The Unexplored North - Northern Peru Travel Itinerary

places to visit north of peru

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This Peru travel itinerary features the best of what to see northern Peru in two weeks.

A region overshadowed by the jewel of the South - Machu Picchu , northern Peru has so much to offer and yet is often only visited by other South American tourists. And while it doesn't have the flash and luxury of Lima or Cusco the prices are bargain basement and many times you'll find you're the only tourist around.

Below is a great itinerary for 10-14 days if you're coming in from Ecuador. If you're coming in from Lima simply do the North-South itinerary in reverse!

Mancora 3-4 days

Mancora is most often visited by travelers coming from Ecuador or tourists who have just hiked Machu Picchu and want to relax on the beach. With a reputation of being a world class surfing site, it attracts a big surf crowd. If you're looking to surf all day and party all night then stay in town.

For those looking for a more relaxed holiday, take a cue from Peruvians and visit one of the quieter beaches just outside Mancora. The beach hotels are much less expensive, as are the restaurants and if you want to head into town taxis are only $1-2.

Chiclayo 2-3 days

This is not a pretty city but it is a great stopping point to see the Lord of Sipán collection, often called the  King Tutankamon of the Americas because his tomb was found in impeccable condition.

The museum is new and rivals any modern museum in the world with only an admission price of $10 to see the exhaustive collection of gold, copper, and silver. You can take a day trip out to the tomb which is currently being excavated.

Cajamarca 3-4 days

My absolute favorite place in Peru and one that few tourists know about. I only discovered it on a bus ride when the woman next to me insisted that I go.

This small town, hidden in the mountains, is well known to Peruvians for its delicious cheese and chocolate. Many Peruvians travel to Cajamarca to visit its natural hot springs, pre-Colombian aqueduct and pre-Inca necropolis. As most tourists are Peruvian, day tours are very inexpensive at $5-8.

One final tip - do not leave without trying  sudado , tomato-based fish stew.

Trujillo 2-3 days

A pretty colonial city, it is nice to simply walk around and enjoy the views. However, it is also a great home base for taking day trips to ancient ruins.

Most people come to Trujillo to see the famous Chan Chan, which are ruins are an ancient city built from mud but with tours ranging from $5-10 I highly recommend spending a few days to visit others such as the Moche Pyramids (photo above). Read more about Trujillo.

Piura 2 days

Spend a bit of time in northern Peru and you will inevitably hear locals discuss how Lima has stolen their cuisine and is passing it off as their own. In a typical, big city vs. rural country battle Northern Peruvians are very proud of their tradition for the best ceviche in the country and unhappy big city Lima is passing it off as its own.

Those in "the know" visit Pirua which is home to the best ceviche in the country and where chefs from Lima find their inspiration.  Conchas negras or black conch ceviche is the crowning jewel and must be sampled.

If you aren't a seafood lover you may want to pass on Piura as it doesn't have much to offer outside culinary prowess and could be in the running for the ugliest city in Peru.

Travel Tip: Buses in northern Peru are very cheap, relatively safe and average about $2/hour. However, try to buy directly from the bus line as costs can double when travel agencies see foreigners walk through this door.

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Northern Peru is packed with unique treasures – cultural, archeological and natural. Blessed with fewer tourists and better coastal weather than either Lima or the south (particularly in the high season – May to September), the area encompasses city oases along the coast, secluded villages in the Andes – where you may well be the first foreigner to pass through for years – and is brimming over with imposing and important pre-Inca sites, some of them only discovered in the last decade or two. For many, the biggest attraction will be the beautiful and trendy beaches. For others, it’s the scenery, archeology, and the opportunity to get off the beaten tourist trail.

Around Cajamarca

  • Peru's Northern Desert

Trujillo is located on the seaward edge of the vast desert plain at the mouth of the Moche Valley. Its attraction lies mainly in its nearby ruins – notably Chan Chan and the huge, sacred pyramids of the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna – but also partly in the city itself, and some excellent, laidback outlying beach communities. Huanchaco , only 12km from Trujillo, is a good case in point, essentially a fishing village and a likeable resort within walking distance of sandy beaches and massive ancient ruins.

There are established bus touring routes through the Andean region above Trujillo, all of which present the option of winding through the beautifully situated mountain town of Cajamarca. It was here that Pizarro first encountered and captured the Inca Emperor Atahualpa, beginning the Spanish conquest of Peru. Cajamarca is also a springboard for visiting the smaller town of Chachapoyas and the ruined citadel complex of Kuelap, arguably the single most overwhelming pre-Columbian site in Peru. Beyond, there are possible routes down to Amazon headwaters and the jungle towns of Tarapoto and even Iquitos – long and arduous journeys.

The coastal strip north of Trujillo, up to Tumbes by the Ecuadorian border, is for the most part a seemingly endless desert plain, interrupted by isolated villages and new squatter settlements, but only two substantial towns, Chiclayo and Piura . Newly discovered archeological sites around Chiclayo possess some of the coast’s most important temple ruins, pyramids and nobles’ tombs, the latter containing a wealth of precious-metal ceremonial items, and there are some excellent regional museums such as the Museo de las Tumbas, based near Chiclayo. Northern Peru hosts a number of great beach resorts, such as Chicama and the warm seas of the hottest surf and beach scene in Peru at Máncora, located between Cabo Blanco and the border with Ecuador.

Tailor-made travel itineraries for Peru, created by local experts

Peru: into the Incan Empire

8 days  / from 2429 USD

Peru: into the Incan Empire

Who were the Incas? What did they do? What happened to them? Discover the answers, and much more, with this unique trip into the heart of the former Inca Empire.

Female Empowerment Tour

8 days  / from 2822 USD

Female Empowerment Tour

From meditations in Miraflores over visits to craftswomen in Chincheros to gratitude rituals in the Sacred Valley. This itinerary will allow you to reconnect with your feminine energy and learn more about women's lives in Peru.

Culture, Nature and Adventure in Peru

19 days  / from 3510 USD

Culture, Nature and Adventure in Peru

Get to know Peru through its locals and breathtaking trails- full of history. Hop aboard a motorboat to get to know the local way of life of the Uros people, before you start the great Inca trail, where beautiful landscapes, archaeological sites and fresh air are waiting for you.

Tailor-made trips for   Peru

Within a short distance of Cajamarca are several attractions that can easily be visited on a day-trip from the city. The closest is the Cerro Santa Apolonia, with its pre-Inca carved rocks, though these are not nearly as spectacular as the impressive aqueduct at Cumbe Mayo, or the ancient temple at Kuntur Huasi. However, the most popular trip from Cajamarca is to the steaming-hot thermal baths of Baños del Inca, just 5km from the city centre. A four-kilometre walk from Cajamarca lies the small village of Aylambo, known for its ceramics workshops, where you can try your hand at making your own pots.

Peru's Northern Desert

The northern desert remains one of the least-visited areas of Peru, mainly because of its distance from Lima and Cusco, the traditional hubs of Peru’s tourist trail, but it is still an invaluable destination for its distinctive landscape, wildlife, archeology and history.

Northern Peru has some excellent museums, besides the breathtaking coastal beauty of its desert environment, which itself contains the largest dry forest in the Americas, almost entirely consisting of algarrobo (carob) trees. The main cities of Chiclayo and Piura (the first Spanish settlement in Peru) are lively commercial centres, serving not only the desert coast but large areas of the Andes as well. If, like a lot of travellers, you decide to bus straight through from Trujillo to the Ecuadorian border beyond Tumbes (or vice versa) in a single journey, you’ll be missing out on some unique attractions.

The coastal resorts, such as the very trendy Máncora and Punta Sal, but also Cabo Blanco and, further south La Pimentel, the beach serving Chiclayo’s population, are among the best reasons for stopping: though small, they usually have at least basic facilities for travellers, and, most importantly, the ocean is warmer here than anywhere else in the country. The real jewels of the region, however, are the archeological remains, particularly the Valley of the Pyramids at Túcume and the older pyramid complex of Batán Grande, two immense pre-Inca ceremonial centres within easy reach of Chiclayo. Equally alluring is the Temple of Sipán, where some of Peru’s finest gold and silver grave-goods were found within the last fifteen years.

Batán Grande

The site at BATÁN GRANDE, 57km northeast of Chiclayo, incorporates over twenty pre-Inca temple pyramids within one corner of what extends to the largest dry forest in the Americas, the Bosque de Pomac. There’s an interpretative centre at the main entrance, which has a small archeological museum with a scale model of the site.

Part of the beauty of this site comes from its sitting at the heart of an ancient forest, dominated by algarrobo trees, spreading out over some 13,400 hectares, a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert landscape. Over ninety percent of Peru’s ancient gold artefacts are estimated to have come from here – you’ll notice there are thousands of holes, dug over the centuries by treasure hunters. Batán Grande is also known to have developed its own copper-smelting works, which produced large quantities of flat copper plates – naipes – that were between 5 and 10cm long. These were believed to have been used and exported to Ecuador as a kind of monetary system.

Brief history

The Sicán culture arose to fill the void left by the demise of the Mochica culture around 700 AD, and were the driving force in the region from 800 to 1100 AD, based here at Batán Grande. Known to archeologists as the Initial Lambayeque Period, judging by the beauty and extent of the pyramids here, this era was clearly a flourishing one. Nevertheless, Batán Grande was abandoned in the twelfth century and the Sicán moved across the valley to Túcume, probably following a deluge of rains (El Niño) causing devastation, epidemics and a lack of faith in the power of the ruling elite. This fits neatly with the legend of the Sicán leader Naymlap’s descendants, who evidently brought this on themselves by sacrilegious behaviour. There is also some evidence that the pyramids were deliberately burnt, supporting the latter theory.

The main part of the site that you visit today was mostly built between 750 and 1250 AD, and comprises the Huaca del Oro, Huaca Rodillona, Huaca Corte and the Huaca Las Ventanas, where the famous Tumi de Oro was uncovered in 1936. The tomb of El Señor de Sicán (not to be confused with the tomb of El Señor de Sipán), on the north side of the Huaca El Loro, contained a noble with two women, two children and five golden crowns; these are exhibited in the excellent museum in nearby Ferreñafe. From the top of these pyramids you can just about make out the form of the ancient ceremonial plaza on the ground below.

Bosque de Pomac

The National Sanctuary of the Pomac Forest is the largest dry forest in western South America. A kilometre or so in from the interpretative centre you’ll find the oldest algarrobo tree in the forest, the árbol milenario; over a thousand years old, its spreading, gnarled mass is still the site for pagan rituals, judging from the offerings hanging from its twisted boughs, but it’s also the focus of the Fiesta de las Cruces on May 3. In the heart of the reserve lies the Bosque de Pomac, where over forty species of bird such as mockingbirds, cardinals, burrowing owls and hummingbirds have been identified, and most visitors at least see some iguanas and lizards scuttling into the undergrowth. Rarer, but still present, are wild foxes, deer and anteaters. There’s also a mirador (viewing platform) in the heart of the forest, from where it’s possible to make out many of the larger huacas. Although there is hostel accommodation at the interpretative centre, it’s rarely available or open: you’ll have to turn up and chance it; there is a camping area outside, however. The café here, selling basic snacks, is not always functioning, so bring a picnic.

The old colonial town of LAMBAYEQUE, 12km from Chiclayo city, must have been a grand place before it fell into decay last century; fortunately, it seems on the road to recovery, helped by its popular museums and vibrant Sunday markets. Buildings worth seeing here include the early eighteenth-century lglesia de San Pedro, parallel to the main square between de Mayo and 8 de Octubre, which is still holding up and is the most impressive edifice in the town, with two attractive front towers and fourteen balconies.

Museo de las Tumbas Reales de Sipán

The Museo de las Tumbas Reales de Sipán, or Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán, is an imposing concrete construction in the form of a semi-sunken or truncated pyramid, reflecting the form and style of the treasures it holds inside. This mix of modernity and indigenous pre-Columbian influence is a fantastic starting-point for exploring the archeology of the valley. You’ll need a good hour or two to see and experience all the exhibits, which include a large collection of gold, silver and copper objects from the tomb of El Señor de Sipán, including his main emblem, a staff known as El Cetro Cuchillo, found stuck to the bones of his right hand in his tomb. The tomb itself is also reproduced as one of the museum’s centrepieces down on the bottom of the three floors. The top floor mainly exhibits ceramics, while the second floor is dedicated to El Señor de Sipán’s ornaments and treasures. Background music accompanies you around the museum circuit using instruments and sounds associated with pre-Hispanic cultures of the region. A musical finale can usually be caught on the ground floor.

The Lambayeque Valley has long been renowned for turning up pre-Columbian metallurgy – particularly gold pieces from the neighbouring hill graveyard of Zacamé – and local treasure-hunters have sometimes gone so far as to use bulldozers to dig them out; but it’s the addition of the Sipán treasures that’s given the biggest boost to Lambayeque’s reputation, and the museum is now one of the finest in South America.

The Sicán culture

The Sicán culture, thought to descend from the Mochica, is associated with the Naymlap dynasty, based on a wide-reaching political confederacy emanating from the Lambayeque Valley between around 800 and 1300 AD. These people produced alloys of gold, silver and arsenic-copper in unprecedented scales in pre-Hispanic America. The name Sicán actually means “House of the Moon” in the Mochica language. Legend has it that a leader called Naymlap arrived by sea with a fleet of balsa boats, his own royal retinue and a green female stone idol. Naymlap set about building temples and palaces near the sea in the Lambayeque Valley. The region was then successfully governed by Naymlap’s twelve grandsons, until one of them was tempted by a witch to move the green stone idol. Legend has it that this provoked a month of heavy rains and flash floods, rather like the effects of El Niño today, bringing great disease and death in its wake. Indeed, glacial ice cores analyzed in the Andes above here have indicated the likelihood of a powerful El Niño current around 1100 AD.

The Sicán civilization, like the Mochica, depended on a high level of irrigation technology. The civilization also had its own copper money and sophisticated ceramics, many of which featured an image of the flying Lord of Sicán. The main thrust of the Lord of Sicán designs is a well-dressed man, possibly Naymlap himself, with small wings, a nose like a bird’s beak and, sometimes, talons rather than feet. The Sicán culture showed a marked change in its burial practices from that of the Mochica, almost certainly signifying a change in the prevalent belief in an afterlife. While the Mochica people were buried in a lying position – like the Mochica warrior in his splendid tomb at Sipán – the new Sicán style was to inter its dead in a sitting position. Excavations of Sicán sites in the last decade have also revealed such rare artefacts as 22 “tumis” (semicircular bladed ceremonial knives with an anthropomorphic figure stabbing where a handle should be).

The Sicán monetary system, the flying Lord of Sicán image and much of the culture’s religious and political infrastructures were all abandoned after the dramatic environmental disasters caused by El Niño in 1100 AD. Batán Grande, the culture’s largest and most impressive city, was partly washed away and a fabulous new centre, a massive city of over twenty adobe pyramids at Túcume, was constructed in the Leche Valley. This relatively short-lived culture was taken over by Chimu warriors from the south around 1370 AD, who absorbed the Lambayeque Valley, some of the Piura Valley area and about two-thirds of the Peruvian desert coast into their empire.

The site of TÚCUME, also known as the Valley of the Pyramids, contains 26 adobe pyramids, many clustered around the hill of El Purgatorio (197m), also known as Cerro La Raya (after a ray fish that lives within it, according to legend), and is located some 33km north from Chiclayo. Although the ticket office closes at 4.30pm and the museum shortly after this, the site is accessible after these hours (being part of the local landscape and dissected by small paths connecting villages and homesteads), with the main sectors clearly marked by good interpretative signs.

Túcume’s modern settlement, based alongside the old Panamerican Highway, lies just a couple of kilometres west of the Valley of the Pyramids, and doesn’t have much to offer visitors except a handful of accommodation and eating options.

High view of the pyramids of Tucume in Lambayeque - PERU © Carlos Sala Photography/Shutterstock

Tucume © Shutterstock

Covering more than two hundred hectares, Túcume was occupied initially by the Sicán culture, which began building here around 1100 AD after abandoning Batán Grande. During this time, known as the Second Lambayeque Period, the focus of construction moved to Túcume where an elite controlled a complex administrative system and cleared large areas of algarrobo forest (as is still the case today in the immediate vicinity of the Valley of the Pyramids and Cerro El Purgatorio at Túcume). Reed seafaring vessels were also essential for the development of this new, powerful elite. The Sicán people were clearly expert seamen and traded along the coast as far as Ecuador, Colombia and quite probably Central America; to the east, they traded with the sierra and the jungle regions beyond. They were also expert metallurgists working with gold, silver, copper and precious stones, and their elaborate funerary masks are astonishingly vivid and beautiful.

At Túcume’s peak, in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, it was probably a focus of annual pilgrimage for a large section of the coastal population, whose Sicán leaders were high priests with great agro-astrological understanding, adept administrators, a warrior elite, and expert artisans.

It wasn’t long, however, before things changed, and around 1375 AD the Chimu invaded from the south. Within another hundred years the Inca had arrived, though they took some twenty years to conquer the Chimu, during which time it appears that Túcume played an important role in the ensuing military, magical and diplomatic intrigues. Afterwards, the Inca transported many Chimu warriors to remote outposts in the Andes, in order to maximize the Incas’ political control and minimize the chances of rebellion. By the time the Spanish arrived, just over half a century later, Túcume’s time had already passed. When the Spanish chronicler, Pedro Cieza de León, stopped by here in 1547, it was already in ruins and abandoned.

Today, Túcume remains an extensive site with the labyrinthine ruins of walls and courtyards still quite visible, if slightly rain-washed by the impact of heavy El Niño weather cycles, and you can easily spend two or three hours exploring. The site has two clearly defined sectors: North is characterized by the large monumental structures; while the South has predominantly simpler structures and common graveyards. The adobe bricks utilized were loaf-shaped, each with their maker’s mark, indicating control and accounting for labour and tribute to the elite. Some of the pyramids have up to seven phases of construction, showing that building went on more or less continuously.

El Purgatorio hill

There’s a viewing point, reached by a twisting path that leads up El Purgatorio hill, from where you can get a good view of the whole city. This hill, circular and cone-shaped, at the very centre of the occupied area, was and still is considered by locals to be a sacred mountain. Access to it was restricted originally, though there is evidence of later Inca constructions, for example an altar site. It is still visited these days by the local curanderos, healing wizards who utilize shamanic techniques and the psychoactive San Pedro cactus in their weekly rituals, which researchers believe are similar to those of their ancestors and which could be one possible explanation for the name El Purgatorio (the place of the purge).

Museo di Sitio

The Museo de Sitio, at the entrance to the site, has exhibits relating to the work of Thor Heyerdahl, who found in Túcume the inspiration for his Kon Tiki expedition in 1946 when he sailed a raft built in the style of ancient Peruvian boats from Callao, near Lima, right across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia, as he tried to prove a link between civilizations on either side of the Pacific. The museum also covers the work of archeologist Wendell Bennett, who in the late 1930s was the first person to scientifically excavate at the site. More esoterically, Túcume has a local reputation for magical power, and a section of the museum has been devoted to a display of local curanderismo. There’s also an attractive picnic area, and a ceramic workshop where they use 2500-year-old techniques. The museum was constructed to reflect the style – known as la ramada – of colonial chapels in this region, built by local indigenous craftsmen centuries ago and using much the same materials.

Túcume Viejo

Although there are no tourist facilities as such, the Túcume ruins in the village of Túcume Viejo, less than 2km from Lambayeque, make for an interesting walk. Although an ancient site, check out the crumbling colonial adobe walls and a once-painted adobe brick gateway as well as the church, all of which have an elegant and rather grandiose feel, suggesting perhaps that the early colonists were trying to compete for attention with the Valley of the Pyramids.

About 30km from the Ecuadorian border and 287km north of Piura, TUMBES is usually considered a mere pit-stop for overland travellers, offering decent restaurants and better money-changing options than at the Ecuadorian frontier. However, the city has a significant history and, unlike most border settlements, is a surprisingly warm and friendly place. On top of that, it’s close to many of Peru’s finest beaches and two very distinct and unique forests and protected areas: the Santuario Nacional los Manglares de Tumbes and the Zona Reservado de Tumbes. The settlement of Zorritos is strung out along the seafront and Panamerican Highway some 28km south of Tumbes; as well as a long beach, this town is the point of access to some ancient, still-working natural mud baths.

The area can get very hot and humid between December and March, while the rest of the year it offers a pleasant heat, compared with much of Peru’s southern coast. The sea is warm and while mosquitoes can be bothersome between September and January, they rarely make their presence felt on the beaches. Locals tend to be laidback and spontaneous, a trait reflected in the local traditions such as las cumananas, an expression in popular verse, often by song with a guitar. The verse is expected to be sparky, romantic, comical and even sad, but most importantly, spur of the moment and rap-like.

Pizarro didn’t actually set foot in Tumbes when it was first discovered by the Spanish in 1527. He preferred to cast his eyes along the Inca city’s adobe walls, its carefully irrigated fields and its shining temple, from the comfort and safety of his ship. However, with the help of translators he set about learning as much as he could about Peru and the Incas during this initial contact.

The Spaniards who did go ashore made reports of such grandeur that Pizarro at first refused to believe them, sending instead the more reliable Greek cavalier, Pedro de Candia. Dubious descriptions of the temple, lined with gold and silver sheets, were confirmed by Candia, who also gave the people of Tumbes their first taste of European technological might – firing his musket to smash a wooden board to pieces. Pizarro had all the evidence he needed; he returned to Spain to obtain royal consent and support for his projected conquest.

The Tumbes people hadn’t always been controlled by the Incas. The area was originally inhabited by the Tallanes, related to coastal tribes from Ecuador who are still known for their unusual lip and nose ornaments. In 1450 they were conquered for the first time – by the Chimu. Thirteen years later came the Incas, organized by Tupac Inca, who bulldozed the locals into religious, economic and even architectural conformity in order to create their most northerly coastal terminus. A fortress, temple and sun convent were built, and the town was colonized with loyal subjects from other regions – a typical Inca ploy, which they called the mitimaes system. The valley had an efficient irrigation programme, allowing them to grow, among other things, bananas, corn and squash.

Pizarro longed to add his name to the list of Tumbes’ conquerors, yet after landing on the coast of Ecuador in 1532 with a royal warrant to conquer and convert, and despite the previous friendly contact, some of the Spanish were killed by natives as they tried to beach. Moreover, when they reached the city it was completely deserted with many buildings destroyed, and, more painfully for Pizarro, no sign of gold. It seems likely that Tumbes’ destruction prior to Pizarro’s arrival was the result of inter-tribal warfare directly related to the Inca Civil War. This, a war of succession between Atahualpa and his half-brother, the legitimate heir, Huascar, was to make Pizarro’s role as conqueror a great deal easier, and he took the town of Tumbes without a struggle.

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Introducing Northern Peru, home to the ‘new Machu Picchu’

Northern Peru Kuelap

Imagine Machu Picchu. Spectacular, historic, utterly iconic. And then magnify the history and minus the tourists, and you’ve got a sense of Kuelap.

You’ve probably never heard of Kuelap’s pre-Incan ruins and how they pre-date Machu Picchu’s, but it’s time their wonders got some recognition. Because they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lesser-discovered Northern Peru, a region we’re so excited to be taking travellers to for the first time ever.

Why? Northern Peru just has a different feel to it. Compared to more visited regions and more standard routes, it shows a sleepy, scenic side of the country that very few see: tiny Andean towns, dramatically lush landscapes and all. Not only are there fewer crowds and a more laid-back atmosphere, the highlights really are unbelievable.

Northern Peru Kuelap Gocta hike

Hiking in Northern Peru

Coming up: a quick guide to this barely-visited region (hint: it includes ones of the world’s highest waterfalls), what you need to know about the ruins of Kuelap, and all the cool activities Intrepid’s 7-day trip has to offer:

The allure of Northern Peru: the must-see spots

A few of our favourite historic and scenic parts:

Kuelap – the ‘new Machu Picchu’

Now, don’t get us wrong – we absolutely love Machu Picchu . We will never tire of standing at its Sun Gate, watching the mist lift off the mountain, feeling oh so small. It really is once-in-a-lifetime, a symbol of South America. But heading to Kuelap is truly like heading back in time. Mostly because you’ll be surrounded by so few other visitors that you can really enjoy the views from the hilltop fortress. And because you can really get lost in your imagination of what this place was like when the Chachapoyas civilization were here.

Kuelap Northern Peru

Yes, Kuelap is a pretty special place. It’s one of Peru’s most significant archaeological sites and it’s no longer difficult to get to thanks to the cable car that’s just been completed. Though it will get busier in time, visiting now is a perfect way of coming face-to-face with history. And of taking in Northern Peru’s jungle-clad, panoramic vistas.

READ MORE: 7 REASONS TO VISIT PERU (THAT AREN’T MACHU PICCHU)

The site itself is built on a mountain-top that sits in a cloud forest 3,000 metres above sea level. If that isn’t cool enough, it’s sheer age should be. It’s been estimated that construction on Kuelap began around the 6th-century, coinciding with the rising Chachapoyas culture. Its colossal walls and complex interior architecture reveal administrative, religious, ceremonial and other residences.

Kuelap Northern Peru

The view from Kuelap

STILL not impressed?  Kuelap is considered the largest stone ruin site in the New World. It’s comprised of 10 times the number of stone blocks that were used for the Great Pyramid of Giza. There you have it. A site that’s more than worth a day or so of your time. And, as The Guardian put it, the ‘new Machu Picchu’.

Gocta Falls – a little-known beauty

You’ve probably heard of Iguazu Falls , you may have been to Niagara Falls, and you’ve likely dreamed of Iceland’s array of waterfalls . But, let us be the first to tell you that the Gocta Falls are as spectacular as they are unknown.

That’s no exaggeration – until 2005 the two-level waterfalls sat hidden in the Andes, known only to locals. It’s only been in the last decade or so that they’ve gained more recognition. They’re still incredibly under the radar.

