Peru & Machu Picchu Tours
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Peru is known for Machu Picchu, but the varied flavors of the country will have you wanting seconds and more. From the majesty of the Andes to the grandeur of the Amazon rainforest, venture into a world where ancient ruins whisper secrets of the past and every day is a taste of splendor.
PERU AND MACHU PICCHU
The word Peru is an orphan of language, without meaning to the conquering Spanish or the indigenous Quechua speaking peoples, it makes for a neutral name that links the colonial past with the independent South American country. The scenery has a mystical ambiance that emanates from the biodiversity that is steeped in cultural heritage. Backpackers and luxury travelers alike enjoy Peru tours while experiencing the paradise that feels made for active explorers.
Sand dunes roll like mountains across the arid Pacific Coast as scarlet macaws, jaguars, and tapirs populate the dense rainforest. Chiseled peaks decorate the highlands across the Andean Plains, the longest mountain chain in the world and the cuisine ranges from tropical fruits to zesty ceviche, hardy stews to decadent chocolate. Any Peru tour offers a deep, enriching journey beyond a travel bucket list, turning each day into an immersive experience evoking intimate connections.
When picturing time in Peru, a plethora of images competes but usually culminates in the distinctive features of Machu Picchu towering above the Urubamba River. Marvels beyond the rediscovered Incan complex capture the mystique of the Amazon, the most prevalent pre-Colombian ruins in the Americas at Chan Chan, and the largest high-altitude lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. Peru offers remote and exotic beauty alongside preserved traditions that are richer than photos can capture.
This introduction provides quick and practical information for your Peru tours, Machu Picchu tour, Incan Escapade, or South American getaway with details about visa formalities, pre-trip tasks, and the unforgettable experiences to anticipate to shed any misconceptions about Peru and allow you to concentrate on the exciting adventures to come.
Machu Picchu is more than a historic site as it is an experience that blends memories and surprise, inspiration and custom. The 15th-century complex of temples, sanctuaries, and baths stands 7,000 feet above sea level encompassing more than 100 separate flights of stairs carved from stone. It is the most visited destination in Peru, accounting for nearly 1 million visitors per year with as many as 5,000 people a day touring the terraced grounds in the high season.
The Inca revered nature and utilized the bountiful beauty of their surroundings to create an artistic landscape. The boulders used to shape the intricate architecture were cut to precise detail, allowing each stone to fit together like a puzzle piece without mortar. The creases between stones are so thick that a blade of grass cannot squeeze between the cracks. Machu Picchu remains an archeological gem and an iconic image of Peru as discovered by Yale professor Hiram Bingham in 1911, the first person outside of local farmers and shepherds to view the site since the arrival of the Spanish. The sacred Intihuatana stone was designed as an astronomical observatory and accurately indicates the summer and winter equinoxes in how the sun sits directly over the stone without casting a shadow.
Mountain ridges and peaks encircle the enchanting plateau that is bordered by the summit of Huayna Picchu and the Sun Gate. Travelers reach the hidden complex by way of the famed Inca Trail or through the town of Aguas Calientes. For an intimate experience and a unique panorama over the sacred city, you can take the trail past the Guard House to the peak of Huayna Picchu. While on a Machu Picchu tour, you can be sure to explore the depths of history within the heart of the historic Inca complex, but you should remind your guide to take you to the secluded and often-overlooked Temple of the Moon.
Discover the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, at an altitude of 11,200 feet above sea level. Cusco is a city of unimaginable beauty and prestige as Spanish colonial architecture lines the cobblestone streets beneath the lingering boulders of Sacsayhuaman, which is located atop a steep hill that overlooks the city center. The thin atmosphere catches many visitors by surprise, making it important for newcomers to acclimate with a day or two of relaxing in the cool temperature and captivating ambiance spread across the hills by the surrounding ruins.
Restaurants offer cultural culinary classics like guinea pig, alpaca, or steak sautéed with peppers and onions for a dish known as lomo saltado. Locals enjoy the afternoon sun in the main square of Plaza de Armas beneath the shadow cast by the Cathedral’s spire as merchants and artists walk along the streets selling their hand-painted and handcrafted goods, eager to haggle with visitors for a better deal. Women in traditional Andean clothing stand with their pet llamas offering photos to visitors for a price for a glimpse of the continued traditions of the rural life outside the big city.
