First-time visitors will inevitably try to fit in most of the major sites of the south; for those with ample time on their hands, the northern circuit offers an offbeat array of tastes and destinations. You could also take an adventurous trip into the Amazon rainforest, staying at one of its many eco-lodges.

03_Itineraries Peru-01

The grand tour

Taking in the main attractions of the south of Peru, this tour can be covered in a couple of weeks, but could very easily absorb an extra week or two.

1 Paracas and the Ballestas Islands

A few hours south of Lima, this beachside area offers boat trips to islands of penguins and sea lions, great beaches, desert scenery, a scattering of pre-Inca sites and fine seafood.

2 Huacachina

At this desert oasis, its lagoon ringed by palm trees, you can relax and enjoy the scenery, or hit the dunes on a sandboard or dune buggy.

3 Nasca

Located in an attractive desert valley, Nasca sits next to a huge plain on which an ancient civilization etched enormous animal figures, as well as geometric shapes and perfectly straight lines.

4 Arequipa and canyon country

Arequipa is a stunning city with a colonial heart, built on white volcanic stone. The rugged regions around the city offer access to two of the world’s deepest canyons – Colca and Cotahuasi.

5 Puno and Lake Titicaca

One of the most desolate yet scenic corners of Peru, Puno sits at the edge of the enormous Lake Titicaca. Take in its lively and vibrant music and festivals scene, and visit its peaceful islands.

6 Cusco

Capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco today embodies outdoor activities, lively nightlife and craft-shopping as much as it does ancient history.

7 Machu Picchu

Easily accessible from Cusco, this magnificent Inca citadel makes a fitting culmination to any trip.

The northern circuit

The main focus of the little-visited north is beaches and surfing, coastal archeology and a chain of ancient mountain citadels and tombs, with the option of a jungle trip tagged on for those with more than two weeks to spare.

1 The Mochica Trail

Stretching from the desert valley where Trujillo now stands, the ancient Mochica civilization developed an important centre around the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna. Mochica dominance is also in evidence at the richly endowed tombs of El Señor de Sipán and the Valley of the Pyramids.

2 Máncora and the beaches

Máncora is the trendy focus of several stunning sandy beaches – all good for surfing, fishing and diving. Further south, Cabo Blanco has been popular since Hemingway gave it his seal of approval; closer to Trujillo are the surfers’ paradise of Chicama and the more traditional Huanchaco.

3 Chachapoyas and Kuelap

Inland and high up in the northern Andes, the Chachapoyas region competes pretty well with Cusco. Instead of Machu Picchu, it offers Kuelap, a mountain citadel with 20m-high walls. The area abounds in waterfalls, cliff-bound mausoleums and little-explored trails.

4 Tarapoto and the jungle

Those with more time can head from Chachapoyas down into the Amazon region around the busy little jungle frontier city of Tarapoto. From here you can travel by river as far as the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria or Iquitos, for a taste of Peru’s rainforest.

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