As one of the most biodiverse nations worldwide, Peru encompasses desert, mountains, jungle and coastline. Set out out on a trail through the country to discover some of its most unique regions.
David Bellamy, an English botanist and environmental educator, once said: “If there were a planetary catastrophe and I had the possibility to choose a country to save and reconstruct the planet, without a doubt, I would choose Peru.” Peru is one of the most biodiverse nations worldwide, with so much more than the hiking trails through the Andes and Amazonian jungle that it’s famous for. Visit these regions to experience some of the country’s most unique environments for yourself.
AREQUIPA AND THE COLCA CANYON
For one of the world’s deepest canyons. A local in Cusco described Arequipa as, “the city Peruvians like to visit”. Arequipa is home to an abundance of historical monuments, museums and restaurants, with a nightlife scene too. But it is also notably the gateway to the famous Colca Canyon, one of the earth’s deepest canyons at 4,160 metres, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Here you can see the largest bird on earth, the condor, too. Many different tours and treks of the Colca Canyon can be taken from Arequipa.
For an oasis amidst rolling sand dunes. Just outside the city of Ica is the desert oasis, Huacachina. This town is a tiny dot in the middle of a great expanse of huge rolling sand dunes; the town is entirely surrounded by these orange sand mountains that stretch all the way to the horizon. Seeing this part of Peru almost makes you feel like you’re walking on the moon. People from across the world travel to Huacachina to sandboard and ride across the desert in dune buggies, with rentals for the equipment widely available in town.
Huacachina, a desert oasis in southern Peru.
THE NAZCA LINES
For mysterious formations etched into the land. Right outside Huacachina are clusters of historic Nazca Lines. These symbolic pattern formations depict hands, trees and monkeys, and are believed to have been drawn by a pre-Inca civilization. In contrast to the nearby sand dunes, these lines are drawn in the hardened bedrock of vast, flat desert terrain, and because rainfall is so scarce in this area, the lines are remarkably well preserved. Though the origin and meaning of these lines is still a mystery, many believe they were drawn as an offering to the gods. These massive etchings can now be seen from viewing towers or by taking a flight in one of the small planes that are available for tours.
PARACAS AND THE BALLESTAS ISLANDS
For islands inhabited by an abundance of wildlife. The small port town of Paracas is the setting off point for boat trips to the Ballestas islands, which have become known for their extraordinarily rich ecosystem of seabirds, dolphins and packs of sea lions. Aside from offering the unique opportunity to get up close to these species, the incredible density of wildlife makes the islands an important research area for biologists. If you’re interested in seeing Peru’s coastal wildlife, this site is definitely worth a visit. A local museum gives more of an insight into the area’s unique environment, with tips on how to better preserve the islands’ natural resources and wildlife.
LAKE TITICACA AND THE UROS ISLANDS
For inhabited floating reed villages. Just outside the city of Puno, and straddling the Bolivia-Peru border, Lake Titicaca sits at 3,810 metres above sea level and is impressively vast as the largest lake in South America by volume. It’s here on the Peruvian side of the lake that you can see the floating reed islands that have been built and inhabited by the Uru people. These floating villages were originally built in the middle of Lake Titicaca to create a self-sufficient society, away from an oppressive government. Now, they are a popular site for travellers, with tours taken from Puno.
For reminders in the landscape of the Inca empire. Cusco was the capital of the ancient Inca Empire, and as a result the city is home to some remarkable historic artifacts. Many people come here to acclimatise to the region’s high attitude before pressing on to Machu Picchu, but it’s worth staying longer to appreciate the area’s history and surrounding landscape. Cusco is at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu, with some sites set in a different landscape altogether, like the ruined fortress of Saqsaywaman where amidst the mountains you can see layers of Inca agricultural terraces. If you are planning to hike Machu Picchu and acclimatise in Cusco, take the opportunity to see the diverse landscape around the city too.