Peru: The Top 10 Must-Sees

1 – Cusco & Machu Picchu: Top of the Top

The city of Cusco, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is located in the south of Peru and is the gateway to a masterpiece of an archaeological site, Machu Picchu.  Cusco is a fascinating combination of ancient ruins mixed with a vibrant culture and modern living along with world class hotels, fine dining and shopping, resulting in a unique experience for all who visit. Cusco and Machu Picchu, also on the UNESCO World Heritage list and one of the Wonders of the World, are two of the best-known attractions Peru has to offer. Once there, it is a total immersion in breathtaking views, incredible feats of Incan architecture, with remains of palaces, fortresses, roads and water works all built in stone, and without use of mortar, still standing today. Nature plays a key role in the area, with bird watching a popular activity. Another must-see is the awe-inspiring Vinicunca, or the Rainbow Mountain, about a three-hour drive from Cusco.  Standing at 16,000 feet above sea level, this mountain in the Peruvian Andes has rings of soil in the colors of turquoise, lavender, red, yellow and more, literally a rainbow, created from mineral deposits over millions of years and discovered only about five years ago.

2 – La Ruta Moche: Circuit of the North

La Ruta Moche or Moche Route is a short trip from Lima or Cusco with much to see along the way.  The main cities forming the route are Trujillo and Chiclayo and its archeological highlights show the impressively organized ancient civilizations living there, predating the Incas. One of the most important of these cultures included the Chimu, who left magnificent monuments such as The Citadel of Chan Chan, the largest and oldest adobe-built city in the world (about AD 1300), covering 28 square kilometers and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Another is the Moche, thriving from around AD 1 to 700, who were highly skilled in metalworking, fine pottery and irrigation.  Attributed to the Moche civilization are the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, or Pyramids of the Sun and Moon,which are dominating adobe structures, one serving an administrative function during its time and the other, a religious one.

Other sites include:

El Brujo, one of the most important religious sites of the Moche culture, is nowan archeological complex including a series of pyramids with beautiful and colorful wall designs that can still be seen today.  The Lady of Cao was discovered here, a female Moche mummy, and evidence of perhaps a woman reaching the extreme power of a priest. Tucume, a once flourishing center of political power during its time, now is home to the highest concentration of monumental architecture and fantastic expressions of mural art.  Señor de Sipán, considered by some archeologists to be the most important intact tomb found in the American continent, this is a rich burial site for Moche lords and their lavish burial offerings. The museum Señor de Sipan is one of the finest in all Peru, full of the discoveries made here and home to more than 2,000 gold pieces.

In between sites, it is important to indulge in some of Peru’s best regional cuisine in Chiclayo.   Local specialties include Arroz con Pato (rice with duck), a variety of seafood dishes and for dessert, try the King Kong.

Every surfer’s ‘must-do’ is spending time in Chicama Beach in Trujillo, home of the longest left wave in the world.

3 – Kuelap: The Fortress Above the Clouds

Kuelap, long considered the Machu Picchu of the North, was built high in the mountains on a cliff and predates it by more than 600 years.  Captivating and beautiful details of this fortress city, some of the most impressive architectural structures in the world, can still be seen today and with a cable car recently installed, it can be more easily enjoyed. The fifth century fortress of Kuelap was built by the Chachapoyas culture, also called the “Warriors of the Clouds” since they lived in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region. At 3000 meters above sea level, this citadel was strategically built high on a cliff so that the Chachapoyas warriors could see the enemy army approaching from a distance and also it had religious significance, being closer to the sky. With its impressive 19-meter-high walls, this fortress was built with long stone corridors, starting off wide and gradually narrowing to the point where only one person can pass through, a structural strategy employed to trick attacking armies to advance in mass, get stuck and picked off one-by-one. Today, Kuelap is a peaceful and quite stunning site with dramatic mountainous and valley views on all sides, the remains of 400 cylindrical homes and ceremonial buildings and massively high stone walls.

