Thinking of making the long journey across the Pacific Ocean to Peru to walk the Inca Trail, get a selfie with a llama, and lay eyes on the incredible mountain ruins of Machu Picchu? Well, before you get too far through booking your trip, you may want to take a moment to scout out where else you could go while you’re over there.
As special as the experience at Machu Picchu is, it’s just one of many available to tourists across South America’s third-largest country. A trip to Peru can take you from the mountains to the coast and deep into both desert and jungle; here are eight exciting places to visit in Peru that can make that happen.
8 places to visit in Peru
Although some may mistake Cusco as just the gateway to Machu Picchu, this city in the Andes is actually one of Peru’s most beautiful and entertaining. Picturesque scenery is never far away in Cusco, whether it’s the narrow streets of the San Blas neighbourhood or the architecture around Plaza de Armas.
Cusco also helps visitors dip into the culture of the Andes, from indulging in Peruvian cuisine at the San Pedro Market to learning about local culture and history at the Inca Museum. While Cusco serves as a convenient base for exploring ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, there are also Incan remains to be found right in the city, such as at Saqsaywaman and Qorikancha.
As Peru’s capital city, Lima generally finds its way onto most travellers’ itineraries. But it’s not just that Lima is the country’s largest city and a coastal destination free from the effects of altitude that make it worth visiting.
Lima is a cultural powerhouse thanks to institutions like the Larco Museum with its collection of pre-Columbian artefacts and historical sites such as Huaca Pucllana and Pachacamac that actually predate Machu Picchu.
What’s even more impressive is that Lima is regularly ranked one of the world’s best food destinations, with a wealth of Michelin-starred restaurants and ample opportunities for visitors to try typical Peruvian dishes like ceviche and lomo saltado.
Arequipa, nicknamed Peru’s “White City” thanks to the white sillar stone used everywhere, is the country’s second-largest city and a cultural gem. The entire historical centre of Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a pretty one at that, owing to its abundant colonial architecture and epic volcano backdrop.
As with other major cities in Peru, the main square of Plaza de Armas is where you’ll find many of Arequipa’s most beautiful buildings. A short walk away lies the Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena, a sprawling religious complex decked out in bold colours that is still home to nuns today.
Don’t miss the chance while in Arequipa to venture beyond its city limits either. The southern city is a perfect base for trips to see the condors of Colca Canyon soaring overhead and visit small villages and waterfalls among the surrounding mountains.
Famous among trivia fans for being the highest navigable body of water in the world and the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca is also quite a special destination in Peru. The highland lake is shared with neighbouring Bolivia and has the city of Puno as a convenient entry point.
While there’s a little to see in Puno — the odd colonial architecture and some wonderful viewpoints looking out over Lake Titicaca — the city isn’t the draw for tourists to the region.
No, what makes Lake Titicaca so interesting (on the Peruvian side) is the man-made reed islands of the Uros people. The Indigenous inhabitants here reside on over 100 floating islands out in the middle of the lake and allow visitors to experience their traditional and colourful way of life.
Peru is a country of many landscapes, not just mountains, and there’s no better example of that than the desert oasis of Huacachina outside the city of Ica. Social media has helped this tiny oasis village with its lagoon lined with palm trees gain widespread attention among tourists to become one of the most popular places to visit in Peru.
But a visit to Huacachina isn’t solely about relaxing at one of the bars that overlook the village’s scenic lagoon. The surrounding desert is essentially one big playground for adults, with buggy rides and sandboarding available to play among the dunes.
Huacachina is also conveniently close to Ica’s wealth of wineries, including ones where Peru’s national drink, pisco, is produced as well.
The Amazon is one of South America’s most enticing attractions, and to experience Peru’s corner of the rainforest, you’ll want to head to the gateway city of Iquitos. But visiting Iquitos comes with its challenges — this remote city in northeast Peru is inaccessible by road, meaning you either need to fly or travel down river to reach it.
Before leaving Iquitos for an Amazon adventure, jungle cruises are incredibly popular here, it’s worth allowing some time in the city to see how different this region is to the rest of the country.
Learn about this port city’s history at the Historical Ships Museum and explore the fascinating mix of products available at Belén Market. Or simply relax along the city’s Malecón riverfront at the strip of bars and restaurants there.
While travellers may have heard of pisco, Peru’s signature grape brandy used in pisco sours, many may not realise that the spirit is named after a port city on Peru’s coast. Found to the south of Lima, Pisco does offer plenty of chances to try its signature drink, but it also boasts beaches and coastal attractions.
For fun in the sun while in Pisco, head down the coast to the beaches of Paracas. Bordering this small beach town lies the Paracas National Reserve, a desert peninsula crammed full of beaches and cliffs to explore.
Complimenting the interesting geography of this region are the Ballestas Islands, found just off shore. These biodiverse islands are home to all kinds of birds and wildlife, including seals and Humboldt penguins.
Colourful and offering insights into another slice of Peru’s history, the seaside city of Trujillo makes for another excellent addition to a diverse Peru itinerary. Located far to the north of Lima, Trujillo is one of the oldest colonial cities in the country, which it flaunts with its vivid architecture.
The most famous attraction in this less-visited destination is the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Chan Chan, the ruins of a city belonging to the Chimú people. On the far side of the ruins lies the laidback resort village of Huanchaco, one of Peru’s most popular surfing spots.
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