Destination exploration: Officials are striving to promote adventure and nature tourism, while working to draw visitors to the north of the country


As visitor numbers at Machu Picchu reach saturation, Peru is working to attract travellers with offerings beyond its most-popular site. Indeed, the goal of the Peru Travel Mart industry fair in May 2019 is to strengthen the country’s position as an adventure and nature tourism destination, while driving the development of segments such as corporate meetings and events. “From a promotional perspective, our focus is on diversification,” Marisol Acosta, director of tourism at the Commission for the Promotion of Peruvian Exports and Tourism (Comisión de Promoción del Perú para la Exportación y el Turismo, PromPerú), told OBG. “Peru has been well known as a cultural destination for some time, and our cuisine is a benchmark of quality internationally, but we were behind in positioning ourselves as a destination for nature and adventure tourism.”

Go Bold

Acosta says the number of foreign visitors engaging in adventure activities grew by 28% annually between 2013 and 2017, which bodes well for increasing the economic impact of tourism. According to research from PromPerú, although visiting cultural sites remains the most common activity for foreign travellers, adventure and nature tourists tend to spend more money and stay in the country longer. In 2018 adventure tourists spent an average of $1748 per person per trip and stayed for an average of 13 nights, while nature tourists spent $1745 and stayed for 12 nights. That year cultural tourists – who principally visit Machu Picchu – spent much less, at approximately $1295, but also stayed for an average of 12 nights.

Furthermore, a 2018 study by the Conservation Strategy Fund found that the direct economic impact of tourism in Peru’s protected natural areas in 2017 amounted to $723m, of which $165m went directly to households as income. The study also estimated that tourism in these areas generated 36,000 jobs that year.

Some natural sites are showing promising trends. For example, the number of visitors to the Paracas National Reserve, which is the closest nature park to the capital city, more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2018, to approximately 427,000.

Heading North

Part of the diversification challenge is ensuring that tourism also develops in the north of the country. The less-travelled region begins at the Pacific Ocean, includes a strip of desert and the cloud forests, and ends with the Amazon rainforest bordering Brazil. While one focus is marketing campaigns – the 2019 Peru Travel Mart included training seminars about the north’s Amazonian region – the principal hurdle to development is that the region is not as well connected as the south of the country. “The lack of connectivity is why we have been investing in infrastructure in the north,” Acosta told OBG. “There is a very big opportunity for hotel and transport development there.” Indeed, the government invested PEN71m (. (ambien) 5m) to install a cable car route from Tingo Viejo to Kuélap, a pre-Incan citadel in the Amazonas region at an altitude of 3000 metres. Access previously required either a two-hour, 32-km drive up a dirt track, or a half-day trek. The cable car, which entails just a 20-minute trip, opened in March 2017 and brought immediate results. Visitor numbers to Kuélap reached 102,905 that year, compared to 56,010 the year before. Growth continued in 2018 when more than 110,000 people visited.

In another boon to accessibility, northern Peru became internationally connected in June 2016 when Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, began to operate two flights per week between its Panama City hub and Chiclayo, 770 km north of Lima. In a press release announcing the new service, the airline said the flight would “increase opportunities for tourism and business in the northern part of [Peru]”. In December 2018 the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Tourism (Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo, MINCETUR) said it plans to upgrade Chiclayo’s airport to further boost tourism in the city and surrounding areas.

In July 2018 Chile’s LATAM Airlines began operating three flights per week between Cusco and Iquitos, the remote capital of the Loreto region at the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon. This service provides foreign visitors to Machu Picchu an easy way to explore a different region of the country.

Projects in the north that are focal points of public investment include a tourist complex at the Inca Baths in Cajamarca worth PEN17m ($5.1m), which was 95% complete as of March 2019. Other initiatives include developing services at the swamps of the Los Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary and the waterfront at Piura. The private sector is also set to do its part in promoting the north of the country. In April 2019 Carlos Canales Anchorena, president of the National Chamber of Tourism, signed acts of collaboration with the presidents of regional tourism chambers in the northern departments of Cajamarca, Tumbes, Amazonas and La Libertad. The documents cover expanding connectivity in these regions and investment in core attractions.


Another reason to visit the north is its food. “Northern cuisine has its own personality and is one of Peruvian gastronomy’s greatest assets,” Acosta told OBG. “We are gradually increasing awareness about this cuisine.” The World Travel Awards have named Peru the globe’s leading culinary destination seven years in a row; thus, it is only a matter of time before the regional flavours of the north are recognised by visitors. According to a May 2019 government press release about three Peruvian oil brands winning a prize at an international competition held in France, Peruvian products dominate the world’s most-demanding markets. Peru displayed its culinary prestige alongside the gastronomic nation when the cities of Pisco and France’s Cognac officially launched their cultural and touristic collaboration in December 2018 with the creation of a “PisCognac Sour” cocktail.

Yet beyond the increasing number of high-profile chefs and famous restaurants in Lima, there is much to develop. PromPerú highlighted in February 2019 that culinary tourists were seeking local experiences, cooking classes, home-cooked meals and street food. This presents an ideal opportunity for Peru to unite its foodie reputation with its desire to promote new regions of the country, while bringing locals and tourists together over a meal or snack.

Further expanding culinary tourism will likely prove to be a high-value endeavour. Food and drink was the fourth-largest component of global tourism spending in 2017, behind transport, shopping and accommodation, according to analytics firm GlobalData.

Hotel Stays

While efforts to diversify tourism offerings and promote less-travelled destinations is well under way, MINCETUR data on where international visitors choose their accommodation makes it clear that the north of the country remains largely unexplored. Lima (6.6m) and Cusco (3.8m) accounted for 73% of all international arrivals staying at hotels and other lodgings in Peru in 2018. The next four most-visited regions are all in the south: Arequipa (624,541), Puno (500,786), Tacna (500,011) and Ica (356,484). Combined, those six regions accounted for 87% of Peru’s international hotel arrivals in 2018. The vast Amazonian region of Loreto, which covers almost one-third of Peru’s territory, was the northern region with the most international hotel visitors by far, at 352,429. This placed it seventh nationally in terms of foreign arrivals.

Although Lima dominates the hotel market for domestic tourists, accounting for 56% of arrivals in 2018, locals do not make such frequent visits to Machu Picchu; Peruvians staying at hotels in Cusco make up 3% of the national total. Furthermore, several northern departments take a far bigger share of hotel arrivals among Peruvians than they do foreign visitors. Whereas San Martín, in the upper Amazon, accounts for 0.3% of foreign hotel arrivals, it receives 2.9% of domestic arrivals. The coastal region of Lambayeque receives 0.3% of foreign hotel visitors compared to 2% of Peruvians, and Cajamarca, which borders Ecuador, hosts 2% of local arrivals versus 0.2% of international visitors.