Peru is the third largest country in South America. It’s known for long history and grand civilizations that used to live here, particularly the Inca people, impressive sights and many preserved monuments still enchanting as when they were made. It’s obvious you’ll have many things to do in Peru and in order to help you plan everything, we prepared this article for you.
Of course, for the first-timers, Machu Picchu is the place to be and you have to experience it along with the Inca Trail. The awe surrounding this historic monument is absolutely justified and you have to see it for yourself. Inca Empire isn’t the only great civilization living and creating here. All around Peru you will see temples and remains of old cities that will tell you stories you could have never imagine before! And it’s not just about the past and what has been, Peru today is growing into a modern society with strong identity and understanding of the need for protection of their cultural heritage. Lima will enchant you with its fast-paced life combined with beautiful green parks and fantastic coast inviting you to sit and relax (or run all around it:)). Peru is the perfect place to go if you want to do things like trekking, hiking, climbing, surfing. As previously said, there are many options and here’s my suggestion of best things to do and places to see in Peru:
1. Machu Picchu and Inca trail
Its not a surprise that one of the first things that comes to most people’s minds when mentioning Peru and things to do in Peru is famous Inca trail taking you to the massive monument of Machu Picchu. Built in 1400s, Machu Picchu remained hidden when the Spaniards came. Despite the fact they’ve conquered the entire Inca empire, Machu Picchu was found only in the beginning of the 20th century. (If you feel curious about the other Machu Picchu info, you can check out our incredible infographic on Machu Picchu facts).
As it is the most visited site in Peru, the government came up with strict rules in order to preserve it properly. The big part of Machu Picchu adventure is the hike itself. You may need some time to adjust to the weather conditions, and you may have some altitude sickness in the beginning, but be sure you are signed for an unforgettable adventure. There are several types of hikes you can do depending on how fit or prepared you are. As all travellers agree – Machu Picchu will be one of the most memorable experiences you will have.
People usually visit Cuzco on their way to Machu Picchu usually without spending much time here, but actually there are many reasons to stay here a bit longer. Cuzco is the oldest continuously inhabited city of both American continents. During Inca period, it was a developed urban center with administrative and religious functions. Spaniards who came in the 16th century preserved its basic structure and started building Baroque churches and palaces over the ruins of the former Inca city. The city is recognized by UNESCO and after learning more about its history, through visiting its impressive ruins and monuments everywhere, you will understand its importance.
The best part of it? People living there are so open and friendly you will have no difficulties in experiencing the culture at all, even if they don’t speak the language they are warm and open towards people and always willing to help. They’ve preserved their traditional heritage and live by its norms today as well, so visiting Cuzco is one of the best things to do in Peru if you want to sense their unique tradition.
San Pedro market is one of the places to look for while touring the city. Vibrant atmosphere, delicious food and colorful sights are what you should expect while there. It’s recommended to visit this place with a tour guide since he’s the one that can will help you with language, prices and local customs if needed.
San Blas is a picturesque part of Cuzco often described as ‘neighborhood with personality’, and it’s the best place for buying local goods. Chocolate museum is one of the hot-spots of the city, all the choco-lovers should come here and learn how the chocolate is made. There’s an option for signing up for their special workshop where you can learn how to make chocolate on your own. Another way of experiencing Cuzco and local culture is through cooking classes, most of which are focused on local food and they are organized on eat-as-you-go basis.
If you are interested in seeing alpacas or llamas, you can do so just outside of the city at Awana Kancha where you can get to feed them. This place is great for checking out Peruvian textile processing techniques.
3. Amazon rain forest in Peru
Amazon rain forests are a wonder of their own, with thousands of species, some of which have not yet been officially discovered. The area produces 20% of world’s oxygen and is often called ‘Lungs of the Planet’. Amazon river flows through four countries one of which is Peru. Actually, right after Brazil, Peru is the second country in the world by the size of its rain forests. Only 5% of Peruvian people live in this area. If you love nature get excited about visiting Peru as this bio-diverse region takes up 60% of the country.
Iquitos, with its 500,000 inhabitants is the biggest populated area in the world that doesn’t have a road access to it. You can get there only by the riverboats and planes.
If planning a visit, plan up at least two days to spend here as this will give you enough time to get the sense of the place and familiarize yourself with the area at least a little bit. In case you want to visit the Tambopata Research Center as well, plan 4 days altogether.
4. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon with its depth of 4160 meters is one of the world’s deepest canyons. Travelers come here to explore its scenic beauty, learn about region’s wildlife and see some of the remains of Inca culture. There are numerous agricultural terraces from Inca but also a pre-Inca period.
The depth of the canyon can be viewed the best from Cruz del Condor, and you can do it throughout the year.
The area offers a range of adventure activities and mystical tourism, depending on your interests. Here you can buy high quality handicrafts for quite affordable prices.
