Peru, a country rich in history and natural beauty, offers travelers a plethora of experiences beyond the iconic Machu Picchu.
From ancient ruins to vibrant cities and breathtaking landscapes, Peru has something for everyone.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best places to visit in Peru, showcasing the hidden gems that often go unnoticed. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the wonders of Peru.
1. Chachapoyas: The Gateway to Natural Splendor
Nestled high amid the mountains, Chachapoyas is the capital of Amazonas and serves as a gateway to stunning natural landscapes and archaeological wonders.
Founded by the Spanish in 1538, this small city boasts interesting monuments and colonial buildings. The main plaza is bustling with restaurants, hotels, and tour operators, making it a convenient base for exploration.
From Chachapoyas, you can embark on extraordinary adventures to sites such as the distinctive sarcophagi of Karajia and the ancient stone city of Kuelap, the largest pre-Inca ruins in South America.
The surrounding mountains, valleys, and forests are home to diverse flora and fauna, including vibrant bird species. Don’t miss the majestic Gocta Cataracts, a towering waterfall over 700 meters in height.
Hiking and trekking enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to explore the region’s superb landscapes.
2. Paracas National Reserve: Where Nature Meets Archaeology
Situated along Peru’s southern coastline, Paracas National Reserve is renowned for its dramatic scenery, archaeological sites, beautiful beaches, and diverse wildlife.
This coastal desert ecosystem encompasses marine and desert landscapes, as well as two arid rocky islands.
While the rugged cliffs and deserted isles are pounded by fierce ocean waves, the tranquil coves and bays offer warm, shallow waters ideal for swimming.
The sheltered beaches are perfect for relaxation, and activities like sailing and windsurfing are popular among visitors.
A boat trip to the Ballestas Islands is a must-do, where you can witness spectacular rock formations and encounter a variety of seabirds, seals, and sea lions.
The town of Paracas, located on the Paracas Peninsula, provides a convenient base for exploring the reserve and its ancient archaeological sites.
3. Chan Chan: A Glimpse into the Past
Just outside the city of Trujillo, in northwest Peru, lies Chan Chan, one of the most extensive and impressive archaeological sites in the country. This ancient city, built by the Chimu Empire around AD 850, is situated at the mouth of the Moche Valley, surrounded by a desolate and arid landscape.
Although the city is predominantly made of adobe, many remarkable features and carvings have survived the test of time.
Among the sprawling ruins, you can find ten royal compounds, including ceremonial halls, burial chambers, and palaces. The Palacio Nik An, partially restored and open to visitors, showcases exquisite geometric designs and marine motifs.
Visiting Chan Chan offers a fascinating glimpse into the grandeur of the ancient Chimu civilization and their architectural achievements.
4. Huascaran National Park: A Paradise for Nature Enthusiasts
Located in the Central Sierra region of Peru, Huascaran National Park is a vast expanse of breathtaking beauty, encompassing the entire Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world.
Established in 1975, this park is home to towering peaks, glistening glaciers, alpine lakes, and roaring rivers.
Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak at 6,768 meters, stands tall amid the park’s sweeping valleys and steep slopes. The region’s diverse ecosystems support a wide array of fauna and flora, including rare and endangered species like the spectacled bear and the elusive puma.
Adventure seekers will find endless opportunities for trekking, mountain climbing, skiing, and wildlife watching. Immerse yourself in the splendor of nature as you explore this magnificent park.
5. Huacachina: Oasis in the Desert
Located near the city of Ica, Huacachina is a surreal and picturesque oasis surrounded by towering sand dunes. Emerging from the desert like a mirage, this small settlement is centered around a secluded lagoon, fringed by palm trees and pristine sand.
Huacachina’s unique setting makes it an ideal destination for outdoor activities such as sandboarding, quad biking, and dune buggy rides.
Climbing to the top of the dunes offers breathtaking views, especially during sunset. You can also relax by the oasis, swim in its refreshing waters, and sample delicious local produce at the nearby wineries in Ica.
Indulge in the adventure and tranquility that Huacachina has to offer, creating unforgettable memories in this desert paradise.
6. Mancora: Sun, Sand, and Surf
Considered one of the most popular beach destinations on the northern Peruvian coast, Mancora is a vibrant and trendy summer getaway. Stretching for kilometers along the Costanera Norte, this slice of sandy coastline basks in the sun, attracting tourists from around the world.
