There is so much more to this South American country than mountain towns, Inca trails and ancient ruins. Ranging from the Andes Mountains and rainforests to the sea, Peru has something for everyone. With a rich culture and history to explore and a range of activities for the most adventurous of travellers, there is no wonder why you're planning a trip to Peru.
But with so much to see and do, where do you start? Well, we have put together our favourite places to visit in Peru, in one helpful guide. So let's jump into it.
Aguas Calientes town is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and is also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is located in the valley below the world-famous citadel and really the only reason to stay here is so that you can catch the first bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu, which is a great way of avoiding the crowds of tourists who arrive from Cuzco on a day trip by train.
Arequipa is in an oasis in the desert at an altitude of 2,300 metres. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, with the Misti Volcano on the north side. It is also called the White City because it's made of white volcanic rock. Some of the other mountains around Arequipa are Chachani, Pichu Picchu, Coropuna and Ampato.
The main tourist attractions are the Santa Catalina convent, founded in 1580 for cloistered nuns and can now be visited by the public, and the Juanita Mummy. Juanita was an Inca teenager who was sacrificed to the gods and her body was mummified. You can see her body at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum.
Chiclayo, capital of the Department of Lambayeque, is one of the largest cities of Peru and a meeting point for people from the Coast, the Highlands and the Northern Jungle. Also known as Ciudad de la Amistad (The City of Friendship) because of the kindness and warmth of its people, Chiclayo is located in a region which was home to important pre-Hispanic cultures, such as the Mochica (About 100-700AD) and the Lambayeque (About 700-1000AD) whose remains, found in different tombs and circumstances, continue to amaze the world.
The Colca Canyon is the most famous canyon in the Arequipa area, which is formed by the Colca River and has hundreds of terraces dating back to the pre-Inca era when the area was used a lot. The village contains 14 towns with the same traditions and festivals that are used today.
They were founded in the 16th century to gather the Collaguas people, who had been decimated in the area. It has archaeological remains left by the Collaguas, who were the original people of the area, such as petroglyphs and caves, where they kept their agriculture. Approximately 40 km from Chivay, the incomparable natural mirador of the Condor can be found, where visitors come from all over the world to watch the flight of the condor.
Until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532, Cusco was the centre of the Inca Empire and is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent and whose legacy as the hub of the Empire is readily apparent.
Many of the streets are lined with colonial buildings, built on top of Inca ruins for their foundations. You will be able to find the Cathedral and La Compania in the main square, Plaza de Armas, two equally impressive colonial architecture structures. Throughout the city, one can appreciate the syncretism of Inca and Catholic symbols, constructions and beliefs.
Huaraz is the main city and hub into the Huascaran National Park. To the southeast of Huaraz, you'll find the archaeological complex of Chavin de Huantar which consists of temples, tunnels, stone buildings and plazas. This site was the ceremonial centre of the ancient Chavin culture.
The Huascaran National Park covers an area of 340,000 hectares (840,154 acres), including 296 lakes and 663 glaciers. It is also home to the highest peaks in Peru; Huascaran, Huandoy and Alpamayo. It includes protected areas and Andean plant species such as the Puya Raimondi, the queÃ±ual tree, and wildlife such as the Andean condor and the vicuÃ±a. The National Park is the ideal place for adventure; trekking, mountaineering, rock climbing and mountain biking are amongst the most popular things to do.
Along the stunning Salkantay trek, past the Rio Blanco Valley and over Humantay Peak, is Huayraccamachay, home to the Mountain Lodges of Peru’s Wayra Lodge. The middle-of-nowhere village is found at around 3,850 metres (12,600 feet) above sea level and is extremely secluded, with only the scenic peaks of the surrounding Andean valleys as neighbours, and perhaps the odd mighty Andean condor.
Iquitos is a city submerged in the Peruvian Amazon Region, which, seen from the air, spreads out like a huge, green seemingly endless cloak. Linked to the world only by air and by the Amazon River, Iquitos is the capital of Loreto, the largest department of Peru.
Iquitos is Peru's most important city on the banks of the Amazon River, and much of the architectural pomp of the 19th-century rubber baron years is still intact. Trips can be made from Iquitos to many typical jungle inns, with visits to native communities such as the Bora and the Yagua.
Lake Titicaca Peru
Lake Titicaca is located on the border between Peru and Bolivia between the two mountain ranges of East and West Cordillera. The lake is 8,372 square kilometres wide, including both the deep main basin and the shallow sub-basin, and its altitude (3,812 m) is unrivalled among large lakes of this size class in the world.
The lake is fringed by a swampy zone of totora, which is indispensable for the life of inhabitants on the shore, furnishing materials for the famous reed-boats and floating islands where they grow potatoes. The Uros of today still live as the original inhabitants did as they continue to use the totora reeds to build their huts and rafts. Taquile is famous for its weavers, whose crafts and folklore are exhibited.
After its founding by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, Lima (originally named 'La Ciudad de Los Reyes') soon became the commercial and administrative centre of the Spanish empire in South America, bringing a period of prosperity to the city until an earthquake in 1746 destroyed all but 20 houses. Following this devastation, the opportunity was taken to elaborately rebuild the city. Today's wide streets, huge plazas and old houses with ornately carved balconies are a legacy of this period.
Llachon is a small village located on the peninsula of Capachica, which is 72km from the city of Puno and is home to 1,300 Quechua inhabitants. The village can also be reached by boat from Puno. The villagers have commercial ties with the populations of Amantani and Taquile islands as they have realised that tourism can help with development in their community.
