Setting sail from Lima (Callao)
Peru's underrated capital enjoys a fine setting on the Pacific coast, and the handsome colonial-era buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas give clues to Lima's distinguished history; for three centuries this was the capital of the Spanish Americas, when the city grew rich on the back of plundered Inca gold. Modern Lima can be a little hectic, the roads often clogged with traffic, but the historic centre has an undeniable charm to it, and in recent years a clutch of innovative restaurants have helped to put Peruvian cuisine on the map.
This is the hop-off point to fly to Cusco and Machu Picchu, which is obviously a must-do, but schedule time in Lima too if you can, it’s a fascinating city.
The port of Paracas is surrounded by the spectacular landscapes of the Paracas National Reserve, where the desert meets the ocean along a coastline of sandy beaches and spectacular cliffs teeming with birdlife. Look out for species including pink flamingos, Humboldt penguins and condors.
Peru: Arequipa (Matarani)
The port of Matarani is the gateway to Peru’s second city, Arequipa. Boasting a spectacular setting against a backdrop of three snow-capped volcanoes, this independently-minded city dazzles visitors with its gleaming white colonial buildings, sizzling culinary scene and a host of active pursuits in the surrounding canyons.
Arica sits at the northern tip of Chile, known as ‘the land of the eternal spring’ thanks to its temperate year-round climate. Sightseeing options include the War of the Pacific battlefield at El Morro and the breathtaking altiplano scenery of Lauca National Park, a stunning high-altitude landscape of snow-dusted volcanoes and shimmering lakes.
Situated in the far north of Chile, the golden sands of Iquique attract both sunseekers and thrillseekers; surfing and paragliding are particularly popular here thanks to the clear skies and the wind coming in off the Pacific. The city is also home to some charming old mansions, remnants of a 19th century nitrate mining boom.
The busy port of Coquimbo is the gateway to the charming colonial city of La Serena, one of the oldest in Chile, where you’ll find attractive architecture and a fine stretch of beach. Other nearby sights include the fertile Elqui and Limarí Valleys, home to excellent wineries and ancient petroglyphs.
Arriving in Valparaíso
Characterful, colourful and a little chaotic, the port city of Valparaíso enjoys a somewhat awkward setting, scattered across 45 vertiginous hills. Thanks to this difficult topography the city streets are punctuated by steep staircases and funicular elevators, and energetic explorers will be rewarded with wonderful views of the pastel hued buildings that hug the slopes. Valparaíso's most famous former resident was the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and you can visit one of his former residences, La Sebastiana, which now houses a small museum.
Although there are museums and some great architecture, what you really mustn’t miss is the vibe of this quirky and characterful town, so take the time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the views.
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Where to stay in Lima
We like the Country Club Lima Hotel for a bit of colonial style.
See more of Peru
Travel south from Lima to Nazca to see the extraordinary Nazca Lines – well worth the journey, and stay on at the beach if you have time to spare.
Where to stay in Valparaíso
The 23 room Palacio Astoreca comprises two buildings, including a completely restored national monument.
For contrast, visit clean and orderly Viña del Mar just up the coast.