You should plan visiting capital of the region, which is also a second largest city of Peru – Arequipa, and Chivay, with its famous hot springs La Calera. Chivay has lots of interesting sights for explorers, and you can also see the amazing agricultural terraces centuries old but still used by the locals. The entire region offers something interesting in relation to their lifestyle and tradition that haven’t changed much since the arrival of conquistadors, in the 16th century. Plan on visiting Cruz del Cóndor cliff to see some of the incredible wildlife of the area. It is particularly filled with tourists in the morning as that’s when they have the best chance to see the birds. The hike might be quite difficult but it’s worth each step!
North of Colca, there is Mismi Nevado, always covered in snow, and the place where Amazon river is born. It took quite some time for scientists to agree where exactly the Amazon starts and National Geographic Society expedition finally discovered it, thanks to the high quality equipment they’ve used.
5. Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is located between Bolivia and Peru. If you’re staying in Peru, the best choice would be to go to Puno, the city considered to be the folklore capital of Peru. It’s also quite close to the famous Machu Picchu. The city is very important in the history of Incan civilization as the very first king of Incas, Manco Capac, was born here. In their mythology, Peruvians believe this is the place where the entire world was created.
The biggest island on the lake is on the Bolivian side of Titicaca, and its called Isla del Sol.
One of the most popular attractions over there are floating islands, made by pre-Incan people called Uros. They created the islands of totora reed and used it solely for defense purposes. In case of danger, they could easily move away on the lake. Currently, there are about 2000 Uros people living there. They make their living out of fishing, weaving and tourism as from the recent period. The tourism brings money but also some trouble for the locals as many people coming on a daily basis affect their traditional way of living and the work that needs to be done in order to maintain the islands.
6. Nazca Lines
Nazca Lines were spotted for the first time in 1930s when some people were flying across the area and saw the lines from the plane. Geologists believe Nazca people created them somewhere in period of 400 and 600 AD. Nazca Lines are spread over the 80 kilometers long dry plateau, between Pampa Colorada and Nazca towns. Although they were made using simple tools, due to the weather conditions in the region they remained preserved for centuries.
Nazca Lines are comprised of more than 70 different shapes that truthfully show shapes of plants, animals and insects. It is still not clear why they were created in the first place or what were they used for. Some scientists believe this was a part of religious processes of Nazca people who could have used them as ‘offerings’ to gods since they believed gods could see the drawings from heaven. This is widely spread opinion on the origins of drawings. However, some people argue that drawings are actually examples of massive looms used for making textiles.
7. Sand dunes in Huacachina (sandboarding)
If you’re up for some adventure in the desert, then look no more and go to sand dunes in Huacachina. No matter if you are experienced snowboarder or just a beginner, either way, sandboarding is bound to be awesome thing to do in Peru. For people going there for the first time, recommendation is to try it first while laying on your stomach and after some practice you can attempt standing on the board.
When preparing for this experience, as always in Peru, bear in mind layered clothing. Strong sunscreen, hat and sunglasses are must- you will feel warm during the day and very cold as the sun goes down.
Huacachina is located in Southern Peru, in Ica region and its dunes are so impressive even riding them in your car is cool experience of its own.
8. Mancora (surfing)
Everyone knows about Mancora so don’t be surprised with the crowds. One of Peruvian hot spots attracts many local people as well as tourists coming from around the world. Mancora is actually known as Peruvian ‘worst kept secret’ Sandy beaches and good waves, that is what majority of visitors are after. And besides waves, here you can enjoy pleasant climate, great restaurants offering fresh fish and exciting nightlife. It’s one of the places that are quite lively even during the off-season.
And why stop with surfing? Look up options for diving or kiteboarding and experience the lovely beaches as much as you can.
9. Sacred Valley of the Incas
About 15 kilometers north from Cuzco, there is an important historical site that some scientists claim it was inhabited even during the stone-age period. Many archaeological sites will tell you stories of Pre-Incan and Incan times so no matter how long the history of this place is, one thing is certain- it lasts for quite some time now. Fertile soil of its land enabled people to make homes and feed their families here, and that is what you can see today as well.
Sacred Valley of the Incas are famous for their incredible markets and famous Inca citadels- Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and it actually offers lot more for people who are willing to explore and trek their way around it. There are plenty of possibilities for adventures like trekking, rock climbing and rafting.
Along with its well-known markets, Pisac is known for an interesting Inca site, only 20 minutes up the hill. You can see the range of buildings’ remains used in Inca period- from military, agricultural to religious ones.
Ollantaytambo is a small town located on the other side of Sacred Valley from Pisac. It will charm you with its cafes and restaurants. There is also unbelievably beautiful stonework from Inca period that was left unfinished – definitely worth visiting.
