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Monthly Archives: September 2015

3 Questions to Ask Your Travel Agent Before Visiting Peru

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Are you looking for places to visit in Peru? Have you wondered about the best Machu Picchu tours, or dreamt of seeing the real Nazca lines at the foot of the real Andes? There is a lot to see and do in Peru, and you want to see it all, right? You can improve your chances of having a great adventure in Peru by asking your travel agent the right questions. Let’s look at three of them.

Have you traveled to my destination?

A good agent travels often for business and for pleasure. He or she is familiar with the country. They can save you money and time; they can also save you from from a great deal of stress.

Our agents are experts on Peru. We live and work in this beautiful country, and travel extensively.

We can give you tips on eating out, including what restaurants have the best ceviche and who grows their own vegetables and brings them straight to your table. We can advise on what to wear and what not to wear, whether you are hiking Machu Picchu or going to a play at a theater in Lima.

Our guides meet you at your destination, helping to customize your adventure to fit your desires. We will give you tips on local customs and traditions, the best time of day to visit the places you want to see, and help with options when timing or weather would best be met with a change of plans. Just ask. And keep on asking. We love to talk about Peru.

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Do I need a VISA to travel to Peru?

You really have to get this right, so it’s a great question. Our agents are likely to bring it up anyway, but why not ask from the beginning; if you need a visa, you’ll have to budget the time to get one.

However, citizens of most countries don’t have to apply for a visa before traveling to Peru, as long as you go there as a tourist. A valid passport (valid for at least half a year with at least two free pages) and a TAM (Tarjeta Andina de Migracion) may be all that’s needed.

TAMS are available on planes and border crossings before entering the country. You simply fill it out and hand it to the border official, who can give you up to 183 days stay (remember that is the most you can stay any year). Here is the list of who needs a visa, as of September, 2015 (be sure to check current information when you travel):

  • North America: You do not need a visa; you only need a valid passport and a TAM if you are from the United States, Canada, or Mexico.
  • Europe: You only need a passport and a TAM unless you are from Albania, Armenia, Azerbajian, Georgia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina – you will need a visa if you are from one of these six European countries;
  • Countries of Central America and the Caribbean Islands: You only need a passport and a TAM if you are from Central America and the Caribbean except, you will need a visa if you are from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic.

In addition:

  • All African countries except South Africa need a visa. If you are from South Africa, the valid passport and a TAM will do.
  • All Asian countries in Asia need a visa except Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Note that it’s very important you keep ahold of your TAM. You will need it for hotels if you don’t want to pay the 18% tax, and you’ll need it in other locations.

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What should I know about Peruvian Currency?

The currency of Peru is the Nuevo Sol (commonly referred to as “sol.”) It comes in coins and paper bills. Many locations in Peru don’t accept credit cards, so ash is important, but here are two important tips:

Always have change in your pockets. Many taxi drivers and vendors do not like to give change.

Don’t accept damaged bills. Bring crisp, new bills that have absolutely no tears in them; if someone tries to make change with a torn bill, refuse it –you are likely not to be able to use it yourself, as most vendors of any size do not accept damaged bills.

We have many more answers for you! Call one of our travel agents now at … or chat or leave a message online. We love Peru, and are excited to give you the opportunity to love it as well. Book your tour and/or chat online with one of our agents here now.

A Moving Picture: Whole Communities Walking the Path of the Lines?

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The “Nazca Lines” captured people’s attention in the 1920’s, when commercial airlines first flew between Lima and Arequipa, in the southern part of Peru. The land, between the Andes on the one side and the ocean on the other, was barren for hundreds of miles. So how did those lines, many of which had clear shapes and recognizable forms, get there?

Over the decades many theories, some more realistic than others, were tested about the purpose of the lines (also called geoglyphs). Some people were convinced they were archeological calendars or remnants of Inca roads. Others thought they were irrigation plans marking subterranean water routes. Still others theorized they were an ancient pilgrimage route, and, for some, the only thing that made sense was that they were a means of communicating with aliens. One recent theory that is gaining momentum is that, they were used in rituals, by entire communities.

The Nazca Lines Aren’t just Lines

The lines are located in one of the driest places on earth, where water is often a scarce commodity. The Nazca people settled there, in a sheltered valley in the Andean foothills, somewhere around 200 B.C., and flourished for several centuries. Ten rivers come down from the Andes into the valley still today; evidence of Nazca settlements dot the terrain around these ribbons of green.

The Nazca lines are not only lines. They are shapes, including sharks, orcas, lizards, dogs and monkeys, camelids, and bizarre humanoids, scenes of decapitation and trophy heads. They also include lots of geometric shapes, including trapezoids, triangles, and intersecting lines.

The Nazca People

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First really researched only after world war two, recent studies have revealed new meanings for the lines. Researchers believe entire communities too part in the creation of the geoglyphs, which were made by removing the rock on the surface, to reveal the lighter, dry sand underneath.

