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A List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru

Peru is a world-renowned travel destination with a plethora of fascinating and iconic historical attractions of cultural, archaeological, natural, and global significance, and a large collection of important UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Published: 12th July 2015

A journey to Peru today is a journey to a magical land, reminiscent of the historical era of adventure and discovery, where it is still possible to set forth into the unknown and "re-discover" this magic for yourselves.

Peru, and Peruvians, are rightly proud of their rich heritage which has seen empires, cultures and civilisations such as the Inca, Moche, Chimor, Chachapoyas, Nazca, Lima, Chavin, and Wari build epic pyramids, fortresses and ceremonial temples over thousands of years.

Peru is also blessed with an incredible diversity of wildlife, and although the giant Amazon Rainforest also stretches into Bolivia and Brazil and further afield, it is within Peru that the wildlife and diversity is at its richest.

This blend of biodiversity and wildlife, and rich cultural history resulting in significant and impressive archaeological ruins, mean that Peru is not only a wonderful and varied country to visit, but one that is also very important culturally for the human population.

UNESCO have recognised Peru's importance for our planet, and its significance in human history, and has inscribed a number of sites in Peru on their UNESCO World Heritage List.

Below we've listed all of Peru's UNESCO World Heritage SItes, and have explained why we feel they are important, and the best and easiest way to visit them during a holiday in Peru...

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Chan Chan Archaeological Zone

Chan Chan, Peru

Chan Chan Archaeological Zone was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986, and is the only site in Peru that is currently listed on the "List of World Heritage in Danger", due in part to the delicate structure of the adobe bricks that were used in the construction of the site and that are easily eroded or destroyed by wind and rain.

Chan Chan was a city of the Chimu culture, and is an incredibly large site, the largest adobe city in the world, stretching out over more than 20 square kilometres. Built around 850AD it was occupied until around 1470AD during its conquest by the Inca Empire. Although the majority of the extent of the site still exists, today only a small central part of the ruin can be visited.

Chan Chan is on the outskirts of the large Peruvian city of Trujillo, and it is very easy to include a tour to Chan Chan when staying in this city, with most tours also visiting the nearby adobe pyramids of Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol. See our Undiscovered Northern Peru holiday for a holiday that visits Chan Chan in Peru.

Chavin Archaeological Site / Chavin de Huantar

Chavin de Huantar was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, and is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Peru have been recognised by UNESCO, with initial construction at the site thought to have begun as early as 1200BC, with the site being occupied until around 400BC. During its existence the site was occupied by a range of cultures, including the Chavin Culture, a large and dominant pre-Inca culture from the Peruvian region of South America.

The site consists of a large pyramid and central plaza, as well as underground tunnels featuring carvings and sculptures of animals such as the jaguar.

Chavin is situated near the trekking city of Huaraz, and day trips can easily be arranged for anyone planning on spending time in this region of Peru.

City of Cuzco

City of Cusco

Inscribed by UNESCO in 1983, Cuzco, which can also be spelled Cusco, is a wonderful and beautiful Andean city in Peru.

The old-town city centre of Cusco is jam-packed full of architectural, archaeological, historical and cultural sites of importance, and is a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to Peru.

The centre of the town has been built upon Inca foundations, with an Inca street plan, Inca roads and stone-work, and Inca masonry creating a wonderful, historic and unique city environment. Additionally this basis has subsequently been expanded and developed during the period of the Spanish Conquest of Peru, which resulted in further colonial-era architecture of grand design.

Within the city itself are the Inca sites of the Temple of the Sun and the 12-sided stone, as well as Cusco cathedral and the main central plaza of Cusco; whilst the ruin of Sacsayhuaman overlooks the city just on the outskirts of Cusco.

Cusco is easily accessed via a short flight from Peru's capital city of Lima, and most holidays to Peru would include a trip to Cusco and its surrounding area. See our Pure Peru holiday for one example of a holiday to Peru that visits the city of Cusco.

Historic Centre of Lima

Lima Presidential Palace

The historic centre of Lima was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Whilst the majority of Lima is relatively modern, the old-town central distict is reminiscent of the colonial-style city centres of other Latin American cities, such as Cusco, Quito, and Arequipa.

Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 and it became the administrative centre for the Viceroyalty of Peru and a very important region in the history of South America, closely associated with the end of the Spanish colonisation of the continent.

The best and most important sights within the city centre are the main central plaza, the Presidential Palace (pictured above), the Cathdral of Lima, and San Fransisco Convent with its underground catacombs.

Peru's main airport is situated in the city of Lima, and most international flights to / from the country will be to Lima, making the city a regular inclusion in Peru holidays. Most modern tourist hotels are situated in the more modern districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, which are some distance from the historic centre, but half day tours to the centre are possible and very popular. All our Peru holidays visit Lima.

Historical Centre of the City of Arequipa

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

The centre of Arequipa was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and is one of our favourite places to visit in Peru.

Arequipa is situated in an incredible location in the Andean altiplano mountain region, surrounded by an arid and volcanic landscape. The city itself is the lesser-known sister to Cusco in terms of numbers of tourists, but those that do visit will find a cuisine to die for, and a city centre stacked full of impressive architecture that make this a worthy addition to UNESCO.

The main central plaza is surrounded by majestic arched architecture, and the highlight of the city is probably the Santa Catalina Monastery which dates from the 16th century and is a peaceful and serene location within the city centre.

Arequipa is usually visited on flights from Lima or Cusco, and is used as the stop-over point for onward travel to the Colca Canyon. See our Andes Adventure holiday for an example of an itinerary that visits this wonderful city centre.

Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana

Nazca Lines

Inscribed by UNESCO in 1994 the Nasca Lines, often spelled "Nazca", are one of the most famous and iconic sights in the Americas. Their awe and granduer is matched only by their mystery, with theorists and scientists still debating the exact method of their creation.

The creation of the lines is thought to date from around 500BC, during the time of the Chavin Culture, to around 500AD, during the time of the Nazca Culture. Although many different shapes, designs, and geoglyphs have been discovered in the Nasca and Pampas de Jumana regions, it is the spider, whale, hummingbird, monkey, astronaut and condor that are the most famous.

Viewing the lines is possible either from a viewing tower around 20 minutes drive from the city of Nazca, or by scenic flight from Nazca airfield over the lines. Nazca is easily reached by road from Lima (a journey time of around 4 hours). Our Pacific to the Andes holiday is one example that includes a trip to Nazca.

Chapaq Nan, Andean Road System

Inca Road

The Chapaq Nan, or Andean Road system, is a collection of ancient roads that were built by the Inca Empire. Chapaq Nan was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 and is the most recent of Peru's Heritage Sites to achieve the accolade. Peru shares the Chapaq Nan with Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.

During the height of their power, when the Inca Empire stretched from northern Argentina and Chile all the way to southern Colombia, the Inca needed a method to communicate effectively and efficiently, and they developed 30,000km of roads in order to send messages, trade goods, and defend their empire.

Today parts of the road system have been lost, parts are still in daily use by the indigenous societies that live across South America, and parts are used for tourism such as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or other treks in the region.

Sacred City of Caral Supe

Caral

The city of Caral, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, is a relatively recently discovered ancient and important archaeological site in Peru, to the north of Lima.

Potentially dating from up to 3000BC, this 5000-year old site is one of the oldest cities and archaeological complexes in the entire Americas, and as such is a very important site within the whole continent. The complex consists of many pyramids, open ceremonial areas and settlement areas, and it is thought that the civilisation that lived here were advanced - a Quipu found here (a knotted rope that was used by Andean societies as a form of record keeping and counting) is an example of how advanced these early civilisations were.

It is possible to visit Caral on a day tour from Lima.

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran is the tallest mountain in Peru, at an elevation of 6768 metres, and Huascaran National Park is the park that gets its name from this famous and impressive natural structure. 

The park was inscribed by UNESCO in 1985, which is a recognition of its natural importance and beauty - the park is full of wonderful turquoise lakes (Laguna Llanganuco is pictured above), deep ravines, glaciers and snow-capped mountain peaks.

