Cuzco & the Sacred Valley
For Incas, Cuzco was the belly button of the world. A visit to this city and its nearby ruins tumbles you back into the cosmic realm of ancient Andean culture – knocked down and fused with the colonial imprint of Spanish conquest, only to be repackaged as a thriving tourist center. The capital of Cuzco is only the gateway.
If it’s breathtaking ancient ruins or immersion in uninterrupted wilderness that you crave during your journey, listen up. The rocky, remote Central Highlands can match Peru's better-known destinations for these things and more – with the almost absolute absence of other travelers.
The best-protected tract of the world’s most biodiverse forest, the strange, sweltering, seductive country-within-a-country that is Peru’s Amazon Basin, is changing. Its vastness and impenetrability have long protected its indigenous communities and diverse wildlife from external eyes.
Arequipa & Canyon Country
Arequipa province is Peru’s big combo ticket, with authentic historical immersion and white-knuckle Andean adventure inhabiting the same breathing space. Imagine the cultural riches of one of South America’s finest historic cities just a few hours’ drive from the world’s two deepest canyons and you’ll get a hint of the dramatic contrasts here.
Huaraz & the Cordilleras
Ground zero for outdoor-adventure worship in Peru, the Cordilleras are one of the preeminent hiking, trekking and backpacking spots in South America. Wherever you throw your gaze, perennially frozen white peaks razor their way through expansive mantles of lime-green valleys.
Other Peruvians joke that you need a different passport to enter Peru’s second-largest city. One-tenth the size of Lima, Arequipa is its pugnacious equal in terms of cuisine, historical significance and confident self-awareness. Guarded by three dramatic volcanoes, the city's resplendent setting makes an obvious launchpad for trekking, rafting and visiting Cañón de Colca.
In Andean belief, Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. Set between Peru and Bolivia, it’s the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. Bright days contrast with bitterly cold nights. Enthralling, deep-blue Lake Titicaca is the unifying, longtime home of highland cultures steeped in the old ways.
With a regal plaza, concrete block buildings and crumbling bricks that blend into the hills, Puno has its share of both grit and cheer. It serves as the jumping-off point for Lake Titicaca and is a convenient stop for those traveling between Cuzco and La Paz. But it may just capture your heart with its own rackety charm.
Huaraz is the restless capital of this Andean adventure kingdom and its rooftops command exhaustive panoramas of the city's dominion: one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world. Nearly wiped out by the earthquake of 1970, Huaraz isn’t going to win any Andean-village beauty contests anytime soon, but it does have personality – and personality goes a long way.