Places To See
The unique Islas Flotantes (floating islands) of the Uros people are Lake Titicaca's top tourist attraction. Although their popularity has led to massive over-commercialization, there is still nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world. The biggest island has several buildings, including a school, post office and an overabundance of souvenir shops.
Always a small tribe, the Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from aggressors. Today, several hundred people still live on the islands and eke out a living with fishing and tourism. The inhabitants of the most touristed islands have also built rickety observation platforms to survey the surroundings. There used to be a problem with begging and, while this has abated somewhat, you are asked not to give candy to the kids. It's worth noting that more authentic reed islands do still exist; these are located further from Puno, through a maze of small channels, and can only be visited with a private boat. The islanders here continue to live in a relatively traditional fashion and prefer not to be photographed.
Parque Nacional Manu
This vast national park in the Amazon Basin covers almost 20,000 sq km (12,427 sq mi) and is one of the best places in South America to see a stunning variety of tropical wildlife. Progressive in its emphasis on preservation, Unesco declared Manu a Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and a World Natural Heritage Site in 1987.
One reason the park is so successful in preserving such a large tract of virgin jungle and its wildlife is that it's remote and relatively inaccessible to people, and therefore has not been exploited by rubber tappers, loggers, oil companies or hunters.
At Cocha Salvador, one of the park's largest and most beautiful lakes, you'll find camping and guided hiking possibilities. With patience, wildlife is seen in most areas. During a one-week trip, you can reasonably expect to see scores of different bird species, several kinds of monkey and a few other mammals. The best time to go is during the dry season (June to November); much of Manu may be inaccessible or closed during the rainiest months (January to April). It is illegal to enter the park without a guide. Going with an organized group can be arranged in Cuzco or with international tour operators.
For many travelers to Peru, a visit to the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu is the whole purpose of their trip. With its awe-inspiring location, it is the best-known and most spectacular archaeological site on the continent. Despite being swamped by tourists from June to September, it still retains an air of grandeur and mystery. Alejandro Toledo, the country's first indigenous Andean president, impressively staged his inauguration here in 2001.
Apart from a few indigenous Quechuas, nobody knew of Machu Picchu's existence until American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911. When Bingham returned in 1912 and 1915, he also discovered some of the ruins on the so-called Inca Trail.
Knowledge of Machu Picchu remains sketchy. Over 50 burial sites and 100 skeletal remains have been discovered during excavations. Some believe it was founded in the waning years of the last Incas in an attempt to preserve Incan culture, while others think it may have already become a forgotten city at the time of the conquest. A more recent theory suggests that the site was a royal retreat abandoned at the time of the Spanish invasion.
What is obvious from the high quality of the stonework and the abundance of ornamental work is that Machu Picchu must once have been an important ceremonial center.
Spread across an incredible 500 sq km (193 sq mi) of arid, rock-strewn land, the Nazca Lines remain one of the world's great archaeological mysteries. Eight hundred straight lines, geometric figures and some spectacular animal and plant drawings, the lines are almost imperceptible at ground level; only viewed from above do they form their striking vision.
So, who made the lines and why? Theories abound regarding their purpose, from a giant astronomical calendar to an extraterrestrial landing site. A more recent (and down-to-earth) hypothesis posits that the lines were part of a water fertility cult that once ruled Peru's southern desert. Entry on foot is prohibited to protect the lines.
Thirty-minute tourist overflights leave from Nazca's airstrip in the morning and early afternoon.
Cañón del Cotahuasi
This remote canyon is the deepest known canyon in the world - around twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, with stretches dropping down to below 3500m (11,480ft). While the depths of the ravine are only accessible to experienced river runners, the rest of the fertile valley is rich in striking scenery and trekking opportunities.
The canyon also shelters several traditional rural settlements that currently see only a handful of adventurous travelers. Hiring an experienced guide is the most socially responsible way to visit this remote region.
