The email or password you entered isn't correct. If you've forgotten your password, please reset it. Click here
There was an error logging in, please try again.
Log in to Viator
Log in to add things to your wishlist and access your bookings from any device.
The holy grail for lovers of Inca monuments, the enigmatic lost city of Machu Picchu is the most famous archaeological site in all of South America.
The spectacular collection of temples, terraced hills and plazas was the mountain-top citadel of the Inca under Pachacutec and Tupac Yupanqui, until the coming of the Europeans with Pizarro.
It may have the most familiar name, but Machu Picchu has refused to reveal many of its mysteries, including the secrets of its construction, function and demise. The overgrown ruins were discovered by US historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, and the quality of the stonework hints that it was an extremely important ceremonial site.
The remains are thought to date from around 1450, built at the height of the Inca Empire, and as they escaped being plundered by the Spanish they include semi-intact icons and shrines that were defaced or removed at other sites.
The Sacred Valley was the agricultural food bowl of the Inca, a fertile plain perfect for growing the Inca staples, maize and potatoes.
At the heart of the valley is the ancient city of Cusco, surrounded by remote Quechua villages and the crumbling remains of Inca citadels.
With its Quechua village festivals and markets, colonial churches, Inca ruins, river rafting, horseback riding and trekking, there are plenty of reasons to head out into the Sacred Valley of the Incas for the day or longer.
The arid plains surrounding the small town of Nazca are detailed with South America’s most enigmatic sight, the extraordinary Nazca Lines.
Etched into more than 80km (50 miles) of rocky desert, and only properly appreciated from the air, the Nazca Lines are made up of more than 800 lines, 300 figures and 70 animal and plant outlines.
Creatures drawn here include monkeys measuring 90m (300 feet), lizards, spiders representing fertility, and an astronaut lookalike. Birds like the hummingbird, condor and flamingo represent summer and winter, and point exactly to where the sun rises and sets. The largest drawings measure 200m (660 feet) across.
There are a number of theories behind the lines and their construction - who made them, why and how? - but no one knows for sure, and they were only rediscovered in 1939.
One theory dates them to between 400 and 600 AD, believing that they were mapped as an astronomical calendar by early mathematicians.
Often called “the Peruvian Galapagos,” the Ballestas Islands are where savvy travelers can experience wildlife on a budget. Here, on these rocky islets about 90 minutes off the coast of Paracas, hundreds of sea lions lounge on rocks that are covered in thousands of birds, and the cost of visiting is a fraction of the cost of visiting the Galapagos in Ecuador. When approaching the eroded islands by sea, there are so many boobies, cormorants, and penguins resting on the rocky cliffs, the entire island seems to vibrate with the collective fidgeting of feathers. Humboldt penguins are another draw for visiting the Ballestas Islands, and these tuxedo-clad birds can only be found off the coast of Chile and Peru. While motoring out to the guano covered islands, keep an eye out for the Candelabra Geoglyph that’s etched into the hillside. At 595 feet in height, the mysterious, ancient, unexplained symbol can be seen 12 miles out to sea.
The mighty Amazon River and its enormous, thickly forested basin are the heart of South America, the lungs of the world and the guardian of one fifth of the Earth’s fresh water. This river is the reason for Iquitos’ very existence and though it flows past the northern tip of the city, a bit beyond the river walk, the Rio Itaya, its influence is felt by everyone.
While its origins are much contested—any of the big river’s innumerable tributaries has a legitimate claim to the title—the “Birthplace of the Amazon” can be said to lie at the confluence of the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, accessible from the Port of Nauta, 90km (56mi) from Iquitos on the newish paved highway. It is the quintessential daytrip, allowing travelers to ascend a 30m (100ft) observation tower that offers the region’s iconic photo op.
There are several ways to experience the Amazon and its unparalleled biodiversity, all of them beginning with a boat trip.
If you're visiting Machu Picchu while you're in Peru - and why wouldn’t you? – there's a very good chance you'll pass through the small pueblo of Aguas Calientes en route. The gateway town to Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes is nestled in a valley of cloud forest below the famous Incan site.
Make Aguas Calientes your base if you want to tour Machu Picchu in depth. It has all the facilities of a well set-up service town for visitors, including a varied collection of hostels, cabins, eco-lodges and hotels.
