22 Best Places to Visit in Peru

22 Best Places to Visit in Peru
© Chicco7 | Dreamstime.com

3,500 kilometers long and 1,000 kilometers wide – in between a wonderful country with unforgettable cultural and natural treasures. Peru fascinates and inspires, it has the potential to put its visitors in the greatest admiration and offer an unforgettable vacation. The high altitudes where Peru’s treasures are located force the guest to slow down and adapt. A circumstance that, however, also brings with it the pleasure of getting to know them better. By the way: In order to cope better with the altitude, coca tea is drunk in Peru always and everywhere. The guest should definitely join this ritual. Find out more about the 22 best places to visit in Peru.

22. Kuélap

The Kuélap Fortress in northern Peru is probably one of the most important historical sites from the pre-Inca period of the Chachapoya culture in all of South America. And while until recently the only way to get to the fortress high above the Utcubamba river valley was by car or minibus over bumpy roads, this is now possible by cable car.

The cable car covers a distance of about four kilometers and also crosses the impressive Utcubamba River, so fabulous views over the green mountains of northern Peru are guaranteed!

It will start from the district of Tingo Nuevo, from the platform Andén de Salida, located at 2,278 meters of altitude and ends at the Andén de Llegada at 2,939 meters. Thus, during the trip you not only cover four kilometers of distance, but also about 600 meters of altitude.

Kuélap stands at about 2,900 meters above sea level and was once a fortress of the Chachapoya, a pre-Inca people who inhabited northern Peru. Spread over three levels, the fortress contains about 300 individual houses, watchtowers and “El Tintero”, probably the fortress’s greatest mystery.

To this day, it is not known whether the building, which tapers from top to bottom, was built as a torture chamber or as an observatory to watch the sun’s rays. The only certainty is that without numerous supports, the building would collapse on all sides.

21. Paracas National Reserve

Paracas National Park is Peru’s only maritime protected area and consists of, among other things, the sandy peninsula of Paracas, the town of Paracas, the archaeological “Museum J.Tello”, the geoglyph “Candelabro” and the non-accessible natural park of the “Islas Ballestas”. With 335 million hectares, the nature reserve is a refuge for seals, sea lions, sea otters, penguins, dolphins and besides, more than 200 different species of sea birds, such as flamingos and guano birds.

A special feature is the “Candelabro” (chandelier), a 120-meter geoglyph that is best viewed from the sea. Another monument worth visiting is, for example, the Cathedral, a rock formation created because of erosion by the sea and wind (but collapsed in 2007 after an earthquake). Inside this formation live otters, seals and endangered species, such as some species of sea birds, among others.

The Centro de Interpretación offers an interesting explanation of the biodiversity and the threats facing this area. The Julio Tello Museum also has a permanent exhibition of Paracas culture objects found in the surrounding cemeteries.

20. Huascaran National Park

If you are a nature lover or a passionate mountaineer traveling to Peru to spend your vacation, you can’t really miss Huascarán National Park: it is the second highest of its kind in the South American Andes, right in the heart of the highest tropical mountain range in the world. An amazing variety of wildlife awaits the breathless (in both senses) visitors: pumas, condors, the Andean fox, mountain cats, deer, the native vizcachas and vicuñas live on its plateaus and glaciers.

Huascarán National Park includes an incredible 41 rivers, 663 glaciers, 269 lakes and 27 snow-capped mountains – one of which is the namesake Nevado Huascarán. We will come to the ascent of this with 6768 m highest mountain of Peru later.

However: If you want to explore the Huascarán National Park partially or completely, you should bring a little time for acclimatization. The area of the park extends on 3400 km² completely beyond the 4000 meter altitude limit along the Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range of the American continent with a length of 180 km. In 1975, the area was marked out and declared a National Park in its entirety; Huascarán has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

19. Mancora

High in the north of Peru lies the tranquil fishing village of Máncora, which in recent years has become one of the hottest beach resorts in the country. With its first-class waves, it is mainly cool surfers who ride the high waves here – but families also like to come here for a vacation because of the pleasantly warm water and the low-rainfall weather.

Due to the strong tourist rush, of course, a very good infrastructure has developed: in the 13,000-strong fishing village there are numerous cafes and restaurants, supermarkets and hotels, a hospital and Internet cafes – virtually everything you need!

