Key Points:

We are considering climbing Machu Picchu next year, and have mileage points with United Airlines/Star Alliance. How can we best use these? Alison Woodcock

The Qantas/Lan One World alliance is a popular combination for flights to South America, but travel agents should know the best combination of Star Alliance partners, which include Air New Zealand and United Airlines.

A visit to the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu has to be the highlight of any trip to Peru. The awe-inspiring site was never revealed to the Spaniards, and remained undiscovered until the early 20th century. Mystery still surrounds the site, but the quality of the stonework and ornamentation suggests the Incan citadel was an important ceremonial centre, abandoned during the Spanish conquest. For heaps of practical and historical information, visit

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The peak tourist season at Machu Picchu is late May to early September, and the ruins are open from dawn to dusk. The site is busiest from 10am to 2pm.

Sunday is probably the quietest day. Entry tickets ($57) must be bought in advance in either Aguas Calientes or Cuzco. There is no official visitor centre at Machu Picchu, as most visitors come as part of an organised tour or guided trek, but guides can be hired at the site for about $25.

Many visitors walk to Machu Picchu via the 33km Inca Trail, which winds its way from the Sacred Valley over three high Andean passes. The incredibly scenic three to four-day hike can be done only as part of an organised trek. The trail is closed in February. It's necessary to book several months ahead. A compromise could be a two-hour hike from Aguas Calientes. Alternatively, save energy by taking the bus up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes (20 minutes; return $8).

Other recommendations include the fishing port of Pisco, on the coast south of Lima; the wildlife haven of Islas Ballestas, known as Peru's Galapagos; Nazca, with its mysterious Nazca Lines, best seen on a 30-minute tourist flight; the colonial city of Arequipa; Cuzcos ruins and colonial architecture; the archaeological sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo; high-altitude Lake Titicaca; Huaraz, high in the Andes in the Cordillera Blanca; and, the vibrant capital, Lima.

Before departing, read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT) and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) travel advisories for Peru at

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respectively. There are some areas to avoid, while in others a high degree of caution is necessary.

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Escaping English winter

My husband and I will be in Britain during the northern winter. We aren't keen to spend the worst of the winter in England and wonder if you can suggest somewhere we could go during January and February. We are interested in perhaps Spain or Greece, and would like to rent a cottage by the coast, but not in a resort area. Anne Sherratt

Escaping the British winter is a national pastime with the cheap air fares and lure of the milder Mediterranean climate too appealing to resist. The Greek islands pretty much close for the winter, making Spain perhaps the better choice. While much of Spain suffers from the winter chill, the Mediterranean coast is usually a pleasant 12-20C during the winter months.

Valencia could be worth exploring. Spain's third largest city is home to paella and the Holy Grail. It's also blessed with great weather. As winter is the off season it will be much less expensive. You should be able to find a cottage suitable for two to four for about $750 a week. A few sites worth visiting for an idea of what's available are

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and

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One of Valencia's best attractions is the baroque Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas, with its extravagantly sculpted facade and equally outrageous interiors. The Museo de Bellas Artes ranks among the country's best museums, with works by artists such as El Greco, Goya and Velazquez.

To the north of Valencia, along the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast), you'll find a string of low-key resorts and the historic site of Sagunato. Southward, along the Costa Blanco (White Coast), stretch some of Spain's finest beaches, while heading inland the mountains buckle and castles crown the hilltops. For more detailed information, visit

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As with the above inquiry, read the MFAT and DFAT travel advisories for Spain.

Hot little destination

My husband and I will be in Europe next month and a friend has invited us to visit him in Syria. We know little about the country and wonder if it's safe. We would also appreciate information regarding places of interest and the likely cost of travel from Britain. We are experienced travellers but in the older age group.
John Sandiford

You'll find Syria an absolutely fascinating destination. Its historic sites rival those of its Middle Eastern neighbours, and it claims to the oldest continuously occupied city (Damascus vies for the title with Aleppo), the spunkiest Crusader castle (Crac des Chevaliers) and the best preserved Roman theatre (in Bosra).

Read the travel advisories for Syria, published by MFAT and DFAT, for the latest on the safety situation. Travellers should be aware of the high threat of terrorist attack.

Autumn (September to November) is ideal for visiting Syria as visitors avoid the intense heat. If you're heading to Palmyra or the northeast, you'll need a hat, sunscreen and water bottle.

September coincides with Ramadan. Visitors need to do a little extra planning and avoid eating and drinking around those fasting for Ramadan.

Syria has international airports near Aleppo and 35km southeast of Damascus. Both have regular connections to Europe. You should be able to book a cheap return flight from London for about $920.

Top attractions include the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. It's among Islam's most magnificent buildings, second only to the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina. Next on the list is Qalaat Samaan, also known as the Basilica of St Simeon and one of the most atmospheric of Syria's archaeological sites.

The remarkably well preserved basilica commemorates St Simeon Stylites, one of Syria's most eccentric early Christians, who ended his days living on top of an 18m pillar.