Dubbed the “Land of the Incas” because it was once home to the expansive Inca Empire, Peru was conquered and colonized by Spain in the 16th century. As a result of its rich history, Peru today is packed with archaeological remains and colonial architecture. Add in the country’s spectacular natural beauty, and the product is an outstanding travel destination. An overview of the best places to visit in Peru.
Puno is a port city on the shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano of Peru. Despite its picturesque hillside setting, the city itself is a ramshackle collection of mostly unfinished modern buildings. Its biggest attraction is as a departure point for the famous floating islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
Once just an attractive roadside fishing port, Mancora is now the most trendy beach in Peru, attracting a surf crowd from around the globe. It’s a highly welcome and very enjoyable stopover when traveling along the north coast.
Trujillo is a moderately large city in Northwestern Peru, near the Pacific Coast. The city was founded in 1534 among 4 Chimu settlements to enable the Spanish to ally with them against the Incas. Trujillo is close to the pre-Columbian site of Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the ancient world and the beach resort of Huanchaco.
The Nazca Desert occupies a strip along the northern Pacific coast on a high arid plateau. The famous Nazca Lines are located between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. Created between 200 BC and 700 AD the figures range from simple lines to stylized spiders, monkeys, lizards and human figures. The dry, windless, stable climate of the Nazca Desert has helped keep the lines uncovered to the present day. Tour agents in Nazca offer round flights in a Cessna to view the lines. There is also an observation tower along the Pan-American highway with a view of three of the figures.
Iquitos is a unique city in that it is the largest city in the world inaccessible by roads, leaving planes and boats as the primary ways of entrance. However, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most popular places to visit in Peru. Because of its location on the banks of the Amazon River in northeastern Peru, Iquitos is the gateway to exploring the Amazon. There are several tour companies and boat operations that assist people in exploring the Peruvian Amazon. Some of the most popular attractions along the river include butterfly farms, animal orphanages and protected nature reserves.
As Peru’s capital and largest city, Lima is a sprawling metropolis constituting an architectural blend of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern infrastructure. The city was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and offers a rich history as well as exceptional food, a vibrant culture and lively nightlife. Lima’s historic district features the most interesting attractions with old churches, monasteries, Spanish palaces and one of the oldest universities in the Americas. Beaches at the north and south ends of the city are popular crowd-pullers, such as the popular Miraflores suburb that has an abundance of hotels and restaurants.
Once the heartland of the Inca Empire, The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a valley in the Andes, close to Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu. The valley was appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. The region contains numerous archaeological remains and villages including the Inca cities of Písac and Ollantaytambo.
One of Peru’s most visited cities, Arequipa is surrounded by three picturesque volcanoes in the country’s Southern Coastal region. Arequipa embodies a rich mix of the indigenous and Spanish colonial cultures. Examples of Spanish colonial architecture can be found throughout the center of the city. Among the most significant of these is the Santa Catalina Convent, which is often described as a city within a city because of its charming streets, colorful buildings and flowers. Arequipa is also the gateway to Peru’s most visited natural attraction, the Colca Canyon.
Often serving as a popular base to explore nearby famous ruins like Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Located in southeastern Peru, Cusco one of Peru’s most important tourist destinations. A city steeped in history, Cusco features many well-preserved buildings dating back to Inca and Spanish colonial times. The heart of the city is the main square, the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by restaurants, cafes and churches. Just outside the city limits is an important Inca site known as Sacsayhuaman, an enormous walled complex constructed of large limestone boulders.
As Peru’s most popular tourist attraction and one of the world’s most famous archaeological wonders, Machu Picchu is located 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Although this magnificent Inca site provokes more mysteries than facts, it is believed that Machu Picchu was first built around the middle of the 15th century as a military fortress then later used as an estate for Inca royalty. Visitors can explore Machu Picchu and see well-preserved buildings that include houses, temples, fountains and baths in addition to agricultural terraces and evidence of an irrigation system.