Kuelap Northern Peru Gocta Falls

Gocta Falls from afar

There’s little point in us explaining just how magnificent Gocta is – the photos speak for themselves – but rest assured that this spot is a must-visit. Not least because, by some measures, it’s the third highest waterfall in the world. And the 771 meter (2,529 feet) gem is also home to some picturesque hikes and a ton of photo opportunities.

Insider tip on when to visit Kuelap and Gocta from Gary Cohen, Intrepid’s General Manager for South America:

It’s generally quite warm during the day, but can get chilly at night. The best time of year to come here is during the dry season from May to September. A bit of rain isn’t bad though, it gets the Gocta Falls pumping harder!

Kuelap Northern Peru

Gary exploring Kuelap

Yerbabuena, Mancora and much more

There’s so much more to Northern Peru. But because we can’t list every cultural, archaeological and natural delight, here are a few more gems:

The Sunday markets of Yerbabuena.  The largest market in the entire region, Yerbabuena attracts buyers and sellers from all over to sell produce and animals. It hardly attracts any tourists, making for an authentic and memorable visit.

The historic town of Chachapoyas.  Though this town is charming and filled with colonial buildings, it’s its location that really sets it apart. Not only is it the gateway to the walled city of Kuelap, it’s also close to two worthwhile attractions. The first, the Revash Mausoleums, serve as collective tombs for Chachapoya’s dead; the second, Leymebamba Museum, is home to many mummies uncovered at the Laguna de los Condores site.

Northern Peru Revash Mausoleums

Revash Mausoleums

The surf village of Mancora.  Home to some of Peru’s best beaches, sunny Manorca is one of the highlights of the country’s northwest. Its great surf attracts a mix of locals and tourists, but the hot springs, mud baths and lively nightlife are also reasons to visit.

4 benefits of visiting Northern Peru with Intrepid Travel

We know Peru – both north and south – like the back of our hands, but we thought it was worth clarifying exactly how we make our new Northern Peru trip just so unique and memorable:

The expertise of local leaders

The reason we felt so confident saying we know the country like the back of our hands is thanks to the expertise of our wonderful local leaders.

Lima Northern Peru Kuelap

Intrepid leader expertise in Cusco

Our Intrepid tour guides in Peru (all 60 of them!) are all locals. And, more than that, they’re all passionate about showing off their country. So, whether you’re looking for an un-touristy bar in  Cusco , a behind-the-scenes insight into Peruvian culture, or some extra encouragement to accomplish that hike, they’ve got your back.

For more info on our local leaders and trips to Peru check out these 10 facts you probably don’t know about Peru .

Insider tips for exploring Lima

As we’ve said, our leaders know all the cool local haunts. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Peru’s capital, Lima. It’s in this city where you begin our Northern Peru trip , and where their tips will prove invaluable upon landing.

To help you acclimatise, we offer an included leader-led orientation walk of Miraflores, a neighbourhood you’ll love. It’s by the sea and offers some of the best parks, shopping and restaurants in the city. Not a bad way to get to grips with the city.

For more incredible experiences in Lima, we recommend our sister company, Urban Adventures. Their day tours are also all led by locals and include coastal biking trips , dinner with a Peruvian family , and a street food and nightlife tour .

Otherworldly accommodation

We handpick all of our accommodation on all our trips, ensuring comfort, safety and an insight into the local culture. But this really is a special one. If you visit Northern Peru with our sister company, Peregrine (trip here ), you stay at a lodge built for the sole purpose of providing views of the awe-inspiring Gocta Falls.

Gocta Lodge Kuelap Northern Peru

The lodge by Gocta Falls

In other words, it sits nestled in the Andes, oriented towards the waterfall and is surrounded by all the gardens, pools, terraces and llamas (!) you could wish for.

Its outdoor swimming pool isn’t too shabby either.

Gocta Lodge Kuelap Northern Peru

Full-day guided tour of Kuelap

If it wasn’t obvious already, we’re pretty excited about Kuelap. (There aren’t many of us in the fan club YET but  Lonely Planet has dubbed it “one of the most significant and impressive pre-Columbian ruins in all of South America”.)

So, to ensure visitors do this wonder justice, we offer a full-day guided tour of the site. It’s pretty spectacular and the local knowledge you’ll receive when there makes it all the more so. Honestly, pay it a visit and you’ll wonder why it receives so few visitors.

The new Machu Picchu has so much to offer the Intrepid explorer.

Northern Peru – beautiful, undiscovered and ripe for adventuring – awaits. Discover it for yourself on our 7-day Northern Peru trip.

Images all c/o Gary Cohen and Intrepid Travel.

Feeling inspired?

places to visit north of peru

Bex Shapiro

Born in London and based in Toronto, Bex is happiest anywhere she can connect with interesting people over good food. She's passionate about sustainable travel and powerful storytelling, and her favourite cities are New York and Shanghai. She's also the Senior Editorial Manager at Intrepid. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Insta @BexShapiro.

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The Best Northern Peru Itinerary For Travelers

Everybody knows about the famous tours in the southern part of Peru heading from the coast towards Cusco, or even more popular, the treks to Machu Picchu . but what about exploring some of the lesser-known places in Northern Peru that offer so many wonderful off-the-beaten-track attractions of their own. This itinerary of North Peru is recommended for anyone who is planning to visit Peru with limited time but wanting to experience a new alternative touristic route. Don’t miss this journey through the major sights of Northern Peru!

Kuelap, the Macchu Picchu of the North, in Chachapoyas.

What to See in Northern Peru

What is so special about this alternative route through the North of Peru? Have a look at the sites that you will see:

  • Lima: This is the typical starting point for travelers as they arrive in Peru. Despite common thought, the Peruvian capital definitely deserves a couple of days to see. Take some time to visit the hugely popular bars and clubs, and if that’s not your scene then Lima has some of Peru’s best museums, theaters, and art galleries. If you’re looking for fun, street art, and parties then visit the Bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, or if you just want a nice walk and a gorgeous view of the ocean then you can check out the popular Malecón (boardwalk) of Miraflores and explore the Parque del Amor, the Lighthouse and even discover a replica of the Nazca lines. Don’t miss the Plaza de Armas in the historical center, it is full of beautiful and important buildings. Once you’re ready, purchase your bus ticket towards Trujillo which should cost around s/70.
  • Chiclayo: Well-known for its delicious food, make sure that you don’t miss your opportunity to sample some of the traditional North Peruvian cuisines like Arroz con Pato (rice with duck), Seco de Cabrito (local dish made of rice and goat) and ceviche made with freshly caught local fish. If what you’re looking for is an amazing day by the ocean, Pimentel Beach is the perfect place for you. Spend the day relaxing on the sand and swimming in the soft waves, head on to the pier and try your hand at fishing, or just stroll along the sands. Chiclayo is also home to some of the country’s most important archaeological sites. Often compared to the tomb of Tutankhamun, in Chiclayo you will find the tomb of the Lord of Sipán. After Chiclayo, it’s time to head to the highlands in Cajamarca .

The amazing shot of Cumbemayo in Cajamarca.

  • Cajamarca: One of the most important cities in Northern Peru, Cajamarca is an excellent destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Cajamarca is a very historically important town, as it is where the last Inca was held and killed. The most popular time of the year to visit is during February for the city’s Carnaval festival. Other attractions to see in Cajamarca include the 6 Churches of Cajamarca, The Cumbemayo Stone Forest, Hot Springs in Baños del Inca, Ventanillas de Otuzco and Cuarto de Rescate (Ransom Room). Don’t forget to bring warm clothes as the weather can be very cold. The next stop will be the cloud forests of Chachapoyas.
  • Chachapoyas: Named after a famous pre-Columbian civilization, Chachapoyas is a lovely historic town with wooden balconies, colonial style and safe streets. You will definitely enjoy its relaxed lifestyle, beautiful blue skies, and welcoming people. Make sure to visit Kuelap , a famous citadel of the Chachapoya people (often called the “Macchu Picchu of the North”). The Waterfall of Gocta, the Sarcophagi of Karajia and the Museum of Leymebamba are also must-see stops of Northern Peru. Finally, make sure to try the delicious artisanal bread and varieties of cheeses from this area. (check out our guide to the Amazon region for more info). From Chachapoyas, you will begin the descent into the jungle, heading to Moyobamba.
  • Moyobamba: Heading into the Selva Alta , or high jungle, takes around 8 hours from Chachapoyas. You’ll arrive first in Moyobamba, known as the City of Orchids due to the wide variety of these flowers found there (see our guide to the San Martín region for more info). This jungle city deserves at least a couple of days, and it’s the perfect place to experience adventure, nature, and culture all in one place. Make sure to visit Aguas Termales de San Mateo (Hot Springs of San Mateo), natural pools with therapeutic properties. You can also go on jungle hikes to the Morro de Calzada or to visit numerous waterfalls. No list of things to do in Moyobamba would be complete without including the local food. Try the famous Avispa Juane (traditional jungle dish made of rice, ground beef, eggs, and chicken) or Inchicapy (green chicken soup with peanuts, cilantro, and yuca). Next, you can head further into the jungle to the city of Tarapoto.
  • Tarapoto: Just 2 hours from Moyobamba, Tarapoto is one of the most popular destinations in Northern Peru. Well-known for its nightlife, year-round good weather and amazing attractions, you’ll fall in love with Tarapoto from the moment you step foot there. Visit Calle de las Piedras (Stones street) to have some fun and try exotic drinks or food. If you’re on the hunt for adventure sports, Ahuashiyacu Waterfalls is the perfect place for you. Laguna Sauce (or the Blue Lagoon) is your bucket list item to check off during your visit to Tarapoto. This huge blue lagoon has small boats available to rent and even tours available, so make sure to spend a full day in this hidden place. It’s recommended to spend at least two days in Tarapoto since there are many different places to visit. Next it’s time to head to the Selva Baja or lowland jungle in Iquitos .

Northern Peru Itinerary Tioyacu Natural Pools in Moyobamba

  • Iquitos: This is one of the most famous places in Peru, and the largest city in the world that is not accessible by car. Because of this, the most common way to reach the city of Iquitos is by air, which takes just one hour. Alternatively, you can reach Iquitos by boat, sailing down the Amazon River and its major tributaries. To get to Iquitos by boat, you’ll need to get to the town of Yurimaguas which is accessible from Tarapoto by ground transport. From Yurimaguas, you’ll travel on the Marañon River before finally reaching the city of Iquitos. Here you’ll be able to experience some of the most amazing jungle scenery and wildlife in Peru, including butterflies, bats, jaguars, pink river dolphins, caimans, and monkeys. There are a number of excellent protected natural areas in the vicinity, including the pristine Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Ethno-tourists will relish in the chance to visit the indigenous settlement of Yaguas, a short boat ride from the town. If you’re seeking spiritual guidance, don’t miss the opportunity to try Ayahuasca.

The places mentioned above represent some of the best attractions in Northern Peru, with a large variety of different things to see and do. You will experience beautiful coastal beaches, misty cloud forests, the beautiful waterfalls of the high jungle, and the steamy lowland jungle all in one amazing trip.

Time Required for Northern Peru Itinerary

If you’re planning to do the complete tour, then three weeks is just about enough time to travel, as each city deserves at least two days to see the most important sights. On the other hand, if you choose to skip a couple of destinations or travel by air rather than bus, you can manage to see a lot of things in a week as well.

This Northern Peru itinerary is becoming more and more popular, for good reason! These cities are amazing tourist destinations, the route is easy to navigate and the tourist infrastructure is good. Keep in mind that as the tour goes ahead, you’ll experience the different kinds of Peruvian climate from frigid highlands to the sweltering jungle, so make sure to bring all the necessary appropriate clothing for the different types of weather.

What Are You Waiting For?

Follow this Northern Peru Itinerary to see some of the amazing sights of Northern Peru, from the coast to the highlands and jungle. You will soon discover for yourself why this alternative touristic route in Peru is getting more and more popular. What are you waiting for? Start planning your perfect dream trip to Northern Peru today!

places to visit north of peru

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This Region of Peru Has Incredible Ancient Ruins — Without Machu Picchu's Crowds

With its centuries-old ruins and striking mountains, the Amazonas region of northern Peru has no shortage of thrills.

João Canziani

Over the past few decades, Peru has been trying to weightily designate a number of its archaeological sites as “the next Machu Picchu ,” after the famed Incan redoubt in the country’s Sacred Valley. These range from the relatively obscure — like Choquequirao, the “cradle of gold” celebrated as the site of the Incas’ last stand against the Spanish — to somewhat better-known places like Kuélap, a huge, walled mountaintop settlement once populated by the mysterious Chachapoya civilization, the fabled warriors of the cloud forest.

The effort to crown new successors stems as much from the desire to attract adventurous travelers as it does from the need to siphon visitors away from Machu Picchu itself, which, prior to the pandemic, was well on its way to becoming a poster child for overtourism . (The site has gone from fewer than 200,000 visitors a year in 1980 to more than 1.5 million in 2018; by contrast, Choquequirao gets about two days’ worth of Machu visitors over the course of an entire year.) Far more people visit Machu Picchu on an average day than ever lived there; one writer clocked a new #Machu post going up on Instagram every 48 seconds.

As someone who shies away from crowds, I reveled in the idea of visiting underappreciated archaeological masterworks in comparative solitude. So, a couple of years ago, I began cataloging on Google Earth the myriad Peruvian places I wanted to visit, the country’s riches unfolding at the mere drag of the finger. But when I called Marisol Mosquera, who heads the Lima-based luxury operator Aracari Travel , I got a reality check. There was nothing wrong with my fantasy itinerary, she noted — except that it would take months.

The opening scene of the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the swashbuckling archaeologist played by Harrison Ford swaps a bag of sand for a gleaming gold fertility idol, is supposedly set in this part of Peru. The movie wasn’t actually filmed there, but there were moments when we would have been forgiven for thinking we were in the world of Indiana Jones.

In Peru, distances on a map may look short as the quetzal flies, but actually traversing them — often on narrow, vertiginous roads prone to washouts, rockslides, and a startling array of livestock — can be grindingly slow. A site I’d pegged as an easy day trip was, Mosquera told me, a 17-hour drive, one way. Accessing the sites often involves lengthy hikes, and there isn’t much in the way of anything beyond basic accommodations.

But Mosquera said she had grown increasingly keen on the northern region of Amazonas, particularly the area around Chachapoyas. The colonial mountain town was named for the fierce “lost” civilization that had inhabited the “eyebrow of the jungle” from around A.D. 500 to its eventual conquest, first by the Incas in the late 15th century, then by the Spanish in the mid 16th century.

There were a number of sites in Amazonas to visit, most prominently Kuélap, with its massive walls and hundreds of buildings — many still intact. The site was rediscovered in the 1850s but not given serious attention until the late 20th century. And there were two small, stylish inns Mosquera admired — both run by women, both occupying reforested land, and both within striking distance of significant sites.

The travel plan I hatched immediately encountered headwinds: first, COVID came along; then, I realized I’d forgotten to renew my passport. Finally, I fixed on a week in late April 2022. But dark portents kept appearing. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Amazonas in late 2021, damaging a number of roads. Then, weeks before my departure date, Peru was gripped by political protests, including a strike by transport workers (the country’s episodic bouts of political instability make it worth checking the U.S. State Department website before planning a visit). 

Related: I Went On My First Solo Hiking Trip In Peru — Here's How You Can Too

Just when I was days away from setting off, a section of restored wall at Kuélap collapsed, and the government closed the site. Rob Dover, an English-Peruvian dual national who runs Vilaya Tours in Chachapoyas and whom I’d been consulting on my itinerary, suggested I go anyway, for two reasons: first, to draw attention to what many view as the governmental negligence that caused the situation at Kuélap; second, because there were so many other things to see and do.

There was one final hurdle. On the eve of our trip, my brother-in-law Robert, who’d agreed to be my travel partner, revealed that he had a fear of heights. My mind flashed to roads twisting up to the 10,000-foot-high mountaintop pueblos we’d be visiting. “Think of it as exposure therapy,” I joked.

As I stepped out onto the broad deck of my cabin at the Gocta Natura Reserve , I suddenly had the sensation that I was inhabiting the white noise machine, with its settings of “waterfall,” “stream,” and “rainforest,” that for years helped me sleep amid the commotion of New York City. I stared at the massive Gocta waterfall — at 2,530 feet, one of the world’s tallest — coursing with days’ worth of rain. Its dull roar across the valley was joined by a cacophony of avian life; somewhere in the distance, the Gocta River burbled by.

Gocta Natura is located just outside the small town of Cocachimba, itself about an hour’s drive from Chachapoyas, the region’s biggest city — which almost everyone jauntily calls “Chacha.” A 90-minute flight leaves Lima three times a week for its tiny airport. An increasingly popular hub, Chachapoyas is itself worth an afternoon’s wandering. This pleasant mountain town has a university and cobblestoned streets lined with whitewashed buildings accented by Bavarian-looking dark wood details.

After a brief stop at Huancas, a tiny hilltop village with a transfixing view onto the magnificent Sonche Canyon, we headed to Gocta Natura. The six-cabin eco-lodge began life as a second home for Rocío Florez, who was working for the World Bank in Lima when she and her husband visited the area in the early 2000s. They were captivated, and bought a piece of farmland.

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In 2002, a German engineer measured the falls, then mostly a local secret, and declared them the world’s third tallest. The claim has since been revised downward, but the falls, which descend in two stages, with the top split into two channels, are undeniably impressive — and thus a nascent tourism industry was born. A dirt road was built, and a few small guesthouses opened. Florez, envisioning a “productive retirement,” began building her cabins and planting trees. An expert in sustainable development, she worked from the beginning on statutes intended to lessen the negative effects of tourism. “Some of the younger generation has been returning to Cocachimba,” she said, lured by the burgeoning economy. 

Cocachimba, thankfully, still seems quite sleepy. As Robert and I departed at 7 a.m. for the roughly eight-mile round-trip hike to the falls (some visitors go on horseback), a pair of young Danes were the only visitors we encountered. The path, sometimes manicured with paving stones, sometimes a muddy track, wound through thick cloud forests and was dotted with mosses, ferns, and bromeliads. A few small, shuttered huts advertised cold drinks. A little white dog joined us, bounding ahead to each bend and looking back expectantly. We named him Jefe.

Arriving at the base of the falls, we were suddenly in a glistening emerald wonderland. Because the waterfall is so high, it’s mostly mist by the time it reaches the bottom, but the sheer force of the vapor radiates outward in strong, cooling waves.

Arriving at the base of the falls, we were suddenly in a glistening emerald wonderland. Because the waterfall is so high, it’s mostly mist by the time it reaches the bottom, but the sheer force of the vapor radiates outward in strong, cooling waves. I’ve been at waterfalls a fraction of the size that were thronged with selfie-taking hordes; here, we were completely alone. There was no sign of the sirena — a sort of mermaid — that some locals believe inhabits it.

Returning, we began to encounter more people, mostly day-trippers from Chachapoyas. At Gocta, lunch awaited, one of three daily meals the lodge provides — part of an ambitious food program overseen by Florez’s son Matías Cillóniz, who also runs a bistro in Lima. Much of the food served, including Amazonas fruits like cherimoya and passion fruit, is grown on the property. Other menu standouts, like Andean black potatoes — one of Peru’s 4,000-plus endemic species of potato — are sourced from a group of women farmers in a nearby hilltop village.

Florez is trying to bring a new level of hospitality to Cocachimba. “I’ve just trained two ladies who’ve worked with me for years to do massages,” she told us. With excursions often requiring lengthy drives, she’s trying to make Gocta itself a more alluring destination. “The idea is, after a strenuous but beautiful activity, you come back and are pampered.”

One late afternoon, refreshed by a cooling chilcano de pisco cocktail, we walked to town to visit a hummingbird refuge recently opened by Elmer Yalta, the owner of a small hotel whose livelihood was derailed during COVID. Having inherited a chunk of land on the edge of town from his father, he stumbled upon the colibri cola de espátula, an endangered species of bird famed for its drooping, two-pronged tail. Yalta’s pandemic pivot was to convert the agricultural land into a forest stocked with hummingbird-friendly flora. Sitting in a shed, staring at a group of feeders, we watched as the bird suddenly appeared and probed its beak into the feeder, its beautiful, preposterous appendage hovering like some phantom twin. Yalta’s experience seemed emblematic of tourism itself: plant the right amenities, and people will come. But be sure to do it carefully, because ecosystems are fragile.

I had been virtually alone among the remnants of a thousand-year-old tomb built 3,000 feet above the village. It’s increasingly a rarity to come across such an unmediated, little-visited, remarkable place.

The opening scene of the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the swashbuckling archaeologist played by Harrison Ford swaps a bag of sand for a gleaming gold fertility idol, is supposedly set in this part of Peru. The movie wasn’t actually filmed there, but there were moments when we would have been forgiven for thinking we were in the world of Indiana Jones. One day I took a nearly two-hour taxi ride to the small village of San Jerónimo to see Cerro el Tigre, a set of cliffside Chachapoyan sarcophagi discovered by a local shepherd in 2013. Robert, as if sensing what was coming, opted to stay at Natura, enjoying a book and the waterfall view. And good thing: even the road to the village was near-nosebleed territory. 

As at many sites in Peru, access is gained via someone in the local community, in this case the cashier at a small grocery, who asked me to sign a guest book — the last visitors had been weeks before. She then took my money: 10 soles, a little less than $3, for the entrance fee and 50 soles, about $13, for the guide, a 16-year-old girl named Annali. Wearing a colorful sweater and a pair of Wellingtons, Annali nonchalantly led me and my driver, Elvis Hernández — who, having never seen the site, invited himself along — down a track to Cerro el Tigre.

We walked through a pasture, passing cows and dragon-fruit orchards, while a huge, sheer rock face loomed in the distance. After crossing a small waterfall, the butterfly-populated path twisted up a series of tight switchbacks into dense cloud forest. We scrambled up muddy sections and gingerly crossed handmade wooden bridges slick with moisture, finally emerging onto a high ledge marked by the remains of houses, bits of pottery, and, startlingly, a collection of human skulls arrayed on a rock.

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I was still trying to figure out where the sarcophagi were when Annali gestured toward a bridge made of hand-hewn logs. At the end was a ladder — a set of planks, really — nailed to a large tree jutting out into space. I nervously ascended what felt like a homespun tree house from my 1970s suburban youth. Reaching the top, I slowly turned around.

What I saw struck me with some weird primal power: a row of small figures with rounded, earthen bodies, arrayed under an outcropping of rock like Kewpie dolls at a country fair. Their smooth, oval faces, with simple painted eyes cast in shadow by prominent sculpted foreheads, stared silently out, for all time, across the Peruvian altiplano. Closer inspection revealed holes in the sides of the sarcophagi where the human remains had been looted. I took all this in, then made the mistake of looking down. A sheer drop, only partially obscured by dense jungle.  

Cerro el Tigre isn’t for everyone: the viewing platform isn’t built to any recognizable safety code, and just getting there is an endeavor. At one point, Elvis and I had to help a truck driver who had stopped ahead of us move several huge boulders out of the road. But the thrill of real, unadulterated adventure was undeniable. I had been virtually alone among the remnants of a thousand-year-old tomb built 3,000 feet above the village. It’s increasingly a rarity to come across such an unmediated, little-visited, remarkable place. And yet, the people of this region would no doubt benefit if Cerro el Tigre became better known, which would bring more visitors to spend money in local villages. 

Moments like these kept cropping up. On another afternoon, Robert and I traveled to a new archaeological site near Chachapoyas, a mountaintop settlement known as Cambolín. We were greeted at the windswept summit — unusually, it was easily reachable by car — by Jeff Contreras Soto, an archaeologist, and Amado Lopez, a community member from San Juan de Sonche, the town that oversees visits to the site as well as a nearby zipline and waterfall. Lopez offered a plastic bag of coca leaves, a common remedy against hypoxia. Feeling the altitude , we indulged (placebo or not, it seemed to do the trick). 

Thus steadied, we toured the complex with Contreras Soto as he pointed out the rare, still-intact mortar between the stones of the circular houses — a hallmark of Chachapoyan architecture — or pictographs with red target-like motifs. I had been told by Brown University archaeologist Parker Van Valkenburg that rather than a single culture, the Chachapoya were more likely a “mosaic of smaller polities that may have banded together” against Incan imperialism. The presence at Cambolín of square-shaped buildings — an Incan staple — revealed the seeming failure of that strategy. 

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Will Cambolín be the next Machu Picchu? No. But we were alone, with an archaeologist, for a two-hour visit at a significant, active site that is still being interpreted. Afterward we were taken, along with some students working on the site, to the small town below for a lunch in the community hall served by local women wearing traditional outfits, where we were plied with a further succession of regional elixirs. 

“I’ve never seen a culture that has so many ways of burying their dead,” Adriana von Hagen told us over dinner at Kentitambo , the small inn she runs with her partner, Oscar Bravo, outside the town of Leymebamba. There were the aboveground tombs known as chullpas; the cliffside sarcophagi for VIPs; the cave burials. “The walls of Kuélap,” she noted, “are great big cemeteries,” with every nook and cranny used to stash human bones.

Von Hagen, who trained as an archaeologist and is the daughter of noted American explorer-author Victor von Hagen, is a cofounder of the Leymebamba Museum, located just across the road from the inn. It opened in 2000 on the heels of a momentous discovery of Chachapoyan mummies, near a site called Laguna de Los Cóndores — a grueling three-day horseback ride from Kentitambo.

“At first we thought we could do on-site conservation,” she said. But the risk of additional looting was too great. With private funding, a museum was built to house the collection. It’s a fascinating place that, like seemingly everything else, we’d had to ourselves when we visited earlier that day. We peered through glass to look at the conserved mummies, crouched in an almost fetal position, their faces looking frozen in anguish. (It was Edvard Munch’s viewing of Chachapoyan mummies at the 1899 Trocadero Exposition in Paris that inspired The Scream. ) Among other artifacts, the museum has an extensive collection of quipus, the knotted strings that the Incas used as a kind of number-crunching device.

