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Top Things to Do in Peru

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail

This "Lost City of the Incas" is the main reason why people come to Peru. The citadel of Machu Picchu was built around the 1450s, only to be abandoned a hundred years later. Spanish conquistadors never found it, and for centuries it stayed hidden. But in 1911 it was rediscovered by an American historian. If you're adventurous, and in good shape, the four-day Inca Trail is the classic route to Machu Picchu.

Colca Canyon

Twice as deep as Arizona's Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is typically a side trip from Arequipa, which is a three-hour drive away. Adventure enthusiasts head for the Canyon's Colca River for white-water rafting, while those less inclined toward danger hike along the canyon for gorgeous vistas. The highlight is the Cruz del Condor, a mirador where lucky visitors might spot the Andean condor in flight.

Chan Chan

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, this archaeological site was home to the second largest pre-Columbian society in South America: the Chimú. The estimated 30,000 Chimú residents built the mud city between 850 and 1470. You can roam the ruins—which contain 10 walled citadels that house burial chambers, ceremonial rooms, and temples—on a day trip from the charming northern city of Trujillo.

Lake Titicaca

At 3,812 meters (12,500 feet), Puno's Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. More than 25 rivers empty into it, and according to Inca legend it was the birthplace of the Sun god who founded the Inca dynasty. On Isla Taquile and other islands here Quechua-speaking people preserve the traditions of their ancestors.

Tambopata National Reserve

This vast protected area near Puerto Maldonado, a short flight east of Cusco, is an excellent place to experience the myriad flora and fauna of the Amazon Basin. A dozen nature lodges scattered along the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers provide comfortable bases for hikes, or boat trips into the surrounding wilderness to see several types of monkeys, dinosaurian caimans, giant rodents called capybaras, and some of the reserve's hundreds of bird species.

The Nazca Lines

Between 900 BC and AD 600 the Nazca and Paracas cultures constructed the Nazca Lines: geometric figures drawn into the Pampa Colorado (Red Plain) near Nazca, a city south of Lima. Three hundred geoglyphs and 800 straight lines make up these mysterious figures. No one knows why these massive drawings—which include representations of a lizard, monkey, condor, and spider—were created. The only way to get a good view is to take a flight.

Sacsayhuamán

Machu Picchu isn't the only must-see Inca ruin to visit from Cusco. Used as a fortress during Pizarro's conquest, the military site of Sacsayhuamán is made of huge stone blocks; the largest is 8.5 meters (28 feet) high and weighs more than 300 tons (600,000 pounds). It's believed that some 20,000 men built it.

Cordillera Blanca

The highest part of the Peruvian Andes, the Cordillera Blanca (White Range) has more than 50 peaks that reach 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) or higher, and stretches 20 km (12.5 miles) wide and 180 km (112 miles) long. Mountain climbers and hikers of all skill levels can enjoy this majestic range.

Updated: 06-2013

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