To visit the park it is best to travel to the city of Huaraz, famous in Peru as the unofficial trekking capital of the Andes for the exceptional quality of treks that can be completed in the regions surrounding Huaraz and in the Huascaran National Park, for example the Santa Cruz trek and the Cedros Almpamayo Trek.

Manu National Park

Manu National Park

Manu National Park was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987, and the site remains one of the most important natural regions on the planet, with an incredible level of biodiversity and unknown number of species of plants, insects and mammals.

The Manu National Park is also home to a number of uncontacted tribes, including the Pascho Piro Tribe.

Manu is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to observe the "Cock of the Rock", the national bird of Peru, in its natural habitat:

Cock of the Rock

Manu region is split into three main zones - the Cultural Zone, the Reserved Zone, and Manu National Park. Access to Manu National Park itself is strictly controlled to protect both the wildlife and native human populations of this very important region and it is very rare if not impossible for tourists to be able to visit as permits are required, however it is possible for tourists to visit both the Cultural Zone and the Reserved Zone.

The easiest way to access the Cultural Zone is by road from Cusco (a drive which takes a full day), a journey which will take you up over the Andes mountain pass at Acjanaco, then down into the cloud forests and jungles of the Manu region on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Although the drive takes a full day it passes stunning scenery and is a wonderful opportunity to observe different geographical environments and the changing landscapes as you travel from Cusco, up to the high mountain region of the Andes, then back down into jungle. For people looking to travel to Manu on a budget, the Cultural Zone is the best option, with access easy from Cusco and more basic lodges offering better value. Although the wildlife in the Cultural Zone isn't as diverse as it is in the Reserved Zone, wildlife opportunities are still exceptional with a vast collection of monkeys, insects, birds, mammals and other wildlife in this region. Tours to the Cultural Zone would typically include a visit to a clay lick to observe parrots or macaws, a visit to an oxbow lake, the chance to observe the Cock of the Rock bird of paradise, and jungle hikes to spot for monkeys and other creatures.

The Reserved Zone is deeper into the jungle, further away from Cusco, and this zone can be reached either by road from Cusco followed by an extensive river boat journey past Boca Manu, or with a flight from Lima or Cusco to the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado, followed by another river boat journey. This region has more specialised guides and lodges, and primarily caters to wildlife enthusiasts looking for bird-watching holidays in Peru. This, coupled with the extensive travel times to reach the depths of this jungle region, mean that this can be a much more expensive option compared to the Cultural Zone, for for serious wildlife enthusiasts this is a very good option.

Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and the site is certainly one of the most famous and iconic travel destinations on the planet.

Built by the Inca Empire in the 15th century this Inca site is relatively unique in that it is believed it was not discovered by the Spanish during their conquest of Peru, meaning that many of the main temples, shrines and buildings within the complex remain intact and were not destroyed during the conquest.

Visiting the ruin can be a very educational, interesting, and inspiring experience as the true awe, wonder and beauty of Machu Picchu is displayed in front of you. The two main ways to visit the ruin are by train from Cusco or the Sacred Valley, or by completing the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu which arrives at Machu Picchu via the traditional Inca Sun Gate. See our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Experience holiday for just one example of the many holidays and tours we have to visit this splendid destination.

Rio Abiseo National Park

Possibly the least known and least famous of all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Peru, this national park was inscribed by UNESCO in 1990.

The park, which is situated in the San Martin district of Peru,  was created by the Peruvian government in 1983 in order to protect and preserve the variety of flora and fauna, the incredible diversity of climate zones, and the archaeological ruins in the region.

Since 1986 the park has not been open for tourism to help protect the environment in the region.

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Peru

All UNESCO World Heritage Sites are important, whether spiritually, culturally, environmentally, or otherwise, and we support the protection and preservation of all such sites.

Peru is a wonderful destination, and we would recommend that everyone tries to visit Peru during their lifetime to experience all that Peru has to offer, but we strongly ask that people preserve all sites, show respect for nature and archaeology, and act within the principle of UNESCO and our own beliefs to protect the wonders of our planet for future generations.

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