Mancora offers a diverse range of accommodations, from backpacker hostels to luxurious beach resorts. The main street is lined with beach bars, seafood restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene.
While lazy beach days are the norm in Mancora, surfing enthusiasts can ride the warm waves, and nature lovers can spot dolphins and whales frolicking in the ocean.
For a unique experience, visit El Nuro to swim with turtles or unwind in the hot springs of Poza de Barro.
Indulge in the laid-back atmosphere and vibrant energy of Mancora, making the most of its stunning beaches and exciting activities.
7. Trujillo: Colonial Charm and Ancient Ruins
Trujillo, nestled within a lush valley, is a city renowned for its colonial architecture, colorful Spanish mansions, and rich history. Located eight hours north of Lima, Trujillo offers a photogenic colonial center filled with quaint churches, vibrant beach bars, and friendly locals.
Trujillo’s proximity to the abandoned Chan Chan ruins, the largest adobe city in the Americas, adds to its allure.
Explore the impressive archaeological site, which includes religious temples, burial grounds, and royal residences. The Huaca de la Luna, adorned with incredible murals showcasing ancient rituals, is another must-visit attraction.
For a relaxing break, head to Huanchaco, a nearby resort town with beautiful beaches. Immerse yourself in Trujillo’s captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
8. Nazca Desert: Mysteries in the Sand
The Nazca Desert, known for its enigmatic Nazca lines, captivates visitors with its ancient geoglyphs and intriguing history.
These enormous etchings of lines, animals, and geometric patterns were created by the Nazca people over a thousand years ago.
To fully appreciate the magnitude of these extraordinary designs, take a flight over the Nazca lines. If flying is not your preference, an observation tower along the Panamerican highway provides a viewing platform to observe three of the main figures.
The desert also offers a glimpse into the ancient Nazca civilization through its intricate aqueducts known as the Nazca channels. These underground channels sustain cotton, potato, and fruit plantations in the otherwise inhospitable desert.
Explore the wonders of the Nazca Desert, marveling at the mysteries etched into its sandy terrain.
9. Iquitos: Gateway to the Peruvian Amazon
Iquitos, the capital of the Loreto region, is a city like no other. Situated in the northern reaches of the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos can only be reached by air or boat, adding an element of adventure to your journey.
This remote city seamlessly blends traditional and modern architecture. Wooden huts built on riverside stilts coexist with historic structures in the central plaza.
Explore the Belen floating market, where locals trade everything from bananas to crocodile meat. For unique souvenirs, visit the San Juan crafts market.
Iquitos serves as a gateway to the dense Amazon jungle, offering an authentic experience amid the lush wilderness.
Embark on boat trips along the Amazon River to spot monkeys, alligators, and even the elusive anacondas. A visit to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, near Lagunas, promises encounters with rare Amazonian wildlife.
Immerse yourself in the captivating beauty and rich biodiversity of the Peruvian Amazon in Iquitos.
10. Puno: Gateway to Lake Titicaca
Puno, a picturesque hillside port city, serves as the gateway to Lake Titicaca and its enchanting Uros Floating Islands. Located at an elevation of 3,800 meters, Puno offers breathtaking views of the lake and its island chain.
Puno is a popular tourist destination due to its convenient access to neighboring Bolivia and Chile. However, it maintains a laid-back charm and provides a more affordable alternative to the upmarket lake islands.
The lakeside market offers a variety of souvenirs at lower prices compared to other cities.
The highlight of Puno is undoubtedly the Uros Floating Islands, where boats depart regularly from the dock. Immerse yourself in the Aymara and Quechua cultures as you explore the islands, interact with the local communities, and learn about their traditional way of life.
Puno’s unique blend of modern and Andean traditions makes it a fascinating destination for cultural immersion.
11. Lima: The Vibrant Capital of Peru
As Peru’s capital and largest city, Lima is a vibrant metropolis that offers a diverse range of experiences. Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, Lima boasts a rich history, exceptional cuisine, and a thriving cultural scene.
The historic center of Lima, known as Lima Centro, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and showcases impressive Spanish colonial churches, monasteries, and cloisters.
Explore the lively craft markets and antique shops of Miraflores or indulge in a Lima food tour to savor the city’s renowned culinary delights, such as ceviche.
