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The Best Museums in Peru

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by Laura (subscribe)
Wanderer and writer. Works for a South America tour company:
Published March 29th 2013
Learn the Stories behind Peru's ancient and colonial history
Most people visit Peru for its remarkable human history. Home to the largest pre-Colombia city in the America, some of the earliest evidence of humans, and of course the famous Inca Empire, Peru is packed with historical sites and stories from the past. However, if you want to understand what you're seeing, you should probably hit up a few museums along the way. Here are some of the best museums in Peru, which also happen to be my personal favorites.

Larco Museum – Lima

The best museum in all of Peru for a simple and visually appealing introduction to Peru's ancient cultures is the Larco Museum, officially called Museo Arqueologico Rafael Larco Herrera. Divided into sections based on location (north, central, and southern coast, and the highlands), the museum takes you through the development of civilization in Peru long before the Incas were around, such as the Nazca, Moche, Chavin, and Wari cultures. All together the Larco Museum houses the largest private collection of pre-Colombian art in a beautifully reconfigured 18th century mansion. It also has an intriguing and popular display of ancient erotic art.
Location: Av. Bolívar 1515, Pueblo Libre, Lima

(Image credit: Bruce Tuten)

San Francisco Convent and Museum – Lima

Also in Lima, the church of San Francisco is a combination of sanctuary, catacombs, and museum all in one. Built originally in the 1550s and rebuilt in the 1670s after being damaged by an earthquake, the yellow Baroque façade is striking piece of colonial architecture. But what's inside is every better. Guided tours take you through a 17th century library containing over 20,000 historic books, past Lima's largest collection of Seville blue tiles, and down into the creepy catacombs where bones from over 70,000 people are sorted by bone type (femurs with femurs, for example) and exposed in open pits, sometimes arranged into patterns.
Location: Jr. Ancash 471, Central Lima

(Image credit: Phillie Casablanca)

"Santuarios Andinos" Museum – Arequipa

This small museum has a few interesting displays, but the real attraction is one exhibit: Juanita the Ice Maiden. One of the best preserved mummies in the world, "Juanita" was only 12 or 13 years old when she was sacrificed. Sometime between 1450 and 1480, she was taken to the top of Mount Ampato by Inca priests, given a sedative, and killed by a blow to the head. She likely walked to her death willingly after spending her life in a special convent dedicated to raising children slated for sacrifice, believed to be a great honor.
Location: La Merced 110, Arequipa

Monasterio de Santa Catalina – Arequipa

The Arequipa Monastery is a working convent, though part of its sprawling complex is open to the public with informative displays and descriptions. Built in 1580 for nuns of the Dominican Second Order, the complex once housed 220 nuns, down to only 40 today. It is a beautiful maze of brightly colored walls, well-tended gardens, and twisting passageways. You can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering through the various rooms and sections, losing yourself in a piece of living Colonial Peru.
Location: Santa Catalina 301, Arequipa

(Image credit: morrissey)

Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán - Lambayeque

One Peru's more modern museums, built in 2002, the Spian complex requires a trip to the northern coastal town of Chiclayo, and then a skip over to the village of Lambayeque. But the trip is worth it. The three-story building designed to represent a pyramid holds over 1,400 gold and jeweled pieces discovered in the Royal Tombs of Sipan. The 1987 discovery of this royal Moche tomb is one of the richest tombs ever discovered in the Americas. The museum explains not only the sparkly artifacts, but also the Moche culture and how the site was discovered and excavated.
Av. Juan Pablo y Guzmán, Lambayeque
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Why? To learn about Peru's history
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