The South American nation of Peru has long been attracting adventurous travellers to its shores. Machu Picchu remains the highlight, with visitors from around the world flocking to see the Lost City of the Incas. In 2000, the site was deservedly named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But there is so much more to Peru besides Machu Picchu. The country boasts a large chunk of the Amazon Rainforest, the highest navigable lake on Earth in Lake Titicaca and the historic city of Cusco, amongst many other attractions. In this article, we’ll show you some of the best places to visit in Peru, so you can start thinking about your future travel plans!
#1 Machu Picchu
Of course, there’s only one place to start when talking about places to visit in Peru. The jaw-dropping citadel of Machu Picchu was once the private estate of Inca Emperor Pachacutec. It lay hidden for centuries, having been abandoned during the Spanish conquest of Peru in the mid-1550s. The invaders never discovered Machu Picchu, perched high up in the mountains. If they had, they surely would have destroyed it like they did so many Inca cities and monuments.
In 1911 the site was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham. Nowadays it is an easily accessible travel destination, with constant restoration helping to return the site to its former glory. Numerous treks such as the famous Inca Trail lead to the citadel, and you can travel by train or coach to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the ruins. Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Peru, sure to leave a lasting impression.
#2 Lake Titicaca
Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca stands out even amongst the natural gems of Peru. It is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the entire world. Situated at around 12,500ft above sea level, this only adds to the allure of the lake. Stunning scenery and fascinating local communities also provide great reasons to visit. Inhabitants of Taquile island still live their lives according to the Inca moral code and speak an indigenous language – southern Quechua.
Even more fascinating are the Uros islands and their people. The Uros build their islands entirely from totora reeds which grow around the lake. They drift around the lake and remake their islands from scratch regularly. The totoras are even used to make houses, boats and as a food source. Both of these indigenous groups welcome visitors to their islands. You can see their way of life and purchase handcrafted wares from local vendors. All whilst surrounded by some of Peru’s most dramatic scenery. If you’re looking for cultural places to visit in Peru, then look no further.
#3 Amazon Rainforest
It is Brazil, rather than Peru, that people often think about when talking about the Amazon Rainforest. In fact, this mighty jungle stretches across nine countries, and around 302,000 square miles of rainforest fall within Peru’s borders. Home to the most complex and biodiverse ecosystem on Earth, countless iconic species inhabit the jungle. This makes the Amazon one of the best places to visit in Peru for a nature lover. From the elusive jaguar to the gorgeous pink river dolphin and the snapping caiman crocodile, visitors to the Amazon are sure to embrace their wild side.
There are numerous options for exploring the rainforest in Peru. The jungle city of Iquitos is a great place to base yourself, but the creeping development of civilization means wildlife is not as abundant as in more remote parts of the rainforest. Puerto Maldonado is a better bet. Here there are numerous ecolodges buried far downriver from the town, where pristine jungle remains as wild as ever.
Whilst Lima is the official capital city of Peru, Cusco boasts the better history and culture. As the former capital of the Inca Empire, the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is certainly one of the best places to visit in Peru.
There are numerous historic attractions, from the ruins of Koricancha to the amusingly named Sacsayhuaman (yes, it is pronounced “sexy woman”). Other attractions include the stunning Plaza Armas in the heart of the city. Home to Cusco Cathedral, the square is always a hubbub of activity, with plenty of shops and cafes lining the edges. You’ll also want to visit the lively San Pedro Market and the Museo del Pisco. Here you can attend cocktail classes and learn how to make the famous Peruvian cocktail, pisco sour. Cusco is located in the heart of southern Peru, making it a great place to base yourself for visits to the Sacred Valley, the Amazon and Machu Picchu.
#5 The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is a valley in the Peruvian Andes, which was an important part of the Incan Empire. It consists of numerous attractions and is popular with visitors to the country, linking Cusco to Machu Picchu. There’s no better region in Peru to try the local delicacy – guinea pig, and there are plenty of hiking opportunities in the valley. Wonderful scenery dominates the landscape, from mountains to corn fields and terraces carved into mountainsides. The Maras salt pans are well worth a visit, as is the ancient site of Moray, believed to have served as an agricultural laboratory under the Incas. Perhaps the main highlight of the valley is Ollantaytambo, an incredibly well-preserved Inca temple and fortress. It also serves as a starting point for the world famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
#6 The Nazca Lines
The southern Peruvian city of Nazca is remarkably unremarkable. Pleasant enough but with dusty, dry air and little of the charm that Cusco and even Lima offer to travellers. But just outside the city lies one of the best places to visit in Peru and one of the country’s greatest mysteries. The UNESCO-listed Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs (rock artwork) which were etched into around 200 square miles of desert by a pre-Inca people sometime between the 4th and 10th centuries. To this day nobody knows for sure what purpose the Nazca lines served. Theories range from the idea that the lines were used to beg the Gods for water, to the crazier idea that aliens etched the lines into the desert. Baffling experts further, many of the 70 carvings are of creatures that are found nowhere near Nazca.
Like the construction of the great Egyptian Pyramids or the stone circle of Stonehenge, mankind may never know for sure where the Nazca Lines came from or what purpose they served. But this only makes them an even more attractive destination for visitors to Peru. The best way to see the Nazca Lines is from the air, where you can get a great view of the carvings. Numerous local operators will take visitors to the skies to admire these incredible pieces of art.
Though it lacks the history and culture of much of Peru, the “City of Kings” is still worth visiting if you’re travelling through the country. The Peruvian capital is located on the Pacific coast and is a symbol of Peru’s Spanish colonial history. The pretty Miraflores neighbourhood is the place to head for coastal views. You’ll also want to check out the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, which takes place at around 11:45am each morning. Lima is more modern than much of Peru and is a great way to end any visit to the country, with fancy hotels and restaurants in good supply.
Steeped in history, with a diverse ecology and fine culture, there are so many places to visit in Peru. It is certainly one of the best countries to visit in South America. It offers something for everyone – Inca history is everywhere, natural wonders abound, and it is home to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu is the cream of the crop, a bucket list destination for any truly adventurous traveller.