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Machu Picchu (Shutterstock)

Everyone knows about Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel shrouded in mist and myth, but don’t let it outshine the rest of the country. Peru has more archaeological sites than any other country in South America, and its vast, green carpet of jungle is home to the greatest diversity of plants and wildlife on the planet.

There’s more. Peru is the birthplace of surfing on Pacific waves, its rivers offer thrilling white-water rafting, and much of the Peruvian Andes, even now, are scarcely visited. If you only visit one city, it has to be Cusco. High in the Andes it’s one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, colonial buildings have been built on Inca walls. There are Inca ruins on every side and the streets are filled with local people, still clad in traditional dress and breezily going about their daily lives at an impressive altitude of 3,399m.

Peru’s best-known archaeological site, Machu Picchu, is the main attraction for visitors, and rightly so. Set your alarm and get up early to beat the crowds and watch the sun rise over the mountains and fill the citadel with light.

Don’t overlook the other Andean attactions. The Colca Canyon is one of the world’s most spectacular, a natural rift to rival any in the world but made even more enchanting by condors soaring above local women tilling the fields in bowler hats.

Head west and the Andes drop down to sultry flatlands stretching out to the Pacific. This is where you’ll find the Nasca Lines written on the desert floor and the capital city, Lima. Go north to the elegant Trujillo, on Peru’s northern coast, and find Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world.

In the Cordillera Blanca, deep in the northern Andes, is the architectural splendour of the 2,500-year-old fortress temple of Chavín de Huántar. The surrounding peaks offer some of the best hiking, white-water rafting, mountaineering and mountain biking on the continent.

East of the Andes the Peruvian Amazon is the most diverse and naturally rich of the entire Amazon Delta. Eco-lodges run by Indigenous communities personalise your understanding and introduce the aminals of the region. The gateway town is Iquitos, the only place in Peru where you can see pink river dolphins in the morning and experience the bustle of a frenetic Amazon port in the afternoon.

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Spanish, Quechua and Aymara
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UK nationals are usually granted permission to stay for up to 30 days. If you need to stay longer, you must apply for permission.
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Type A and Type C
Nuevo Sol (S). US dollars are about the only thing accepted by currency exchanges. ATMs are common. Be on the lookout for fake notes and don’t leave a shop, bank or money exchange without checking each note carefully.

When to go to Peru

The sierra and the jungle are hot and dry from April to October; here, November to April is the wet season. The opposite is true for the coast, where it’s hot and dry from December to April, with cooler conditions May to November. June to September are the best months for trekkers.

International airports

Lima Airport (LIM) is 10km from the city. There are no direct flights to Peru from the UK. You can fly from London to Lima via Madrid with Iberia, AirEuropa and LATAM or via main US hubs with several American carriers. Flight time is approximately 18 hours; return fares start from £600.

Getting around in Peru

Bus services on paved roads are generally good. Many small towns are served by combis (minibuses or share taxis known as colectivos) on journeys of up to three hours, leaving when the vehicle is full. Trains connect Cusco to Machu Picchu and Puno on Lake Titicaca, and the high altitude Ferrocarril Central Andino runs between Lima and Huancayo between April and October. Domestic flights in Peru are an option but services come and go, and are frequently cancelled at the last minute. If driving or cycling, be extremely careful due to occasionally poor road conditions and speeding drivers.

Where to stay in Peru

Places to stay vary from top-class hotels in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa and other tourist hubs, to smaller, family-run hospedajes and pensiones. There are few campsites or B&Bs.

What to eat in Peru

Peru rightly holds the crown for the gastronomic capital of South America, with innovative fusion cooking, often incorporating Andean ingredients and recovered recipes. Seafood dishes dominate on the coast, with delicious ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice, onion and hot peppers) as the national dish. Highland cooking is largely based on corn and potatoes – try papa a la huancaína (potatoes topped with a spicy sauce) or tamales (boiled corn dumplings filled with meat and wrapped in a banana leaf). Pet lovers should avoid cuy (guinea pig) which is a popular delicacy throughout Peru. Vegetarians won’t have too many problems, especially in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco.

Health and safety in Peru

Visit your GP or travel health clinic well before departure to check that your jabs are up-to-date and whether you’ll need malaria prophylaxis. Bring your yellow fever inoculation certificate to Peru. Wear DEET repellent to ward off mosquitoes. Protection from the sun is essential. Altitude sickness is a risk in the mountains, even for visitors to Cusco – try to acclimatise slowly. Drink bottled or purified water. The main places to guard against opportunistic crime are bus stations, unlicensed cabs, markets and when leaving clubs.