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Dig into the archaeological wonders of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. Incan majesty and Andean Baroque exist side by side in the Peruvian city's stone streets, epitomized by the Qoriacancha palace and the church of Santo Domingo flanking the Plaza de Armas. Just outside the city are the imposing walls of the Sacsayhuaman fortress. In this high-altitude melting pot of Amerindian and mestizo culture, makers of extraordinary textiles and vibrant summer festivals add to its natural charms.
Just its location—in the Sacred Valley of the Incas—makes Urubamba sound like a mystical, magical place. The snow covered Ch'iqun mountain stands proudly in the background of this Peruvian town that serves as a base for people who want to visit the famous ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Zip lines and horseback rides let you experience this valley in the Andes in wildly different ways.
In the ancient language of the Incas, Machu Picchu means "old peak", which only scratches the surface of Peru's top tourist draw. High in the cloud forest, the ruins of this former centre of worship and royal retreat sprawl across the landscape, an awesome display of staircases, carved tombs and sacred temples. Natural beauty abounds in the tropical forest setting in the eastern Andes. Get to the "Lost City" via train from Cuzco, or take a multi-day hiking trail if you're feeling adventurous.
Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is a fascinating city and a treasure trove of history. Explore ancient Incan archaeological sites, or stroll through the elegant cathedrals and opulent palaces dating from Spanish colonial times. Downtown Lima is crowded, but you'll enjoy exploring the city's neighbourhoods—especially the beachfront areas, which have great shopping and dining and fabulous hotels.
In Peru's second-most populous city, aka "The White City," stunning colonial buildings made of pearly sillar stone vie for attention with the surrounding volcanoes and snow-capped peaks of the western Andes. Founded in 1540, it's a smorgasbord of mansions and museums. The top attraction, 215,000-square-foot Santa Catalina Monastery, is like its own city within a city, complete with fountains and cobblestone streets. Arequipa is the favorite base for visiting Colca Canyon and its massive condors.
Huaraz dates back to before the Incan Empire and is a great destination for travelers looking to combine cultural education with relaxation. Explore archaeological sites and the ancient stone monoliths at the Museo Regional de Ancash. Squeeze into narrow Duck Canyon or, for a challenge with a massively beautiful payoff, hike a mountain trail in Huascarán National Park.
In Mancora, it’s all about the beach. Calm Pocitas Beach is a great place to soak up some sun, float serenely in a natural swimming pool or simply stroll the beautiful shoreline. Vichayito Beach is great for diving and kitesurfing, while the South Beach bustles with vendors, surfers and rowdy tourists. Book a guided adventure tour to visit nearby waterfalls and mud baths, or book a motorbike or horseback ride to explore the beaches and back roads.
Trujillo is a lively intersection of ancient culture and modern arts. See ancient ruins at the Chan Chan archaeological site and be awed by the Moche Huaca del Sol y la Luna (temples of the sun and moon.). The multicolored Tunnel of Wishes on the Paseo de Aguas is a fabulous place for people-watching. Locally brewed corn beer is worth a try. If you’re a nightlife lover, pace yourself—bars and clubs get going late, and then go all night.