We unpacked a picnic lunch and pored over the tombs and pictographs with binoculars, reveling again at our sense of being alone in the company of these haunting monuments. 

Sitting at the table at Kentitambo is like being privy to some archaeological salon, with von Hagen offering tart opinions on overtourism in the Sacred Valley or the lack of attention paid by the government to Kuélap (“it’s been in scaffolding for years”). Bravo, meanwhile, chimes in with a joke and a hearty laugh. The inn is a favorite haunt not just for archaeologists but naturalists of all stripes. (A couple from Michigan, regular guests who are keen lepidopterists, were credited with finding a new butterfly species in the area.) It’s a bit more rustic than Gocta, the food more home-cooked. The climate is a bit wetter, a bit cooler. Befitting its sobriquet as the “hummingbird inn,” its grounds are packed with flora and fauna — I saw the spatula-tailed hummingbird, so rare in Cocachimba, right from my breakfast chair.

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Kentitambo is also close to a range of stunning archaeological sites. After our two-hour visit to the Leymebamba Museum, we were taken by Segundo “Viejo” Aguilar, a guide, to a site called La Petaca. We drove for an hour south, and disembarked at the beginning of a cattle trail. It had been raining, and walking was a delicate balance between trying not to lose a rubber boot in the sucking mud and trying not to fall down. We wound through a verdant pastoral landscape that could have been Scotland, then climbed a hill that briefly gave Robert pause — with urging from Viejo, he soldiered on — until we reached a plateau thick with bracken. 

Viejo hacked a path with his machete, and we suddenly had a view of a towering rock face. We could see, with the naked eye, mausoleums carved into the cliff. Contemporary archaeologists have explored those spaces using modern climbing equipment to rappel down the sheer cliff face, making it even more astonishing that the Chachapoya were working in this environment a thousand years ago. We unpacked a picnic lunch and pored over the tombs and pictographs with binoculars, reveling again at our sense of being alone in the company of these haunting monuments. 

Amazonas is not the easiest place to travel to. It takes a while to get places, and you may have to help your driver clear a path through a washed-out road. On a hike to a site, it’s always further than you think. Bravo, at Kentitambo, used the slang word allishito — meaning, in essence, just a little bit more over there. But when you get to wherever there is, you’ll be convinced that the journey was worth the effort. 

Where to Stay

Gocta Natura Reserve : Onetime Lima resident Rocío Florez hosts visitors at six stylishly rustic cabins (ask for one with a view of the stunning Gocta waterfall, a half-day’s hike away) in the hamlet of Cocachimba, while her son Matías Cillóniz oversees a food program supplied by the on-site gardens.

Kentitambo : Run by archaeologist Adriana von Hagen, Kentitambo is a small inn set among verdant cloud-forest foliage and surrounded by hummingbirds, in the small town of Leymebamba. The namesake museum, just across the road, is home to a famous collection of mummies.

How to Book

Aracari Travel : Peru is a large country, and the logistics can be tricky. Marisol Mosquera ([email protected]) can arrange trips to any of the sites mentioned in this article (including the now partially reopened ruins of Kuélap).

Vilaya Tours : Rob Dover, an Englishman who has lived in Peru for decades, is an expert on the Chachapoyas region and offers a wide array of outings, including longer jungle treks and horseback journeys.

A version of this story first appeared in the December 2023/January 2024 issue of  Travel + Leisure  under the headline "The Height of Adventure ."

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Top 10 of the Must-See-Places in Northern Peru

Please be aware that all the archaeological sites presented in this article in Northern Peru are very old. Much older than the Machu Picchu and the Inca history that you probably know already very well.

But Peru is not only Inca. There existed many other cultures before them and they lived in the Northern Regions of Peru and in Ecuador. We are lucky today, as they have left us an incredible wealth of ruins and archaeological mysteries.

Apart from these important visits, I propose you as well my personal selection of places. I am sure there will be something for everybody : Birdwatching in Huembo, Canoe-Tour in a Nature Reserve in Tingana, Culture with indigenous Quechua-Lamistas in Lamas or some rest at a Fisher Village. The possibilities of travels in Northern Peru are just infinite !

1) The adobe city of Chan Chan

Chan Chan, travel to northern Peru

This impressive archaeological site is situated close to Trujillo, on the coast of Northern Peru . It was built from 850 after JC onwards by the Chimu culture. With over 24 ha surface, it is the biggest city ever built in Adobe bricks. Today there are only 14 ha left and from these you can only visit a small part. But the visit is fascinating. The Chimu culture was very sophisticated, they even managed to prosper in this arid and dry region.

The Chan Chan site was named Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1986.

2) Chachapoya citadel of Kuelap, the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru

Archaeological site of Kuelap, travel to Northern Peru

The fortress of the Chachapoya culture is in the current region of Amazonas. This is in Northern Peru in the Andes mountains at an altitud of  3 000 m. It was built between 500 and 800 after JC. Archaeologists believe that at its peak up to 3 000 people lived there. The fortress of Kuelap is surrounded by up to 20 m high walls. Over 450 ruins of round houses were found in its interior on the two levels. It was a highly religious and administratif place for these Cloud Warriors, as the Chachapoya people were also called.

Kuelap was abandoned by its inhabitants so that they would not get conquered by the Incas. The Chachapoya joined the Spanish in order not to surrender to the Incas.

3) Conservation area of Huembo

places to visit north of peru

Huembo is an ecological reserve close to the Pomacochas Lagoon in the Amazonas region. It is situated on the birding road of Northern Peru. In this beautiful reserve you are most likely to see the famous Spatuletail Hummingbird, one of the most spectacular ones in the world.

With its spatules, the male makes a huge effort to impress his “chosen-one”. To see this mating dance will be certainly one of your best souvenirs from your trip to the North of Peru . Also keep in mind that the Amazonas region is the only place in the world where you can see the Spatuletail Hummingbird. This is thanks to its unique ecosystem between dry forest and humid mountain forest.

4) Huaca de la Luna y del Sol

Huaca de la Luna, travel to northern Peru

The Sun and Moon Temples are close to Trujillo on the Northern Coast of Peru and can be easily visited with a local guide. This exceptional archaeological site was built by the Moche civilisation that lived in this dry region between 100 and 800 our time. The Sun Temple (that can’t be visited) is supposed to be the biggest adobe (mud bricks) building of South America. Its construction used more than 140 millons of bricks for a size of 345 m long, 160 m wide and 30 m high.

5) Museum of Tumbas Reales

This museum is situated close to Chiclayo and is one of the best museums in Peru. It contains the excavations of the archaeological site of Sipan since 2002. The Museum of Tumbas Reales is known for the many gold, silver and copper pieces that are worked extremely fine. The Lord of Sipan lived around the years 300 as the Supreme Lord of the Moche population. His grave was found in one of the Truncated Pyramids, that are so typical for the Moche architecture in this period.

6) Waterfalls of Gocta

places to visit north of peru

The waterfalls of Gocta in the Amazonas region in Northern Peru were shown to the world in 2002 when the German Stefan Ziemendorff realised the impressive height of this waterfalls in two parts ! After measuring, it turns out that the Gocta waterfalls have a total height of 711 m and they are under the highest waterfalls in the world ! The hiking to the waterfalls takes around three hours through fields and cloud forest where you can see colorful butterflies, wild orchids and, if you are lucky, the famous Spatuletail Hummingbird or a Gallito de las Rocas, the Peruvian national bird.

7) Moyobamba – the nature reserve of Tingana

Nature reserve Tingana

The ecotourist reserve of Tingana in the region of Moyobamba in Northern Peru is a completely different world. After a 45-minute drive, and another 45-minute by speed boat, you will arrive at the reserve, which is a net of waterways that can only be used by canoe. The tour is magique, without any noise, with only the wind in the leaves, the flying insects and the whispering of the guides as they show you monkeys and birds in their natural environment. A place to see and to preserve !

8) Fishermen village of Huanchaco

Huanchaco

This fisher village close to Trujillo on the Northern coast of Peru still has all its charme. In the morning you can walk on the quiet beach and even see the fishermen come back from their daily work. Later on, locals and Peruvian tourists enjoy the beach to relax and get a nice sun tan, as the water is rather cold to have a swim.

The relaxed ambiance and the good food at the Coast (Peruvian Ceviche and fresh fish) will make you love Huanchaco before continuing your trip to other exceptional sites.

9) The community of Lamas, close to Tarapoto

Another village, but different assets. L amas is in the region of San Martin in Northern Peru, at about 15 km from the town of Tarapoto , on a hill with a great view of the surrounding valley. In the village you can learn about the history of the indigenous Quechua-Lamistas in the Museum Chanka before meeting them personnally in their part of the village.

This is where you can see their handicraft shops or take a tour at the association Warmi Wasi where you learn the different technics of producing bracelets out of grains, pottery or weaving. Another curiosity in Lamas is its medieval castle on the third level of the village. And for chocolat lovers , have a stop at the Fundo Ecoperlacha , just at the entrance of Lamas on your left. Here you will get all the explanations about cacao production and you can taste some as well ! (reservations only).

10) Beaches of Northern Peru

I can’t finish this Top 10  without talking about the beaches where you can swim ! For this you have to go as far North as possible, because otherwise the water is too cold. But around the towns of Mancora, Zorritos or Punta del Sal, you can find kilometers of sand, little villages on the sea (tourist, but with charme) and a summer ambiance: Swim, Surf, relaxing, the ideal destination to have a rest between two archaeological visits !

You would like to know more about it ?

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  • A day at Canyon de los Perdidos, Ica

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Journey Wonders

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

An article about the Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru including the best archeological sites and mountains of Trujillo.

Tired of visiting the super visited and cliched touristy spots in Peru? If off the beaten adventure is what you seek, look no further than Northern Peru my wonder friends.

Archeological ruins in a desert setting, new cultures, beaches, mountains, glacier lakes and more await you here.

Are you ready to read about the best things to do and see in Northern Peru my friends?

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #01: Peruvian Archeology at Trujillo

Trujillo is the most important city of Northern Peru and from there, you can easily access the many archeological zones, museums, beaches, and horse ranches of Northern Peru, making it the ideal base of operations for exploring the area.

It is located some eight hours north of Lima so it’s perfect for an overnight journey. In my opinion, a visit to Northern Peru is definitely recommended if you have the extra time after exploring the rest of the regions of this wonderful country.

The historical center of Trujillo is very pretty by day and even more pretty by night, although most people will find it quite dull and boring after a while.

Public transportation to the archeological areas is not that good so I ended up taking a cheap 10 USD one-day tour to visit some of the most important ones of the Moche culture of Northern Peru: Huaca (a word meaning sacred site) of the Moon, Chan-Chan Archeological Site and the Tomb of the Lady of Cao.

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #02: Huaca of the Moon and the Monsters

The Moche Culture of Northern Peru was not that different from the Incas that inhabit the Eastern region of the country (check out how to get from Lima to Cuzco here ), the main difference was that the Moches lived in arid zones and were based very close to the ocean. Local legend has it that one of the first God-Kings of their culture came by boat from far-away lands.

Of course, this probably means that the first rulers of Northern Peru came from one of the Polynesian Islands but it could also mean that they came from Mexico, thus, fortifying my royal claims to the iron stone throne.

Unlike the Incas, the Moches built their temples and palaces using adobe and were big fans of colorful drawings, in fact, the main attractions that you will find in Northern Peru are the intricate and detailed carvings that they did as well as the metallic decorations of their rulers.

The most emblematic mural of the Moche culture of Northern Peru is located in the Huaca of the Moon and symbolizes a red monster that was feared as a God according to their local traditions. His name? Ai Apaec the beheader. No wonder they were scared of him!

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #03: Museums and the Tomb of the Lady of Cao

A few km away from Trujillo itself, you will find the ongoing (at the time) excavation of the Tomb of the Lady of Cao, the Tattooed Sorcerer Queen of the Moches as well as some very interesting museums depicting the way the ancient rulers of Northern Peru were buried and the strange positions they adopted.

I would definitely suggest you visit The Tomb of the Lady of Cao today since I’m sure it has dramatically changed ever since I visited Northern Peru last year.

One of the best things to do and see in Northern Peru for sure!

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #04: Chan-Chan Palace, one of The Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

Last but certainly not least, I visited the immense palace of Chan-Chan, center of the Moche culture. In this place, there were once highly detailed statues of guardians, of which only fragments of the original remain, in their place you can see some interesting full-scale replicas of them.

It is quite shocking that the media focuses a lot on the archeology of the Inca culture while completely ignoring the general awesomeness of the cultures of Northern Peru such as the Moche one.

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

As soon as I arrived to the Chan-Chan Palace, I sensed that something strange was going on as our guide disappeared and in his place, an ancient Moche warrior of Northern Peru appeared to guide us through his palace.

Suddenly, the Moche warrior placed his eyes on me, the only non-Peruvian in the group. As we both exchanged glances, he knew I was there for a reason so he bent his knee and asked me: “Would you take the throne, my lord?”.

Of course, later that day I learned that he was actually an actor and that this coronation wasn’t official at all but hey, who cares? I got an awesome picture and the privilege of being an Emperor for a day!

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #05: Take a Detour into the Huaraz Mountains

While still considered as part of Northern Peru, Huaraz is located actually South-East of Trujillo but still North of Lima. Here you will find the Cordillera Blanca (White Range), an extension of the Andes Mountain range where you can embark on many epic hikes of wonders.

Glaciers, snow and llamas all await you in Huaraz and the surrounding areas. Stay tuned for a future article on Journey Wonders in which I’ll show you the many day trip and day hikes you can take from Huaraz.

They are truly out of this world!

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

I hope you have enjoyed this article about the best things to do and see in Northern Peru. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail.

Have you ever been to Northern Peru? Would you like to? What were some of your favorite things to do and see in Northern Peru? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think.

Until next time!

Best Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

Aracari Travel

  • Adventures in Peru

10 Highlights Of Northern Peru

10 Highlights Of Northern Peru, Aracari Travel

Discover Northern Peru

Northern Peru has much to discover, and all kinds of untapped treasures right at your fingertips. It has so much to offer but is relatively unknown and untouched. Northern Peru’s natural wonders an untold story of South American history is well worth exploring. Here are some of the top highlights.

Caral is a breathtaking archaeological site that was built between 3000 BC and 2100 BC, around the same time as the pyramids of Egypt . And yet, Caral is significantly less crowded than the pyramids and is still somewhat unexplored by most travelers. This pre-Inca UNESCO World Heritage Site was home to the oldest civilization in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also wildly complex: research has found that the buildings in Caral were built with careful knowledge of astronomy, music, and natural surroundings.

Another fantastic UNESCO World Heritage site , Chavin de Huantar is a fascinating pre-Columbian pilgrimage destination you won’t want to miss. This ancient space was home to the first Pan-Andean religion. The extinct Chavin society once lived in the Andean highlands, and traces of the Chavin influence can still be found along the coast.

The Chavin were one of the first Andean cultures to leave behind records in the forms of carvings, buildings, ceramics, and textiles . At the site, you’ll find round, sunken courtyards and intricate walkways beneath the structures. You’ll also note an intricate drainage system that nods to the Chavins’ engineering skills, as well stunning artistry on the ruins.

10 Highlights Of Northern Peru, Aracari Travel

3. Huascarán National Park

Huascarán is home to the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca . The park is also the site of Huascarán mountain, the highest mountain in Peru at 6768 m (22,204 ft.) This UNESCO biosphere reserve is unlike any other place on the planet. Huascarán is a fantastic area to hike or simply take in the natural beauty. Since Huascarán’s climbing season extends beyond that of the Himalayas but equally breathtaking views, you’ll have a larger window to fit in a bucket list climbing experience . As you journey through the mountain range, you’ll spot stunning glacial lagoons and snow-covered mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.

4. Cañon del Pato

This unpaved route is carved directly into the mountains on the Rio Santa River at the north end of the Callejón de Huaylas. Its steep canyon walls aren’t flat enough for much to grow, so you’ll see a fascinating juxtaposition as you make your away along its jagged surface. Along the way, you’ll journey through 35 one-way tunnels and be rewarded with mountain scenery unlike anything else.

5. The Moche Route

The Moche Route  is one of the most underrated gems of Peru – and of South America in general. Along the Moche Route, you’ll find fascinating archaeological sites created by the Moche people, who were brilliant experts in metalwork as well as excellent irrigation . You’ll explore slices of history that existed long before the Inca came along. The metals and pottery the Moche left behind tell a story of a fascinating culture. The Moche had an efficient and widespread community structure in place, which enabled its people to expand across wide swaths of land.

The Moche Route includes the cities of Trujillo and Chiclayo, as well as many lauded archaeological treasures and fascinating museums along the way. You’ll especially want to see  the pyramids of Tucume, and Huaca de la Luna, a 1000-year-old Moche Temple.

10 Highlights Of Northern Peru, Aracari Travel

6. Chan Chan

This massive ancient city, near the modern-day city of Trujillo, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site . From around 900 AD to 1400 AD, Chan Chan served as the center of one of the largest societies captured by the Inca: the Chimú. The Chimú thrived in Northern Peru, and Chan Chan is their crown jewel. It consists of ten citadels where people once lived, worked, and worshipped. You’ll discover beautiful Chimú pottery, intricate city systems, and fantastic metalwork. The city’s architectural features will take your breath away, and the stunning works carved into

the city’s adobe structures make for excellent photo opps.

This ancient city was once home to the Chachapoyas (known as the cloud people), a pre-Inca culture that built their masterpiece atop a mountain. Known as the Machu Picchu of the north, Kuelap is the biggest ancient stone archaeological site on the continent and is known as one of the most impressive ruin sites in the nation.

Kuelap was built long before Machu Picchu, and the fortified city stands tall at 3,200m (10,500 ft) into the air, surrounded by cloud forest. Kuelap’s intricacy is a testament to Chachapoyan ingenuity and talent. The city’s 40 million cubic feet of stone was somehow cut, rounded, and moved. That’s no small feat, even today. When you arrive, you’ll want to be sure to check out El Tintero, which is thought to have been a solar observatory.

Also be sure to take in the city’s massive granite wa

lls, stunning ceremonial spaces, striking pottery, and geometric art.

If you love the outdoors, you’ll adore Gocta , one of the tallest waterfalls in the world . Hidden in the Chachapoyas cloud forest, this lesser-known waterfall is a world-class experience. You can enjoy a light hike through the cloud forest to reach Gocta, and pause to feel the waterfall’s mist on your face. If you find yourself feeling tired at the end of the hike, you can even hire a horse to take you back home.

10 Highlights Of Northern Peru, Aracari Travel

9. Leymebamba

The town of Leymebamba is a treasure trove of historic sites and natural beauty. Its major highlight is the world-class Leymebamba Museum , which is home to a renowned collection of more than 200 mummies and gorgeous surrounding gardens . Here, you will be able to get close up views of the endemic Marvelous Spatueletail Hummingbird, a magnificent sight!

10. Amazon River

The illustrious Amazon Rive r is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but not everyone realizes it can be experienced in Peru. People don’t always know that Peru’s diverse ecosystems include much more than the Andes. In Peru, you’ll find deserts, highlands, flatlands – and the Amazon Basin. Northern Peru is home to one of the most lovely stretches of the Amazon River. Here, the river passes through Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a home to a whole host of biodiverse species. Peru’s Amazon basin is one of the country’s final frontiers, and it’s just begging to be explored.

Contact us today to join Aracari’s upcoming Founder’s Trip to Northern Peru ! Or Explore our many itineraries  that cover Northern Peru.

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Ideas for the Perfect Northern Peru Itinerary

Ideas for the Perfect Northern Peru Itinerary

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W hilst Southern and Central Peru are well-trodden by travelers seeking the most popular sights like Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu, only the more adventurous and discerning travelers explore the north. Of course, these discerning travelers are greatly rewarded with an incredible selection of activities that provide an insight into the history and culture of Peru like nowhere else. Northern Peru is a treasure trove of ancient Peruvian history that far predates the Inca Empire. On a Northern Peru Itinerary, you could step foot in the tombs of ancient Sipan lords, admire the architecture of a ruined adobe city, and enquire about the symbology of Moche art. Meanwhile, the Tambopata National Reserve awaits to share the Amazon’s secret natural world with you. Should your curiosity lean towards indulging in a luxury Peru tour , you’re invited to discover the selection of adventures that Totally Latin America has available.

In this article, we dive into the details of the best places to visit in Northern Peru. Whether you are intrigued by the country’s history, art, culture, or natural world, there are many excursions you’ll want to add to your Northern Peru Itinerary . Which ones will you not want to miss?

Huaraz (3 days/ 2 nights)

Northern Peru Itinerary

As the second largest city in the Peruvian Andes, Huaraz offers an unequivocal insight into traditional and modern Andean culture and daily life . Positioned at just over 3,000 meters above sea level, it is surrounded by mountains in all directions which are trailed by mind-blowingly beautiful hiking routes. Exploring further afield, remnants of the region’s ancient past are found in abundance. En route to the star attraction of its pre-Colombian era, Chavín de Huántar , you’ll discover the pre-Inca culture of the Recuay people, as well as relics of the Callejón de Conchucos.

Chavín de Huántar

Chavín de Huántar is one of Peru’s oldest and best-preserved pre-Colombian archeological sites. It was built as a place of worship for Andean communities and, over time, became a center for the practice of the region’s ideology, culture, and religion . On your private tour of this ancient complex, your knowledgeable guide will inform you about its fascinating history, architecture, and lithic art. You’ll also get a little-known insight into the symbology of the iconography scattered around the site like forbidden clues to an alternate world.

Laguna 69 Hike

Northern Peru Itinerary

This 7.5-mile (12 km) (5-6 hour) hike to this picturesque turquoise lagoon backdropped by snow-capped Andean mountains is one of the best hikes in Peru. With a steady climb from 3,800 to 4,600 meters, the ascent and altitude make the hike moderately difficult, although easier if you’ve taken some time to adjust to the altitude beforehand. However, most find that the views of rolling mountain ranges, waterfalls, and wildflowers en route are more breathtaking than the altitude itself. Not to mention the rewarding views of Laguna 69 at the top. The best time to embark on this remarkable journey is during the dry season, typically from May to September, when the weather is most favorable and the trails are at its best. Find out more about the best time to visit Peru: month by month.

Chiclayo (4 days/ 3 nights)

Chiclayo is the coastal capital of the Lambayeque region, an area once considered a powerful cultural and spiritual center for pre-Colombian settlers including the Sinca, Chimú, and Ica peoples . While remnants of its ancient past surround Chiclayo, the city center harks back to its Colonial era with an Old Town full of handsome Hispanic buildings. When you’re not sightseeing in and around the city, you can spend your time relaxing or surfing on the city’s best beaches.

Witch markets of Chiclayo

Witchy rituals may seem like voodoo nonsense to the Westerner but for the Chiclayo people and many other Peruvians, it’s a respected practice ingrained deep within their ancient roots. To see it practiced in the modern day is simply fascinating. The rituals require a personalized concoction of materials like wool, wax, glittering pigments, skulls, icons, and stones that are acquired at the local witch market. No visit to Chiclayo is complete without a private guided tour of these markets where you get an up-close insight into the rituals’ spiritual meanings and practices, and the life of local shaman.

Lord Sipan’s Tomb

Northern Peru Itinerary

Lord Sipan’s Tomb is a tomb containing the bodies and highly prized possessions of the noblemen of the ancient city of Sipan, dating back to the Moche period between 50-700 AD . Only discovered in 1987, the tomb is one of the greatest recent archeological findings in Peru. Although many of the riches were looted, the remains of Lord Sipan and his relatives are on display along with some of the jewelry and armory he was buried with . As one of the few ancient sites in Peru with human remains, it evokes a significant sense of historical understanding to all who see it.

Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum

Northern Peru Itinerary

Many more of the artifacts from Lord Sipan’s tomb have been restored, preserved, and displayed in the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. The museum’s three floors represent the three layers of the tomb’s excavation , featuring the artifacts that were found at each level. Each of these speaks volumes about the culture, skills, and livelihoods of Sipan’s elite. Among the incredible artifacts are jewelry featuring human faces and spider webs, an owl-shaped headdress made of copper and feathers, gilded animal figures, and burial regalia.

Nicknamed ‘Purgatory’ by locals, Tucume is one of the most historically spiritual sites in all of Peru . It is a mud-brick settlement consisting of 26 enormous pyramid structures occupied by multiple pre-Colombian settlers between the 10th and 15th centuries, most recently the Incas. These impressive structures are thought to hold ancient powers which local shamans evoke in their rituals. When you explore these pyramids and their mural art, you’ll no doubt feel the power they possess too.

Trujillo (3 days/ 2 nights)

Northern Peru Itinerary

Known as the ‘city of eternal Spring’, Trujillo is a blooming and bright city on the coast of northern Peru. Its historic center is full of exemplary colonial buildings and top-notch local Peruvian restaurants. Trujillo is an ideal jumping point for the region’s magnificent ancient archeological sites and monuments including the Moon Huaca and Chan Chan . Between sightseeing, the nearby Trujillo and Chicama beaches are an excellent destination to begin or practice surfing.

El Brujo Archaeological Complex   

El Brujo Archaeological Complex is a must-visit for all those hoping to gain unparalleled insight into Peru’s ancient Moche settlers, and their spiritual beliefs and practices. The complex features three well-preserved huacas which can be privately toured with an onsite archeologist to discover their history, artistic symbology, and cultural significance. Among them includes the ‘decapitator’ motif, which is repeated throughout Moche artwork. After exploring the huacas, the tour ends with a look inside the Cao Museum where the legendary mummified Lady of Cao lays in waiting.

