18 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Peru
Travelers to the most isolated corners of the world often find themselves with little contact with the outside world, and Peru's natural and cultural wonders often set it apart from the rest of the world.
The southern rainforest is one of the planet's most magnificent forests, with soaring palms and a variety of wildlife. The thousands of ancient Andean ruins, like Machu Picchu and Chachapoyas, are unique in the world and well worth the effort to see.
Surfers and divers flock to Lima's beaches, while trekkers are enthralled by the pre-Inca citadels of the Central Highlands.
Lima and Cusco are the starting points for the Inca Trail, a journey into the heart of the ancient Inca civilization. But there are many other ancient archaeological sites to see, including Sinkuptepi, the oldest Incan site in the world.
Visit the best places to visit in Peru with our list of the top tourist attractions in Peru.
Almost halfway up the western coast of Peru are the Nasca Lines, some of the most enigmatic of all the geoglyphs found in the world. The enigmatic images etched on the hillsides of Nasca, have been a source of astonishment for generations. Drawings of human figures, animals, and geometric forms line the walls of the stone lintels as well as the steep sides of the limestone mesas that serve as their backdrop. Lines are among the best examples of ancient Peruvian art, with patterns varying from geometric lines to twisted drawings. Carvings in the vicinity have traditionally been attributed to the Incas, although many researchers believe that the Nazca people were responsible. Dating from between 200 and 700 AD, the Nasca Lines were discovered in 1928 by the American geographer and amateur artist Walter Astor. The lines, located in a remote area of the Nasca Department, are largely outside of the tourist route and it is difficult to reach them unless you hire your own car. A handful of tourist guides are available in Nasca, and most take hikers to the site, which is located at the base of the Machu Pichu, the world's highest road pass. A must is visiting the Huaca Pucllana, which is a massive circular city built from adobe and piled in concentric rings, whose function is still not entirely understood. It is regarded as a sacred site, especially for Christians, and the view from the top of the mesa is worth the hassle of getting there.
Lake Titicaca is located in the Andean region of Peru, north of the capital, Lima. The islands of Amantani, Quelluma and Chullpa are located on the lake's floor, but these islands are very rarely visited. A unique feature of the lake are the rainbows that form on a calm day and linger on its surface for hours. Highlights include a visit to the island of Chullpa to see a collapsed Inca temple. In December, this lake is also the home to the Saltos del Perulita (the Southern Andean Kite Festival). This three-day event brings together kitesurfers, as well as musicians, dance groups and handicrafts producers from all over the world. Chullpa lies on the eastern shores of the lake. There are 2,100 inhabitants on the island, who rely heavily on fishing and tourism. Chullpa was the last territory to be conquered by the Spanish. From Chullpa you can get a boat to the town of Lake Titicaca, which can be reached from Cuzco by either bus or flight. In Cuzco you will have the chance to visit the Santuario de la Virgen de la Candelaria.
The towering steep rocks of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have been admired by travelers for centuries. Built by the Inca in the 15th century, this sacred Inca ruin offers visitors panoramic views of the surrounding Andes mountains. This Inca masterpiece can be reached only by a strenuous 2-hour hike. Worth visiting is the archaeological site, where the remnants of buildings that appear to have been built a thousand years ago can be seen. Highlights of a visit include the Inca Bridge, which takes you through a narrow rocky canyon, and the Terrace of the Condor, with its 360 degree views. This imposing ruin dominates the upper town, with impressive walls built of solid rocks. Be sure to climb the last set of stairs to enjoy the breathtaking views.
It's the Inca Trail, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu that most people associate with Peru but the country's adventure capital, Puno, is also beautiful with soaring, snow-capped mountains, red sunsets, and the beautiful Urubamba River. See the mummies at the Nazca Lines, explore the magnificient Titicaca Lake, visit the imposing rock monoliths of the Pichaún, travel back in time at the Wiracocha Sacred Cenote, or go rappeling down spectacular ice faces.
The Colca Canyon is located north of the Ecuadorian border, just an hour away by bus from Cusco and Aguas Calientes, at an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,500 ft.). The stunning natural scenery, including mountains, waterfalls, jungle, and active volcanoes, make the Colca Canyon Peru's most popular tourist attraction. While the typical tourist has perhaps only seen images of Peru's ancient and mighty Incan ruins, there is actually much more to see in the Colca Canyon. There are dozens of places for viewing the towering cliffs, some carved by the elements, some by man, and some created naturally. Colca has several different caves, one of which is known as "The Colca Sea," because it's actually a waterfall into a canyon. This waterfall drops 1,500 meters (4,921 ft.) into the canyon, forming a beautiful, crystal clear spring. The water then flows down a series of curving canyons to end at the river that flows from the crater of a nearby volcano. Colca is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Cusco.
