After Cairo, this sprawling metropolis is the second-driest world capital, rising above a long coastline of crumbling cliffs. To enjoy it, climb on the wave of chaos that spans high-rise condos built alongside pre-Columbian temples and fast Pacific breakers rolling toward noisy traffic snarl-ups. Think one part southern Cali doused with a heavy dose of America Latina.
Shrouded by mist and surrounded by lush vegetation and steep escarpments, the sprawling Inca citadel of Machu Picchu lives up to every expectation. In a spectacular location, it’s the most famous archaeological site on the continent, a must for all visitors to Peru. Like the Mona Lisa or the pyramids, it has been seared into our collective consciousness, though nothing can diminish the thrill of being here. This awe-inspiring ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century.
Just 7km east of Puno, these unique floating islands are Lake Titicaca’s top attraction. Their uniqueness is due to their construction. They have been created entirely with buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. The lives of the Uros people are interwoven with these reeds. Partially edible (tasting like non-sweet sugarcane), the reeds are also used to build homes, boats and crafts. The islands are constructed from many layers of the totora, which are constantly replenished from the top as they rot from the bottom, so the ground is always soft and springy.
Welcome to the navel of the world. The undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city and the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cosmopolitan Cuzco (also Cusco, or Qosq’o in Quechua) thrives with a measure of contradiction. Ornate cathedrals squat over Inca temples, massage hawkers ply the narrow cobblestone passages, a rural Andean woman feeds bottled water to her pet llama while the finest boutiques sell pricey alpaca knits.
Spread over 500 sq km (310 sq mi) of arid, rock-strewn plain in the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain), the Nazca Lines are one of the world's great archaeological mysteries. Comprising over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures (geoglyphs) and 70 animal and plant drawings (biomorphs), the lines are almost imperceptible on the ground. From above, they form a striking network of stylized figures and channels, many of which radiate from a central axis.
Other Peruvians joke that you need a different passport to enter Peru’s second-largest city. One-tenth the size of Lima, Arequipa is its pugnacious equal in terms of cuisine, historical significance and confident self-awareness.