Here is our selection of the top 10 cities in Peru. We will give a summary of each city and mention some tours or link to some travel bloggers to give you their own opinions of each place.
Peru’s main tourist destination and worthy of its popularity, the Cusco region was the birthplace of the Inca Empire. The city became the administrative and political hub for an empire that spanned the western side of the continent. The Inca Empire stretched from Chile and into Colombia until its ultimate defeat at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors in 1572.
After the Inca defeat, Cusco became a Spanish colonial city with the Spaniards building their intricately styled buildings on the ruins of the conquered Incan structures. This means when you walk the famous streets, you will see the Incan stonework underneath the colonial brickwork. This creates a very unique effect and adds to the incredible history of this UNESCO World Heritage Listed city.
Because of the mix of both Incan and Spanish heritage, the mix can be found throughout the area in traditions, cuisine, architecture, and festivities. There are a lot of fantastic architectural examples to see in Cusco, such as the Cusco Cathedral, Church of the Society of Jesus, and the many different mansions, but it’s the surroundings that are really of interest. Surrounding this great city are many different examples of Incan architecture, which dot the Sacred Valley.
From Cusco, you can enjoy visits to the incredible site of Machu Picchu. This is the main reason many visitors flock to the city, but Cusco is also home to many more of Peru’s Top Tourist Attractions. Some others include the Cradle of Gold, the Ollantaytambo ruins, the mysterious structures of Moray, and Sacsayhuaman. Cusco is also a base for the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu where you can experience many fascinating structures and beautiful scenery. You can choose a few different options for the route, but the most popular are the Short Inca Trail, Classic Inca Trail, and the more relaxed Inca Trail Discovery. Worthy of its place as the most visited city, there are some fantastic things to do around Cusco.
The Manu BioTripCusco, Peru
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Not only a great base for excellent cultural history, Cusco is also one of the best places to experience the cloud forest of the Andes. The cloud forests rank as some of the world’s most biologically diverse places and is especially well known for an incredible richness of birds. This is also the home of Peru’s national species, a bright red bird called the cock of the rock. This bird and many other animals, including woolly monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and hummingbirds can be seen from the highly regarded Cock of the Rock Lodge.
In addition to the cloud forest, you can also combine the Andes with a visit to the steamy lowland rainforest of the rainforest surrounding Manu National Park on the Bio Trip, which is hailed as one of the most fascinating nature experiences in South America.
The capital city and entry point for the vast majority of Peru’s international visitors, Lima holds its own as a city worthy of an attraction in its own right. Lima presents visitors with many fantastic things to see and do over a few days before or after their journey to Machu Picchu or the Amazon Rainforest.
Lima is full of fantastic restaurants, great cafes, some excellent malls, boutique shops, city parks, museums, colonial architecture, and even some Inca ruins within the city boundaries.
Lima was founded by the Spanish and has become the largest city in the country. There are some nice districts and areas to spend your time, such as Miraflores, which is home to great restaurants, some colonial architecture, Kennedy Park and different malls. To give a quick summary, one of the most popular high-end malls is located in Miraflores by the coast and named Larcomar, which is also a great place to find great restaurants and cafes. A great tourist attraction in the city, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Historic Centre of Lima is home to many colonial buildings, including the Monastery of San Francisco. For a relaxed and coastal district of Lima, you can also visit Barranco, which offers ocean views, great restaurants, and relaxed cafes.
In addition to the architecture, restaurants, cafes, and shops, Lima has many different city parks and is known as the garden city. The Kennedy park helps with navigation in Miraflores, which is one of the favorite places for visitors and offers one of the safest and tourist friendly parts of the city. Around Kennedy Park you can find some excellent restaurants, cafes, and shops. Other favorite parks include Friendship Park and the Circuito Magico del Agua (The Magic Water Circuit), which has some great fountains and a light show at night.
There are many different museums in Lima that display artifacts of the Inca and other civilizations. Two of the most recommended are the Museum of the Central Reserve Bank for its range of gold artifacts and ceramics, and the Larco Museum with its collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, including preserved mummies of ancient cultures.
Another of the favorite attractions to see in Lima located in the Historic Centre of Lima is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Monastery of San Francisco. Built in 1774, this is a fantastic example of colonial Spanish architecture and you can marvel at the building from the square or venture inside. Tours of the monastery are frequently run to see the church, monastery, and the library where you can learn about its fascinating history and construction. To finish the tour, you will venture under the monastery and into the catacombs where around 75,000 people were laid to rest with many of their bones above ground.
The largest city in the world unconnected by road, Iquitos is located in north Peru and features on the list as the gateway for the northern Amazon River and Rainforest. Iquitos was first founded as a Jesuit mission and then grew to a city during the rubber boom of 1879 to 1912. Due to the rise of the bicycle and car, rubber was sourced from the Amazonian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and this booming industry helped Iquitos and a few other Amazonian cities achieve great wealth.
