Trekking through the awe-inspiring Andes to the world-famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the main draw for most travellers to Peru. However, truth be told, this is only a fraction of the treasures that lie within one of South America’s most diverse countries. If you are looking for inspiration or just to get a feel of the country, here is our guide to the best things to do in Peru.
This article is inspired by our Rough Guide to Peru — your essential guide for travelling in Peru.
Andean markets serve as true community hubs – not to mention excellent places to sample local goods and produce – and Pisac’s thriving morning market is one of the best.
The thriving market is held in and around the town’s main square, where you can buy hand-painted ceramic beads and pick up the occasional bargain. There are a number of excellent artesanía stands open daily, selling all manner of goods from baby alpaca blankets to jumpers. A perfect stop on a trip to Peru.
The ruined citadel of Kuelap is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the Andes mountains. Near the towns of Maria and Tingo, these ancient settlements were originally built by the Chachapoyas culture in 500 AD. Situated on top of a mountain, this ruin is one of the most impressive in South America and is one of the best things to do in Peru.
At 3850m above sea level, the Lagunas de Llanganuco are the result of thousands of years of Huascarán’s meltwater. Located in Parque Nacional Huascarán, the Lagunas de Llanganuco are two stunning, deep-blue lakes. These lakes are surrounded by Peru's highest and most dramatic peaks.
According to the myth, the lagoon at Huacachina was created when a princess stripped off her clothes to bathe. As she looked into a mirror and saw that a male hunter was watching her, she dropped the mirror, which then became the lagoon.
This desert oasis offers spectacular scenery. This healing lagoon is ringed by palm trees and hidden among massive sand dunes. It draws sand boarders and dune-buggy riders from all over the world.
When visiting Peru, you’ll probably want to spend time at the world’s highest navigable lake, Lago Titicaca. The surrounding area is renowned for its folk dances and Andean music.
Visit and stay on one of the islands, or on the mainland, to experience life in a very traditional Andean household. Or get to know its main town and port – Puno, a high, quite an austere city with a cold climate and incredibly rarefied air.
One of Lake Titicaca’s many treasures, the man-and-woman-made floating villages (known as the floating islands) on the Uros islands have existed in the lake since Inca times.
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Though it doesn’t attract the hype of Lima or Cusco, Peru’s third city Trujillo charms with its colonial architecture and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Recognized for its lavish colonial architecture and colourful old mansions.
Lively and cosmopolitan, it’s small enough to get to know in a couple of days and is renowned for its friendly citizens. Known as the City of the Eternal Spring, its climate is ideal – warm and dry without the fog you get around Lima or the intense heat of the northern deserts.
Often called the Peruvian Galapagos, the Ballestas Islands located off the coast of Pisco are teeming with bird and marine life.
Within a morning’s boat ride from the town of Pisco, these guano islands with their much-photographed rock arches are home to an impressive range of seabirds and mammalian marine life. Expect to find here vast seabird colonies as well as sea lions, dolphins, penguins and sharks – and boat trips.
Are you planning a solo trip? Don't miss our guide to the best places to travel to alone.
In much of the Peruvian coast, seafood is a speciality. The Humboldt Current keeps the Pacific Ocean off Peru extremely rich in plankton and other microscopic life forms, which attract a wide variety of fish.
Ceviche — Peru’s national dish — is a refreshing treat. It is a mix of fresh fish soaked in lime juice and chillies. This classic Peruvian seafood dish has been eaten by locals for over two thousand years.
Want to make your own ceviche at home? See our list of the six Peruvian recipes you need to try.
The Peruvian Amazon can be viewed at its best from the longest tree-top canopy walkway. Reaching 35m above ground, the long and famous Amazon Explorama Field Station is one of the best things to do in Peru. For many, this offers a completely unique way to experience the amazon rainforest.
Just a few hours out of Lima, Reserva Nacional de Paracas is a coastal wildlife haven, boasting some fantastic beaches alongside archaeological sites. Home to some of the world’s richest seas (a couple of thousand square kilometres of the ocean is included within the reserve’s borders).
You'll find here an abundance of marine plankton that nourishes a vast array of fish and various marine species, including octopus, squid, whale, shark, dolphin, bass, plaice and marlin.
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The glacial scenery of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range is among the finest and most accessible on the planet. The Cordillera Blanca extends its icy chain of summits for 140 to 160km north of Huaraz.
Of the many mountain lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, Lake Parón, above Caraz, is renowned as the most beautiful. Yungay and Caraz in particular are both popular bases for trekkers.