Not far from Kuelap is Gocta, a more than 700-meter-high waterfall and one of the highest  in the world.

4 – Choquequirao: Sister of Machu Picchu

Choquequirao is one of the most remote Inca ruins in the Peruvian Andes and to this day, while spectacular, only about a third of it has been excavated, leaving much to still be discovered and much of its history still theories. Choquequirao, often referred to as the sister of Machu Picchu, is located in Vilcabamba, part of the department of Cusco, overlooks the Apurimac River. It is said this city was build as a royal estate by Tupa Inca, the 10thruler of the Inca Empire during the latter half of the 15thcentury.  One theory is that Tupa Inca intended to build a city similar in location and design to Machu Picchu, which is said to have been build by his father, Pachacuti.  What is known for sure is that this city was a key link between the Amazon Jungle and the city of Cusco.

The layout follows typical Inca design with main structures including temples, elite residences and fountain and bath systems and in true Inca fashion, built with extraordinary precision and detail.  Most of the remains that have been found are well-preserved, making it a remarkable place to visit. Among the many highlights are the designs within its stone terraces, using a contrasting color rock, create shapes of llamas or alpacas.

The access to Choquequirao from the city of Cusco or Abancay takes several hours by car followed by a challenging hike of several days, or if so inclined, a shorter helicopter flight. Either way, the reward upon arrival is magnificent views, interesting flora and fauna and an almost untouched piece of history.

5 – Nazca Lines: An Unsolved Mystery

The Nazca Lines are located in the south, 450 kilometers from Lima, in the department of Ica and are yet another Peruvian destination on the UNESCO World Heritage site list. To this day, it remains a mystery as to how these massive designs were etched into the ground by man 2,000 years ago and what exactly they mean. While visible from surrounding hills and high places, the Nazca lines can really only be fully seen and their magnitude fully appreciated by flying over the area, something they obviously did not have back in those days. The lines are drawn in the desert between the city of Ica and Nazca and are shaped to replicate huge figures of animals, birds and gods. It is estimated that this culture thrived between the years 100 AC and 600 AC. They were encountered by chance from an aircraft in 1927 and in the late 1980s, additional new lines were discovered.

A good complement following a visit to Nazca is then a trip along the Pisco route for a tasting of Pisco, the Spirit of Peru, coming from a distilled grape.

6 – Colca Canyon & Arequipa: Where the Condor Pasa (flies)

Arequipa is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Peru and its historic center is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is known as “the white city” because of its many monumental constructions made in cillar, a white volcanic stone. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and has a long-standing rivalry with Lima over greatness. It is also deemed the Alpaca capital of Peru and recognized for its extraordinary gastronomy. A popular destination not far from the city center and with a beautiful drive is Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world and home to the Andean Condor. With a wingspan of 7 to 9 feet, to behold the majestic flight of the Condor is magnificent.  Many other species of birds call Colca Canyon home and are easy to spot as is to see Alpaca and Vicuna roaming.

7 – Amazon River & Pacaya Samiria: Nature at its Finest

The mighty Amazon River is the largest and longest running river in the world, flowing from the snowy peaks of the Caylloma province in Arequipa to the Atlantic Ocean through Brazil. Over 2,000 species of fish inhabit it along with numerous other native species of flora and fauna. It is a complex system of rivers used by the Amazonian people as the main means of transportation along with first-class ships passing through that serve as floating hotels. A very special attraction is the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, considered the second largest protected area in Peru, located in the Loreto region. It covers 20,800 km2and is defined by the Marañon River in the North and Ucayali River in the South. Full of beautiful landscapes and Peruvian biodiversity, unique animals thrive in this part of the world, such as the pink dolphin. The Amazon forest is one of the largest on earth with abundant vegetation making it one of the main lungs of the planet, acting as a major water reserve.