Sun & Moon Huacas  

Northern Peru Itinerary

Positioned between Trujillo and Chan Chan along the Moche River, the pyramid-shaped Sun & Moon Huacas are another significant Moche-period ruin. They were named due to their foundations facing opposite each other, just like the sun and moon. While the Sun Huaca (one of the world’s biggest adobe structures) is thought to have been an imposing fortress or temple, the Moon Huaca is smaller and thought to have been the religious and ceremonial center of the Moche era . On a tour here, you will get a valuable and enriching insight into the Moche culture.

Northern Peru Itinerary

The impressive Chan Chan archeological site is one of the few remaining places in the world that offer insight into the ancient Chimu culture , established around 900 CE. The giant 20-square-kilometer complex is the continent’s largest adobe city and features many well-preserved buildings from temples to houses. As you tour this vast piece of archeology, you’ll get to learn about the group’s unique religious beliefs and values, including their worship of the Pacific Ocean.

Iquitos – Amazon Jungle (1 week +)

places to visit north of peru

Iquitos is a city at the heart of  the Peruvian Amazon that acts as a gateway to the rainforest and its exceptional spectrum of biodiversity. Expect to discover rarely sighted wildlife such as capuchin monkeys, macaws, tapirs, sloths, and jaguars. Rather than indulgence, Iquitos’ accommodation focuses on ecotourism, giving visitors the chance to immerse in the Amazon’s incredible nature without imposing on the ecosystem. Trips in the rainforest are both fun and adventurous, and engaging and educational. Anyone that visits will come away with first-hand insight of the Amazon and its conservation, as well as those precious once-in-a-lifetime kind of memories. 

Iquitos jungle experiences:

  • Jungle walks
  • Piranha fishing
  • Birdwatching
  • River cruises
  • Tribe visits
  • Evening lectures
  • Medicinal plant trails
  • Mountain biking

With the exciting and diverse range of activities and experiences available in the Amazon, it’s easy to spend at least a week there. Each of the excursions is led by exceptionally knowledgeable naturalist guides to give you deep insight into the places you go and things you see. TLA can build you a captivating private guide-led itinerary alongside an eco-lodge jungle retreat experience that will provide you with a rare Amazon adventure.

Click here to find out more about experiencing the Amazon.

Create a bespoke Northern Peru Itinerary with TLA

Now that you have all the useful information and inspiration you need to explore Northern Peru, it’s time to create a bespoke Northern Peru Itinerary that speaks to your travel soul. TLA can include any and all of the above sights and activities in your itinerary, and combine it with itineraries for exploring other parts of Peru and South America. To get started, reach out to Totally Latin America messaging us here or calling on +1 855 217 9045. 

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Revash tombs

Discovering Peru's forgotten North

By Peru specialist Chloe

Northern Peru is truly like a forgotten land. Most overseas visitors never set foot here, but don’t discount it on those grounds. So, why should you go?

To experience a part of undeveloped Peru where deep-seated traditions still hold sway. To embark on scenic walks in the eastern Andes and off-the-beaten-track birdwatching. To visit barely excavated pre-Inca ruins that, for years, lay undiscovered, smothered in cloudforest or tucked into rocky overhangs.

Where to go in northern Peru

You can explore all the places I mention below over a two-week trip . Bear in mind that some long — though extremely scenic — road transfers are essential for getting around northern Peru; domestic flights don’t really exist here. You also have the option to bring northern Peru into a wider tour of the country . Over two weeks you can visit some of the Northern Kingdom’s main sites before flying into Cuzco to pick up the classic tour of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Local farming lady, Cumbemayo, Cajamarca

The Chachapoyas and Leymebamba region

From the second you step out of the car in the Chachapoyas region the air feels moist, as if newly rinsed. Bromeliads cling to tree trunks, and you might catch hummingbirds flitting past, their wings beating a rapid tattoo. You’re now in cloudforest.

It’s an area where weekly calendars revolve around the local cattle market. Legend and folklore abound: waterfalls are jealously guarded by mermaids, and the screech of an owl can curdle the blood of local people, for whom it signifies the ‘cry of death’. All mischief or unexplained happenings are attributed to sprite-like creatures called duende.

View of Marañon Canyon en route from Leymebamba to Chachapoyas

Gocta Waterfalls

A three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaen Airport (a 90-minute flight from Lima ) brings you to Cocachimba, a hamlet set in a misty area of forest-clad mountainsides.

Cocachimba offers little more than a village-square-come-makeshift-football-pitch and a couple of shops, but it’s the gateway to Gocta Waterfalls. This double-tiered cataract appears like a smoke trail at the end of a U-shaped rock face.

Gocta Waterfall, Cocachimba

There are a couple of restful places to stay in Cocachimba where you can wake to prime views of the falls and start a hike on the well-marked jungle track to the falls’ plunge pool.

  • Read more about hiking to Gocta Waterfalls

Kuélap — the landmark Chachapoya settlement

The Chachapoya culture (800 to 1476 AD — the name roughly translates to ‘cloud warriors’, a possible reference to their foggy homeland) built this limestone brick settlement running directly north to south along an escarpment 3,000 m (9,843 ft) above sea level.

It’s protected with backfilled walls 20 m (66 ft) high and looks like a fortress, though current thinking compares it to the Vatican, a religious or ceremonial nucleus whose walls signified power and prestige. All around the site lie yawning mountain passes, one with a great looping syncline visible in its exposed strata.

Kuelap Chachapoyan site, Peru

Inside the ramparts, cloudforest has partly reclaimed the ruins. Unlike Machu Picchu , Kuélap’s vegetation has been partly left to run wild. Trees, mosses, orchids and fuchsia have wiggled their way into the site’s drystone roundhouses in a way that reminded me of Cambodia’s Ta Prohm . The greenery helps wick away water, contributing to the site’s preservation.

Other shapes emerge as you explore: a watchtower, buildings decorated with enigmatic friezes of zigzags and rhombuses, and an inverted cone-like construction named El Tintero (‘The Inkwell’). Its purpose has intrigued archaeologists; theories range from solar observatory to bone depository.

Getting there is also fun: you take a 20-minute cable car trip over a forested gully with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. Tip: minutes after you set off, look back at the rock face to glimpse some human remains — including a skull — stashed in difficult-to-reach burial niches.

Kuélap is best visited en route from Gocta to the whitewashed highland town of Chachapoyas, which makes a pleasant base for exploring the area.

Jaguar eye, Kuelap

Walking to the tombs of Revash

Revash is less archaeological ruin, more scenic experience. The only way to witness this 13th-century burial site of the Revash culture is on foot.

The wide, paved trail begins in a modest highland village, and you’ll pass through outlying homes and smallholdings before reaching a cliff-edge. Itinerant chickens, schoolchildren dwarfed by enormous backpacks, and the occasional villager leading a pony share the first section of path with you. You then traverse the cliff’s flanks on a narrow, stony track to reach a viewing platform.

Revash

Opposite and slightly above sit chullpas (funerary buildings or tombs) constructed into an overhang on an impregnable-looking limestone cliff face. In fact, most of the tombs were looted by huaqueros (grave robbers or treasure hunters), leaving only skeletal remains inside. But the chullpas, which resemble miniature reddish mudbrick cottages, are largely intact, along with a series of red pictograms. Their meanings have been largely lost, but one is thought to represent a sacred feline figure.

Leymebamba Museum

From Revash it’s roughly a 90-minute drive to Leymebamba. This village’s greatest claim to fame is its museum , home to the 800-year-old Chachapoya mummies found at a remote sierra lake, Laguna de los Cóndores.

The museum displays Chachapoya textiles — some remarkably well-preserved — as well as oddities including trepanned skulls, a bone flute, and a mummified possum.

Leimebamba museum

But it’s the 219 mummies that are the headline attraction. Stacked on shelves in a musty room, some half-wrenched from their wrappings, they stare back at you from hunched positions. Some have their hands clamped over their eyes, as if playing a ghoulish game of peekaboo. Some are still encased in their shrouds, which bear oddly childish-looking stitched faces.

In and around Cajamarca

The drive from Leymebamba to Cajamarca , a boutique colonial town set in a fertile dairy-farming valley, is long — around nine hours of snaking mountain road.

However, the only traffic you’re likely to encounter is free-roaming livestock. My driver pulled over at times to let me walk for a little way along the empty road and admire the views. The Andes rise up around you, the mountainsides flecked with splashes of magenta from wild bougainvillea and indigo blue from jacaranda. There’s also the odd brownish patch where farmers have lit fires, believing the smoke will bring rain.

Cajamarca, the town

This pleasantly walkable cluster of cobblestone streets has a large, fountained central plaza that acts as the town’s de facto living room. Just off this main square, hidden away amid plateresque churches and other colonial relics, is the Cuarto del Rescate (Ransom Room). Inca emperor Atahualpa bargained with Pizarro to fill this room with treasure in exchange for his freedom.

Street lights, Cajamarca

Peek through the trapezoidal doorway and you’ll see niches where idols and war trophies were kept, as well as the stone on which Atahualpa was eventually executed. Precisely tessellated stonework aside, it’s an unremarkable ruin, but a good guide can bring it to life. Mine, Manuel, regaled me with (unapologetically biased) tales of how Atahualpa verbally sparred with Pizarro, exposing the conquistador’s illiteracy.

Cumbe Mayo, a pre-Inca aqueduct

Reaching this site created by the Cajamarca culture (circa 500 to 1000 AD) involves a 45-minute drive out of Cajamarca up a bumpy, chicaning mountain road, the altimeter ticking up to 3,500 m (11,482 ft). As you climb, you’ll glimpse highland women wearing traditional dress of wide skirts and rainbow-patterned shawls. They sport tall straw hats in place of the squatter, bowler styles seen in the south.

Peruvian lady

Cumbe Mayo (‘thin stream’ in Quechua) is the well-preserved remains of a pre-Inca aqueduct or canal. Like Revash, it’s less of a ruin, more of a good walk. You pass through a winding dale peppered with gorse-like yellow bushes, the air ringing with the cawing of Andean rockpeckers.

Spiked crowns of glacially sculpted columns known as Las Frailones (the Tall Friars) rise up around the dale, some standing up to 60 m (196 ft). Their surfaces have eroded into shapes resembling human faces. The local explanation for their humanoid appearance is livelier: they were originally wrongdoers who were petrified in an electrical storm sent by Pachacamac, the Inca creator-god.

Manuel led me to an area where the canal disappeared under a weighty boulder, or rather an altar. Surprisingly, Cumbe Mayo’s water wasn’t used for irrigation but for religious rituals. Manuel pointed out where the straight-sided channel suddenly entered a couple of carefully crafted zig-zags, which represented the sacred staircase, or the path to heaven.

Channel and altar at Cumbe Mayo

In and around Chiclayo

From Cajamarca it’s a very long drive to the coast, swapping highland scenery for flatter, sandy coastal plains. The northern coast is a desert hinterland quite divorced from more familiar images of a green, mountainous Peru.

Chiclayo is an unprepossessing town, little more than a base for exploring the nearby sites. That said, it does have some winsome quirks. Pop your head into the Mercado de Brujos (witches’ market), where witch-doctors ply the customer with a cabinet of curiosities: dried herbs, powders and packaged remedies claiming to cure a host of ills, from headaches to heartache. There are also stalls piled with luscious produce, from tuna (prickly pears) to lúcuma, a fleshy, nutty-caramel fruit beloved of northerners. Try it in ice-cream form.

The pyramids of Túcume

A 45-minute drive from Chiclayo brings you to a parched valley of dun-shaded, low-lying mounds, their trapezoidal sides gouged with runnels from rainwater. They’re 26 (mostly) as-yet-unexcavated burial pyramids made of adobe mudbricks, created by the Sicán culture who began work here around 1100 AD. Locals coexist with this gargantuan archaeological site with their usual placid pragmatism: I was tickled to see that someone had planted a vegetable patch at the foot of one of the pyramids.

Túcume near Chiclayo

You walk through a scorched, scrubby landscape of carob and sapote forest to enter the main pyramid-studded valley. Keep your eyes peeled for burrowing owls, vermilion flycatchers, and the bright flash of a blue-headed whip-tailed lizard.

When I visited, the valley seemed abandoned (save for a few brooding vultures), with all of the main excavations closed to the public. This is par for the course in northern Peru, but it does mean you’re likely to see professionals digging or testing out new technology.

I recommend climbing the sinuous path to the mirador (viewpoint) on the Cerro Purgatorio (Purgatory Hill) for views over the scattered pyramids rising from the hazy plains of desert scrub, dry forest and sugar cane.

Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán

The town of Lambayeque lies around 20 minutes from Chiclayo by road, and it’s the proud owner of one of the best museums in South America. This scarlet Toblerone of a structure was purpose-built to house the priceless objects discovered by Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva in the tomb of a Moche noble known as the Lord of Sipán. (The original burial site is about 48 km (30 miles) away).

Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum

The museum is cannily structured. Information boards track the progression of the original dig opposite the cleaned-up exhibits, presented in the order they were found. First, you see a single gold rattle. Then 1,137 clay pots, believed to be offerings. Then the skeleton of a sentry, whose feet were removed so he was unable to flee his post. All these things, Alva knew, indicated that some VIP was buried close by.

Descending deeper into the building, you enter the areas devoted to the countless relics found buried with the Lord of Sipán himself — his body was wrapped in combat dress, with multiple outfits and adornments for the afterlife. They include earrings with astoundingly detailed metallurgy, a collar of stylized gold and silver peanuts, and several pectorals fabricated of tiny white seashells. With case after case of gold, gilded copper, lapis lazuli, and bronze relics, it’s easy to become quickly overwhelmed with the riches on display.

The temples of El Brujo

From Chiclayo it’s around a two-hour drive to El Brujo, a truncated, stepped pyramid complex created by the Moche culture (200 BC to 600 AD).

At moments on this journey, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a desert-like version of Southeast Asia : the highway splices paddy fields, rice being a staple part of the diet in the coastal north. Look for great bags of it being sold by the roadside.

You then follow the Pan-American Highway south, moving out of the desert and into the surprisingly verdant Chicama Valley with its maize and asparagus plantations. Snow-white cattle egrets pick their way through the stalks.

Tomb of the Lady of Cao, El Brujo

El Brujo rises out of nowhere at the end of a long minor road that comes out at the slate-gray Pacific — the background rumble of its waves accompanies you around the site. A lone armed guard stands watch at the top of the main ruin, the Temple Cao, like a knight prowling battlements.

The Temple Cao itself is a 30 m (98 ft) high pyramid made out of adobe mudbricks. It’s a bizarre Russian doll of a structure in which outer temples were built around earlier ones by successive generations every time a priest (thought to have been the leaders of Moche society) died.

El Brujo’s strangeness is immediate. An area in front of the Temple Cao appears sprinkled with bits of pottery and other archaeological detritus. But a closer glance reveals a white lump to be a human pelvic bone. Around it lie scraps of tattered cloth — original Moche textiles, preserved in centuries of dust. ‘We can’t walk there,’ said my guide, Janette, matter-of-factly. ‘A lot of this place is still being investigated.’ Archeology in northern Peru is thrillingly in the raw.

Giant friezes embellish the temple façades. One depicts a line of well-endowed prisoners being led to sacrificial slaughter. ‘We think the victims were made to drink a hallucinatory brew that made them… stand to attention,’ said Janette, with a wry smile. Then she pointed to another set of bas-reliefs. ‘Look: human foot bones.’ I squinted at some dancer-like figures. Sure enough, lumps of whitish bone slotted into the wall, forming the figures’ ankles.

Excavated painted carvings at El Brujo

It’s easy to forget that all these walls were originally brilliantly painted, and you get a better sense of this when you reach the crest of the complex. Here, near the main altar, a restored panel reveals the demonic face of Ai Apaec, a key Moche god who bears the amiable moniker of ‘the decapitator’. He leers at you in brash shades of yellow, red and blue created from local minerals.

Farther into the temple, the wall reliefs become steadily more intricate, reaching their zenith at the burial place of a shamanic female mummy known as the Lady of Cao. Around her tomb, the walls are a riot of carved symbols important to the Moche, including pelicans and catfish. They’re all arranged in geometric designs so precise and linearly they look almost anachronistic, like a Pre-Inca PAC-MAN computer game.

The adjacent museum is the final resting place of the Lady herself. Her mummified remains lie in a glass case at the end of a darkened room, her arms and legs tattooed with snake and other animal designs, the ink etched deep into her remaining skin. Yet, her well-preserved remains are almost outshone by the finery from her tomb and funerary wrappings displayed around her. You’ll see a gilded copper headdress with a snarling feline face, jewels, gold staffs, hunting blowpipes, minuscule gold needles and a necklace of skull-like faces, their eyes made from tiny flecks of turquoise.

Adobe Walls, Chan Chan, Chimu culture, Peru

In and around Trujillo

From El Brujo, you continue for two hours south down the Pan-American Highway to the city of Trujillo . To your left, dune-like hills melt into the distance; to your right, across a dusty plain, the ocean breaks in gusty rollers along a driftwood-strewn shore. Trujillo Airport is incidentally the exit point for flights to Lima (one hour and ten minutes away) or from which you can pick up a connecting flight to Cuzco .

Trujillo bisects the remnants of Chan Chan , a sprawling adobe city built by the Chimú culture between 1000 and 1476 AD and preserved by the desert conditions. As you drive in, you might notice clusters of reeds among the sun-baked earth — remains of ponds that once served as Chan Chan’s water supply.

With the high mudbrick walls glowing golden in the late afternoon sun, it feels more Valley of the Kings than Peruvian edifice. It all seems inscrutable at first, but your eyes gradually home in on the details. Some areas have intricate friezes of geometric and zoomorphic designs along with lattice-like walling that lets in breezes from the nearby ocean.

Start planning your trip to Northern Peru

Adobe Walls, Chan Chan, Chimu culture, Peru

Highlights of Peru's Pre-Inca north

15 days from $7,855pp

Kuelap

Machu Picchu & the northern kingdoms

15 days from $8,715pp

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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  • What to do in Peru: our highlights guide

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The Partying Traveler

Survival of the littest.

cordillera huayhuash peru

One Month Northern Peru Itinerary For Backpackers

Peru is one of those countries that is impossible for me to get tired of. It seems like the more time I spend there, the less I feel I have actually done. I’ve visited Peru four times already, and each time has felt far too short for the multitude of things to do there. I accidentally over-stayed my 3-month visa once. Even then, I came back a month later to visit some of the places that I missed. It is crazy just how diverse of a country Peru is.

Despite its renown as an international destination, most of that fame is due to Machu Picchu and Cusco. The south of Peru gets a lot of love. Some would argue too much love, especially travelers looking for something more off the beaten path. What if I told you that there is a country out there with all of the wonders of Southern Peru, and then some? A place where tourists are few and far between? What if I told you that place is just on the other side of Lima? The Amazon Rainforest, vast stretches of mountain ranges, well-preserved ruins, and all the surf and sun you could ask for can all be found in the north.

I visited the north of Peru for the first time in September 2019 along a journey from the north of the continent all the way to the southern tips. My original itinerary placed me in Patagonia by year’s-end. I only made it to Bolivia. I was captivated by northern Peru. I stayed in the region for nearly two months. Northern Peru had no shortage of incredible gems. It often felt like you were visiting entirely different continents instead of just different parts of the same country.

As we rode in from the Ecuador border at La Balsa , the hordes of tuk-tuks and rice fields teleported us to South East Asia. The landscapes quickly changed as we entered an inhospitable stretch of desert akin to what you’ll find in the imagery of iconic Western flicks. Eventually, the landscapes grew lush again, and I had my first brush with the Amazon Rainforest as we made our way through the Amazonas . It took us almost two full days to drive from Ecuador to our first stop in Chachapoyas. It was the only city that seemed to have any tourist infrastructure to house us. In almost two days of driving, we passed through breathtaking landmarks and scenery that Google Maps didn’t even have a name for.

Northern Peru is as off-the-beaten-path as you could hope for. One could spend months here, but I understand most people don’t have months to spare. This itinerary is comprehensive when it comes to the basics, but only scratches the surface of what northern Peru has to offer. There are dozens of villages and attractions that can suck up more of your time.

One thing to note about northern Peru is that the distances are vast and the roads are awful. What may look like a close distance on a map could easily be a 12-hour bus ride or longer. I’ll add a bit of information to each stop about travel time and distances but keep that in mind when sketching out your own northern Peru adventure.

This post contains affiliate links. That means that I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.

Table of Contents

  • Huanchaco and Trujillo
  • Chachapoyas
  • Back to Lima

More on Peru

Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use  SafetyWing  to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.

Lima: 2 Days

Lima is where most adventures in Peru kick off. Lima serves as the main hub for flights in and out, so it is a good place to start off this itinerary. If you are traveling by bus and coming in through Ecuador, just read the itinerary backwards. Well, from bottom to top since backwards probably wouldn’t make too much sense.

Highlights of Lima:

While most people view Lima as just a mandatory stop, there is a lot to love about Peru’s bustling capital city. It doesn’t have the mind-blowing natural attractions like the rest of Peru has, so it might feel like just another big Latin American city. However, I’ve grown to love Lima for what it excels in. Food, arts, culture, and of course, nightlife.

  • Experience the Gastronomy Scene of Lima

That’s the fanciest way I could come up with for saying “eat lots of food”. The restaurant scene in Lima has to be one of the best in all of South America, right up there with Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. With Lima being a huge global hub, you will be able to find whatever cuisine your heart desires. All with a dash of Peruvian flare. Incredible vegan restaurants, all you can eat sushi buffets, all you can eat Mexican food, and of course, traditional Peruvian dishes can be found throughout the sprawling metropolis of Lima. You won’t find food in Peru as good as what you will find in Lima. Take advantage of it.

  • Parque del Amor

This park located along the coast in Miraflores is a beautiful Gaudi-esque area with a beautiful view. The coastal part of Lima is an amazing area, and you can walk for miles and miles along the various parks and  malecons both cliffside and oceanside.

  • Go Surfing in Lima

where to stay in lima peru

While not world-class by any means, the swell is there in Lima for those looking for it.

  • Roam Through Barranco

where to stay in lima peru

Barranco is Lima’s up-and-coming arts neighborhood that is quickly becoming a tourist favorite. You can roam through the endless displays of street art and pop in to any number of little galleries, thrift shops, organic stores, and experimental restaurants as your heart desires. Barranco also has some of Lima’s most famous nightlife spots, so a night out here is just as warranted as one in Miraflores.

  • Downtown Lima District

Most travelers will find that Lima doesn’t quite feel like Latin America. Once you make it out of Barranco and Miraflores, you’ll discover a side of Lima that most travelers miss out on. The bustling historical center is Latin America at its purest, reminding me a little of Mexico City’s own Zocalo district.

  • Experience the Nightlife in Miraflores District

where to stay in lima peru

For a good time, there really is no better place to go than Miraflores. This is where you’ll find the widest variety of nightlife options, from cozy speakeasies to sports bars to booming nightclubs, like my own personal favorite, Bisarro.

Where To Stay in Lima

Huaraz: 10 Days

For avid hikers, Huaraz and the surrounding region will quickly become one of your favorites in the world. I anticipated that I would spend a lot of time in Huaraz, but even with trekking nearly every day, I found that a month was too little time to spend in Huaraz. Located near the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, Huaraz serves as an excellent home base for exploring this vast, remote, and mind-bogglingly beautiful region.

I cannot speak highly enough about Huaraz. While the city itself might be lacking, you didn’t come here for the city. You came here for arguably the best trekking in South America, perhaps the only worthy rival to Patagonia. I’ve written dozens of posts over Huaraz and the things to do there, so for more info on each activity, just click the guide I’ve linked to below each image.

Highlights of Huaraz:

  • 4-Day Santa Cruz Trek

santa cruz trek huaraz peru

  • 8-Day Cordillera Huayhuash Trek

cordillera huayhuash peru

If you have the time to do this, do it. This is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

The Complete Guide to Trekking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash

  • Nevado Pastoruri and the Pastoruri Glacier

pastoruri glacier day trip huaraz peru

Best Day Trips From Huaraz: Pastoruri Glacier

  • Trek Up To Laguna 69: A massive challenge well worth the views
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The Complete Guide To Trekking Laguna 69

  • Laguna Paron: One of Peru’s most iconic views

laguna paron guide huaraz peru

The Best Day Trips From Huaraz: Laguna Paron

  • Laguna Churup: A mystical laguna among the mountains

laguna churup huaraz peru

The Complete Guide to Hiking Laguna Churup in Peru

  • Summit Nevado San Mateo: 5,150 meters above sea level

guide to nevado san mateo huaraz peru

The Complete Guide To Summiting Nevado San Mateo

  • Chavin de Huantar: 3,500-year-old archaeological site

best day trips from huaraz peru

The Best Day Trips From Huaraz, Peru

The Backpacker’s Complete Guide to Huaraz, Peru

Huanchaco/Trujillo: 4 Days

There is no better place to relax after a difficult stretch of trekking than the quiet surf and yoga town of Huanchaco. Located about 45 minutes from the much larger city of Trujillo, you can catch a bus to Trujillo then a  colectivo or taxi to Huanchaco. Huanchaco is considered to be the birthplace of surf in South America, and there is no shortage of surf spots in and around the area.

To break up surf sessions, there are an abundance of ruins and archaeological sites in the area as well. The most famous is Chan Chan, which is only about 20 minutes away from Huanchaco. Huaca de la Luna y del Sol are two marvelous temples that frankly deserve much more renown than they are given.

Highlights of Huanchaco:

  • Surf at the birthplace of surf
  • Chan Chan Ruins

chan chan ruins by yourself

  • Huaca de la Luna y Del Sol

huaca de la luna y el sol trujillo

  • Yoga and Relaxing By The Beach

best things to do in huanchaco peru

  • Visit Trujillo’s Colonial City Center

best things to do in trujillo peru

The Backpacker’s Complete Guide to Huanchaco, Peru

Cajamarca: 3 Days

I initially intended for Cajamarca to be a quick stop. Its location was perfect halfway-point to break up a 24-hour journey from the Amazonas to the coast. I could hardly find anything about it online, so I figured spending a day or two here would give me a good glimpse into a part of Peru that often goes overlooked. I ended up spending close to a week here. I’ll admit, a big factor was that my hostel had a thermal bath the size of a swimming pool. Cajamarca and the neighboring village of Baños del Inca are popular amongst Peruvian travelers but not among international travelers. That means they know something we don’t.

