My 13 Favorite Places in Peru

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    My 13 Favorite Places in Peru

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    I’ve been living and traveling in Peru since 2009, and I’ve seen many parts of this fascinating and incredibly diverse country. So I thought I’d list some of my all-time favorite attractions, sights and experiences.

    Some of these are included because of their sheer beauty or undeniable impressiveness (Machu Picchu, for example), while others are included for more personal reasons. Either way, they are all memorable places to visit for anyone traveling in Peru.  

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  • 02 of 14

    Huaca de la Luna, Trujillo

    Peru, La Libertad province
    ••• HUGHES Herve / Images

    I love the north coast of Peru. I love the food, I love the archeological sites, and I love the lack of foreign tourists. And one of my favorite attractions along the north coast is the Huaca de la Luna, an adobe-brick ceremonial center built by the Moche civilization (and part of a larger archeological complex that also features the Huaca del Sol, which is still being excavated). The Huaca de la Luna lay partially buried under sand for centuries, helping to preserve many of the interior walls and their impressive murals despite the worst intentions of looters. If you’re visiting Trujillo, don’t miss out on the Huaca de la Luna, which is easy to visit from the city center. Personally, I find the Huaca de la Luna a more visually striking archaeological site than the more famous Chan Chan complex of the Chimú civilization, also located just outside Trujillo. 

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  • 03 of 14

    On the Boat to Iquitos

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    Winding my way downriver on a cargo boat from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, drinking whisky and wine with new friends as we ventured down the Huallaga and on to the Amazon River. Now that’s the life. It can take three or sometimes even four days to complete the journey, but you’ll rarely be bored as you slowly pass by the lush green riverbanks with their colorful birds, spotting pink river dolphins as they emerge from the slate-like surface of the river. And all this for just $45? Yep, it’s not luxury, but anyone can cruise along this stretch of the Peruvian Amazon without breaking the bank. In fact, you’ll probably spend a lot less money while you’re on the boat than you would on dry land.

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  • 04 of 14

    Kuelap Fortress, Chachapoyas

    The ruins of Kuelap fortress, Peru
    ••• Bjorn Holland/Getty Images

    For years now, Peruvian authorities have earmarked Kuelap as the next big thing in the country’s expansive tourism repertoire, often referring to it as “the Machu Picchu of the North.” A cable car up to the fortress is being built as I write this, and plans are afoot to improve access to Chachapoyas, the town closest to the imposing archaeological site. Well, I’m glad I had the chance to see Kuelap back in 2010. I took my family there when they first came to Peru, and we were the only people at the site. Kuelap still remains well off most tourist radars and I can’t see it ever becoming as overcrowded as Machu Picchu. But still, it’s best to go there now, as it truly is a special place – especially when you can see it without another tourist in sight. 

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  • 05 of 14

    Salinas de Maras, Cusco Region

    Salt pans at Salinas de Maras
    ••• Dan Herrick/Getty Images

    I’ve wanted to see the ancient salt ponds of Maras since I first arrived in Peru, but only managed to get there for the first time in 2015. I wasn’t disappointed: seeing the gleaming-white salt ponds, watching the locals (and their children) working each salt-laden trough, and experiencing the sights and smells of this unique location is something I’ll never forget. It’s easy enough to get to Maras from Cusco, either independently (by local minibus) or as part of a tour. If you’re heading to Cusco, don’t miss out on Maras – you’ll regret it of you do. 

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  • 06 of 14

    Catacombs at the Convent of San Francisco, Lima

    Catacomb, San Francisco Convent, Lima, Peru
    ••• Mark Harris/Getty Images

    Bones, it’s all about the bones. Sure, the monastery itself is a fine example of religious architecture, but let’s face it, we all go to the Convento de San Francisco de Asis for the catacombs. The crypts below the monastery are full of skulls, femurs, tibiae and fibulae – some laid out in spiraling or circular patterns -- and you can walk among them through the darkened arched passageways. By some estimates, the remains of more than 25,000 bodies lie in these subterranean vaults. 

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  • 07 of 14

    Machu Picchu, Cusco Region

    Incan ruins of Machu Picchu featuring house of guardians.
    ••• Sean Caffrey/Getty Images

    I’ve been to Machu Picchu twice so far, and it was even more impressive on my second visit in 2015. The thing to remember – whether you go independently or as part of a Machu Picchu tour -- is to make sure you have enough time to explore the entire site without rushing. Ideally, you’ll want to stay there until you can genuinely say to yourself, “OK, I’ve seen all that I can see.” You’ll still have to tear yourself away and reluctantly walk out of the site, but at least you’ll feel confident that you’ve seen most, if not all, of the areas open to the public (including short side treks to sites like the Inca Bridge). 