Cusco celebrates its connection to the Inca and folkloric traditions through the preservation of the combined Spanish and Incan architecture, along with the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, a folk dance show that highlights agricultural rituals and wartime dances. In June, the city erupts with excitement during the Sun Festival, also referred to as Inti Raymi. The celebration carries on the traditions of the Incan Empire, honoring the winter solstice and the Inca New Year.
Three dramatic volcanoes rise above the Spanish colonial charm of Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city. Rebels and intellectuals have thrived in the 16th-century city located at over 7,800 feet above sea level. Arequipa is nicknamed the “White City,” due to the shimmering white pillar stone used to craft the historical architecture quarried from the surrounding volcanoes. Catholic churches date back nearly 500 years, and ancient homes open their doors as preserved museums. San Camilo is the oldest market in the city and stands at the heart of Arequipa near the Plaza de Armas bustling with locals eager to find the best deals on local food. Women from around Arequipa and the surrounding hills make smoothies and sell meat, while others display small black dolls on their stalls as an indicator of the quality of their produce. The Andean Sanctuary Museum features Juanita, a 500-year-old mummy sacrificed at Mount Ampato to appease the gods, alongside jugs of beer, coca leaves, and fine jewelry.
The semi-arid climate reaches an average maximum temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit in average low of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Arequipa is often the starting point for visitors eager to explore Colca Canyon and see the Andean Condors in flight. The nunnery of Monasterio de Santa Catalina stands across the river and overtakes five acres. Andean melodies swell in the old quarter of Las Quenas, where folkloric dance performances take place on the weekends.
The Amazon covers more than 60 percent of Peru, accounting for one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, along with adding to the unique biodiversity of the country. Reaching the jungle is easier than people think thanks to a 50-minute flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado or a less than two-hour flight to Iquitos. The outstanding experience features jungle safaris surrounded by the remarkable wildlife indicative of to the region.
Canals branch out of the Amazon River giving way to secluded dense terrain inhabited by anacondas, tarantulas, poison dart frogs, scarlet macaws, and spider monkeys. Zip lines and hanging bridges traverse small portions of the rainforest canopy where visitors and researchers can discover the magnificent mixture of wildlife and flora. Sophisticated lodges nestle into the treetops and beneath the forest canopy offering distinctive eco-friendly luxury. At night the wildlife brings the jungle to life with the calls of jaguars and choro monkeys.
Visiting the Amazon is unlike any other experience in Peru, far away from the traditional culture of the Andes, cosmopolitan life of Lima, and surfing ambiance of the northwest coastline. Custom huts rise above the wet landscape on stilts imitating the trees. Fishermen travel the waterways on dugout canoes past modern trawlers, luxury jungle cruisers, and antique shipping vessels traveling between the larger cities on the riverbanks. Any Peru tour visiting the Amazon offers a distinctive experience far beyond the reach of the Incan Empire.
Machu Picchu is a destination in and of itself, but broken into smaller segments, here are the highlights to expect as you explore the historical and mystical Incan complex:
- A small station near the entrance gate offers a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport
- If trekking the Inca Trail, try not to get caught at the Sun Gate with the other hikers on a cloudy morning. Instead, be the first of the day to climb Huayna Picchu to avoid the crowds and see the sunlight burn away the cloud cover
- A good guide adds historical, architectural, biological, and cultural information to Machu Picchu, turning the preserved site into a living story
- Enjoy the view picturesque view near the Caretaker’s Hut, which overlooks the steep rows of agricultural terraces
- Visit the Temple of the Sun, the most iconic Incan edifice, to find the tapering tower and magnificently detailed masonry
- Wander through the Temple of the Three Windows, entering through the customary trapezoidal doorway for a framed view of the Andes
- Learn about the unique properties of the Intihuatana, which resembles a sundial and functioned as an astronomical and agricultural calendar
- Break away from the crowds once more to follow the secluded walkway leading to the Temple of the Moon, hidden along the foothill of Huayna Picchu
Reaching Machu Picchu by Train:
The grand Incan complex of Machu Picchu is often a destination on its own, drawing visitors from around the world eager to spend a day, or even a week, just wandering amongst the ruins or tackling the Inca Trail. Visitors arrive ready to spend a day or two climbing the stairs around the terraced plateau and learning about the energy emanating from the Intihuatana stone can spend their nights in the town of Aguas Calientes, located at the base of the mountain beside the Urubamba River.
