From the iconic Inca Trail trek to sailing along the mighty Amazon River to a high-octane buggy ride around the Huacachina oasis, the best places to visit in Peru are perfect for off-the-beaten path adventures.
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While many people visiting Peru hightail it to the hills and head straight to Machupicchu, there’s much more to see here than just the spectacular new seventh wonder of the world. History buffs will love learning about the country’s storied past, archeological sites and culture, foodies can dig into the incredible cuisine, and exhilarating experiences like paragliding, canopy walks, whitewater rafting and surfing await thrill-seekers.
Here are seven incredible spots worth including on your itinerary for Peru.
One of the best things to do in Peru needs no introduction: visiting Machupicchu.
Seeing this awe-inspiring, cloud-covered marvel with your own eyes is well worth the trip deep into Peru’s rainforest to reach the former home of the Incas, and requires at least a full day to explore features of the Lost City like the Sun Gate and Inca Bridge.
One of the best things to do during a Machupicchu tour is tackling the Huayna Picchu hike (also known as Wayna Picchu) which heads up the mountain seen behind the archeological site.
Only a few hundred people are permitted to do the climb each day so advance reservations are required, and the journey takes two to three hours round trip. While it’s a tough grind up, the vantage point at the top is absolutely jaw-dropping.
There are a few different ways to get to Machupicchu:
- A day trip from Cusco on the train
- A multi-day trip through the Sacred Valley from Cusco
- Hiking the Inca Trail (usually two or four days)
- Taking the Machupicchu train tour to Aguas Calientes
There’s no right or wrong way; it simply comes down to time, activity level and budget.
Hiking the Inca Trail is a bucket list item for many people, and starts in the Sacred Valley and winds past centuries-old remains, through cloud forests and pristine valleys toward the iconic site. It takes at least two days to complete the Inca Trail to Machupicchu hike, while some groups stretch it out to four days to spend more time in towns like Ollantaytambo.
Try one of these Inca Trail tours:
Spend at least a couple of nights in Aguas Calientes (the nearest village) so the visit isn’t so rushed, by staying at a property like the gorgeous Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel which features an on-site spa. Click here to book
For the ultimate splurge, book a room at the base of Machupicchu at the Sanctuary Lodge. It’s the only hotel located right at the entrance to maximize sightseeing time, and offers activities like coca leaf reading, yoga and a sunrise breakfast looking up at Huayna Picchu.Click here to book
Most trips to Machupicchu trips start from Cusco, which is a few hours away from the world wonder. This historic city boasts a dramatic mountainous backdrop, and plenty of attractions to keep travellers entertained while they acclimatize to the altitude (3,400 metres!) before setting off on multi-day treks.
Some of the best things to do in Cusco Peru are:
- Wander around Plaza de Armas in the heart of the city, which houses the towering Cathedral of Santo Domingo and Inglesia de la Compania de Jesus. This is also where some of the city’s best restaurants, hotels and shops are.
- Sip Peru’s national drink at Museo del Pisco. More bar than museum, it’s dedicated to the citrusy cocktail and guests can choose from a dozen infusions or do a pisco tasting.
There are also incredible things to do around Cusco, including day trips to the Sacred Valley, ATV tours to the salt mines of Maras and hiking to Humantay Lake or the spectacular Rainbow Mountains in the region of Vinincunca.
Where to stay in Cusco:
- Inkaterra La Casona: This spectacular spot is found in a 16th century manor house along Plaza de las Nazarenas, which has been beautifully restored. With bragging rights as the first boutique hotel in Cusco and Peru’s Relais & Châteaux property, it has nearly a dozen suites, a spa and special touches like a welcome drink and turn down service. Click here to book
- Atoq San Blas Hotel: For a budget-friendly option, check in to the top-ranked Atoq San Blas Hotel. With a great location a few blocks from the main plaza, it has fantastic views and free perks like a buffet breakfast. Click here to book
Another unique option is to hop on the Belmond Andean Explorer luxury overnight train, which chugs along the world’s highest rail route. Offering one and two-night journeys, it links Cusco with other famous places in Peru like Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.
The Sacred Valley
As the gateway to Machupicchu, the Sacred Valley can sometimes be overlooked yet still has an incredible treasure trove of Inca sites and is worth including on a Peru itinerary.
The first stop for those exploring on a day trip from Cusco is usually hiking from the village of Amaru to the community of Viacha, or visiting the Awanakancha textile center or market in Pisaq (also known as Pisac) to pick up souvenirs like traditional handicrafts and Alpaca blankets and meet the friendly llamas.
The fantastic archeological site in Pisaq is perched at the top of a slope overlooking agricultural terraces, serving up panoramic views of the entire valley stretched out below. Steep paths and steps wind through the stone temples, terraces and tunnels, and you can also look down onto the Sacred River.
The highlight of the complex is the Templo del Sol, and there are also lots of neat nooks and crannies which make for great photo-ops.
Other highlights include the picturesque village of Chinchero which holds the remains of the royal estate of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, and Ollantaytambo which was one of the last Inca towns to fall.
It features a well preserved town centre complete with the original aqueducts, Inca storage houses in the hills above town, the Ollantaytambo fortress and a ceremonial site. While navigating the cobblestone streets can be a bit of a challenge, Ollantaytambo has such a charm to it that many travellers end up spending a night here, then hopping on the train to Aguas Calientes the next morning.
Book a Sacred Valley tour:
The Huacachina Oasis
One of the best places to visit in Peru if you like quirky (and sunny!) spots is the Huacachina desert near Ica.
Featuring sweeping sand dunes, a lively village and mesmerizing sunsets centered around the emerald Huacachina lagoon, this place is a real life oasis complete with swaying palm trees. Legend has it that the lake was formed by the tears of a beautiful green-eyed woman who cried after her love passed away, and Huacachina means ‘weeping woman’ in Quechua.
