Often the starting point for South America tours because of its proximity to Machu Picchu, the city of Cuzco consists of Inca roots combined with colonial Spanish influences. Before the Spanish arrived, this city was the capital of the Inca Empire for over three hundred years, and has now been named this the Historical Capital of Peru. What this means for tourists is a flood of culture to absorb from the two complementary architectural styles: cathedrals, temples museums, markets, and the nearby ruins of the Sacsayhuamán fortress, are all worth investigating.
Not far from Cuzco is the essential destination for all South America holidays. The ruined city of Machu Picchu was recently voted one of the new wonders of the world and one of the most visited tourist sights in South America. Tourshere will lead you up carved steps and terraced hillside to a once secret city cradled in the Machu Picchu Mountain. Here, you can look down on the valley 2350 meters below and imagine the isolation of the people who lived here before its discovery. There’s the option to make a day trip here by train, or even by helicopter, whereas the more energetic tourists might choose to walk the Inca trail for a few days through the Andes and arrive at the Lost City under their own power.
Some say this is the prettiest city in Peru. Arequipa is home to many temples, elegant houses and palaces, which earn it the name “Ciudad Blanca” meaning “White City“. The architecture in its historic centre integrates European and native characteristics, and has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Coming here as part of your South America Holidays will mean a tour of Santa Catalina, a convent that was closed to the world for 400 years. It was built in 1579 and was once a place of quiet seclusion and prayer; now the convent serves as an art gallery, with only about twenty nuns remaining on the complex. A tour of the galleries and refurbished buildings is like a step back in time, and takes only a little more than an hour.
In the Nazca desert, towards the south of Peru, are a series of astonishing engravings in the desert floor. These engravings (known as ‘geoglyphs’) take the form of geometric patterns and animals, some up to two hundred metres across. They were constructed by an ancient culture that exposed the pale bedrock of the desert by carefully moving and removing stones. Many good South America Holidayswill have the option of taking a flight over these patterns, enabling passengers to get a sense of the scale and artistry of these signals to the sky.
Louise Mumford is a holiday specialist at South American Experience, a company that specializes in tailor-made arrangements for South America Holidays. Our dedicated team has two decades of first-hand experience in the Latin America region.