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  • 08 of 14

    Saqsaywaman, Cusco

    The Sacsayhuaman Inka ruins in Cusco Peru
    ••• Michael Marquand/Getty Images

    Of all of the archaeological sites on the Boleto Turístico del Cusco (Cusco Tourist Ticket), this is the most impressive in terms of historical importance and archaeology. The massive stone walls are among the finest examples of Inca masonry, and the sheer scale of the site makes it clear that this was a hugely important citadel. It also overlooks Cusco, offering exceptional views across the city and its surroundings. Saqsaywaman is an easy daytrip (or half day) from Cusco. 

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  • 09 of 14

    Manatee Rescue Center, Iquitos

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    Of all the attractions in and around Iquitos, none left me feeling so happy and kind of fuzzy inside as the Manatee Rescue Center. Adult manatees are beautiful creatures, and their offspring even more so. So you can probably image how bottle-feeding orphaned baby manatees, some just weeks old, is something that easily strips through the cynicism of even the most hardened traveler. Don’t believe me? Well, have a look at this short video I shot of a bottle-feeding baby manatee at the rescue center

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  • 10 of 14

    Anywhere That Sells Me Good Peruvian Craft Beer

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    Up until two or three years ago, all the beer in Peru was pretty much the same. Then: Whooosh! A wave of tasty craft beers began to flood across the country, and the tide has yet to turn. Sierra Andina, Zenith, Barbarian, Cervecería del Valle, Nuevo Mundo Cervecería, the list of craft breweries goes on – and an increasing number are opening their own brewpubs, too. Then there are places like Brewpub Wicks in Lima and Chelawasi in Arequipa, bars that truly celebrate and represent the best of Peru’s new beers. Do I sound happy about all this? As an expat who for years had to choose between Pilsen Callao and Cusqueña: Hell yeah I’m happy.   

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  • 11 of 14

    Cueva de las Lechuzas, Tingo Maria

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    Tingo Maria has always been a special place for me, thanks to a particular form of jungle sorcery. And my favorite place in Tingo Maria is La Cueva de las Lechuzas (Cave of the Owls), a gaping, dark and echoing cave in Tingo Maria National Park. It’s easy to get to, but you’ll feel a world away from civilization as you walk through the dark along the wooden platform, the clicks and swoops of bats and birds all around you. Oilbirds (guácharos) inhabit these caves; these strange nocturnal creatures are the only birds known to navigate using echolocation.  

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  • 12 of 14

    Isla Taquile, Lake Titicaca

    Peru, An old native Indian woman herds her flock of sheep on meagre pasture near the shores of Lake Titicaca.
    ••• Nigel Pavitt/Getty Images

    Ah, beautiful Lake Titicaca! Vast horizons over shimmering waters, mysterious islands of myth and legend, colorful culture and traditional dress: the islands of Titicaca have it all, none more so than the enchanting Isla Taquile. I had the immense pleasure of kayaking to Isla Taquile before spending a couple of days with the island’s master weaver, Señor Alejandro Flores Huatta. Having him show me around his island was one of the greatest honors I’ve had in Peru, as was sharing a couple of beers with him at night. If, like many backpackers, you decide to skip Puno and head to Copacabana in Bolivia, first give some thought to staying on one of the Peruvian islands instead. Isla Taquile and Isla Amantani are both stunning, and centuries-old culture still thrives on both. And if you can afford it, staying for a few days at one of the guest houses on Taquile is an unrivalled way to unwind and relax away from the rush of the modern world. 

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  • 13 of 14

    The Huchuy Qosqo Trek, Cusco Region

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    The Huchuy Qosqo trek to Machu Picchu was one of the most enjoyable treks I’ve ever done in Peru, thanks in no small part to my excellent guide, Nicanor Arqque, and the level of service provided by Valencia Travel Cusco. The trek takes you through varied scenery, from windswept rolling hills to sheltered Inca trails winding through narrow river canyons. And then there’s the archaeological site of Huchuy Qosqo itself, a fascinating Inca “palace” (perhaps) overlooking the Sacred Valley. It’s an impressive sight, especially when you walk up the surrounding hills and look down upon Huchuy Qosqo and its surrounding Inca terraces. 

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  • 14 of 14

    Tarapoto, San Martin

    ••• Photo: Tony Dunnell

    Tarapoto has been my home since 2009, so I have to include it on this list. Sure, it’s not the most historic or pretty of cities and few tourists pass this way, but the food is good, the people are happy, and the surrounding region is full of rivers, waterfalls, jungle-covered mountain ranges and beautiful landscapes that range from rolling hills to rugged, rock-strewn river valleys. I won’t go on about my affection for this high-jungle town, but I will say this: Thanks, Tarapoto.