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Incan majesty and Andean baroque exist side-by-side in Cusco's stone streets, epitomized by the Qoriacancha palace and the church of Santo Domingo flanking the Plaza de Armas. In this high-altitude melting pot of Amerindian and mestizo culture, you'll find extraordinary textiles, lively summer festivals and archaeological wonders.
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.
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.
It's no wonder Machu Picchu is Peru's most-visited site. Dating to the mid-1400s, it's a marvel of mortar-free limestone architecture perched on a high plateau deep in the Amazonian jungle. Get there via train from Cusco or, if you're not faint-hearted, make the trip on foot via a multi-day hiking trail—you'll travel through deep Andean gullies and enjoy stunning views.
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.
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.
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.
Llamas, sheep and alpacas roam the plains of Puno, a port city in southeastern Peru. Their fleeces are used to make the area’s signature textiles, which make excellent souvenirs. You’ll do a lot of walking here, as many of the streets are too steep for cars. But the climbs are worth it for the excellent views of Lake Titicaca. Take a boat to the Floating Islands or get up close and personal with the four-legged locals at a llama farm.
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.