20 AMAZING Things to Do in Peru; DON’T MISS OUT!
Peru is a country that offers a wide range of activities for travelers, from adventurous mountain hikes to cultural experiences in traditional villages. With so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to plan a trip to this diverse country. However, with the help of a fellow travel blogger, this article has compiled the ultimate round-up of the best things to do in Peru.
This guide includes both the must-see tourist attractions like Machu Picchu, as well as off-the-beaten-path destinations that most tourists never get to experience. With the information provided, travelers can easily plan their first visit to Peru and be enticed to come back for more. Additionally, resources for planning the perfect trip to Peru are also included in this article, such as the best time to visit and how to get to Machu Picchu.
Table of contents
- 1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- 2. Go Trekking in Cordillera Blanca
- 3. See the Condors in Colca Canyon
- 4. Visit Historic Arequipa
- 5. Explore Cusco
- 6. Hike the off-the-beaten-path Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
- 7. Ride a Dune Buggy in Huacachina
- 8. Visit Lima’s Many Neighborhoods
- 9. Discover the Sacred Valley
- 10. Swim with Sea Turtles in Mancora
- 11. Tour the Amazon Jungle
- 12. Boat around the Ballestas Islands
- 13. Fly over the Nazca Lines
- 14. Visit the Floating Islands at Lake Titicaca
- 15. Trek to Laguna Humantay
- 16. Marvel at the Maras Salt Mines
- 17. Climb to the Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo
- 18. Take a cooking class or food tour
- 19. Taste all the Pisco
- 20. Spend the night suspended on the edge of a cliff
- 21. Ride a luxury overnight train through the Andes
1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru and South America as a whole. To experience the majesty of this ancient Inca ruin, hiking the Inca Trail is the best option as one of your Peru tours. The Inca Trail is a 4-day pilgrimage that takes visitors on a strenuous trek through high-altitude terrain and lots of elevation gain. However, anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and acclimation to the altitude in Cusco can complete the trek.
Due to the popularity of the Inca Trail and concerns for overuse, the Peruvian government has placed strict regulations on the number of tourists permitted to hike the trail each year, as well as the companies that can provide tours. As a result, booking a tour well in advance (typically 6 months) is absolutely mandatory, especially during high season.
There are several companies that offer guided tours of the Inca Trail, and it’s important to choose a responsible and reputable one. Visitors should also pack appropriately for the trek, including proper hiking gear and clothing for high-altitude weather conditions.
For those who prefer not to hike the Inca Trail, there are alternative treks available to reach Machu Picchu, such as the Lares Trek. However, these treks also require advanced planning and booking.
For visitors who prefer not to trek at all, there are other ways to reach Machu Picchu, such as taking a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and then a bus to the ruins. It’s important to note that tickets for Machu Picchu itself also require advanced booking and can sell out quickly during high season.
Overall, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is truly worth the effort. The stunning views and awe-inspiring atmosphere make it an unforgettable adventure for any traveler.
Exploor Peru are a great option for trips here.
2. Go Trekking in Cordillera Blanca
Cordillera Blanca, also known as the “White Range,” is a mountain range in Peru that boasts of 80 mountain peaks, with 15 of them towering over 6,000 meters. This mountain range is one of the most spectacular places to hike and trek in Peru and offers breathtaking views that are sure to leave visitors in awe.
One of the most popular treks in the region is the 4-day Santa Cruz trek, which is home to some of the most stunning views in the world. The trek offers a glimpse of a mountain that is rumored to be the inspiration for the peaks on the Paramount Pictures logo.
Aside from the Santa Cruz trek, there are many other hikes available in the region, including the 1-day Laguna 69 and the more challenging 8-12 day Huayhuash Trek. Visitors can choose from a variety of treks that cater to different levels of difficulty and duration.
Although the region is quite remote, visitors can access it by traveling to Huaraz, Peru, which is located 10 hours by bus from Lima. Despite the magnificent views on offer, the town is usually filled with locals from surrounding villages as opposed to international tourists. However, for those seeking adventure, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca offer a unique off-the-beaten-path experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Visitors are advised to come prepared for altitude sickness and long days of hiking, but the experience of trekking through the Cordillera Blanca is one that will last a lifetime.
3. See the Condors in Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon, located near the southern city of Arequipa, is the deepest canyon in the world and is home to the Andean Condor, one of the largest birds in the world. These majestic birds can be seen in numbers you won’t see anywhere else, as they visit the same cliff face in the canyon every day.