The town is reachable by train, with the most prominent and luxurious companies offering the Vistadome or the Hiram Bingham train. The former offers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape between Cusco and Aguas Calientes from beneath the glass compartments in each carriage. The latter train has luxury compartments furnished with polished wood, brass, comfortable chairs, and the elegance consistent with the vintage 1920s Pullman carriages for a richer ambiance.
The trains begin in Cusco but stop at Urubamba Station and Ollantaytambo Station before reaching Aguas Calientes, culminating in a nearly four-hour long journey that brings you to the Sacred Valley and alongside some dramatic canyon walls. Visitors wishing to spend more time in the Sacred Valley before reaching Machu Picchu can enjoy the Incan-built streets, towering fortress, and archeological intrigue in Ollantaytambo, to which a plentiful amount of taxis, minivans, and private companies travel at your preferred time. The town is located an hour away from Cusco, bringing you closer to the dramatic beauty of Machu Picchu.
Sanctioned buses travel between a regulated stop close to the train station to the entrance of Machu Picchu Archeological Park. The paved, winding road offers the first impression of the heights to which visitors climb to reach the fascinating hidden city. The buses pick up and drop off at the stop in town every 15 to 20 minutes. When waiting for the train to return to Cusco, visitors traverse the labyrinthine streets, riverside promenade, and bustling central market.
Reaching Machu Picchu by Trail:
The Inca Trail calls to adventurers of all ages, shapes, and sizes with promises of beauty with the end goal of reaching the mysterious plateau upon which Machu Picchu stands. Machu Picchu tour groups offer a variety of trail options that take as long as seven days or as short as two. The seven-day hike takes participants along trails in the Sacred Valley, while the two-day hike only travels a short portion of the trail for those short on time or unsure of their desire to spend the full four days traversing the entirety of the Inca Trail.
Porters and licensed guides carry tents, bags, and cooking equipment over the undulating path, reaching the rest stops to set up camp before you arrive. The popular four-day trek is moderate and travels a total of 27 miles, reaching an altitude of nearly 13,825 feet at its highest point along Dead Woman’s Pass. The thinner atmosphere makes this particular stretch of the trail the most challenging but also the most rewarding.
On the final day of the trek, participants usually wake early to reach the Sun Gate at sunrise, which overlooks the entire Machu Picchu complex and the peak of Huayna Picchu in the background. After a guided tour of the ruins, you can spend time relaxing in a four or five-star hotel in Aguas Calientes or return to Cusco by luxury train.
A Hidden Gem of Machu Picchu
For the intrepid traveler, eager adventurer, or curious visitor, the Machu Picchu Museum offers hidden treasures off the beaten paths of the Inca Trail and luxury trains. The museum is not inside the national park, nor is located in Aguas Calientes, as it is instead situated a mile outside of the city center. The museum opened in the 1970s and nestles into the jungle terrain along the riverside promenade leading to and from town.
The chic sign decorates the pristine façade. The museum is well curated, modern, and intriguing, offering information about the forgotten complex absent among the ruins. The museum displays 250 original artifacts crafted out of stone, metal, ceramic, bone, and other materials Inca utilized to craft everyday objects.
- Find the everyday objects that prove Incas believed in a new life after death
- Discover the unique tools shaped from the variety of minerals in the area, including artifacts made from copper alloy
- Search for the mini zoomorphic sculptures once used for ceremonial purposes
The culture and particular etiquette of Peru is as diverse as the landscape. The family remains an important institution across the country and a strong connection to social life. On Sundays, families usually meet for lunch and often walk around the neighborhood after attending church. Traditions are strictly adhered to in the younger generations, including speaking one of the three official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Amayara. However, there are 40 other ethnic languages spoken in Peru.