18. Iquitos

If you want to visit Iquitos in northeastern Peru, you have only two options: Plane or boat, because there is no road connecting the city with the rest of the Andean country. The jungle surrounding Iquitos is too dense. Those who take the journey upon themselves will experience the mighty Amazon at close range, can immerse themselves in the original life of the Peruvian rainforest from here on, observe animals and live in harmony with nature.

If you are not a friend of animals like caimans, anacondas, piranhas or tarantulas, you should consider if Iquitos is worth a trip. The city itself is not a beauty, which could be due to its founding history – the city grew too fast. It was built in 1750 by Jesuits as a sort of defensive bastion against the indigenous peoples who lived here and refused to be converted.

As the rubber boom grew, so did the city and slavery. Only after the discovery of oil deposits in the 1960s did Iquitos develop into a modern city. Meanwhile, tourism is considered the second most important economic factor. Most tourists use the city as a starting point for discovery tours of several days through the Amazon region.

Worth seeing is the notorious Mercado Belén, which at times floats in the Amazon. At the unmanageable market, which is as big as an entire village, you can buy everything the jungle has to offer: countless never-before-seen fruits, fragrant spices and fish.

17. Colca Canyon

In southern Peru, near the village of Chivay, lies the Cañón del Colca, the second deepest canyon in Peru and almost twice as deep as the American Grand Canyon. Here, the Colca River has carved its way deep through the mountains over millions of years, forming a breathtaking landscape.

In the upper areas you can find the terraced cultivation so typical for Peru, which is still used for agriculture by the inhabitants of the Colca Valley. But the main attraction in the Cañón del Colca are without a doubt the flying inhabitants: here live the Andean condors, the largest flying birds in the world, which, thanks to the thermal conditions, circle for hours above the valley and attract thousands of visitors.

16. Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley with the Rio Urubamba (Sacred River) refers to the area between Pisac and Ollantaytambo north of Cusco. The fertile and lush green valley was formed by the Urubamba River. It lies deep in the midst of the steep mountain walls of the towering Andes ranges.

Along the mighty Urubamba River, terraced fields several meters high, architecturally impressive Inca ruins and idyllic Andean villages with colorful weekly markets line up. These are a welcome change from the historic sites in the evergreen of the highlands.

The Sacred Valley has been of great agricultural importance since Inca times. This is because the soil of the deep valley, which is up to 3 km wide and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, is particularly fertile.

For the Incas, the Sacred Valley was the center of their culture with Cusco as its capital. According to a legend, Viracocha, the sun god and creator of the Inca culture, was fed up with the uncivilized, low-life people. So he sent his divine children Manco Capac and Mama Occlo to earth to get the place in shape and to create some high culture in the form of agriculture and animal husbandry, religion, law and order.

When the two of them descended on Lake Titicaca, they had a golden wand with them. This tupayawri would automatically sink into the ground at the very fertile spot where the future center of the empire was to be built. This happened where Cusco is today.

The center of Inca culture was created and gradually spread into the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley, including the river, was not just any fertile valley for the Incas, but nothing less than the reflection of the Upper World of the Milky Way, where their ancestors were located.

15. Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is one of the oldest hiking trails in the world. It runs from the banks of the Rio Urubamba to the Inca city of Machu Picchu. The hike takes four days and leads over three mountain passes with breathtaking views of tropical forests, gorges and snow-covered mountains. Only by this way some Inca ruins have become accessible, among them Runkurakay and Sayacmarca.

Shortly after its discovery in 1942, the trail was the most walked in South America, and despite the limit of 500 people per day, it is very busy. An equally spectacular alternative is the Salkantay Trail, which leads no less opulently to the village of La Playa (not far from Machu Picchu). For those who like it even more solitary, take the trek to Choquequirao or the twelve-day Andean altitude trail Huayhuash Circuit.

14. Machu Picchu

Numerous pictures show the probably most famous ruined city of all Latin America: Machu Picchu is located remotely in the mountains in Peru and is surrounded by an almost magical aura. When the mountain Huayna Picchu is immersed in deep fog and the first glimpse of the stone city of the Incas opens up, guests from all over the world become addicted to Machu Picchu. A mystery has surrounded Machu Picchu since its discovery in 1911, because no one knows the exact purpose of the elaborately built stone city in the Andes.

The journey to the ruins alone is an event in itself: you can take a fast train ride through the mountains or walk for four days in extremely sporty style along the ancient paths of the Incas. No matter which way you arrive, Machu Picchu is an absolute highlight of any trip through Peru and remains unforgettable as a cultural and historical site.