Visiting the Colca Canyon to see the condors up close should be at the top of your list of things to do in Peru. There are several hiking trails in the canyon, which can be explored on guided tours or by yourself. Most hikes are only a few days, but be warned that hiking into the deepest canyon in the world means a long and steep hike back out.
If hiking isn’t your thing, a quick day-trip to the condor lookout point is well worth it. From here, you can witness the Andean Condors soaring through the canyon’s skies.
In addition to the condors, the Colca Canyon also features several picturesque hot springs and stunning scenery. It’s no wonder that it’s become one of the most popular places in the world for birders and anyone interested in seeing endangered species in the wild.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking for a quick day-trip, the Colca Canyon and its condors are not to be missed.
4. Visit Historic Arequipa
Arequipa, also known as the “white city,” boasts stunning architecture made of sillar, a white volcanic rock. The main square, Plaza de Armas, houses some of the most impressive buildings, including the Basilica Cathedral. However, visitors can find even more impressive architecture by exploring the backstreets behind large wooden colonial doors.
Arequipa is not only a beautiful city but also a gateway to Peru’s southern region. It is the closest city to the Colca Canyon and surrounding volcanoes, making it an excellent starting point for treks.
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Arequipa is home to many historic sites that visitors can explore. From the Monasterio de Santa Catalina to the Iglesia la Merced, there is no shortage of fascinating religious sites to visit.
Visitors can also treat themselves to outstanding meals at local picanterías, where they can sample Peruvian cuisine, including the famous ceviche.
Whether exploring the historic sites or enjoying the local cuisine, Arequipa offers visitors a unique and exciting experience.
5. Explore Cusco
Cusco is a city that offers a variety of activities for visitors. As the former capital of the Inca Empire, the city is steeped in history and culture. The Plaza de Armas is a great place to start exploring the city. This main square is one of the most impressive in South America and is surrounded by colonial buildings and churches. Visitors can wander the streets and explore the shops and restaurants that line the square.
One of the most impressive attractions in Cusco is Sacsayhuaman, an Inca fortress located just outside the city. The site is a marvel of engineering and visitors can explore the massive stone walls and admire the stunning views of the city below.
For those looking to experience the natural beauty of the region, there are several hiking trails that lead to stunning vistas and ancient ruins. Of course, no visit to Cusco would be complete without a trip to Machu Picchu. Visitors can take a train or hike the Inca Trail to reach this iconic site.
It is important to note that Cusco is located at a high altitude, so visitors should take some time to acclimate before attempting any strenuous activities. This also makes Cusco a great base for exploring other parts of Peru, such as the Sacred Valley and Lake Titicaca.
Overall, Cusco is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, culture, and natural beauty.
6. Hike the off-the-beaten-path Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
While Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca) near Cusco is a popular destination for many visitors to Peru, overtourism and crowds can make the experience lackluster. Luckily, other rainbow mountains have been discovered that offer the same colorful peaks with significantly less crowds. Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is one such destination, with only about 30 visitors per day, making it a more exclusive and intimate experience.
Located 200 meters below the elevation of Vinicunca, Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is more accessible to those worried about struggling with altitude. The hike to the top takes about 45-60 minutes and is significantly shorter than the hike to Vinicunca, making it a great option for those with limited time or physical abilities.
The unique colors of the mountain are real and include red, yellow, blue, orange, and more, creating a true rainbow effect. The hike itself is not too strenuous, making it a great option for families or those looking for a more relaxed hiking experience.
Overall, Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain offers a fantastic alternative to the crowded Vinicunca, with equally stunning views and a more intimate experience. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the rainbow mountains without the overwhelming crowds, making it a must-visit destination for any hiking enthusiast.
7. Ride a Dune Buggy in Huacachina
Huacachina, located in the Ica Desert, is a small town that surrounds a beautiful desert oasis. It is known for its vast sand dunes, which are the largest in South America. The town was once a haven for wealthy Peruvians who believed in the healing powers of the lake. Today, it is a popular destination for backpackers and adventure seekers.
One of the most exhilarating experiences in Huacachina is riding a dune buggy through the desert. The ride is best enjoyed at sunset, where you can witness the sun setting behind the sand dunes. After the buggy ride, visitors can try sandboarding, which is similar to snowboarding but on sand.
For those looking for adventure, riding a dune buggy in Huacachina is a must-do activity. It is an exciting way to explore the desert and experience the thrill of the ride.
