10 Best Destinations in Peru
Set deep in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the awesome archaeological site of Machu Picchu is one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World'. Famed as the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, the local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until the American historian Hiram Bingham re-discovered the site in 1911 that the rest of the world became aware of its existence.
Located high above the Urubamba River, the citadel was once completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population and watered by natural springs. The ruins include palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation that will take your breath away.
South America's largest lake is located in the highlands on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Andeans believe Lake Titicaca to be the birthplace of the sun and the islands on the lake are considered sacred places by many. The isolation from the mainland means that traditional culture still prevails on Lake Titicaca's islands and the people speak the ancient Inca language of Quecha.
Visiting these islands offers a glimpse of an almost extinct traditional Andean way of life which is truly fascinating. Popular islands to visit are Taquile and Amantani, where group tours spend a night with a local family at a homestay. This is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in island life and understand how the locals live.
The other islands which are not to be missed are the man-made Uros Islands, which are made of floating totora reeds. The original purpose behind the islands enabled the Uros Islanders to steer away from any threat if needed. All of the buildings on these unique islands are made of reeds and even the boats.
The lush Amazon rainforest covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America and covers a large area of Peru. Puerto Maldonado offers easy access to Peru's Amazon rainforest with jungle lodges, exceptional wildlife and indigenous cultures all within reach.
Ideally it’s best to spend at least two nights in the Amazon to see as much of the wildlife as possible and really explore this unique environment. We find that guided walks and canoe trips let you explore the Amazon thoroughly and get to know the unique flora, fauna and culture of the region.
Staying in jungle eco lodges at night, you'll drift off to the soundtrack of distant cicadas, dove song and duetting frogs, and wake to the chorus of the humming of insects, howler monkeys and blissful chirping of birds.
The Nazca Lines
Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain south of Lima, the Nazca Lines are one of the most mystifying sights in all Latin America. Believed to have been etched into the desert floor sometime between 500BC and 500AD, the Nazca Lines are among archaeology’s greatest puzzles due to their nature, size, and quantity.
No one really knows who made the lines or why they did so, but theories about their purpose range from a giant astronomical calendar to an extraterrestrial landing site. More recently, theorists have presented the idea of the lines belonging to a water fertility cult that once ruled Peru’s southern desert.
Shrouded in mystery and unanswered questions, the Nazca Lines captivate all who set eyes on them and are best appreciated from the air where their striking vision comes into true form.
The Colca Valley
The stunning Colca Valley has been called many things - 'The Lost Valley of the Incas', 'The Valley of Wonders' and 'The Valley of Fire'.
The people of the Colca Valley are renowned for their colourful attire, from hats decorated with brightly-coloured ribbons to the intricate designs on their traditional clothing. Colca Valley's biggest drawcard is the spectacular Colca Canyon, which is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and home to the elusive Andean Condors. The view from Condor pass and the sight of these magnificent birds with their 10 foot wing-span is simply stunning.
La Calera is another nearby attraction and is home to the best hot springs in the country, offering the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate.
Standing on the ruins of ancient Inca temples and palaces, the enchanting colonial city of Cusco is a captivating blend of traditional Andean culture, packed full of architectural wonders dating from the time of the Incas all the way through to the colonial era. More than just a stop off to acclimatise before you tackle Machu Picchu, this is to be truly admired!
As well as being the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco has a long list of attractions including the charming Plaza de Armas, imposing Cathedral (built from the stones of a destroyed Incan temple) and the Koricancha Inca complex with its masterful stonework ruins. The UNESCO-listed fortress of Sacsayhuaman commands an incredible view across Cusco and is the most impressive of the historical sites dotted across the surrounding hills.
It's very easy to while away several days wandering around Cusco. Aside from its historic sites, it's also a great place to shop for handicrafts. The nightlife is superb and it's got a great range of restaurants catering for all budgets.
Packed with colonial architecture, sweeping plazas and gourmet eateries, Lima is a thriving metropolis and symbol of progress in Peru. Despite being the second driest capital in the world - the first being Cairo – the city enjoys a lot of natural space, boasting a golf course right in the heart of its financial district and one of the world’s largest fountain parks.
For those interested in learning about the history of Lima, it is remarkably easy to delve into the city’s past at places like Aliaga House and the Monastery of San Francisco, which exhibit artifacts dating all the way back to the founding of the city in 1535. The Larco Museum also provides a wealth of information to help travellers gain an understanding with Lima’s heritage.
In the afternoons, take a stroll along the Miraflores Boardwalk, which runs alongside the ocean before popping into a bar for a pisco sour or two!
It might not have the reputation of Cusco or the size of Lima but Arequipa is a Peruvian city with much to offer. Set against a backdrop of snow-capped, unpredictable volcanoes, the scenery in Peru’s second biggest city is partly what makes it such a fascinating place to visit. The other part is made up of its gorgeous interior, not least its Plaza de Armas - the UNESCO-listed focal point of the city. Lined with colonial buildings and a magnificent cathedral, this plaza is arguably one of the most beautiful in South America.
Other places of interest within the city include the immense Santa Catalina monastery and the charismatic San Camilo market, which sells all kinds of fresh produce. If you’re looking to get up close and personal with some of Peru’s wildlife then make your way to Mundo Alpaca, home to dozens of llamas and alpacas.
Arriving in Trujillo is almost like stepping back in time with its colossal colonial architecture and gorgeous open plazas. While most people stay in the south of Peru to visit Machu Picchu, those who make it this far north are in for a genuine treat. Enjoying a delightful climate year-round, an asset that has won it the nickname ‘City of Eternal Spring’, this city is the perfect place to get a taste of authentic Peruvian culture.
Like much of Peru, Trujillo is home to a number of fascinating archaeological sites, including the incredible Chan Chan, a city within a city. Filled with ceremonial rooms, burial chambers and temples, this intriguing complex dates back to around 850 AD and is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. If you’re looking for some sea and sand, it’s an easy day trip to the nearby coastal town of Huanchaco.
Mancora is one of Peru’s best kept secrets but it might not be that way forever given the irresistible appeal of its stunning beaches, buzzing nightlife and world-class surfing. With long, smooth waves, the tide in Mancora is ideal for beginners looking to try their hand at riding the waves and pros looking to sharpen their skills, making it one of the best places in South America to grab a board and hit the water.
While Mancora might not have the museums and plazas of Peru’s big cities, it more than makes up for this with its culinary scene. Fresh seafood and all kinds of regional delicacies are served up with perfection in the various eateries scattered throughout the town. Eating and surfing aside, Mancora is wonderful spot to kick back on the beach, watch the world go by and re-energise before your next adventure.
For more help planning your holiday to Peru check out our Travel Guide resources:
Best Time to Visit - climate and seasons in Peru
Tourist Visas - what you need to know to enter Peru
Top Travel Tips - useful info on money and health
Visiting Machu Picchu - a guide to the Inca citadel and ways to get there