IT’S EASY to cast Peru in superlative terms. The nation has the world’s deepest canyon, a selection of the Western Hemisphere’s tallest mountains, and one of the driest deserts on Earth. It contains the headwaters of the world’s most massive river and a sizable portion of the largest tract of tropical rainforest on the planet.

The country is classified as “megadiverse,” home to 21,462 species of plants and animals, almost 6,000 of which are endemic. Dozens if not hundreds of influential cultures have risen in Peru within the last 11,000 years, with the Inca representing the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

All of this makes for some seriously epic Peru travel opportunities. Below are 40 images that get us fired up to visit.

1

Sun over Machu Picchu

It's hard not to start with the country's best-known attraction. The ancient Inca sanctuary sits at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, looking out over the Urubamba River. I'm assuming this photographer had to wait a while to get a shot with so few fellow visitors in it.
Photo: Martin Lang

2

Monastery of San Francisco, Lima

Just a block away from the Plaza Mayor, the Convento de San Francisco is one of the most visited sites in the capital. Construction began in 1673 and took 100 years to complete. Its catacombs served as Lima's first cemetery, and they still contain thousands of bones and skulls, many of which are arranged into intricate geometric designs in the ossuary.
Photo: Robert Luna

3

Blue-and-yellow Macaw

Peru is like a world geography class all its own. From the eastern spine of the Andes, with snow-covered peaks taller than 6,000m, you can descend to lowland jungle in less than 50 miles, as the parrot flies.
Photo: bgrimmni

4

Huacachina dunes

Near the oasis resort village of Huacachina, the desert of southern Peru forms sand dunes that in recent years have attracted tourists with sandboarding and dune buggy tours.
Photo: guilherme

5

Huacachina dunes

Another shot of those massive dunes.
Photo: ilker ender

6

Parque de la Reserva, Lima

Lima is the fifth-largest city in the Western Hemisphere and home to a third of the entire Peruvian population. Combined with neighboring Callao, 9 million people live in the metro area.
Photo: Kenneth Moore

7

Makaha Beach, Lima

Sunset at this front-and-center surf beach adjacent to Lima's Miraflores district.
Photo: Geraint Rowland

8

Jungle butterfly

As of 2003, there were 21,462 species of plants and animals recognized in Peru. You really never know what you'll run into.
Photo: Mauro Edmundo Pedretti

9

El Misti

This 19,000ft active stratovolcano is one of three peaks that dominate the Arequipa skyline. Here it is in the background of a shot of a grazing vicuña, a wild relative of the alpaca.
Photo: ribosomis

10

Nazca Lines

In southern Peru's Nazca Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, the people of the same name created dozens of geoglyphs on a truly monumental scale. The designs are so large they can really only be appreciated from the air, leading to all kinds of theories involving ancient hot-air balloons and UFOs. This is the Spider.
Photo: Paul Williams

11

Paracas Peninsula

There are red-sand beaches where the desert meets the sea at this peninsula, which is protected as a national reservation and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo: Susana Fernandez

12

Urubamba River from the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most popular trek in Peru. This is one of the views of the Urubamba you'll get shortly before reaching the ruins.
Photo: Martin Lang

13

Dusk in Barranco, Lima

The Barranco district of Peru's capital is known for being home to musicians, artists, and other creative limeños.
Photo: Geraint Rowland

14

Huanchaco

The ancient inhabitants of Huanchaco made use of the totora reed, constructing small fishing boats controlled by paddling while standing in or straddling the craft. Some believe these caballitos de totora represent the earliest example of surfing.
Photo: Henry__Spencer

15

Huanchaco street art

An artistic depiction of the caballito de totora from the 2012 Festival de Arte Urbano Poco Floro in Huanchaco.
Photo: Guache Street Art

16

Huacachina dunes

One more shot of the very large sand dunes of Huacachina, along with some very small hikers.
Photo: Geraint Rowland

17

Colca Canyon

More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, with a maximum depth of 13,650ft, the Colca Canyon is the best place in the country to observe the Andean condor.
Photo: Vladimer Shioshvili

18

Trekking the Vilcanota Range

The Cordillera Vilcanota runs between Cusco and Puno and comprises dozens of 5,000m+ peaks and over 450 glaciers.
Photo: dyonis

19

Panamerican Highway

This stretch of the Panamerican lies between Paracas and Nazca in southern Peru. I love the way the black of the asphalt contrasts with the color of the desert terrain.
Photo: world-wide-gifts.com