8. Visit Lima’s Many Neighborhoods
Lima is a city of diverse neighborhoods, each with its own unique character and attractions. Visitors can explore the coastal neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco, or venture downtown to experience the city’s colonial history.
Miraflores is a popular neighborhood for tourists, known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and proximity to main surfing beaches. Visitors can enjoy a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as parks and gardens.
Barranco, located just south of Miraflores, is a hip and artsy neighborhood with a bohemian vibe. Visitors can explore the area’s colorful streets, art galleries, and trendy cafes.
For those interested in Lima’s colonial history, downtown is a must-visit destination. The central downtown area is home to the Plaza Mayor, surrounded by colonial architecture, museums, and basilicas. Visitors can take a walking tour to explore the area’s rich history and culture.
While downtown Lima offers affordable prices, visitors should be aware that it is not the safest area, especially at night. It is recommended to take precautions and avoid wandering around alone.
Overall, Lima’s many neighborhoods offer a diverse range of experiences for visitors. Whether exploring the coastal beauty of Miraflores and Barranco or immersing oneself in the city’s colonial history downtown, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Lima.
9. Discover the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, located just north of Cusco, is a region of the Peruvian Andes that stretches from Pisac in the East to Ollantaytambo in the West. This area once served as an important route for the Inca from Cusco to Machu Picchu and is considered the heart of the Incan Empire. Nowadays, it is a popular tourist destination due to the preservation of cultural histories and impressive natural scenery.
Visitors can explore the valley’s cute towns, each with their own colorful markets and personalities. They can also spot ancient ruins, such as those in Pisac, and visit unique salt mines. The Urubamba River runs through the valley, providing opportunities for rafting and kayaking. Hiking trails lead to some pretty epic landscapes, such as Chinchero’s authentic local market.
For those interested in history, the Sacred Valley offers a glimpse into the Inca civilization. The valley’s highlights include the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu, Inca ruins at Moray, and the fortress at Ollantaytambo.
Transportation options are available to explore the Sacred Valley, making it an accessible and exciting destination for travelers.
10. Swim with Sea Turtles in Mancora
Mancora, a small town in Peru, is known for its vibrant nightlife and surfing. However, it also offers a unique opportunity to swim with sea turtles. Just outside the town, there is a large colony of over 300 sea turtles that regularly visit the nearby bay. Visitors can go swimming in the water to see them up close, but touching the turtles is not allowed.
Swimming with these majestic creatures is an amazing experience and a must-do activity for anyone visiting Mancora. The turtles are friendly and curious, and they often swim close to the visitors. The clear water and sunny weather make it an ideal spot for snorkeling and observing marine life.
Mancora’s laidback lifestyle and sandy streets make it a perfect destination for backpackers. The town’s chilled vibe is different from any other town in Peru. It is the only place in Peru where you can see tuk-tuks, small motorbikes with a carriage for passengers.
If you are planning a trip to Peru, make sure to add Mancora to your itinerary. It is a worthwhile stop on your way to or from Ecuador, and the opportunity to swim with sea turtles is an unforgettable experience.
11. Tour the Amazon Jungle
The Amazon Jungle is the largest rainforest in the world, and Peru’s Amazon Jungle is considered the most diverse, home to more than half of the world’s animal, bird, and insect species. It is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
For those looking to explore the Amazon from Peru, the remote city of Puerto Maldonado is an excellent choice. Located near the Brazilian border in eastern Peru, it is the gateway to some of the most remote areas of the Amazon. To access the few eco lodges in this area, visitors must head up the river by boat, as no roads enter this town.
Getting to Puerto Maldonado involves a 10-hour bus ride from Cusco, winding its way up to over 5,000m (16,404 ft) above sea level before descending down to the Amazon Rainforest. Once there, visitors can take part in a variety of activities, including:
- Wildlife spotting: Look for pink dolphins, monkeys, caiman, and other exotic creatures in their natural habitat.
- Jungle hikes: Explore the lush jungle and learn about the diverse plant life and its medicinal properties.
- Canoe rides: Navigate through the winding waterways of the Amazon and discover hidden lagoons and tributaries.
- Cloud forest tours: Visit the nearby Parque Nacional Manu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and marvel at the stunning biodiversity of the cloud forest.
Overall, touring the Amazon Jungle from Puerto Maldonado is an exciting and unforgettable experience that offers a unique glimpse into one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
12. Boat around the Ballestas Islands
The Ballestas Islands, also known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos, are a group of rock formations located off the coast of Paracas, Peru. Despite their seemingly barren appearance, the islands are home to a diverse ecosystem of native wildlife, including sea lions, Humboldt penguins, guanays, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, pelicans, and more.