Many of Peru's festivals are based around the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. These are often celebrated with great pageantry, especially in indigenous highland villages where Catholic feast days are often linked with traditional agricultural festivals, such as the harvest. Some of the major events include Carnaval, which is particularly popular in the highlands and features boisterous water fights; Inti Raymi, the greatest of the Incan festivals with spectacular dances and parades; All Souls Day, celebrated with gifts of food, drink and flowers taken to family graves; and Puno Day, which features flamboyant costumes and street dancing in the Lake Titicaca region.
When to go?
Peru's climate can be divided into two seasons - wet and dry - though this can vary depending on the region. Temperature is mostly influenced by elevation: the higher you climb, the cooler it becomes.
Peru's peak tourist season is from June to August, which is the dry season in the Andean highlands. It's also the best time to go if you're interested in hiking or mountain climbing. While travelers visit the highlands year-round, the wettest months, December to March, make trekking a muddy proposition. Many of the major fiestas occur around this time and continue undiminished in spite of heavy rain.
On the coast, Peruvians visit the beach during the sunny, humid months from late December through March. The rest of the year, the coast is clothed in mist. In the eastern rain forests, it naturally rains a lot. The wettest months are December to May, but travelers visit year-round; it rarely rains for more than a few hours at a time and there's plenty of sunshine to enjoy.
Travel Visa Overview
With few exceptions (namely citizens of some Asian, African and communist countries), most travelers do not need visas when entering Peru. Tourists are permitted a 30- to 90-day stay, which is stamped into their passports and onto a tourist card, called a Tarjeta Andina de Migración (Andean Immigration Card), that must be returned upon leaving the country. The actual length of stay is determined by the immigration officer at the port of entry. If you lose your tourist card, you'll have to queue up at an oficina de migraciónes (immigration office) for a replacement. Carry your passport and tourist card on your person at all times, especially when traveling in remote areas (it's required by law on the Inca Trail). Extensions of 30 days cost about
Anyone who plans to work, attend school or reside in Peru for any length of time must obtain a visa in advance. Do this through the Peruvian embassy or consulate in your home country.
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
European plug with two circular metal pins
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
Bartonellosis (Oroya fever) is carried by sand flies in the arid river valleys on the western slopes of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador between altitudes of 800m (2625ft) and 3000m (9843ft). (Curiously, it's not found anywhere else in the world.) The chief symptoms are fever and severe body pains. Complications may include marked anemia, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and sometimes death. The drug of choice is chloramphenicol, though doxycycline is also effective.
Chagas' disease is a parasitic infection that is transmitted by triatomine insects (reduviid bugs), which inhabit crevices in the walls and roofs of substandard housing in South and Central America. In Peru, most cases occur in the southern part of the country. The triatomine insect drops its feces on human skin as it bites, usually at night. A person becomes infected when he or she unknowingly rubs the feces into the bite wound or any other open sore. Chagas' disease is extremely rare in travelers. However, if you sleep in a poorly constructed house, especially one made of mud, adobe, or thatch, you should be sure to protect yourself with a bed net and a good insecticide.
This infection is caused by a germ that lives in soil and in the feces of horses and other animals. It enters the body via breaks in the skin, so the best prevention is to clean all wounds promptly and thoroughly with an antiseptic. Use antibiotics if the wound becomes hot or pus-filled, or throbs. The first symptom may be discomfort in swallowing, or stiffening of the jaw and neck; this is followed by painful convulsions of the jaw and whole body. The disease can be fatal, but is preventable with vaccination.
This is a viral infection found throughout South America. Dengue is transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, which usually bite during the daytime and are often found close to human habitations. They breed primarily in artificial water containers, such as cans, cisterns, metal drums, plastic containers and discarded tires. As a result, dengue is especially common in densely populated, urban environments, including Lima and Cuzco.
