Top 15 best cities to visit in Peru


The Peru Traveler’s Handbook

Peru is a country filled with incredible history, culture, landscapes, and cuisine. From the magnificent Machu Picchu to the majestic Amazon rainforest, Peru has so much to offer travelers. If you’re planning a trip to Peru, be sure to visit some of the country’s top cities. Here are the 15 best cities to visit in Peru.

1. Lima

The sprawling capital city of Lima is a must-visit destination in Peru. As one of the largest cities in the Americas, Lima boasts superb museums, fantastic restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.

The historic center of Lima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with colonial-era buildings and churches dating back to the 16th century. Top attractions include the Plaza de Armas, the Palacio de Gobierno, and the Basilica Cathedral of Lima.

Foodies will love Lima, which is considered the gastronomic capital of South America. From street food to Michelin star restaurants, you’ll find world-class Peruvian cuisine here. Be sure to try local specialties like ceviche, lomo saltado, and pisco sours.

Accommodation options in Lima range from luxury hotels to budget hostels. The trendy neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco are ideal places to stay, with restaurants, nightclubs, and close proximity to beaches.

2. Cusco

Formerly the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is the gateway city to the iconic Machu Picchu ruins. But Cusco is an unmissable destination in itself, with preserved Inca walls and ruins dotting the city.

Plaza de Armas is the lively main square, surrounded by Baroque churches and arched colonial buildings. The neighborhood of San Blas is filled with artisan workshops and cute cafes.

Just outside the city, you can visit impressive Inca sites like Sacsayhuaman, a fortress with massive stone walls. The Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu has beautiful landscapes and towns like Pisac and Ollantaytambo with Inca ruins.

Cusco has excellent hotel options from backpacker hostels to luxury resorts. It’s easy to arrange tours to Machu Picchu, treks, and adventure activities here. The altitude may take some adjustment, but the history and scenery make it worthwhile.

3. Arequipa

In southern Peru, the charming city of Arequipa has a lovely historic center constructed from white volcanic rock. Called the “White City,” UNESCO recognized Arequipa’s picturesque architecture in 2000.

The main square, Plaza de Armas, is bordered by the striking Basilica Cathedral and other colonial buildings. The Monastery of Santa Catalina is a beautiful 16th century convent you can visit.

Hiking Colca Canyon is a popular activity, where you can see the majestic Andean Condor soaring above deep valleys. Relaxing at the thermal springs near Arequipa is also a wonderful way to unwind.

Excellent regional cuisine, friendly locals called “Arequipeños,” and a more relaxed vibe make Arequipa a delightful place to slow down and appreciate Peruvian culture.

4. Puno

On the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, Puno has a lovely setting. Hop on a boat tour to visit the floating reed islands made by the indigenous Uros people.

In Puno, you can also book a homestay with Indigenous families and learn about their Aymara culture. The traditional clothing and customs of people here make for a fascinating visit.

An easy day trip from Puno takes you to the ancient burial towers of Sillustani, on a high plateau above Lake Umayo. The well-preserved chullpas were built by the pre-Inca Colla people.

Puno has plentiful accommodations and makes a convenient base for exploring Lake Titicaca. The lively folkloric festivals held in Puno are a highlight for many travelers.

5. Huaraz

For hiking and outdoor activities, the small Andean city of Huaraz is a top choice. Huaraz is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed lakes, and excellent hiking trails.

One of the most popular hikes near Huaraz is to Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. The stunning turquoise lake sits at the foot of the imposing Chacraraju peak. You can also trek to the nearby Pastoruri Glacier.

Huaraz caters to backpackers and adventurers with plenty of hostels and tour companies. Make this lively town your basecamp for exploring the incredible nature around the Cordillera Blanca and Huascarán National Park.

6. Iquitos

In the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. To get here, you’ll need to take a flight or Amazon riverboat.

Once in Iquitos, you have easy access to the Amazon jungle, with its incredible biodiversity, wildlife encounters, and river villages. Stay in a jungle lodge or take river cruises to spot wildlife like monkeys, sloths, pink river dolphins, and over 500 bird species.

In the city of Iquitos, the busy Puerto de Productos market is a glimpse into local Amazonian culture and cuisine. Visit the historical Casa de Fierro designed by Gustave Eiffel. Iquitos also has great restaurants and lively nightlife.

With its exotic setting deep in the rainforest, Iquitos provides the quintessential Amazon adventure.

7. Paracas

On Peru’s Pacific coastline, Paracas offers amazing nature and wildlife experiences within close range of Lima. The top attraction here is Paracas National Reserve, protecting desert landscapes, beaches, and marine life.