Situated at the foot of an occasionally snow-tufted volcano – El Misti (5821m) – and close to four other prominent volcanoes, Arequipa has long been famous for having one of the most beautiful settings and pleasant climates of all Peru’s cities.
This city is endowed with some of the country’s finest colonial churches and mansions. Many of which were constructed from white and pinkish-white volcanic sillar, cut from the surrounding mountains – the reason, some say, why the city is dubbed “The White City”.
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Bustling streets, passionate religious processions and unique artesanía make the Andean city Ayacucho a standout. Ayacucho is one of Central Cierra's most traditional towns. You'll find here the cultural jewels of the Andes, replete with colonial churches and some of Peru’s finest artisan crafts. A visit to Ayacucho is one of the best things to do in Peru.
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The walled complex of a lost city is now ancient ruins. The name Sacsayhuaman is of disputed origin, with different groups holding that it means either “satiated falcon”, “speckled head” or “city of stone”. The zigzag megalithic defensive walls of the Incan Sacsayhuaman are home to the annual Inti Raymi Festival of the Sun.
Ready to see all the ancient sites this south American country has to offer? Don't miss our guide to the top ancient sites in Peru.
This UNESCO world heritage site is one of the most important ancient temple sites in the Andes mountains. Dating back over 2500 years, the large temple of Chavin de Huantar has many striking stone carvings and gargoyles, both externally and within its subterranean chambers.
This area is associated with the Chavín cult and is a three- to four-hour journey from Huaraz, ( only 30km southeast of Huari).
Looking for inspiration for your trip to Peru? See our pictures of Peru as an inspirational stopping-off point.
Once just an attractive roadside fishing port, Mancora is now the most fashionable beach in Peru, attracting an international surf crowd. It’s a highly welcome and enjoyable stopover when travelling along the north coast.
Well served by public transport and spread out along the Panamericana as it lies parallel to a beautiful sandy beach. Visit here for the gorgeous beaches and buzzing nightlife.
Over twenty adobe pyramids built by a pre-Inca civilization surround a sacred mountain at Túcume in the northern deserts. Covering more than two hundred hectares, Túcume was occupied initially by the Sicán culture, which began building here around 1100 AD.
At Túcume’s peak, it was probably a focus of annual pilgrimage for a large section of the coastal population. Today the ruins are abandoned since the 16th century. The surrounding villages offer a place to eat. A visit to this ancient site is one of the best things to do in Peru.
The world-famous Nazca Lines, including stylized geometric and animal figures, were etched, seemingly impossibly, into a massive desert pampa. Take a helicopter tour to get the full impact of the intricate symbols of the Nazca lines, etched into the deserts of southern Peru.
If you plan to visit the Lines by air or on foot, you’ll have to spend at least one night at the stopping point of Nazca. Though we recommend more time to really do the area justice.
Twice the size of the Grand Canyon, the enormous Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, is also one of the best places to visit in Peru.
In places, the canyon’s sides are so steep that it is impossible to see the valley bottom, while the higher edges of Colca are punctuated with some of the finest examples of pre-Inca terracing in Peru, attributed in the main to the Huari cultural era. After Machu Picchu, the Cañón del Colca is Peru’s most visited attraction.
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With ancient temples and palaces nestling among hundreds of terraces, these famous Inca ruins are awe-inspiring. Machu Picchu is one of the greatest of all South American tourist attractions.
The site’s mysterious origins are central to its enduring appeal, but even without knowing too much about its history or archaeology, it’s quite possible to enjoy a visit to Machu Picchu. Enter the site before dawn, then sit and wait for sunrise. The first rays of the sun spill over the surrounding peaks to illuminate the well-preserved stone buildings, paths and terraces.
For a full experience, take the Inca trail to hike Machu Picchu. It is by far the best-known and most popular trekking trail to the site. For many, this hike is one of the main tourist attractions of Peru.
Located in the Andes Mountains, visiting Vinicunca (aka Rainbow Mountains) is one of the best things to do in Peru. These mountains have fabulous multi-coloured striations that have only recently been revealed to the world thanks to melting glaciers.
You'll find here an interestingly colourful geographical site. But be warned, these mountains are quite high, and it is best to book a tour with a tour company when visiting.
El Valle Segrado (Sacred Valley), or Vilcamayo to the Incas, about 30km northwest of Cusco, traces its winding, astonishingly beautiful course from here down towards Urubamba. This area is packed with beautiful remains of the Inca empire.
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This list could truly go on. There are countless fantastic things to do in Peru. Ready to start planning your trip? Check out The Rough Guide to Peru. Learn more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Peru.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Peru without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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