Places to visit in Peru
Peru is a vast country that you could spend months exploring, and in fact many travellers do return time and again. Chief of the attractions are of course the fabulous ruins of the Incan civilisation including Peru’s star attraction, Machu Picchu. However, there is also the dramatically beautiful scenery of the Sacred Valley and the High Andes, the lush jungle eco-system of the Amazon and the colonial splendour of Cusco and Lima, home to the conquistadors of old.
We have described some of the most popular family destinations here but if you aren’t sure how to piece these together, or if you are ready to start planning your trip, just get in touch.
This picturesque valley is a stunning introduction to the delights of the Cusco area (we find that as it is lower than Cusco it helps families acclimatise to the altitude by staying here first). There is a gorgeous selection of hotels, many of which have extensive gardens full of flowers with lots of scope for wandering through nearby villages or sitting on the verandahs to enjoy the view. There are a wealth of activities including white water rafting, cycling, horse riding and hiking all of which can be tailored to suit your children’s ages and abilities. Roads and trails are quiet and you will pass charming Andean villages, patchworks of fields, ancient Incan pathways and scenic crop terraces.
Places of particular interest are the vast amphitheatre at Moray and the salt mines of Maras where hundreds of flat white terraces cascade down the mountainside. The local market of Pisac is where children can hone their haggling skills and the ruins at Ollantaytambo can whet your appetite for Machu Picchu and the sights to come.
Cusco is a mesmerising combination of ancient religious sites, colonial splendour, modern cosmopolitan restaurants and hotels and traditional, colourful markets. Once the capital of the Incas, the city is full of remnants of this past glorious empire. Turn a corner and you will come across huge stone blocks cut with incredible precision – get the children to try and insert pieces of paper between the walls and then explain that these were cut by hand way before modern day equipment. Enjoy a coca tea (this helps with altitude-induced headaches) in a café in a colonial square, surrounded by pastel-coloured building and attractive Spanish churches. Barter in the lively central market, packed full of traditionally dressed Quechua people, visit the holy temple of Qorikancha and enjoy the walk back into town from the impressive ruins of Sachsayhuaman – children will love learning to pronounce this one!
All family holidays to Peru start in the capital city and usually an overnight stay is the minimum requirement before heading off to either the Amazon, Cusco or further afield. Lima is home to beautiful colonial buildings, a massive central square, an impressive cathedral, colourful markets and a number of world-class restaurants and boutique hotels.
We find that a day spent here is useful recovery time before perhaps flying to altitude. A half day city tour takes in all the main sights – children will particularly enjoy following the tunnels under the San Francisco church into the catacombs where the bones of more than 70,000 people are laid out in a number of small cave-like rooms and holes. In the evening perhaps head to the ‘Magic Water Circuit’, an impressive series of fountains that ‘dance’ to music and light in a spectacular show – perhaps not very Peruvian but it will certainly enthrall the younger ones.
The lost city of the Incas has to be one of the most impressive and enigmatic sites in the world, perched on a ridge, high in the Andes, with the dramatic Huayna Picchu towering over the ruins, lush cloud forest bedecking the mountain slopes and the Vilcanota River raging below. Whether you arrive on foot via the Inca Trail or by bus from Aguas Calientes, the nearest settlement, there is still an element of “Indiana Jones – eat your heart out…”
The ruins are vast and you can spend many hours exploring – usually a guided tour is included for the morning then the afternoon is free to wander at leisure. Younger children will love following the small passageways through the vast rock walls, peering through narrow ‘windows’. Older ones may enjoy climbing up to the Sun Gate for a fantastic panoramic view over the site.
We would usually include two nights at Aguas Calientes (accessed by train from the Sacred Valley near Cusco) so that a full day can be enjoyed at the ruins. Longer or shorter options are available though to suit your family’s requirements.
Trek the Inca Trail
For active families the chance to follow the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The route is spectacular, following an ancient Incan pathway through the mountains and taking you through cloud forest and jungle into high mountains with incredible views over the Andes. On the final day you will arrive at the Sun Gate for sunrise, with the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu spread beneath you, framed by the jagged peaks of the surrounding mountains. This truly is a unique experience.