20

Pisac

At this Inca site in the Sacred Valley, there are extensive stone terraces, still in use today, as well as ruins of temples, baths, and altars, among other structures. Back in the 1400s, Pisac was a border post, defending the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley.
Photo: Guillén Pérez

21

Ancash Region

Just north of Lima, Ancash contains the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra, the former of which accounts for the highest peaks in the country. The region's capital, Huaraz, is the launching point for climbers headed into the mountains.
Photo: johnjodeery

22

Moray

The terraced circular depressions at Moray are thought to have served as an agricultural experimentation facility, where the Inca learned which crops thrived at which temperatures (the temperature of the bottom levels is significantly different than that at the top).
Photo: McKay Savage

23

Moray salt mines

Near the concentric circle terraces above is a massive salt production facility, established under the Inca but still in use today. The manmade pools catch the mineral-rich spring water exiting the mountainside and hold it until the liquid evaporates.
Photo: Chris Jackson

24

Floating islands, Lake Titicaca

The Uru people live on floating islands made from totora reeds on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Tourism to the reed islands is a major source of revenue for the area; most tours depart from the city of Puno.
Photo: Kmilo .

25

Miraflores, Lima

Within the vast urban expanse of Lima, the neighborhood of Miraflores is one of the more 'upscale' districts, filled with shopping malls and landscaped gardens. Also, a good view out over the Pacific.
Photo: Laura de Marco

26

The other side

Leave the Miraflores's and San Isidros's and travel to the outskirts of Peru's major cities, and you'll see shantytowns like this, often without basic utilities. This one is just outside of Ica.
Photo: Graeme Law

27

Marañón River

The Marañón is one of the major tributaries of the Amazon and flows out of the mountains of northern Peru to eventually reach Iquitos, capital of the Peruvian rainforest.
Photo: fiat.luxury

28

Choquequirao

As Pisac guarded the southern entrance to the Incas' Sacred Valley, Choquequirao watched over the western approach. It's reached via a 3- or 4-day round-trip trek from the village of Cachora.
Photo: Danielle Pereira

29

Trail to Choquequirao

The trek to Choquequirao is relatively intense, first descending ~6,000ft to the Apurimac River and then regaining the altitude on the other side of the canyon via a series of switchbacks. And that's just one way. Views are epic.
Photo: Danielle Pereira

30

Santa Catalina, Arequipa

The Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa dates to the late 16th century, and its brightly painted courtyards and corridors make it a popular tourist attraction in the city. This is a view over the rooftops, looking north to the volcanic peaks that form Arequipa's natural skyline.
Photo: twak

31

Ballestas Islands

Near the Paracas Peninsula, the Ballestas Islands are a major sanctuary for several different species of sea birds, as shown here. Sea lions and fur seals also frequent the islands.
Photo: Procsilas Moscas

32

Inca Trail, Day 1

Inca Trail tours take in many minor Inca ruin sites, as well as views of the Urubamba Valley.
Photo: world-wide-gifts.com

33

Chan Chan ruins, Trujillo

Chan Chan is the largest adobe city in the world, built around 850 and conquered by the Inca in 1470. Its ruins are easily accessible from Trujillo.
Photo: Beatrice Murch

34

Cusco rooftops

Most visitors to Peru will at the very least transit through Cusco, historic capital of the Inca Empire, and modern-day capital of the country's tourism industry. The majority of buildings in the vicinity of the Plaza Mayor retain a Spanish colonial look, despite successive reconstructions necessitated by the region's frequent earthquakes.
Photo: Kenneth Moore

35

Cusco courtyard

Here's a closer look at some of that typical Cusco architecture; many upscale tourist accommodations will feature an open courtyard like this.
Photo: Martin Lang

36

Inca skull

Skulls on display at the Museo Inka in Cusco show evidence of the Inca practice of skull elongation.
Photo: Dennis Jarvis

37

Sipán ruins

The main feature of the Sipán archaeological site is the recently uncovered tomb of the Lord of Sipán, which dates to around 100 AD. Among the many items discovered inside were hundreds of clay pots, believed to be offerings from the ruler's subjects.
Photo: Heather Thorkelson

38

Ausangate Circuit

The 6,384m Ausangate, located about 60 miles southeast of Cusco, is one of Peru's tallest peaks. The 43-mile loop trail that encircles it is a popular trek, taking 5-6 days to complete and crossing four high mountain passes.
Photo: Indrik myneur

39

Highway 28B

This is the route you take out of Ollantaytambo if you're traveling to Machu Picchu by car.
Photo: Thiago Jacomasso

40

Machu Picchu panorama

And, ending where we began, one of the most iconic archaeological sites in Peru, if not the world.
Photo: Ken Bosma


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