Ever wondered where to travel in Peru? Curious about what there is to see and do in Peru, besides Machu Picchu? Read on to find out all about the highlights of Peru in this Essential Peru Travel Guide.
First Stop: Lima
For the lion’s share of travelers to Peru, Lima is the first stop. The capital of Peru, this sprawling metropolis is home to over 9 million people. The most highly frequented area is the neighborhood of Miraflores, which lies adjacent to the Costa Verde. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Costa Verde is a verdant playground for surfers, joggers, and couples out for a stroll. You’ll find great restaurants and shopping near Larcomar, Parke Kennedy, and Ovalo Miraflores.
After you’ve explored the Miraflores district, head to the El Centro historic district, which seems like a blast from the colonial past. The Plaza de Armas is painted in vibrant yellow, with wooden balconies and a stone fountain still in place since the colonial era. You may want to have a Peru travel guide show you all the important museums, churches, and colonial mansions in this area. Grab a drink and dinner in Plaza San Martin, just a short walk along the pedestrian street Avenida Jr de la Union.
There are plenty of excellent museums in Lima as well, such as the Museum of Gold, the Inquisition Museum, and the National Museum.
Next Stop: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Cusco is located in south-central Peru, about a 2.5 hour flight from Lima (don’t take the grueling bus ride over the mountains). Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, and now is the hub for travelers going to and coming from Machu Picchu. The city has a strange mix of modern, colonial, and Inca architecture. Before you head out from your Cusco hotel to go strolling in search of Inca architecture or an authentic Peruvian meal, make sure to acclimatize. The city is located over 11,000 feet, so take it easy on your first day there. If you’re worried about altitude sickness, you can spend the first night in the Sacred Valley instead, which is at a much lower altitude.
After you’ve taken a Cusco city tour and explore the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, visit the ruins of the Sacred Valley, which is the river valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Covered with small farming villages, Inca ruins, and Inca trails, the Sacred Valley is a great place to learn more about the Inca Empire and the fascinating history of Peru. Make sure to visit the ruins of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo. This Peru travel guide only mentions these sites in passing, but you should definitely research these more to prepare for your trip. One recommended source is the classic travel book Exploring Cusco, by Peter Frost.
Next Stop: Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an Inca city of stone built atop a mountain deep in the cloud forest of Peru. Because of its remote location, the Spanish never found it, and few people knew about it in the ensuing centuries. It wasn’t until 1911, when Hiram Bingham uncovered Machu Picchu, did the city find national fame. Because Machu Picchu was hidden underneath thick jungle vegetation for so many centuries, and only a few farmers knew about the land, this Inca city is the best-preserved work of Inca architecture. All other Inca stonework was razed by the Spanish, notably Sacsayhuaman.
Make sure to visit as early as possible in the morning, when the fog is just lifting and there are fewer visitors. Walk through the ruins and marvel at the incredibly preserved stonework and the steep agricultural terraces. A Peru travel guide can show you around all the major sites in Machu Picchu, and should be able to answer your questions about Inca history. If you purchase a ticket in advance, you can also hike to Huaynu Picchu, the mountain above Machu Picchu, which is a 2-3 hour hike that gives you a great view of Machu Picchu.
You can get meals in the Sanctuary Lodge, or in the town of Aguas Calientes. Take the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and spent the night there or go straight to the entrance of Machu Picchu. It’s ideal to arrive at Machu Picchu in the morning, but if you can’t, try to arrange your trip so that you can be there at sunset.
Beyond the Lima-Cusco-Machu Picchu route, there are several great destinations to visit in Peru. The southern coast of Peru offers great seafood, beach resorts, and beautiful scenery. Visit Ica and go winetasting, visit Paracas Bay and see the Ballestas Islands, or continue into the desert of Nazca to see the Nazca Lines.
Another great destination in Arequipa, where you can see a beautiful colonial city situated next to the El Misti volcano. Nearby is the Colca Canyon, the largest canyon on earth. There are hiking trails, several small farming villages with steep agricultural terraces, and lookout points where you can watch huge Andean condors soar in the canyon. Continue south to the border of Bolivia to see the beautiful Lake Titicaca. This lake is home to the Uros floating islands and many indigenous people who actually live on these reed islands. Stay in a hotel on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and then take a boat cruise of the lake or a catamaran cruise to the Bolivian border.
In the north of Peru, there are more archeological highlights to see. Trujillo, Chiclayo, and Cajamarca, and Kuelap are all important places to visit if you are interested in seeing the highlights of Peruvian archaeology. Excavations in the 1980s and 1990s near Trujillo and Chiclayo revealed the royal tombs of Sipan and Sican, Chan Chan, and artifacts from the Moche people.
This Peru travel guide highlights some of the most popular and highly frequented travel destinations in Peru, but there are more!
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This essential Peru travel guide is written by a Peru travel expert at SouthAmerica.travel. After living in Lima for a year and traveling around much of the country, Kaitlin loves to share her knowledge and passion about Peru travel.