Taking a cruise through the Paracas Bay is the best way to soak up the dramatic scenery and see wildlife like sea lions, penguins, pelicans, and dolphins. On land, hike the coastal trails and visit the Paracas Candelabra, a mysterious prehistoric geoglyph carved into a hillside.

Many tours base themselves in the nearby town of Pisco, allowing you to visit the national reserve and try delicious local wines and pisco at wineries.

Paracas is also the jumping off point for visiting the Ballestas Islands, commonly called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” due to the remarkable wildlife sightings possible on tours.

8. Trujillo

In Northern Peru, Trujillo was one of the most important cities during the colonial era and still retains beautiful Spanish architecture in its historic center.

Must-see sites include the imposing Plaza de Armas, the impressive Catedral Basilica, and nearby Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian ruins in South America.

Nature lovers can visit the closest beach to Trujillo, Huanchaco Beach, with its scenic pier and surf-ready waves. Arrange a dune buggy ride to the enormous sand dunes just outside Trujillo.

There are several ancient sites near Trujillo as well: the Temples of the Sun and Moon made by the Moche civilization and the Huaca de la Luna adobe temple.

9. Chiclayo

Nicknamed “The Capital of Friendship,” the lively town of Chiclayo acts as a hub for exploring fascinating nearby ruins. Chief among them is the Sipán Archaeological Site, which contained a major intact Moche tomb with golden artifacts and lavish treasures.

Chiclayo has an excellent regional museum displaying artifacts from Sipán and other local ruins. A short drive away, you can visit Lambayeque, the site of a vast royal complex from the Lambayeque culture.

Stay in Chiclayo’s charming plaza in the historic center, dine on exceptional Peruvian cuisine, and use the city as a base for adventuring to the many important archaeological sites nearby.

10. Máncora

On Peru’s northern coastline, the beach town of Máncora enjoys a laid-back, bohemian vibe along with gorgeous beaches. Surfers flock here for the strong swells, and sunbathers adore the resort-style amenities.

Relax under a palm roof while dining on fresh seafood, then stroll the sandy beaches and check out the boutique shops and cafes. You can also try sandboarding down the towering dunes just outside town for an adrenaline rush.

Máncora gets busier around holidays, but the rest of the year has a cozy, tranquil ambiance. Nearby beaches like Vichayito and Pocitas are also worth visiting.

11. Huancayo

In the central Peruvian highlands, Huancayo provides a window into the Andean way of life. Local Indigenous communities maintain their customs, clothing styles, and holidays like the vibrant Huancayo Carnival.

This charming city has pretty plazas, churches, and a Mercado Central overflowing with fruits, vegetables, handicrafts, and food stalls. You can take scenic train rides from here through the Andes to Huancavelica.

Just outside Huancayo, the village of Chacapampa offers gorgeous views and opportunities to visit local families making handicrafts. Outdoor enthusiasts can also hike through the high-altitude lagoons and valleys around Huancayo.

12. Ayacucho

With over 30 impressive churches in its historic center, Ayacucho showcases superb religious architecture and art. Intricate wood carvings and gilt interiors adorn the churches on the Plaza Mayor and beyond.

During Holy Week celebrations, Ayacucho holds stunning religious processions that represent the passion of Christ. Locals don colorful robes and masks for traditional folk dances.

Nearby, you can visit the Pikimachay Caves containing ancient wall paintings made by the Wari people between 600 to 1200 CE. A trip to the remote ruins of Vilcashuamán provides insight into Inca expansion.

Ayacucho seamlessly blends history, art, architecture, and cultural traditions for an enchanting visit.

13. Tarapoto

In the San Martin region, Tarapoto is nicknamed “The City of Palms” thanks to lush greenery and tropical landscapes. This lush mountain town sits among waterfalls, lakes, hot springs, and jungle trails ripe for exploration.

The town itself has a pleasant Plaza de Armas, Catedral, and restaurants serving delicious tropical cuisine. But Tarapoto’s real charm lies in the jungles, rivers, and wildlife found just outside town.

Some top natural attractions near Tarapoto are the Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu waterfalls, Laguna Venecia, and the Cordillera Escalera‘s astounding views. With its blend of rainforest nature and laid-back city life, Tarapoto entices nature lovers and foodies alike.

14. Tarma

In the central highlands, the charming town of Tarma offers a glimpse of the traditional Andes. With cobbled streets, pretty plazas, and rich agricultural lands surrounding it, Tarma feels lost in time.