The spiritual capital of the early Nazca was Cahuachi, a site first excavated in the 1950’s. It was an almost 400-acre complex with an adobe pyramid, broad plazas, several large temples, and a network of corridors and staircases.

The Nazca managed their limited resources for hundreds of years. For instance, they had a sophisticated system of water delivery and conservation, and they worked to protect the fragile substructure of the soil, planting seeds one at a time instead of plowing. There is also evidence that they recycled their garbage and used it as building material.

As their population grew, however, the Nazca may have lost the rationale behind some of their methods. In the pursuit of supporting a growing populations, they cleared forests to plant crops. Unfortunately, the trees they cleared were the hurango, a tree with roots that can stretch as deep as 180 feet under the earth to reach subterranean water channels. These trees were vital for stabilizing the soil. Evidence shows severe flooding probably caused the Nazca downfall.

The Real Purpose of the Lines

Although the Nazca weren’t he only civilizations that created geoglyphs, they are certainly the most well-known. While they flourished, they moved east and west along with the rainfall patterns. Researchers have explored the region from the Andean highlands to the Pacific coast, and have found evidence of Nazca villages, and nearby geoglyphs, almost everywhere they looked.

Researchers are now coming together on a conclusion that the lines were used as pathways for ceremonial processions. One of the rationales for that conclusion are the single-line drawings (the spider and the hummingbird). The theory is that a person or people could walk each geoglyph without ever crossing another line.

When a lot of peop0le walk over one area regularly, the soil is compacted. Some of the lines (such as the 2,000 foot trapezoid), have been tested and shown to be compacted. This further supports the theory that, though the rituals may have originally been single-person quests, they grew as the population grew, with more people participating.

The Nazca Lines are a Sight to Behold

Whatever their purpose, the Nazca Lines are a marvel and a must-see for any trip to Peru. We invite you to join us on one of our excursions to see the Lines, as part of a customized visit. Bestperutours.com has received the Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor for the second year in a row. Book your tour to see Peru, and the Nazca Lines here.

Shopping the Andean Way: Pisac and Chinchero Markets

Two of the best places to visit in Peru are the open-air markets in Chinchero and Písac, a colorful addition to some of the best Inca Trail tours.

Open-air markets are places of abundance. They are colorful, noisy, and full of potentially unique bargains, from trinkets to intricately-woven textiles. You will be treated to an over-abundance of photo-ops, and to friendly locals who are there to please, to sell and, at times, to socialize.

Both Písac and Chinchero markets draw native Andean women (and a few men) from the surrounding villages, and both have traditions that are centuries old. They are unique experiences in their own right, however, and we recommend you spend time in both, whenever possible.

A centuries-old tradition

The markets are an ancient tradition carried from generation to generation. Some villagers walk for hours each week from their homes in small villages in the Sacred Valley to set up their wares. Some sell handcrafted goods to the hundreds of tourists who pass by; others make the journey to barter.

Many native vendors also follow tradition by wearing their colorful Quechan costumes, especially on Sundays. Each hand-made garment is woven to include a distinctive design element; natives use that design to instantly identify where the garment was made, whether in the surrounding villages of Písac, Chinchero, or other locations throughout Peru.

The Birthplace of the Rainbow: Chinchero

The Chinchero market is arguably more traditional than the larger Pisac Market. Chinchero has a Spanish medieval look, and is a small, sleepy Andean village on every day except Sunday. That’s when the market, centered around a plaza in the older section of town, takes over, and spreads out onto the narrow cobblestone streets surrounding the central square.

Chinchero, the town, is at a high elevation. Situated at over 12,000 feet (as versus Písac at 9,700) it is traditionally believed to be the “birthplace of the rainbow.” Perhaps its elevation is one of the reasons for the traditional independence of the people of Chinchero, and the resultant unique quality of the textiles they produce.

The artisans of Chinchero make beautiful clothing, rugs, shawls, ponchos and other textiles, using a unique weaving process that had been developed over centuries, and sometimes includes record-breaking thread counts. The increasing popularity of the Chinchero market is due in large part to these textiles, which are offered in a sea of color at the Sunday markets.

The Písac Market

Písac is one of the biggest open-air markets in all of South America. The official market days are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, although you can often find a few vendors there any day of the week. Sunday is by far the most heavily-attended, both by native vendors and tourists alike.

Písac’s history traces to the mid-sixteenth century. It was originally built as a small town on the banks of the Urubamba River, near an ancient Inca settlement. Now, Písac is a thriving town of several thousand people, and stretches along both sides of the river.

Písac’s marketplace is in the older part of town, as it has been for centuries. Or, at least, that is where it begins. With booths numbering into the hundreds and stretching from the small central plaza and onto the sloped streets, the Sunday markets are huge.