There are some fantastic things to do in Iquitos, especially visiting the surrounding Amazon Rainforest. Because of the Rubber Boom and the wealth it generated, the city is dotted with fantastic architectural examples from the bygone age. Enjoy walking the city streets to see elaborately decorated buildings, which were once the mansions of wealthy rubber barons who owned the plantations containing the trees.
Some of the buildings worth seeing of historical importance include the Iron House near the Plaza de Armas, which was sent to the Amazon by a rubber baron after he saw it at a Paris exhibition. Adding a little extra significance, the building was reportedly designed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel. Other buildings from this time include the Amazonian cultural museum near the river and the supermarket on Prospero with its beautifully tiled design.
There are many things to do in Iquitos to enjoy your visit here, such as visiting the butterfly house, enjoying fantastic restaurants, having a drink on the boulevard looking over the river, and visiting the manatee rescue center. However, the real reason to visit Iquitos is to experience the Amazon Rainforest, which is the world’s largest container of animals and plants.
The Amazon Rainforest from Iquitos
There are some fantastic protected areas near Iquitos with the most significant being the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo is a great place to enjoy a tour from the highly regarded and award-winning Tahuayo Lodge, while the flooded and gigantic Pacaya Samiria is best visited on an Amazon River cruise. On both types of tour, you will enjoy guided tours around the Amazon to find many different animals and plants, while being treated to exceptional service.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is about 150 km from Iquitos city and protects 420,000 hectares (1,038,000 acres) of flooded and non-flooded tropical forest. The reserve contains an incredible amount of wildlife, including 600 bird species, such as paradise tanagers, horned screamers, macaws, several different kingfishers, plum throated cotingas, many different herons, and oropendolas. The reserve is also home to a wide diversity of mammals, including two species of sloth, tamandua anteaters, capybara, jaguar, and coatis.
From the Tahuayo Lodge, which is the only lodge providing access to the reserve, you can enjoy visiting two different jungle lodges of the main Tahuayo Lodge and ARC, which is positioned in more pristine tropical forest. Enjoy the 1000 acre primate research grid behind the ARC, visiting Frog Belly to see different poison dart frogs, and the longest canopy zipline system in the Amazon Rainforest.
The impressive Pacaya Samiria National Reserve protects over two million hectares of Amazon Rainforest and a very high amount of rainforest wildlife, including jaguar, tapir, black caiman, puma, and a diversity of colorful birds, such as toucans, macaws, different parrots, and the much loved cotingas and tanagers.
There are a few different cruises into the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and one of our favorite recommendations is the luxurious Delfin II Amazon Cruise to enjoy gourmet food, fine wine, very comfortable suites, and of course tours of the incredible Pacaya Samiria. On boat tours off the main vessel, you will explore the reserve to find several different primates, colorful birds, and fascinating reptiles, such as anaconda, caiman, and caiman lizards.
In addition to the Delfin II River Cruise, you may choose to treat yourself to one of the most exclusive luxury cruises on the Amazon River. The Delfin I ranked as our top choice for the 10 Best Luxury Cruises in the Amazon and contains only four oversized luxurious suites. Aboard both the Delfin cruises, you will be treated to exceptional service, delicious cuisine, and tours into Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.
Arequipa is a beautiful city and what it lacks in Inca ruins, it makes up for in colonial architecture and scenery. Backed by three impressive volcanoes, the city displays some fantastic architecture from a blend of European and native styles.
This is the second largest city in Peru and was once the Peruvian capital. With its many significant buildings, fantastic architecture, great restaurants, and museums, the city rivals Cusco and Lima for great Peruvian cities. Arequipa’s historic center is definitely worth a visit and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The buildings have a unique style and many were crafted from local white volcanic sillar rock. One of the most notable buildings to see is the large cathedral named the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. This is one of the most fascinating and unusual cathedrals in the country.
The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is regarded as one of the finest in Peru and is guarded by the impressive cathedral, which was founded in 1612. Around the plaza you can find different restaurants, cafes, and hotels, which add to the charm of this fantastic area to visit.
The people of Arequipa are very proud of their gastronomy and Arequipa has introduced many different dishes to the national menu. You can find some fantastic restaurants in the city and you should try some of the city’s originals, such as rocoto relleno and ocopa.
The volcanoes that back the city are named Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu and create some fantastic city scenery with Arequipa being worth a visit for that fact alone.
Although the city is worth a visit in its own right, you can also enjoy some fantastic tours from Arequipa to see Colca Canyon. This is one of the world’s deepest canyons and is an impressive sight to behold. You are likely to see some of the impressive Andean condors flying high over the canyon, which add to the spectacle.
A travel blogger who visited Arequipa is Jon from Jonistravelling.com.
