Peru ranks amongst the world’s great centers of ancient civilization with remains which fascinate travelers and archaeologists alike. Peru is one of the most diverse countries due to the climatic, natural and cultural variation of its regions, which include coast, sierra and jungles. Peru’s people (all 23 million of them) are largely descendants of Spanish settlers and native Inca and pre-Inca cultures. Today there are three national languages: Spanish, and the native Quechua and Aymara, reflecting the native Indian and Spanish roots that cultivate modern Peruvian society.
Top Peru Attractions
There is no shortage of things to see in Peru. Certainly, you could spend weeks or months exploring this diverse country, but most tours are slightly less intensive. With limited time, the following sites should most definitely be included on your “must see” list.
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas over 500 years ago and is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction with over 500,000 people each year, and a U.N. Heritage site. The city is a wondrous man-made city tucked in the middle of a tropical mountain forest. Machu Piccu is above the cloudline at 7,000 feet above sea level and is remarkable intact with the stone walls, temples and lush green terraces. Views from Machu Picchu are spectacular as the ancient city overlooks a canyon on the Urubamba river and the Andes mountains, as well as lots of greenery from the Amazon basin.
Cuzco is a quaint town that sits about 75 miles above Machu Picchu and is usually the starting point for the train that leads down to Machu Picchu. For all intents and purposes, the only way to get there is by plane. This small city has a decided mystical feeling and transports you back to Incan times. The town is small and easily accessible. Two of the highlights of the town are the Temple of San Blas and the Church of LaMerced—a stunning cathedral. Surprisingly, shopping is a great experience and allows you to pick up some fleece sweaters, jackets, and blankets at bargain prices—provided your bartering skills are up to speed. Occasionally, if you are lucky, you will witness the Peruvian military marching at the Plaza de Armas.
Lima is the capitol of Peru and has a large city feel; yet still maintains its connection with the distant past. The city sits high atop the Pacific Ocean and during the winter, dense fog and chilly air are common. However in the summer months (winter in the US), the city sparkles in the sun and hundreds of thousands will flood the beaches. Being the capitol, many, if not most, of the buildings are governmental, yet there are still plenty of museums and historical sites throughout the city. The city is a true study in opposites. Paved highways and quaint cobblestone streets. Large modern buildings and ancient Catholic churches. Modern businessmen in three piece suits and modest merchants in traditional Incan garb. Lima is a city which will not disappoint.
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Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world (11,500 feet above sea level) and doubles as the largest lake in South America. The lake is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia, with the area split fairly evenly between the two nations. The term “lake” does not do it justice as it more closely resembles an inland sea covering 3,305 square. Lake Titicaca is considered by many to be the starting point of Inca culture and features many islands—some of which are densely populated. According to Inca lore, the first Inca, Manco Capac, and his sister, Mama Ocllo rose out of the cold waters of Lake Titicaca with the blessings of the Sun God, and went on to create the Incan Empire. The Sun Island is the most revered place of Inca worship and hosts a fountain and garden which were used by the Incas to pay their respects to the Sun God. While there, the floating islands created with reeds are also worth seeing and definitely one of the world’s most unique experiences.
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