The majority of Peruvians are Catholic due to the forced conversions of the Spanish during colonization, but indigenous peoples retain their connection to native religions and often blend Spanish colonial practices with ancient customs. It is important to respect the pre-Hispanic traditions when visiting temple ruins or places rich in ritual by treating the land as hallowed ground, similar to a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple.
The concept of haggling is important to the culture of Peru, and if a price is not indicated on an item in the market such as sweaters, blankets, or artwork, you can assume that the vendor is expecting to bargain. Decide on a price you are willing to pay for the item before you begin the process and offer a small amount less than your intended price-point to which you can rise.
It is common to see locals in the city wearing westernized clothing on a daily basis, while in the highlands or secluded provinces people continue to dress in traditional garments, such as the colorful embroidery and hats associated with Andean women. The men often wear dark wool, hand-woven bayeta pants, and chullos, knitted caps with earflaps resembling stylish beanies. The men also carry small woven pouches knows as chuspas, in which they carry and protect their coca leaves.
Locals greet one another in polite, formal style, saying good day when entering a shop or home and offering a goodbye upon leaving. Visitors from western countries are often confused or intimidated by the sense of personal space offered in Peru, where they tend to have a smaller consideration of the idea. Peruvians stand closer during a conversation and find it rude if someone were to back away while the other spoke. Speaking with locals about drugs and religion can often lead to misunderstandings, but Peruvians love to speak with travelers about all sorts of topics, including local, contemporary politics and past presidents, along with the way Peru is viewed around the world.
The coca plant is deeply rooted in the culture of Peru, especially within the high-altitude Andes where cultivation of the plant has helped keep altitude sickness at bay, along with the added benefit of an extra boost when drowsy, like an ancient Redbull. Chewing coca leaf or using the leaves to make tea is a longstanding tradition in the Andes and is in no way correlated to the drug trade.
Luxury and comfort abound in Peru with plenty of four and five-star accommodations spread across the country that cater equally to both adventurous travelers and those looking for relaxation and revitalization. Friendly staff members help to create personalized experiences amidst the unforgettable scenery, from the bulky boulders of Cusco to the banks of the Amazon River. Boutique is fashionable in Peru as well, catering to visitors who crave the type of personalized experience for which smaller accommodations are known, without detracting from the luxuries and comforts provided by global brands.
Eco-friendly resorts, five-star hotels, and serene bed and breakfasts couple with the traditions of Peru for stimulating history, local furnishings, and exotic colors found in the jungle terrain or rugged mountain peaks. Hotels in Lima incorporate the cosmopolitan ambiance of the capital city while accommodations in Cusco feature the Spanish colonial architecture and design aesthetic. Lodges on the Pacific Coast highlight local materials crafted first out of the necessity of using what was available before finding charm and substance in the architectural techniques the environment demanded.
It is easy to imagine unparalleled luxury overlooking the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco or a comfortable resort within the sounds of the scarlet macaw calling in the morning Amazon light. The mixture of tranquility, cultural history, and adventurous living add to the luxurious ambiance, emphasizing the markets of the Highlands and the views over the endless peaks, the wildlife of the Amazon, and renovated 16th-century churches.
The soundtrack varies from the echoes of the ocean to the calls of the wild against the backdrop of unforgettable scenery offering seclusion, space, and indulgence. There are even opportunities for glamping along the Machu Picchu Trail, providing the excitement of rugged exploration with the comforts of a deluxe camping experience under the spell of fascinating nature and rich history.
Visiting Peru for the first time can confuse travelers due to the variety of questions that might arise, including the best time to visit, the types of electricity they use, and even the language they speak. The official languages of Peru are Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua, the latter two of which are spoken by the native peoples of the Andes Mountains. English is widely spoken in the major cities, such as Lima, Cusco, and Puno.
It is easy to find English speaking guides leading group or private tours across Peru, whether at the Nazca Lines or around the nine square miles of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Colombian ruins of North and South America. Peru uses a standard voltage of 220v with a standard frequency of 60Hz. A great resource to use when curious about the different types of converters or adaptors you may need while in Peru can be found by clicking here. Be sure to check whether the label of the appliance states it is compatible with other voltage and Habitable zones, otherwise, an adaptor is likely needed. The most common items needing adaptors are laptop, tablet, camera, electric toothbrush, and cell phone chargers.