Local Indigenous communities gather at the Sunday market in traditional dress. Visitors can browse textiles, ceramics, and other handicrafts. The nearby Tarmatambo Loop hike provides gorgeous mountain scenery with waterfalls and Inca ruins.

Relax at a cafe on the Plaza Mayor, attend the Fiesta del Carmen celebrations in July, or browse the eclectic Casona Bustamante mansion with its antique collections and art displays. Tarma is the perfect place to immerse yourself in authentic Peruvian culture.

15. Cajamarca

In Northern Peru, Cajamarca has beautiful colonial churches, stone streets, and the historic Ransom Chamber where the Incas were conquered. Nearby are natural hot springs and the Ventanillas de Otuzco necropolis with carved tombs.

Cajamarca is also a hub for dairy products, especially delicious cheeses. It sits in the fertile rolling hills of the Andes with a lovely year-round climate. Nearby haciendas welcome visitors interested in the livestock and dairy production central to Cajamarca’s culture and economy.

History buffs will especially appreciate Cajamarca, where pivotal events in Peru’s history took place. With lovely architecture, scenery, and handicrafts, Cajamarca is an underrated gem waiting to be explored.

So there you have it – the 15 best cities to visit in Peru! From stunning landscapes and ancient ruins to delicious cuisine and fascinating culture, these destinations showcase the diversity and highlights of this incredible country. Whether you’re a foodie, adventurer, history lover, or wildlife enthusiast, Peru’s cities offer something incredible for every traveler. Use this list to start planning the trip of a lifetime and discover the beauty of Peru for yourself!


Peru is an enormously diverse country, making it difficult to narrow down just 15 cities to visit on your travels. However, the destinations highlighted in this article provide a superb introduction to the history, culture, nature, and cuisine that makes Peru such an unforgettable place.

If ancient ruins and Inca history fascinate you, be sure to spend time in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. The perfectly fitted stone temples and palaces are marvels of engineering and design. Nearby, the fortress of Sacsayhuaman gives you a sense of the power and dominance the Incas once held. Of course, the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu is also an essential stop on any Peru itinerary.

To experience Peru’s colonial era, head to Spanish city centers like Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, and Trujillo. The ornate cathedrals, lively plazas, and mansions with interior courtyards provide a window into this pivotal time period. Excellent regional museums hold artifacts and art from pre-Columbian cultures as well.

Nature lovers absolutely must spend time in the Peruvian Amazon during their visit. Take cruise boats down the mighty Amazon River, spot wildlife like pink river dolphins or howler monkeys, and stay in a jungle lodge. The Amazonian city of Iquitos is the perfect starting point for these adventures deep in the rainforest.

Of course, one cannot talk about Peru without mentioning the incredible cuisine. Foodie travelers will delight in the ceviches, empanadas, and other Peruvian specialties served up fresh every day in cities like Lima and Arequipa. Peru’s culinary traditions also incorporate flavors and ingredients from the Amazon, Andes, coastal regions, and more for an astounding diversity.

To experience Indigenous cultures close up, spend time in cities like Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Here you can take boat rides to the floating islands made of reeds by the Uros people, who still live much as they have for centuries relying on the lake. Highland cities like Huancayo and Huaraz provide the chance to see Quechua and Aymara traditions still thriving as well.

From paragliding off coastal cliffs near Lima to sandboarding down giant dunes in Paracas, Peru offers endless adventures. Outdoorsy types will love making cities like Huaraz their basecamp for hiking, mountain climbing, rafting, and more. Surfers flock to laidback beach towns like Máncora for the legendary waves.

No matter your interests, Peru promises memorable experiences. The diversity of landscapes and activities is staggering. Take the time to avoid just rushing through the main tourist stops in Peru. Instead, linger in lesser-known cities and towns to truly appreciate the hospitality, artistry, ingenuity, and passion of the Peruvian people.

Immerse yourself in Peru, and you will be forever changed. The ancient sites remind you of civilizations who shaped humanity’s story. The natural beauty inspires awe at our planet and its intricacies. And the present-day culture and warmth of the people revives your faith in human bonds that transcend any barriers.

Peru stays with you, etching itself into your heart and memories. Each city offers surprise discoveries hidden behind centuries of history and culture. Let yourself get happily lost wandering cobblestone streets, sampling new flavors, dancing at a festival, hiking to towering glaciers, and awakening your spirit of adventure. With an open mind, curiosity about our world, and respect for the diverse cultures within Peru, you will find yourself eager to return to this fascinating country again and again.

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