Hike the Inca Trail
Many of our tours travelling to Peru include the option of hiking a portion of the famous Inca trail! A challenging but rewarding way to tick off this New Wonder of the World.
Did you know?
- Before the Inca empire, many civilisations flourished in Peru. The Moche, Nazca and the Chimu Kingdom are but three examples. It is the Incas, however, whose civilisation is best known—their empire, though short-lived, covered the South American Andes from modern-day Colombia to Chile.
- Their lands were held together by an extensive network of roads, traversed by imperial messengers bearing quipus, or knotted-string messages.
- The empire was incredibly skillful in its use of dry masonry, irrigation and terraces. The city of Machu Picchu—made of large stones interlocked like fingers with no mortar used—attests to the technical and aesthetic mastery of this Amerindian empire.
- All that came to an end when, in 1532, the Spanish conquistador Pizarro arrived with a small but well-armed force, captured the emperor Atahualpa and began the destruction of a culture. Today, Peruvians are ambivalent about their past: Pride in their Spanish and Inca heritage mixes with shame over the sometimes brutal actions of their forefathers.
- Peru gained independence from Spain in 1821.
- The size of Peru is 1,285,216 square kilometres. Compare this to France (643,427 square kilometres), Spain (504,782 square kilometres), Germany (357,021 square kilometres) and the United Kingdom (243,610 square kilomtres). To put that into perspective, the Peruvian department of Loreto (NE Peru, capital Iquitos) has an area of 368,852 square kilometres, larger than both the UK and Germany!
- The literacy rate in Peru is 90.9% which is quite impressive for a country with so much poverty.
- Peru has the highest sand dune in the world, the Cerro Blanco, 14 kilometres east of Nazca
- The most famous sport is soccer, but Peruvians also enjoy tennis, surfing, beach volleyball and sailing.
- Peruvians still mine salt in the same way as the Incas
- Peru’s natural resources are silver, gold, copper, timber, fish, petroleum, coal, iron ore, phosphate, potash, hydropower and natural gas.
- Peru has 246 airports but only 1 heliport.
- With a wingspan of up to 4 meters long, Peru is home to the largest flying bird, the Andean Condor
- Lima's San Marcos University is one of the oldest in the New World, founded in 1551, 70 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
- The mummy of a young Inca girl – found in 1995 on the side of Ampato, a 6,300 metre volcano - had lain frozen for five centuries before melting ice sent her plummeting down the mountain. Probably left there as a sacrificial offering to the gods, Juanita, as she was named, was the first female Inca mummy discovered on a mountaintop in the Andes.
- There are 90 distinct microclimates in Peru
- Chewing the coca leaf was once a privilege for Incan royalty. However, the Spaniards, realising the leaf's physical effects, began to cultivate it and used it to stimulate their workers to labour longer.
- Peru is one of the countries in the world with the largest variety of orchids - 1,800 classified and up to 3,000 unclassified.
- There are over 3,000 varieties of potato grown in Peru
- Millions of years ago, the Amazon drained into the Pacific, through what is now Peru. Eons of continental drift and collision raised the Andes and reversed the course of the mighty river.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Peru do not need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in Peru:
Av. La Paz 1049, Piso 10
Miraflores, Lima 18,
Ph. +51 1 630 0500
Fax. +51 1 630 0520
The official currency of Peru is the Peruvian Sol. Notes come in denominations of S/.200, 100, 50, 20 and 10.
The recommended currency to take to Peru is the US Dollar. Once there, you can exchange your US Dollar for the Sol. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have US Dollars with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Lima is approximately USD2.50
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately USD5
- The price of dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately USD13
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately USD2.50
Peru’s natural diversity has led to the creation of many different cuisines throughout its territory. There is a heavy Spanish and European influence on many dishes, but you’ll find the historic staples of the country have not changed from the days of the Incas. One thing to note is that vegetarians will find it difficult in Peru – dishes are heavy on meat! You can find items such as stuffed peppers and baked potatoes but be very careful as small amounts of meat might not be acknowledged! If you eat fish then fish soup is usually available, made with salt cod in the interior and fresh fish on the coast. The High Andes is home to authentic Peruvian cuisine which is generally cooked simply. Maize and potatoes were hardy staples and are still eaten today, along with rice.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
The dry season in the Southern Andes runs from April-October and the weather is generally clear and warm during the day but quite cool at night. The rainy months from November-March are not as cold but rainfall is quite high especially during the months of February and March. The Amazon Basin is hot and steamy. The dry season from April-October is the best time to visit. During the wet season, November-March, don’t forget your wet weather gear!
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Licensed yellow taxis are the only cabs allowed in downtown Lima, although there are many unlicensed taxi companies in operation in Peru and visitors are advised to avoid these. They usually have a red and white taxi sign on the windscreen. Taxis do not have meters and fares should be agreed before departure (they are relatively inexpensive). Extensive and safe taxi services are available by telephone in the main cities. Taxi fares increase by 35 to 50% after midnight and on holidays – tips are not expected.
When catching taxis, have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. Also, ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Peru…
You can find some regional specialties but generally you will find earthenware, fabrics and basic metalware all made to traditional designs. Lima and Cusco are the best spots for souvenir hunters. In Lima, head to Miraflores for the best goods - including fabulous silver jewellery, made by skilled silversmiths. Other regional specialties include from Puno: handwoven textiles with traditional designs great for hangings or throws, or ready-made clothing such as ponchos, and from Lake Titicaca: tapestry and maybe even bowler hats that all women wear.
