Peru is one of the great centers of ancient civilization. The Norte Chico civilization already flourished along the Pacific coast as early as 3,000 BC. Many other civilizations such as the Moche, Chavin, Chimú and Nazca would follow, leaving behind fascinating ruins and artifacts. The most famous ancient ruins in Peru were built by the sun-worshiping Incas who emerged in the 15th century and would form the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
You do not need to be a history buff to enjoy Peru however. Other popular tourist attractions in Peru are some great natural wonders. The Andes run the full length of the country, rising to almost 7,000 meters (23,000 feet), and separate the arid coastal strip from the lush Amazon rainforest providing a diverse range of travel experiences.
Located near Ica, Huacachina is a tiny oasis town surrounding a small natural lake and itself surrounded by towering sand dunes. Once a playground for the Peruvian elite, these days Huacachina mostly attracts international tourists. The big draw here is the opportunity to sand board and taking dune buggy rides on the sand dunes.
The vast adobe city of Chan Chan in Peru was the largest city in pre-Columbian America. It is estimated that around 30,000 people lived in the city. The centre of Chan Chan consists of several walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers and temples. The city was built by the Chimu around 850 AD and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in 1470 AD.
Read more: Chan Chan Guide
Located on the northern coast, Máncora is a small town featuring Peru’s best sandy beach, stretching for several kilometers along the Pacific. The town also boasts a large proportion of beach resorts, luxury restaurants and nightclubs for such a small town where the Pan-American Highway serves as the town’s main street. The consistently good waves makes Mancora a popular surfing destination while a raucous nightlife keeps visitors busy after the sun disappears.
According to some, the Peruvian Amazon jungle is a better adventure holiday destination than its Brazilian counterpart around Manaus, with basically the same wildlife but less spoilt and better value. Starting point to an Amazon boat tour in Peru is Iquitos, the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. That leaves planes and boats as the primary means of entrance and exit for both people and supplies.
Read more: Iquitos Guide
The Nazca Lines are located between the towns of Nazca and Palpa along the northern Pacific coast. Created between 200 BC and 700 AD the figures range from simple lines to stylized spiders, monkeys, fish, llamas, lizards and human figures. The lines were created on such a large scale that it wasn’t until the 1920′s, when Peruvian airlines started to fly from Lima to Arequipa, that they were recognized as figures. Hotels and 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.
Read more: Nazca Desert Guide
Founded on October 2, 1580, the Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa covers a walled area of 20,000 square meters with walls, streets, walkways, stairways and small squares. The monastery is predominantly of the Mudéjar style, and is characterized by the vividly painted walls. It is one of the most important monasteries of colonial Peru and Latin America.
Made of dried totora reeds, the artificial islands of the Uros are Lake Titicaca’s top tourist attraction. The lives of the Uros, a pre-Incan people, are interwoven with these reeds, which is a primary source of food and are also used to make their homes, their boats and even a reed flower tea. Reeds are added to the top of the islands constantly, about every three months, as they rot from the bottom, so the ground is always soft and springy.
The Plaza de Armas is the center of the historic section in Cuzco. The original plaza was built by the Incas and was known as the “square of the warrior”. Almost twice the current size, it functioned as the cultural center of Inca life. Cuzco, which was the capital of the Inca Empire, was designed in the shape of a Puma and the plaza was intentionally built at the location of the heart of the Puma, in the center of the city. The Spanish reduced the size of the plaza by building two Churches, the Cathedral and the Church of La Compañía.
Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River, in the Andes mountain range, in southern Peru. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but the canyon’s walls are less steep. The big attraction here, in addition to the awesome sights, are the Andean condors. The condors can be seen at fairly close range as they float on the rising thermals.
One of the most beautiful and impressive ancient sites in the world, Machu Picchu is the undisputable nr 1 among the top tourist attractions in Peru. The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from the Urubamba Valley below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs. Although known locally, Machu Picchu was largely unknown to the outside world before being rediscovered in 1911 by historian Hiram.
Read more: Machu Picchu Guide
More Peru tourist attractions can be found in the Explore Peru page.