This is the largest department of Peru, and Iquitos, the capital of this region, is also known as Peru's jungle capital. It has long been the number one destination for travelers seeking rainforest adventure. Consequently, the tourist infra-structure in this area is relatively well developed and there are many lodges that cater to nature tourists, each offering a different program designed to teach visitors about the unique rainforest ecology and its many species of flora and fauna. The biological diversity is matched by the cultural uniqueness of the area, which is home to numerous indigenous tribes. Some trips are specifically designed to teach about both, the natural environment and the cultures who live within it. (see special trips). For the more adventurous travelers, hiking trips into the forest, lasting several days, can also be arranged. However, these are best suited to people with some familiarity of jungle conditions, as there are few facilities (if any) once one leaves the beaten track (which in this region, despite its relative development, are still considered rather basic). There is also an interesting ethnobotanical garden called 'Sachamama', established by Francisco Montes, the brother of Don Pablo Amaringo, the famous Ayahuasca artist. (see Ucayali section).
Further south, the also large jungle department of Ucayali is every bit as interesting and fascinating as the more frequently visited Loreto region. Tourism to this area declined during the 80s and early 90s due to Sendero activity. However, these days it is once again considered safe. The infra-structure here is presently not particularly well developed, but the region offers interesting opportunity for the more adventurous travelers, especially those who speak Spanish. Pucallpa, the capital of the department is not an attractive place. It is one of the fastest growing industrial regions of the Amazon. Yet, perhaps because of the damage that has already been done in this region, there seems to be a growing awareness for environmental concerns. Ucayali and in particular the Pucallpa area has a reputation within Peru for being one of the shamanic centers. It is here, that Don Pablo Amaringo, the acclaimed visionary artist who previously worked many years as a famous and well respected shaman, runs his school of painting ('Uskar Ayar') in Pucallpa. There are several interesting ethnobotanical gardens in the area, and more are being planned. There are some Shipibo-Conibo Indian villages, famous for their Ayahuasca inspired art and designs, which are located on Lago Yarinacocha, a beautiful oxbow lake, close to Pucallpa.
The southernmost jungle department, Madre de Dios, with its capital of Puerto Maldonado, is often called the biodiversity capital of the Amazon. It is here that species diversity reaches its peak, due perhaps in no small part to the early efforts to protect large areas of this unique habitat as nature reserves. Today there are two world famous nature reserves in this area: the Manu Biosphere Reserve and the Tambopata Reserve. Access to both of these areas is restricted and visits are best undertaken by organized trip. Trips to Tambopata mostly base themselves at one of the many beautiful jungle lodges, from where the untouched surrounding areas can be more easily explored. Access to Manu is more difficult and thus perhaps even more rewarding for truly adventurous nature lovers. Independent access is virtually impossible. Most trips here are camping trips. Travelers to this region are currently required to show valid prove of Yellow Fever Vaccination. See our specially featured tours to Manu Biosphere Reserve and to Tambopata Reserve
This northernmost coastal department of Peru borders onto Ecuador. Due to the presence of oil fields this are has long been disputed between the two countries. Military presence is high. Unless one wants to cross the border into Ecuador there is little reason to venture here, although like any district of Peru, it also has its share of attractions. Some of the best beaches in Peru can be found in this department, and even some mangrove swamps. Just off the coast near Tumbes is the place where the cold Humboldt current meets the warmer equatorial El Niño current, giving rise to an incredible range of marine life. For nature lovers there may be two areas of special interest: the Sanctuary Nacional Los Manglares de Tumbes, situated on the coast immediately south of Ecuador (may not always be safe to visit) and Park Nacional Cerros de Amotape, south of the city of Tumbes.
Piura is quite an isolated district, and despite the fact that the town of Piura is the oldest colonial city of Peru, the whole district remains distinct and fairly unexplored. The city of Piura and the surrounding area have a sense of unlikely 'oasis' about them. Well developed irrigation systems have long been used to use the land agriculturally and, more recently the district has also developed an oil industry. The surrounding geography is a contributing factor to the isolation of this district, bordered as it is by Huancabamba Mountains to the east and the Sechura Desert to the South. The Sechura Hills, situated on the coast, south of Piura is an unofficial wildlife reserve.
