Many a postcard features the mystical Inca city of Machu Picchu, making Peru a top contender for South America’s most popular travel destination. Although Peru is well-known for its ancient archaeological site and the Inca Trail, the country has much more to offer than just crumbling ruins.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Peru
See these pre-Columbian ruins and current, traditional cities along the Southern Peru Tourism Corridor at your own pace.
See the museums in Lima, relax in the hot springs at high altitude in Cusco, and fly over the incredible Nazca lines. The top tourist destinations in Peru are as follows.
1. Paracas National Reserve
Paracas National Reserve is a protected area of coastline in southern Peru, about 250 kilometres south of Lima, that is renowned for its spectacular landscapes, abundance of archaeological monuments, and lovely beaches and fauna. Within its boundaries are desert ecosystems at sea and on the shore, as well as a few dry, rocky islands.
Little coves and bays provide shallow, warm waters excellent for swimming, despite the fact that the ocean’s waves pound the cliffs and abandoned islands. In addition to being a great place to go sailing or windsurfing, the sheltered beaches here are perfect for unwinding.
Boat tours out to the Ballestas Islands are popular because of the abundance of sea life, including numerous species of birds, seals, and sea lions.
Most tourists that come to the Paracas Peninsula to see the Paracas National Reserve stay in the town of Paracas. Restaurants, cafes, and hotels abound, and tour companies may take you to the many ancient ruins scattered throughout the reserve.
2. Huascaran National Park
The massive Huascaran National Park in the Central Sierra area of Peru includes practically the entire Cordillera Blanca and is located high in the Andes. With its towering peaks and breathtaking beauty, the world’s tallest tropical mountain range is also home to an abundance of flora and fauna.
The park was established in 1975 and spans a large geographical area, within which are located several towering mountains. The park is named for Peru’s highest peak, Huascaran, which stands at an altitude of 6,768 metres.
The top portions of the range are speckled with more than 600 glittering glaciers, and the lower reaches are home to innumerable alpine lakes and roaring rivers. There is a wide variety of flora and animals in the Cordillera Blanca, and the region also features numerous archaeological sites.
The park is a great spot to go hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing because of the beautiful scenery and variety of sceneries. Wildlife viewing is very common, and seeing rare animals like pumas and spectacled bears is an exciting and life-changing opportunity.
Huacachina, located outside the city of Ica in the southwest of Peru, is a famous tourist destination due to its otherworldly setting amidst sand dunes. The tiny town appears out of nowhere, like a mirage, crowded around a hidden oasis with swaying palm palms and nothing but desert beyond.
Huacachina’s sand dunes are ideal for sandboarding, quad biking, and dune buggy rides, among other exciting outdoor pursuits. Climbing the shifting sand dunes for a bird’s-eye perspective of the area is a must, and the sunsets are especially breathtaking.
Swimming provides wonderful relief from the scorching heat, and lounging around the oasis and taking in the breathtaking surroundings is a lovely way to pass the time. Huacachina caters to visitors by providing a wide variety of lodging options, as well as eating establishments, nightlife venues, and stores.
In addition to its many exciting activities, Ica is also home to many excellent vineyards and bodega where you can try the local fare.
Trujillo, Peru, is a picturesque colonial city eight hours north of Lima known for its colourful Spanish houses, small churches, and kind residents. This very significant settlement was created in the 1500s adjacent to the abandoned Chan Chan ruins, the remnants of one of the major pre-Incan civilizations in ancient Peru, located not far from the Pacific Coast.
This Chimor mud city, the biggest adobe city in the Americas, formerly contained a number of religious buildings, burial grounds, and royal mansions within its spectacular once-walled remains.
Yet that’s not all of Trujillo’s fascinating past. Go back in time to the 19th century and see the world’s longest mosaic at the National University of Trujillo, one of South America’s major educational institutions.
Take in the stunning paintings at Huaca de la Luna (the Temple of the Moon), which tragically depict human sacrifice. Don’t forget the sunscreen; Huanchaco’s beaches are the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
5. Nazca Desert
This region of Peru’s generally dull desert is now on the map thanks to the mysterious Nazca lines, which cross the valleys of Palpa and Nazca. The Nazca Indians reportedly etched these massive writings of lines, animals, and geometric patterns into the sandy ground as part of a thousand-year-old holy route.
The Nazca Desert’s steady, dry, and windless climate has played a role in keeping the lines visible to this day. A flight over the Nazca lines is the greatest way to take in the sheer scale of these geometric patterns.
You can see three of the main figures from an observation tower along the Panamerican highway if you’re afraid of flying (it’s not cheap!) or if you just want to get a closer look. The Nazca channels, ancient aqueducts carved into the desert floor, are another fascinating Nazca feature. The desert’s cotton, potato, and fruit fields wouldn’t be able to survive without the network of underground channels that bring water to them.