Cajamarca was a perfect local destination. It is as authentic as they come. Many of Peru’s larger cities feel just like any other big Latin American city but Cajamarca is a beautiful melting pot of cultures and peoples. The Quechua people are still thriving in this city. It isn’t like Cusco and the Sacred Valley where they have abandoned most of their traditional ways of life to start catering to tourists, either. Cajamarca can feel like you’ve been transported to another time period.

Cajamarca is also known for being where the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire began. The last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa, was held for ransom and killed in Cajamarca. Remnants of the empire and early colonial buildings can still be found all over Cajamarca. Museums and churches are home to hundreds of artifacts from various civilizations.

Outside of the city, you can find ruins and archaeological sites that will make you scratch your head. Cajamarca might be one of the best places for history-lovers. Many of the archaeological sites are one-of-a-kind, such as the Ventanillas del Otuzco. Most are still a puzzle to modern-day archaeologists due to just how little we know about the cultures and peoples who built and inhabited these places.

Highlights of Cajamarca:

  • Cumbemayo Archaeological Site and Rock Forest

places to visit north of peru

  • Ventanillas de Otuzco Archaeological Site

best things to do in cajamarca peru

  • Immerse Yourself in the History of the Inca and Spanish Conquest

is cajamarca peru worth visiting

  • Kuntur Wasi (House of the Condor)

The Best Things to do in Cajamarca, Peru

Chachapoyas: 3 Days

One of Peru’s most remote destinations is Chachapoyas. Located in the Amazonas region of the country, it is tucked away deep in the jungle. The few international travelers that make it here are greeted with some one-of-a-kind adventures. Boasting attractions like the world’s tallest waterfalls, ruins that rival Machu Picchu, and otherworldly archaeological sites, Chachapoyas is full of mind-blowing hidden gems.

Highlights of Chachapoyas

  • Kuelap Archaeological Site

kuelap ruins without a guide

Often called the “Machu Picchu of the North”, Kuelap will inevitably build a well-deserved reputation for itself soon. These ruins are also situated atop a mountain, although can be accessed by cable car without much of a struggle. From Chachapoyas, a full-day guided tour to Kuelap will take about 8 hours. As of September 2019, the entire thing cost only 85 soles for everything, about $25 USD.

  • Gocta Falls (Cataratas de Gocta)

how to see gocta waterfalls

The Cataratas de Gocta are the most famous waterfalls in the region, maybe even all of Peru. When they were discovered, they were measured to be the 3rd tallest waterfalls in the world. Gocta Falls has since fallen to 15th, but that doesn’t take anything away from the beauty and marvel that they possess. It also doesn’t stop local tour operators from still advertising them as the third tallest in the world. Gocta Falls is one of my favorite day hikes in Peru. While you can see the waterfalls right from the trailhead, there is nothing quite like reaching the basin and witnessing firsthand this wonder of nature.

  • Yumbilla Falls

Despite Gocta Falls being the most advertised waterfalls in Chachapoyas, it isn’t even the tallest. Yumbilla Falls takes that title. These waterfalls are just over an hour away from Chachapoyas and they rank 5th in the world in height. Yumbilla Falls are a full 125 meters taller than Gocta Falls. From Chachapoyas, you will have to go to the town of Cuispes. From there, it is a two hour hike on foot to witness this incredible hidden gem.

  • Sarcofago de Karajia

chachapoyas peru

  • Cavernas de Quiocta

places to visit north of peru

The Backpacker’s Complete Guide to Chachapoyas, Peru

Iquitos: 5 Days

Iquitos is one of Peru’s most unique destinations. It is one of the largest cities in the world that is inaccessible by land. One can only reach Iquitos by boat or plane. That makes it one of the best destinations for those looking for an authentic Amazon experience.

I never thought I would be someone that liked the jungle, and I’ll be honest, it was never a priority of mine. I only ended up visiting the Amazon Rainforest at first because after spending nearly a year traveling through South America, it felt wrong to have avoided it for so long. Once my flight landed, I immediately regretted having already booked a return flight. Despite the heat and discomfort of the jungle, it was unlike anything I had experienced before.

From Iquitos, you can take tours of the Amazon of varying lengths and itineraries. I’d recommend spending at least three or four days in the Amazon. Throw in a day in Iquitos to prepare or wind down afterwards. For people looking for a more adventurous way to get into Iquitos, getting in by boat takes three days. You will sleep in a hammock on the deck of the ship for two nights, so be ready for some discomfort. Hey, that’s what adventure is all about.

places to visit north of peru

Mancora: 3 Days

Mancora is a great way to wrap up your time in northern Peru. This beach and surf destination is popular among backpackers looking to party, relax, and let loose. If you aren’t into the party scene, then you can spend a few extra days in some of the other destinations listed above. It is a vacation after all, so there is no harm in chilling out by the beach for a bit.

That’s the name of the game in Mancora. Catch some waves then catch some sunsets and you’re good. Trust me, you won’t mind doing a bit of nothing after the epic adventures that Northern Peru has in store for you.

The Best Party Hostels in Mancora, Peru

Bus Or Flight Back To Lima

Unless you are moving up north through Ecuador, then you’ll likely have to head back down to Lima to fly home or continue through to the destinations in the south. A bus ride from Mancora is a grueling 24 hours. You can usually find flights within Peru for cheap, so you might want to check those if you don’t feel like putting up with a lengthy bus ride.

If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by  buying me a beer ! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.

The Backpacker’s Guide to…

  • The Sacred Valley

The Best Things To Do In…

  • Ollantaytambo

Where To Stay In…

  • The Best Hostels in Peru

Attraction and Destination Guides

  • Cordillera Huayhuash
  • Salkantay Trek
  • Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain
  • Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
  • Colca Canyon
  • Floating Islands of Puno
  • Pisac Archaeological Site
  • The Backpacker’s Crash Course Guide to Peru
  • 20 Must-Visit Destinations in Peru
  • The 8 Best Party Cities in Peru

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I recently hiked the Inka Trail in Peru and loved it! Never went to Lima, so now maybe I’ll give that a shot! Can’t hit to go to a country twice!

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Peru’s best North Coast beaches

Aug 1, 2018 • 4 min read

places to visit north of peru

While many head to Peru to explore rainforests and mountain ranges, the country's dramatic northern coast is a wonder of its own. Combine surf and sunshine with sparse beaches, stylish places to stay and heavenly seafood, and you have all the makings of a relaxed beach holiday. And, if you manage to tear yourself away from the beach lounger, there is plenty of ancient archaeology to explore.

View of coastline with golden sand and blue sky © Xeni4ka / Getty Images

Peru is also one of the best places on earth to surf. The country’s north coast receives consistent Pacific swell along its 1,000km coastline and, away from the grey sea fog that shrouds the south coast for most of the year, bathes in desert sun nearly all year.

Here is a roundup of the top spots to visit on Peru’s north coast :

Features - Traditional Peruvian small Reed Boats in Peru

Peru is probably the first place that people ever surfed. Stroll the beach at Huanchaco , 560km north of Lima , and you will see the one-man boats still used by fishermen, called little reed “horses” or caballitos de totora . When the day’s catch is done, fishermen surf home astride their caballitos , just as depicted in 3,000-year-old pottery vessels found nearby. Today, for a few soles , they will gladly take a passenger out for a spot of fishing or surfing, and then you can try the local catch in one of the tiny seafood restaurants that line the beachfront.

Las Pocitas

The rowdy surf-and-party hangout of Mancora , 1,200km north of Lima, is no great hideaway, but the beaches that stretch to the south of it offer beach-holiday perfection. At Las Pocitas, strolling distance from Mancora, stay at the ultra-hip Hotel DCO , which feels like stepping into a style magazine; or try the laid back Casa de Playa , which has a fine seafood restaurant for your daily ceviche . You will be offered cocktails under palm trees and sunset horse rides on the beach, while there are rock pools to explore and surfing or kitesurfing lessons on offer for the kids.

Two horses stand on a beach, backlit by the sunset © Cristhian Fermin / shutterstock

Vichayito, Los Organos and Punta Veleros

Six to 10km further south of Las Pocitas, laid out between sandy beaches and dry hills, stretch the fishing settlements of Vichayito, Los Organos and Punta Veleros. Quieter than Las Pocitas, they are great destinations for families, as most accommodations have gorgeous pools for kids who are not yet ocean swimmers. For some visitors, the surf breaks at Punta Veleros are the attraction, but there are plenty of other water sports on offer, including wind surfing, kite surfing, snorkeling and diving. Back on dry land there is horse riding, walking and bird watching at nearby El Encanto mountain, or you can find pure relaxation at  Spa Origenes . Soleil Bungalows is a top place to stay here.

Just north of Mancora is Punta Sal , with an often-calm sea and inviting beach favoured by families. Base yourself at the upmarket Punta Sal Club Hotel and range north to visit Caleta de la Cruz de Pizarro , where Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadores landed in 1535. The deep waters off Punta Sal are also known for game fishing; try your hand at landing a marlin, tuna, wahoo or dorado.

A coastline buttressed by large golden dunes and rock faces © marcosvelloso / shutterstock

This is the home of the longest wave in the world - up to one mile long and known for its speed, cleanness and all round exhilaration. Chicama is about 80km north of Huanchaco, set in an incredibly arid desert landscape. Rent a board (and stay) at Chicama Surf Hotel and Spa . Non-surfers could happily hang out poolside here too. If you get bored, there are plenty of nearby ancient ruins to explore.

Cabo Blanco

Hemingway fished here, and the giant black marlin that were caught at Cabo Blanco in the 1950s are said to have inspired the book The Old Man and the Sea . A few deep-sea boats still operate here, catching black and striped marlin, mahi mahi and tuna, but it is mostly a commercial fleet now. From November to January, Cabo Blanco spawns a perfect pipeline wave – for experienced surfers only.

Close-up of adobe architecture at Chan Chan archeological site © Sergi Reboredo / Getty Images

Chan Chan, Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, Sipan and El Brujo

The north coast of Peru is intensely rich in pre-Colombian archaeology – much of it easily reached from the colonial north coast town of Trujillo. The Chan Chan ruin, built from the Chan Chimu culture, was the largest pre-Colombian city in South America, while the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna ( Temples of the Sun and the Moon ) are from the earlier Moche culture. The recently excavated tomb at Sipan contained copious amounts of Moche gold treasure, and a new museum at the site known as El Brujo makes this valuable ruin doubly worth visiting. Multilingual guides will explain what all these fascinating places meant. Visit before they dissolve further in more violent El Niño downpours.

This article was originally published in November 2011, and was updated by Agnes Rivera in July 2018.

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Worldly Adventurer

The 24 Most Incredible Places to Visit in Peru

By Author Steph Dyson

Posted on Last updated: 1st April 2024

From dazzling churches to relics of ancient civilizations, Peru has more than its fair share of striking natural landmarks and historic monuments.

Although there are certainly a few well-known spots in among the others in this list of places to visit in Peru, I’ve added some barely-visited alternatives that promise the same mix of history and spellbinding scenery – just without the crowds.

So read on for my guide to the 24 most spectacular places to visit and things to do in Peru – many of which you’ll probably never have heard of before.   

Click to navigate this article:

My Absolute Favorite Places in Peru

I’ve lived in Cusco, traveled extensively around the south of Peru and also updated the Rough Guide to Peru , focusing on the north of the country. And, the places that I fell most deeply in love with will probably surprise you.

So, in no particular order, here are my favorite places in Peru, followed by a list of others that you might want to consider adding to your travel itinerary if you’ve got a little more time.

1. Machu Picchu

Easily the most famous place to visit in Peru and the Goliath of South America’s tourism hotspots, the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu perched high up in the Andes has topped many a bucket list. And, there’s a reason why.

Its location is truly dramatic and walking around the site with a local guide learning about exactly what all of the buildings would have been for and why it was constructed high up in the mountains only adds to the magic of the experience.

Steph Dyson standing at Machu Picchu, Peru

There are several options for getting to Machu Picchu – not all of them expensive – but most pass through Aguas Calientes, the small and nowadays hugely touristy town crouched at the base of the mountains.

A self-guided two-day tour from Cusco via minibus coming in as the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu.  

The Inca trail is the most well-known but by no means the only or best hiking route to get there; other adventurous options include the Salkantay and Lares treks. I personally really enjoyed the Salkantay, as it heads into the mountains beyond Machu Picchu and felt quieter than the Inca Trail.

A couple sat in front of Humantay Lake the Salkantay trek, an alternative route to Machu Picchu, Peru

Want a cheeky 5% discount on the Inca trail or Salkantay trek?

Alpaca Expeditions are not only one of the most sustainable companies offering Salkantay and Inca trail treks to Machu Picchu, but their guides, porters and chefs are the ultimate hosts.

They’re now offering Worldly Adventurer readers a 5% discount on all of their hikes – just mention Worldly Adventurer when you enquire!

Before you plan, read up on when you should visit Machu Picchu for the times of the year with the best weather and finest views of the citadel.

2. Gocta and Yumbilla Falls

Plunging a dramatic 771 meters from clifftop to valley floor, Gocta Falls are a treasure of nature tucked deep into Northern Peru and quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. 

Interestingly, tourists have only been visiting Gocta for the past 15 or so years after these falls were revealed to the outside world by a German explorer – although, they obviously had been known to the locals for far longer!

Gocta Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world as seen from Cocachimba and one of the unmissable places to visit in Peru

Although the view from nearby Cocachimna is spectacular in itself, the six-hour hike to the forceful spray at their base is definitely worth it – although the route can be particularly muddy.

For even more intrepid, Indiana Jones-types, nearby Yumbilla Falls is similarly dramatic – and receives far less footfall.

At 896 meters, these waterfalls are actually higher than Gocta and it’s a short five kilometers on foot from the trailhead to reach the base of the first section of falls.

3. Kuélap

For treasure seekers, Peru’s long history of developed civilizations doesn’t end with the likes of Machu Picchu and other Inca sites in the south – and explains why I think Peru is one of the best countries in South America to visit for those seeking fascinating archaeological sites.

The jewel in northern Peru’s crown is the archaeological site of Kuélap , a partially-restored citadel installed on a lofty plateau in a mountain above the Uctubamba Valley.

The 18-metre-high stone walls of the Kuelap Fortress near Chachapoyas, an unmissable destination in Peru

The city’s construction dates remain unknown, but it’s thought to be anywhere up to 1,000 years older than the country’s more famous Inca constructions.

It also boasts enormous 20-meter-high stone walls surrounding what was formerly an extensive city.

Around 500 circular stone houses, many decorated with relief motifs remain. On a tour of the site, you learn about how, at the center of these buildings, a stone cellar would have been used to store the mummies of their dead. 

One of the main things to do here is take the new cable car system up to the fortress or you can even arrive how the Chachapoya would have done – with a sweaty and steep four-hour climb from the valley below. 

Forget the Inca Trail in the south of Peru: the Cordillera Blanca and Parque Nacional Huascarán make Huaraz the country’s hiking and climbing capital.

Jagged, ice-sheathed mountains bow into aquamarine lakes and high-altitude hiking trails climb up between the two, offering truly spectacular scenery and a glimpse of delicate vicuña and soaring condors.

Steph Dyson, Peru trip planner, standing in front of snowy mountains in Huaraz

The region’s most popular hikes include the one-day Laguna 69 trail and the four-day Santa Cruz trek, both of which climb into the mountains to reach picturesque – and truly photogenic – glacial lakes.

For more experienced hikers, consider heading south to the far less visited Cordillera Huayhuash, where the 14-day (and 186-kilometer) Huayhuash Trek promises high-altitude passes and stunning mountain scenery.

All can be reached from Huaraz, where comfortable mountain lodges offer lodgings.

5. Lima’s dining scene

Visiting Peru without spending some quality time in its capital would be a damn shame. A chaotic, concrete jungle intertwined with majestic colonial architecture, pre-Colombian remains, and a buzzing cultural scene, Lima is well equipped for a charm offensive.

Eat your way across South America’s gastronomic capital (pisco sours and ceviche are just the beginning…), being sure to venture beyond the sprawling beach and luxury shops and bars of tourist-popular Miraflores to the colonial city center and the hipster hangout of Barranco (craft beer included) to experience the other faces of this charismatic city.

Make sure you stop in for lunchtime ceviche ( Peru’s stable dish ) at La Mar and enjoy some criolla music at the famed Del Carajo , a peña (a late-night traditional music venue and bar) packed with local Limeños.

And check out our review of Selina for your guide to where to stay in Lima .

6. The Sacred Valley

The fertile valley sprawling outwards from the Urubamba river is famed for its arresting beauty and – for some – its healing energy.

The valley is peppered with wellness retreats offering everything from yoga and meditation to plant healing ceremonies such as the notorious ayahuasca , as well as fascinating Incan ruins and picturesque towns.

Hand-woven textiles in the market of Pisac in the Sacred Valley and an unmissable place to visit in Peru

While the town of Ollantaytambo is a key destination on the local tourism circuit (and an interesting place to visit in the Sacred Valley ) as it’s the starting point of the Inca Trail, Pisac hosts a great market, really fascinating archeological site from the Inca, and an epic foam fight during the annual Carnival celebrations – which are more interesting than those in nearby Cusco.

You’ll also find plenty of places to stay in the Sacred Valley , which, at a lower altitude than Cusco, is a great place to acclimatize to the high elevations of the region.

I’ve never eaten at Mil , the expensive restaurant run by acclaimed Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez, but it’s on my list to return- it looks incredible!

7. The Colca Canyon

Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon but not nearly as famous, Cañon del Colca (Colca Canyon) boasts dramatic scenery and pre-Colombian agricultural terraces built into its sheer sides and has quickly established itself as a Peruvian landmark that you don’t want to miss.

It is one of the best places in South America to spot endangered Andean Condors, which can be seen gliding between rocky cliffs in the skies above, most visibly from the Mirador Cruz del Condor.

The Rio Colca in Peru's Colca Canyon as seen on a hike through the Colca Canyon

As an entry point to the western side of the canyon, the small town of Cabanaconde may be reached by a 3.5-hour bus journey from Arequipa, and from here, a two-day hike sees you plunge down into the depths of the canyon.

In the evening, take a relaxing dip in the swimming pools of the lush Paraiso Las Palmeras Lodge  (S/133 ($40 USD) double) before an early – and lung-busting – climb back out again the next morning.

8. Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán

All things that glitter aren’t gold – well, that’s what they say, at least. In the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán , a museum in the northern town of Lambayeque, you can be guaranteed that practically everything you see is in fact gold .

I remain baffled by the fact that this remarkable museum remains so off the radar for most visitors to Pedru. Dedicated to the Mochica culture, which flourished along the northern Peruvian coast between 100 and 700 AD, this museum is considered one of the finest in South America.

It contains three floors of remarkable gold and silver jewelry, headdresses, and other artifacts that were buried in the tomb of El Señor de Sipán – a Mochicha ruler. A recreation of his tomb is one of the museum’s main exhibits.

You can even visit the original archaeological site located south of Chiclayo, although the museum contains just replicas of the artifacts shown in Lambayeque.

9. Puerto Maldonado and the Tambopata National Reserve

Puerto Maldonado, the small, sweltering city where the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers converge, is perhaps the most quickly accessible point of entry to the secluded rainforests of the Amazon basin, particularly for those on a short Peru vacation.

The infrastructure in this part of the Amazon is also far superior to many other entry points, including those in Bolivia and Colombia.

An overnight bus or short plane journey from Cusco brings you to the humid city, before motoring upstream to a jungle lodge.

Stay at the fantastic Tambopata Research Center  ($236 USD double), located in the Tambopata National Reserve, for piranha fishing, nocturnal hiking, birdwatching, ayahuasca rituals, and more.

Just a word to the wise: don’t forget your mosquito repellent.

10. Museo Larco, Lima

40,000 ceramics jostle for space on the shelves of the singular Museo Larco  in Lima’s Pueblo Libre neighborhood.

If you’re curious about Peru’s history of pottery, there’s no better place, with the exhibits covering a staggering 4,000 years of Peruvian civilization.

But, what the museum is perhaps better known for is its collection of Mochica erotic pottery.

Yup, the Mochica had a penchant for recreating sexual acts through ceramics and you’re guaranteed to spend a few hours chuckling at some of the more explicit pieces.

Cusco is the centerpiece of Peruvian tourism, both in its own right as the ancient Incan capital and as a pit-stop on the way to the South American tourist’s holy grail, Machu Picchu .

As Peru’s most popular city for tourists, Cusco’s eccentric charm is born from a bizarre fusion of colorful Andean tradition and contemporary intensive tourism. I enjoyed living there for six months back in 2017 – although, getting asked by the guy dressed as an Inca if I wanted to pay for a photo with him every single day did get a little old.

Cusco's Plaza de Armas and the rooftops of the historic city centre

In between gargantuan Incan stone walls, spot brightly adorned, sour-faced llamas, vaguely traumatic stacks of roasted guinea pigs, and local entrepreneurs pushing their wares, from sports massages to (fake) alpaca jumpers.

While it’s hard to find an unexplored inch in the old town, the Baratillo market on a Saturday is an opportunity to escape the throngs of tourists and experience Cusco like a local, while the city’s historic sites – particularly Q’orikancha, an Inca temple overlaid with a 17th-century church – are well worth the visit.

Read my recommended Cusco itineraries for further inspiration.

There are also world-class rapids in the nearby Apurimac and Urubamba rivers (we recommend going white water rafting with local experts and B Corp, Amazonas Explorer – mention Worldly Adventurer for a 5% discount on all of their tours).

12. Trujillo

Peru’s northern capital Trujillo is perhaps the country’s most charming city that you’ve never heard of. A pretty, palm-dotted Plaza de Armas gives on to streets filled with colonial churches and restored old mansions painted in cheerful pastel shades.

The frieze murals on the side of the Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo and a top destination for those with an interest in history and archeology in Peru

But it’s beyond the city’s boundaries where Trujillo’s truly fascinating history lies, in the form of an array of ancient, pre-Inca archaeological sites.

The most famous is the UNESCO World Heritage Chan Chan , the largest adobe city ever discovered on earth, thought to have been home to 60,000 people as part of the Chimú Empire around 850 AD.

Nowadays, you can explore the site, observing the fish and bird motifs on its restored mud walls.

South of Trujillo, the huacas de la Luna and del Sol are two Moche temples, the former of which contains striking relief murals depicting grizzly religious ceremonies; the Moche were known for their use of human sacrifices to appease the gods. 

The Complejo Arqueológico El Brujo , a museum showcasing the remains of and treasures buried with a female shaman from the Moche culture is also a must-visit. Her mummified remains show tattoos of spiders, snakes, and marine animals.

It is one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited in Peru – and no one seems to know about it!

13. Lobitos

If you’re planning a trip to Peru and seeking sea, sand, and – mostly importantly – surf, few destinations can compete with Lobitos.

Situated 72 kilometers south of the better-known Máncora, Lobitos is Peru’s most up-and-coming surfing destination.

It also offers a welcome escape from the hordes of tourists now covering the beaches of the former.

Two men survey the waves at surfing hot spot Lobitos one of the top places to visit in northern Peru

There’s not much to do here other than appreciate the coral-white sands and crystal waters at the beach or rent a board and enjoy consistent swells of up to 7ft, with June the month with the biggest waves.

There are plenty of cozy guesthouses, many, such as the spectacular Buenavista (S/100 ($30 USD) double), that is run by former pro-surfers and offer irresistibly relaxed atmospheres.  

If you do want to visit Mancora, which is known for its kite surfing, I much preferred staying outside of the town. Most of the region’s luxury hotels are situated two kilometers south at Las Pocitas, or Punta Sal, the same distance north, where white sand beaches and far fewer crowds point towards a truly affordable paradise.

Try the stunning cabins of KiChic  (S/900 ($270 USD) double) or the truly remote bungalows at Yemaya (S/420 ($126 USD) double) – both of which are right on the beach.

13. Lake Titicaca

The colossal Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca) – one of the biggest in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world – is a popular stop on a tour of Peru.

Sunset from Isla Amantani across Lago Titicaca, an unmissable place to visit in Peru

The small city of Puno is gritty to say the least, however, if you’re planning a day trip to the Uros Islands, around 120 remarkable islands hand built from reeds by the Uros people.

When I visited, I found the tours overly touristy and not really how I like to travel – however, since then, it’s possible to stay overnight on the islands and experience what it’s like to sleep on reed furniture on a reed island. This one is very fancy and definitely a less-than-traditional experience; this one is a much more relaxed, local option.

Beyond the Uros Islands, the lake is full of secluded corners to explore ancient ruins, discover local traditions, and take in the fresh air and ruggedly beautiful landscape. A homestay on Amantini island is a great way to experience (non-floating) island life firsthand.

14. The Rainbow Mountains

A relatively new discovery for Peru’s tourism industry, most of the time you only hear about one “rainbow mountain”: Vinicunca.

Day trips from Cusco bus 1,000 tourists here every day armed with smartphones to snap that Instagram-perfect picture of the mountain’s colorful sedimentary stripes (filters abound).

Picture-perfect Rainbow Mountain near Cusco

This breakneck baptism into mass tourism has not come without some unpleasant side effects, including poor-quality tours, a rapidly degrading trail, and the destruction of natural habitats.

A one or preferably two-day trip to Palccoyo, the “other rainbow mountain”, offers a more sustainable – and enjoyable – experience. Again, Amazonas Explorers are a brilliant responsible operator with whom to do this trip (and will give you a 5% discount if you mention Worldly Adventurer when enquiring).

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15. choquequirao.