This relatively small department, just north of Trujillo was long forgotten, and few tourists ever ventured there. The town of Limabayeque, once demonstrating colonial splendor, has fallen into decline ever since. The modern city of Chiclayo is the department's capital. While these towns in themselves have little to offer to the tourist, they make good bases for exploring some of the archeological sites of the area. Limbayeque has a superb Museum (Brüning Museum) that houses some extraordinary pre-Incan pieces (Mochica), including some from the recently discovered 'Sipán site', which is touted as one of Peru's most important archeological sites found so far. The Temple of Sipán is only about 30 km away from Chiclayo and can easily be visited from there. There are several other interesting pre-Incan archeological sites in the area all within relatively easy reach from Chiclayo (Batan Grande, Chongoyape, Túcume, El Purgatorio, Apurlec). Venturing further inland, into the Andes it is well worth visiting the town of Cajamarca, a graceful sierra town whose architecture rivals that of Cuzco, though it is far less visited. The surrounding area has many interesting archeological sites, which can easily be explored on day trips from Cajamarca. Close to town lies the Cerro Santa Apolonia which was once a sacred site. Today there is a landscaped garden known as the Parque Ecologia, which still has some ancient remains within its grounds. Another interesting and popular trip is to visit the thermal hot springs known as Baños del Inca. Just a bit further along the Rio Chonta lies another important pre-Inca site, the Ventanillas de Otuzco, an ancient necropolis where the chieftains of the Cajamarca culture were buried in niches cut into the volcanic rock. See our specially featured tours to this extraordinary region of Peru with its numerous incredible natural and archeological treasures.
Less than 8 hours by bus up the coastal highway north of Lima, lies the department of La Libertad. Trujillo, the capital of this department is best known for its close proximity to many important archeological sites. Most famous are those of the Chimu culture, whose capital was the city of Chan Chan, located close to the beach, between Trujillo and the beach resort of Huanchaco. However, the whole area is steeped in ancient history and cluttered with remains of by-gone civilizations. Many of these sites are far more spectacular and ancient than those around Cuzco, though far less promoted by the Peruvian Tourist Board and thus generally far less visited. Trujillo of Huanchaco are the best towns to use as a base from where to explore the surrounding regions and its many fascinating sites. (Other interesting sites of the area include: Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna south of Trujillo) About 35 km from Trujillo, lies the Chicama Valley a fertile plain with many ancient sites and ruins of the Mochica and Chimu cultures, including the Huaca El Brujo, La Huaca Prieta, Chiquitoy and Ascope.
This department, just north of Lima, incorporates coastal deserts, speckled with ancient ruins as well as some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in Peru. Whilst the coastal towns are not especially interesting, they may still make good base-camps for exploring some of the archeological sites, such as the fortress of Paramonga, and the Sechin ruins. For nature lovers an exploration into the mountains is stupendously rewarding. The topography here consists of two mountain ranges, the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, separated by a vast valley expanse, known as the Callejón de Huaylas. This area offers some of the best hiking trails and mountain climbing options of the Andes. Much of the Cordillera Blanca has been designated as a protected area known as the Parque Nacional Huascarán, named after Peru's highest peak. Huaráz, located centrally between the two mountain ranges, is the perfect base for exploring this fascinating area. But spectacular scenery and fascinating fauna and flora (such as the giant Puya Raymondi plants) is not all that this region has to offer. There are also amazing archeological sites, such as the Chavin de Huantar, thermal baths at Monterrey and Chancos as well as incredible glacial lakes to be explored. The best time to visit is during the summer months, when temperatures are pleasant, skies are mostly blue and there is little rain.
Lima, the capital city of Peru is not one of the most charming destinations, though to be fair, it does have several points of interest, including many museums that house most of the archeological treasures that have been excavated from the myriad of ancient sites of this country. There are also some archeological sites within the boundaries of the city and its suburbs. Lima also has some interesting colonial architecture and a vibrant cosmopolitan feel. However, most travelers will probably want to get out of this manically bustling place. The surrounding areas have a fair number of interesting destinations to offer. On the coast, south of Lima for example, are the impressive ruins of Pachacamac. The Chillón Valley, north of Lima, also has numerous interesting archeological sites, such as the Temple El Paraiso. Further north along the Panamerican Highway lies the Reserva Nacional de Lachay. Heading east from Lima into the Andean foothills also offers some rewarding destinations, such as the pre-Incan settlement of Puruchucu and the ruins of Cajamarquilla. Another interesting destination is the Marcahuasi, an area that boasts bizarre rock formations. This place is the site of a wonderful fiesta held annually from the 28.-30. of July. Alternatively, adventure travel and sports enthusiasts might prefer to come here for the annual festival de Aventura, in early November, which combines Latin American as well as Rock Music with adventure sports activities such as marathon running, mountain biking and motocross races.