Llachon can be visited as a day trip from Puno, but visitors are also welcome to stay in the community overnight to experience the real culture of the Quechuas.
The Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, nicknamed the lost city, are set on a saddle between high mountains with terraced slopes falling away to the Urubamba River, which rushes along round a great hairpin bend below.
It is believed that Machu Picchu was built as a royal estate for emperors and nobles and was abandoned about 100 years after its construction, around the time the Spanish started their conquests. However, the reason for its abandonment is still unknown.
It is in a good state of preservation because the Spanish conquistadors never discovered it. For centuries it was buried in the cloud forests until Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911. It was later explored by an archaeological expedition sent by Yale University.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is a must on our places to visit in Peru! It can be reached by a two-hour train ride from Ollantaytambo, or for the adventurous, walking in the ancient footprints of the mystical Incas along the Inca Trails on a four to five-day hike, traversing 26 miles.
The Manu National Park and the Tambopata National Reserve, are Peru’s most important ecological areas and are just a short flight from Cusco or Lima. So great is the bio-diversity here that most species have not yet been named. This ecologically rich region is home to hundreds of species of birds, insects, cats, monkeys, reptiles and fish, as well as thousands of plants and flowers.
The Manu National Reserve has been made famous in films, documentaries, the National Geographic magazine, and the WWF. It is recognised by UNESCO and the World Wildlife Fund as a “World Biosphere Reserve” and “World Natural Heritage Site”.
A small community based a short walk from the acclaimed Moray archaeological site in the Sacred Valley, Misminay is unknown to most travellers. The village has become the site of a responsible tourism initiative where visitors can camp with a local Andean family.
Nazca is a small town on the Panamericana which, since the discovery of the Nazca lines by the American Paul Kosok in 1939, has become flooded with tourists coming to marvel at the Nazca Lines.
Spread across 500 sq km of arid, rocky plains the Nazca Lines (declared a World Heritage site in 1994) form a striking network of over 800 lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant drawings. The best way to see the lines is by overflight, though you’ll get a vague idea by visiting the mirador 20km north of Nazca, where you will see an oblique view of the lizard, tree and hands.
Ollantaytambo is a typical Inca community located 21 km from Urubamba at 2,800 metres above sea level, which was named in honour of the chief Ollanta, who was famous for courting an Inca princess, daughter of Pachacutec. One of its best-preserved areas known as Hanan Huacaypata lies north of the main square and contains 15 estates built with elegantly crafted stone walls.
Ollantaytambo also features an extensive archaeological site located on the imposing hillside overlooking the town, containing structures such as the Temple of the Sun, and the Mañacaray or Royal Hall, the Incahuatana and the Princes’ Baths.
The Ica region also holds the Paracas National Reserve (22 km south of the city of Pisco). This rich coastal ecosystem covers an area of 335,000 hectares (827,450 acres) and includes deserts, beaches, islands, cliffsides and the ocean. This natural habitat is a haven for flamingos, pelicans, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, sperm whales and an infinity of fish and crustaceans. Visitors to the reserve can also sail northwest for an hour to reach the beautiful Ballestas Islands, a protected area of cormorants and sea lions.
Pisac lies 33 kilometres from the city of Cusco via a paved road and has an old quarter, an archaeological site considered one of the most important in Cusco, and a modern quarter; dating from the colonial period. It also has an authentic Andean market with special themes on Sundays, which attract thousands of visitors and people from remote communities, dressed in colourful, traditional attire.
This is the least populated territory in Peru, with only 600,000 people living in its 30,880 sq miles of jungle area. Gold panning on the Tampobamba and Madre de Dios rivers, and the latex boom determined the foundation of the capital city of southern Amazon rainforest, and today, Madre de Dios (the old Inca Antisuyo) is still what it has been for centuries - a virgin and frontier land full of mysteries.
The Manu, Tambopata-Candamo and Pampas de Heath reserves cover 3,500,000 jungle hectares, 98% of which is virgin forest, making it the largest and richest biodiversity of the world, home to unique flora and fauna species, impossible to find elsewhere. This includes 2,500 flower varieties, more than 1,000 birds, 900 butterfly species and more than 20 kinds of monkeys.
Puno is a small town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake and the place where the myth of the creation of the Inca Empire originated. For centuries the Peruvian Quechua and Aymara natives have managed to sustain a productive lifestyle in this extraordinary region. Puno was founded in 1668 following the discovery of nearby silver mines and is today a predominantly agricultural region.
A mere hours drive from Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is home to picturesque communities, impressive terraces and several important archaeological sites. In Inca times, the valley was the breadbasket of the Empire and it's still important for agriculture, as farmers plant the same fields that they did in Inca times with the same crops. Its mild weather, beautiful countryside and particular geography make it ideal for outdoor activities.
Sicuani is a small town about 140KM south of Cusco, sitting at over 3500 metres above sea level and primarily functions as a small commercial hub in the region. It is rarely visited by tourists if even heard about, however, a little-known secret is that it can also work as a barely-used gateway to Peru's remote rainbow mountains.
Suasi Island, located on the tranquil side of Lake Titicaca close to the border where it spills into Bolivia, offers a relaxing way to experience the lake away from the busy cities. Quite rare, the island is private and only the hotel sits on it, atop a hill offering stunning views.