If you don’t want to share your Incan experience with 2,500 other tourists, skip Machu Picchu and head off the radar to Choquequirao – Peru’s least-known mountain-top fortress.

Although it was once a magnificent site thought to be around the same size as Machu Picchu, only 30% of the site has yet been excavated and it’s distinguished by its huge terraces decorated with white-stone llamas.

Choquequirao, the

Getting here is a tough but magnificent four-day round trek that sets out from the town of Cachora, but the infrastructure is currently being constructed to make Choquequirao more easily accessible – so if you want to have this place to yourself, get there ASAP.

It’s fair to say that it’s one of South America’s best – and most unmissable – hikes . To do it, we recommend Amazonas Explorers , who have scheduled departures on the first Sunday of each month.

They aren’t the cheapest company available, but they offer a really high level of service, a committed to sustainability as a B-Corp, and have English-speaking guides. Mention us for a 5% discount on their tours.

16. The Nazca Lines

The UNESCO-World-Heritage-Site Nazca Lines trail Machu Picchu for the title of Peru’s most iconic tourist attraction.

To get an eyeful of these baffling, gigantic, ancient geoglyphs etched into the floor of the Nazca desert, first reach Nazca – a 7-hour bus journey from Lima – then arrange your viewing method of choice (options include from viewing tower, nearby mountains, or plane).

A hummingbird drawn into the desert as part of Peru's mysterious Nazca Lines

I enjoyed the Nazca Lines, but it’s out of the way of many of the country’s other sights, meaning a lengthy detour on your trip, plus the flights (definitely the only way to really see the geoglyphs properly) can be expensive.

17. Manu National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an area of globally unrivaled biodiversity , uniquely located at the meeting point of the tropical Andes and the Peruvian Amazon basin.

Reachable from Cusco by plane or a lengthy (over 17 hours) but incredibly scenic route via road and boat, or from Puerto Maldonado (4-6 hours by boat), entrance to the park is only permitted through an established tour operator.

Manu National Park, one of the best places to visit in Peru for wildlife watching

Visitors are in with a chance of spotting elusive big cats and rare species including the giant armadillo and the giant river otter.

18. Arequipa

Signature white buildings set against a skyline dominated by the deceptively serene-looking Misti volcano make Arequipa Peru’s picturesque urban gem.

Volcano Misti towers over the city of Arequipa in Peru

The country’s second biggest city, though just a tenth the size of sprawling, chaotic Lima, Arequipa holds its own in terms of heritage, culture, and – importantly – cuisine: pop into a local picantería to sample regional favorites such as chupe de camarones and rocoto relleno.

Adrenaline seekers can also hike to the top of one of Peru’s most easily accessible summits, that of Volcano Misti, which sits right behind the city. The hike takes roughly two days to check out the sizzling crater and enjoy stunning views over Arequipa and the Laguna de Salinas.

Find out other things to do in Arequipa in our extensive travel guide to the city and pick your accommodation with this article about where to stay in Arequipa .

19. Leymebamba

On a trip to Peru, you soon learn that there’s one thing you can expect to see in practically all museums you visit: mummies. And for the oddest collection, the Museo de Leymebamba is the winner.

The mummies of Laguna de los Condores on display in a temperature controlled room in the Museo de Leymebamba and important place to visit in Peru

This pretty village just 80 kilometers south of Chachapoyas is home to a troop of 219 mummies – buried by the Chachapoyas people some 800 years ago.

Although most remain wrapped in their original textile coverings, others are bare and seem to make eye contact with you through the (secured!) glass window.

The museum has a range of other artifacts, spanning the Chachapoya and later the Inca.

What’s more, you can still visit the site where the remarkable collection of mummies was discovered. Laguna de los Cóndores is a 38-kilometer hike from the town and the clifftop tombs where the mummies were originally interred are still visible. 

20. Chavín de Huantar

Built sometime around 900 BC, the UNESCO world heritage Chavín de Huantar is a spectacular temple complex pertaining to the Chavín cult, which once housed around 3,000 priests at its peak in 300 BC.

This cult was established around the worship of a fanged, feline deity and its followers were enthusiastic takers of hallucinogenic drugs, namely the San Pedro cactus.

One of the relief carvings on a feline deity at Chavin de Huantar, Peru

Many of the relief carvings still dotted around this vast archaeological site depict drug-inspired beings. However, to see the Tello Obelisk and Estela de Raimondi, pillars of polished granite with intricate carvings demonstrating the Chavín cult’s exceptional craftsmanship, you’ll have to head to the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Peru in Lima.  

Although some parts of the ruins are in a poor state due to earthquake and flood damage, Chavín de Huantar is one of the country’s finest – and most important – sites.

It certainly merits the bumpy and terrifying at times four-hour bus journey from Huaraz – which also offers dramatic views of the Callejón de Conchucos.  

21. Paracas National Reserve

A four-hour bus journey from Lima brings you to Paracas , one of the largest desert reserves in South America and which also encompasses coast and ocean, making it the perfect place to escape the chaos of the metropolis.

A group of Humboldt penguins on the rocky Islas Ballestas, an unmissable place to visit in Peru

Explore hidden coves with turquoise waters and relax on the red-hued sandy beach of Playa Roja or keep your eyes peeled for abundant bird life, including pelicans and even flamingos on the northern coast of the reserve .

Just outside the reserve, boat excursions take you to the Islas Ballestas to spot Humbolt penguins, sea lions, humpback whales, and many other species.

It’s well-known as the “poor man’s Galapagos” and while it does offer a good opportunity to spot lots of wildlife, it’s a bit of a distance from Peru’s main sights and doesn’t warrant visiting unless you really want to see penguins.

An indigenous woman dressed in traditional clothing in Cusco, Peru with a llama

Need help planning your trip to Peru?

My custom-designed itinerary planning service is all you need to plan a trip of a lifetime to one of South America’s most beguiling locations. Check out my Peru trip planning service for more information about how it works.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to book your trip to Peru through a local operator, check out this 15-day Best of Magical Peru tour from our trusted partner in Peru, Valencia Travel.

Hitting the country’s absolute highlights, this incredible tour will take you to unmissable Peruvian destinations including Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley, Arequipa, Puno, and the Amazon Jungle.

22. Cajamarca

Cajamarca is one of northern Peru’s finest cities to visit. It found its place in Peruvian history as the city where the Inca Emperor Atahualpa was captured and killed by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his forces. 

Nowadays, this photogenic colonial city is jam-packed full of tourist attractions.

Head to its wide, landscaped Plaza de Armas to admire several elaborately carved Plateresque Baroque churches before continuing onto the final surviving Inca relic, a small, stone room where – legend has it – the ransom to free Atahualpa was stored.

Thousands of gold artifacts were brought here, purportedly reaching up to the line still visible on the aged walls.

Although most traces of the Inca have long since disappeared, you can still bathe like Inca royalty in the nearby Baños del Inca, a site containing pre-Inca thermal pools for a relaxing plunge.

Back in the city, the private collection at the Casa Museo Nicolás Puga takes you far further back into Peru’s pre-Hispanic times with its spellbinding array of Nazca, Paracas, Mochica, and Chavín stone artifacts and textiles.

Finally, a range of peñas (a classic Peruvian bar filled with liquor and criollo beats) brings you right up to modern-day Peru.

If you thought you knew anything about Peru’s ancient civilizations, then think again. Situated just inland in the Supe Valley, a three-hour bus journey north of Lima, Caral is the oldest city in the Americas.

Dating back to around 5,000 years old, it’s thought that construction started here around the same time as the Great Pyramid of Giza – although archaeological work didn’t begin until 1996.

The Caral culture was officially the oldest civilization ever uncovered in the Americas. 

Since then, six stone pyramids, many with a ceremonial purpose, and another 14 other buildings have been uncovered – with most of the site remarkably preserved for its age.

It’s easiest to visit with a tour from Lima, although public transport to Supe and then onward to Caral is also possible. 

24. Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario de Polloc

You probably wouldn’t think to stop at the tiny rural village of Polloc, a forty-minute bus journey on the road out of Cajamarca towards Chachapoyas. But trust me – you should. 

Tucked away from the main road, the murals adorning the Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario glint in the sunshine, which reflects off the thousands of small ceramic and glass tiles that wrap its external walls.

This tiny, colorful church definitely ranks among the most spectacular things to see in Peru – and one of the most hidden. 

The glittering gold and coloured mosaics inside the Santuario de la Virgen de Polloc near Cajamarca and a completely unknown place to visit in Peru

Designed in greens, blues, and golds, a vast mosaic depicting nativity scenes and other religious events decorates the church’s exterior walls, continuing inside for a dazzling spectacle.

Interestingly, these striking murals are evidence of over ten long years of work – all completed by the patient hands of the church (and adjoining school’s) students.

FAQs about visiting Peru

Which part of peru should i visit.

Most visitors head to the south-east of Peru in order to head to the Sacred Valley and spend time at the archaeological wonder that is Machu Picchu , before potentially heading across to Lake Titicaca or down to Arequipa to explore the surrounding volcanic landscapes and Colca Canyon. 

However, if you’re looking for a destination with far fewer tourists, consider visiting the north of Peru. This region is packed with archaeological sites, such as Kuélap , that receive far fewer visitors but are significantly older than Machu Picchu!

What is the prettiest place in Peru?

It’s hard to pick just one! Machu Picchu is definitely a dramatic sight to see, regardless of the season, while the surrounding Sacred Valley is particularly pretty and green during the months of April and May following the rainy season. 

Another pretty place is the Pacific Coast, where white sand beaches in the resorts of Mancora and further north look out onto azure ocean.

What is the best place in Peru?

It really depends on what you want to do! If you’re into archaeological sites, then Machu Picchu and northern Peru (particularly around Trujillo, Chiclayo, and Chachapoyas ) are the best places to visit. If you want to hike, the high mountains of the Cordillera Blanca that are accessible from Huaraz will be more up your street. 

The Peruvian Amazon, particularly the Manu Biosphere Reserve close to Madre de Dios, is the best place in Peru for spying wildlife, including chatty monkeys, bizarre pink river dolphins, and even secretive jaguars.

What is Peru famous for?

Peru is most famous for Machu Picchu, a stone citadel located high in the mountains above the Sacred Valley that was built by the Inca. Peru is also famous for its cuisine; it’s considered to be home to some of the finest dishes in the world, including ceviche and even roast guinea pig.

Want more? 

Get more inspiration with our guide for a two-week to two-month and get all the information you need for planning a trip to Peru with The Rough Guide to Peru , for which, Steph, the founder of Worldly Adventurer, was one of the contributors. 

If you’re considering visiting Peru and want to escape the crowds or just want expert advice about the best destinations, hotels, and activities to do during your vacation, check out the Worldly Adventurer travel planning service for a custom-made itinerary tailored exactly to you and your upcoming trip. 

You can also read our guide to when to visit Peru for information on the weather you can expect during different parts of the year and which month is best for planning your trip, as well as our guide to how much you can expect to spend exploring Peru .

Tuesday 9th of July 2019

Wow! Very Good, informative article for anyone who wants to see more of Peru than the classic tourist route! Thank you! I've been backpacking Peru for a while, and literally loved the country! My favourite places are Huaraz region (and of course, Laguna 69) and the Rainbow Mountain hike!

Steph Dyson

Thursday 11th of July 2019

Glad you found the article helpful! Steph

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17 Best Places to Visit in Peru

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Peru is probably one of South America’s most well-known destinations, and the mysterious settlement of Machu Picchu has adorned many a tourist postcard. But while the country is certainly celebrated for the Inca Trail and its ancient archeological site, Peru has so much more to offer than crumbling ruins.

Take your time discovering these Peruvian delights, from pre-Columbian settlements to the modern and traditional cities of the Southern Peru Tourist Corridor.

Explore the museums of Lima, soak in the hot springs of high-altitude Cusco, and fly over the astonishing Nazca lines. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Peru:

Map of Places to Visit in Peru

Map of Places to Visit in Peru

17. Chachapoyas

Chachapoyas

Set in a scenic yet secluded spot far from the Peruvian coast, Chachapoyas lies high amid the mountains and is the capital of Amazonas . While the city doesn’t have all that much going for it, it acts as a gateway to the stunning natural landscapes and archaeological sites that surround it.

Founded by the Spanish in 1538, the small city is home to a couple of interesting monuments and colonial buildings, with plenty of restaurants, hotels, and tour operators found around its main plaza. From here, you can arrange to visit incredible sights such as the distinctive sarcophagi of Karajia or the ancient stone city of Kuelap – the largest pre-Inca ruins in South America.

There’s no shortage of natural beauty nearby, with mountains, valleys and forests home to a diverse range of fauna and flora, including countless species of brightly colored birds. Sparkling waterfalls also abound: Gocta Cataracts is the pick of the bunch at over 700 meter in height. With so many superb landscapes to explore, hiking and trekking are popular and can be arranged in Chachapoyas.

16. Paracas National Reserve

Paracas National Reserve

Famed for its dramatic scenery, wealth of archaeological sites, and beautiful beaches and wildlife, Paracas National Reserve lies along Peru’s southern coastline, some 250 kilometers south of Lima . Encompassed within its confines are marine and coastal desert ecosystems as well as a couple of arid, rocky islands.

While fierce ocean waves pulverize its jagged, crumbling cliffs and deserted isles, its small coves and bays are home to shallow, warm waters perfect for swimming. Its sheltered beaches are also lovely for relaxing on, while sailing and windsurfing are popular pastimes.

In addition, many people take boat trips out to the Ballestas Islands to gaze in awe at its spectacular rock formations and the multitude of seabirds, seals, and sea lions living there.

When visiting Paracas National Reserve, most visitors stay in the small town of the same name that lies on the Paracas Peninsula . Here you can find lots of restaurants, bars and hotels as well as tour operators who can take you to see some of the ancient archaeological sites that dot the reserve.

15. Chan Chan

Chan Chan

Lying just outside the city of Trujillo in northwest Peru, Chan Chan is one of the most impressive and extensive archaeological sites in the country. The largest pre-Columbian city discovered so far, it is set at the mouth of the Moche Valley in a desolate and arid spot, not far from the Pacific Ocean.

Once the capital of the Chimu Empire , Chan Chan rose to prominence around AD 850 when palaces, plazas, and temples sprung up. While many of these are now severely eroded as the city was entirely made out of adobe, many fine features, carvings, and friezes remain.

Among the endless sprawl, you can find ten royal compounds, home to ceremonial halls, burial chambers, and palaces. These were the residences of the kings of Chimu, who were buried in their complex when they died. The only one open to visitors and partially restored is the Palacio Nik An , which boasts lovely geometric designs, marine motifs, and awe-inspiring architecture.

14. Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Set high in the Andes in the Central Sierra region of Peru, the enormous Huascaran National Park encompasses almost the entire Cordillera Blanca. The world’s highest tropical mountain range is home to lofty peaks and arresting scenery, while countless species of fauna and flora can be found within its confines.

Established in 1975, the park sprawls over a vast area and includes a number of mighty mountains. Huascaran – after which the park is named – is Peru’s highest peak at 6,768 meters. Remarkably, more than 600 glistening glaciers are dotted about the upper reaches of the range, and countless alpine lakes and roaring rivers can be found down below.

The Cordillera Blanca ‘s sweeping valleys, high plateaus, and steep slopes are home to all kinds of fauna and flora, while ancient archaeological sites are also scattered about. Due to the wonderful scenery and diverse landscapes, the park is a marvelous place to go trekking, mountain climbing and skiing.

Wildlife watching is also popular; catching a glimpse of the elusive puma or endangered spectacled bear is an unforgettable experience.

13. Huacachina

Huacachina

Lying just outside the city of Ica in the southwest of Peru, Huacachina is a popular place to visit thanks to its surreal location surrounded by dunes. Emerging out of the desert like a mirage, the small settlement is clustered around a secluded oasis , with gently waving palm trees and nothing but sand stretching as far as the eye can see.

Huacachina’s sandy surroundings lend themselves perfectly to all kinds of fun outdoor activities, with sandboarding , quad biking, and dune buggy rides popular pastimes. Clambering to the top of the sifting dunes is also a must for the spectacular views, and sunsets are particularly memorable.

Relaxing around the oasis and taking in the stunning scenery is a lovely way to pass the time, and swimming offers a welcome respite from the searing heat. As it is geared towards tourists, Huacachina has plenty of restaurants, bars, and hotels to choose from, with a few kiosks and shops dotted here and there.

Besides its ample adventure opportunities, you can also visit the bodegas and wineries in Ica if you want to sample some delicious local produce.

12. Mancora

Mancora

As one of the most hip and happening summer beach destinations on the Costanera Norte along the northern Peruvian coast, you simply have to add Mancora to your bucket list. This slice of glorious sandy coastline stretches for kilometers along one of the sunniest parts of Peru – something that hasn’t been missed by the tourism industry.

You’ll find everything from backpackers to swanky beach resorts dotting the sands here.

Apart from the beaches that are worth more than their fair share of relaxation, Mancora has a bustling main street filled with vibrant beach bars , seafood restaurants, and an excellent nightlife scene that livens up after the sun goes down.

That being said, most of the activity here revolves around inactivity; lazy beach days are the order of the day. Those looking for something more active can go surfing in the warm waters, take a seaside stroll from South Beach to Organos or spot seasonal dolphins and whales frolicking in the waves at the main beach. If you somehow grow tired of Mancora’s beach activities, explore further afield – swim with turtles in El Nuro or soak in the hot springs of Poza de Barro.

11. Trujillo

Trujillo

Nestled within a lush valley eight hours north of Lima, Trujillo is celebrated for its photogenic colonial center filled with colorful Spanish mansions , quaint churches, and friendly locals.

Not far from the Pacific Coast, this relatively large city was founded in the 1500s close to the abandoned Chan Chan ruins , one of the largest pre-Incan empires of ancient Peru. Within its impressive once-walled ruins, this Chimor mud city is the largest adobe city in the Americas and boasts a series of religious temples, burial grounds, and royal residences.

But that’s not the only history worth exploring in Trujillo. Visit the 19th-century National University of Trujillo – one of the largest of its kind in South America – that features the world’s longest mosaic. Appreciate the incredible murals of Huaca de la Luna (the Temple of the Moon) that unfortunately showcases human sacrifice.

If you’re looking to relax after your days of exploring, you can’t go wrong with the beaches of resort town Huanchaco – don’t forget your sun cream!

10. Nazca Desert

Nazca Desert

The puzzling Nazca lines that crisscross the valleys of Palpa and Nazca have put this part of Peru’s otherwise uninteresting desert on the map. These enormous inscriptions of lines, animals, and other geometric patterns were carved into the sandy terrain by the Nazca people and are believed to have been part of a thousand-year-old holy road.

The dry, windless, stable climate of the Nazca Desert has helped keep the lines uncovered to the present day.

The best way to appreciate the magnitude of these geometric lines and shapes is from the air with a flight over the Nazca lines. If you’re hesitant about flying (the costs aren’t cheap!) or you’d just prefer to see them up close, there’s an observation tower along the Panamerican highway where you can view three of the main figures.

Other Nazca sites worth viewing within the desert are the ancient aqueducts known as the Nazca channels. These underground channels are what allow the cotton, potatoes, and fruit plantations in the desert to thrive in this otherwise inhabitable location.

Iquitos

Iquitos is the capital of the Loreto region, which encompasses most of the northern reaches of the Peruvian Amazon . Interestingly, a town that was formed initially by a tribe of hunter-gatherers, Iquitos is now the largest city on earth without road access.

While Iquitos is a little tricky to get to – you have to fly or boat in – the rewards are totally worth it. Despite its remote location, there’s a mix of traditional and modern architecture: wooden huts built on riverside stilts contrast with the historic architecture of the central plaza.

Offering an unforgettable escape in the Amazon jungle that feels authentic, visitors can browse the Belen floating market for everything from bananas to crocodile meat. If it’s souvenirs you’re after, the San Juan crafts market is a better bet.

The isolation of Iquitos is in its favor; the surrounding jungle offers some of the best wildlife watching opportunities in the country. It’s the main base for boat trips along the Amazon River to spot monkeys, alligators, and the notorious anacondas. Visiting the nearby Pacaya Samiria National Reserve near Lagunas is one of the best places for spotting some unusual Amazonian wildlife.

Puno

Puno is a picturesque hillside port city that forms the natural gateway to Lake Titicaca and the 85-plus Uros Floating Islands – boats depart from the dock every 40 minutes. Set at an elevation of 3,800 meters, high-altitude Puno has a glorious view over the lakes and the island chain.

Because of its easy access to and from neighboring Bolivia and Chile , Puno is a popular tourist trap, yet it provides a more laidback alternative to the upmarket lake islands it overlooks. For one, souvenirs at the lakeside market are far cheaper than you’ll find in Cusco or Lima!

Its biggest attraction is as a departure point for the famous floating Uros islands with boats leaving every 40 min from the dock. It is also a great place to get a feel for the Aymara and Quechua cultures.

Some of the most popular things to do include a visit to a llama farm and an overnight stay with a local family. Most of the people who live in Puno are Andean , so there’s an interesting mix of modern and Andean traditions, and you’ll still find many women in colorful traditional dress.

Lima

As Peru’s capital and largest city, Lima is a sprawling metropolis of almost 9 million people. The city was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and offers a rich history as well as exceptional food, a great sense of culture.

You’ll find modern hotels contrasting with traditional and colonial architecture and orderly slums alongside raving nightclubs and bars. Ruled by the Spanish for three centuries, Lima boasts intriguing Spanish-colonial churches , cloisters, and monasteries – a real treat for history buffs.

See also: Where to Stay in Lima

Because of its location close to the coast, Lima is a great foodie destination for seafood lovers. A Lima food tour is a great way to taste your way through the city’s authentic Peruvian delights like Ceviche, with a visit to some of the most authentic markets and restaurants in the city.

Whether you’re taking a stroll through the historic heart of Lima Centro and its craft markets or exploring the more tourist-friendly green suburb of Miraflores , which overflows with antique shops and bars, you’re in for something special in Lima.

6. Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Located in the mountainous Southern Sierra region, Colca Canyon is one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations. Spanning over 70 kilometers, the world’s second-deepest canyon boasts some spectacular scenery with fascinating Andean culture and nature to discover.

While the sheer size and scale of the canyon are staggering, it is the diversity of the many landscapes that is Colca’s most impressive feature; it encompasses everything from barren steppe and stepped terraces to steep-sided cliffs and rearing mountain peaks. Wherever you go, the scenery is phenomenal, with breathtaking views of Andean condors swirling above the 3,140-metre deep canyon.

Archaeological sites and ruins are dotted about the canyon, while locals maintain their ancestral traditions in their small villages and towns. Many people who visit Colca Canyon start in Chivay before trekking along the scenic rim, past precipitous ravines and death-defying drops, basking in the astonishing scenery and landscapes as they go.

5. Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

Once the heartland of the Inca Empire , The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a valley in the Andes, close to Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu . The valley was appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities.

Located in Peru’s Southern Sierra, some of the most popular activities here are adventure-based – from trekking and rafting to rock climbing. In contrast, the towns of Yucay and Urubamba are fast becoming a hub for spiritual relaxation and meditation.

Whichever route you take, there’s plenty to discover along the way. There are gorgeous colonial towns, remote villages, colorful markets, and fascinating Incan sites such as the citadels of Pisac, Chinchero, and Ollantaytambo tucked along this mysterious route.

Take your time exploring the terraced hills above Pisac , making it down in time to browse the village’s famous artisanal market. Check out Choquequirao , some blissfully uncrowded ruins that are deemed to be giving Machu Picchu a run for its money.

4. Inca Trail

Inca Trail

Winding through the mountains, over passes, and above valleys with stunning views all the way, Peru’s Inca Trail is one of the most famous treks in the world. The hike takes around four days to complete and starts just outside of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire , with the end-goal being the mythical Machu Picchu – the Lost City of the Incas.

Using ancient stone paths and trails that the Incas themselves laid down all those centuries ago, the route meanders through diverse ecosystems and landscapes. While some parts run next to stepped terraces, others pass by alpine tundra and cloud forest, with plunging valleys and towering mountains lying in the distance.

As the Inca civilization was centered around the highlands, you’ll also come across ancient ruins on the way.

Due to the Inca Trail’s incredible popularity, visitors now need to book with a tour operator and can choose between several different routes , which vary in distance and elevation. Hiking the historic trail in the footsteps of the Incas is an unforgettable experience and makes arriving at the majestic Machu Picchu all the more special.

3. Arequipa

Arequipa

Located 2,380 meters above sea level, Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city. Surrounded by volcanoes, including the El Misti , it’s known as the ‘ White City ’ because its buildings were crafted out of white volcanic rock called sillar from the neighboring mountains.

Unlike many of Peru’s other cities, Arequipa doesn’t have any Incan claims to fame – at least, not in the form of ancient settlements. Its most famous Inca sight is the Mummy Juanita, also known as the Lady of Ampato – an astonishingly well-preserved frozen body of a young teenaged Incan girl who was sacrificed to the gods during the 1400s. She can now be found in the Catholic University of Santa María’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries.

Examples of Spanish colonial architecture can be found throughout the center of the city. Among the most significant of these is the Santa Catalina Convent , which is often described as a city within a city because of its charming streets, colorful buildings and flowers. Beautiful bridges like the Puente Bolognesi also offer historic value as well as scenic views. The city’s main square, the Plaza de Armas , is a common starting point for many tourists with its shops, restaurants and old churches.

Arequipa is the natural jumping-off point for visiting the multicolored Colca Canyon , one of the top tourist attractions in Peru. Dropping to a depth of 3,270 meters, the canyon is one of the deepest of its kind in the world.

