This 21-day tour brings together most of the main travel routes throughout Peru, and travelers can easily take one part (for instance the journey from Lima to Cusco) and take out another (the tour of northern Peru). More than anything, it is proof of all that Peru has to offer—and it still leaves out a lot.
The odyssey unfolds chronologically among Peru’s ancient ruins and colonial cities, with a dab of Amazon and a dash through the desert for balance. Getting around is accomplished via a straightforward combination of planes, trains, buses, and combis.Destination:Activities:
Peru is the New World’s cradle of civilization and has enough archaeological sites for a lifetime of study. From the birth of Peru’s first city states five millennia ago to the spectacular conquest of the Inca five centuries ago, Peru’s history is well-documented via a series of ruins, artifacts, legends, and written chronicles.
Nearly all visitors to Peru see Machu Picchu and Cusco, but here are some history and archaeology suggestions, broken down by region, for those who want to explore farther afield. Specialty operators like Far Horizons Archaeological & Cultural Trips arrange tours to all these places with archaeologist guides and a series of exclusive lectures.Destination:Activities:
For a quick trip that hits Peru’s major geographical and cultural sites, there is no better destination than the south. Here, according to legend, the Inca culture sprang out of Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake), developed its base in Cusco and then spread through the lush Sacred Valley. The Spanish then arrived taking over Cusco and Arequipa, and turning the latter into Peru’s most elegant colonial city.Destination:Activities:
Ask your bus driver to let you off one kilometer before Ollantaytambo at the original Inca Trail, which follows the hillside on the right (north) side of town. To your left is the plain that Manco Inca flooded in the 1537 battle against the Spanish. The path leads up to the town’s restored terraces and through a massive Inca gate, through which a water channel still runs. The path then joins with the road past the Wall of 100 Niches, whose inward slant indicates this was the inside—not the outside—of a roadside building (or maybe the road went through the building).Destination:Activities:
Cusco’s baroque Catedral (Plaza de Armas, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, US$8.50 or boleto religioso) sits between the more recent church of Jesús María (1733) on its right and, on its left, El Triunfo (1539), the first Christian church in Cusco, built to celebrate the victory over Manco Inca.
The cathedral was built on top of Inca Viracocha’s palace using blocks of red granite taken from Sacsayhuamán and took more than a century to construct from 1560 onwards.Destination:Activities:
Across the corner from the cathedral is the 17th-century Iglesia de la Compañía (9–11:30 a.m. and 1–5:30 p.m. daily, US$3.50 or boleto religioso), which was built on top of the palace of Inca Huayna Cápac.
This church was built by the Jesuits, who were expelled from Latin America in 1767, but not before they built a series of churches in Peru’s principal cities that outshine even the cathedral. This graceful, highly ornate facade is a case in point, behind which is a single nave leading to a spectacular baroque altar.Destination:Activities:
Walk away from the Plaza de Armas along Hatun Rumiyoc and continue walking straight until reaching Cuesta San Blas, which leads to Cusco’s San Blas neighborhood.
This square, known as Plazoleta San Blas, is home to several artisan families who have been operating here for decades. Its steep cobblestone alleys offer excellent views over Cusco.
Iglesia San Blas (Plazoleta San Blas, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, US$5 or boleto religioso) is a small, whitewashed adobe church built in 1563. One of the New World’s most famous works of art is found here, a carved pulpit made from the trunk of a single tree. There is also a gold-covered baroque altar.Destination:Activities:
The greatest prize in the Spaniards’ 1533 sacking of Cusco was Coricancha (Plazoleta Santo Domingo, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 2–5 p.m. Sun., US$3.50 or US$5 with entry to Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina), the sun temple.
For the Inca, the building had many functions. It was foremost a place where offerings were burnt in thanks to the sun, though there were also rooms devoted to the moon, stars, lightning, thunder, and rainbows. Like so much of Inca ceremonial architecture, the building also served as a solar observatory and mummy storehouse.Destination:Activities:
Start on the Plaza Mayor, which is graced with a bronze fountain from 1650 and flanked on one side by the Catedral, which was built in the late 16th century. It contains the carved wooden sepulcher of Francisco Pizarro, who was murdered in 1541 by a mob of Almagristas, a rival political faction. As you enter, the first chapel on the right is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and contains a carving of Jesus that is considered to be among the most beautiful in the Americas.Destination:Activities:
A half block from the Plaza Mayor down Unión is Casa de Aliaga (Unión 224), which was built in 1535 and is the oldest home on the continent still family owned after 17 generations. It is one of the best-preserved colonial homes in Peru, with a series of salons representing decor from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
The land for the home was first deeded to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of the 13 men who remained with Francisco Pizarro during his grueling exploration of Peru’s coast in 1527. All visits must be arranged in advance through Lima Tours (tel. 01/619-6900).Destination:Activities:
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