Machu Picchu & Cusco

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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When you consider some of Latin America's greatest landmarks, it's no surprise that it's such a playground for the adventure seeker. Arenal Volcano, Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are just a few of the most notable landmarks.

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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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History and archaeology buffs searching for unusual lore and adventure should consider adding Machu Picchu travel to their list. Not only is this 600-year-old Incan ruin a window into Peru’s rich past, but the original citadel of the ruins may possibly be shaped like a bird. One researcher, Enrique Guzman, set out to examine the city from an architectural point of view and he found plenty of evidence to support his theory, according to Peru This Week News.

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Most people travel to Machu Picchu and Cusco to learn about the ancient "lost city" or explore the legendary rainforest of the Amazon River. However, archaeological and natural wonders aside, the kitchens and dining rooms of Peru have plenty more to offer those who travel to Peru.

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