There are many incredible things to do in Peru.
This is one of the best countries to visit in South America, with a lot to offer. You can visit beautiful cities, discover the fantastic culture, see beautiful landscapes and do great adventurous activities. What makes Peru so unique is the fact that you can still see the history of the Incas at every corner. The food and the people add to this already incredible destination.
Peru is of course known for Machu Picchu, but there are so many more places to visit. Continue reading this post to discover all the things to do in Peru that you absolutely can’t miss.
Make sure to also read my post What You Need To Know Before Visiting Peru.
15 Unmissable Things To Do In Peru
Marvel at the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu
There is no doubt that one of the best things to do in Peru is visiting Machu Picchu.
Discovered in 1911, the Lost City of the Incas is extremely well preserved. This Inca citadel is built on a ridge 300 meters above the river Urubamba. The landscape where Machu Picchu is located is beautiful: you see large rock formations with the jungle all around you.
When you enter Machu Picchu you will probably start wondering how the people could have lived here at the time. It is very far from everything. In fact, the location of the city was deal – the climate was very good and the land around the city very fertile.
Machu Picchu could be reached by walking the Inca Trail – to date still one of the best experiences in the country, for it allows you to experience the hike as the Inca did back then, and to visit sites to which you would have no access otherwise.
While Machu Picchu is open year round, the best months to visit are July and August, the peak of the dry season in Peru.
There are a few ways of getting to Macchu Picchu. The most classic one is taking the Hiram Bingham train to Aguas Calientes, known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. This is the city from which most tourists who visits Machu Picchu depart. If you spend the night in Aguas Calientes, you have the option to wake up well before dawn (no later than 4:00 am) and hike to the the entrance of Machu Picchu for a chance to see the sunrise and explore the site with less tourists around. Alternatively, hop on the bus: the first leaves at 05:30 am.
If you enjoy adventure, one of the coolest things to do in Peru is a hike to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail is a 4-day hike that will take you across spectacular scenery and the only one that guarantees you will be seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku. Only 500 people per day are allowed on the Inca Trail, including guides and the porters. This is a very popular hike for which permits get released in January and are sold out in a matter of minutes, so you have to book it well in advance.
Here are the best options – all available on leading tour operator G Adventures:
- THE INCA TRAIL – A 7-days tour starting Cusco that also goes to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo.
- TREKKING THE INCA TRAIL: 4 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS – The classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, without no added perks.
- TREKKING THE INCA TRAIL: 5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS – Similar to the one above, but it includes accommodation in Cusco.
For a full guide to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, click here.
Another fabulous, and even more challenging hike is the Salkantay Trek, during which you will be going over the, Salkantay Pass, at 4,630 meters above sea level. Contrary to the Inca Trail, you can walk the Salkantay Trek independently – though this is not recommended.
Since 2020, new rules apply to visit Machu Picchu. You must hire a guide and pick a time slot for your visit – which means you need to book your visit in advance. You should also take into account that there are different tickets for sale for Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu Lost Citadel (regular ticket), Huayna Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain.
Explore the Sacred Valley
At just one hour north of Cusco, the Sacred Valley is among the unmissable places to visit in Peru, home of a number of smaller towns – Pisac, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo among others – that have a plethora of archeological sites and markets.
Make sure not to miss the ruins of Pisac and Pumamarca, and the archeological site at the edge of Ollantaytambo. You should also visit the circular terraces of Moray, used by the Incas to experiment different crops; and Maras, the salt mines.
Go on a Rainbow Mountain Trek
One of the most exhilarating experiences in Peru is hiking Rainbow Mountain. Perched at more than 5000 meters above sea level and at about 3 hours drive from Cusco, this became a popular day trip destination only in recent years. The hike isn’t actually the longest day-hike you can do in the country, but the altitude definitely makes it one of the most challenging, even for the fittest and most experience hikers.
Make sure to read my post The Best Hikes In Peru.
Wander Around Cusco
Cusco is the most beautiful city to visit in Peru. When you walk around town you really get to see the Inca influence. You see many Inca ruins that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. One of them is a boulder with 12 precisely cut corners, which you can spot Cusco is on the side street of Plaza de Armas (Hatunrumiyoc). When you see this you can understand that the Incas were way ahead of their time.