As you'd expect, the pueblo also has a well-rounded selection of restaurants, with a choice of local and European cuisine, as well as a lively choice of bars.
While you're here, unwind for a spell in the town's natural hot spring baths, off the central Avenue Pachacutec. You could also browse the souvenir stalls set up near the train station.
Inca street and town planning at its finest is preserved in the village of Ollantaytambo, surrounded by neatly terraced hills.
Soaring above the town’s cobbled streets, which have been lived in since the 13th century, is the massive Inca fortress and the monolithic stones of the Temple of the Sun. Built by Pachacuti in the 1400s, the huge complex features fine stonework and a ceremonial temple hill area topping the stepped, fortified terrace.
Climb more than 200 steps to the top for fabulous views and an up-close look at the impressively hewn masonry. You’ll also see the remains of several temples and ceremonial fountains.
To see where the huge blocks of stone were quarried from the mountainside, follow the 6km (3.5 mile) trail to the quarry on the other side of the river - the water was diverted to flush the stones down to the construction site.
With roots dating back 10,000 years, Lima was once the richest and most important city in South America. Today, it boasts over eight-million residents and serves as a primary cruise port for trans-Pacific ships arriving from the Far East, as well as for cruise ships following the South American coastline.
How to Get to Lima
Your cruise ship will arrive at the Port of Callao, about seven miles from the center Lima. Taxis into the city are available at the port and are reasonably priced – the ride to the center should take around 30-45 minutes and cost around $15.
One Day in Lima
Spend your morning exploring Peru’s colonial history in central Lima. The entire area, featuring long, wide streets in a grid-like design, is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Your starting point should be the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by the Lima Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, City Hall and Government Palace.
The Sacred Valley town of Pisac was once a lofty Inca citadel. These days, it attracts shoppers rather than warriors, with its popular Sunday-morning handicrafts market.
After touring Pisac’s Inca site, dramatically set on a mountain spur an hour’s hike above the village, get ready to haggle and barter at the market.
Finger puppets, pan pipes, woven ponchos, rugs, shawls, hats, jewelry, ceramics - you name it, you’ll find it. Villagers from throughout the Sacred Valley come here to barter and sell produce, so the market has a lively everyday feel to it, rather than being geared to tourism.
The main market is on Sunday, with smaller markets held on Tuesday and Thursday. Sunday is also a good time to see locals wearing colorful traditional dress as they are led out of Mass by the town mayor holding his silver staff of office. The hubbub really hits the market after Mass finishes, at around 11am.
South America’s most famous trek is the most stunning and unforgettable way to reach the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu.
Along the way, the four-day trek takes in three Andean mountain passes, Inca ruins and stupendous views of the snow capped Andes.
Over the four days the treks take you from km82 (82 kilometers along the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes) to Huayllabamba on day one, to Pacamayo on day two, to Huinay Huayna on day three, and to Machu Picchu on day four.
The highlight of the trek, after having woken at 3am to catch it, is seeing the sun rise over the mountains at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate.
May to September is the driest and best time to walk the trail, but it’s also the busiest.
To walk the trail, you need to join a group of fellow hikers led by a licensed guide. Trail permits are limited, with only 500 hikers permitted on the trail, so you need to book ahead.
The easiest way to book and make arrangements is by joining a tour.
The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes.
Miraflores is where you’ll find Lima’s best restaurants, shops and hotels, plus the waterfront mansions and high-rise towers of the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also home to lovely parks and gardens, beaches and promenades.
Some ancient history remains in Miraflores, including the Huaca Pucllana, the remains of a pre-Inca mud-brick temple.
Paragliders come to Miraflores to leap off the area’s rocky cliffs over the sea. The beaches are popular, but the coast tends to be rocky rather than sandy and the better beaches lie further south.
For those who don’t want to book their tour dates six months in advance for the Inca Trail (especially during high season from June through August, when permits sell out quickly), the Salkantay Trail is a great alternative. Not only is it easier to plan because you don’t need to book in advance, it’s more affordable, less touristy and is often said to have a more authentic feel than the classic Inca Trail. Salkantay is a remote and scenic trek located in the same region as the Inca Trail, and immerses you in a world of glaciers, villages, lakes, tropical valleys, mountains, jungle and more, with postcard-worthy views every step of the way.
