good weather and fewer crowds.
There is an alternative route to Machu Picchu which will take you through a journey of exploration through nature, just like the Incas used to do! This is the Inca Trail- it is a 4-day hiking trail that takes you to the ancient city and could be proclaimed as one of the highlights of a trip to Peru. Just like the train station, there are several starting points for this hike, but the most convenient one is the one starting at the Cusco-Aguas Calientes rail line. This route will take you through 30 such Incan ruins coupled with the most picturesque scenery. The second day is the most exhaustive since you will be passing through two high passes and climbing up by 1200 meters. You can only enter the hike through an agency and you should be quick to book your reservation if you plan on taking the hike since entry is controlled. You could also go for a shorter version which could either last two days or just the last day!
Cusco’s Architectural Treasure
Cusco, one of the starting points for your journey to Machu Picchu, is in itself a marvelous place to visit and you have to set aside a day or two to explore this remarkable city. The place has a beautiful architectural appeal that is regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the colonial settlements, many an Incan ruin has been used as the structure to set up the colonial buildings. This in turn has been successful in creating one of the most mesmerizing cities with cobbled stone pathways out there.
The best way to look through the city would be via walking since you will come across something amazing at every corner. Plaza de Armas in the main square and the city center and is the best place to start your tour. Make sure that you visit the Cathedral and La Compania, both buildings are in the city center. You could also find many places to try local cuisines over here and you could just spend the whole day gazing into the lifestyle of the locals. Another magnificent structure that you just cannot miss while you are visiting Cusco is the Church of Santo Domigo. It is built around the ruins of Coricancha and is listed as one of the must-see attractions while you are in Cusco.
If you are planning a trip to the Colca Canyon, you would have to start at Arequipa. It would take you about 4 hours from Arequipa to reach the canyon on road. It is recommended that you spend a day or two considering there are so many things to explore in the canyon and also the 4-hour ride. Hot springs, Incan ruins, churches, and villages are the many attractions that you could be exploring in the canyon. If you are lucky enough you might also find condors trailing the sky above the canyon!
The Nazca lines are so immense in magnitude that they can be best viewed from the air. Thus, you can pre-book flights above the Nazca lines and may even get reservations on a first-come, first-serve basis. The 180m long lizard and the condor with a wingspan of 130m are two of the most prominent and well-known of these lines. Other well-known figures created by the lines include a monkey, a hummingbird, a spider, and a killer whale. It is believed that these lines were created somewhere around 900 BC and 600 AD by Nazca and Paracas settlers. It might not be landing pads for aliens but could be a ceremonial site, a track for running, or even an agricultural calendar.
The Canthalloc Aqueducts lie about 4 km away from the Nazca lines and are another interesting feature of this ancient civilization. The aqueducts were so built that they can provide water to the agricultural fields seamlessly all year round. These were so brilliantly built that some of the Canthalloc aqueducts are still in use! The Cemetery of Chauchilla is another nearby attraction.
While in Pisac, you have to go to the Sunday Market if you can. Smaller markets are set up on Tuesdays and Thursdays but the Sunday Market is the best place to get a gust of the local culture, lifestyle, and people. You could also shop for souvenirs in the market and try on the local cuisines. The town of Ollantaytambo also holds such ruins along with a fortress that is worth exploring. The town of Moray, though a bit out of the way, is another remarkable place that you could be visiting in this part of the country. The salt mines of Salinas are another attraction that has existed since the Incas and are still in use today.
You take different kinds of tours in the forests over here. The typical tour would last for a couple of days but you can even go for week-long adventures if you want to! Two of the most popular destinations in this region are the Reseva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene. You have to travel by boat to reach either of the two places. While Reserva Nacional Tambopota is just a hour away from Puerto Maldonado, the Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene is about 4 hours away from the Parque Nacional Madidi, Bolivia, across the river.
Sandboarding, which is very similar to snowboarding, is a very common activity in this region. You could hire sandboards from the locals to give the activity a whirl. If you are not so adventure-minded, you could also go for sand buggies to have a grand fun time. Since it is slightly higher and farther away from the oceans, the friendly mist found in all other places along the stretch is missing. The weather is dry and sunny which makes Ica the ideal place to be visited all year long.
The Paracas Peninsula stretches out into the Pacific Ocean towards the southern side of Pisco. It is home to the Reserva Nacional de Paracas and is the largest protected area on the Peru coastline. There is a plethora of wildlife available in this region which includes up to 20 different species of seabirds, a rare species of otter, two different species of sea lions, and even the endangered Humboldt species of penguins.
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