Located in the west of South America, Peru is a country of enormous diversity and home to spectacular Inca ruins, sparkling beaches and lively towns. With regions ranging from the snowy peaks of the Andes mountains in the north to the tropical Amazon Rainforest in the east, the contrasting natural landscapes of Peru are captivating. Its dry coastal region stays warm all year round, while the Andes highlands alternate between wet and dry seasons. On heading into Peru’s jungle territory, the air becomes humid and dense. Countless exotic wildlife species roam the country, including the extremely rare spectacled bear and the endemic yellow-tailed woolly monkey. More than 5,000 years of Peruvian history has left its mark on the country, the most famous being the mysterious Inca mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru’s awe-inspiring cultural centrepiece.
Why cruise Peru
Many of Peru’s top sights can be found along its 1,500-mile coastline, making it an ideal country for cruising. Arriving at Peru’s frenetic capital Lima, cruise ships can carry on to the northern and southern Peruvian ports that are dotted along its shores. Tour companies such as Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Oceania also offer shore excursions to the must-see inland areas of Cusco, Pachacamac and Nazca and the stunning Peruvian islands of Ballestas. Other cruise lines that operate in this area are Marella Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Fred Olsen, Holland America and Azamara.
Best Places to visit in Peru
Sprawled in a valley around the mouth of the Rimac river, Lima is a dynamic city that brims with culture and history. Lima Centro is the colonial heart of the city with its grand squares of Plaza San Martín and Plaza Mayor, and its European-style architectural buildings such as the Presidential and Torre Tagle Palaces. This central area also has excellent museums including the Museo Larco which hosts collections of archaeological Peruvian treasures. The upmarket Miraflores neighbourhood is Lima’s modern district, home to capital’s flashy restaurants and buzzing nightlife. Head towards the centre of Miraflores to find the pre-Inca adobe pyramid mound of Huaca Pucllana. Explore the site’s temple and tomb to get a taste of ancient Lima and climb to the top of this mound for a spectacular view of Miraflores’ colourful houses. Escape the hectic streets for a while in Parque Kennedy or stop for a drink at Lima’s traditional El Cordano bar. Lima is also a great starting point for excursions into the surrounding region. South east of Lima, the important archaeological site of Pachacamac sits atop a sandstone cliff and comprises a complex network of pre-Inca temples and fortresses. Visiting the Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla ruins in the neighbouring Rimac Valley also makes for a fabulous day trip, as does touring the exquisite Marcahuasi amphitheatre that lies in the foothills of Lima.
Charming Supe Puerto could be easily overlooked as no more than a small harbour town located in the province of Barranca. However, Supe has earned its place tourists’ cultural radar as home to the incredible ancient pyramids of Caral. Local tour guides will collect you from the port at Lima and drive you out to see this exceptionally well-preserved ancient site, which overlooks the lush valleys of the Supe River. The Sacred City of Caral is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it features six grand pyramid-like mounds surrounded by a complex network of architectural ruins suggesting temples, houses and plazas. Excavation work in the area has revealed that Caral was one of Peru’s earliest urban centres of civilisation, dating back to the Late Archaic Period of the Central Andes. Some of the quirkier artefacts on display here include flutes made from animal bones.
The vibrant jungle town of Iquitos is the principal starting point for excursions into the magnificent Amazon Rainforest. Although Iquitos has its own port where cruise ships are able to dock, cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises also offer shore excursions from to Iquitos from the port at Lima. Iquitos is a friendly, modern city where grand 18th and 19th-century buildings of the main plaza stretch down to the rustic houses built on stilts at the river port. The town has a strongly spiritual feel and local shamans offer psycho-healing sessions using the hallucinogenic ayahuasca vine. Admire the biblical paintings of Américo Pinasco and César Calvo de Araujo inside the Iglesia Matriz at Plaza de Armas or walk along the old riverfront where you’ll find an array of charming bars and restaurants and even a small amphitheatre which hosts live entertainment in the evenings. Local guides run boat trips up and down sections of the Amazon River, along which indigenous people live in settlements and spectacular wildlife wanders amongst the rainforest’s trees.
Colourful Cusco was once the Incas’ capital, a sacred place known to its people the as ‘the navel of the world’. Today, Cusco exhibits a rich mix of Andean landscapes, Inca architecture and colonial heritage. Cruise ships cannot access the city of Cusco directly, but lines Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises for example offer itineraries that include overnight stays in Lima or Pisco with multi-day excursions to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Trek along the Inca Trail to the striking citadel of Machu Picchu, which lies against a backdrop of luscious forests clinging to magical mountain peaks. Climb down into the Sacred Valley of the Río Urubamba and Pisac to find yet more Inca ruins which enchant. Stroll around the main town of Cusco through the Plaza de Armas and over to Barrio San Blas, the city’s indie artisan quarter.
