As of September 2011, UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes 936 sites spread across 153 countries. Eleven of those sites are located in Peru, with six more waiting on the Tentative List. The 11 World Heritage Sites in Peru encompass some of the nation’s most spectacular and significant landmarks. These sites, according to the World Heritage Convention’s selection criteria, are all of “outstanding universal value.”
Chan Chan Archeological Zone
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1986
The extensive Chan Chan archeological site, built around 850 AD, is located on the north coast of Peru, about three miles west of Trujillo. The complex served as the capital of the Chimú Kingdom, a major regional power before its fall to the Inca Empire in 1470 AD. The adobe-brick site, comprising nine separate citadels, was the largest city in pre-Columbian America. Long-term exposure to the elements has resulted in widespread erosion, but Chan Chan’s scale remains impressive nonetheless. Tourists typically enter the Tschudi Complex, the best preserved (and most heavily restored) of the nine city sections.
Chavín Archeological Site
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1985
The pre-Inca Chavín Culture developed in the Andean highlands between approximately 1500 and 300 BC. The Chavín archeological site, named after the nearby village of Chavín de Huántar, was the civilization’s main religious center. Different stone structures, such as the Old Temple, New Temple and the circular plaza, divide the site into distinct sections, with passageways running between them. Expect to see pyramid-like temples, huge monoliths and bas-relief sculptures of jaguars, condors and other Andean creatures.
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1994
The Nazca Lines have baffled archeologists ever since Paul Kosok first began investigating them in the 1930s. Lines, geographic shapes and animal designs lie scratched into the Nazca Desert, with the largest figures reaching more than 600 feet across. Flights over the lines have become a standard stop on the Peruvian gringo trail. From a light aircraft, you can marvel at images of hummingbirds, monkeys, orcas and lizards as they stare up toward the gods.
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 2009
Despite being one of the least visited sites on the list, the Sacred City of Caral-Supe is arguably the most significant. The pyramids of Caral date back to between 2600 and 2000 BC, making the site the oldest known center of civilization in the Americas (and, potentially, the “mother city” for later cultures). Caral is located about 125 miles north of Lima.
Mixed (Cultural and Natural) World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1983
The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the most famous archeological site in South America and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Built in the mid- to late-1400s, the citadel is an unrivalled example of Inca planning, masonry techniques and ingenuity. The entire complex sits upon a craggy mountain, surrounded by densely vegetated peaks and plunging canyons. UNESCO also recognizes Machu Picchu’s natural importance; the area is home to vulnerable species such as the spectacled bear, pampas cat and the Andean condor.
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1983
As the Inca Empire came to prominence in the 15th century, so too did the Inca capital of Cusco. Under the Inca Pachacutec, both the empire and the city flourished -- until, that is, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The empire fell even more swiftly than it had risen, leaving the Spaniards in control of the city. Old World cathedrals soon lay upon Inca foundations, creating the intriguing mix of pre-Columbian and colonial architecture that defines Cusco today.
Historic Center of Lima
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1988
The Historic Center of Lima encompasses 200 hectares of the city’s colonial core. Founded in 1535, the “City of Kings” remains a showcase for colonial architecture despite earthquakes and urban development. According to UNESCO, the majority of the monuments within the World Heritage zone are typical examples of Hispano-American Baroque from the 17th and 18th centuries. Notable structures, such as the Palacio de Gobierno and Lima Cathedral, surround Lima's Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor). Nearby highlights include the Convent of San Francisco, the Plaza de San Martin and colonial homes such as Casa Aliaga and Palacio Torre Tagle.
More Things to See and Do in Lima
Historical Center of the City of Arequipa
Cultural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 2000
Arequipa’s colonial center is arguably the most elegant in Peru. The zone covers 49 blocks from the original Spanish construction period (dating from the city’s foundation in 1540) and a further 24 from the later colonial period until the 19th century. The grand Plaza de Armas, with its cathedral and ornate archways, lies at the heart of the World Heritage zone. Chapels, colonial homes and convents are dotted throughout the historic area, built from the region’s white volcanic rock. Don’t miss the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a walled-in city within a city not far from the Plaza de Armas.
Huascarán National Park
Natural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1985
Deep ravines, glacial lakes and craggy, ice-encrusted mountains help make Huascarán National Park one of Peru’s most impressive natural regions. Located in the Cordillera Blanca range, the park is home to Mount Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru. The park is a popular destination for climbers and trekkers as well as adventurous wildlife spotters. Spectacled bears, pumas and mountain cats roam the area, while Andean condors, cordillera hawks and giant hummingbirds take to the skies above.
Manú National Park
Natural World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1987
According to UNESCO, the biological diversity found in Manú National Park exceeds that of any other place on Earth. The park is the largest in Peru, covering almost 6,000 square miles within the departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios. Inhabitants of the park include more than 800 species of birds, 200 mammal species and at least four nomadic indigenous groups.
Río Abiseo National Park
Mixed World Heritage Site -- Inscribed 1990
The Río Abiseo National Park was originally created to protect the area’s fauna and fauna, many of which are endemic to this cloud-forested upland region in the department of San Martin. Following the discovery of more than 30 pre-Columbian sites within the park, the area became equally important archeologically. Natural inhabitants include the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, North Andean huemul and giant armadillo. Notable archeological sites include Gran Pajatén and the Manachaqui Cave.
Future World Heritage Sites in Peru?
As of September 2011, Peru has six properties waiting on UNESCO’s Tentative List. According to UNESCO, these are the sites that each country “intends to consider for nomination during the following years.”
- Historic Center of the City of Trujillo (1996)
- Archeological Complex of Pachacamac (1996)
- The Great Inka Trail: state transportation system originally named "Qhapac Ñan" (2001)
- The Historic Centre of Cajamarca (2002)
- Lake Titicaca (2005)
- Sistema Vial Andino/Qhapaq Ñan (2010)