From the breathtaking peaks of the Andes to the dense jungle of the Amazon, Peru is a top destination for any traveller looking for adventure. Every year millions of tourists flock to explore the historic attractions of Peru and to discover the county’s ancient heritage.
Peru is world-famous for its heritage sites and historic tourist destinations: it’s the home of the Inca civilisation and their mountainous city of Machu Picchu, and the country boasts some 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Here are 9 of the most important historic locations to visit in Peru.
1. Chan Chan
Fans of archaeological sites will have a feast at the ancient city of Chan Chan, which literally translates as “Sun Sun”. Relatively unknown when compared to the country’s other ancient attractions, this astonishing city is nevertheless one of the very best places in Peru to explore. Not only is it the world’s largest adobe city, it is also the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas. Developed around 1300 AD as the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, Chan Chan enjoyed centuries of prominence until it was overtaken by the Incas and eventually abandoned. Visitors can easily spend hours exploring the extensive site, which is made up of plazas, streets, houses, gardens, temples and reservoirs. There are even mausoleums where Chimu kings were buried along with their wives and their riches.
2. Inca Trail
If you’re going to set yourself any challenge in life, it should be to walk the Inca Trail. As the most famous trek in South America – and one of the most popular tourist activities in Peru – this all-challenging trail allows hikers to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Inca people. It’s long, it’s arduous, and above all it’s amazing. Although the most famous stop along the trail is Machu Picchu there are actually loads of fascinating places to explore on route, such as Phuyupatamarca – which is one of the best preserved and most picturesque Inca ruins in existence – and the ‘inaccessible town’ of Sayacmarca with its labyrinth of houses and canals. Add into the mix the amazing natural beauty of the Trail and you will see why it’s a constant feature of any top 10 Peru attractions list.
The Incan city of Choquequirao is similar to Machu Picchu in terms of style and size, but due to its remote location in the country’s south, it has far fewer tourists. And this is no bad thing. Its ‘off the beaten track’ vibe makes this a true hidden gem among Peru’s tourist attractions. Built in the late 15th century, Choquequirao supposedly served as an administrative hub for the region, as well as providing a local military centre. It was used as a refuge for Inca forces fleeing the siege of Cuzco and in various other battles. Today, the ruins of Choquequirao still contain a number of impressive sites. Be warned though, getting there involves a two day hike from the nearest village.
4. Casa de la Emancipacion
While Peru’s ancient civilisations are the main draw for tourists, the country has a more modern history which is definitely worth exploring. There’s no better place to start than Casa de la Emancipacion. Located in the gorgeous colonial city of Trujillo, which is the largest metropolis after Lima, Casa de la Emancipacion is the site where Peru planned and declared its independence from Spain. This occurred on 29 December 1820, after which the Casa became the home of Peru’s first government. Today its status at the very heart of the modern country ensures its place as one of the most important tourist attractions of Peru and visitors can enjoy various art and cultural exhibits as they explore its history. If you do visit, be sure to look down – the cubic Cajabamba floor is a masterpiece.
The fortress of Kuelap is one of the most overwhelming visitor attractions in Peru. From the 9th century, Kuelap was 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 leaves a mark on any visitor due to its sheer loftiness along with its impressive limestone defensive walls which surround a settlement of around 450 stone houses. Some of these houses include their original thatched roofs along with intricate carvings. Not the easiest to visit – though organised tours do run from nearby towns – it is nevertheless magnificent.
6. Ollantaytambo Ruins
The huge, steep terraces that shield Ollantaytambo’s spectacular Inca ruins mark one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors were defeated in battle. While the Incas abandoned the village and its fortress soon after this 1536 battle, tourists have revisited it and for good reason. Today it’s one of the only towns in Peru that retains its original Inca walls and street grid. Most trains to and from Machu Picchu also stop at Ollantaytambo, giving it that ideal mix of authenticity and accessibility and making it one of the very best tourist attractions of Peru.
7. Chauchilla Cemetery
For those of a morbid disposition, Chauchilla Cemetery is for you. Like the Egyptians, ancient Peruvians liked to mummify corpses and you can see evidence of this at Chauchilla. This ancient Nazca burial ground in the southern coastal town of Nazca dates back to 1000AD and contains one of the most open displays of mummified bodies in existence. The mummies are incredibly well preserved, wrapped in the original cloth in which they were laid to rest. Each faces east in accordance with the Nazca culture and they’re sitting upright too, just to add an extra element of creepiness to the place. Not for everyone, but certainly one of the most unusual and unique of Peru’s tourist attractions.
8. Nazca Lines
Whether they were created as messages to the gods or as paths to spiritual enlightenment, the Nazca Lines rank firmly among the top ten tourist attractions of Peru. These giant sketches are located in the country’s Nazca Desert and can only really be seen from the air. Amongst their enigmatic shapes is a monkey, two humans, a hummingbird, a tree and a spider. They spread over 450 square kilometres and it’s suggested that they were created by the Nazca Civilisation between 500BC and 500AD. They’re so huge that the best way to view them is definitely by plane. Alternatively go to the Pan American Highway observation tower to look at three of the drawings.
9. Royal Sipan Tombs
A revered warlord, the mausoleum of the Lord of Sipan from the fourth century AD gives the tomb of Tutankhamen a run for its money, and that says a lot. When the Sipan Tomb was found, the Lord of Sipan was covered in and surrounded by an opulent display of gold, silver and jewels. These amazing findings are all on display at the Sipan Tombs Museum, which has modelled itself on the actual tomb. It doesn’t just end there. The Lord of Sipan was found among other skeletons, including those of a dog, a llama and two young women, possibly his concubines, who might have been sacrificed upon his death. One of the most fascinating of Peru’s visitor attractions and full of mysteries to which we’ll never really know the answers. Now, if only the dead could talk…