Pisco, Paracas and the Ballestas Islands
The old port town of Pisco, where cruise ships dock, is the perfect base from which to visit the neighbouring areas of Paracas and the Ballestas Islands. Oceania and Celebrity Cruises are just a couple of the many cruise lines that provide shore excursions out of Pisco to the surrounding natural attractions. Wildlife enthusiasts will find themselves in heaven at the Paracas National Reserve, where schools of dolphins dance amongst the waves of the park’s marine-life-rich seas and Humboldt penguins waddle alongside Peruvian boobies and sunbathing sea lions. Some cruise ships also sail out to the beautiful Ballestas Islands where leatherback turtles and killer whales occasionally grace the surrounding waters.
Built on the banks of the Ica River, the city of Ica is an unexpected urban metropolis surrounded by fertile valleys, vast sand dunes, and wine and pisco-producing plantations. Local residents crowd Ica’s busy streets and tito taxis weave around the traffic, beeping their horns to attract potential passengers. Spend a day exploring Ica’s cathedrals and churches, whose architectural design is a fusion of neoclassical and baroque, before making your way to the breath-taking oasis of Huacachina. Legend has it that the lagoon was created when a princess stripped off her clothes to bathe and was spotted by a male hunter. Today, it is believed that the waters have curative powers and Peruvians travel to bathe here from far and wide. Climb up the sand dunes to view this extraordinary natural wonder from high above the city.
One of the world’s most bizarre archaeological phenomenon, the origins of the Nazca Lines remain a mystery to this day. Gigantic outlines of animals and geometric shapes carved into the stone plateau of the Nazca Plain can be seen, best from the air, for many kilometres across the site. Theories surrounding the Lines range from radical claims that they were created by aliens, to more historically-based propositions that the Nazcans drew the lines to map out what lay underneath the ground. Oceania and Princess Cruises both provide excursions to the Nazca Lines from Pisco, where visitors board small planes that allow visitors to view the unique and remarkable geoglyphs from the sky. Nazca has many other interesting local sites including the Inca remains of Paredones, the aqueducts of Cantalloc and the Templo Del Escalonado at Cahuachi.
Best things to do in Peru
Experience a festival
Peru hosts a large number of festivals throughout the country, blending western religious celebrations with pagan pre-Colombian traditions. The Corpus Christi processions are the most colourful in Cusco, during which statues of saints and the Madonna are carried throughout the streets on the shoulders of musicians and marching bands. The Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen in nearby Paucartambo is a women’s festival and features locals dressed up in unusual masks. During the grape harvest in Ica in March, you’ll find open-air concerts, fairs and cockfighting events dotted around the area and in Iquitos, the Omagua festival centres round traditional Umisha dancers who strike a sacred tree with machetes.
Visit the beach
Gorgeous beaches are everywhere you look along the coast of Peru, from the red-sanded desert shores of Playa Roja in Paracas to the activity-filled urban beach of Miraflores, Lima. The Pisco province beaches include La Mina, Playa El Raspon, Yumaque Beach, El Chaco and Supay. In the region surrounding Lima is Cerro Azul - a popular spot for surfers - Pucusana, El Silencio and Señoritas.
See the wildlife
Peru is bursting with cool wildlife and the best areas to see it are around Iquitos. The Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage are home to dozens of species of butterfly alongside rescued anteaters, sloths, coati, jaguars and monkeys. The Centro de Rescate de Manatí is also found here, where baby manatees are nursed back to health after their mothers have been killed by poachers. In Cusco, along the Inca Trail, the Santuario Histórico de Machu Picchu houses an array of animal species, including the Peruvian spectacled bear and the Andean condor. Celebrity Cruises offers an option to take a trip out to Palomino Islands, which are inhabited by Humboldt penguins, seals, sea lions and a variety of birds.
Experience adventurous activities
Trekking and climbing is a popular activity in Peru, particularly in north and south Cusco. The rivers in and around Cusco and the Colca Canyon are great for canoeing and whitewater-rafting and there are even opportunities to canoe down to the Amazon Basin. Diving and snorkelling are both possible in Paracas and Ica, and you can even swim with sea lions off the coast of the Palomino Islands.
Try some Peruvian cuisine
The Peruvian cuisine is finally claiming the recognition it deserves on the global stage with its innovative dishes and delectable drinks. Ceviche – a raw fish medley and escabeche – a delicious seafood appetiser, are both popular along the coastline. In the mountains, you’ll find lomo saltado – a sauteed beef dish, papa rellena – stuffed potatoes that are fried, and pacha-manca, a Peruvian speciality roast that is cooked by placing meats and vegetables in a deep hole and lighting a fire above them. The jungle region has its own distinct cuisine centred on bananas, plantain, yuca – a type of yam, and different meats. Peru is also, of course, the prime producer of pisco brandy, and in the jungle regions a sugar-cane rum, cashassa, is brewed by locals.
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