Cusco

Located in the Southern Sierras, colorful Cusco was once the capital of the Incan Empire. Today, it holds the title of the archaeological capital of the Americas. It’s one of Peru’s most-visited destinations, and for good reason: it offers easy access to Machu Picchu and the incredible Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Built by the Spanish on the ruins of age-old Incan temples and palaces, The heart of the city is the main square, the Plaza de Armas , which is surrounded by restaurants, cafes and churches. The colorful San Pedro Market is nearby with vendors selling Quechua handicrafts like alpaca textiles, painted pottery, ceramics and Peruvian dolls as well as fresh produce and drinks.

Just outside the city limits is an important Inca site known as Sacsayhuaman , an enormous walled complex constructed of large limestone boulders. The site is an ancient engineering marvel because of its accurate alignment with annual solstices and its ability to withstand earthquakes.

The city is brimming with culture – it’s the center of Quechua culture in the Andes – and its mountains are etched with trekking routes and hot springs. Strolling the city streets with its colonial architecture, craft markets, museums, boutique hotels and art galleries has a timeless feel to it.

Because of its high-altitude location 3,400 meters above sea level, altitude sickness is a risk in Cusco, so make sure you allow time to acclimatize before making your way here.

1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is anyone’s Peruvian highlight, no matter what you’re visiting this South American country for. Tucked 2,430 meters high in the Andes, this abandoned ancient Incan city seems to be eternally enshrouded in mist. In fact, it’s so well hidden that it remained undiscovered for centuries – earning it the nickname ‘ the Lost City of the Incas .’

The site was eventually discovered by an explorer, but even then, only by accident. In the years since its discovery, it’s become one of the most yearned-after bucket list spots in the world. This means it doesn’t come without the crowds, so be sure to plan your trip well in advance.

Some of the most popular ways to reach these crumbling Incan ruins are by trekking the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trail. For those who prefer not to ascend on foot, there is an easier route by train.

However you reach the site, you’ve got plenty to do when you arrive. Explore well-preserved buildings that include houses, temples, fountains and baths in addition to agricultural terraces and evidence of an irrigation system. You can also admire the surrounding views from the Sun Gate , the gateway to Machu Picchu from the famous Inca Trail, and climb either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for a bird’s eye view over the enchanting valleys.

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September 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm

There are a lot of interesting and amazing places to visit here in Peru. For me, the best one is Machu Picchu because of the last experience that I had there. Even though every city has its own beauty, I’d rather go to Machu Picchu again. For example, if you enjoy beaches and hot weather, you will like being in Mancora. Any place that you visit in Peru will be an unforgettable experience.

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April 3, 2016 at 8:48 am

As a Peruvian (now living in CA), I’d recommend trying to get out of the tourist filled areas. While Machu Pichu and Colca Canyon are indeed beautiful. Culture is very much alive were ever you go. Perhaps make friends with a family who are direct descendants of the incas, still eat their foods, wear their clothes, speak their language, etc. You’ll be surprised how much is there that has not been ‘touristified’ simply wandering the streets of Cusco, I have seen rocks with no less than 20 different sides, sculpted to interlock perfectly with their neighbors. No doubt crafted by the hands of an Inca. Just beware, if you choose this route, be prepared to eat whole fish, Guinea pigs, and a crap ton of quinoa.

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February 20, 2016 at 11:52 pm

My family and I have spent 14 days in Peru with travel agency known as Papriqua. This has been the most memorable vacation for us ever. We had a well informed guide , a walking library, and I must say ,that guy had all the answers The weather was fantastic, the food was great, the people there, were friendly, accomodations were satisfying and the sites were absolutely fantastic. I believe we will go back to explore the Amazon , Iquitos , Trujillo and to visit that area { Lord of Sipan}

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What are you looking for?

25 best places to visit in peru [2024 local's travel guide].

George Alvarez

Are you thinking of heading off to Peru?

Then you’ll want to read on to uncover the very best destinations to visit in this iconic South American nation!

Peru truly is a spectacular country, and any trip here will without doubt be a memorable one. There's a reason why it's one of the most popular countries in South America !

From fiery volcanoes and tall snowy peaks, to Pacific beaches and the sweltering jungle, there’s all sorts of experiences to have in Peru.

It can often be somewhat difficult to plan a trip here, given the immense amount of places to visit.

In this guide, we’ll explore the 25 very best destinations in Peru, and why each is worthy in their own right.

I’ll also cover other important things you’ll need to know, like how to get around Peru, as well as the best time for a visit.

So, let's get started...

Travellerspoint

When is the Best Time to Visit Peru?

Best time to visit Peru

You probably already have an idea of where you want to visit in Peru, so the next important detail to look at is when is best to visit.

Peru is quite a big country, and is full of different terrains and microclimates, which can make things somewhat complicated when planning.

If you’re thinking of heading to just one or two destinations during your time in Peru, then it’s more simple to check the weather and best time to visit on WeatherSpark .

Whereas, if you’re planning to travel around different parts of the country, then you’ll want to read on. 

The dry season in Peru runs from April until September, and is the overall best time to visit for weather (in most parts of the country) . 

Although temperatures may be chillier in certain areas (most notable in Lima, Puno and Cusco), there’s much less rainfall, which is perfect for exploring and when heading out into nature.

Here’s some of the best times to visit for some major Peruvian destinations:

  • Lima : November-February
  • Arequipa : Year-Round!
  • Cusco : June-September
  • Puno : April-October
  • Máncora : April-October

Getting around Peru: What’s the best option?

Getting around Peru

Peru is quite a rugged region, full of many incredible landscapes. 

Whilst this is great for adventure and trip inspiration, it’s not so good for logistics! 

Thankfully though, the bus system in Peru is pretty good, and is the main mode of transport we’ll use to get around. 

RedBus is the best site for buying bus tickets online, as they have the majority of routes covered, as well as most bus providers listed there for you. 

Some of the best providers include Oltursa, Cruz del Sur as well as Movilbus.

All have the usual seats (which are still pretty comfortable), as well as the more expensive VIP seats that recline a full 180°.

One of our top travel tips is to make the most of overnight buses as you'll save on accommodation this way too! 

The other option for getting around is using domestic flights. 

These are actually quite cheap, however are still more expensive than the bus. 

In some cases using a flight is pretty favourable, such as travelling between Lima and Cusco, as well as from the capital to Máncora in the north. 

In other cases flying is mandatory, such as when heading to Iquitos in the Amazon (there’s no roads leading here).

As always, use Skyscanner to compare the best dates and cheapest flights.

25 Places to Visit in Peru

Now it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for! 

Here I’m going to uncover 25 of the very best destinations. From popular areas to lesser known gems, let’s get stuck in. 

As a useful reference, I’ll group the destinations below depending on what you’re looking for (in order of appearance):

  • The Beaches (Coast) : Lima, Paracas, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Máncora, Tumbes.
  • The Andes (Mountains) : Marcahuasi, Huancayo, Puno, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Aguas Calientes, Ayacucho, Huaraz, Cajamarca.
  • The Desert (Arid) : Huacachina, Nazca, Arequipa.
  • The Amazon (Jungle) : Puerto Maldonado, Chachapoyas, Iquitos, Tarapoto, Pucallpa, Oxapampa.

Incan artifacts on display in Lima

The bustling capital of Peru is often the first experience travellers get of this nation, and most tend to overlook it (which is a big mistake!). 

Within the historic centre we’ll find lots of history and architectural gems such as the Plaza de Armas, as well as the Basilica of San Francisco (with its creepy catacombs underneath too). 

This awesome sightseeing tour is the best way to see all of these highlights, with transport provided between them all.

The best area for a stay is in Miraflores, which is the cosmopolitan heart of Lima , and is much cleaner and safer too. 

Here you can rent a bike and cycle along the rolling hills above the Costa Verde, as well as go surfing if you can brave the cold waters! 

From here, you can walk around the ancient ruins of Huaca Pucllana , as well as head to the nearby hip district of Barranco. 

If you’re lucky and get a clear sky day here (trust me, it’s pretty rare unfortunately), you’ll want to summit nearby Morro Solar in Chorrillos for the best views over the capital.

With all these activities and attractions, it's no wonder that the city gets around 2.35 million international visitors each year1

There are endless things to do in Lima so where better to start your Peru trip?

Things to do in Lima:

  • Explore the ruins of Huaca Pucllana
  • Head to the Catacombs of San Francisco
  • Get to the popular areas of Miraflores and Barranco

Where to Stay in Lima:

  • Budget: Passion Hostel 
  • Mid-Range: Selina Posada  
  • Luxury: Innside Lima Miraflores 

2. Marcahuasi

Breathtaking view from Marcahuasi

This high altitude destination isn’t that well known amongst foreign tourists, however the Peruvians that have been constantly rave about it.

Located at an altitude of some 4000m, Marcahuasi is a mountain close to the small rural village of San Pedro de Casta. 

It’s around 5 hours driving from Lima, and is the perfect place to get into nature and off the beaten path. 

Be sure to bring coca leaves or altitude sickness medication, since the 2/3 hour hike up can be pretty exhausting otherwise! 

Once at the top you can set up camp, and then explore the Stone Forest, which is full of unorthodox, granite rock formations that resemble animals and human faces (all natural too, caused by erosion and powerful winds). 

As well as getting a necessary photo next to the picture-perfect entrance gate at the top, you’ll also want to walk on the rocky outcropping for the best views of the surrounding Andes. Be careful though, since there’s no rails and it’s a straight drop down!

This useful article by AllTrails gives an idea of what the hike around Marachuasi looks like, and also how long it could take you.

If you're looking for unique places to visit in Peru then this might just be the spot for you! 

Things to do in Marcahuasi:

  • Explore the Bizarre Rock Formations
  • Hike up for an epic Sunrise and Sunset
  • Camp overnight for the best overall experience

Where to Stay in Marcahuasi:

  • Camping on the Mountain (you’ll need to bring your own tent with you)

3. Huacachina

Charming desert town of Huacachina

This desert oasis town is well on the touristy path, and is one of the most popular destinations to visit in all of Peru. 

Sandwiched between some of the tallest sand dunes in all of South America , Huacachina has a naturally forming lake right in the middle, which makes for a truly, once-in-a-lifetime photo! 

Although the town itself is pretty tiny, it’s the perfect place to get away from the grey skies of Lima for the weekend, and to soak up the rays in a pool or next to the lake (we’re in the desert after all).

One of the top things to do in Huacachina is to head on this combined tour , where you’ll go Sandboarding and also ride around on a Sand Buggy through the desert.

It’s a perfect option for those looking to get their adrenaline fix! 

I recommend going for the 4:00pm slot, where you’ll then be able to watch the crimson sunset over the epic dunes.  

Huacachina is located roughly 4 hours south of Lima, which can easily be reached by bus (you’ll first stop in Ica, then it’s a 10 minute mototaxi to this desert paradise).

There are endless things to do in Huacachina so what are you waiting for?

Things to do in Huacachina:

  • Sandboarding down the Giant Dunes
  • Chill by the Lake during the midday heat
  • Take a Buggy Ride out into the Desert

Where to Stay in Huacachina:

  • Budget: Wild Rover  
  • Mid-Range: Hostel Boulevard
  • Luxury: DM Hoteles Mossone 

Incredible Paracas National Reserve in Paracas, Peru

This central coastal town lies just three hours south of Lima, and is usually travelled as a day trip by most tourists. 

However it’s really worth spending more time in this cute fishing village, given its abundance of awesome nature waiting to be explored. 

Paracas is mostly known for the close-lying Ballestas Islands , which are rocky islets home to many spectacular animal species, such as Humboldt Penguins as well as the Peruvian Pelican and Booby. 

You’ll need to head out on boat tour to visit these islands, where you’ll also visit the mysterious lines of Candelabro. 

It’s also worth heading to the Paracas National Reserve , where the desert meets the sea, as well as being home to a stunning red beach . 

Given the windy conditions, Paracas is also perfect for adventure sport enthusiasts, where many come to go Windsurfing and Kitesurfing. 

Paracas can easily be reached by bus from Lima, with frequent direct departures daily.

Things to do in Paracas:

  • Visit the Ballestas Islands
  • Tuck into some fresh, tasty Seafood
  • Get your fix with some Extreme Sports

Where to Stay in Paracas:

  • Budget: Kokopelli Hostel 
  • Mid-Range: Paracas Guest House
  • Luxury: Casa Paracas

Enigmatic Nazca lines of Nazca, Peru

When it comes to mysterious Peruvian destinations, Nazca for sure comes out near the top of them all. 

This small town is located within the arid desert, and is between Ica and Arequipa (making it a good stop-off point). 

The most famous thing here are the Nazca Lines , whose secrets are still hidden today (despite extensive research from many interested groups). 

With hieroglyphs as large as 1000 metres wide etched into the desert, here you can head on a small plane tour overhead for the very best views of these gems. 

See if you can spot the different symbols such as the Spider, Monkey and the Dog! 

For those looking to see these mysterious lines, here's a more in-depth guide to visiting the Nazca Lines !

Another worthy visit here is the chilling Chauchilla Cemetery , where you can see various ancient mummies and artefacts in their incredibly well-preserved states. 

The city itself of Nazca doesn’t have too much going for it, however the Plaza de Armas has its own character which is worth a visit. 

The bus from Ica to Nazca takes around 2.5 hours.

Things to do in Nazca:

  • Fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines
  • Tour through the spooky Chauchilla Cemetery

Where to Stay in Nazca:

  • Budget: Jumana  
  • Mid-Range: San Isidro Gran Hotel 
  • Luxury: Casa Andina Standard 

6. Huancayo

Spectacular Nevado Huaytapallana

Although rarely visited by tourists, this city is considered the main commercial hub of the Peruvian Andes.

With its unorthodox centre and sights , as well as some awesome sceneries, it’s a great place to get off the traditional Peruvian tourist path. 

Getting here is a real part of the adventure, where you can board the train from Lima to experience mesmerising landscapes until you reach Huancayo . 

Some of the best things to see in the city include the Parque de la Identidad as well as the Archaeological Site of Wariwillka. 

For those who love hiking, then the nearby Huaytapallana mountain range is a must, with incredible alpine lakes and towering mountains to be explored above the clouds! 

Last but not least, when in Huancayo, you must try the food. 

One of Peru’s top dishes - Papa a la Huancaina - originates from Huancayo, and will prove tastier here than in other regions. 

As well as the train , you can also reach Huancayo from Lima by bus, which takes around 8 hours.

Things to do in Huancayo:

  • Hike Nevado Huaytapallana
  • Try some authentic Andean Dishes
  • Chill out in the Parque de la Identidad

Where to Stay in Huancayo:

  • Budget: Hospedaje Nilton 
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Las Lomas  
  • Luxury: Hotel Presidente 

7. Arequipa

Excellent view from Yanahuara Mirador in Arequipa, Peru

Now we head to arguably the most beautiful city in all of Peru, and a good contender for the entire continent too! 

Arequipa is set between three prominent volcanoes, which provide the perfect backdrop for some awesome photos (hint: you should head to the Yanahuara Mirador for some great shots). 

This city is also covered in white buildings, which were constructed out of the volcanic Sillar rock , excavated from nearby valleys. 

The historic centre is the best place to see the finest work, including the Plaza de Armas as well as the historically important Santa Catalina Monastery . 

Some of these volcanoes are hikeable as day trips, with El Misti being the most popular, and Chachani the most difficult (bringing back some bad memories for me… please take the altitude seriously on these hikes folks!). 

Also nearby is the breathtaking Colca Canyon , which is one of the deepest canyons on earth.  

It’s best to go with a multi-day tour , where you’ll visit many cute rural towns and other cool sites along the way. 

Arequipa is a 10 hour bus ride from Nazca, and roughly 18 hours from Lima.

Things to do in Arequipa:

  • Hike Arequipa’s fiery Volcanoes
  • Delve into the depths of the Colca Canyon
  • Explore the Historical Centre

Where to Stay in Arequipa:

  • Budget: Mango Hostel B&B 
  • Mid-Range: Casona Plaza Hotel 
  • Luxury: Palla Boutique Hotel 

Straw arch by the lakeside in Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru

Located on the cool shores of Lake Titicaca , Puno truly is a delight with its lakeside views.

Beauty doesn’t come without cost here though, given its very high altitude (which is the case for many Peruvian destinations within the Andes).

Located up at an elevation of 3827m, you’ll need to bring coca leaves and take it slow whilst your body adjusts to the more difficult conditions. 

The very best thing to do in Puno is to visit the stunning Uros floating islands .  

Just a short boat ride (around an hour from the harbour), these floating islands are made entirely out of the Totora Reed, a naturally-occurring plant found around the lake’s edge. 

Here you can get to know the indigenous locals, as well as ride around on the awesome colored boats! 

The best way to see these stunning islands is with an organised tour with many of them offering multiple departures throughout the day.

You can also head up (slowly of course, given the altitude!) to the Mirador El Condor for views over Lake Titicaca, as well as explore the Plaza Mayor with its impressive cathedral.

Puno is also a good jumping off point for those heading to Bolivia , with the bus and boat services easily connecting to nearby Copacabana.

The bus from Arequipa to Puno takes around 6 hours. From Cusco it’s a similar time too!

Here's some more information on things to do in Puno ...

Things to do in Puno:

  • Visit the Floating Uros Islands
  • Ride around Lake Titicaca on the Dragon Boat
  • Head up to Mirador El Condor for awesome Lakeside views

Where to Stay in Puno:

  • Budget: Kaaro Hotel Puno
  • Mid-Range: Casona Plaza Hotel  
  • Luxury: Hotel Hacienda Puno

Cobblestone street in Cusco, Peru

Cusco is undeniably one of the best cities to visit in Peru, and no trip to the country is complete without spending some time here!

Sandwiched within the rocky Andes, Cusco is located at an altitude of 3399m, and also within the stunning Sacred Valley region.

Once the beating heart of the Inca civilization , today you can walk around the historic centre and see many ancient ruins and interesting sights such as Sacsayhuaman , and Qorikancha , as well as the bustling Plaza de Armas with its imposing Cathedrals. 

Cusco is also the perfect place to get to know the traditional Andean cuisine, with dishes like Cuy readily available in the San Pedro Market, as well as local restaurants such as Kusikuy . 

However, Cusco is all about the day trips you can take into the Sacred Valley. 

From stunning alpine lakes such as the popular Lake Humantay and the lesser-known Ausangate National Park , to the ruins of Moray and pools of Maras, you’ll have almost infinite things to see and do here! 

This day tour is one of the best out there for those wanting to explore the Sacred Valley, where you’ll see many of the top sites in just one day (perfect for those in a rush).

As you can see, there are tons of awesome things to do in Cusco so make sure you don't leave this amazing city off your itinerary!

Cusco can easily be reached by bus from Arequipa (10 hours) or Puno (6 hours), however from Lima the bus takes 24 hours, so it’s best to hop on a flight from the capital.

Things to do in Cusco:

  • Explore the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qorikancha
  • Get to know traditional Andean cultures
  • Venture into Alpine Lakes and Mountains within the nearby Sacred Valley

Where to Stay in Cusco:

  • Budget: Kokopelli Hostel  
  • Mid-Range: Posada Villa Mayor 
  • Luxury: Casa Andina Standard

10. Ollantaytambo

Ancient Inca Ruins in Ollantaytambo

Many travellers who head to Cusco don’t even know about the different towns until they head out into the Sacred Valley. 

Ollantaytambo is a prime example, and is one that really has a lot going for it. 

The Pinkuylluna Archaeological Ruins is one of the highlights , with this fortress steeped on the edge of a cliff in the skies. 

As well as its diverse market that’s perfect for souvenir hunting, another must-visit here is the Inti Punku Sun Gate , which is the perfect area for a snap with its incredibly scenic background.

If you're planning on visiting lots of different destinations within the Sacred Valley, I’d actually recommend staying in Ollantaytambo rather than Cusco. 

Not only is it much closer to all the top sites, it also retains a much more authentic culture and vibe, with locals still following ancient traditions today from hundreds of years ago. 

The buses and local colectivos that run from Cusco to Ollantaytambo take roughly 1.5 hours.

If you're looking to visit Ollantaytambo then here's some information that you might find helpful...

Things to do in Ollantaytambo:

  • Wander around this ancient city
  • Visit the Pinkuylluna Archaeological Ruins
  • Head up to the Inti Punku Sun Gate

Where to Stay in Ollantaytambo:

  • Budget: Hostal Chaska Wasi 
  • Mid-Range: Picaflor Tambo Guest House
  • Luxury: Apu Lodge 

Incredible aerial shot of Pisac in Peru

Similar to Ollantaytambo, Pisac is another small town located within the vast Sacred Valley region. 

Increasingly popular with tourists, Pisac has a very charming vibe with its narrow cobblestone streets, as well as a strong bohemian presence too. 

The market here is one of the best in all of Southern Peru , where you can pick up anything from alpaca garments and bags to trying various authentic Peruvian dishes. 

One of the very best things to see in this town has to be its archaeological site , which is built on top of a mountain and has tombs built into the side of it too! 

This town is also a good way to get acquainted with a more traditional, rural Peruvian way of life, which can be quite difficult in Cusco with its never ending bustle and noise. 

For those who want a new experience, consider looking into taking San Pedro . Just be sure to follow preparation guidelines properly before taking it.

A shamanic brew, it’s been known to cure health problems, and even help people find their own path in life. 

If you're wondering where to go in Peru then I highly recommend spending some time here! 

The bus from Cusco to Pisac takes around an hour to arrive.

Things to do in Pisac:

  • Visit the Pisac Archaeological Site
  • Wander through the town’s amazing cobblestone streets 
  • Go Bargain Hunting in the Mercado de Pisac

Where to Stay in Pisac:

  • Budget: Pisac Inn
  • Mid-Range: Pisac Inca Guest House 
  • Luxury: Florencio Casa Hacienda

12. Aguas Calientes

places to visit north of peru

Set along the Urubamba river, Aguas Calientes is a small city that's mostly known as the stop-off point for those heading to Machu Picchu. 

Surrounded by thick jungle vegetation and high cliffs from all sides, it’s a really scenic area, and an ideal location to get away from the never-ending noise of Cusco. 

Of course Machu Picchu is the star highlight here, and really is stunning to see regardless of the time of year. 

With sweeping views from the top terrace, to friendly alpacas strolling around, it’ll be an unforgettable moment along your Peruvian trip. 

Trust me, you don't want to miss this UNESCO World Heritage Site as it's one of the country's top tourist attractions.

This ancient citadel can be reached with just a one hour hike from Aguas Calientes (or by using the buses that are constantly up and down the nearby mountain). 

You can also join a combo tour where they provide all logistics, as well as including an interesting guide who can teach you a lot around this legendary Peruvian site.

Other great things to do in Aguas Calientes include climbing Huayna Picchu for an incredible alternative view of the ruins (this hike is more demanding). You can also visit the hot springs too (the town's name translates to “Hot Springs” after all). 

To get here from Cusco, you’ll need to take buses (approx 4/5 hours) to the start of the train track.

This is then followed by either taking the train, or completing the 2 hour walk along the tracks. 

Things to do in Aguas Calientes:

  • Visit the legendary ruins of Machu Picchu
  • Rest tired legs in the Baños Termales
  • Get to know the Plaza de Manco Capac

Where to Stay in Aguas Calientes:

  • Budget: Nativus Hostel 
  • Mid-Range: Sacred Stone Boutique Hotel 
  • Luxury: Tierra Viva Machu Picchu Hotel 

13. Puerto Maldonado

The elusive jaguar in the Peruvian Jungle in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Known as the gateway to Peru’s Southern Amazon, Puerto Maldonado is one of the best places to experience this rich jungle. 

With wildlife endemic to just this area of the world, you can easily take a multi-day tour into the jungle to see the very best of this ultimate South American gem.

Here you can see everything from Caiman and Capybara to the elusive Jaguar , as well as climbing a canopy tower for some insane Amazon views.

You can also stay deep within Tambopata national reserve which offers you a better chance to spot wildlife!

Within the actual city itself, a great thing to do is to climb the Obelisco tower which is in the very heart of town.

At the top you’ll have some of the best views of Puerto Maldonado, contrasted with the formidable jungle behind.

The Plaza de Armas is a nice place to come for a stroll, with this one more relaxed when compared with other, busier Peruvian cities.

You’ll also want to visit the Isla de los Monos, where you’ll see many different species of monkeys as well as having a chance to go zip-lining through the jungle! 

The closest city to Puerto Maldonado is Cusco. Whilst flying is the preferred method of getting between the two, the cheapest way is to take a bus which takes around 10 hours.

Things to do in Puerto Maldonado:

  • Head on a multi-day Jungle Tour
  • Visit Monkey Island for a quick and easy day trip 
  • Climb the Obelisco Tower for the best views over Puerto Maldonado

Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado:

  • Budget: El Fauno Hostel 
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Principe I
  • Luxury: Wasai Puerto Maldonado Eco Lodge  

14. Ayacucho

Stunning Cascades of Millpu in Ayacucho

Located within the Southern Peruvian Andes, Ayacucho is another very pretty city to visit whilst in Peru. 

Known as the “City of the Churches”, there’s a good 33 dotted around here, meaning there’s going to be at least one that takes your fancy (I tried visiting them all in a day and failed spectacularly. The altitude I guess…). 

The historic centre is the best place to base yourself, with some really scenic streets such as 28 de Julio which leads towards the picturesque Plaza de Armas. 

One of the most popular sights close-by is Millpu , which are a series of stunning, cascading blue waterfalls (or green depending on cloud cover and time of year). 

These pools are undeniably one of the most beautiful places in Peru so you don't want to leave this spot off your itinerary!

The best way to visit this gem is with a day tour where you’ll also have a traditional sierra lunch prepared for you. 

You’ll also want to visit the Huari archaeological complex, which was once one of the largest urban cities in ancient Peru.

Here's some more information on things to do in Ayacucho ...

Things to do in Ayacucho:

  • Visit the Cascades of Millpu
  • Stroll around the heart of Ayacucho 
  • Explore the Huari archaeological site

Where to Stay in Ayacucho:

  • Budget: Hotel Misky Samay 
  • Mid-Range: Platero Hotel 
  • Luxury: ViaVia Cafe Ayacucho 

Snow-capped mountains of Huaraz

The unofficial hiking capital of Peru, Huaraz is the ultimate destination for mountain lovers and trekking enthusiasts alike. 