Dengue usually causes flulike symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches, nausea and vomiting, often followed by a rash. The body aches may be quite uncomfortable, but most cases resolve uneventfully in a few days. Severe cases usually occur in children aged under 15 who are experiencing their second dengue infection. There is no treatment for dengue fever except to take analgesics such as acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) and drink plenty of fluids. Severe cases may require hospitalization for intravenous fluids and supportive care.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS; SIDA in Spanish). HIV/AIDS has been reported in all South American countries. Exposure to blood or blood products and bodily fluids may put an individual at risk. Be sure to use condoms for all sexual encounters. Fear of HIV infection should never preclude treatment of serious medical conditions as the risk of infection remains very small.
A life-threatening viral infection, yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes in forested areas. The illness begins with flulike symptoms, which may include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, backache, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually subside in a few days, but one person in six enters a second, toxic phase characterized by recurrent fever, vomiting, listlessness, jaundice, kidney failure and hemorrhage, leading to death in up to half of the cases. There is no treatment except for supportive care.
Yellow-fever vaccine is strongly recommended for all those who visit any jungle areas of Peru at altitudes less than 2300m (7546ft). Most cases occur in the departments in the central jungle. Proof of vaccination is required from all travelers arriving in Peru from an area where yellow fever is endemic in Africa or the Americas. Yellow-fever vaccine is given only in approved yellow-fever vaccination centers, which provide validated vaccination certificates. The vaccine should be given at least 10 days before any potential exposure to yellow fever and remains effective for about 10 years.
Reactions to the vaccine are generally mild, though some people may experience severe side effects. While you may not be required to have proof of a yellow-fever vaccination to enter Peru, after visiting a region where yellow fever occurs, you'll need to have the vaccination to get to most other countries - even your home country. So you're better off getting your jab before you leave home.
This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Rabies occurs in all South American countries. In Peru, most cases are related to bites from dogs or vampire bats, but any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution.
Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are traveling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbor malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travelers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-colored clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave. Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored feces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible.
An intestinal infection, cholera is acquired through ingestion of contaminated food or water. The main symptom is profuse, watery diarrhea, which may be so severe that it causes life-threatening dehydration. The key treatment is drinking oral rehydration solution. Antibiotics are also given, usually tetracycline or doxycycline, though quinolone antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin are also effective.
Cholera occurs regularly in Peru, but it's rare among travelers. Cholera vaccine is no longer required to enter Peru, and is in fact no longer available in some countries, including the USA, because the old vaccine was relatively ineffective and caused side effects. There are new vaccines that are safer and more effective, but they're not available in many countries and are only recommended for those at particularly high risk.
Leishmaniasis occurs in the mountains and jungles of all South American countries. The infection is transmitted by sand flies, which are about a third of the size of mosquitoes. In Peru, more cases have been seen recently in children aged under 15, due to the increasing use of child labor for brush clearing and preparation of farmlands on mountain slopes of the Andes. Most adult cases occur in men who have migrated into jungle areas for farming, working or hunting. Leishmaniasis may be limited to the skin, causing slowly growing ulcers over exposed parts of the body, or less commonly may disseminate to the bone marrow, liver and spleen. There is no vaccine.
To prevent diarrhea, avoid tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered, or chemically disinfected (eg with iodine tablets); only eat fresh fruits and vegetables if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurized milk, and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors.
If you develop diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral re-hydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar. A few loose stools don't require treatment but, if you start experiencing more than four or five stools a day, you should start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrheal agent (such as loperamide).
If diarrhea is bloody, or persists for more than 72 hours, or is accompanied by fever, shaking chills or severe abdominal pain you should seek medical attention.
