Once the capital of the Incas, Cusco’s old town displays spectacular colonial architecture as well as ancient Inca palaces. You’ll find cobblestone plazas, white-washed walls and terracotta-tiled roofs, colourful markets and museums all with beautiful mountain scenery as a backdrop. Despite increasing visitor numbers, Cusco remains relatively unspoiled and its beauty and ancient atmosphere remain very tangible today.
2. Sacred Valley
Deep in the Urubamba Valley, the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu formed the heart of the Incan Empire and still today carry many signs of this ancient civilisation. The township of Pisac is an important archaeological centre. The impressive Pisac archaeological sites and the lively market are must sees in Pisac. The fascinating archaeological sites of Ollantaytambo also give a wonderful insight to the Inca Empire. Built by the Incas, the site forms a fortress that can only be entered by a steep stone staircase. The entire town still has its original Inca-built stone walls, narrow streets and water system (flowing down a central channel cut in every street). In Ollantaytambo, you get a good look at the Inca's best-known skill - dry masonry. It took astounding craftsmanship to fit the huge blocks of stone together so precisely that, even after centuries of earthquakes, a knife cannot be slipped into the seams.
3. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, at an elevation of 2,450 metres (much lower than nearby Cusco), has the most spectacular setting of any ruin in the world - even those who aren't normally excited by archaeology will be impressed. Machu Picchu sits on the spine of a ridge 610 metres above the rushing Urubamba River. Capping the end of the ridge is Huayna Picchu, a soaring peak that offers a challenging climb and a bird's-eye view of the complex as a reward. Machu Picchu's grassy central court is surrounded by almost 200 houses, palaces and temples built from perfectly fitted stone blocks. Especially notable are the Temple of the Sun (the only round building), the Temple of the Three Windows (trapezoidal openings), the Sacristy (full of mysterious niches) and the Intihuatana (Hitching Post of the Sun).
If you like a bit of adventure, the best way to get to Machu Picchu is by hiking the incredible Inca Trail (or at least part of it!). This is an option on many of our Peru tours and will provide you with some amazing views along the way.
The City of Kings, Peru's capital city of Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 on 18 January, on the Epiphany (Feast of the Kings). It was designed to be a purely Spanish city in a conquered territory, but it has turned out to be a rather patched-together place - especially after 472 years of earthquakes.
Lima has 54 museums, including the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, showcasing pottery, textiles and stone figures from all of Peru's past cultures; the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera with over 55,000 ceramic works, including erotic pre-Columbian pottery and the Gold Museum.
5. Amazon Rainforest
Roughly 60% of Peru's surface area is covered by the Amazon, which means there is so much to see! Split into regions, if you're looking to see the real Amazon river, rather than just a tributary, you should head to the northern region. The central region is one of the lesser visited areas, but it's here that you would find the Chanchamayo valley and many protected forest areas that are perfect for birdwatching.
The southern region, also known as Madre de Dios, is easily accessed from Cusco, making it one of the more popular tourist areas. The town of Puerto Maldonado is situated at the confluence of the mighty Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers and is a bustling, booming tropical frontier town. Birdlife abounds here so watch out for Jabiru storks, kingfishers, swallows and flycatchers (and many others)!
Sparkling in the sun, Arequipa is called the White City because of the sillar, a white volcanic stone that makes up its buildings, both modern as well as Spanish colonial. Peru's second-largest city sits surrounded by towering mountains, including the 5,800 metre volcano El Misti. The city itself is the home of the monastery of La Recoleta (with a museum and library) and several interesting churches, but its highlight is the Santa Catalina Convent. Built in the late 16th century (but closed to the public until 1970), the convent was a self-contained community, a place where nuns could worship and live in total isolation. Walk through the well-preserved convent, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and discover the tiny, secluded plazas and lovely courtyards within. Taking a stroll in Arequipa is like walking through a living museum with around 250 significant historic and colonial buildings in the town centre alone.
7. Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, reaching a depth of more than 3,400 metres. The region takes its name from the mud and stone granaries or ‘qoiqas’ (colcas) which have been built into cliffs and caves throughout the valley as the cool, dry climate makes an ideal ‘refrigerated’ storage for crops and seeds. Evidence of the Inca’s who arrived in the 14th century is still present in the irrigation channels, terraces and stonework that can be seen at some of the archaeological sites. Most of the valley towns began in the 16th century during the Spanish conquest and many have changed little in the last 400 odd years. The Colca Canyon is also one of the best places in South America to view Andean Condors, the largest flying bird in the world.
8. Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. Around the shoreline and islands on the lake, there are towns and villages where local communities keep their culture and ancestral traditions alive. The reed boats made by the indigenous people and many of their ceremonies are popular sights for tourists. The average depth is 105 metres with the deepest point at 283 metres. Legend has it that the Inca Dynasty began in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, when Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerged from the lake.
South of Lima, Paracas is a beach town close to the incredible Nazca Lines and is also a gateway to the stunning Ballestas Islands. On the mainland you can visit the incredible Paracas National Reserve, covering 827,450 acres! The nearby Ballestas Islands are home to many species of birds, including the Humboldt penguin, and if you take a boat cruise here you'll have the opportunity to view the famous Candelabro, a geoglyph found in Pisco Bay.
10. Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs gouged in the rocky surface of the Nazca Desert, best appreciated from the air. It is believed that the drawings come from the Nazca people between 500BC and 500AD, and have survived due to the almost complete lack of rain, wind and erosion in the area.
The Peru Tourism website is a great resource for anyone considering a trip to this vibrant South American nation.