One of Peru’s most famous cities, Trujillo is a coastal city and is positioned on the Moche River. Trujillo was once the location of the Moche and Chimu cultures that left some fascinating ruins after their defeat at the hands of the Inca. Trujillo is just north of Lima and positioned in a green valley, which is surrounded by an arid desert at the foot of the Andes.
From Trujillo, you can enjoy visits to two major archaeological sites of Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the temples of the Sun and Moon.
The city is comparatively small compared to Lima and Arequipa and you can get to know it after only a few days. Trujillo itself is home to some fantastic colonial architecture, including several ornately styled colonial churches.
The city offers some beautiful architecture and Spanish styled streets with many colonial houses. The streets look as they were hundreds of years ago and it’s easy to imagine the time of the conquistadors.
The city of Trujillo has an interesting history and was founded after Francisco Pizarro visited nearby Chan Chan on his second visit to Peru. Chan chan was an important Chimu city, which was later conquered by the Inca. Trujillo was founded in the same valley in 1534 as a Spanish colony before the foundation of Lima. The city was later attacked by the Inca but survived and grew and became a major Spanish port.
As mentioned, Trujillo offers a number of excursions close to the city. You can visit Chan Chan, which is the largest adobe city on Earth and the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. This is one of Peru’s top tourist attractions and contains many different large adobe buildings. At its height, Chan Chan housed around 50, 000 people of the Chimú culture and the gold of the Chimú was famous, which was looted by the Spanish when discovered. You can visit the site from Trujillo and walk the streets to explore the largest remnant of the Chimú culture imagining its fascinating history.
One of the country’s major cities, Chiclayo sits near the coast in the country’s north and is Peru’s fourth largest city after Lima, Arequipa, and Trujillo. Initially, the city of Chiclayo was founded by Spanish missionaries as a rural community in the 16th century. The city’s position between the coast, the rainforest, and the Andes led to its growth as a commercial hub, which has prospered until today.
Not only is Chiclayo positioned in a fantastic location between all the environments, but the valley itself is very fertile and produces different crops, but mainly rice, sugarcane and cotton. There are some excellent foods from Chiclayo that separate its gastronomy a little from other Peruvian cities.
As another unique feature, Chiclayo is known for its shamans or brujos. This means the markets are fulls of oddities and potions to satisfy the curious traveler.
Chiclayo has some fantastic colonial architecture to see and because of it’s position the climate is warm and fresh. And because it’s near the coast, Chiclayo is nationally famous for its seafood. You can enjoy the fresh food in many different restaurants and cafes located near the Plaza de Armas, which is the main square.
Although the vast majority of tourists to Peru visit the southern part of the country for the impressive sites around Cusco, there are some interesting archaeology in the north as well.
For things to do, surrounding Chiclayo are different archaeological sites of the Chimú and Moche cultures and the city itself is known for its lively nature.
Fantastic archaeological attractions close to Chiclayo include one of the main archaeological attractions in Peru’s north, the tomb at Sipan, which was featured in National Geographic and is one of the most significant recent archaeological discoveries. You also have Túcume, which is another archaeological site and a complex of 26 pyramids inhabited first by the Sican culture then the Chimú and finally the Inca.
Chiclayo and the surrounding region are then home to some fantastic museums that introduce the region’s ancient cultures and the surrounding archaeological sites. One of the favorite museums is the Sican National Museum, which displays many gold artefacts from the sican culture.
The nearby town of Lambayeque then has the Bruning National Archaeological Museum, which also contains different artefacts from the various cultures. The town also houses the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, which is the region’s main museum and the building itself is shaped like an ancient pyramid.
One of Peru’s most historically famous cities, this was where the final defeat of the Inca Empire took place. This is also an important city in the northern Andes and sits in the valley of the Mashcon River. The surrounding region is very fertile and Cajamarca and the Cajamarca Valley are famous in Peru for quality dairy products.
Cajamarca is a great place to enjoy the Peruvian countryside with its fertile valley. The architectural wonder and surrounding scenery of the city is second only to Cusco. The tourist attractions include different archaeological sites, fantastic colonial and religious architecture, wonderful scenery, and hot springs. The historical significance is shadowed by the Battle of Cajamarca with the capture and execution of the Incan emperor Atahualpa.
The Andean city is dotted with fantastically designed Spanish mansions and churches, but its history stretches back to before the Inca with the Caxamarca civilization and later the Incas. Adding even more historical significance, this was a stop over for the Incan emperor on the route between Cusco and Quito.
For admiring the Spanish architecture, great places to see in the city include the Plaza de Armas, cathedral, and the Church of San Francisco. There are some archaeological sites near the city to see remnants of Tiahuanaco, Chavín, and Caxamarca civilizations and different Incan ruins, such as Cumbemayo and the Incan baths. You can still enjoy the thermal baths, which make a great place to relax looking at the fantastic scenery.
