Located in the southern intertropical area of the South American west coast, Peru has great landscape variety and biodiversity. It is the third largest country in South America, occupying a territory that stretches from the Pacific coast to the Amazon rainforest and to the Andean altiplano. It also features a rich history; this was the birthplace of numerous pre-Columbian cultures, including one of the most important: the Inca Empire. The remains of this civilization are, by the way, the main attraction of the country, which also fascinates by its colonial architecture, natural beauty and excellent cuisine.
The main gateway to Peru is its capital, Lima. The main airport in the country is located there, offering connections to destinations across the Americas and in Europe. Besides, with a domestic network centered in Lima, the capital offers direct flights to almost any destination within the country as well as serving as a connection point for flights between other Peruvian cities. The buildings, convents and churches built in the colonial period are the major attractions in central Lima. Additionally, the city also has ancient ruins like Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site belonging to the Lima culture, and beautiful family outings, such as the Park of the Reserve with its Magic Water Circuit. Lima is also the best place to experience the magnificent Peruvian cuisine.
The main tourist circuit in the country, however, lies further south, including cities such as Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Nazca. The city of Nazca, located 7h away by bus from Lima or 9h away from Arequipa, although quite dull, is located near the famous Nazca lines. This set of lines, geometric figures and various designs drawn in the desert sand can only be seen flying over the region. The most efficient way to see them is arriving in the morning directly to the airfield, hiring a flight and then moving on at that same day in the afternoon. Arequipa, on the other hand, located in a transition zone between the altiplano and the coast desert, deserves much more time and attention of visitors. This is the second largest city of Peru, surrounded by volcanoes, like the fascinating Misti, and a stunning colonial architecture that earned it the nickname "white town". Chivay, the main town of the Colca Valley, lies next to Arequipa next to one of the largest canyons in the planet.
Up in the altiplano, Puno is the main town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Although, like Nazca, this is not an attractive place by itself, what counts here is its convenient location allowing to explore the region, including the various islands of the lake. Puno also offers a wide variety of buses heading towards La Paz, in Bolivia.
The main tourist destination in the country, however, is found about 400km (250mi) north of Puno. The area around Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, offers enough attractions for a week or more. The city itself has many colonial buildings erected on the foundations of Inca temples and palaces, such as the Qorikancha (ancient temple to the Sun God, transformed into the Monastery of Santo Domingo). Near Cusco, the Urubamba River valley, known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, offers beautiful destinations like the ruins of Ollantaytambo and Moray, and the salineras of Maras. This region is also home, of course, to Machu Picchu, the main postcard of the nation and recently chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Another popular destination in Peru is the Amazon rainforest. The main town of the region, and one of the country's largest, Iquitos, capital of the Loreto department, can only be reached by boat or aircraft, since it is not connected to the national road network. Iquitos is a good base for a range of activities in the Amazon region, and may even be the starting point for a river boat trip down to the Brazilian city of Manaus or to the Amazon River delta, in the Atlantic Ocean. The department of Madre de Dios, further south, also offers great options to visit the forest, such as the Manu National Park, easily accessible through programs leaving from Cusco.
A journey through the highest railway in South America, between Lima and Huancayo or a visit to the highest mountains of the tropics in the Huascaran National Park in the White Mountains, are great alternative options to visit the country's interior. Similarly, the ruins of Chan Chan, near Trujillo, and the beautiful beaches of Máncora are excellent choices to enjoy the Peruvian north coast.
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