Lima’s coastal location makes it a haven for seafood lovers, with numerous restaurants offering fresh and flavorful dishes. The city is also a gateway to nearby attractions, including the ancient city of Caral, the oldest civilization in the Americas.
Discover the captivating blend of history, culture, and gastronomy that Lima has to offer.
12. Colca Canyon: Nature’s Grand Canyon
Colca Canyon, one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations, is a natural wonder that rivals the grandeur of the famous Grand Canyon. Spanning over 70 kilometers, this second-deepest canyon in the world offers breathtaking scenery, Andean culture, and natural wonders.
The diverse landscapes within Colca Canyon range from barren steppe and stepped terraces to steep cliffs and snow-capped peaks.
The canyon is home to astonishingly deep ravines and an abundance of archaeological sites. Local villages and towns maintain their ancestral traditions, providing an authentic glimpse into Andean culture.
Start your adventure in Chivay, the gateway to Colca Canyon, and trek along the scenic rim. Marvel at the awe-inspiring landscapes, spot majestic Andean condors soaring above the depths of the canyon, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the region.
13. The Sacred Valley of the Incas: A Journey Through Ancient Ruins
Once the heartland of the Inca Empire, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is a breathtaking valley near Cusco that offers a treasure trove of ancient ruins and vibrant culture.
This scenic valley, nestled in the Andes, is home to picturesque colonial towns, remote villages, colorful markets, and fascinating Inca sites.
Travel through the terraced hills above Pisac, where you can explore ancient ruins and visit the village’s famous artisanal market.
Discover the wonders of Choquequirao, an uncrowded Inca site often referred to as a rival to Machu Picchu. Experience the rich traditions and customs of the Andean communities that call this valley home.
Immerse yourself in the mystical atmosphere of the Sacred Valley and be transported back in time to the glory days of the Inca civilization.
14. The Inca Trail: A Trek to the Lost City
The Inca Trail is one of the most famous treks in the world, offering a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the mythical Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
Following the ancient stone paths and trails laid down by the Incas, this trek takes around four days to complete.
As you hike through diverse ecosystems and landscapes, you will pass by stepped terraces, alpine tundra, and cloud forests.
The trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, with opportunities to explore ancient ruins along the way.
Due to its popularity, booking with a tour operator is essential. Choose from different routes that vary in distance and elevation, and embark on an unforgettable adventure in the footsteps of the Incas.
15. Arequipa: The White City
Known as the “White City,” Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Surrounded by volcanoes, including the majestic El Misti, Arequipa boasts stunning colonial architecture built from white volcanic rock called sillar.
Explore the city’s historic center, filled with colorful Spanish mansions, beautiful churches, and a vibrant central plaza.
Visit the Santa Catalina Convent, a city within a city, with its charming streets, colorful buildings, and picturesque courtyards. Take in the views from the Puente Bolognesi, a historic bridge offering panoramic vistas.
Arequipa is also the starting point for adventures in the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. Immerse yourself in the rich culture and natural beauty of Arequipa, a city that seamlessly blends history and modernity.
16. Cusco: The Archaeological Capital of the Americas
Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, is a city steeped in history and surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. Known as the archaeological capital of the Americas, Cusco offers a blend of Inca ruins, Spanish colonial architecture, and vibrant culture.
Explore the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its impressive churches, craft markets, and museums.
Discover Sacsayhuaman, an ancient walled complex built from colossal limestone boulders. Immerse yourself in the city’s bustling streets, filled with boutique hotels, art galleries, and traditional shops.
Cusco serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu, the legendary Lost City of the Incas. Embark on the Inca Trail or choose alternative routes to reach this iconic archaeological site.
Witness the grandeur of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate or climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for a panoramic view.
Let the mystique of Cusco enchant you as you delve into its rich history and explore its captivating surroundings.
Conclusion: Unveiling Peru’s Hidden Treasures
Peru is a country of wonders, with each region offering its own unique blend of history, nature, and culture.
From the remote Chachapoyas to the vibrant city of Lima, from the mystical Nazca Desert to the ancient ruins of Chan Chan, Peru is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.
Whether you choose to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, immerse yourself in the biodiversity of the Amazon in Iquitos, or discover the hidden gems of Peru’s southern coast, each destination promises unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime.
So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and set out on an adventure to discover the best places to visit in Peru.
Let the rich tapestry of Peruvian history, culture, and natural beauty unravel before your eyes. Peru awaits, ready to captivate your heart and soul.