Peru is legendary among world travelers looking for new experiences. A stunningly endowed, Peru offers much more than most short trips can hope to take in: charming Andean highlands towns with colonial architecture; remote jungle lodges in the Amazon basin; soaring snowcapped mountains and volcanoes; a 3220 Km (2000 mile) Pacific coastline; and, of course, the legacies of the Inca and other sophisticated pre-Columbian civilizations. The following lists are some of my favorite places and activities.
One of South Ameria's great enigmas are the ancient, baffling lines etched into the desert sands along Peru's southern coast. There are giant trapezoids and triangles, the identifiable shapes of animal and plant figures, and more than 10000 lines that can only really be seen from the air. Variously thought to be singns from the gods, agricultural and astronomical calendars, or even extraterrestrial airports, the Nasca lines were constructed between 300 B.C. and A.D. 700. Small-craft overflights dip and glide, and passengers the window to see mysterious figures such as "the Astronaut."
However you get to it --whether you hike the fabled Inca Trail, hop aboard one of the prettiest train rides in South America, or zip in by helicopter - Machu Picchu more as one of the most spectacular sites on earth. The ruins of the legendary "lost city of the Incas" sit majestically among the massive Andes, swathed in clouds. The ceremonial and agricultural center, never discovered or looted by the Spaniards, dates to the mid-1400s but seems even more ancient. Exploring the site is a thrilling experience, especially at sunrise, when dramatic rays of light creep over the mountaintops.
The legendary trail to Machu Picchu!. The Inca Trail is one of the world's most rewarding ecoadventures. The 4-day trek leads across astonishing Andes mountain passes and through some of the greatest natural and manmade attractions in Peru, including dozens of Inca ruins, dense cloud forest, and breathtaking mountain scenery. At the end of the arduous trail, the glorious ruins of Machu Picchu lies there, shrouded in mist at your feet.
Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable body of water, straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia. To locals, it is a mysterious and sacred place. An hour's boat ride from Puno takes you to the Uros floating islands, where communities dwell upon soft patches of reeds. Visitors have a rare opportunity to experience the ancient cultures of two inhabited natural islands, Amantaní and Taquile, by staying with a local family. The views of the ocean-like lake, at more than 3600 m (12000 ft) above sea level, and the starlittered night sky are worth the trip.
The world's second-deepest cayon (but twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), Colca is the best place in South America to see giant Andean condors, majestic birds with wingspans of up to 3.5m (111/2ft). From a stunning lookout point nearly 1200m (4000 ft.) above the cayon river, you can watch as the condors appear, slowly circle, and gradually gain altitude with each pass, until they soar silently down the river. A truly spinetingling spectacle, the flight of the big birds may make you feel and certainly less graceful.
However you do it, and in whichever part of the Amazon basin rain forest you do it, Peru's massive tracts of jungle are not to be missed. The northern jungle is most accessible from Iquitos, and the southern Amazon, which features two phenomenal national reserves, Manu and Tambopata, is approachable from Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. You can take a river cruise, star at a rustic jungle lodge, or lose yourself with a private guide, making camp and catching dinner along the way.