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It's the multiple layers of great civilizations that make Peru so intriguing. Wander around colonial cities preserving the legacy of Spanish conquistadors, visit the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, explore the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of Nazca Lines. It also has some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in South America. The Peruvian Andes are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and the mountains are home to millions of highland Indians, who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life. The verdant Amazon Basin, which occupies half of Peru, is one of the world's top 10 biodiversity 'hot spots' - a species-rich area of tropical rain forest that will make your head spin when you start to learn about its ecology. The coastal deserts, with their huge rolling dunes, farmland oases and fishing villages, are underappreciated by travellers but offer the opportunity to get off the Gringo Trail in a big way.