Puno is a beautiful hillside port city that serves as the entry point to Lake Titicaca and the more than eighty-five Uros Floating Islands; boats leave the wharf every forty minutes. Far above the lakes and the chain of islands, Puno’s 3,800-meter altitude makes for a breathtaking backdrop.
Puno is a famous tourist destination because of its proximity to Bolivia and Chile, but it is also a more relaxed option to the posh lake islands that it overlooks. The lakeside market, for example, has far more reasonably priced items than the cities of Cusco and Lima.
The famed floating Uros islands are accessible from the dock with boats leaving every 40 minutes, making this the main draw. You may learn a lot about the Aymara and Quechua cultures there as well.
Among the most well-liked activities are stays with local families and visits to llama farms. Puno’s population is predominantly Andean, making for an intriguing blend of modern and Andean traditions, with many ladies still donning bright, traditional garb.
Lima, the nation’s capital and largest city, is home to an estimated 8.8 million inhabitants. Founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, the city is home to a wealth of historical sites, delicious cuisine, and fascinating cultural traditions.
There are slums that are both well-organized and chaotic, as well as trendy nightclubs and upmarket restaurants. For those interested in history, Lima’s fascinating Spanish-colonial churches, cloisters, and monasteries are a must-see.
Lima is an excellent place to visit if you enjoy seafood because of its proximity to the ocean. Seeing some of the city’s most traditional marketplaces and eateries on a Lima food tour is a terrific way to sample regional specialties like Ceviche.
Lima is a city full of surprises, whether you’re strolling through the historic centre of Lima Centro and its handmade markets or the more tourist-friendly green neighbourhood of Miraflores, which is bursting at the seams with antique shops and bars.
8. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon, in the Southern Sierra region, is a major draw for visitors to Peru. The second-deepest canyon in the world is nearly 70 kilometres long and is home to stunning landscapes and unique Andean culture and ecology.
Colca’s most outstanding aspect is not its size or scale, but rather the variety of its landscapes, which range from arid steppe and terraced hills to sheer cliffs and towering mountains. Views of Andean condors soaring over the 3,140-meter-deep canyon are magnificent no matter where you are.
The canyon is filled with archaeological sites and ruins, and the inhabitants still practise their ancient customs in the surrounding communities. Many tourists who visit Colca Canyon begin their journey in Chivay before making their way up the canyon’s picturesque rim, past sheer ravines and death-defying fall.
Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru and is at an altitude of 2,380 metres above sea level. It is dubbed the “White City” because the nearby mountains, particularly El Misti, are covered in a white volcanic rock known as sillar, which was used to construct the city’s structures.
Arequipa, unlike many other cities in Peru, does not boast any Incan settlements that have been discovered. The Mummy Juanita, or Lady of Ampato, the frozen body of a young Incan girl who was sacrificed to the gods in the 1400s, is the city’s most famous Inca sight.
She is now housed in the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries at the Catholic University of Santa Mara. The downtown area is littered with buildings that are reminiscent of Spain’s colonial era.
One of the most notable is the Santa Catalina Convent, which is like a miniature city with its own streets, buildings, and landscaping. The Puente Bolognesi is a stunning example of a bridge that serves as much as a visual treat as it does a historical one.
Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square, is a popular first stop for visitors due to its abundance of shops, restaurants, and historic churches. The colourful Colca Canyon, one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations, is easily accessible from Arequipa. The canyon is one of the deepest in the world, with a depth of 3,270 metres.
Cusco, originally the seat of the Incan Empire, is a vibrant city in the Southern Sierras. Archaeologically speaking, it is now the most important city in the Americas. Machu Picchu and the spectacular Sacred Valley of the Incas are both easily accessible from here, making this one of Peru’s most popular tourist spots.
The Plaza de Armas is the city’s central plaza and was constructed by the Spaniards on top of the foundations of ancient Incan temples and palaces. In addition to local vegetables and beverages, the sellers at the vibrant San Pedro Market also sell traditional Quechua goods including alpaca textiles, painted pottery, ceramics, and Peruvian dolls.
Sacsayhuaman, located on the outskirts of the city, is a massive walled complex made of big limestone stones and a significant Inca site. The site’s precise alignment with the yearly solstices and its resilience to earthquakes make it a remarkable feat of ancient engineering.
It is the cultural epicentre of the Andean Quechua people, and the surrounding mountains are crisscrossed with hiking trails and thermal springs. Colonial buildings, artisan markets, museums, boutique hotels, and art galleries create a timeless atmosphere throughout the city.
It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to acclimatise to the altitude in Cusco before you visit, as the city is 3,400 metres above sea level.