Peru is a land of history, culture, beauty and adventure, with a full spectrum of options for travelers. The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of any trip to South America, but there is much more to discover throughout Peru. Visitors can take a boat trip on the highest navigable lake in the world, overlook one of the deepest canyons in the world, try their luck with sandboarding in the dunes, hike in the Andes, fish for piranha in the Amazon, explore the mysteries of the Nazca lines, walk through ancient ruins in the Sacred Valley, or experience modern Peru as you wander the streets of Lima. The diversity of the landscape, people and experiences here make Peru one of the most unique destinations on the continent.
Read also: Unveiling the World’s Enigmatic Monuments
1 Machu Picchu
Perched on a ridge 300 meters above the Urubamba River, the majestic Inca city of Machu Picchu is one of the most dramatic sites of a ruined city anywhere in the world. Almost as impressive as the ruins themselves is the spectacular backdrop of craggy, lush and often cloudy mountains. Near the caretaker’s house, overlooking Machu Picchu, the jungle-clad mountains and the river far below, it’s not hard to imagine why the Incas chose this spot to build their city.
Hiram Bingham came across Machu Picchu in 1911 and until his death believed it to be the “Lost City of the Incas”, first documented by Spanish soldiers in the 16th century. However, historians believe that the real lost city of the Incas was in Espíritu Pampa, a ruin known to Bingham but considered insignificant.
The journey is also part of the experience of visiting Machu Picchu, whether by hiking the Inca Trail or viewing the route by train. In both cases, it is impossible not to be inspired by the landscape. Trains depart from Cusco , Ollantaytambo or Urubamba to Aguas Calientes . From Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu, a bus takes visitors to Machu Picchu, about a 20-minute drive away. It is possible to walk this road to the campsite, but this is a long uphill climb.
To avoid the crowds, the best times to visit the site are in the morning or late afternoon, before the trains arrive from Cusco or after they depart. The peak season is June to August, but the two months on either side of this also see decent weather and can be a good time to visit with fewer crowds.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Machu Picchu
2 De Inca Trail
The famous Inca Trail is a four-day hike, ending at Machu Picchu , and is considered by many to be the highlight of their trip to Peru. This scenic route is often more demanding than what many people expect, but also more rewarding. There are a few different starting points for the Inca Trail, but the traditional four-day hike starts at km 82 of the Cusco – Aguas Calientes railway line. From this point, the trail passes over 30 Inca ruins and crosses spectacular scenery. The most difficult part of the trail is the second day of the hike, with an ascent of 1,200 feet in elevation and two high passes.
The hike must be done with an agency and reservations must be booked well in advance, especially in the high season from June to August. Some agencies offer a shorter version of the walk, which includes either the last two days or just the last day of the walk. There are camping areas at intervals along the trail and one at the base of Machu Picchu. Depending on the type of tour, hikers can carry their own backpack or have it transported.
3 Cusco’s architecturale schatten
Walking the streets of Cusco is like walking through a museum, with history built upon history in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inca ruins have been used in the foundations of many of the fine old colonial buildings along the narrow roads, reflecting the city’s long history. The main square, Plaza de Armas , in the center is home to the Cathedral and La Compania , two equally impressive structures. The square is also a great place to take a stroll, have a meal or people watch during the day. And while there are countless buildings and museums worth visiting, the Church of Santo Domingo , resting on the ruins of the Inca site of Coricancha, is one of Cusco’s must-see attractions.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cusco
4 Lake Titicaca
Surrounded by rolling hills and traditional small villages, the shimmering blue waters of Lake Titicaca offer a mix of beautiful scenery and culture that sets it apart from other regions of the country. Sitting at 3,820 meters above sea level, Lake Titicaca is known as the highest navigable lake in the world, but it is also an extremely beautiful area where visitors can relax and enjoy the serenity.
A boat trip to the islands and surrounding villages is the best way to appreciate the lake. One of the main tourist attractions is the Uros Floating Islands (Islas Flotantes) , which support small communities of Uros Indians. These are artificial islands built of reeds that have supported a traditional way of life since the time of the Incas. What travelers see on tours to these islands is designed for tourism, but it does offer a glimpse into a traditional way of life. The floating islands are just a very small part of Lake Titicaca’s attraction, with the real charm in the small villages in the hills along the coast of Titicaca and on the main islands of Isla Taquile and Isla Amantani.