Chincero, a home to an impressive church from colonial era and large area of terraces, is located on the plains above Cusco and Sacred Valley. On Sundays, you can treat yourself on local market or visit mass in the church which is held in Incan language- Qhechua.
10. Miraflores district, Lima
Lima is capital of Peru and one of the largest cities in South America. Its vibrant food scene, beaches and parks and lively atmosphere are what it’s known (and adored :)) for.
One of the most popular districts in Lima – Miraflores district is kind of a place packed with parks, cafes, restaurants, art centers and beaches. It’s quite interesting to everyone looking for things happening in the city. On Sundays, it is crowded with people coming to visit art exhibitions and markets. Lima is known for its parks. The biggest one, El Malecón, is actually situated on the cliffs above Pacific ocean. What would it feel like to jog around here with that kind of view, huh? El Malecón adds up to Lima’s branding as Garden city, with its big, lovely parks stretching in the range of about 8 km. It’s a perfect place for people interested in parasailing- for $50 you will get a 10 minute ride above the ocean. Other options for exploring are walking and cycling, not only in this area but in the rest of Lima as well.
11. Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas)
If you’re into wildlife you should definitely consider visiting Ballestas Islands. Often described as ‘Poor man’s Galapagos’ due to the slightly smaller diversity of species you can see there, but don’t worry – you won’t be left without some good impressions.
To reach the islands you need to take a boat from Paracas, it runs regularly every day and there are plenty of options for you during the weekends. Ticket price is around $13 and the ride lasts about 90 minutes. On your way there you will see El Candelabro, a geoglyph of unknown origin. It is 180 meters tall and can be seen from some 15 kilometers distance on the sea. Scientist haven’t found out what was its purpose and the opinions are divided. Some argue it’s a work of aliens while others believe it’s used to guide ships to the harbor, there are also opinions this it is actually a symbol dedicated to Argentine liberator José de San Martín, but the bottom line is – no one knows the truth.
Island is not open for tourists’ visits, only for scientists and researchers, so you will watch the animals from the boat. And there are plenty of interesting species to see- guanay bird, blue-footed booby, tendril, Humboldt penguins, seals and many others.
Be sure to bring hat and a poncho on your way there, as there is lots of guano (bird droppings) and you may not want it on your face Also, in case you are suffering from sea illness be sure to take some medication before take-off as the sea may get a little bit choppy.
12. Cordillera Blanca in Huaraz
Peru is known as a perfect place for adventure seekers and if you are visiting with plans to feel the adrenaline, don’t miss Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillera Blanca is one of the biggest mountain ranges in the world. With its peaks above 6000 meters high, it is a perfect destination for people interested in walking, hiking, biking, trekking or climbing. 180 km long range of impressive peaks and breathtaking nature sceneries are located only 100 km from Pacific ocean and they form a natural barrier between the coast and Amazon rain forest.
Diverse wildlife and scenic views are what you can undoubtedly expect. Hot springs of Monterrey will offer you possibility to relax in water that reaches temperature of 46 degrees Celsius. You should also consider visiting pre-Inca site at Wilcahuain, remains of Wari culture (600-900 AD). This is the place where mummies of Wari people were buried. Cordillera Blanca has beautiful lakes, you should plan on visiting Chinancocha and Orcancocha lakes as well as mesmerizing turquoise Laguna Churup lake. Close to Huaraz, a beautiful little town where most of the tours through Cordillera Blanca start, there is a National Park of Huascaran, preserving amazing flora and fauna of the region. If you go there, bear in mind the famous giant plants characteristic for the region. The plants are called Puyas de Raymondy and they can even reach height of more than 10 meters. And since I’m already mentioning Huaraz, it’s important to say how it is really changed after the earthquake in 1970. Before-wards its impressive beauty would leave visitors speechless, now after renovation it is still beautiful but not as much as it used to be.
13. Huascaran National Park
In the heart of incredible Cordillera Blanca range, there is a Huascaran National Park, World Heritage Site since 1985. The park got its name after the Huascaran mountain, which is the highest one in Peru with its 6768 m. The park is spread on over 3,000 square kilometers containing impressive number of lakes (296) and glaciers (663). The importance of the region lies in its exquisite biodiversity, with many endangered species making this place their home. Actually, Peruvian government showed the interest in having this place protected by UNESCO because of its vast importance for biodiversity. Since one of the most popular things to do in Peru is to actually walk and climb its breathtaking regions, you can definitely do some of it here, the park has about 25 walking trails and 125 climbing paths.
Particularly famous place is Lagoon 69 with its incredibly clear turquoise water surrounded with peaks covered in snow, simply breathtaking.
14. Chan Chan
Yet another World Heritage Site on the Peruvian territory- Chan Chan, capital of Chimú kingdom, where 60,000 people lived before it was under the conquest by Inca Empire. It is discovered by Francisco Pizzaro.
