There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Peru to visit and among the very best are Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail and Chan Chan. Other popular sites tend to include the Nazca Lines, Kuelap and Choquequirao.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Peruvian cultural locations, landmarks and monuments with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Peru, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Peru?
The Inca Trail is a famous route in Peru which allows hikers to follow in the footsteps of the Inca people. The main site along the Inca Trail is Machu Picchu, however the trail includes many other great Inca sites including Patallacta, Runkuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and the Sun Gate. Also along the trail is Wiñaywayna, another beautiful Inca site close to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail also includes a breathtaking tour of the natural wonders of Peru, but it involves quite difficult treks and hikers need to be in good, if not peak, physical condition, particularly for the longer trails.
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 fifteenth century, after which the Chimu were overtaken by the Incas and the city was abandoned.
Divided into four sections, one of the main areas of Chan Chan is the Tchudi Palace, which has been thoroughly – and some say overly – restored. Many people who visit Chan Chan would choose to only see parts of the site, while enthusiasts may want to see it all – this requires either a guided tour or taking taxis to each part of the site. There is also a small Chan Chan Museum – Museo de Sitio – housing some finds from the site.
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.
Amongst these enigmatic shapes is a monkey, two human beings one of which is known as the “astronaut”, a hummingbird, a spider and a tree. Most people view the Nazca Lines from the air by booking a flight for approximately 50 minutes, but for those who want to keep their feet on the ground, go to the Pan American Highway observation tower for a view of three of the drawings.
Kuelap is an imposing 9th century fortress, 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, Kuelap is an impressive site, with limestone walls surrounding a settlement of around 450 stone houses.
The fortress itself contains the remains of an ancient tower, guard posts and eight metre high walls containing fortified entranceways. Kuelap is now open to the public, although its remote location makes it difficult to visit.
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 architechture to the far better known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is almost devoid of tourist due to its isolated position.
Today, the ruins of Choquequirao still contain impressive sites but its isolated position means it is a difficult spot to access. A two-day hike from the nearest village has ensured that only the most committed of travellers explore these remains. However, for better or worse, facilities in the area are improving and the Peruvian government are considering ways to improve access to the site.
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 ruins of this ancient fortification sit 2800m above sea-level atop a high hill and still boast the original stepped walls as well as the remains of a royal chamber, Temple of the Sun and a structure known as the “Princess’ Baths”.
Today the Ollantaytambo ruins are a popular stop on the Inca trail and a visit to the village and ruins is often included in organised guided treks of the route.
Chauchilla Cemetery is an ancient Nazca burial ground in the town of Nazca, Peru. Relatively unknown, particularly when compared to the world famous Nazca Lines, Chauchilla Cemetery dates back to 1000 AD and is one of the most open displays of mummified bodies.
Chauchilla Cemetery has been severely looted over the centuries, as a result of which many of the graves are open displaying incredibly well preserved Nazca corpses in the original cloth in which they were laid to rest. All of the corpses face east in accordance with the Nazca culture and they are all in the sitting position.
Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is a museum at the foot of the mountain which houses the world famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. The museum is dedicated to exploring the Inca civilisation and houses an expansive collection of artefacts found at Machu Picchu including household items, artwork and religious objects.
Some of the most interesting objects at the Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón are the construction materials and tools, which form one of seven of the museum’s sections. Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is a good place to stop off before or after a tour of Machu Picchu.
Winaywayna or Winay Wayna, literally translated as “forever young”, is an Inca site along the Inca Trail close to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. Winaywayna is yet another great example of Inca civillisation and is made up of two levels containing a network of houses, fountains and agricultural terraces.
Whilst it forms part of the Inca Trail, tourists can also see Winaywayna as part of a standalone trip to Machu Picchu, the hike usually takes around three and half hours.
The Sipan Tomb Museum in Peru displays the treasures found at the Royal Sipan Tombs, originally uncovered in the Lambayeque Valley. The Royal Sipan Tomb was the mausoleum of the Lord of Sipan, a great warrior and a significant figure amongst the Moche people dating back to the fourth century AD.
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. When the tomb was found, the Lord of Sipan was covered in and surrounded with an abundance of gold, silver and jewels. The artefacts, which include jewels, ceramics, gold and silver objects and pieces made of carved wood, are all displayed at the Sipan Tombs Museum, which is even structured to look like the actual tomb.
The museum is very much a labour of love, created by the archaeologists who unearthed and protected these artefacts.