Deceptively, this northern department does not, as the name might imply, incorporate any of the Amazon basin area. It covers instead a mountainous region including some of the eastern Andean slopes. Its capital, Chachapoyas, lies 2234m above sea level and is surrounded by wooded hills and cloud forest. The area is very remote and not much visited by travelers. It offers excursions to some little visited archeological sites, notably Kuelap, Monte Peruvia, Valape and Gran Vilaya, which due to their remoteness are best visited with a local guide. Other ruins can be visited at Santa Cruz, Machu Llaqta and Las Pilas. An unusual destination is the Pueblo de los Muertos, the village of the dead, about 30km north of Chachapoyas. There are sarcophagi with carved human faces of the mummified ancestors they contain, each painted with strange designs. See our specially featured tours to this extraordinary region of Peru with its numerous incredible natural and archeological treasures.
This department lies to the south of the department of Amazonas and shares much of its topography. There are hot springs in the forested mountains, waterfalls and some ancient ruins, which may be hard to find. There is also the Parque Nacional Rio Abiseo in the southerm part of the department. The capital of this sparsely inhabited region is Moyabamba, a quiet, laid back town with local hot springs and not much else. It is advisable to seek advice concerning the current situation in this area. As it is one of the coca growing regions it may not always be safe.
This is also a central Andean department with varied mountainous topography including Pampas, peaks and slopes of montane rainforest. There are several ruins, which can be visited, notably those at Tantamayo, Huanca Viejo and the Temple of Kotosh. Though as few people go there, it may be best to hire guide. The eastern slopes of this department are also coca growing areas and it is advisable to seek advice concerning the current situation before visiting. The town of Tingo Maria has a bad reputation as being a town of criminal activity and violence.
The small department of Pasco is very sparsely inhabited and does not seem to have many particularly interesting attractions for the traveler. The scenery is much the same as in other central Andean departments: mountains, montane rainforests, gorges etc. There is a protected area called Parque Nacional Yanachaga-Chemelién, though this might be fairly inaccessible. One curious place in this department is Pozuzo, a German settlement that appears quite out of place in this jungle environment. Inquire about the current political situation before visiting the area.
This rarely visited Andean department covers quite a large area and comprises high mountain terrain as well as lower foothills covered in montane rainforest. Although the main road from Lima to Pucallpa passes through the western part of the department, it is sparsely populated and does not have much of a tourist infrastructure. However, it does have rewarding points of interest, especially for birdwatchers. The second largest lake of Peru, Lago Junin is a haven for birds and many 100s of species can be seen here. The lake and surrounding area are a designated Parque Nacional. The rest of the department are a strange mixture of encroaching industrial age in the mining towns and villages and on the other hand traditional rural life that seems to be caught in a time warp. Huancayo, the capital of the department is a modern city of 360 000 inhabitants and is considered the capital of the Central Andes. For the traveler the town makes a good base from where to explore the surrounding area with their many hidden and half forgotten Inca ruins. Trips can be arranged in Huancayo. During the 80s and early 90s this area was dominated by the Sendero and tourism virtually stopped. The situation is still changeable so make inquiries before visiting the area.
Another little visited Central Andean Department. This area too suffered from the Sendero domination of the 80s and early 90s. Tourism is very sparse and most of the towns and villages are as remote and traditional as they may seem. Huancavelica, the capital of this department is a historic city. Once an important strategic center of the Inca, the Spaniards took over the rule and "colonialised" the city, an effort that was fueled by the exploitation of the mineral riches (mercury and silver) of the surrounding mountains. Huancavelica also suffered much from the Sendero activities in the past. Inquire about the current situation in this area before visiting.
The next department along the Andean Central Highlands is Ayacucho. Unfortunately this department too has suffered much during the time of Sendero domination and much off it still remains off limits to tourists. However, the colonial town of Ayacucho, which is also the capital of the region, is generally considered safe for tourists and offers some interesting sites. If you want to travel to the surrounding areas (e.g. Cave at Pikimachay), it is best to go with a guided tour. The southern regions of the department can best be reached from Nazca. From there one can also book a tour to visit the remote Vicuña reserve Pampa Galeras.
This Central Andean department used to be en route on the main road from Cuzco to the South Coast. However, during the Sendero domination the area became unsafe and buses re-routed their journeys through Arequipa instead. Whilst there are a number of interesting towns, villages and archeological sites in this department, it may not be recommendable for travelers to visit these at present. The situation is still unstable in some parts. Inquire before you visit.
