Situated on the Pacific shoreline of Latin America, Peru boasts a diverse range of climates, ways of life, and historical wonders to be explored.
The name Peru comes from a Quechua word meaning ‘land of abundance’, harking back to the economic wealth produced by the rich and incredibly sophisticated Inca civilisation that ruled the region for centuries and was kept alive through indigenous resistance to Spanish colonisation.
There’s a host of top historic locations in Peru to visit, including the world-famous mountain-top of Machu Picchu, a reward for those brave enough to face the trek up the Inca Trail. Other popular sites tend to include the Nazca Lines, Kuélap and Choquequirao.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Peruvian cultural locations, landmarks and monuments with our top ten places to visit, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
1. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an extraordinary ancient stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world.
The site is big and there’s plenty to explore – make sure you get the full view by climbing to Huayna Picchu. Some of Machu Picchu’s most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the mausoleum and the upper cemetery. There are various trails around the site which are good hiking if you haven’t arrived via the Inca Trail.
2. Chan Chan
Chan Chan is an impressive site in Peru and the world’s largest adobe city as well as the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas.
As the capital of the ancient Chimu civilisation, Chan Chan was developed in around 1300 AD and would have reached its peak in the 15th century, after which the Chimu were overtaken by the Incas and the city was abandoned. The Chimu were extremely sophisticated builders and engineers.
3. Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are a series of large shapes embedded in the earth known as “geoglyphs” in Peru’s Nazca Desert.
Spread over 450 square kilometres of the Pampa Colorada region in between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, the origin of the Nazca Lines is a subject of much debate, but they are believed to have been created by the Nazca Civilisation between 500 BC and 500 AD.
Kuélap is an imposing 9th century fortress known as the Macchu Picchu of the North, which was once the stronghold of the Chachapoyas people, a tribe who lived in the region until shortly before the Spanish conquest.
Looming some 3,000 metres above sea level, Kuélap is an impressive site, with limestone walls surrounding a settlement of around 450 stone houses. It was once home to up to 3,000 people, and many of the structures still include their thatched roofs along with intricate carvings.
Choquequirao is a little known Incan city in the south of Peru which may well have served as the final stronghold of the Incan civilisation.
Similar in design and architecture to the far better known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is almost devoid of tourist due to its isolated position, which makes it far more atmospheric and worth the effort it takes to get there.
6. Ollantaytambo Ruins
Ollantaytambo is an ancient Inca fortress and modern village located approximately 60 miles north of the city of Cuzco, which now contains a series of impressive Inca ruins.
The fortress was originally built by the emperor Pachacuti in the mid-15th century to bring local tribes under Inca control, but it was also used as a temple. Its prominence was short-lived however: after a heavy defeat at the hands of the conquistadors at Sacsaywamán, Manco Inca retreated to Ollantaytambo.
7. Chauchilla Cemetery
Chauchilla Cemetery is an ancient Nazca burial ground in the town of Nazca, Peru. Chauchilla was a burial ground for the Nazca people, in use between the 2nd and 9th century AD.
The conditions of the Peruvian desert, combined with Nazca burial practices, meant that despite the time elapsed, the bodies were in remarkably good condition, with many still having hair and skin attached.
8. Royal Sipan Tombs
The Sipán Tomb Museum in Peru displays the treasures found at the Royal Sipán Tombs, originally uncovered in the Lambayeque Valley.
A revered warlord, the Lord of Sipan’s tomb is said to have rivalled that of Tutankhamen in terms of the amount and grandeur of objects buried with him.
9. El Brujo
El Brujo in Peru was a Moche (early Chimu) settlement inhabited between 100 and 700 AD. Now an archaeological site, the main features of El Brjuo are its three “huacas” or sacred pyramid temples.
The site is impressive, and the new museum – Museo de Cao – next to the site is an added bonus. It displays the mummified remains of the Señora de Cao along with many of the finds excavated alongside her.
10. The Moche Temples
The Moche Temples in Peru are made up of Huaca del Sol y la Luna, translated as the Temples of the Sun and the Moon.
The Moche Temples are located in northern Peru and, like many Moche sites, are adorned with various colourful friezes of different shapes and ominous figures.
The larger Huaca del Sol was looted by the conquistadors in the 16th century: they diverted the nearby river to run past the base of the pyramid in order to more easily access materials.