Peru is the birthplace of the Incan Empire, which grew to an early superpower. From Cuzco, Lima is the capital city. Lima offers travelers a chance to sample both contemporary and traditional Peruvian culture in a land of vibrant and colorful buildings that date from colonial times. Highlights include the Baroque Santo Domingo Convent, which has been restored to its former glory. Situated within a peaceful garden on the outskirts of town, it now houses the Museo de Arte de Lima (Museo Larco Herrera; Click here), with a collection of early to mid 20th-century artworks. The view of Lima from the convent's facade is both imposing and inspiring. Another sight worth a visit is the Santo Domingo Palace, an example of late Baroque art, and the religious reason for the name of the convent. Lima's best restaurants and nightclubs are concentrated on the upscale Miraflores district, which can be reached from the city center via the underground Túnel Lambayeque.
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Peru's most important colonial city is built on a lava-rock hill above the sea. The colonial center has an abundance of gilded 18th-century buildings, many decorated with elaborate baroque-style tiled façades and fine stone carvings. One of the city's most interesting buildings is the Convento de Santa Catalina, a splendid Baroque church with a traditional Latin American interior. The convent was built in 1655 and has a lovely garden. For a delightful excursion, take a bus up to the hilltop village of Chivay to visit the Copacabana-Huaqarari Waterfall. The water falls through a rocky tunnel before cascading down a series of steps into a large pool and then a river. It is one of the most beautiful and spectacular natural sights in Peru. In the afternoon, walk down to the port of Pichincha, and see the model shipbuilders at work.
Cusco and the Sacred Valley
The magical setting of Cusco and the Sacred Valley is possibly South America's most enchanting setting. Comprising a pre-Inca city, the spectacular landscape and sights are dominated by a series of terraces, with scattered villages and stone walls embedded in the mountainside. Accessible by a wonderful network of ancient Inca trails, this vast national park features a number of amazing destinations including the fortress and religious site of Sacsayhuaman and the Inca site of Ollantaytambo, and the breathtaking Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, a World Heritage site. This fascinating region offers a variety of culturally rich sights, as well as colorful markets and authentic cuisine.
Located on the northern coast of Peru in the fertile valley of the Río Moche, Trujillo is the country's second largest city. This colonial city, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its stone construction and beautiful squares. The city's highland region, known as Huanchaco, also deserves a visit for its wealth of beautiful colonial houses, canals, and placid landscape. In Trujillo, you can also visit the ruins of nearby Paqar Wayn, a fortified pre-Incan city where a mummified priest named Wayn Pachacuti Qhapaq was discovered in 1924. The nearby towns of Chan Chan and Hatunrumiyoc also are worth a visit. Both are perfect for a day trip.
Pisco is the largest city in the central valley of Peru, approximately 6,000m above sea level. It lies between the foothills of the Andes on the eastern edge of the vast Luribay plateau. Its central location makes it a major trading and transportation hub for the region. In the old town area of Pisco, most of the buildings are built on the street, so expect lots of street life. If you're a fan of Latin food, then Pisco is your best bet. Street stands sell traditional Andean cuisine such as pisco sour cocktails or heartier dishes like empanadas (fried snack stuffed with meat or vegetables) or quinoa. Do not miss the markets where fresh fruit and vegetables are sold.
Andahuaylas is situated 200 meters up from a river which is said to be "as clear as glass". The city of Andahuaylas is at 1,600 meters above sea level and its altitude means that it does not see much snow although the place is called "the first mountain town in Peru". Andahuaylas has a very clear climate with warm days and cool nights. In the summer time, when the weather is good, tourists can enjoy paragliding from Andahuaylas on Huaytatanta peak. A typical dish in the city is called "Señor Serna". Andahuaylas is located on the highway Huancayo-Andahuaylas (the second road in Peru). Road route from Cusco to Puno to this place.
Inca Trail is one of the most popular trips in South America. This 3,000-meter trek takes visitors through some of the highest mountains in the world, from mountain ranges from the Rocky Mountains to the Alps. Climbing from 14,000-foot Chavimochic, with some of the most dramatic scenery you'll see anywhere, you'll start on the incredibly steep Tinqui trail, where climbers face some of the highest navigation and steepest ascents in the world. This is followed by the Pio XI trail, the narrowest and most terrifying in the world. The longest trail is the Uyuni trail, or the longest in the world without a fork in it! Along the way you'll find abandoned Inca terraces, interesting cultural sites and abundant plant and wildlife, with impressive views of valleys, mountains and landscapes.