13. Lima

The Peruvian capital Lima – the city of kings – was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro. The city was then called “Ciudad de los Reyes”. The center of today’s city of 7 million people was declared a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Here you can find many buildings from the colonial era, such as the Cathedral or the Casa de la Inquisicion, the Plaza de Armas, the modern and fashionable district Miraflores and many mansions with wooden carved balconies.

Also worth seeing is the Archaeological Museum, the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia. Here you will find numerous treasures from the Inca period. Don’t miss a side trip from Lima to the Inca place of pilgrimage 31 kilometers to the south – Pachamac. By the way, cruise ships dock in the port city of Callao, which is not far away.

12. Chan Chan

The Chan Chan excavation sites near the Peruvian Pacific coast, which peaked in the 15th century and housed up to 60,000 inhabitants, is today exposed to wind, weather and robbery, despite protective measures. Therefore, Peru travelers should hurry to visit the former capital of the Chimú Kingdom.  The structure once served as the capital of the Chimú civilization, which had its cultural creative period from 850 BC to 1470.

With an extension of almost 28 km², Chan Chan is one of the largest ADOBE cities built of clay in the world. In its heyday, civilians, warriors, monarchs, priests and artisans lived in the pre-Columbian metropolis in several tens of thousands of buildings.

Although the city’s former prosperity can only be discerned in the remains of its ruins, visitors have a variety to marvel at. The sun-dried adobe buildings alone are a work of art in themselves.

The walls of the palaces and temples are decorated with several meters long restored frescoes and archaeologists have unearthed numerous ancient ceramics that are an expression of the art of the time and can be viewed by visitors in the Musem.

The best preserved part is the Ciudadela Tschudi, named after the Swiss explorer Johann Jakob von Tschudi. A marked path leads through the area made accessible to tourists and reveals a completely restored complex of chambers, temples, cloisters as well as residential units. Many buildings show the friezes typical of the Chimú culture with numerous ornaments and images of the sea.

11. Huacachina

About 300 km from the Peruvian capital and just five kilometers from the town of Ica lies the only real oasis of the two Americas: Huacachina. This lagoon, surrounded by sand dunes up to 100 meters high, offers a welcome cooling and is one of the most popular destinations in the region.

There are numerous legends about the origin of the oasis. The most famous is undoubtedly the story of the beautiful princess who looked at herself in a mirror here in the desert. But suddenly she discovered a pursuer in the mirror behind her and, frightened, dropped the mirror on the ground, where it shattered into a thousand shards.

These shards turned into a lake and swallowed the princess, who, according to legend, still lives as a mermaid in the lagoon. However, the reality is rather that the lagoon is fed by an underground river that carries extremely mineral-rich water – in the past, many visitors came here to be cured of physical ailments such as rheumatism or arthritis.

10. Huaraz

The town of Huaraz is located in the fertile Callejon de Huaylas valley at the foot of the high mountain region of Cordillera Blanca, a part of the Andes where Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran, is also located. Formerly significant only for its agricultural role, Huaraz has become a popular base for trips into the mountains.

Whether it is extensive trekking tours or rather a rapid descent on a snowboard – the real adrenaline junkies and nature fans have discovered Huaraz for themselves! So it’s no wonder that you have a free choice of accommodation here, from a simple youth hostel to a luxurious lodge in the mountains!

9. Trujillo

Magnificent buildings from the colonial era, a pleasant climate, festivals, culture and music – Trujillo is the secret cultural capital of the country and probably the most important in the north. No other city has produced as many artists, poets and thinkers as Trujillo and you can feel this with every step through the colorful and cheerful streets.

And the surrounding area also has numerous excursion destinations up its sleeve: from the archaeological site of Chan Chan to the “Moche Huaca del Sol y la Luna” (Temple of the Sun and the Moon) to the beaches of Huanchaco, which are rich in waves and therefore popular with surfers, you should bring a little time with you for a visit to Trujillo, because there is plenty to discover.

Almost every town (and also every village) in northern Peru has its own Plaza de Armas, the main square. Of course, there is a monument there to commemorate the independence that was won.

Around the square you can also find the magnificent buildings from the time of Spanish colonization. A special feature of the houses are the heavy, wrought-iron window grilles and the picturesque balconies. But it really takes your breath away inside the houses (e.g. Casa Ganoza), which is decorated all over with ornaments.