The best time of year to visit Peru is during the winter months. Peru is south of the equator, so winter is between June and September, during the northern hemisphere’s summer. Many people choose to visit the desert beaches of the north and Machu Picchu during these months, often making these sought-after destinations more crowded. For those wanting to visit during the less crowded months of the year, from the end of September to mid-November continues to include the dry season, while offers a more intimate experience away from the masses. The cooler weather also makes it a great time to participate in guided treks through the Amazon or along the ridges of the Andes Mountains. Summer in Peru is between December and February. The rains fall swift and heavy in the highlands and the rainforest, while the beaches become crowded with locals and visitors from around the world ready enjoy the golden sun and the rolling waves. During the wet season, the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance which keeps many active visitors to Peru away until the trail reopens in March.
Visa and immigration requirements for Peru vary between countries with US, Canadian, and British passport holders currently able to enter the country without any significant challenges. Those that arrive by air can stay for up to 180 days with proof of an onward ticket to either home or another country. Those staying for longer than 180 days can apply for a visa in advance from the Peruvian embassy or consulate before leaving, which is essential for those studying, doing research, working, or living in Peru for any duration of time.
Peru is a country rich with cultural history and immense beauty that ranges from the dry beaches along the Pacific Ocean to the chiseled peaks of the Andes highlands. Healthcare has decentralized and provides services through the Ministry of Health, the EsSalud, the Armed Forces, and the National Police. Whether on the beaches in the north or exploring the waters of Lake Titicaca in the South, there are no vaccines currently required for travelers heading to Peru. However, the U.S. State Department recommends the Yellow Fever vaccine for those traveling into the Amazon region due to the high density of mosquitos. Specific inoculations should otherwise be recommended by your physician but can include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. Antimalarial medication is also advised if traveling into the Peruvian jungles.
Altitude sickness is a common issue with travelers visiting Cusco, located at 11,000 feet above sea level, and Puno, which is situated at 12,566 feet above sea level. The most common side effects of altitude sickness are intense headaches, loss of appetite, and nausea. The best way to counteract altitude sickness while in Peru is to drink plenty of liquids while taking your first day in the new climate to relax and get acclimated. Avoid heavy foods and alcohol, and you can also try the ancient method of chewing coca leaves as the mild sedative helps to sooth any stomach issues and cures intense headaches. The leaves are available across the high-altitude plains and can also be consumed in a tea that tastes similar to maté.
Peru is unique for the different ways the sunlight affects visitors depending on what region you are visiting. At high altitudes, the thinner atmosphere can make the rays more harmful and can cause quick sunburns. On the desert coast, the sun is potent and fierce against those that do not take proper precaution in applying liberal sunscreen and wearing a hat. Heat exhaustion is common with visitors on the beach or with those who are wandering through the heat of the Amazon, making potable water an important resource to remember whether cruising in the jungle rivers or trekking the Machu Picchu Trail.
Peru is a very safe country to visit for tourists from around the world. Encompassing generalizations can leave a negative impact on the whole of South America, with visitors worried about violent crime or drugs. Peru is 496,200 square miles, making it nearly the size of Alaska, the largest state in the U.S. with nearly 31.5 million people as of 2015. Peru has developed a sophisticated tourism industry to accommodate the yearly average of more than 3.2 million visitors. It is important to remember to use only official taxis in the cities and to not stray into the depths of the jungle without a guide as you never know the types of farms you might wander into or the labyrinth trees in which you might get lost.
Zicasso recommends the following guidelines for customized Peru and Machu Picchu tour packages, excluding international flights:
- 5-star: USD $300 - $1,000+ per person per day
- 4-star: Minimum USD $275 per person per day
- 3-star: Minimum USD $250 per person per day
The customized package will include hotels, airport transfers and other transportation within Peru, guided tours or activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24x7 support during your trip.
Please inquire for a custom quote. The price is customized based on final hotel choices, travel dates, and other custom preferences.