Keep a lookout for the snow-capped Salkantay Mountain, an impressive peak at 20,570 feet (6,270 meters). On the fourth day of the trek you come to the cloud forest-covered town of Aguas Calientes, named for its hot thermal baths which you can rest your tired muscles in.
When it comes to history, few cities in South America are more historic than Cusco. This sprawling city was once the capital of the entire Inca Empire, and many will tell you that ancient Cusco was the grandest city in Peru. Even the name “Cusco” translates as “Navel of the Earth” since the Inca believed the city to be the center of the known world. It pulses with an energy unlike elsewhere in Peru, and there is a palpable magic which permeates these streets set high in the foothills of the Andes.
During the 16th Century, when Spanish conquistadors came marching into Cusco, they kept the structure of the city intact but destroyed many of the buildings. Colonial cathedrals and Spanish architecture took the place of Inca temples, and the city became an Andean fusion of Spanish and Inca design. Given the cultural combination and the grandiose scale of the city, UNESCO declared Cusco as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Nestled in the Sacred Valley of the Incas is the remote town of Maras, known throughout Peru for its thousands of worked salt pans.
Salt has been collected here since before the time of the Inca, rising to the surface from a subterranean stream and evaporating in the Andean sunshine.
You can gather your own handful of salt or buy some packaged to take home from Maras’ gift store.
The terraced saltwork pools dotting the Andean hillsides look quite stunning, glittering like bright white snow in the sunshine, so bring your camera.
The town of Maras was quite important in colonial times, and you’ll see some out-of-place ornate Spanish homes and the mud-brick colonial church.
Sweet, clear and a deep diaphanous blue, Lake Titicaca shimmers above South America at 3,812 meters (12,507 feet), the highest navigable lake in the world. It is considered the spiritual homeland of the Andean peoples and its 41 starkly beautiful islands are topped with traditional villages and ancient stone ruins that echo with myths and legends. Beneath fiery streaked sunset skies reflected in these luminous waters, cradled by snowcapped mountains, it can be difficult to refute such tales completely.
Lake Titicaca is thought to be the birthplace of the Andean peoples, where the Creator God Viracocha first summoned the sun, moon and first human beings from what is now called Isla del Sol. The Incas, Aymaras, Uros, and countless other indigenous nations thus hold this lake sacred.
Better known as the “Sacred Valley,” the Urubamba Valley is the ancient cradle of Inca civilization. It’s a place where merchants still speak Quechua while strolling the cobbled streets, and markets burst with the vibrant colors of traditional Inca art. It’s a place where ruins rise from the hillsides beneath the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, and mysterious archeological sites offer far more questions than answers. When visiting the mountains of southern Peru, rather than simply racing from Cuzco to the ruins at Machu Picchu, take some time to base yourself in the valley’s colorful towns. Wander the markets of Ollantaytambo or the nearby town of Pisac, and watch as crafters and Incan artisans perpetuate their heritage through art. Visit the sprawling Salineras salt mines to see hillsides of blindingly white terraces, or hike to the bottom of the Incan Moray—an agricultural ruin of concentric circles dug 100 feet into the Earth.
Lima isn’t exactly a city you usually equate with wildlife. After all, this is the same country with the Amazon basin and its staggering biodiversity, so the thought of finding wildlife in the capital might seem a little bit strange. Believe it or not, however, there are a number of enthralling wildlife experiences that can be found right here in Lima—a city best known for its cosmopolitan and colonial sites on shore. Perhaps the best wildlife experience in Lima is visiting the Palomino Islands, a rocky collection of small islets off the coast of Callao. Step aboard a comfortable boat for a cruise to the offshore islands, where thousands of sea lions gather to swim and sun themselves on the rocks. If the water is calm enough and you’re feeling brave, take the plunge to swim with the sea lions as they flop and jump all around you.
Lima’s most bohemian district, the lively coastal neighborhood of Barranco first became popular towards the end of the 19th Century, drawing an influx of poets, writers and artists to the seaside resorts of Las Sombrillas and Barranquito. Although it was integrated into the capital territory in 1860, Barranco retains its village-like feel, with its striking colonial architecture and brightly painted buildings standing in stark contrast to the modern high-rises of neighboring Miraflores.
