Peru is a country that is difficult to match in terms of sheer diversity and uniqueness. It’s a cultural feast for travelers to explore, where Spanish and Incan cultures clash head-on to produce an unusual Peruvian culture that’s unlike anywhere else in the world.
It’s a land of incredible food, ramshackle colonial buildings, and ancient archaeological sites.
Peru is where the mighty mountains of the Andes meet with the coastal plains and the crashing waves of the Atlantic, where you can explore beaches one day and high, snow-covered peaks and winding high altitude valleys the next.
This is where the Amazon River begins its long journey across the continent, starting as a trickle amongst rocks before crashing down into the tropics and across the continent towards the Atlantic Ocean thousands of miles away.
There’s much to see and much more to do in this South American destination, from exploring colonial cities to hiking some of the world’s most iconic trails.
Make sure to fit in time for all the classics. Walk to the world-famous Machu Picchu, discover the Lines of Nazca, but make sure you get off the beaten track too and explore more of the unknown destinations hidden across the country.
To help you plan your trip, here’s our guide for the best things to do in Peru.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Peru (Travel Guide)
Things to do in Peru
The number of things to do in Peru are in many ways endless. Away from the traditional sights of the cities and the archaeological sites that have become world-famous, there are areas of the country that are really unexplored and uncharted by tourism.
The number of hikes to make, mountain peaks to climb and Andean villages to explore are indeed numberless and you may find yourself returning again and again as you find more and more intrepid things to do.
1. Explore Lima
All good Peruvian journeys will most likely begin and probably end in the capital, Lima. This is a sprawling, urban metropolis, a place surrounded by mountains and hedged against dramatic cliffs by the raging currents and waves of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s a city full of history, with colonial streets, mansions, and cathedrals waiting to be explored. There are magnificent museums, charting not only the Spanish history of Peru but the Inca history and the long-lived ancient cultures that called this land home long before anyone else laid a claim.
Lima has an ever-growing and confident culinary scene too, with many foodies beginning to praise the delights of the national dishes and the gourmet opportunities that are only just being discovered by the outside world.
Lima is the place to try it all, to have a drink, to learn about the distinct Peruvian culture, and to prepare for your journey into the rest of the country.
Our top recommended tours of Lima:
- Lima Historical Center Private Tour with a Local
- Lima City Sightseeing Tour
- Small Group Lima Discovery Walking Tour
- Lima Full-Day Experience: Pachacamac, Historic Downtown and Magic Water Circuit
2. Wander the streets of Cusco
Cusco is Peru’s second city and these days, it’s very much Peru’s tourist city. Cusco is the best place from which to base yourself to begin the famous Machu Picchu trail, and consequently, the city has grown to take in hikers and travelers from all over the world.
There’s a colorful nightlife and the rich, local Inca traditions are very much on display, even if it’s all just a show for the tourists.
Cusco though is an interesting place in its own right, with a long indigenous and colonial history, many ruins, museums and local sights to see. Don’t miss the strange but wonderful sight of the Rainbow Mountains, which aren’t far from Cusco.
Our top recommended tours of Cusco:
- Cusco Night Walking Tour and Pisco Sour Lesson
- Cusco Markets and Ruins Small Group Tour
- Peruvian Cooking Class and Local Market in Cusco
- Cusco Rafting and Zipline Adventure
3. Visit Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu has to be Peru’s most famous and most visited attraction. Located at high altitude in the Andes, Machu Picchu is the site of an ancient Inca city that was for years lost to knowledge.
Once it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 20th century, it quickly became a tourist attraction and these days, hundreds of people make the trek to the ruins of this Incan settlement each day.
The trail here takes two to four days and permits and permission are needed, as are guides, The trail closes in the rainy season too, so make sure to plan your trip in the dry, winter months.
Machu Picchu is an icon of indigenous South American culture, and although it can get busy, it’s a trip that needs to be done.
Our top recommended tours of Machu Picchu:
- Machu Picchu Private Guided Tour from Aguas Calientes
- 2-Day Tour: Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu by Train
- Machu Picchu Private Full-Day Tour from Cusco
- Private Full-Day Tour To Machu Picchu
4. Take on the Salkantay Trail
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can become relentlessly packed and crowded during peak season but don’t fear, because there is a new trail which is proving to be a much quieter, and equally spectacular, rival to the Inca Trail.
The Salkantay Trail is also known as the llama trail because it’s essentially a longer back road to Machu Picchu that until recently, was only taken by the llamas.
This trail is harder and takes four to five days, but it’s a brilliant way to escape the crowds.
Our top recommended tours of Salkantay Trail:
- Salkantay 5-Day Trek To Machu Picchu
- 5-Day Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu Tour from Cusco
- Salkantay Trek short
- Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu 5-days
5. Explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a large region in the south, encompassing Cusco and many other towns and cities that were once the site of the Incan Empire’s strongholds and religious sites.
Today there are many ruins and archeological sites waiting to be explored and there are countless opportunities to make multi-day hikes through the valley, to explore this lost civilization.
Our top recommended tours of The Sacred Valley of the Incas:
- Sacred Valley Tour Including Lunch
- Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco
- Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu 5-Day Tour
- Sacred Valley Private Tour in One Day from Cusco
6. Marvel at Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is a huge freshwater lake that stretches across the border between Peru and Bolivia. It’s the largest lake in South America, and also the largest high altitude lake of substantial size in the world.
