Peru has a population of just over 29 million, the majority of which lives in urban areas. According to the 2007 census, 75.9 percent of the population is urbanized, leaving only a quarter of the population to occupy Peru’s rural areas.
Many of Peru’s major cities are the capitals of their corresponding regions. These act as both administrative and commercial hubs, attracting rural workers who in turn swell the urban ranks.
The following list of major Peruvian cities is ordered according to population. The population figures are from the 2007 census, the last major census in Peru.
Lima (and Callao)
Population: 8,472,935; Region: Lima and Constitutional Province of Callao
Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 to serve as a new port and center of power for the Spanish conquistadors. Today, the coastal capital dominates Peru. No other Peruvian city has yet to pass one million inhabitants, while Lima continues to push beyond the eight million mark. Considering Peru’s entire population stands at about 29 million, Lima’s influence on the entire country is undeniable and unsurprising. Peru is heavily centralized around the capital, both politically and economically.
Callao is a city and province in its own right, but Lima has engulfed the port city. Callao now forms part of the larger Lima Metropolitan Area.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru. Officially founded in 1540, the “White City” retains much of its colonial charm (the historic center is one of 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru) while being surrounded by dramatic geographical features. Located in the far south of Peru, Arequipa sits in the lower Andes at about 7,660 feet (2,335 m) above sea level. The active El Misti volcano looms in the distance, while nearby canyons such as Colca and Cotahuasi are among the deepest in the world.
682,834; La Libertad
Trujillo is an economic hub on the north coast of Peru. The conquistador Diego de Almagro founded the city in 1535 in an area already inhabited by native civilizations. Modern Trujillo has a well-preserved colonial core with numerous pre-Columbian ruins in the surrounding area, the most famous of which are Chan Chan and the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (the Temples of the Sun and Moon). Trujillo is also a culturally significant city, particularly well known for traditional marinera dancing, the Peruvian Paso horse and excellent regional cuisine.
A few hours north of Trujillo sits the city of Chiclayo, the second largest city in Northern Peru. Chiclayo was a late bloomer in terms of population growth, but saw increased urbanization in the 1800s. Its proximity to the coast -- and later its location along the Pan-American Highway -- eventually turned Chiclayo into a commercial hub to rival Trujillo. The city is the overland gateway to towns and cities in the interior of Northern Peru, with a major highway running east from Chiclayo as far as Tarapoto in the high jungle. As the main city in Lambayeque, Chiclayo is a popular base for exploring the region’s archaeological sites (most notably the site of Sipán) and excellent museums.
Piura is one of the oldest colonial settlements in South America, having been founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1532. Tucked inland in the far north of the country, the "Ciudad del Eterno Calor" (“City of Eternal Heat”) has high -- and often ferocious -- temperatures year round. The city is an important stop on the way to the nearby Ecuadorian border, but tourists rarely stay for long (preferring the beach town of Máncora). The city has many fine examples of colonial architecture and the atmosphere is welcoming if you can stand the heat.
Iquitos is something of an anomaly. Stuck way out in the middle of the northern Peruvian rainforest, it is the largest city in the world not reachable by road. Iquitos experienced rapid growth during the rubber boom of the late 1800s to early 1900s. The city remains an important port on the Amazon River, with industries such as lumber and oil replacing the former rush for rubber. Tourism is also a large part of the local economy; there are numerous agencies offering jungle tours and lodges. From Iquitos, you can hop on a boat and head all the way down the Amazon to the coast of Brazil.
Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, is now the capital of Peru’s tourist industry. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, while Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley attract hordes of tourists from across the globe. The entire Cusco region is a hub of traditional Andean culture, and the regional capital is home to numerous festivals and events.
Situated on the coast between Lima and Trujillo, Chimbote is largely overlooked by tourists. Being short on attractions, however, does not make this city any less important. In the 1830s, Chimbote was a small fishing village with less than 1,000 inhabitants. Following rapid development and growth during the 1960s and 1970s, Chimbote became what is now the largest fishing port in Peru.
Huancayo is a major Peruvian city in the Central Andes, both commercially and culturally. Colorful festivals take place throughout the year, while the city’s markets are some of the most interesting and traditional in Peru. Earthquakes have destroyed many of Huancayo’s colonial buildings over the years, but the city still has character. It’s not a prime tourist destination (although many tourists stop off on the way from Lima to Cusco), but it’s a rewarding city if you have time to explore.
Tacna sits in the extreme south of Peru, about 23 miles north of the Chilean border. The city has a constant buzz of commercial activity, with unceasing trade running between Tacna and its Chilean equivalent, Arica. Tourists rarely stick around in Tacna due to the lack of attractions. Its main function for foreign visitors is as a border-crossing destination.
The Rest of Peru’s Largest Cities
According to the 2007 census, the following cities in Peru all had populations in excess of 100,000:
- Ica (219,856; Ica)
- Juliaca (216,716; Puno)
- Pucallpa (204,772; Ucayali)
- Sullana (181,954; Piura)
- Cajamarca (162,326; Cajamarca)
- Chincha Alta (153,598; Ica)
- Ayacucho (151,019; Ayacucho)
- Huánuco (149 210; Huánuco)
- Puno (120,229; Puno)
- Tarapoto (117,184; San Martin)
- Huaraz (100,931; Ancash)
References:Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática: Censos Nacionales 2007: XI de Población y VI de Vivienda