8 – Tambopata & Manu: Preserve the Endangered

The Tambopata National Reserve in the Puerto Maldonado region is one of the most biodiverse places on earth with over 1700 species of plants, 1300 species of butterflies, 90 species of amphibiens and 103 species of mammals.  Covering around 3,650,000 acres, it was created in 1990 to protect the forests near the Tambopata River and accounts for many important ecosystems. This reserve is known for its variety of birds of splendid colors as well as its hanging bridges and stunning landscapes that simply cannot be found in other parts of the world.

The Manu National Reserve, which was established by decree in 1973 and declared a  World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 due to its rich biodiversity, covers around 1,480,900 hectares. The park is divided into three areas: The Restricted Zone (with pristine forests and native communities, access is only grantes to researchers), the Reserve Zone (for recreation and research) and the Recuperation Zone (for recovery of distubred areas). Protected ecosystems include lowland rainforests, cloud forests and Andean grasslands. The wide variety of extraordinary flora and fauna in this part of Peru are worthy of a visit.

9 – Regions for Adventure: The Best Natural High

Adventure sports are extremely popular in Peru with both locals and tourists alike. On the coast, activities such as surfing, paragliding, windsurfing, kitesurfing and tubing can be enjoyed, while the mountains are the perfect place for hiking, biking, sandboarding and hang gliding while the jungle offers up rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Other pastimes that are done all throughout the country include bungee jumping, fishing, racing, and more.

The White Cordillera Range in the Andes of Peru, department of Ancash, is another of Peru’s wonders of nature and can compete with Switzerland with prime expert skiing terrain coupled with mountaineering/trekking excursions. It is an important area of beautiful snow-covered mountains, with the Huascaran the highest glacier in Peru at 6,768 meters.

The Amazon jungle, covering 59% of Peru, is also an absolute endless source of possibilities for adventure.

10 – Land of Pleasures: Exquisite Cuisine & Pisco 

When thinking of Peru, of course the panoramic view of the Machu Picchu skyline and the massive diversity of flora and fauna spring to mind. Also playing a key role in what makes Peru the magical place that it is today is its unparalleled food scene, stemming from the finest ingredients that just so happen to also be homegrown in Peru.  With a medley of influences ingrained in Peru’s culinary DNA, the number of flavors and categories of cuisine are almost endless. In seafood, Peru has popularized dishes like Ceviche and Tiradito along with Peruvian soups such as Chupe (a seafood chowder stew) and Parihuela (seafood soup). There are also world-renowned dishes including Causa and Papa a la Huancaina, which are potato-based, along with heavenly stews and stir-fries like Guiso and Lomo Saltado. Travelers visiting Peru are always captivated by the tremendous variety Peruvian cuisine offers.

 

Peru’s cuisine is widely recognized and consistently lauded.  For the sixth consecutive year, Peru has been named Best Culinary Destination by the prestigious World Travel Awards.  Adding to that distinction, three restaurants in Lima hold rank on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list of 2018, and have been a part of this list for many years now.

These include:

In 6thplace: Central

In 7th place: Maido

In 39thplace:  Astrid y Gastón

The list of superb restaurants in Lima and throughout Peru, from 5-star dining to charming neighborhood establishments, is ever-growing.

 

Pisco:

No conversation on Peruvian gastronomy is complete without including Pisco. Pisco is a grape distilled spirit, with a tradition of making it dating back to the 16thcentury. Today, it is the national pride of Peru and enjoyed throughout the world.  Pisco is classified into three groups based on the type of grapes, with 8 different grapes used, and each with a distinct taste: Puro (pure), Acholado (made from 2 or more grapes) and Mosto Verde (green grape must).  Pisco is highly versatile and can appreciated neat or in a variety of cocktails.  Peru has popularized the Pisco Sour, Chilcano and there are so many others with Pisco at its core.  Pisco is Peru! PISCO, THE SPIRIT OF PERU!!!