If you’re feeling frisky in the early evening, stroll down Paseo de Aguas Boulevard, which is near Cesar Vallejo University. The main attraction – apart from the happy people who congregate here – is the Tunnel of Wishes. This is actually not so much a tunnel as a water feature that pours out in high arches, and in a variety of colors.

8. Tingo Maria

An area covered with houses, behind it ‘La Bella Durmiente’, the sleeping beauty. The houses, that is the city of Tingo Maria, La Bella Durmiente the mountain range that rises behind the city. It has the contour of a sleeping woman, hence the name. Tingo Maria is located in the middle of the mountains in the jungle at the confluence of the Monzón and Huallaga rivers in central Peru. The city is the optimal starting point for excursions into the wild beauty of the Peruvian rainforest, but also has several other attractions.

Tingo Maria is a very green city. The jungle does not stop at the city limits, streets and squares are lined with trees. No wonder, then, that in Tingo Maria you can discover above all things that have to do with nature.

One place you should definitely visit is the Jardín Botánico, the Botanical Garden. It is located on the outskirts of the city and is home to about 7,500 species of plants and trees. Walking along the paths, you will think you are in the middle of the jungle. Ferns and trees tower high, birds chirp in the tops.

The botanical garden is also home to several species of monkeys. Those who would like to learn more about the flora and fauna of the area can visit the Museo de Zoología, where, in addition to mammals, reptiles and birds, the butterfly collection is particularly striking.

But even those who simply want to enjoy the city are in the right place in Tingo Maria. The Plaza de Armas is a mixture of modern architecture and garden where people meet. Directly on the Plaza de Armas is the church of Santa Teresa del Niño Jesús, an example of 20th century sacred architecture.

7. Puno

Puno, which lies directly on Lake Titicaca, is the capital of the Puno region of the same name with about 128,000 inhabitants. The city is located at an altitude of 3,800 meters in the Andes. Among tourists, Puno is considered a popular starting point for excursions around Lake Titicaca. Boat trips on the lake are possible from here.

In the city itself, the proud cathedral from the 17th century or the Arco Deusta, an arch carved out of stone in honor of the patriots who died in Peru’s struggle for independence, are worth seeing. In the city, the old traditions of the region can still be felt. Be it at colorful festivals or at equally colorful folk costumes.

In the 17th century, the Cathedral of Puno was built in the Plaza Mayor in the heart of Puno. The Roman Catholic church was built in the baroque style by Jesuits. The interior is kept quite simple. Interesting is the facade of the cathedral, on which both Christian and pagan symbols can be found. Elements of the Baroque unite here with the ancient traditions of the Andes. It is the most worth seeing church in the whole highlands.

Arco Deustua, located on the Jr. Independencia, symbolizes the struggle of the patriots for the independence of Peru. The monument – a stone arch – was created in honor of the people who gave their lives in this struggle. Arco Deustua is considered one of the landmarks of the city.

6. Tarapoto

Tarapoto, the largest city in the province of San Martin and the economic center of the region. The city is located on a jungle plateau, which is also known as the “Cloud Forest” and is considered a starting point for trips to the Amazon rainforests.

The tropical climate, lush surroundings with impenetrable jungle, clear lakes and impressive waterfalls, as well as numerous historical attractions make Tarapoto a popular destination for vacationers.

Where Ayachucha is located today was once home to members of the Pocras and the Chanca, two very ancient pre-Inca cultures. When the Incas invaded, the inhabitants, led by the commander Ancohallo, planned a revolt that, although initially crowned with success, ended in a bloodbath. The Incas took terrible revenge on the rebels and those who managed to escape settled here, where San Martin stretches today, on the banks of the Mayo and Cumbaza rivers. Thus was born the small town of Lamas and later Tarapoto.

5. Tarma

Beautiful landscapes, great caves, renowned artisans and of course the most beautiful flowers. That and more is Tarma, a picturesque province of fertile valleys located in the highlands of the Junin region, which due to its incomparable beauty is known as “The Pearl of the Andes”.

The town is located at 3,045 m.a.s.l. in a valley where churches and flowers are the main attraction. In fact, during Holy Week and during the great tribute to the Lord of Miracles, in October, the streets of Tarma are covered with huge carpets of flower petals through which the locals show off their creativity.

