Peru things to see and do

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Things to see and do

Bask in the year-round sunshine of Arequipa

This beautiful colonial city is the gateway to Colca Canyon and is renowned for its year-round sunshine. Explore the peaceful cloisters of the Monastery of Santa Catalina, where, for hundreds of years, nuns lived their entire lives; and visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos to see Juanita, a perfectly preserved mummy of a sacrificial Inca girl.

Be Awed by the adobe city of Chan Chan

You can discover more archaeological treasures, at the UNESCO-protected site of Chan Chan. Home to the ancient Chimu culture, Chan Chan was the biggest pre-Columbian city in South America. The adobe city has been excavated along with its nearby huacas (pyramid temples) of the sun and the moon. The beautifully restored Huaca Arco Iris is covered with pre-Inca hieroglyphics.

Be puzzled by the mysterious Nazca Lines

Take a flight over the ancient Nazca Lines, vast and spectacular geoglyphs etched into the desert floor 420km (265 miles) south of Lima. The most notable designs represent animals, including birds, felines and reptiles. How they were made or why remains a mystery, but the enigmatic lines date back to between 500BC and AD500.

Bone up on the history of Iglesia San Francisco

See one of the few buildings to withstand Lima's 1746 earthquake, the UNESCO-listed Iglesia San Francisco. Inside visitors can gawp at an extraordinary domed roof, a vast library and masterpieces attributed to the schools of Zurburán, Rubens and Van Dyck. Oh and did we mention the eerie catacombs, which are adorned with the bones of some 25,000 souls?

Chill in Huacachina

This palm-fringed oasis in the southern desert near Ica, surrounded by pristine sand dunes, is a place for relaxation and fun. As well as a laidback nightlife, Huachina offers dune buggying and sand boarding, and is great for either a day trip or to chill out for a few days.

Crack the mysteries of Caral

Spread across the desert to the north of Lima are the remains of the 5,000-year-old city of Caral, deemed the most ancient city in the Americas. Consisting of a complex of pyramids and sunken plazas dating back to 2500 BC, Caral was discovered in 1994 and has opened to visitors following years of excavation.

Cruise sky-high Lake Titicaca

Take a cruise on Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, straddling the Bolivia-Peru border. Covering 8,379sq km (3,235sq miles), Lake Titicaca is surrounded by ancient ruins and is home to several small island communities, including the Uros islands, made from reeds.

Discover Lima's colonial centre

Trawl through five centuries of colonial history in the Peruvian capital, admiring its handsome plazas and opulent mansions with Moorish-style latticed wooden balconies. The main square, Plaza de Armas, is home to the impressive 18th-century cathedral and the lavish Government Palace. The centre has been spruced up and the paved Jirón de la Unión is lined with lively street cafes.

Explore Cusco, ‘Navel of the Universe’

Don't miss a trip to the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco. This World Heritage Site, founded in AD1100, is a fascinating mix of Inca temples and colonial Spanish palaces and churches. Narrow cobblestone alleyways are flanked with original Inca stonework, beautifully constructed by hand to withstand centuries of volcanic activity.

Gaze in awe at mountaintop Machu Picchu

Whether it’s your reward at the end of the Inca Trail, or via a comfy train ride through the Andes, you cannot fail to be overawed by Peru's top attraction: the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perched atop a remote mountain northwest of Cusco. This World Heritage Site, rediscovered in 1911, is arguably the most important archaeological site in South America, and the most dramatically located.

Get drenched at Carnival

Go to Cajamarca's Carnival, which is famous throughout Peru for its annual celebrations that last for an entire month. One word of warning – the traditional Cajamarca Carnival greeting is to be soaked with water so look out for cheeky children flinging water balloons. Other special attractions include ancient Inca remains, hot springs and weird rock formations in the surrounding mountains.

Greet the Sun God at Sacsayhuamán

If you’re looking for impressive Inca ruins, the massive stone fortress of Sacsayhuamán is a great place to explore. Overlooking the city, this is the most impressive of Cusco's four neighbouring Inca sites (the others are Puca Pucara, Qenko and Tambo Machay). On 24 June, thousands gather here to celebrate Inti Raymi, a festival for the Inca sun god.

Haggle for handicrafts in Ayacucho

Apart from its famous 33 colonial churches, the Andean city of Ayacucho is also well known for its handicrafts. You can browse here for traditional crafts such as pottery, leatherwork, textiles and jewellery. Other places to scout for high-quality souvenirs include Cajamarca, in northern Peru, or the colourful daily market in Lima's Chinatown district.

Hike the Inca Trail

Puff your way around one of the world's most famous mountain treks, the (literally) breath-taking Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the mountaintop city. This ancient trail passes snow-capped mountains, cloud forest and a string of Inca ceremonial centres, including Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. Only recognised tour operators can purchase permits to the Inca Trail, with 500 available per day.

Hit the hiking trails

From the mountain-based city of Huaraz, you can head off on world-famous hiking routes. You can also get stuck into some extreme sports such as white-water rafting and ice climbing, or for those with gentler tastes, go on a nature trail to view the Puya Raimondi, the world’s biggest bromeliad.

Immerse yourself in nature in Manu National Park

Peru's greatest treasure in biodiversity, Manu National Park covers 20,000sq km (7,722sq miles) of tropical rainforest. This World Natural Heritage Site in southeastern Peru is home to around 2,000 plant species, 1,200 butterfly species, 800 bird types and 200 different mammals, including monkeys, tapirs, sloth, jaguar and capybaras. Eco-tour packages available range from no-frills to boutique luxury.

Look out for condors

Overlooking the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in the Americas, is the Cruz del Condor viewpoint. From here you can spot condors majestically soaring up from the valley below on morning thermals. You can reach the canyon from Arequipa via either a tour group excursion or a long, bumpy ride on public transport through stunning Andean scenery.

Plunge into Colca Canyon

At a depth of more than 3,400m (11,333ft), the Colca Canyon is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Villages, such as Yanque and Chivay, which have hardly changed for centuries, and the many pre-Inca tombs, ruins, and hot springs in the area, are also worth visiting.

Tackle the Cordillera Blanca

The extraordinarily beautiful Cordillera Blanca trail is a 180km-long (113 mile) paradise of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, emerald-green lakes and archaeological sites, containing a wide variety of flora and fauna. This awesome mountain range contains some of the highest peaks in the Andes, including Huascarán, at 6,768m (22,205ft), the tallest in Peru.