Whole books have been written about the charming town of Cuzco and the myriad of enigmatic sites in the surrounding areas. Cuzco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru and nearby Machu Picchu even ranks as the number one tourist destination in South America. (See our featured tours to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley) Despite this onslaught of people who annually descend on the region, it still retains much of its appeal. Cuzco, once the heart of the Inca Empire, is now a beautiful colonial town where the influences of the present and the past merge in ever changing kaleidoscopic patterns. Cuzco is a cosmopolitan town with a relaxed yet vibrant atmosphere. A good place to rest for a few days and to acclimatize to the high altitude before setting off on the Inca trail. The department of Cuzco comprises both high mountain peaks as well as lower foothills covered with montane rainforest. There are still plenty of interesting corners to be explored off the beaten track. Some of the more traditional destinations, which, though much visited, have not lost their enigmatic power, include excursions to the Sacred Valley, the remote ruins at Vilcabamba and El Templo de Viracocha, on the way south to Puno. Cuzco is also a good place from where to venture into the jungle to visit some of the most biodiverse areas on earth. (See Manu & Tambopata)
This department is the southernmost Andean department, it is also one of the largest of all of Peru. The Titicaca Basin, with the world famous lake Titicaca, the largest navigable lake at this high altitude (over 3000m) in all the world, is the main center of attraction of this department and undoubtedly an impressive sight. Trips to the 'floating islands', inhabited manmade platform islands made from rushes, and to some of the fixed islands in the lake can be arranged from Puno. However, tourism has taken its toll here, and while the trips rank among some of the most unusual experiences for adventurous tourists, many are left with an anti-climatic experience. The inhabitants of these islands, which are some of the poorest people in Peru, have learned to depend on tourist hand-outs and hordes of their kids descend on new arrivals as soon as they come of the boat. One of the most sacred islands on lake Titicaca is the island of the sun, on the Bolivian side of the border, which cuts through the southern end of the lake. This island with its ancient Inca Temple can be visited by organized tour from Puno, though access is easier from Bolivia. Puno and the lake Titicaca region is one of the most interesting ethnographic regions in Peru, where Quetschua and Aymara cultures merge. Puno has been dubbed 'the folklore capital of Peru' due to its fascinating ethnic mixture that blends many strands of folkloric traditions, arts and crafts.See our short trip to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca.
South, towards the coast lies the small department of Tacna, which borders on to Chile. Most people only come to this area on their way to or from Chile. There are a few tourist facilities but most travelers don't stop in this region. The town of Tacna, being a stop-off point for travelers to and from Chile, has a reputation for pickpockets and thievery.
North of Tacna is the small coastal department of Moquegua. In this region the coastal desert reaches its driest point, though incredibly there is some agricultural activity, even here. There are a few beach resorts which are quite busy during the summer months (December to April), but more or less deserted the rest of the year. One of the most interesting places to visit for nature enthusiasts and especially for bird watchers is the little known Lagunas de Mejía Nature Reserve, about 6km south of the town of Mejía, which serves as a major oasis for many species of both migratory and endemic birds.
One of the most interesting departments of southern Peru, the road from Arequipa to Cuzco has become an established trail since the Sendero activities of the 80s and early 90s put an end to travel through some of the other routes that connect the central highlands with the coast. Arequipa has many interesting sites for travelers, both on and off the beaten trek. The capital of the department of the same name, sometimes also called 'the white city' ranks among the most beautiful colonial towns of Peru. Situated at the foot of a volcano (Misti), above the coastal fog banks, it has a somewhat aloof feel to it. It makes an ideal base for exploring some of the amazing places in the surrounding area. The Inca ruins of Paucarpata lie at the foot of El Misti and can be visited on a day trip.
More adventurous travelers may want to climb to the top of El Misti - though this is best done as part of a group. Colca Canyon, the worlds largest and deepest Canyon (almost twice as large as Grand Canyon, AZ), lies slightly further afield, but can be visited by organized tour. Another two incredible destination, often visited from Arequipa, is the Valley of the Vulcanoes and the petroglyphs of Toro Muerto. These stunning places can be visited by organized tour from Arequipa or explored independently, though this latter option is pretty strenuous. The area has a reputation for frequent UFO sightings.
This small coastal department is best known for the enigmatic mystery of the Nazca lines, huge geometrical petroglyph type drawings, carved into the stony desert hills. Some of them are over 200m in length. They are best appreciated from the air and several local airlines offer such trips. There are many theories about the purpose of these strange drawings, but the greatest expert on the mystery was the German archeologist Maria Reiche, who dedicated her life to researching this fascinating area. There are also some interesting archeological sites around Nazca, most notably the Cahuachi complex and the Chauchilla cemetry, both of which are best visited by organized tour due to their relative inaccessibility. The department of Ica also has some pleasant beach resorts, though for nature lovers the greatest attraction along the coast is undoubtedly the Paracas Reserve and the Ballestas Islands, where a myriad of coastal wild life can easily be observed.