The coastal region of Peru is cool for its latitude, and quite dry year-round. Temperatures are warmest during the summer months (January to March), with hot and humid days of around 29°C (84°F) and cool nights of just below 20°C (68°F). Winters are not too cold, but frequent low cloud may cause some to pine for sunshine. Inland, the temperature drops substantially, with less seasonal variation during the day - average highs are about 21°C (70°F) throughout the year and winter nights are chilly, particularly at higher elevations. There is also a moderate wet season here from December until May.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Century History
The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in the coastal regions. The oldest site, Pikimachay cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash and pepper chilis were planted around 4000 BC. Later, advanced cultures such as the Chavín introduced weaving, agriculture and religion to the country before inexplicably disappearing around 300 BC. Over the centuries, several other cultures - including the Salinar, Nazca, Paracas Necropolis and Wari (Huari) - became locally important. By the early 15th century, the Incan empire had control of much of the area, even extending its influence into Colombia and Chile.
Between 1526-28, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro explored Peru's coastal regions and, drawn by the riches of the Incan empire, returned to Spain to raise money and recruit men for another expedition. Return he did, marching into Cajamarca, in northern Peru, before capturing, ransoming and executing the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, in 1533. Pizarro subsequently founded the city of Lima in 1535, but was assassinated six years later. The rebellion of the last Inca leader, Manco Inca, ended ingloriously, with his beheading in 1572.
The next 200 years proved peaceful, with Lima becoming the major political, social and commercial center of the Andean nations. However, the exploitation of indigenous Peruvians by their colonial masters led to an uprising in 1780 under the self-styled Inca Tupac Amaru II. The rebellion was shortlived and most of the leaders were rounded up and executed. Peru remained loyal to Spain until 1824, when the country was liberated by two 'outsiders': the Venezuelan, Simón Bolívar, and the Argentinian, José de San Martín. In 1866, Peru won a brief war with Spain but was humiliated by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83), which resulted in the loss of lucrative nitrate fields in the northern Atacama Desert.
In 1941, Peru went to war with Ecuador over a border dispute. The 1942 treaty of Río de Janeiro ceded the area north of the Río Marañón to Peru, but the decision was contested by Ecuador.
Cuban-inspired guerrilla uprisings in 1965 were unsuccessful. In the 1980s, however, nationwide strikes and a violent insurgency by Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas caused political instability.
Alberto Fujimori's 1990 presidential election victory over Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and the 1992 capture of MRTA and Sendero Luminoso leaders, buoyed hopes for peace.
Unemployment and poverty remained the main threat to domestic stability, despite Peru's fast-growing economy. Fujimori was re-elected in 1995, beating former UN secretary general, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. A treaty was signed with Ecuador in 1998, resolving the 57-year-old border dispute and paving the way for increased foreign investment in both countries. However, much of the unexploded ordinance (UXO) along the border has yet to be cleaned up. In November 1999, Peru and Chile settled a territorial dispute over Arica.
In 2000, Alejandro Toledo, an indigenous Andean who became a World Bank economist, gave Fujimori the election run of his life. Though Fujimori was ultimately victorious he resigned in November and fled to Japan following charges of human rights violations and corruption made against his intelligence advisor.
Toledo became the country's first indigenous president in 2001, but the path to bringing Fujimori to justice was torturous. It was revealed that some 69,000 Peruvians died during decades of fighting between rebel and government forces.
In 2002, a car bomb exploded near the US Embassy in Lima, killing 10 people. It was thought to have been detonated by the Shining Path guerrilla group.
By 2003, the currency was strong but Peruvians faced unemployment, stagnant wages and a higher cost of living - and Toledo's popularity was at an all-time low. In November 2005, Fujimori returned to South America, announcing plans to run for the presidency once again. He was quickly arrested in Chile on an extradition warrant. With Fujimori out of the way, the 2006 presidential elections narrowed to a face-off between the populist nationalist Ollanta Humala, and ex-president lan García. Voters elected the more conservative García.
However, though Peruvians may be better off now than they were under Fujimori, the seemingly intractable problems of poverty and unemployment remain.
Labor strikes for higher wages and political protests happen quite often. This unrest can be tiresome for travelers, who may find their trip suddenly delayed. It's not really a big deal to Peruvians, though, who are used to accepting such disturbances as facts of life.