The main gateway to Lake Titicaca is the city of Puno , a less-than-inspiring destination, with hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies. There are trains and buses to Puno and flights in and out of the nearby town of Juliaca.
5 Colca-kloof (Colca Canyon)
Although it was once considered the deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon (Cañon del Colca), twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, is the second deepest after the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon . The canyon reaches a depth of 3,400 meters and is the result of a seismic rupture between two volcanoes. At the base far below is a winding river.
The Colca Canyon area has been inhabited for thousands of years and was home to the Collagua, Cabana, and eventually the Inca peoples. Stone terraces along the canyon walls date back to 800 AD and are still in use today.
The canyon is about four hours from Arequipa . Day trips to the canyon are available from Arequipa but two or more days are recommended given the driving time involved in accessing the canyon. In addition to overlooking the gorge, there are also hot springs, churches, villages and Inca ruins to explore. Condors are also a big attraction in Colca Canyon as they fly past the rock walls.
6 Nazca Lines
The mysterious Nazca Lines are an unusual sight that will leave visitors with a sense of awe. These huge statues on the desert floor were relatively undiscovered until planes flying over the area in the 1920s saw the lines from the sky and realized they formed different patterns and images. Until then, there was some recognition for the mound drawings at Nazca and Paracas, which can be seen from ground level. However, the huge drawings on the flat desert floor are so large that an aerial view must be appreciated.
From the air it is possible to view 70 different plant and animal drawings, as well as hundreds of lines and other geometric shapes. Some of these lines stretch for 10 kilometers and are spread over hundreds of square kilometers. Most notable among the figures is a lizard 600 feet long, a condor with a wingspan of 400 feet, and several others including a monkey, hummingbird, killer whale, and spider.
While it is not known exactly who created the lines or how and why, theories state that the lines were the product of the Paracas and Nazca cultures sometime between 900 BC and 600 AD. Why they were created is the subject of much debate. Some of the theories presented suggest that the lines are some sort of agricultural astronomical calendar, an alien landing pad, a racetrack, corridors joining ceremonial sites, or part of an aquatic cult.
The lines were created by removing the dark surface layer of stones and piling them up on the sides of the lines, creating a contrast between the dark stones and the exposed lighter soil below. Flights can be pre-booked or on a first come in basis.
About four kilometers outside Nazca are the Cantalloc Aqueducts . Built around AD 300 to 600, the aqueducts are designed to provide a year-round source of water for the area. They carry water from the mountain springs to Nazca through underground channels. Some of Cantalloc’s aqueducts are still used by farmers in the area.
Also of interest in the area is the Cemetery of Chauchilla , which contains Nazca remains and mummies.
7 The Sacred Valley
Less than an hour’s drive north of Cusco is the beautiful Sacred Valley and the towns of Pisac, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. This fertile valley has many Inca ruins worth exploring, but is also a peaceful area to spend some time wandering at markets or absorbing local culture. Some of the main highlights in the valley include the Pisac Ruins , the Sunday market in Pisac (smaller market days are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays), and the ruins and fortress in the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo . A little out of the way but worth the trip is the circular terraced town of Moray used as an agricultural test area by the Incas and the salt mines at Salinas, which have been in use since the time of the Incas.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in the Sacred Valley
8 Historic City Center of Arequipa
Historic city center of Arequipa
Arequipa, at over 2,300 meters, is often considered the most beautiful city in Peru. Set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s main claim to fame is its ancient architecture built of sillar stone, a volcanic rock that radiates a bright color in the sunlight. Most of the colonial buildings in the historic city center are made of this stone, giving rise to the nickname of the ‘white city’.