Another area to explore is the San Blas district. This is the nicest neighborhood, with many creative shops and hip restaurants serving mouthwatering food. In the central square Plaza de Armas, you can enjoy the atmosphere of the city. From here you can visit Iglesia de Santo Domingo and Koricancha – the former sun temple of the Incas.
To explore Cusco you can join a free walking tour. Tours depart daily at 9:50 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm and 6:00 pm from Plaza del Armas. Alternatively, you can join this guided tour.
Cusco is also an ideal city to organize day trips or hikes. From Cusco, you can start the Salkantay trek, visit Machu Picchu, discover the Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain, and Lake Humantay.
Visit the White City Arequipa
Nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca, aka the White City, Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru after Lima and certainly one of the best destinations in Peru. This is where most tourists start noticing the adverse effects of the altitude – the city is located at 2300 meters above sea level and is an ideal place to start getting acclimated. Places like Cusco, Colca Canyon, and Lake Titicaca are a lot higher.
Arequipa is surrounded by beautiful mountains and volcanoes, with Volcano Misti being the absolute eye-catcher. The must visit in town is Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the oldest in the world.
To make the most of Arequipa, you may want to join a free walking tour. There are tours depart from Plaza de Armas daily at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. Alternatively, you can opt for this tour. You can also follow a pre-Inca cooking class and much more.
Arequipa is often used as a stopover to get used to the altitude and then travel to Colca Canyon.
Hike the Colca Canyon
Hiking the Colca Canyon, close to Arequipa, is one of the top things to do in Peru. This is deepest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. What’s great about hiking in this part of the country is that trails aren’t nearly as crowded as those of the Sacred Valley.
At the Colca Canyon, you can spot Andean Condors – the largest birds in the world – from the Condor Lookout known as Cruz del Condor; relax in hot springs and enjoy breathtaking views.
Hikes of the Colca Canyon typically last two or three days and depart from Cabanaconde. They can be done independently, but having a guide will help when you go through the tiniest local villages. Alternatively, you can opt for more classic guided tours departing from Arequipa.
Appreciate the Tranquility of Lake Titicaca
What is so special about Lake Titicaca? This is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is located at an altitude of 3812 meters above sea level and will literally take your breath away. The area around the lake is very beautiful because it is surrounded by mountains.
Lake Titicaca is known for the Uros Islands – also known as the Floating Islands – inhabited by the Uros Indians. These built the islands out of reed to escape the violence of the Incas. This reed rot at the bottom, so that new reed has to be placed at the top to make the islands continue existing – isn’t this very special?
The Uros Indians have their own language and identity; the islands have their own school and clinic too, to serve the roughly 2000 inhabitants.
Other islands to visit in Lake Titicaca are Taquile and Amantani. You should also make it a point to wander around Puno – though it is hardly the most charming of the places to visit in Peru. Puno is a great starting point to visit the archaeological complex Sillustani.
Fly Over the Nazca Lines
Flying over the Nazca Lines is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Peru. These drawings in the desert were only discovered in the 1920s, when a flight revealed that there was, indeed, a pattern. Although an aura of mystery remains, researchers believe that they were drawn by the Paracas and Nazca cultures between 900 BC and AD 600. They are so unique that they had to be listed among the UNESCO protected sites.
Flight over the Nazca Lines aren’t exactly the cheapest – they are in the range of $100 USD for flights lasting around 30 minutes. But this really is the only way to admire the 70 drawings of plants and animals. The best sights are the spider, the monkey, the hummingbird and the condor.
You can book your Nazca flight here.
Other interesting places to visit near Nazca are the Cantalloc Aqueducts and the Cemetery of Chauchilla.
Visit Paracas and the Islas Ballestas
Paracas is a small fishing village on the coast that is often skipped by travelers. What a shame! IThis is a hidden gem of Peru. The main attractions in Paracas are the National Park of Paracas and the Ballestas Islands.
Reserva Nacional Paracas has one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. You will see a lot of different birds and fossils that are a million years old, as well as the Candelabro, a massive geoglyph that looks like a chandelier. The landscape itself is very pristine and rugged. You can only visit with a private guide or with a tour. It’s best to visit with a private guide because you can see a lot more. The extra costs compared to a tour are not very high.
