Why visit Peru in the winter time? Because winter season in North America means summer and high season in Peru. There are many other reasons to visit Peru. The country has spectacular scenery, a different climate, culture, beliefs and customs and it is cheap for North American travelers.
Geography and climate
Being the third largest country in South America, Peru is best known for its high sierra of the Andes, mountain area that is lying centrally. With the massive peaks, steep canyons, and amazing archaeological sites the Andes are one of the most intriguing regions in Peru. However, they are not the only region worth seeing in this marvelous country.
The same Andes Mountains have divided Peru into three sharply distinct geographic regions. This part, also called the sierra (highlands) includes the Altiplano plateau and the highest peak of the country, the 22,205 ft Huascarán.
To the west is a narrow, arid, lowland coastal region, a northern extension of the Atacama Desert. Three of Peru’s major population centres Lima, Trujillo, and Chiclayo are located along this coastal desert.
To the east, a heavily forested Andes slope is leading to the Amazonian plains. This hardly accessible area is called selva (jungle) and tempting to the most adventurous and skilled travelers. Around 60% of the country’s area is located within this region. Iquitos, this region’s capital, has the population of 400,000 inhabitants and is accessible only by air or by boat up the Amazon.
Peru differs from other equatorial countries because it doesn’t have an exclusively tropical climate. The Andes and the Humboldt Current create a large climatic diversity. A person can encounter winter or summer conditions depending on the area visited.
The coastal area has moderate temperatures and high humidity with warmer northern parts. It hardly ever rains there. The highlands abound with rain in the summer but the dry and sunny weather persists the year round. The nights are cold and the temperature and humidity diminish with altitude up to the frozen peaks of the Andes. The jungle, including the rainforest and Amazon floodplains, is characterized by high temperatures and heavy rains, except for the southernmost part with cold winters and seasonal rainfall.
Due to the variety of climate and geography, Peru has a high biodiversity with 21,462 species of plants and animals, 5,855 of which endemic. There are 84 life zones in Peru (104 in the whole world) and over 20% of the world’s birds and 10% of the world’s reptiles live in the country making it an excellent destination for nature lovers and eco tourism. Thirteen percent of the Peru’s territory belong to the protected natural areas.
Accessibility by air, land and sea
There are 14 airports open for commercial flights and 10 for international flights. They are situated in Lima, Arequipa, Chiclayo, Pisco, Pucallpa, Iquitos, Cusco, Trujillo, Tacna and Juliaca. Most major U.S. airlines and Peruan LAN Peru fly to Lima from JFK, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Houston while other airlines offer connections through Bogota, Mexico City, Panama City, or San Salvador. There are also airline companies offering domestic flights.
As for the land, Peru has over 78,000 kilometers of highways, 8,084.26 being asphalted. The main roads running down the length of the country are the Pan-American Highway. Cutting inland is the Central Highway that starts in Lima and goes through the high mountain pass of Ticlio, the world’s highest railway pass.
Peru’s largest port is Callao, outside Lima. Some of the Peru’s major ports are Callao Paita, Salaverry, Chimbote, Callao, Pisco, Ilo and Matarani with Callao being the largest one.
Visas are not necessary for US tourists. Entry into the country requires a valid passport for at least six months beyond the return date.
Peru has a large telephone network servicing both national and international calls, a wide range of cell-phone users and satellite communications being developed. There are also service providers that offer public access to the Internet, with the average cost of an hour’s connection of S/.3,50 (US$1)
The most popular places in Peru
Lima is the capital and largest city of Peru. It is a polluted metropolis, situated on a coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is the economic magnet for the people from highland and Amazonian plain. The city abounds with friendly people, fine museums, striking architecture and historically rich neighborhoods.
The dreamlike atmosphere, Lima gets from the garua – a mist that settles over the city between May and October. The long, white beaches stretch away in an uninterrupted string and are backed by the sand dunes.
Lima’s inhabitants usually meet at the penas, which are bars offering folk and Creole music. Lima is also famous by its open marketplaces and celebrated suave seaside restaurants as well as hole-in-the-wall eateries. Lima is also popular for the extreme sports fans especially for those into paragliding off the cliffs or surfing off the cliff-backed beaches of Barranco and Costa Verde.