Sandwiched between the Cordillera Blanca (which is the highest tropical mountain range in the world) and Huascarán national park , travellers spend weeks at a time here getting to know the very best areas.

Alpine Lakes are amongst some of the most popular, with Laguna Parón renowned for its large blue lake and surrounding snow-tipped peaks. 

Laguna 69 is another lake which is more challenging, but features a glacial lake that is so perfect, you would have thought it was designed by the gods. 

Other awesome day trips include the hike up Nevado Mateo, a trip to the high altitude Pastoruri Glacier as well as visiting the pre-Incan ruins of Chavín de Huántar . 

There’s also many multi-day hikes to do here too, such as the popular Santa Cruz trek , as well as the Huayhuash circuit.

The city of Huaraz itself is typical of a Peruvian Andes town, with its bustling Plaza de Armas nice for a midday stroll. 

The bus from Lima to this mountain paradise takes roughly 8 hours.

This Huaraz travel guide will help you plan your trip as it includes what to do here, where to stay, and some other top travel tips! 

Things to do in Huaraz:

  • Hike the unforgettable Huayhuash and Santa Cruz circuits
  • Visit stunning Alpine Lakes
  • Explore the ancient ruins and temples of the Chavín tribe.

Where to Stay in Huaraz:

  • Budget: Selina Huaraz 
  • Mid-Range: Ebony Hotel 
  • Luxury: Hotel La Joya 

16. Trujillo

Quiet beach in Trujillo, Peru at dusk

Situated along Peru’s long Pacific Coast, Trujillo is known for its abundance of ancient ruins, as well as for its beaches and local culture. 

The best area for a stay is within the district of Huanchaco, a sleepy surfer’s area that runs along the coast. 

Without a doubt the best site to see here is the ruins of Chan Chan , which are known to be one of the largest ancient adobe cities on earth. 

It’s best to visit in the morning before the crowds arrive on buses, and also to avoid the sometimes overbearing heat here too. 

You’ll also want to make stops at the Huacas del Lunar y Sol , two other pyramids close to Trujillo.

This combined tour includes entrances to all of the ruins mentioned above, including a couple of extras too!

This city is also known for its impeccable surfing conditions, so regardless if you’re a pro or just starting out, this is a good place to hit the waves.

Other worthy things to see and do in Trujillo include walking around the historical centre, which is full of colourful buildings and Spanish architecture.

I also recommend heading on a Caballito de Totora boat ride (a traditional fishing boat that’s been crucial for Trujillo’s industry and growth for over 3000 years). 

The bus from Lima to Trujillo takes between 10/11 hours.

Things to do in Trujillo:

  • Visit the expansive Chan Chan ruins
  • Lounge on the beach in Huanchaco (or go surfing)
  • Explore the colourful architecture in Trujillo’s Historic Centre

Where to Stay in Trujillo:

  • Budget: Punta Huanchaco 
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Bracamonte 
  • Luxury: Costa del Sol Trujillo Centre 

17. Chiclayo

Ancient tomb of Sipan

Chiclayo sits along Peru’s Pacific coast, in the popular northern region of Lambayeque. 

Most travellers usually pass through Chiclayo on the way to the beaches in the north, or at best spend a couple of days here.

However this major coastal city is home to many interesting ruins and sites , and is worth a trip here in itself. 

Whilst located more inland than say Trujillo, there is the nice beach of Pimentel close-by which is great for a much needed time-out. 

One of the best things you can do in Chiclayo is to visit the Tombs of Sipán with this all-inclusive tour . Sipán was an ancient ruler of the Moche civilisation, whose pristine preservation helps give us more of an insight into how cultures of these eras used to live. 

It’s also worth heading to the pyramids of Chotuna and Chornancap for some more exploring. 

The bus from Lima to Chiclayo takes around 13 hours in total.

Here's a guide to Chiclayo if you're wanting to learn more!

Things to do in Chiclayo:

  • Explore the Tomb of Sipán
  • Relax on Pimentel Beach
  • Visit Chiclayo’s Historic Centre 

Where to Stay in Chiclayo:

  • Budget: Hotel Plazza 
  • Mid-Range: Casa Huéspedes Pimentel 
  • Luxury: Sunec Hotel 

18. Cajamarca

Ventanillas de Otuzco in Cajamarca

A Peruvian city with much historic importance , Cajamarca is indeed a great place to visit to learn more about the real Peru (and not just the touristy version - as much as I love that part too). 

Cajamarca was the last city to fall from Inca rule to the Spaniards , and as such Peruvians here have maintained their identity and cultural heritage exceedingly well. 

This can be best seen with the locals walking around, from how they dress to their daily activities and lifestyles.

The Baños del Inca are located here, with these hot springs once used by the elite centuries ago. 

Today they’re still in operation, and you can go for a dip yourself, which is a nice way to change up the day! 

The Ventanillas de Otuzco is another must-visit when here, as well as the Ransom Room (where the last Inca emperor was imprisoned before his execution). 

Be sure to walk up the many stone steps to the top of Cerro Santa Apolonia, which features a pretty church as well as some awesome cityscape views. 

The bus from Chiclayo to Cajamarca takes roughly 7 hours, whilst from Lima it will take around 15 hours.

Things to do in Cajamarca:

  • Go for a dip in the Baños del Inca
  • Hike up to the Mirador of Cerro Santa Apolonia
  • Visit the nearby Ventanillas de Otuzco

Where to Stay in Cajamarca:

  • Budget: Hotel San Francisco 
  • Mid-Range: El Portal Del Marques
  • Luxury: Costa del Sol Wyndham Cajamarca 

19. Chachapoyas

Majestic Yumbilla Waterfalls in Chachapoyas

One of my all-time favourite destinations in Peru, Chachapoyas has a tonne going for it. 

With incredible waterfalls, mountain fortresses and remote hiking paths, you’d think it would be highly visited among tourists. 

However it’s not!

For this reason I love it, since you’ll see all the best things in an authentic way, without the crowds of tourists constantly breathing behind your neck.

Whilst here, you’ll want to make various day trips to see the best of the region. 

One of these is Yumbilla Falls , which at a grand height of 895m, is the 5th tallest waterfall on the planet.

Gocta Falls is another fan favourite with its longer hiking path and beautiful sceneries. 

This area of Peru is also known for the Chachapoyas culture, an ancient civilization known as “The Warriors of the Clouds”. 

You can visit their fortress of Kuelap with this awesome tour (including the cable-car ride), which lies on the edge of a mountain.

It was so formidable and well defended, that even the Incas had a hard time conquering it! 

The Sarcophagi of Karajia is another must-visit, which features 6 oversized sarcophagi on a mountain ledge, containing the human remains of some of the most important Chachapoyas leaders. 

The city of Chachapoyas itself is very relaxed and has its own vibe, which is best seen in and around the Plaza de Armas and along the busy Jirón Amazonas. 

As you can see there are tons of things to do in Chachapoyas so what are you waiting for?

Chachapoyas is an 8 hour bus ride from Cajamarca. 

From Lima, it will take a hefty 24 hours straight!

Things to do in Chachapoyas:

  • Hike to Yumbilla Waterfalls
  • Get to know the ancient Chachapoya Culture 
  • Visit the stunning fortress of Kuelap

Where to Stay in Chachapoyas:

  • Budget: Aventura Chachapoyas Backpackers
  • Mid-Range: Casona del Rosario
  • Luxury: La Xalca Hotel 

20. Iquitos

Busy street in Iquitos City Center

Located deep within the Amazon jungle, Iquitos is by far the most inaccessible destination of all on our list - despite being a large city. 

This is because it's entirely cut off from civilization by dense jungle, and is the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by road! 

Due to its location, it’s by the far one of the best places to kickstart a tour into The Amazon Jungle. 

This multi-day tour starts from Iquitos, and will allow you to explore virgin rainforest, catch pirañas, swim with pink dolphins and see a whole bunch of rare and exotic animals. 

Just be aware that the seasons can vary dramatically here, which can make some parts of the jungle (and what you’ll see) unreachable.

The city of Iquitos is pretty hectic, and you’ll want to ride around on a few moto-taxis to get into the swing of things. 

The Plaza de Armas is worth a visit, as well as the nearby town of Nanay.

Here you can rent a boat and guide for the day, visiting a butterfly farm, local tribe and spotting giant anacondas along the way. 

From Iquitos, you can also take a river cruise to reach Pacaya Samiria Reserve, but you'll need to get to Nauta Port first.

As already mentioned, it’s impossible to reach Iquitos by land. 

The easiest way is to fly from Lima which takes a couple of hours. Otherwise, from Pucallpa you can take a boat, however this can take up to 5 days!

This Iquitos travel guide includes everything you need to know for exploring the Peruvian Amazon...

Things to do in Iquitos:

  • Explore the most biodiverse Jungle on Earth
  • Swim with Pink River Dolphins
  • Visit nearby Nanay for more unique experiences 

Where to Stay in Iquitos:

  • Budget: A&T Amazon Backpackers 
  • Mid-Range: Safari Hotel Iquitos 
  • Luxury: El Dorado Classic Hotel 

21. Tarapoto

Wild green parrot in Tarapoto

Peru is known for its expanse of jungle and green foliage, with many awesome destinations to choose from. 

However Tarapoto is different since it’s located in the high jungle region, and thus has its very own unique atmosphere. 

There are many awesome sights worth seeing here, such as the infamous hand of the Taytamaki Mirador which stretches out over the jungle (the best place for a photo). 

Whilst most eco-centres don’t usually make a travel list, I have to say that the Centro Urku really stands out from the rest. 

As well as seeing rare animals such as Ocelots and Otters, you’ll also learn about their conservation efforts, successes, and current challenges they’re looking to solve. 

Your entrance ticket helps them massively, so you’ll feel proud of yourself too when walking around. 

As well as visiting these sites in the city (along with strolling around the beautiful Plaza de Armas here), there’s many awesome experiences out in the nearby region too. 

Some of the best include the hikes to the waterfall of Ahuashiyacu and that of Pishurayacu, as well as exploring the Laguna Sauce. 

The closest major city to Tarapoto is Chachapoyas, which takes roughly 8 hours. 

From Lima it’s best to fly here (1.5 hours), since the bus is going to take roughly 30 hours in total.

Things to do in Tarapoto:

  • Head up to the Taytamaki Mirador
  • Visit Ahuashiyacu Falls
  • Learn in the Centro Urku

Where to Stay in Tarapoto:

  • Budget: Tengana Hospedaje y Tours
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Fatima Inn 
  • Luxury: Pumarinri Amazon Lodge

22. Pucallpa

Stunning cathedral of Pucallpa

This jungle city is slowly gaining mainstream exposure, with many who head here interested in a very different Peruvian experience. 

Pucallpa is where the majority of Shipibo healers come from, who work with natural plants such as Ayahuasca to help cure physical problems and also provide spiritual guidance. 

Whilst most still head to Iquitos for this (since it’s more touristy), you’ll find the scene more authentic and fresh in Pucallpa . 

This city is located on the Ucayali River (one of the major rivers flowing into The Amazon), and thus is a great starting point for treks into the jungle. 

There are many multi-day treks you can embark on here, where you’ll leave the bustle behind and explore hidden species and landscapes on your journey. 

Another worthy spot to visit is the Plaza de Armas, which has many interesting human statues in its gardens, as well as its unorthodoxly shaped Cathedral. 

The bus from Lima to Pucallpa takes roughly 16 hours, so you may want to consider flying instead.

Things to do in Pucallpa:

  • Head into the Amazon Jungle
  • Visit Laguna Yarinacocha
  • Visit the Plaza de Armas and its stunning Cathedral

Where to Stay in Pucallpa:

  • Budget: Hospedaje Independencia 
  • Mid-Range: Hospedaje El Virrey
  • Luxury: Casa Andina Select 

23. Oxapampa

Beautiful scenery in Oxapampa, Peru

When you think of coming to Peru, you usually imagine the following; traditionally-dressed locals, huge swatches of green jungle, ancient ruins and some friendly alpacas too. 

I can bet my left arm and leg that visiting a German colony probably didn’t make your original thoughts! 

In the mid 1800s, many German immigrants moved to this isolated town in Peru, and now we have a European-inspired town in the middle of the Amazon jungle.

The town of Oxapampa is located in the high jungle region of Pasco, and truly is a unique place to visit.

You’ll see many typical architectural styles and buildings from Western Europe here.

They also have their very own Oktoberfest - where those will finally be rewarded for their ability to consume inhuman levels of alcohol. 

When you’re not dying from a resaca , then you’ll want to head outdoors given Oxapampa is known for its adventure experiences. 

Zip-lining through the canopy is a popular activity, whilst you can also head to the mysterious Tunqui Cave for some surreal sights and exploring. 

Although on a map it seems like a trek to get to, you can take a direct bus from Lima to Oxapampa in just 11 hours (sounds a lot but trust me, this is a relief given other routes you may need to travel in Peru!). 

Things to do in Oxapampa:

  • Zip-line through the Jungle Canopy
  • Marvel at its European Architecture 
  • Head to the nearby Tunqui Cave

Where to Stay in Oxapampa:

  • Budget: Suzet House 
  • Mid-Range: Hotel Heidinger 
  • Luxury: Carolina Egg Gasthaus 

24. Máncora

Awesome beach in Máncora

Whilst Peru isn’t exactly known for its beaches, the north has some very good areas for bathing in the sun and living the good life. 

Máncora takes the cherry, and is by far one of the most popular areas for a beach vacation (for both nationals and tourists alike). 

Almost 1000km north of Lima, the scenery in Máncora drastically changes, as well as being accompanied by a big heat boost. 

Here you’ll find palm-fringed beaches such as Las Pocitas and nearby Punta Sal, with the waters ideal for swimming and some surfing too. 

Another awesome thing to do here is to head on a Humpback Whale tour, where you’ll see these beauties as well as some friendly turtles too (the whale season here is between June until October). 

Máncora itself is a mixture of low developed roads (where you’ll fly around on a moto-taxi), and bustling hotels and restaurants catering for the mass of tourists arriving. 

It’s got a really lively nightlife scene too, which would probably rank as one of my all-time favourites in Peru. 

Hostels like The Point and Selina usually have good parties most nights of the week, where they then tend to spill out onto the street and into nearby bars.

Here's some more information about visiting Máncora ...

Things to do in Máncora:

  • Relax on some stunning Pacific beaches
  • Watch Humpback Whales from June until October 
  • Get involved with the wild party scene

Where to Stay in Máncora:

  • Budget: Wild Rover 
  • Mid-Range: Ku-Lodge Máncora 
  • Luxury: Don Giovanni Máncora 

Cute Plaza de Armas in Tumbes, Peru

Right next to the border with Ecuador, Tumbes is one of the most northern-lying cities in the country. 

It's also one of the most underrated places to visit in Peru, with it usually being quickly visited by tourists as an entry or exit passage. However, I think it’s worth spending a few days here given it has some unique attractions worth seeing. 

The biggest of these is its Pacific Tropical Forest, home to several mangrove swamps. 

It’s in fact the only of its kind in all of Peru (pretty surprisingly, considering how much jungle there is here). 

You can head on a tour here, where you can visit the sole habitat of the Peruvian crocodile, as well as the endemic Mono Coto Howler Monkey.

The Plaza de Armas in town is a nice spot to visit, home to a stunning mural which is perfect as a background for a snap. 

From Tumbes you can also visit some low-key remote beaches, which are much more relaxed than the busier ones near Máncora. 

Some of the best include Playa Hermosa and Playa Cruz. 

There are several ways of getting to Tumbes, with the most popular being a crossing point from nearby Cuenca in Ecuador. 

Tumbes is just a 2 hour bus north from Máncora, whilst it’s around 22 hours from Lima (it’s worth flying instead).

Things to do in Tumbes:

  • Tour around the Mangrove Swamps
  • Relax on Hidden Beaches
  • Wander around it’s cute Plaza de Armas

Where to Stay in Tumbes:

  • Budget: Guest House Tumbes 
  • Mid-Range: Rizzo Plaza Hotel 
  • Luxury: Costa del Sol Wyndham Tumbes 

Where will you visit in Peru?

And that’s all for this guide to the best places to visit in Peru!

This diverse country is home to numerous idyllic landscapes and colonial cities , and sometimes it can be hard to make up your mind where’s best to go.

In this guide I’ve covered 25 of the very best destinations you can visit, and why each is unique and deserves their own place along any Peruvian itinerary .

I’ve also covered other things you’ll need to know, including the best time to visit Peru, as well as how to get around this Latin American nation.

Just keep in mind that many of these destinations are scattered across the country, so you'll need to prioritize where you'd like to visit! 

I hope you enjoy your time in Peru as much as I did!

Here are some other guides that you might find helpful for planning your trip:

  • Peru Packing List
  • The Best Things to do in Peru
  • Backpacking Peru Itinerary

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See the 2024 Solar Eclipse’s Path of Totality

A total solar eclipse is expected to pass through the United States on April 8, 2024, giving stargazers across the country the opportunity to view the celestial phenomenon in which the sun is completely covered by the moon.

The eclipse will enter the U.S. in Texas and exit in Maine. It is the last time a total solar eclipse will be visible in the contiguous United States until 2044.

Here's what to know about the path of the eclipse and where you can see it.

Read More : How Animals and Nature React to an Eclipse

Where can you see the total solar eclipse?

The eclipse will cross through North America, passing over parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. 

The eclipse will enter the United States in Texas, and travel through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Small parts of Tennessee and Michigan will also experience the total solar eclipse.

Much of the eclipse's visibility depends on the weather. A cloudy day could prevent visitors from seeing the spectacle altogether.

places to visit north of peru

When does the solar eclipse start and end?

The solar eclipse will begin in Mexico’s Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT. It will exit continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT.

The longest duration of totality—which is when the moon completely covers the sun — will be 4 minutes, 28 seconds, near Torreón, Mexico. Most places along the path of totality will see a totality duration between 3.5 and 4 minutes.

Read More : The Eclipse Could Bring $1.5 Billion Into States on the Path of Totality

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The best place to witness the event is along the path of totality. Thirteen states will be along the path of totality, and many towns across the country are preparing for the deluge of visitors— planning eclipse watch parties and events in the days leading up to totality.

In Rochester, NY, the Rochester Museum and Science Center is hosting a multi-day festival that includes a range of events and activities. Russellville, Arkansas will host an event with activities including live music, science presentations, tethered hot-air balloon rides, and telescope viewings.

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COMMENTS

  1. What to See in Northern Peru

    Trujillo 2-3 days. A pretty colonial city, it is nice to simply walk around and enjoy the views. However, it is also a great home base for taking day trips to ancient ruins. Most people come to Trujillo to see the famous Chan Chan, which are ruins are an ancient city built from mud but with tours ranging from $5-10 I highly recommend spending a ...

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    Kuelap: Citadel of the Cloud Warriors. The famous fortress of Kuelap (© Audrey Courtand) In Amazonas, in the Andean mountains of Northern Peru, there is the "Machu Picchu of the North". At an altitude of 3,000m, the Chachapoya citadel was built between 500 and 800, before the time of Machu Picchu. At its peak, Kuelap had up to 3,000 inhabitants.

  3. Northern Peru: Everything You Need To Know

    Overview. Peru is an immense country, yet most travelers spend the majority of their time in and around the region of Machu Picchu in the south. The many pre-Incan civilizations that thrived in the North are less known. The Peruvian government has only started to document (with international support) these cultures in the past 20 to 30 years.

  4. North Peru Travel Guide

    Rough Guides® is a trademark owned by Apa Group with its headquarters at 7 Bell Yard London WC2A 2JR, United Kingdom. Plan your visit to North Peru: find out where to go and what to do in North Peru with Rough Guides. Read about itineraries, activities, places to stay and travel essentials and get inspiration from the blog in the best guide to ...

  5. Northern Peru travel guide: Kuelap, Gocta Falls etc.

    Though it will get busier in time, visiting now is a perfect way of coming face-to-face with history. And of taking in Northern Peru's jungle-clad, panoramic vistas. READ MORE: 7 REASONS TO VISIT PERU (THAT AREN'T MACHU PICCHU) The site itself is built on a mountain-top that sits in a cloud forest 3,000 metres above sea level.

  6. The Best Northern Peru Itinerary For Travelers

    Cajamarca: One of the most important cities in Northern Peru, Cajamarca is an excellent destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Cajamarca is a very historically important town, as it is where the last Inca was held and killed. The most popular time of the year to visit is during February for the city's Carnaval festival.

  7. Visit the Ancient Ruins of Peru's Amazonas Region

    This Region of Peru Has Incredible Ancient Ruins — Without Machu Picchu's Crowds. With its centuries-old ruins and striking mountains, the Amazonas region of northern Peru has no shortage of ...

  8. 5 Amazing Places to Add to a North Peru Itinerary

    No north Peru itinerary is complete without a day hike in Huascarán National Park. Peru Travel Planning | 32 Unique & Famous Landmarks in Peru to Visit. Laguna 69 Trail to Laguna 69 First views North Peru Itinerary Must: Laguna 69. The most popular day trek of the Cordillera Blanca has to be Laguna 69. The hike itself is around 4 miles and isn ...

  9. Explore the Wonders of Northern Peru

    The climate of Northern Peru varies tremendously depending on the area. On the coast, the elevation never strays far from 100 m (328 ft) above sea level, meaning the temperature tends to stay at around 30°C to 40°C (86-104°F) during the best months of November to March.

  10. Discover Northern Peru: A Journey For The Senses

    Get Started. This 14-day trip will take you to the best cities and historic places of interest on the north coast of Peru. From the fascinating archaeological sites around Trujillo and Cumbemayo, to visits with local woodcarvers and environmentalists, you'll get an in-depth experience with this little-visited.

  11. Top 10 of the Must-See-Places in Northern Peru

    1) The adobe city of Chan Chan. This impressive archaeological site is situated close to Trujillo, on the coast of Northern Peru. It was built from 850 after JC onwards by the Chimu culture. With over 24 ha surface, it is the biggest city ever built in Adobe bricks. Today there are only 14 ha left and from these you can only visit a small part.

  12. 5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru

    Ai Apaec the Beheader 5 Wonderful Things to Do and See in Northern Peru #03: Museums and the Tomb of the Lady of Cao A few km away from Trujillo itself, you will find the ongoing (at the time) excavation of the Tomb of the Lady of Cao, the Tattooed Sorcerer Queen of the Moches as well as some very interesting museums depicting the way the ancient rulers of Northern Peru were buried and the ...

  13. 10 Highlights Of Northern Peru

    6. Chan Chan. This massive ancient city, near the modern-day city of Trujillo, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. From around 900 AD to 1400 AD, Chan Chan served as the center of one of the largest societies captured by the Inca: the Chimú. The Chimú thrived in Northern Peru, and Chan Chan is their crown jewel.

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    W hilst Southern and Central Peru are well-trodden by travelers seeking the most popular sights like Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu, only the more adventurous and discerning travelers explore the north. Of course, these discerning travelers are greatly rewarded with an incredible selection of activities that provide an insight into the history and culture of Peru like nowhere else.

  15. Discovering Peru's forgotten North

    To experience a part of undeveloped Peru where deep-seated traditions still hold sway. To embark on scenic walks in the eastern Andes and off-the-beaten-track birdwatching. To visit barely excavated pre-Inca ruins that, for years, lay undiscovered, smothered in cloudforest or tucked into rocky overhangs.

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    6. The tomb of Señor de Sipán. Known by many as the "King Tut of the Americas," this tomb dates back to pre-Incan civilizations. The tomb was found intact and you can visit the museum on site to see all of the valuables collected. 7. Túcume. This town is home to several pyramids.

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    From Chachapoyas, a full-day guided tour to Kuelap will take about 8 hours. As of September 2019, the entire thing cost only 85 soles for everything, about $25 USD. Gocta Falls (Cataratas de Gocta) The Cataratas de Gocta are the most famous waterfalls in the region, maybe even all of Peru.

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    5. Huaraz. Best for mountaineering. Defined by Cordillera Blanca, one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world, Huaraz is Peru's capital of mountaineering. The town itself is rather low-key, but it is home base for a number of outdoor excursions, which makes Huaraz a must-visit destination. Verdant valleys give way to the snowy ...

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    Peru is also one of the best places on earth to surf. The country's north coast receives consistent Pacific swell along its 1,000km coastline and, away from the grey sea fog that shrouds the south coast for most of the year, bathes in desert sun nearly all year. Here is a roundup of the top spots to visit on Peru's north coast:

  20. The 24 Most Incredible Places to Visit in Peru

    1. Machu Picchu. Easily the most famous place to visit in Peru and the Goliath of South America's tourism hotspots, the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu perched high up in the Andes has topped many a bucket list. And, there's a reason why. Keep Reading: Peru: Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Inca Trail.

  21. 17 Best Places to Visit in Peru (+Map)

    Visiting the nearby Pacaya Samiria National Reserve near Lagunas is one of the best places for spotting some unusual Amazonian wildlife. 8. Puno. Puno is a picturesque hillside port city that forms the natural gateway to Lake Titicaca and the 85-plus Uros Floating Islands - boats depart from the dock every 40 minutes.

  22. 25 Best Places To Visit In Peru [2024 Local's Travel Guide]

    Luxury: Hotel Hacienda Puno. 9. Cusco. Cusco is undeniably one of the best cities to visit in Peru, and no trip to the country is complete without spending some time here! Sandwiched within the rocky Andes, Cusco is located at an altitude of 3399m, and also within the stunning Sacred Valley region.

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    3. Machu Picchu: The Timeless Wonder. Perched atop a mountain ridge, surrounded by lush greenery and shrouded in mist, lies the iconic Machu Picchu. Often referred to as the 'Lost City of the Incas', this UNESCO World Heritage site is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Peru.

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