When it comes to discovering the history, culture, and natural features of South America, one country in particular offers all three and so much more. Located on the west coast of the continent, the country of Peru provides you with a wide diversity of landscapes to explore, cultural influences to experience, and activities to keep you busy or allow you to sit back and relax.
The biodiversity of Peru is astounding, featuring Amazon rainforests, Andean highlands, and coastal beaches. Famous and not-so-famous archeological sites span the country, including the stunning Machu Picchu, and provide unique opportunities to go outside your own comfort zone and explore some of the top tourist attractions in South America.
When you’re ready to start planning your itinerary, consider adding these 11 top-rated Peru tourist attractions.
Spend time exploring the historic district of Peru’s capital city of Lima. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic center is a beautiful and intriguing site to wander as you learn about its many secrets. Admire architectural wonders, cozy plazas, and astonishing interior design. Founded in the 1500s, the city has gone through natural disasters which have affected the buildings, but, fortunately, many of these have been restored or rebuilt. Tour the inside of the cathedral, with its vaulted ceiling, baroque furnishings, and checkerboard flooring. Other sites not to miss include the Casa del Oidor, Archbishop’s Palace, and the Government Palace.
Perhaps the most popular of the Peru attractions to visit is Machu Picchu. Listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is known as the Incas’ ancient ceremonial center. Located high up above the Urubamba River, the complex set of ruins provides a dramatic setting against the lush mountain sides. Getting here will take time and planning, starting with a train ride from Cusco, Urubamba, or Ollantaytambo to the small village of Aguas Calientes. From there, you will take a bus up to the ruins. You may also want to consider a one to four-day hike on the Inca Trail, which leads you into Machu Picchu for a rare experience.
Enjoy another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the historical city of Cusco. The quaint city center provides the feel of a village, with the Plaza de Armas main square as the gathering place for restaurants, shops, and tours. Admire the colonial buildings, whose foundations are built from ancient Inca ruins. Walk along narrow roads, and explore impressive buildings, including the Cathedral, La Compania, and church of Santo Domingo.
Explore the Inca ruins found in this fertile valley and spend time in colorful towns and markets along the way. The Incas revered the location of the valley for its unique climate and geography, including its fertile soils for growing what they needed. Located in the Peruvian Andean highlands, the Sacred Valley includes such Peru must see sights as the Pisac Ruins and its Sunday Market, the fortress at Ollantaytambo, and salt mines in Maras.
Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, is one of the top Peru attractions you’ll want to visit. If heading there on a sunny day, you’ll see sparkling blue water surrounded by the greenery of rolling hills. Small traditional villages dot the shoreline for a glimpse at true Peruvian culture. Climb aboard one of the boat tours for views of the various islands on the lake, including the Uros Floating Islands, a set of man-made islands constructed out of the local totora reeds. Other islands to visit include Isla Amantani and Isla Taquile.
Visit what is often considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of South America. Arequipa sits amid snow-capped mountains and provides a cozy locale to stay for a day or two. Its historic center received the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. Throughout, you will find architecture constructed out of a volcanic rock called sillar stone. Sillar Stone radiates its color when in direct sunlight and, as a result, gives rise to the city’s nickname of the “white city” of Peru.
Prepare yourself for an overwhelming sight as you near the Cañon del Colca, or Colca Canyon. Twice the overall depth of the Grand Canyon, this canyon descends down to 3,400 meters to a winding river at its base. Admire the stone terracing among the canyon walls, dating back to AD 800. You can also enjoy exploring the surrounding areas, which include hot springs, villages, and Inca ruins. Bring your binoculars and camera as this is one of the best places to catch a sight of Andean condors and the giant hummingbird.
South of the capital city of Lima, you’ll find the Nazca desert. What is famous here is the mysterious Nazca Lines. Throughout the desert, these lines and drawings are visible only from the air and include the Monkey, the Spider, the Condor, the Dog, the Hummingbird, the Small Lizard, and the Astronaut. In all, there are some 70 animal and plant drawings in the desert, along with geometrical shapes and various lines. Thought to be created somewhere between 900 BC and AD 600, debate continues as to their origin and reason for creation. Book your tour flight before arriving, or try your luck with one of the first-come, first-serve offerings.
Experience the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest at the Reserva Nacional Tambopata near Puerto Maldonado, a short flight from Cusco. Situated in one of the more biodiverse areas of Peru, the reserve covers over 740,000 acres and is home to endangered species as well as native communities. Here you will glimpse monkeys, caimans, capybara, turtles, parrots, and various other wildlife. One way to experience the reserve is to stay in a jungle lodge for a few days or longer and immerse yourself in its surroundings.
Enter into the cloud forest region of Peru by way of the city of Chachapoyas. Long before the Incas, distinctive cultures lived and thrived here and left behind the unique site of Kuélap. This imposing stone fortress features 20-meter-high walls and is an impressive structure to admire and explore. Less visited by crowds of tourists than many other top Peru sights, the fortress offers space to explore without the need to rush.
When looking for a break from exploring ancient ruins, rainforests, and various natural attractions, enjoy a few days in the Miraflores District of Lima. Consisting of upscale accommodations, shopping, and world-class restaurants, here you’ll see how modern-day Peruvians live. You can also roam through the Amano Pre-Columbian Textile Museum or the Ricardo Palma Museum located in the writer’s former home. For an additional treat, take in a show at The Centro Cultural PUCP, an art-house cinema and theater in the nearby district of San Isidro.
There you have it, the top 11 Peru attractions to visit on your next trip to South America. Whether you wish to enjoy the incredible natural sites, immerse yourself in the culture of Peru, or explore ancient and mysterious archeological sites, a trip to this South American country and its must-see attractions will remain one of your favorite vacations ever.
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