Boat tour of Ballestas Islands depart every morning at 08:00 am from Paracas. Once again, you need to have a guided tour for this. Known as the smaller Galapagos Islands, on a visit you get to see a huge variety of sea birds, penguins, and walruses up close in their natural habitat. The boat trip itself is also fun because you are on the rough sea at high speeds. If you suffer from seasickness, it is best to take motion sickness medication in advance. Also keep in mind that the overpowering smell of guano may bother you.
One more reason to visit Paracas is that you’ll find the best ceviche in all of Peru. This Peruvian dish consists of raw fish, which is great here because it is caught fresh every day. You can pair with Pisco, the local spirit – best in its Pisco Sour cocktail version.
Sandboard on the Dunes of Huacachina
Huacachina is a tiny village set in an oasis and surrounded by some of the highest dunes in the world. Peruvians used to think that the oasis had water that had a healing effect.
Nowadays, Huacachina is among the unmissable places to visit in Peru, popular for sandboarding and a variety of other fun activities. The best activity is to book a buggy tour, during which you will cross this landscape at high speeds and stop at several dunes where you can sandboard. Sunsets on the dunes are breathtaking.
For guided tours of Huacachina, click here.
Lima is the capital of Peru and is probably your first destination in the country – make sure to include it in your Peru itinerary. The city has a nice historic center with some of the best museums in Peru. Plaza de Armas where the Cathedral is located, is definitely worth a visit.
Free walking tour of Lima departs daily at 10:40 am from Plaza de Armas. During the tour, you will see all the highlights of Lima and get an explanation from a local guide. Alternatively, you can book a guided tour here or here.
If you enjoy visiting museums, pop into Museo Larco, where you can browse an exhibit of pieces from the pre-Inca period.
You should also head to Miraflores, a trendy neighborhood in Lima with a boulevard along the coast and the most incredible sunset. This is also the best area to sleep in Lima, together with Barranco, the most artsy neighborhood. Finally, if you like animals plan to stop by Parque Kennedy, home of a lovely cat sanctuary.
Get Off the Beaten Path in Marcahuasi
Another great place to visit if you want to get off the beaten path is Marcahuasi. Still the subject of debate among researchers, who cant’s seem to decide whether it is a man made site or – more likely – the result of natural erosion, Marcahuasi is nicely set at 4000 meters above sea level and reached on a hike that departs from San Pedro de Casta, a very remote village at roughly 100 km from Lima. It takes 5 full hours to get there, so you can’t really plan this as a day trip!
Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To Visiting Marcahuasi.
Hike the Cordillera Blanca
The Cordillera Blanca – White Range, in English – is the perfect place to visit if you are in the mood for one or more challenging hikes. With more than 80 peaks, of which 15 over 6000 meters, this is one of the most beautiful regions of the country. From the incredibly challenging and long Huayhuash Trek to the 4-day Santa Cruz trek and the one-day only Laguna 69 hike, Huascaran National Park offers more trails than you can cover in a lifetime.
The starting point for all hikes is Huaraz, a small town about 10 hours drive from Lima that is lovely to visit in and of itself.
For more information about the Laguna 69 trek and to book your hike, click here.
Go to Trujillo
Trujullo hardly makes the list of the most popular attractions in Peru. This fairly large city about 10 hours drive north of Lima is packed with beautiful churches and colorful colonial-style buildings, yet the main reason to visit is Chan Chan archeological site, a Chimu city built around 900 AD which was entirely built in adobe bricks and which thrived until the late 15th century, when it was conquered by the Inca.
For guided tours of Chan Chan, click here.
Explore the Peruvian Amazon
Puerto Maldonado is at less than one hour flight from Cusco (or a 10 hour bus ride) and Peru’s best Amazon getaway. It will definitely give you a nice break from the dry climate and altitude of the Peruvian Andes! The humid jungle is home to lots of wildlife which includes monkeys and parrots, turtles and piranhas, caimans and capybaras.
The main places to visit from Puerto Maldonato are Reserva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene, which is actually just across the border from Bolivia.
This post was contributed by Cynthia & Alexander, adventure travel bloggers at Travel your Memories. They travel the world and share all the tips to inspire and help you plan your trips. You can follow them on Instagram and Pinterest too.