Callejón de Huaylas
This is a 180 kilometer (111 mile) long Andean valley, cut through by the Santa River, boxed in by the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra mountain ranges, with climates that vary from polar, to tundra to mild. Its main attraction is the marked contrast between the two mountain ranges, the Cordillera Negra on the west, with shaded cliffs and mountain peaks that exceed 5 thousand meters that the warm winds from the Pacific bump into, preventing the formation of glaciers; and the Cordillera Blanca on the east, with 35 snow-capped mountains over 6 thousand meters high, the most prominent being the Huascarán (6,768 meters) - the highest mountain in Peru and the second highest in the Americas - and the exceptionally beautiful Alpamayo (5,997 meters). At the foot of these gigantic rocks there is a magnificent swarm of blue or green lagoons, and lower down on the shores of the Santa river, a number of villages have sprung up - Recuay, Huaraz, Carhuaz, Yungay, Caraz - in the midst of thick groves at the foot of the mountains. This river forms a narrow gorge in the Cordillera Negra, squeezing through the breathtaking passage known as Cañon del Pato before winding its way down to the Pacific Ocean. This area attracts legions of rock climbers, mountain climbers, trekkers and hikers of all kinds. The need to preserve its 340,000 hectares, its flora and fauna (grey deer, taruca or large deer, spectacled bear, vicuña, puma, foxes, ducks and thousands of birds), its geological formation and its scenic beauty, prompted the creation of the Huascarán National Park, which UNESCO declared a Cultural Heritage of Mankind.
Colca Valley and Colca Canyon (Arequipa)
The valley begins in Chivay, the most important town in the area, continues for more than 60 kilometers and then narrows down to create one of the largest canyons in the world, the famous Colca Canyon with an average depth of 3,400 m. From a lookout point called Cruz del Condor (197 kilometers from Arequipa), one can see the Colca river winding its way like a silver thread, listen to its rumbling sound, and admire the majestic flight of the condors as they take advantage of the warm drafts of air to emerge from the depths and climb to the highest peaks. The valley is equally fascinating because of the spectacular benched terraces built by its ancient inhabitants, some of which are still used for farming purposes; the presence of llamas and alpacas in their natural habitat; and the large number of mixed baroque temples in the small picturesque villages built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when there was a boom in the region as a result of the exploitation of silver mines. There are plenty of B&B lodges and restaurants in this area. The Colca River is the most spectacular watercourse in Peru for white water rafting. Tourists have various options, including rafting, trekking, wildlife watching, biking, horseback riding, immersion tourism, farm work, and visits to llama and alpaca-raising farms.
Lake Titicaca Natural Reserve
At 3,812 meters and covering an area of 8,000 kilometers, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. Its scenic beauty is so breathtaking that it is attracting an ever-increasing number of tourists. Totora is a cat-tail reed that grows in large quantities on the lake shores, which the natives use to build their balsa rafts and their dwellings on floating islands, as forage for their cattle and to manufacture small handicrafts. Shared with Bolivia, the lake has 41 islands, the most important ones on the Peruvian side being Los Uros, Taquile and Amantani. The natives of Taquile, descendants of the cultures that developed on the lake, maintain their ancient community organization based on the ayllu. Quechua is still their mother tongue and their textile art has been acknowledged by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Mankind.
Paracas Natural Reserve
Located in the department of Ica and with nearly 300 thousand hectares set aside for the protection and preservation of species in danger of extinction, this is the main reserve on the Peruvian coast, comprised of the Paracas Peninsula in the middle of the desert and an infinite number of rocky places, cliffs and islands. Hundreds of migratory birds arrive on its shores in search of food that will enable them to survive during the harsh northern winter season. Every year thousands of tourists visit this deserted but vital area, where there are some magnificent beaches like Lagunillas La Mina and Salinas; there are condors, flamingoes and lizards and, on the Ballestas and San Gallán islands, sea lions, penguins, pelicans, albatrosses and a large diversity of marine fauna. At the entrance of this reserve there is an on-site museum exhibiting textiles, pottery, funeral packs, wooden tools and reconstructed habitats of the Paracas and Nasca cultures, one of the centers of which was this very site.
Manu National Park
Declared by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage of Mankind, it is said to contain the largest biodiversity on the planet. Situated in the provinces of Manu (Madre de Dios) and Paucartambo (Cusco), it covers 1,881,000 hectares and is divided into three zones: the largest of 1,533,000 hectares comprises the actual park itself, which cannot be entered except in exceptional cases; in the second area of 257,000 hectares, research and certain controlled tourism activities take place; and in the third area of 91,000 hectares, human activities are permitted. The small ethnic groups that inhabit the park are the only ones authorized to take advantage of its natural resources; they are nomads whose activities are restricted to hunting, fishing, gathering and incipient farming.
The park extends from the high puna to the lower jungle, hence the variety of climates and types of forests. The Manu river cuts across 300 km, meandering its way around hills of various sizes. There are more species of plants and animals than any other similar park in the world, including some that have already disappeared in other places and other species that are unknown or for which there is still no scientific description. There are some very rare flowers and butterflies of extraordinary colors. The more than eight hundred species of birds account for 10% of all the birds on the planet. There are numerous macaws, curassaws and other birds with fascinating colors. In only four square kilometers, 550 species of birds were identified, more than anywhere else.
Among the two hundred species of mammals identified, there are 13 species of monkeys of the 19 species known worldwide. Small tigers, pumas, jaguars, anteaters, giant armadillos, and more all inhabit this park. There is a truly amazing variety of multi-colored tropical fish, which have been plundered in other parts of the jungle. The swamps are the favorite habitat of the famous black alligator, whereas the white alligator tends to live in rivers and streams. Tourism is restricted in the Manu, only groups are allowed to visit, providing they have a permit from authorized agencies, which are mainly located in Cusco.
Tambopata National Reserve
Covering an area of 275 thousand hectares, this reserve is located in the Tambopata province in Madre de Dios and was created to protect a representative sample of the tropical rainforest. It is renowned worldwide for the wealth of its flora and fauna, with 103 species of amphibians, 169 species of mammals, more than 100 species of reptiles, 205 species of fish, 632 species of birds and 1,255 species of plants. There are more than a dozen lodging places in the area for tourism and recreation purposes, spread over two large areas situated alongside the Malinowsky and Tambopata rivers, covering a total of nearly 15 thousand hectares.
Amazon River Eexcursions
For some years now, organized tourism has developed significantly in Iquitos, thanks to companies that offer excursions and various programs providing their own means of transport such as speed boats and even hydrofoils, as well as lodging places right in the jungle and built in the style of the region, where visitors can get an idea of the exuberant Amazon flora and fauna. Most agencies organize exploration tours, night excursions in virgin jungle, folkloric shows, and more.
A 20 minute flight on a hydrofoil or a seven hour boat ride on the river leads to the ExplorNapo Lodge near the Napo River, an affluent of the majestic Amazon. There in the middle of the forest, from solid wooden platforms, ladders have been built that climb up to the tree tops, forming unique hanging bridges, the only ones of their kind in the world. Nature lovers and keen conservationists can contemplate the marvelous spectacle of the jungle from up there.