- South America
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.
Recommended Peru itineraries
If you are planning your travel to Peru yourself, use these itineraries created by our travel writers as a starting point for inspiration.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Head out from Lima to see some of Peru's top sites outside of Macchu Picchu. You can book this itinerary with Rough Guides Trips.
Built over 5,000 years ago, the ancient city of Caral covers 150 acres. Many musical instruments have been found here, hinting at the significance of music to this early society.
Trujillo is home to a collection of important historical sites, from the huge sun and moon pyramids to the ruined city of Chan Chan. Descendents from the Mochica people still live in the area, and you can arrange a visit to see one of their homes.
Step inside the fascinating El Brujo and the Señora de Cao Museum, which contains the mummified, tattoed body of a 1,500-year-old shamanistic leader known as "El Brujo" or "The Wizard".
Tucked away on impossible-to-reach cliff ledges, the Karajia sarcophagi are an incredible sight. it's thought the coffins were perched here to keep them away from grave robbers. There over 250 similar sites in the area, but this is the only one you can visit.
5. Keulap Fortress
Hailed as the "new Macchu Picchu", Keulap Fortress actually predates its more famous cousin. Travel to the hilltop site on horseback or by cable car for an unforgettable experience.