Use this online Peru travel guide to plan your trip to the land of Incas, glacial lakes and ancient festivals.
Since Hiram Bingham, the American explorer, described Machu Picchu as a "wonderland", the fabled Inca city has become perhaps the single image that says 'Peru'. But it's not even half the story. Peru has more ancient archaeological sites than any other country in South America, with more being discovered all the time.
There is much more to Peru than old stones, however. Peru has life zones from mangroves to cloudforest, mist-fuelled oases in the desert to glacial lakes. Jungle covers 60% of the country, and while less than 6% of its population lives there, the forest provides a home for the greatest diversity of plants and wildlife on the planet.
It would be an unusual visit to Peru that did not encounter at least one fiesta. Pachamama - Mother Earth - is offered a drop of every drink, animal spirits and old combats come alive in masquerades and Christian saints are carried through the streets as if they were the Inca emperors' sacred remains. Peru is a wonderland, indeed, with the uncanny knack of springing new surprises at every turn.
Cuzco stands at the head of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is the jumping-off point for the Inca Trail and famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. It's not surprising, therefore, that this is the prime destination for the vast majority of Peru's visitors. In fact, what was once an ancient Inca capital is now the 'gringo' capital of the entire continent. And it's easy to see why. There are Inca ruins aplenty, as well as fabulous colonial architecture, stunning scenery, great trekking, river rafting and mountain biking, beautiful textiles and other traditional handicrafts - all within easy reach of the nearest cappuccino or comfy hotel room.
The Spaniards transformed the centre of a magnificent Inca civilization into a jewel of colonial achievement. Yet the city today is not some dead monument; its history breathes through the stones. The Quechua people bring the city to life, with a combination of pre-Hispanic and Christian beliefs, and every visitor is made welcome.
Use this online Brazil travel guide to help plan your trip to this dynamic and diverse nation.
There are few countries as beautiful and vibrant as Brazil. Travel to the Amazon, and you will see virgin forest stretch unbroken for more than 2500 km in every direction. The table-top mountains of the interior are covered in medicinal plants and drained by mineral-rich rivers that tumble through gorges and rush over spectacular tiered waterfalls, up to 3 km wide. Thousands of miles of pristine beaches line its coast, some backed by dunes the size of deserts, others by forests of swaying palms. In the Pantanal, the world's biggest wetland, herons and egrets fill the air like butterflies. Tiny cobble and whitewash gold-mining towns contrast with the metropolises of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador and Recife, which offer the most exciting and surprising urban culture in Latin America.
Even those who know nothing else of Brazil will have heard of Rio, its Mardi Gras carnival and its spectacular beach and mountain scenery. What many do not realize is that Rio de Janeiro is a state as well as a city, and that this state boasts beaches, forests and mountains just as beautiful as those in its capital.
The southern coast, or Costa Verde, is fringed with emerald-green coves and bays that rise steeply to rainforest-covered hills pocked with national parks. Mountains swathed in coffee plantations sit behind Rio itself, with hill retreats once favoured by the imperial family dotted throughout their valleys and remnants of one of the world's most biodiverse forests covering parts of their slopes. To the northeast of the city lies a string of surf beaches and little resorts, the most celebrated of which is Búzios, a fishing village put on the map by Brigitte Bardot in the late 1960s, which has grown to become a chic little retreat for the state's middle classes.
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