Perhaps the most historically significant building is the Cuarto del Rescate, which is where the Inca Emperor Atahualpa was kept after capture and was finally executed. The building marks the site where the Inca civilization came to its final end.
Ica & Huacachina
Located in southern Peru, Ica has been inhabited by indigenous cultures for thousands of years, but was claimed as a Spanish city in 1563 after the defeat of the Inca.
The main reason tourists visit Ica is to experience the enormous sand dunes near the city where you can enjoy sand boarding and ride around in sand buggies. The oasis near the dunes also offers a great place to relax or to experience fantastic night life.
Much of the Peruvian wine and pisco is produced in this region and its the wineries that draw many of the national visitors. Many visitors come to Ica just to have fun on the sand dunes or see the wineries, but the city itself has some different attractions. You can enjoy visiting the museum to see different artifacts from the region’s various ancient cultures and civilizations, including the Inca, Paracas, Nasca, and Ica.
The sand dunes and oasis of Huacachina is then the relaxation place of choice for Ica residents and adventure seeking tourists. It’s the preferred idea for tourists to book accommodation in Huacachina and then visit Ica for the museum, architecture, and wineries as it’s hard to turn down an idyllic desert oasis
Huacachina is just 5 km west of Ica and offers its own great hotels, restaurants and cafes. You can relax with its undulating sandy scenery or you can enjoy sandboarding and buggy rides across the mountain-like dunes.
The sand buggy rides are an adrenaline fueled activity where you ascend the dunes and accelerate down the sands giving a feel like being on a rollercoaster, as the dunes can reach 30 feet high.
About an hour from Ica and Huacachina, you can also visit the Paracas National Reserve, which protects tropical desert, coastline, and ocean. This is the location of the mysterious Paracas culture and you can find a museum near the park to learn more about the history. Archaeologists have also found evidence of human habitation in this area from 6500 BC.
Just off the coast of the reserve is the Ballestas Islands, which is where you can see different birds and sea lions on cruises from the mainland.
Huaraz is mostly known my mountain climbers and hikers as this is one of the most famous parts of the Peruvian Andes. The scenery is dominated by the Andes mountains and includes Huáscarán, which is the highest mountain in Peru.
In addition to the incredible mountain scenery, the region is also known for its many beautiful lakes and hot pools. The mountain range is part of the Cordillera Blanca and is the largest and highest range in the tropics. The range stretches from the coast and into the Amazon Rainforest. Deep ravines, dominating mountains, and snowy peaks create a truly breathtaking scenery. The area is often dotted with Andean condors flying high in the sky and is mostly protected within the Huascaran National Park.
The main tourist destination in the region, Huaraz is positioned in the Callejon de Huaylas Valley and is near the Santa River. This is a great place for adventure seekers and is Peru’s main place for winter sports.
There are many different operators in the city and the streets buzz with adventure seekers and mountain climbers over the high season either returning from or planning their expedition. There are many good restaurants, bars, and cafes to relax in while in the city.
Positioned at the lake edge, Puno is the gateway to the famous Lake Titicaca. The city is then backed by a fantastic mountain range of the Andes. There are some fantastic points in the city for beautiful views of the lake and mountains.
Titicaca is the world’s highest large lake and has been very important in Peruvian history. Peruvian mythology depicts the Inca Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo rising from the lake before their journey to Cusco to found the Inca Empire.
Lake Titicaca is fascinating for its nature and culture. The famous cultural attraction here is the Uros culture who live on floating artificial islands made from reeds. They have kept their traditions and you can visit the islands from Puno.
The city is a mix of both Andean and Spanish construction and Puno has a few historically fascinating colonial buildings, such as the Saint Dominic in Chucuito, which was the first church of the region.
From Puno, you can enjoy different cruises on Lake Titicaca to enjoy the scenery and to learn more about this remarkable lake. Many of the animals and plants of the lake are well adapted for the high altitude and the limited oxygen. There are about 500 different species living in Lake Titicaca with the most famous being the now rare giant Titicaca water frog, which has saggy flaps of skin for absorbing the water’s limited oxygen.
The area is culturally fascinating with the Uros communities and the locals still wear a traditional Andean dress and harvest crops by hand. Women can be seen working in petticoats and bowler hats and children are seen with their very colorful clothing. As the only domesticated animals in Peru aside from the guinea pig, llamas and alpacas can be seen around the lake and city.About the Author: Ash Card is a frequent visitor to the Tropics and has a passion for helping visitors get the best experiences from tropical locations. Ash is a contributor to both TourTheTropics.com and ThinkJungle.com writing about tropical destinations, rainforests and wildlife. Feel free to contact Ash for tour help in the tropics. When not helping tourists with tours and info, Ash can be found salsa-ing the night away or posing near waterfalls.