The Mercado de Treque

On Sundays only, farmers and peasants (campesínos) from outlying towns come to Písac to set up an adjacent barter market, called the Mercado de Treque. Often speaking ancient Quechan, they trade their own produce (potatoes, herbs and other vegetables) for essentials like salt, sugar, matches, oranges and medicine.

Functioning side-by-side, the “regular” market and the barter market are wonderful places to shop and just to watch. The Mercado de Treque, in particular, offers ample opportunities to observe traditional bartering.

Bartering (also in some circles known as haggling) is, in fact, a much-prized skill in both markets, often earning the best prices for top-quality goods. It is a friendly banter, requiring patience, skill, and at least a rudimentary understanding of Spanish.

Although the main market closes at 5 p.m., the Mercado de Treque closes at 3, probably so the natives (some who trek five hours each way) can get home before dark.

The markets are awash with color, noise, and photo opportunities at any time. They are a must-see even if you buy nothing (although that will be hard). Chinchero, in particular, has the most spectacular pictures near sunset. For more information on how you can make your trip to the markets of Peru a reality, contact us at bestperutours.com.

Beaks and Bills of the Amazon

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When looking for places to visit in Peru, don’t forget to put the tropical rainforest on your list, right next to journeys from Lima to Machu Picchu. The rainforest is a place where much of the wildlife lives in the forest canopy, and where two of the most recognizable birds in the world, the toucan and the macaw, flourish.

The Place they call Home

The Amazonian rainforest is home to more than one third of the world’s species of birds, hundreds of species of trees, and hundreds of thousands of plants. The macaws and toucans of the rainforest call the area about 100 feet off the ground– the forest canopy – their home.

The canopy is dense, rich, and full of places for shelter, hiding and, of course, food. It is also a place with an abundance of sunlight, leaving the canopy hot during the day, whilst the forest floor is cool and dark. Toucans and macaws share this home, but how they eat, how they socialize and how they navigate the forest canopy are quite different.

What’s the difference between a Bill and a Beak?

Toucans, which are a species all their own, and macaws, which are part of the parrot family, each have powerful claws, colorful plumage, and beaks (bills) adapted for eating. According to the dictionary, a bill is a beak and a beak is a bill, at least when it comes to birds. Whatever you call them, though, the differences in the bills/beaks of the toucan and macaw are striking, and not just for the obvious reasons.

The toucan’s colorful bill is massive, but it is relatively light. Made of keratin, the substance in the hair and nails of animals like humans, a toucan’s bill is also proportionately larger than any other bird in the world.

The relatively light bill contains arteries that expand when they get hot; this releases heat and helps the toucan stay cool in the hot environment of the forest canopy. This adaptation is one of the best temperature regulating systems I the entire animal kingdom.

Called “softbills,” more for the food they eat than for the nature of their beaks, Toucans eat mostly fruits and nectar. That said, they are omnivores; they supplement their diets with lizards and insects. They have even been known to raid another bird’s nest to eat their eggs.

The bills of all but the largest of the toucans are not exceptionally strong. The birds hammer at their food, rather than crunch. They use the same hammering action to excavate nest holes in tree trunks. (The Toco Toucan, one of the larger of the species has a powerful bill, but it’s nothing compared to the grip of a macaw.)

The macaw beak, is shorter, proportionately, than the Toucan’s, but much more powerful. Made of keratin and bone, they are formidable implements that give the macaw access to foods like palm nuts, that aren’t accessible to any other animal in the wild. These “hookbills” are also excellent tools for climbing and grasping. Unlike the toucan, macaws are strict herbivores.

Hopping and Flying in High Society

Both toucans and macaws are colorful, but nature outdid herself when it came to the macaw. There are few sights as awesome as a flock of twenty to thirty macaws flying in magnificent formation through the forest canopy. The brilliant plumage is as unique as a fingerprint for each individual bird, but together they play out as an abundance of color, such as the brilliant blue and gold macaws and the scarlet macaws.

The highly-intelligent macaw mates for life. If you look closely as the flock flies by you may notice them flying just a little closer in their mated pairs.

They eat in flocks in the morning and the evenings, commuting long distances between feeding and roosting sites. The best chance to catch them in the wild is during that time when they are flying between their feeding and roosting areas.

Toucans, on the other hand, have short wings; they don’t fly very far, and prefer to hop amongst the branches in the canopy. They are noisy, however, and though you may not see them as readily as macaws, you are likely to hear them. When they gather together it is in flocks of six or less, and they are rarely seen flying together. When they find a mate they stay together to raise the young, but are not known to mate for life.

The amazon rainforest is one of the best places to visit in Peru. For your own personal experience in a tropical Peruvian rainforest, we hope to see you on one of our ten day, nine night Amazonian and Andean dream tours.

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