The most important thing is to bring your adventurous spirit, an open mind, and a desire to experience some very unique cultures. Cusco, considered by the Incas to be the “Navel of the World“, has become a South American gringo hangout thanks to easy access to close Machu Picchu and buzzing nightlife. Not far away is the magical Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of Inca myths.
The Peruvian coastline invites for a visit of the giant figures etched on the desert by the Nazca civilization while north Peru can pride in the ancient adobe city of Chan Chan or the mysterious “Cloud People” of the northern highlands to name just a few.
You can trek forever amid high peaks and blue lagoons, cycle down remote mountainsides, or surf the Pacific waves. East of the Andes, the jungle stretches towards the heart of the continent with some of the richest biodiversity on Earth. And, should you get tired of nature, there is always Lima, loud and brash, but with some of the best museums, renowned restaurants offering the best of the delicious Peruvian cuisine, and liveliest nightlife in the country.
Lima the sprawling capital of Peru, is daunting at first sight, but it’s worth exploring its museums, colonial architecture, restaurants, and nightlife. Routes radiate in every direction and great steps have been taken to improve major roads linking the Pacific with the highlands.
The city of Huaraz is only 7 hours north of Lima. Here is the starting point for hikes to the Cordillera Blanca, the country’s climbing and trekking centre. Mountaineering and hiking can be easily combined with the archaeological site of Chavin east of Huaraz or with the pre-Inca towns of Sechin and Chan Chan, located near the colonial city of Trujillo. As for the coast, there is a lot of evidence of pre-Columbian cultures, especially around Chiclayo. If you are sports-minded, go surfing on beaches like Chicama. You can also set out to observe traditional fishing techniques and wildlife parks in the far north near the town of Tumbes. Tumbes and the nearby cities of Piura and Sullana are the gateways to Ecuador.
In the northern highlands is the city of Cajamarca, which is a pleasant base for exploring other archaeological sites, thermal baths and beautiful nature. From here or along the route from Chiclayo, there is access to the remote Chachapoyas region, where a staggering number of pre-Spanish towns and cultures begin to open up to visitors. The most important of them is undoubtedly the overwhelming fortress Kuelap of the Chachapoyas Civilisation! Continuing east, you reach one of the less-travelled roads into the lowland jungle.
The central highlands can be reached by road from Lima, Pisco and Nazca, with the Huancayo, Huancavelica and Ayacucho towns as the main centers. There are many historical attractions and the Mantaro Valley, near Huancayo and Ayacucho, are good areas for buying buses. Roads in this part of the Andes are improving considerably, but if you go far from the beaten path, check the conditions. Another route to the Peruvian jungle leads from the central highlands to the town of Pucallpa.
South of Lima is home to the most famous Peruvian tourist destinations. The main destinations are Cusco, which combines Spanish colonial and Inca architectures, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the top mountain citadel Machu Picchu, which is a masterpiece of historical and cultural value. Here also lead the Classic Inca Trails, the principal route to arrive to the “Lost City of the Incas”.
Regular trips from Cusco extend to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (on the land road to Bolivia), where the islands are often visited to see the unique lifestyle of its inhabitants. Arequipa, a wonderful colonial city at the foot of El Misti volcano, provides access to Colca Canyon and, for those who have more time, even deeper into Cotahuasi. The rail journey after lunch connects Cusco, Puno and Arequipa, but the Cusco-Puno road is a perfectly paved road that offers new opportunities for exploring these high-altitude regions.
The mysterious Nazca Lines, which significance still fueles debate, engraved in the rocky desert, should not be missed if you are on the Lima-Arequipa road or on the Pan-American Highway to Tacna and Chile. On the southern coastal route are the Paracas Peninsula (near the Pisco town), which is said to be home to the largest sea lion colony on Earth, and the coastal Ballestas Islands, one of the best seabird watching sites in the world.
The most popular and by far the most convenient routes are by air to either the Amazon city of Iquitos or to Puerto Maldonado from where you can access the Tambopata Reserve. If you like to observe the magnificent Manu National Park, use land transport from Cusco. Manu has some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet and provides great opportunities for animal, butterfly and bird watchers as well as plant lovers. Just spending time hiking or sitting in a hammock in front of a hut in the Amazon jungle will feed your body, mind, and soul through a green, intensely radiant natural world like no other in the world!