Best explored on foot, the elegant Plaza San Francisco is the starting point for a walking tour, home to the 19th century Iglesia San Francisco, and encircled by boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Nearby, the Bajada de los Baños ravine is the most popular hangout during the daytime, where the flower-lined Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) makes a romantic spot for watching the sunset.
Covering over half of the country, yet home to a mere 5% of its population, the Peruvian Amazon is Peru’s most precious natural asset, a vast wilderness of lush rainforest and indigenous lands stretching east of the Andes Mountains.
Peru’s principal ‘Gateway to the Amazon’ is the northern town of Iquitos and its location on the banks of the mighty Amazon River makes it a popular starting point for multi-day river cruises and river activities like canoeing, piranha fishing or swimming with pink river dolphins. From here, it’s possible to cruise all the way to Manaus in Brazil, stopping along the way to visit tribal villages, trek through the jungle or sleep out in an Amazon eco-lodge.
The southern region of the Peruvian Amazon is also prime ground for wildlife spotting and home to a burgeoning eco-tourism industry, a colorful array of bird life and everything from howler monkeys to tapir prowling through the jungle.
The closest archaeological site to Lima is Pachacamac, a pre-Inca collection of sand-blasted pyramid temples and palaces spanning 1,500 years. Over the centuries the now-ruined city developed into one of the Inca’s most important religious and administrative centers.
Though all that remains is largely the rubble of walls and stepped foundations rising from the surrounding dusty desert, there are excavations and reconstructions to see, including a rebuilt Inca complex called House of the Chosen Women.
The site was inhabited by the Huari people prior to 800 AD, and later by the Inca, who built their Temple to the sun on the main square. Itshma was the name given to the state surrounding Pachacamac and the religious ceremonial temples built to honor the coastal deity, Pacha Camac.
The Rio Nanay undulates along the northern border of the city, a slow and interesting tributary of the Amazon that plays hosts several interesting cruises from Iquitos. The almost sensual curves of the river create beautiful white-sand beaches when the water is low, and crystal clear. These are popular day-trips for locals during dry season, though most travelers head further upriver, into the wilderness, often visiting small Yagua, Bora and Mestizo communities, such as Santo Tomás, Padre Cocha and Santa Clara, along the way.
While most Nanay tours are day trips, there are a handful of lodges scattered around the rainforest, offering adventurous travelers the opportunity to stay in remote villages and really get a feel for life on the Amazon.
Or, travelers could continue on to the region’s newest conservation area, Reserva Nacional Alpahuayo Mishana. The 57,600-hectare (222-square mile) reserve, created in 2008, is located about 23km (14mi) south of Iquitos.
There was once a time when Cusco was the center of the powerful Incan Empire. From the coastal deserts of southern Peru to the frigid peaks of the Andes, every decision within the empire traced back to the city of Cusco. It was the beating heart at the very center of one of the greatest civilizations in history, and at the center of Cusco was the massive square which was known as Huacaypata.
When the Spanish besieged the city, however, many of the buildings around Huacaypata were viciously razed to the ground. Western structures were erected in their place to solidify the imperial dominance, and the name of the square was also changed to reflect the Spanish heritage.
Lima’s Plaza Mayor (main square) is central Plaza de Armas, the city’s historic heart and birthplace.
Landscaped with palm trees, elaborate lampposts, flower beds and greenery, the square’s focus is the 1650 tiered bronze fountain in the center and the statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback nearby.
Visit at 11:45am to watch the changing of the guard, or visit any time to find an empty seat and watch the world wander by.
There’s plenty to look at, with the cathedral on one side and the beautiful balconies of the Palacio Arzobispal next door. Several other attractive buildings with balconies and arched porticoes line the square, including the City Hall and Government Palace.
Stretching between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, and bisected by the principal boulevard of Jirón de la Unión, the historic center of Lima is still the focal point of the modern-day city. Today, the UNESCO-listed area forms the basis of most tourist itineraries, with the majority of attractions within easy walking distance and a wealth of elegant buildings, churches and monumental statues dating back to the colonial era.
The Plaza de Armas makes a popular starting point for walking tours, home to a cluster of landmarks including the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace (City Hall) and the Palace of the Union, as well as a bronze fountain bearing the coats-of-arms of Lima. Famously the site of the foundation of the ‘City of the Kings’ in 1535, the Plaza de Armas became the city’s first public square and was later the site of the declaration of the Republic of Peru in 1821.