Barranco is situated along the shoreline at the southern tip of Lima Bay. It is famous for leisurely strolls, bars and bohemia. There is a famous Parque Municipal around which there are many cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs, housed in mansions, where local bohemians and artists hang out. Miraflores is tourists’ favorite as it hosts numerous shopping malls, cinemas, hotels and cafes and is famous for its night life. The city center has a myriad of cafes and restaurants, colonial and republican buildings, museums, churches, and street concerts.
Situated in the south-eastern part of the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco is an important tourist attraction. It is widely known for its Inca ruins and Spanish colonial architecture, adobe houses, narrow, cobblestone streets and open markets. It lies in the closely populated agricultural region with predominately Indian population. Tourists going to Cuzco look forward to the local cuisine, which is a combination of typical Andean foods, such as corn, potatoes and chilli pepper, with pork and mutton brought by the Spanish.
West of the Cuzco city is Machu Picchu, a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin, still grandeur and mysterious. Other not to miss sights in Cuzco are Sacsayhuaman, Puca PucaraKenko, Plaza de Armas (Huacaypata), Cusco Cathedral, Temple of the Sun (Coricancha), Plazoleta de San Blas and Tipon.
The Valley of Callejon de Huaylas is perfect for outdoor activities such as day walking, trekking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, skiing and rafting. The valley hosts the city of Huaraz. Huaraz cannot be called a beautiful place as it was built from concrete following a catastrophic earthquake in 1970 which flattened all but one street and killed half of the city’s population.
However, Huaraz has numerous hotels and hostels that vary in quality. Everything that is needed, such as restaurants, tour operators, agencies, banks and the post office, is in or around the main street, Calle Luzuriaga.
Machu Picchu & the Inca Trail
The lost Incan city of Machu Picchu can be reached via the Inca Trail. Machu Pichu is the best-known archaeological site on the continent. Its architecture combines fine stone buildings with extensive agriculture terraces, making it seem as if the settlement was carved out of the mountainsides. The most famous feature is a carved natural stone, surrounded by the curved walls of dressed stone with trapezoidal windows. It is believed that the stones are related to the sun religion of the Inca and to their veneration of certain natural stones.
There are a few ways to visit Machu Picchu. You can get to Machu Picchu on foot, along the Inca Trail , by train from the city of Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, and by air, by using the helicopter from the Cuzco airport to Aguas Calientes.
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Peru’s most visited tourist attraction. Being a major revenue generator, it is in danger by economic and commercial forces. The existing tourist infrastructure, a small hotel, bathrooms, a ticket office, a terrace restaurant and a bus parking lot, affect visual integrity of the area and pose physical burdens on the ruins. The number of visitors is growing each year. Some fear that the sacredness of the place may be ruined this way.
Iquitos is Peru’s largest jungle city. It is the only city in the world that cannot be reached by overland routes. You can reach Iquitos either by flying or by boat via the Amazon River. The city represents a base for Amazon tourism and offers accommodation in remote jungle lodges. In Iquitos, you can go fishing for piranha, go for machete-led walks into the jungle, canoe by moonlight, and enjoy the wildlife, including pink dolphins, sloths and monkeys.
Tumbes is a great vacation spot for water enthusiasts who enjoy fishing, swimming, water-skiing, yachting and canoeing.
Colca Canyon may not be as well visited as other natural wonders of Peru but it is definitely worth seeing. Colca Canyon is said to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon but unlike the Grand canyon, Colca Canyon has habitable portions with pre-Colombian terraced fields still supporting agriculture and human life. Colca canyon is mostly popular due to the inhabiting Andean condors.
The canyon can be visited any time of year, but it is the most beautiful, and safer, after the rains cease. There are live volcanoes in the neighborhood and often seismic activities make this ground unstable.
Peruvians celebrate over 3,000 festivals all over the country. Most of the festivals are part of the Christian calendar adopted in colonial times but many are a mixture of Catholicism and magical beliefs of ancient forms of worship. The most important festivals are the Carnaval, popular in the sierra, Inti Raymi, an Incan festival with dances and parades, Puno Day with flamboyant costumes, All Souls Day and others.
Peruan cuisine is the mixture of Peruan with European, Arabic, Chinese, African and Japanese traditions. The country has over 40,000 restaurants that reflect this diversity.