Although seemingly little more than a barren desert at first glance, this arid region spanning between the southern Peruvian Andes and the Pacific Ocean is home to a surprising number of attractions. From a lush oasis to long-lost relics, here are the best things to see and do in Peru’s southern coastal region.
Catch some sun in Mollendo
When the sun is shining (December to February), this picturesque beach town becomes a hit with sun-seeking holidaymakers from Arequipa and elsewhere in Peru. Well away from the well-trodden gringo trail, very few foreigners find themselves here which makes for an entirely authentic Peruvian seaside experience.
Marvel at the architecture of Arequipa
A little further inland lies one of South America’s true colonial gems, an architectural masterpiece which many consider the most spectacular in Peru.
Trek the Colca Canyon
Those heading to Arequipa would be mad to miss Colca, a panoramic canyon dotted with traditional Inca villages where giant condors glide effortlessly overhead. Like so many other natural wonders, the best way to appreciate such a marvel is on foot.
Pay homage to the dead
Probably the region’s most grisly attraction, the Chauchilla Cemetery is home to vast collection of mummified pre-Inca remains, many of which remain excavated in full public view. Movie buffs may recognize the site from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Drink some pisco
The age-old debate continues to rage between Chile and Peru as to who exactly came up with this tangy grape flavored spirit. Each country claims it as their own, but few places are as passionate about pisco as Ica, Peru’s premier grape growing region. A multitude of vineyards means travelers can sample some top-shelf product straight from the source.
Get a history fix in the Casa-Hacienda San José
Situated just outside the small coastal city of Chincha, this grand colonial estate provides a fascinating if somewhat unsettling insight into the history of the African slave trade in Peru. Among the many historical remnants on display are a series of spooky catacombs which visitors can explore by candlelight.
Go sandboarding in Huacachina
An essential item on any thrill-seeking backpacker’s bucket list, sandboarding down the towering sand dunes that surround the hidden oasis town of Huacachina is every bit as epic as it sounds.
Spot some wildlife at the Islas Ballestas
Colloquially referred to as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’, these wildlife-rich islands off the coast of Paracas offer an extraordinary naturalist experience for a fraction of the cost of their more famous Ecuadorian cousin.
Uncover the mystery of the Nazca Lines
An age-old puzzle of incredible proportions, scientists are still debating how and why these strange markings in the desert were made. Seeing them for yourself from the air is a truly special experience, while a museum down below offers some interesting theories on how the world-famous Nazca Lines came to be.
Enjoy everything Lima has to offer
This massive metropolis of some 10 million inhabitants has everything you would expect from a city of its size, including an unrivaled fine dining scene, electric nightlife and an abundance of historical attractions that keep travelers lingering longer than expected.