Machu Picchu & Cusco

In the travel world, you simply can't talk about Peru without mentioning Machu Picchu. 

The great Inca ruins are an absolute must-see – the type of destination that every person should have on their bucket list. The ancient city is a bona fide world wonder, and the surrounding scenery is absolutely stunning as well. Machu Picchu is completely worthy of all the praise it receives. It’s blessed with mystical beauty, historical significance and cultural relevance as well.

At its zenith, the Inca Empire was a highly advanced society with an economy based on agriculture, pottery, metallurgy and textiles. By 1533, rumors of Inca cities filled with unimaginable riches had reached the Spanish conquistadors.

Each time I see this photo, captured by Expedition Leader Jorge Salas along Peru's Salkantay Trail, I'm reminded of one famous travel quote in particular:

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

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Central and South America, or Latin America, has long been considered one of the top destinations in the world for hiking. And not just those seemingly impossible hikes that only the fittest would undertake, such as Mt. Everest, but awe-inspiring hikes for everyone from the family of novice hikers to the experienced climber.

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Chinchillas are popular household pets, but these South American rodents are critically endangered. There are two types of chinchillas in the wild— long-tailed and short-tailed. The former species is found exclusively in the northern mountain range of Chile, while short-tailed chinchillas exist throughout the Andes in Bolivia, Argentina and Peru as well as Chile.

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Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic symbols of Peru and the Inca culture, but urban development threatens this archaeological treasure. UNESCO, the United Nations-run organization that protects historical and natural sites around the world, recently launched an evaluation to determine the level of preservation of Machu Picchu. The investigators found more stringent regulations are necessary to protect the ancient ruins.

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Many distinct animals make their homes in South America's Andes mountain range, including the brilliantly colored Rupicola peruviana - commonly known as the Andean cock-of-the-rock. And since Peru is home to the most known bird species in the world, the Andean cock-of-the rock had to beat out some impressive species to earn the title of “national bird. ” The main reasons this bird was chosen above the other hundreds of bird species found in Peru are its striking plumage and unique mating rituals.

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In the U.S., guinea pigs stand alongside hamsters, cats and dogs as beloved family pets, but that is not the case in Cusco. Rather than snuggling these furry rodents, Cusco natives see them as a tasty treat, and you will likely see Cuy, the Quechuan word for guinea pig, listed on the menus of many local restaurants. Native to Peru, these rodents reproduce and grow quickly, making them a cheap food source. Luckily, they are rather tasty as well.

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The ancient ruins of Machu Picchu are considered to be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Built during the mid-1400s between the reigns of Pachacutec and Tupac, the sprawling city ruins cover more than 125 square miles of the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains — more than 8,200 feet above sea level.

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