- Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, Lima: The world's largest private collection of pre-Columbian art focuses on the Moche dynasty (A.D. 200-700) and its extraordinary ceramics. Packed shelves in this 18th-century colonial building hold an incredible 45,000 pieces. And it wouldn't be a proper presentation of the Moche culture without a Sala Erótica, dedicated to the culture's shockingly explicit ceramic sexual depictions.
- Museo de la Nación, Lima: The National Museum traces the art and history of the earliest inhabitants to the Inca Empire. It's sprawling but very well designed, with scale models of major archaeological sites and great carved totems and textiles.
- Convento y Museo de San Francisco, Lima: The capital's best colonial-era church, the Convent of St. Francis is a striking 17th-century baroque complex with gorgeous glazed ceramic tiles and carved ceilings. The museum holds excellent examples of religious art and a splendid library, but deep beneath the church are some creepy catacombs, dug in the 16th century to house the remains of tens of thousands of priests and parishioners.
- Convento y Museo de Santa Catalina, Cusco: This handsome, early-17th-century convent was constructed on top of the Acllawasi, where the Inca emperor sequestered his chosen Virgins of the Sun. The museum's collection of colonial and religious art is terrific. It's the best place in Peru to study the painters of the famed Escuela Cusqueña, which forged a unique style of Amerindian art by combining indigenous and Spanish styles.
- Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco: This handsomely designed museum of pre-Columbian art possesses some pristine pieces representing the whole of Peru's history, all taken from Lima's overwhelming Larco Herrera museum (see above). Housed in a colonial mansion on one of Cusco's prettiest squares, the museum is small enough to be engaging rather than exhausting.
- Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa: The Convent of Santa Catalina, founded in 1579, is hands-down the greatest religious monument in Peru. More than a convent, it's an extraordinary architectural complex, with Spanish-style cobblestone streets, passageways, plazas, and cloisters, where more than 200 sequestered nuns once lived (only a handful remain). Spending a sunny afternoon here is like being transported to another world: a small village in Andalucía, Spain.
- Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, Lambayeque: Stunningly modern on the outside—yet echoing the north's ancient Moche pyramids—this museum holds the spectacular tomb of the Lord of Sipán within. One of Peru's most important archaeological discoveries, El Señor de Sipán is a Moche royal figure, buried 1,700 years ago with a wealth of ceremonial ornaments and treasures. The museum is perhaps the best expression of Peru's ancient grandeur.
- Conjunto Monumental de Belén, Cajamarca: A historic architectural complex of carved volcanic stone, Belén comprises an extraordinary colonial church and two former hospitals housing medical and archaeological exhibits, including textiles and ceramics dating back to 1500 B.C. and interesting ethnographic displays.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.