The trek itself takes four days (arriving at Machu Picchu on the final day) and is hard work. It is only 43km but the trail is at altitude and there are some steep ascents so this is not suitable for younger children (we recommend a minimum age of 12 although this is flexible).
The Inca Trail has had some bad publicity in recent years, as it does get very busy, although the government now issue a finite number of permits each day to control this. We have looked at alternative treks in the region and although these are wonderful and merit taking in their own right, we don’t feel that they are a substitute for the ‘original’ Inca Trail. This is the ONLY trail that actually finishes at the Sun Gate at the top of Machu Picchu, meaning that you arrive at the site on foot. Alternative treks may pass by Incan ruins and offer fabulous views, but they finish further away from the site, meaning that the last leg of the journey is by train and bus. Another option, if you felt that a four-day trek is just too much for the children, would be to take the one-day ‘Express Inca Trail’ which is a 15km hike following the end of the classic Inca Trail route through the cloud forest and up the Monkey Steps (aptly named for families) to arrive at the Sun Gate in the afternoon – just as the crowds are abating from the morning rush.
Including the Amazon on a holiday allows you to combine culture, ruins and scenery as well as wildlife. Parents and children alike will love the journey deep into the rainforest by boat to arrive at a delightful eco-lodge offering charming rustic accommodation and firsthand experiences of the Amazon’s rich eco-system.
Days are spent exploring the rainforest, following trails that take you through vast groves of giant lupuna trees keeping on the lookout for capuchins, tamarins and tarantulas. Climb into the tree canopy, search for giant otters on canoe rides and enjoy the unusual spectacle of ghostly eyes staring back at you through the darkness on nocturnal walks along the Tambopata River in search of caiman (alligators). Children will particularly enjoy a boat trip during which they can fish for piranhas…keeping their hands inside the boat! Falling asleep to a backdrop of screeching from the local population of howler monkeys is one of the Amazon’s great pleasures.
A trip to the Amazon involves a short flight to Puerto Maldonado and can be included at either end of your trip as there are regular connections from Lima and Cusco.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and stunningly beautiful. Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, the vast clear waters stretch for miles, framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. The lake is home to the Uros people who were forced from their land by the Incans and who created living islands made from reeds on the surface of the lake.
One of our favourite activities in Peru is to spend a night with a local family on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our homestay is based in a traditional rural village and is far removed from the alternative homestays on offer on the island of Amantani, a popular but, in our view, now overly commercial location. The village is in a wonderfully picturesque setting offering fantastic views of the lake. The accommodation is very simple but this is more than made up for by the warm welcome and the chance to offer your children an insight into a very different way of life. From here families can enjoy village walks, short hikes to beautiful lookout points and ancestral ceremonial centres and visits to local family houses. They can learn about farming and weaving techniques and taste local food. The two-hour boat ride from Puno also allows for a stop at some of the Uros floating islands which are away from the conventional tourist route.
Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is a gorgeous colonial city, its pretty centre a UNESCO world heritage site and packed with pastel coloured Spanish style villas, whitewashed churches and busy piazzas all set against the impressive backdrop of the El Misti Volcano.
Although well worth a visit in its own right, Arequipa is also the base from which you can head into the Colca Canyon, a dramatic gorge that claims to be the deepest in the world and which is home to an impressive population of condors. If you visit during the early morning you can see these giant birds, the largest land birds on earth with a wing-span of up to 3m, as they soar on the thermal currents that rise from the valley floor. It is a truly remarkable site.
There are also some great trekking options in this area, include a beautiful hike that takes you down the side of the canyon to the bottom before climbing back up again. This is very hard work and the altitude is a factor so this is not suitable for younger or less active families.
Nazca Lines and Ballestas Islands
Approximately 4 hours drive south of Lima you will find one of South America’s most mysterious sites, the Nazca Lines. A series of strange figures etched into the desert thousands of years ago, they are best appreciated from the air in a small plane. Children will love spotting the monkey, condor, hummingbird, spider and fish amongst others and will enjoy embellishing the alien conspiracy theories surrounding their origins. This experience can be combined with a nature cruise to the Ballestas Islands where you can view penguins, pelicans, sea lions and dolphins, as well as a visit to the sand dunes of Huacachina and the ancient mummies at Chauchilla Cemetery.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Peru in pictures
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