Peru, land of the Incas, borders Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia on the west coast of South America. Alongside its rich ancient culture, the country also offers tourists 2,414 km of coastline and a range of climates from tropical and desert heat to the freezing cold heights of the Andes.
Ancient Peru was the seat of the Inca empire. The country was captured by the Spanish conquistadors in 1533 and ruled by Spain before declaring independence in 1821. Peru has had a democratic government in place since 1980 and is one of the more stable South American nations, though it has witnessed some political tensions and economic problems in recent years. With a population of around 28 million, modern Peru is South America's third largest country and embraces a mix of cultures.
The ancient Inca capital of Cuzco is now a lively city of around 300,000 and an excellent starting destination for a trip to Peru. Parts of Inca stonework mingle with Spanish architecture, a legacy of the conquistadors, and the city is also home to the stunning Temples of the Sun and the Moon. The ruins at Chavin de Huantar are becoming an increasingly popular destination. Situated 250km north of Lima, the 3,000-year-old site is less crowded than Machu Picchu, but very dramatic, rising up from an isolated hillside. The vast, deep blue Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, spans the border between Peru and Bolivia and was a key site for the Inca civilisation.
From the jungles of the Amazon basin to the soaring Andean mountains, Peru offers the intrepid traveller a range of experiences. The Peruvian high sierra of the Andes is considered the most beautiful on the continent, though it is also one of the most unstable mountain ranges in the world. In villages and towns across the Andes, local peoples still work and live in the same way they have done for centuries. The national park, Parque Nacional Huascaran, offers a vast expanse for hiking and trekking in the Andes, with some stunning indigenous flora and fauna.
The dense jungle provides the ideal location for those seeking adventure, though a trip along the Amazon is recommended for only the most intrepid travellers. A growing number of companies offer tours and it is advisable to go with an experienced guide to see the fantastic birds, animals and plants that inhabit the tropical forests.
The coastal region of Peru is an extension of the arid Atacama Desert offering the delights of the capital Lima and a myriad of sea and bird life. The mysterious Nazca Lines, a series of vast, intricate ancient drawings, stretch across a plateau for 30 miles and include representations of birds, animals and figures. They can be viewed by air and flights can be arranged from Lima or the town of Nazca. Lima itself is home to a wealth of sights, with excellent places to eat, entertainment, museums, churches, nearby beaches, beautiful plazas and archaeological sites. The city also offers the chance to shop in markets for traditional, brightly-coloured Peruvian gifts and has a number of excellent hotels and nightclubs.