Alpaca wool is used to create the very softest sweaters and other garments. Be careful of the fakes – there is no such thing as a cheap alpaca garment, even in Peru! Peru was home to several ancient peoples and you can find ancient designs replicated in modern pottery and earthenware. Each town has a market and these are great places to browse as much for the goods on sale, as the sights and sounds. Haggling and bargaining is considered normal practice although penny-pinching travellers in South America draw derision rather than respect for driving too hard a bargain. Keep it good-humoured and it will be appreciated.
- It is common to be kissed on the cheek by Peruvians when they introduce themselves and when they say farewell.
- Counterfeiting is a problem in Peru so check notes when you are given change and don't accept bills that are torn or taped—no matter how slightly—because almost no one will accept them. Check your bills by holding them up to a light. You should see a watermark and a very small strip that says Peru 50 or Peru 20 depending upon the denomination of the bill.
- Don't throw toilet paper down the toilet; use the trash can next to the seat.
- Carry some toilet paper with you as many public places and restaurants don't provide it.
- Try to remain aware when you’re out and about, different tactics seem to go in and out of style among thieves, but their main objective is to divert your attention—staging a fight or accident, for example—so they can make their move when you're focused on something else.
- Don't expect to see the head-hunter tribes in resplendent primitive glory. Though it's now forbidden by law for them to practice their art, they are well aware of the fascination their tribes hold for tourists, and visits to Amerindian villages have become very commercial.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
One of the most commemorated festivals is the Inca solstice celebration, Inti Raymi, honouring the sun god, Inti. While the festival takes place in various South American countries including Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, the biggest celebration is found in the Cusco, hosting approximately 200,000 spectators. Around 700 actors pay tribute to their ancestral culture usually lasting 6 hours, beginning at Qoricancha, the Sun Temple before moving on to the city’s main plaza, Plaza de Armas, and concluding at the temple fortress of Sacsayhuaman, one of Cusco’s most iconic archaeological sites.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Peru during mid-September, be sure to check out Mistura Culinary Festival, a 10 day event showcasing the incredible variety and tastes of Peruvian cuisine. Some 200 restaurants, bars, outdoor vendors and food carts line the streets of Lima, accommodating crowds of thousands, this is certainly any foodie’s dream.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year's Day
- Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Good Friday)
- Good Friday
- Easter Sunday
- Labour Day / May Day (May 1st)
- St Peter and St Paul (June 29th)
- Independence Day (July 28th)
- Independence Day - Day 2 (July 29th)
- Santa Rosa De Lima (August 30th)
- Battle of Angamos (October 8th)
- All Saints' Day (November 1st)
- Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th)
- Christmas Day
The City of Kings, Peru's capital city of Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 on 6 January, on the Epiphany (Feast of the Kings). It was designed to be a purely Spanish city in a conquered territory, but it has turned out to be a rather patched-together place—especially after 450 years of earthquakes. Lima has 20 museums, including the Museum of the Inquisition where visitors can see torture instruments, the university library and its beautiful carved ceiling; the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera with over 55,000 ceramic works, and the Gold Museum. Churches to see, include the Cathedral on Plaza de Armas (it holds the remains of Pizarro), the baroque Church of San Francisco with it’s catacombs containing over 70,000 skeletons, and La Merced, the site of the first mass in Lima.
Once the capital of the Incas, Cusco’s old town displays spectacular colonial architecture as well as some ruined Inca palaces. You’ll find cobblestone plazas, white-washed walls and terracotta-tiled roofs, colourful markets and museums all with mountain scenery as a backdrop. Cusco is also the last outpost for the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most stunning treks. The impressive Sacsayhuaman Fortress (Sun’s House) was once the backdrop for a bloody and decisive battle between the conquistadors and the Incas. Despite increasing visitor numbers, Cusco remains relatively unspoiled and its beauty and ancient atmosphere remain very tangible today.
Machu Picchu, at an elevation of 2,450 metres (much lower than nearby Cusco), has the most spectacular setting of any ruin in the world—even those who aren't normally excited by archaeology will be impressed. This Lost City of the Incas is a place everyone must see at least once. Unknown to the outside world until Yale's Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, Machu Picchu sits on the spine of a ridge 610 metres above the rushing Urubamba River. Capping the end of the ridge is Huaynu Picchu, a soaring peak that offers a challenging climb—and a bird's-eye view of the complex as a reward. Once atop Huaynu Picchu, linger for a view of the surrounding misty green-clad mountains and you'll understand why the last Incas chose to hide there. Machu Picchu's grassy central court is surrounded by almost 200 houses, palaces and temples built from perfectly fitted stone blocks.
The Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Pichu formed the heart of the Incan Empire and still carry many signs of this ancient civilisation. The township of Pisac is an important archaeological centre that contrasts the Incan construction with the natural richness of the Urubamba Valley. The impressive Pisac ruins and the lively market are must sees in Pisac. The archaeological ruins of Ollantaytambo also give a wonderful insight to the Inca Empire. Built by the Incas, they form a fortress that can only be entered by a steep stone staircase. The entire town still has its original Inca-built stone walls, narrow streets and water system (flowing down a central channel cut in every street). In Ollantaytambo, witness the Inca's best-known skill—dry masonry. The astounding craftsmanship of fitting huge stone blocks together so precisely that, even after centuries of earthquakes, a knife cannot be slipped into the seams.
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