And just about 600 years ago, it was actually the largest city in Americas, as well as largest adobe city in the world. Initially made in desert region, the remains of the city now suffer from rain threatening to turn this mesmerizing monument to extinguished cultures of Peru into mud. Today the most impressive thing about this city is its huge size, not much remained after it was conquered several times throughout the history.
The main danger comes from the fact that this adobe city was made in the time when it wasn’t raining much and all the damage that was caused by bad weather from time to time could be fixed instantly, as many people lived there. Now, as it is not inhabited and the raining is stronger, there is a bigger danger of damages.
If you are interested in learning more about Chimu culture and Chan Chan you should definitely pay a visit to Museo de Sitio Chan Chan. In case you don’t have too much time on your hands to see everything, plan to visit its principal complex- Tschudi palace. It is estimated that about 500 to 1000 noble people of Chimu kingdom lived here. The culture itself was founded on principle that not all people are created equal and they lived and behaved in that manner, with strong divisions among the classes.
15. Kuelap Fortress (Chachapoyas)
Yet another fascinating pre-Inca site in Peru, that is also considered to be an archaeological wonder of the country, is Kuelap Fortress. Additionally, it is considered to be the largest stone ruin in the New World. It was originally built by Chachapoya civilization that disappeared in the 15th century, when Inca came.
Generally, it’s one of the less known parts of the country something which is still not as popular with tourists worldwide as about 70 percent only come to see Machu Picchu and remains of Inca culture, not being familiar with many impressive cultures that lived and created here, before they were conquered by Inca. Some people would make a comparison saying that Incas were Romans of South America in a way.
This impressive fortress is about 600 meters long and walls reach up to 19 meters. Due to its dimensions and massive walls Kuelap has been called a fortress. People speculated it was used for defense but upon further research they found out many civil buildings as well. It is estimated that at one point, this place had around 3,000 inhabitants and not just warriors. Farmers, merchants and shamans also found their place there. While there, plan to visit the Leymebamba museum, it has a collection of 200 mummies. More from the list of interesting things to do in Peru while in this region include visiting the Revash tombs and Macro towers or seeing Gocta falls, which is the world’s third highest waterfall. There you can see an impressive terracotta sarcophagi of Karajia.
16. Huaca del Sol y La Luna
Huaca del Sol y La Luna or The Temples of the Sun and the Moon are from Moche period and they are one of the largest pre-Columbian structures in Peru. The bigger one is The Temple of the Sun, entire temple was made with around 140 million adobe bricks and plenty of those carry some symbols of the people who made them. And if you see the markers left on the bricks, you will come to conclusion that more than hundred different communities contributed materials for the construction. Unfortunately, about third of the structure has been washed away through the years.
Back in the days, the temple had several different levels, but the long history of about 1500 years affected it in a way it substantially changes it looks today. Nowadays it looks like an enormous pile of bricks. However, it doesn’t mean it still isn’t worth visiting. Its size and the view you get from the top of it are something you will remember for a long after you visit it.
About 500 meters from it, there is a bit smaller Huaca de la Luna which may be a bit more interesting to you. It has many rooms filled with precious metals, ceramics and beautiful polychrome friezes which was something Moche were known for. It was built during the period of about 600 years until the 7th century and researchers keep finding new levels of remains. Each year, there are more and more things discovered adding up to our knowledge about the site.
17. Manu National Park
Manu is the largest national park in Peru and yet another World Heritage site of this incredible country. UNESCO recognised the area as biosphere reserve land in 1977 and 10 years later it got the World Heritage Site badge. Even before it got protected by Peruvian government the area was protected by simply being inaccessible. Even today, it’s impossible to reach it by roads.
It covers an area of around 15,328 km² which goes from 150 to 4200 meters height. This adds up to its biodiversity, it is one of the highest in the world. Here, you can find more than 15,000 species of plants and also about 250 varieties of trees which can be found in a single hectare. The region is particularly interesting to birdwatchers who come to see more than 1000 species of birds inhabited here.
18. Cotahuasi canyon
I told you in the beginning- there is plenty of things to do in Peru because I had in mind all those incredible places waiting to be discovered by you. The question arising now is- in this land of impressive natural records, what are we missing? More canyons maybe?
No worries, here it is- Cotahusi canyon, the deepest canyon in the world with depth of 6,425 meters. Just between Coropuna and Sulimana mountain massifs, this little gem of nature will astonish you.
Soooooo, any idea what do you want to see first? I agree that planning a trip to a new destination can be overwhelming and sometimes even stressful. For destinations such as Peru, with plenty of activities to try and things to see, going for an organized tour might be more enjoyable and certainly less stressful. If you agree with me, start you Peru tour search here.