Visitors can take an affordable speedboat tour from the pier in Paracas to explore the islands and observe the wildlife up close. There are many local companies that offer these tours, and the average cost is around 60 soles (~$15 USD). The tour provides an exciting opportunity to witness the natural beauty of the Ballestas Islands and learn about their unique history and significance to the Peruvian culture.
13. Fly over the Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are a collection of ancient geoglyphs etched into the desert landscape of Peru. Covering over 350 square miles, the lines represent different animals and plants and have a religious significance. Scholars have debated the meaning behind the lines for years, but the mystery surrounding their creation has only added to their allure.
While there are a few viewing points on nearby hilltops and a small tower near the main road from Nazca to Ica, the best way to see the Nazca Lines in their entirety is from the air. A scenic flight over the lines offers panoramic views and a chance to learn more about their significance and creation.
Travelers can book a tour from Lima that includes transportation to Nazca and an option for a 30, 40, or 60-minute scenic flight over the lines. The flights include panoramic windows, allowing for great photo opportunities while learning about the glyphs.
It is important to note that flights can be delayed or canceled due to weather conditions. The best time to visit the Nazca Lines is during the dry season between May and November, but flights may still be rescheduled for later in the day if there is excessive cloud coverage or mist.
Overall, a scenic flight over the Nazca Lines is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers a unique perspective on these ancient geoglyphs.
14. Visit the Floating Islands at Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable body of water in the world and the largest lake in South America. To experience the wonders of the lake on the Peruvian side, visitors can head to Puno, the main city on the lakeshore. From there, they can take a 30-minute boat ride to the Uros Islands, which are floating on the lake.
The Uros Islands are made of straw-like plants that grow in abundance on the lake. They are home to the indigenous Uros people, who have preserved their cultural traditions that pre-date the Inca Empire. The islands were relocated closer to the shore after a devastating storm in 1986.
A visit to the Uros Islands is an excellent way to learn about the unique culture, history, and traditions of the Uros people. During the tour, visitors can witness how the islands are made and how people used to live on them. The Uros floating islands are the most famous attraction on Lake Titicaca and a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Puno.
15. Trek to Laguna Humantay
The Laguna Humantay is a stunning alpine lake located in the Humantay Mountains. Its turquoise blue waters are backed by the snow-capped peaks of the mountains, creating a picturesque view that looks like it’s out of a painting. The good news is that it’s easy to visit on a day trip from Cusco. There are various trekking options available for visitors, ranging from 1-day to 4-day treks, offered by local tour companies.
The trailhead for the lake is located in Mollepata, which is about a 3-hour drive from Cusco. The trail itself is only 4 miles long, but it has an elevation gain of 1,500 feet, making it a thigh-burner. Visitors should note that they will be sharing the trail with other visitors, as Humantay Lake is a popular destination.
The day trip from Cusco will take a full day due to the 3-hour drive there and back. Visitors should bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, as the trail can be challenging and the high altitude can be taxing. However, the breathtaking views and stunning scenery make the trek to Laguna Humantay well worth the effort.
16. Marvel at the Maras Salt Mines
The Maras Salt Mines, also known as Las Salineras de Maras, are a must-see destination for anyone traveling to the Sacred Valley. Located just an hour outside of Cusco, these salt mines have been in operation since pre-Inca times and are a beautiful example of community cooperation.
Each of the thousands of individual salt pools is owned and operated by farmers in the Maras community, who work together as a cooperative to make the Maras Salt Mines one of the top 10 largest in the world. The ancient irrigation system, fed by a single subterranean spring, channels water into the 6,000+ terraced pools, where the water evaporates and leaves behind salt crystals.
While entrance to the mines has been restricted since 2019 due to the influx of tourists disturbing the fully operational mines, visitors can still see the salt pools from various viewpoints above and take plenty of photos. And after marveling at the beauty of the salt mines, visitors can peruse the souvenir shops and buy all the salt products they can think of, knowing that the profits from these sales help the Maras community keep the mines operational.
To get to the Maras Salt Mines, visitors can take a colectivo from Cusco to Mares for about $2 USD or a taxi directly to the mines for about $5. Colectivos take off from the main station in Cusco and will not depart until the bus is completely full.
Overall, the Maras Salt Mines are a unique and awe-inspiring destination that should not be missed by anyone traveling to the Sacred Valley.