It’s best accessed from the Peruvian side, and there are many hiking opportunities as well as incredible trips to the famous floating islands out on the water.
Our top recommended tours of Lake Titicaca:
- Full Day Tour: Uros and Taquile Islands on the Titicaca Lake from Puno
- Lake Titicaca and Sun Island Catamaran Cruise from Puno
- Lake Titicaca Day Tour
- Lake Titicaca Full-Day Tour from Puno: Uros and Taquile Floating Islands
7. Fly Over the Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are one of the most interesting and compelling sights awaiting you in Peru. These strange lines can only really be experienced from the air, as they are on such a huge scale that few people even realized they were there for centuries.
The lines represent distinct shapes and have been preserved in the earth for years by the desert-like landscape. No one is really sure why they were constructed, but of course, there are many theories.
Our top recommended tours of The Nazca Lines:
- Nazca Lines Tour from Lima Including Lunch
- Nazca Lines full experience departing from Nazca
- Full Day Tour Nazca Lines & Ballestas Islands
8. Visit the Amazon
Peru may be more well known for its high peaks and deserts than anything you would associate with the Amazon, but this is the country where this mighty river begins its long, long course to the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many regions from which to explore the diverse, dense jungle of the rain forest. Head to Iquitos – the largest city in the world with no roads – for an excellent insight into local life, or visit Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, for truly incredible scenery.
If you’re looking to add a shorter Amazon trip to your Cuzco visit, I’d highly recommend Puerto Maldonado. We’ve been twice and the area is unreal. It’s a great place for an introduction to the Amazon rainforest.
Our top recommended tours of The Amazon:
- 3-Day Amazon Jungle Tour at Sinchicuy Lodge
- 3-Day Iquitos Amazon Jungle Adventure at Heliconia Lodge
- 3-Day Amazon Jungle Tour at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica
- Macaw Clay Lick 2 days & 1 night
Peru Planning Tips
How to Travel to Peru
Travelers to Peru are most likely to find themselves flying into the nation’s capital and largest city, Lima. This is where the country’s major international airport is found, and where you can connect domestically on regional flights or, if you are adventurous enough, find a local bus to ride out into the provinces.
There are many regular connections to neighboring South American countries as well as to the US and less frequently to Europe.
There are land borders between Ecuador and Peru and between Bolivia and Peru that are open to tourists, although many will find it much easier to fly between capitals rather than undertaking mammoth overland journeys. It is definitely possible though.
Within Peru, Ecuador’s major cities are well connected with flights, particularly Lima and Cusco. There are a few train lines, but if you choose not to fly, you will find the most convenient mode of transport is the bus.
Distances though can be long and time-consuming. Lima to Cusco is a 1.5 hour flight for instance, but most buses will take as much 24 hours to travel the distance.
Best Time to Visit Peru
Peru is a diverse country, and along with the cultural and geographical variety can come a huge divergence in weather patterns across the country.
Generally speaking, Peru experiences a wet and dry season, with the rain falling in summer between December and March and the driest periods of the year occurring in winter, between May and September.
Peru is technically in the tropics, but much of the country lies at high altitude or amongst dry desert plains, meaning the location is mostly negated by these facts of geography.
Cusco in the south, the base for hiking Machu Picchu, is best visited in winter when temperatures are best for walking while Lima, the capital is best visited in the long, hot summer days.
Year-round though, you will find somewhere in the country with the perfect conditions for enjoyable travel.
Recommended Multi-Day Tours
- G Adventures Active Ecuador & Peru– Speed is the watchword for this high-adrenaline active tour around Ecuador and Peru. Across sixteen action-packed days, you’ll bike near Cotopaxi (an Andean stratovolcano), raft down rushing rivers, trek the iconic Inca Trail, and much, much more. Best of all, you’ll always travel with an experienced and passionate CEO who knows the quickest and most scenic routes to wherever you’re headed. Remember, you’re here for a great time, not a long time; slather on that sunscreen, strap on your helmet, and hit the road/trail/surf!
- G Adventures Explore Machu Picchu & The Amazon River– Combine two amazing adventures in one unforgettable 11-day trip that takes in the wonder of Machu Picchu and the mystical Amazon River. Ride the scenic train to the famous Inca ruins, then venture deep into the rain forest on a riverboat, spotting wildlife along the way. From the pinnacle of a fascinating civilization to the depths of pristine wilderness, this journey will ignite your passion for adventure.
- G Adventures Inca Discovery in Peru– Perfect for those looking to experience the region’s archaeological and cultural treasures in a short amount of time, this adventure includes a four-day trek along the Inca Trail. This is one of the world’s best-known hikes and will reward those willing to break a sweat with a stunning combination of mountain scapes, cloud forests, and jungles. We run our own treks, which ensures the fair treatment of our porters and quality equipment.
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|Explore Machu Picchu & The Amazon River |
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More on Peru
- How to Visit the Amazon in Peru
- Unforgettable Amazon with the Tambopata Research Center
- Posada Amazonas: Where Culture Meets the Amazon
- Amazon Adventure at Wasai Tambopata Lodge in Peru