From glacier hikes to exhilarating sandboarding, Peru is packed with adventure.
Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, Lima and Cuzco – these are indispensable destinations for any first-time traveller to Peru.
But venture off the beaten path along the Andean country’s enchanting Pacific coast and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking natural landscapes, delectable gastronomy and rich cultural heritage.
Prepare to leave the alluring Pacific surfing beaches of Tumbes for the mountains and archaeological sites of Chavin in the National Park of Huascarán. Experience the thrill of sandboarding on the Huacachina dunes or immerse yourself in enigmatic pre-Incan cultural heritage at Kuélap or the Nazca Lines.
“Peru is an exceptionally rich and multifaceted destination, offering Incan and pre-Incan remnants, impressive cultural expressions, adventurous exploits, stunning natural beauty and extraordinary gastronomy,” Juan Carlos Mathews Salazar, Peru’s Minister of Foreign Commerce and Tourism, tells Euronews Travel. “It is unquestionably evolving into an increasingly attractive destination.”
A series of accolades affirm this transformation: Peru was honoured as the World’s Leading Cultural Destination and World’s Leading Gastronomy Destination at the World Travel Awards last year.
Here’s how to experience the best the country has to offer.
Go whale and bird watching in Tumbes
For nature and animal lovers, a visit to the North Pacific region of Tumbes is a must. From July to October, embark on a boat journey from Puntal Sal to witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of humpback whales giving birth to their calves before they journey back to Antarctica.
Tumbes also offers spectacular trails for birdwatching, with nearly 1,900 different species to discover. “This year, Peru has seen an increase in the number of bird species – great news for nature lovers,” says Mathews Salazar.
Encounter them in the sprawling Cerros de Amotape National Park and the protected mangroves of the Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary.
Impressive ancient architectural complexes: the City of Clay and Kuélap
Exploring the historical marvels of Chan Chan, the City of Clay, is a must when in Peru. Situated just five kilometres west of the coastal city of Trujillo, this awe-inspiring architectural complex, constructed in 850 BCE, served as the capital of the Chimu civilisation until succumbing to Inca rule in 1470.
Wander through the labyrinth of sun-dried clay brick constructions, marvelling at the intricately detailed frescoes adorning ancient palaces and temples.
In the heart of the Amazonas region, near Chachapoyas, lies the enigmatic ancient city of Kuélap. Nestled in the northeastern Andes, this 11th century fortress stands as a pre-Incan marvel at an altitude of 3,000 metres above sea level. Ascend via cable car for spectacular views, but remember to secure your booking in advance, as access is limited.
Hike past glacier lakes in Huascarán and go sandboarding in Huacachina
Journeying to the Huaraz region, discover the National Park of Huascarán in the Cordillera Blanca, a paradise of glacier lakes. With 660 glaciers and 300 lakes within the protected area, the landscape is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Choose from 25 trekking trails and 102 climbing routes, with the Chavin Trail and Lago 69 Trail standing out as prime trekking options. Mountain biking, skiing, climbing, adventurous hikes, and immersive cultural tourism await in this natural wonderland.
Have you ever considered trying your hand at sandboarding? Experience the thrill of descending the dunes in the Huacachina Oasis, just five kilometres from the city of Ica in the Pacific coast desert. A day trip allows you to explore the picturesque lagoon.
For a truly immersive experience, spend the night in a desert tent camp, gazing at the stars and witnessing the breathtaking sunrise and sunset over the dunes. Embark on a buggy ride through the desert, reaching remote dunes accessible only by these off-road vehicles, and cap it off with sandboarding down the slopes at exhilarating speeds.
Switch Machu Picchu for lesser travelled Inca sights
Contemplating the Nazca Lines, one of Peru’s paramount archaeological sites, raises thought-provoking questions about their purpose and symbolism. This pre-Inca civilisation site remains shrouded in mystery, adding to its allure. When planning a visit, allocate part of your budget for a flight above the geoglyphs depicting animals, plants and humans. While a viewing tower exists, the perspective from a plane provides an unparalleled view of these ancient wonders.
For an alternative insight into Incan culture, Mathews Salazar recommends a visit to Choquequirao, often referred to as the smaller-scale second Machu Picchu.
Although a cable car is under construction for 15-minute access from the road, the current solitude of this unique site is an extraordinary experience. Exploring the ‘cradle of gold’ during the summer solstice reveals a stairway structure illuminated by the sun’s rays. Gain insights into Incan astronomy and astrology while exploring this impressive fortress built for ceremonial purposes.
As you explore these awe-inspiring sites, don’t forget to savour the regional dishes and revel in the cultural diversity of languages and people at every location. Peru, with its 55 native peoples, 48 native languages, and singular landscapes, unfolds as a multitude of countries within one.