Peru itineraries are usually full of big adventures, so the laid-back vibe around here can be a welcome change of pace. However, it’s not all about rest and relaxation here…at least when it comes to the dune buggies!
The most popular activity here involves hopping in a buggy that holds up to a dozen people, and heading straight for the hills. You’ll want your seatbelt firmly fastened for this roller coaster-like experience where the driver accelerates straight up the dunes which are several hundred feet high at thrillingly high speeds, then crests a ridge and tears down the other side.
Tours cost about 50 soles (around $20) plus an entrance fee of 3.70 soles per person, and can be booked at any lodging or travel agency in Huacachina or Ica. Wear sunglasses to keep as much of the sand out of your eyes as possible (a tough task), shoes, long clothing and a buff. Click here to book
Globe Guide tip: Book a dune buggy tour that starts in the late afternoon, so you can cap off the day by watching the sunset from on top of the dunes.
Huacachina sandboarding tours are also popular (and often included with the buggy tour) which is essentially snowboarding but on much less forgiving sand…and no chair lift. Tour companies supply the boards, and after a quick tutorial you can either go bodyboarding by lying face-down, or attempt to do it standing up.
Either way, prepare to get a face full of sand if you have a rough landing!
Some other fun things to do in Huacachina include:
- Renting a pedalo or boat to cruise on the water
- Visiting the vineyards near Ica to learn more about pisco and wine production
- Spot sea lions and Humboldt penguins in the beautiful Ballestas Islands, then head to the Fortress of Tambo Colorado which has stood since the 15th century
The Nasca lines
Not too far from Huacachina are the mysterious Nasca Lines, a series of geoglyphs that were traced into the desert’s surface. The illustrations measure up to 500 metres long, depicting animals like a spider, hummingbird, monkey and frigatebird though their meaning and who created them remains unknown.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the labyrinth of lines has remained preserved for nearly two thousand years The best way to see them is by booking a half hour flight in a light aircraft; otherwise, some can be seen from a 13 metre-high viewing tower and El Candelabro (‘The Candelabra’) is visible from the boat ride over to the Ballestas Islands. Click here to book
The Uros Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca
Ever heard of a village made entirely of reeds? That’s what you’ll discover at the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, which is one of the best cultural experiences in Peru.
The floating reed islands are located in southern Peru near Juno and the Bolivian border, and inhabited by the Indigenous Uru (or Uros) people who have lived on the lake for nearly 4,000 years. About 1,200 people remain today, who dress in traditional clothing and survive by eating fish they catch from the lake and eating edible parts of the surrounding reeds.
The islands are built entirely by hand by weaving together large bushels of the plentiful totora reed, layering them on top of each other, then anchoring them to the lake bed with sticks and rope. Since the reeds disintegrate over time, they have to be painstakingly rebuilt every few years.
There are dozens of floating islands, which also have sleeping huts and eating areas, and visitors are welcome to during half day and even overnight visits which is an incredible experience worth including on a Peru itinerary. Those lucky enough to spend the night can go out on a fishing boat, dress up in a traditional outfit and enjoy the tranquility of this off-the-grid spot.
Book a tour to the Lake Titicaca floating islands:
Finally, no Peru trip is complete without exploring the bustling capital of Lima, which 11 million people call home. While it has its fair share of noise and traffic, the ocean coastline, leafy parks and charming neighbourhoods make up for it.
In the historic centre you’ll find Plaza de Armas, which has a charming ambiance thanks to the preserved old lamp posts, fountain and horse drawn carriages. The square is framed by some of the most important landmarks like the Palace of Government, and you’ll find the sunshine-yellow San Francisco Cathedral just a few blocks away.
The district of Miraflores is one of the best places to visit in Lima, thanks to its views of the Pacific Ocean, fantastic restaurants and shopping, luxury hotels and attractions.
Go surfing at Playa Makaja, try paragliding, or enjoy the views from El Malecon, a six mile-long park that winds along the coast with a paved route for running, cycling and rollerblading. Relax in one of the sprawling green spaces, gaze up at the lighthouse, and be sure to stop by Parque del Amor.
The ‘Love Park’ has mosaic walls decorated with romantic quotes, immaculate gardens and stone staircases leading toward the El Beso sculpture depicting two lovers embraced in a passionate kiss.
Those interested in culture should head to Huaca Pucllana, which is a pyramid right in the middle of the city. The archeological site is believed to have been built somewhere between 200 and 700 AD, and is particularly enchanting at night when it’s lit up.
This neighbourhood is known as the bohemian arts district, and the eclectic area has little shops and grand homes lining the streets as you walk towards the ocean. Barranco’s most famous feature is the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros), a small wooden bridge that crosses over a ravine and has a place in local folklore.
One of the best things to do in Lima is visiting Huaca Huallamarca in San Isidro. The archeological complex dates back to around 200 BC, and was used as a temple, cemetery, and eventually a human settlement. It now hosts a museum holding artifacts like mummies, vessels and musical instruments.
There are also lots of great activities in Lima like food tours to sample Peruvian specialties, history walking tours and visiting the Magic Water Circuit where 13 interactive fountains are all lit up with coloured lights and choreographed to classical and Peruvian music.
Where to stay in Lima
- Hotel B: This intimate hotel in Barranco has nearly two dozen spacious suites in a historic building, and features elegant decor. Guests love the included breakfast and ocean views from the rooftop bar. Click here to book
- Fairfield Lima Miraflores: This top ranked hotel also has a budget-friendly price tag, making this one of the best places to stay in Lima. Its location in Miraflores is a great base for exploring the city, breakfast is complimentary and amenities include a gym and business centre.
Click here to book
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