17. Climb to the Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo
The Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo is a fascinating Inca ruin located on the hillside overlooking the modern plaza. The temple is situated at the top of the ruins and is accessible via a few flights of ancient steps. The temple was built on higher ground to bring the Inca closer to the gods, and they believed it would enable them to reap more of the sacrificial benefits.
What makes the Temple of the Sun so unique is its construction. The red porphyry stones used in its construction have clean edges and straight sides, unlike the surrounding ruins. The quarry site where the Inca got the rocks is over four miles away, across a valley on the other side of the mountain. The way they transported the rocks remains a mystery, adding to the temple’s intrigue.
Visitors can explore the rest of the Ollantaytambo ruins, but the Temple of the Sun is a must-see. A guided tour is highly recommended to understand the intricacies of the site. The climb to the top of the temple presents a challenge due to the condition and quantity of the stone stairs, but the view from the top is worth it.
After exploring the Temple of the Sun, visitors can immerse themselves in the lives of the indigenous Quechua people as they explore the rest of the unique town. Ollantaytambo is a fascinating archaeological site and one of the main highlights of the Sacred Valley.
18. Take a cooking class or food tour
Peru is a food destination with a world-class gastronomic scene in Lima and traditional Peruvian classics and modern fusion served all over the country. Taking a cooking class or food tour is one of the best ways to experience the local cuisine. In a cooking class, visitors can learn to make Peruvian dishes such as Lomo Saltado and Ceviche, which are traditional and popular dishes. Food tours provide the local’s take on the best food in the city, and visitors can try guinea pig, a traditional Peruvian dish. Some recommended cooking classes and food tours in Peru are Marcelo Batata in Cusco, Curious Monkey Cusco- Eat the Streets, and Peruvian cooking class+local market included+exotic fruits with local chefs in Lima.
19. Taste all the Pisco
Peru is famous for its national drink, Pisco, which is a type of white grape brandy. While traveling throughout Peru, visitors have ample opportunities to try different varieties of Pisco and Pisco drinks. One can hit up a distillery for an official tasting just outside of Huacachina in the city of Ica, which is known as the best region for growing Pisco in all of Peru. Otherwise, one can take themselves on a Pisco tour and try to find the best Pisco sour in each city. It’s a great way to experience the local culture and taste the national drink of Peru.
20. Spend the night suspended on the edge of a cliff
For those seeking an adrenaline-fueled adventure, SkyLodge Adventure Suites offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience of spending the night suspended in mid-air in a glass capsule hanging off the edge of a cliff. The world’s first sky-high hanging lodge provides a bird’s-eye view of the Sacred Valley, allowing guests to immerse themselves in nature while staying in complete luxury.
These octagonal capsules are made of aerospace grade materials, ensuring complete safety and weather resistance. However, guests must brave a climb or a strenuous hike to reach the pods. Inside, guests will find a double-bed, bathroom, and lounging area, providing all the creature comforts necessary for a comfortable stay. Breakfast and dinner are delivered fresh by professional climbers directly to the pod.
Although the experience is costly, with a 9.9 rating on Booking.com, it is clear that the experience is worth every penny. SkyLodge Adventure Suites provides a unique opportunity to push one’s boundaries and experience the thrill of sleeping on the edge of a cliff.
21. Ride a luxury overnight train through the Andes
Experience the awe-inspiring Andes Mountains in a unique way by taking a luxury overnight train ride on the Belmond Andean Explorer. This is the first luxury sleeper train in South America, and it offers an unforgettable journey through the mystical landscapes of Peru’s Andes region.
The train offers both one and two-night journeys, taking passengers between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa. While the experience is not cheap, it is certainly worth the splurge for those looking for an unforgettable adventure.
Passengers will enjoy luxury accommodations onboard the train, with all meals, beverages, and entertainment included. The train also offers curated excursions specific to each itinerary, allowing passengers to fully immerse themselves in the local culture and experiences.
Between tours of memorable Peruvian destinations, passengers can indulge in top-rate Peruvian cuisine and participate in indulging spa rituals. The train encourages slow travel, allowing passengers to fully marvel at the stunning Andean landscapes.
The Andean Explorer is one of the best places to visit in Peru for those seeking a unique and luxurious adventure. It offers an opportunity to experience the Chachapoyas culture and other top attractions in Peru in a way that is truly unparalleled.
For those planning a trip to Peru, the Belmond Andean Explorer is a must-see destination. It is a perfect addition to any itinerary for those seeking adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THINGS TO DO IN PERU
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