The South American nation of Peru has cemented itself as one of the continent’s staple destinations for adventurous travellers. Visitors come from all over the world to cross the ancient city of Machu Picchu off their bucket list, and which remains the highlight of a trip to this incredible country. In 2000, the site was deservedly named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, there is so much more to explore, so read on to discover the five best places to visit in Peru!
1. Machu Picchu
Of course, there’s only one place to start: Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incan Empire. This jaw-dropping citadel was once the private estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti. The site lay hidden for centuries after being abandoned during the Spanish conquest of Peru in the mid-1550s.
The invaders never discovered Machu Picchu due its location high up in the mountains. Sadly, many Incan cities and monuments were destroyed, so the fact that this astounding piece of history has been preserved is incredible. In 1911, Machu Picchu was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer. Nowadays, it is an easily accessible travel destination, with constant restoration helping to return the site to its former glory.
Some visitors choose to hike to the site via numerous trekking options, the most famous of which is, of course, the Inca Trail itself. Trekking along this ancient path between soaring mountains to reach the secret city is the stuff of travel legends.
Alternatively, you can travel by train or coach to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the ruins. It’s important to consider your fitness level and hiking ability, as well as the issue of altitude sickness. Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Peru and is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who visit.
2. Lake Titicaca
Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca stands out as a showstopper despite Peru’s extraordinary range of natural gems. In fact, the Incas believed that it was the birthplace of the sun.
Not only is Titicaca the largest lake in South America, but it is also the highest navigable lake in the entire world. Situated at around 12,500ft above sea level, this only adds to the allure of the lake. The stunning surrounding scenery and fascinating local communities also make this one of the top places to visit in Peru.
The inhabitants of Taquile island still live their lives according to the Inca moral code and speak the indigenous language of southern Quechua. Perhaps even more fascinating are the Uros islands and the people who reside there. The Uros build their islands entirely from the totora reeds which grow around the lake.
Both of these indigenous groups welcome visitors to their islands, where you can observe their way of life and purchase handcrafted wares from local vendors. If you want to experience both Peru’s most dramatic scenery and one of it’s cultural hotspots, then look no further.
3. Amazon Rainforest
When talking about the Amazon Rainforest, most people automatically think of Brazil. However, this mighty jungle stretches across a total of nine countries, and around 302,000 square miles of rainforest fall within Peru’s borders. Moreover, Peru is the only South American country where you can experience each of the rainforest’s different forms. In fact, Peru is where the Amazon gets its start in life, winding its way down from Carhuasanta through the Andes mountains and into the Amazon basin on the other side.
The Peruvian part of the Amazon jungle is possibly the most diverse and prolific section of all. In fact, this rainforest is home to the most complex and biodiverse ecosystem on Earth, with countless iconic species inhabiting the jungle. Peru’s Manu National Park is actually one of the most bio-diverse areas in the whole world, boasting at least 1,000 birds and over 200 mammal species.
Therefore, the Amazon is one of the best places to visit in Peru for nature lovers. From cute capybara to the elusive jaguar, and the gorgeous pink river dolphin to the snapping caiman crocodile, visitors to the rainforest are sure to embrace the awe-inspiring wildlife here.
Peru’s capital city is a sprawling metropolis of almost 9 million people. It offers snippets of history, exceptional food, and a great sense of culture. You’ll notice the contrast between modern buildings and more traditional architecture, including plenty of colonial influences. History buffs will particularly enjoy the intriguing churches, cloisters, and monasteries left behind by the Spaniards who ruled Peru for three centuries.
Lima is also a great foodie destination, especially for seafood lovers, due to the city’s proximity to the coast. A Lima food tour is an ideal option for tasting your way through the city’s authentic Peruvian delights such as Ceviche. Visiting some of the most authentic markets and restaurants in the city will have your taste buds tingling!
Lima’s charms are often overlooked in favour of other towns like Cusco and Arequipa, as travellers find themselves drawn to these hubs which provide gateways to notorious hotspots like Machu Picchu. Though it lacks the extensive history and culture found elsewhere in Peru, the “City of Kings” is still worth visiting if you’re travelling through the country.
Lima is more modern than much of Peru and is a great way to end any visit to the country, with fancy hotels and restaurants in good supply as well as a thriving nightlife scene. Take a free walking tour of the UNESCO-listed town and check out the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, which takes place at around 11:45am each morning.
In the surrounding area, you can visit South America’s deepest cave, or head to the pretty Miraflores neighbourhood for views of the Pacific Coast. Additionally, Lunahuana offers activities such as white water rafting or wine tasting in the area’s vineyards. There’s something for everyone in Lima!
Whilst Lima is the official capital city of Peru, Cusco does boast the better history and culture, largely due to its identity as the former capital of the Inca Empire. A Boleto Turistico del Cusco pass gives access to 15 key historic sites, from the ruins of Koricancha to the amusingly named Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy woman”).
With Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail just over the hills, most travellers are tempted to get out of Cusco as soon as possible. But for the patient visitor prepared to extend their stay by a day or two, this stunning colonial city reveals even more of its charms.
Other attractions include the stunning Plaza Armas in the heart of the city. Home to Cusco Cathedral, the square is always a hubbub of activity, with plenty of shops and cafes lining the edges. You’ll also want to visit the lively San Pedro Market and wander around the San Blas neighbourhood, an artisan quarter with an array of lovely galleries and boutiques.
In addition to this, visit the Museo del Pisco to attend cocktail classes and learn how to make the famous Peruvian cocktail, pisco sour. Lastly, head out of town to explore the culture and landscapes of the Sacred Valley.
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