Arequipa is also a frequent stopping point for those wishing to visit the Colca Gorge (Cañon del Colca), which is about a four-hour drive from the city.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Arequipa
9 Puerto Maldonado in Amazon
Just half an hour’s flight from Cusco, Puerto Maldonado is a major starting point for Amazon tours. This is a completely different experience from visitors in other parts of Peru, with a warm humid jungle and a chance to see all kinds of unique wildlife. to see. Caimans, capybara, monkeys, parrots, turtles and piranhas are what visitors can expect to see in this part of the country.
The Reserva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene are the two main attractions, and they are well maintained by a number of jungle lodges. The jungle huts of Reserva Nacional Tambopata are about an hour’s boat ride from Puerto Maldonado. Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene is just across the river from Bolivia’s Parque Nacional Madidi and takes about four hours to reach by boat. Tours usually range from a few days to a week of adventures.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado
10 Lima’s Plaza de Armas
One of the most pleasant places in Lima is its main square, Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor), in the heart of the city’s historic district. Most of the buildings in the square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date back to the mid-18th century . Many of the buildings were rebuilt after the devastating earthquake in 1746. The highlights around the Plaza de Armas are the Cathedral on the east side and Government Palace (Palacio del Gobierno) on the north side. Also of interest are the Archbishop’s Palace and the Casa del Oidor .
Leading from the square is the pedestrian street, Jiron de la Union , with shops, restaurants and the historic Iglesia de La Merced .
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lima
11 Ica and the Sand Dunes at Huacachina
Ica and the sand dunes at Huacachina
For the sporty type who wants to try something different, the oasis resort of Huacachina on the outskirts of Ica has the answer. This picture-perfect palm-fringed resort town just west of Ica, and still technically part of the municipality of Ica, is set around a lagoon surrounded by huge sand dunes, some of which are 1,000 meters high. Although beautiful to look at, people come here to try out the sport of sandboarding. Similar to snowboarding, sandboarding is surfing through the sand dunes on specially made sandboards, which can be rented in the area. For the less coordinated, renting dune buggies is another great way to get out and enjoy the scenery.
Ica is slightly higher than the ocean and is therefore not affected by the usual coastal fog like other towns along this stretch. The city enjoys a sunny and dry climate all year round, making it a good place to visit at any time.
12 Pisco in Ballestas-eilanden (Ballestas Islands)
The main reasons visitors come to Pisco, about 125 miles south of Lima, are the nearby Islas Ballestas and the Reserva Nacional de Paracas on the Paracas Peninsula. Almost immediately west of Pisco, the Islas Ballestas, also called the “poor man’s Galapagos,” are home to hundreds of thousands of birds, large colonies of sea lions, pelicans, penguins and dolphins. Boat tours, visiting the islands daily, depart from Pisco in the morning. The full tour takes passengers past the ‘Candelabra’, a hillside geoglyph as seen from the coast, then spends a significant amount of time cruising around the islands, watching for wildlife. This tour is usually a half day trip, returning around noon.
The Paracas Peninsula , jutting out into the Pacific Ocean just south of Pisco, is home to the Reserva Nacional Paracas and most of the protected coastline in Peru. The coastline of the Paracas Peninsula supports a huge variety of wildlife, with about 200 species of seabirds, two species of sea lions, a rare species of otter, and the endangered Humboldt penguins.
Sillustani, outside the city of Puno and not far from Lake Titicaca , is the site of some of the area’s most impressive funerary towers (chullpas). With a height of up to 12 meters, these buildings were built by the Colla people around 600 AD to bury their nobility. Entire families, along with food and personal belongings, were buried in these cylinders.
Most of the towers are located in a picturesque setting along the shore of Lake Umayo. Visitors walk up a hill from the car park to the plateau above. The towers are at the end of the field with the lake behind it. Below the car park is a small swampy lake where locals can be seen in their boats, harvesting reeds.
The scenic hill country of Barranco, just south of Lima and Miraflores, is a charming area a short commute from downtown Lima. With modest colonial architecture lining its narrow streets and ocean views, the area offers a much more leisurely pace than the city. The area has long been popular with artists and poets, giving it a bohemian feel. This is a great place to take an afternoon stroll or enjoy a meal, especially at sunset, at one of the restaurants overlooking the ocean. Besides the atmosphere, the only tourist attraction in Barranco is the Puente de Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) .