UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru
Every 18th April UNESCO celebrates World Heritage Day. As of 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has 1,031 World Heritage Sites around the globe, with 12 of those sites being in Peru. The criteria for selection is quite strict – as well as being of “universal value” selected sites must meet at least one other criteria such as ‘representing a masterpiece of human creative genius’ or to ‘contain areas of exceptional natural beauty’. You can see the full list of criteria here on UNESCO’s website.
Peru is extremely proud of its heritage, and being awarded 12 World Heritage sites. From ‘lost cities’ and national parks to city centres and even road systems, Peru will always capture the hearts of people discovering the wonders of the world.
Here is a glimpse of the twelve World Heritage Sites found in Peru:
Qhapaq Ñan, or Main Andean Road
With the collaboration of five countries: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador, this unique road system in Peru is now included in the World Heritage List. Built by the Incas, although party constructed on pre-Inca infrastructure, this 30,000 km network of roads stretches from the peaks of the Andes to the coastal area. The road system covered rainforests, valleys, and deserts, and was built to communicate and trade with other communities. UNESCO finally approved the inclusion of Peru’s newest World Heritage Site in 2014, a process which took 13 years.
Sacred City of Caral-Supe
According to experts, the rise of civilization in the Americas started in the Sacred City of Caral-Supe. Based on their findings, Caral-Supe was highly developed with complex architectural designs including six large pyramidal structures. It is a wonderful example of architecture and town planning, influencing nearby settlements and creating a blueprint for development in a large section of the Peruvian coast. The city became part of the UNESCO list in 2009.
Historical Center of Arequipa
The main reason UNESCO included Arequipa in the Heritage list in 2000 is its mixture of colonial and native architectural techniques. The majority of the buildings here are constructed from white volcanic rock known as sillar which gives Arequipa a distinctive character. The historic center is filled with unique archways, courtyards, vaults, and Baroque structures, all demonstrating its worthwhile addition to the UNESCO list.
Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana
Simply known as the Nasca lines, these “lines” or “scratches” in the dessert of southern Peru were made around 500BC and AD500. The lines and geoglyphs are mind-boggling even to the archaeological masters, and the real purpose of the lines remains a mystery, although there are many theories. Best appreciated from the air, UNESCO named the Nasca lines a Heritage Site in 1994.
Rio Abiseo National Park
This unique national park is found in the San Martin Region of Peru. It is home to a high level of endemic species of flora and fauna, including the yellow-tailed woolly monkey which was previously thought extinct, but was found to be living in the area. Included in the Heritage list in 1990, the park also houses numerous archaeological sites which blend in harmoniously with the landscape.
Historic Center of Lima
In 1535, Francisco Pizarro founded the Historic Center of Lima, also known as “La Cuidad de los Reyes” or “The City of Kings.” The city was of great political, economic cultural importance in the New World. Although earthquakes have changed the architecture of Lima, there still remains classic examples from the period such as the Plaza de Armas and the Convent of San Francisco. UNESCO included the center in Peru’s Heritage List in 1988.
Manú National Park
A reserve encompassing over 1.7 million hectares, Manú National Park is home to over a thousand bird and primate species, making it one of the UNESCO protected areas with the highest biodiversity. Fortunately for all the animals residing in the park, including rare species such as the giant armadillo, giant otter, and jaguar, UNESCO added Manú National Park to Peru’s World Heritage Sites in 1987.
Chan Chan Archaeological Zone
Reaching its peak in the 15th century, Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, and was the largest city in pre-Columbian America. Around 30,000 people resided in the city, which had its own reservoirs, ceremonial and burial chambers, and temples. This uniquely structured city became part of the UNESCO Heritage List in 1986.
Huascaran National Park
The Huascaran National Park has unique biodiversity, as part of the World’s highest tropical mountain range. Glacial lakes, and tropical glaciers, snow-covered peaks, and Peru’s highest mountain, the Huascaran are home to over 100 recording species of birds including the Andean condor and giant hummingbird. Mammals such as the endangered Vicuña thrive here, and puma and spectacled bears are also found. The Huascaran National Park became a World Heritage Site in 1985.
Chavín de Huantar
One of the earliest and best-known pre-Colombian sites in the Americas, this former place of worship showcases a unique appearance. With terraces, squares and dressed stones, the site became a meeting place of people with different religious, ideological, and cultural backgrounds. Because Chavin’s unique contribution to the religious world, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1985.
Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu or “Old Mountain” is the most famous of Peru’s World Heritage Sites. The complex, built during 1450, is 2,430 feet above sea level and is in the middle of a tropical forest in Urubamba Valley. The outside world learned about the ‘Lost City of the Inca’ only in 1911 due to its hidden location. Recognizing its outstanding cultural and natural values, UNESCO made the sanctuary a World Heritage site in 1983.
City of Cusco
Peru received its first World Heritage Site for the ancient Incan city Cuzco. In the 1500s, the Spaniards conquered the city, but decided not to destroy the extraordinary structures built by the Incans, instead building over the ruins and incorporating their Spanish influence. In 1983, UNESCO added Peru for the first time in the Heritage list, acknowledging its complex urban centre and distinct religious and administrative functions.