Located about 2,700 meters above sea level on the western flank of the Andes, Chachapoyas offers spectacular views of the canyon, lakes, and, on a clear day, the immense plains of the Amazon. It has a large central plaza and provides excellent transportation access to many sites. The city's most famous artifact is the 85-meter-long Chimú straight-walled pyramid, named Hatunrumiyoc and located in front of the plaza. Constructed in 1450 and abandoned in the early 16th century, it was partially restored in 1993 and has been turned into the headquarters of the Secretariat of Tourism and Economic Development of the region. The city is also home to the Parque Arqueológico Huayna Cápac, which contains a collection of Incan archaeological sites. Tours of the city center can be arranged at the Teatro Cusqueña Cultural in the old cathedral. Another good place to visit is the Museo del Patrimonio Cultural Chachapoyano in Barrio San Cristóbal. It has a collection of pre-Colombian and pre-Inca ceramics and ceramics from other pre-Colombian cultures of the area. Chachapoyas is served by an airport with daily flights to Lima.
Although the ruins at Chavarri are the most famous at Ica, with their graceful columns and temples set amid a quiet olive grove, this small city has many more attractions than one can fit into a one-day visit. Situated on the southwest coast of Peru's Ica Region, Ica lies between Lake Humboldt to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The largest and most important city in the Ica Region is Cusco, situated on a sprawling plateau of volcanic origin. In fact, Cusco's name means'settlement' and is probably based on the Inca Empire's capital of the same name. With its cobbled streets, 15th-century adobe architecture and wonderful colonial churches, Cusco is a magical city.
Lambayeque is one of the less visited regions of Peru and even more off the beaten path than the other Amazonian regions. A blend of mestizo, indigenous and African elements, it is best known for its pre-Hispanic art and culture. For an authentic and very busy tour experience visit the market in Paracas, where you can see a wide range of masks, models of the altars used for the ceremonies and many more typical handicrafts. Staying in a historic colonial building in Peru's southernmost city, Lambayeque, you can get an idea of life here before the arrival of the Spaniards. It's a hot and dusty place where the main activity is working in the fields in the surrounding area. If you go to Paracas or Pisco, try the local Peruvian beer, pisco, which is light and drinkable in a drink like wine. You can visit the nearby city of Trujillo and learn about the traditional way of life in the area during a walking tour. The city, which is an impressive colonial-era architecture, is also a good place to find souvenirs as the old buildings are often still in use, and the local crafts are in demand throughout the world.
Culturally rich and buzzing, chiclayo can trace its history back to the colonial period. In fact, colonial mansions and archaeological sites are sprinkled throughout the city, which lies on the banks of the San Juan River, surrounded by steep Andean mountains. The city's rich architectural heritage is evident in colonial buildings, churches, and more. The nearby ruins of Palpa, the city that once thrived before the Incan civilization, are a worthwhile site to visit. Although a bit off the beaten path, it's worth a few days of exploration if you have time. From here you can journey up into the Andes to visit the Northern region's Mayan ruins at Piscacucho. Spend a few days or a few weeks in chiclayo. It's possible to stay at the many budget guesthouses or at a more luxurious hotel if that is your desire. Be sure to walk through the charming streets lined with bars and restaurants.
Named after the nearby town of Nazca, the Nazca lines are vast geoglyphs carved into the arid desert ground of the north coast of Peru. Of a scale only befitting the ancient Nazca Indians who lived here, the Nazca lines are large geometric designs carved into the desert ground, with many different motifs appearing to form fantastic monsters, fish, the flying disk-like khipu, and the famous spirals. The scale is amazing; one interpretation is that the artists etched in a total of some 6,000 figures on the desert ground over 3,500 years ago. There are several theories about the meaning of the Nazca lines. It is possible that the geoglyphs were created as part of a religious ceremony and that the larger designs represent the god known as Viracocha. Alternatively, some of the figures may represent fearsome monsters, while others may be khipus, which are unique to the Nazca culture. This theory is held by some experts as the khipus represent the science of astronomy and are believed to be more than 6,000 years old.
Huaraz is one of the great summer resorts of Peru. It's a splendid location for outdoor activities, with a busy strip of restaurants and bars, numerous adventure-sports operators, and lovely white-sand beaches. The heart of Huaraz is the Plaza de Armas. Although almost the entire city lies within the main square, some side streets between the square and the shore are worth visiting. The Instituto Nacional de Cultura, on the main square, hosts temporary exhibitions of Peruvian and international art, and a monthly market where stalls sell fresh produce and textiles.