Peru’s rich landscapes are home to an incredible array of natural and man-made wonders. Eleven of Peru’s best attractions have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a further 8 are being considered. Although the most visited attractions in Peru are located around the region of Cusco, the south-east of the country, further north, into the Amazon Basin and along the desert coast are many more incredible and noteworthy attractions. Here are the 10 must see attractions in Peru.
1. Machu Picchu
Consumed by the dense Amazon Jungle and lost to the world for hundreds of years, no one really knows for sure the true purpose of Machu Picchu. Built during the reign of Inca Pachacuti, it was thought that the ancient citadel took about 100 years to construct, and was still construction when the Spanish invaded Peru in the 1530’s. Perched on the top of a mountain of solid rock, Machu Picchu and its surrounding scenery leave many visitors lost for words.
2. The Inca Trail
The Incas built more than 20,000 km’s (12,500 miles) of stone paths that connected the entire empire. These Inca highways were used to transport goods, messages and even Inca nobles. Nowadays, a small stretch of trail from KM82 in the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu has become a mecca for avid hikers. Every year more than 70,000 people hike the 4 days trek that negotiates tough maintain passes, visits remote Andean villages and passes by rarely visited Inca ruins. Booking early is essential as permits sell out several months in advance.
3. The Sacred Valley
Once an important agricultural area for the Incas, the Sacred Valley of the Inca’s is home to some of Peru’s most impressive ruins. At the far eastern end of the Valley is the market town of Pisac. Its indigenous market is a popular draw for souvenir hunting tourists; however, the real jewel of Pisac is the Inca ruins located high above the village. At the other end of the Sacred Valley is the fortress ruin of Ollantaytambo, where a climb to the top is the only way to admire this incredible feat of Inca engineering.
One of the world’s greatest enigmas, the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca and Pampas are an incredible sight which can only be truly appreciated from the air. Thought to have been etched into the surface of the desert between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., historians believe that the lines had astronomical functions. The lines which date back to the Chavin period represent depictions of stylized llamas, spiders, fish and snakes. Some of the largest etchings are over 200 meters (650 feet wide). The strangest etching of all is the spaceman, complete with bubble helmet.
5. Lake Titicaca
Steeped in history and mythological beliefs, Lake Titicaca is a fascinating tourist destination. Lost in the patina of time, the way of life on Lake Titicaca hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and is a million miles away from most visitors’ daily lives. About 2 hours from Puno bay is the small island of Taquile. The island has no roads, agricultural terraces are farmed by hand and ancient traditions live on. On this Quecha speaking island, it’s the man’s job to knit, and boys as young as 4 or 5 years old can be seen creating intricate items of clothing – some of which are considered to be the finest in Peru. Visitors to Lake Titicaca shouldn’t miss out on the Uros, Amantani and Suasi islands either.
6. The Amazon River
Not many people know that the birth place of the mighty Amazon River is in Peru. From Iquitos in Northern-Peru, where the Ucayali-Apurímac and the Marañon Rivers converge, the Amazon River is formed before snaking its way through Brazil out into the Atlantic Ocean. For luxury Peru travel, Aqua Expeditions and Delfin Cruises offer a selection of high-end luxury cruises which travel into the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and to the start of the Amazon River. Cruises aren’t cheap and start from US$ 2,500 per person for 4 days.
7. Huascarán National Park
The Huascarán National Park is situated in the Cordillera Blanca – the world’s highest tropical mountain range, and is an outstanding region of beauty. It has 27 snow-capped peaks 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) above sea level, of which El Huascarán (6,768 meters / 22,204 feet) is the highest. The park has some 120 glacial lakes, hundreds of deep ravines and fast flowing torrents and rivers. Huascarán National Park is a mecca for true hiking enthusiasts with the superb 4 or 5 days Santa Cruz trek being the most popular hike.
8. Chan Chan
Included on the list of Peru’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1986, the ancient site of Chan Chan covers an immense area of land on the outskirts of Peru’s northern city Trujillo. Considered to be the largest city in pre-Columbian America, Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Culture and was constructed largely of adobe. The monumental zone (6 square kilometres / 15.5 square miles) comprises of nine large rectangular complexes each marked by tall earth walls and includes dwellings, temples and storehouses. In terms of historical importance, it could be said that Chan Chan is a far greater than Machu Picchu.
9. The City of Cusco
Once the most important city in the entire Inca Empire, Cusco (also spelt Cuzco) is not just a stopping off point for visitors to Machu Picchu, but a destination in its own right. During Inca times the city was full of grand palaces, important temples and spiritual sites. When the Spanish invaded Peru in the early 1530s the city was ravished of all its wealth and its important buildings torn down. Nowadays, the Cusco is a living museum of Inca and Spanish history and boasts incredible colonial and Inca architecture.
10. Manú Biosphere Reserve
Widely considered to be the most bio-diverse place on the planet, the Manú Biosphere Reserve is a hot-spot for nature loving tourists. The reserve alone has more recorded species of bird than the entire country of Costa Rica, and for that reason alone it is a hot-spot for ornithologists. The diversity of the region is due to its vast topographical range that includes puna grasslands, elfin forest, cloud forest and lowland Amazon Rainforest. The black spider monkey, spectacled owl, puma and giant otter can all be found in the reserve.
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