The city is characterized by its old houses with colonial balconies and its narrow cobblestone streets. The first thing you should know there is its Plaza de Armas, a beautiful place full of history, since it is where the independence of Tarma was proclaimed. In one of its corners is the Cathedral of Santa Ana, which has a baroque architecture, beautiful stained glass windows and a tower with a historic clock that was a gift from Marshal Ramon Castilla.

4. Puerto Maldonado

Puerto Maldonado is a small town in southeastern Peru. It is located not far from the border with Bolivia, where Tambopata and Rio Madre de Dios meet. Puerto Maldonado was named after the explorer Faustino Maldonado, who came to this region in 1870 – and disappeared.

This seems no wonder today, the area around the town is known for its exotic and sometimes poisonous or dangerous plants and animals. Puerto Maldonado is right in the middle of it: the gateway to the rainforest and starting point for excursions into the wilderness.

Puerto Maldonado has many places of interest. They are almost all located outside and are natural. But even in the city itself, there are two places that you should not miss. The first place is the Plaza de Armas, the main square. It simply belongs to every city and is appreciated by the inhabitants accordingly. Like almost everywhere, it is geometrically designed, you can linger there under mango trees and palm trees and admire the architecture of the Japanese community in the center of the square.

Sight number two is the Puente Billinghurst. This bridge crosses the Rio Madre de Dios and is 723 meters long, making it the longest bridge in Peru and a symbol of the city. It is also accessible to pedestrians and offers an enchanting view of the river and the landscape, especially in the morning and evening hours.

3. Arequipa

Bright white, many buildings stand out against the blue sky and the three imposing volcanoes: Numerous buildings in the city center were built of white volcanic stone. In 2000, the city center of Peru’s third largest city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Impressive sights such as the Santa Catalina Monastery, which used to be so isolated, and the mummy “Juanita” make for unforgettable moments in Arequipa.

In addition, the city with its white colonial buildings and the bright white cathedral in the main square is an ideal starting point for the trip due to its location near the most famous sights of Peru. Last but not least, the mild climate and the still quite low altitude of 2,350 meters above sea level are wonderful for acclimatizing in the highlands of the Andes. A visit to Arequipa is therefore a varied and relaxing stopover with its very own charm in Peru.

2. Cusco

In the middle of the Andes highlands is the capital of the former Inca Empire, which today impresses with unique buildings and a breathtaking location. Cuzco, or Cuzco in another spelling, literally takes the breath away of many guests at the first moment due to its location at 3,416 meters above sea level. Cuzco is also much more than just a starting point for the mysterious Inca city of Machu Picchu in the Andes.

Rather, the city offers beautiful views in itself and is an absolutely recommendable sight in the Peruvian highlands precisely because of the beautiful panoramic views, the charming colonial buildings and through the testimonies of the Inca Empire. Follow in the footsteps of the Incas in Cuzco and enjoy the beautiful old town, the convivial atmosphere and the warm-hearted inhabitants of the ancient Inca capital. The UNESCO World Heritage Site should not be missed on any trip through Peru and is a special highlight in the highlands of the Andean country.

1. Nazca

The area around Nazca belongs to the Pampa Colorada, which is bordered by the Andes mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean forty kilometers to the west. About 50,000 years ago, the Andean valleys filled with gravel as a result of heavy precipitation. After the ice age subsided, a huge tableland landscape remained, into which rivers had cut up to three hundred meters deep: The Aatacama Desert.

More than 2,000 years ago, from 400 B.C., kilometers of geometric shapes and mythical formations (Nazca lines) were carved into the earth in the shadow of the Peruvian Andes. In 1927, pilots flying over the desert discovered what appeared to them to be coded messages. Within a very short time, the media made them known all over the world.

On more than 250 square kilometers of stony pampas, an extensive network consisting of lines up to ten kilometers long stretches out. Triangular and trapezoidal shapes alternate with drawings of plants, animals and people. This monument can only be fully appreciated from the air. The color contrast is made possible by the surface layering of the terrain. When the top layer of reddish oxidized rubble (also known as desert varnish) is scraped free, a light yellow, clearly contrasted background appears.

We now know the mysterious earth sketches are a legacy of the Nazca, an ancient Peruvian culture native to the region. The Nazca culture developed between 200 B.C. to 800 A.D. in the southern coastal region of what is now Peru. Fanciful Nazca weavings and ceramics have survived to this day.