Travel Guide Peru

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Trekking through the awe-inspiring Andes to the world-famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the main draw for most who travel to Peru. But this takes in only a fraction of the country’s treasures. Peru is home to a staggering array of landscapes – puzzling geoglyphs in the arid plains of Nazca, two of the world’s deepest canyons outside the colonial town of Arequipa, the lush Amazon jungle in the east and excellent surf in the northwest.

For those looking for adrenaline-fuelled fun, a host of outdoor activities are on offer, from trekking ancient trails and whitewater rafting to paragliding and hurtling through the desert on dune-buggy rides.

Andean culture is thriving in Peru. Tucked-away highland towns explode into colour on market day, and vibrant local fiestas are celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm.

In recent years, the country is widely hailed as one of the world’s culinary hotspots. There’s a particular buzz of excitement over Lima’s laidback, vibrant dining scene, ranging from backstreet cevicherías to gourmet restaurants. And in the big cities, you can expect lively nightlife too.

The potential for adventure and discovery in Peru is boundless. Packed with practical information and inspiring ideas, our Peru travel guide has everything you need to make the most of your trip.

Peru Travel Facts

  • Spoken language: Spanish and the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara.
  • Currency: Peruvian Sol (S/).
  • Population: Estimated 32 million; almost a third live in the capital city.
  • Capital: Lima.
  • Peruvian Amazon: Over 60% of the country is covered in Amazon Rainforest – the largest area after Brazil.
  • Deepest canyon: The Cotahuasi Canyon is the world’s deepest, with a depth of over 3500m (more than twice that of the Grand Canyon).
  • Highest sand dune: The Cerro Blanco is the highest in the world at 2070m above sea level and 1176m from base to summit.
  • National dish: roasted guinea pig (cuy); around 65 million eaten each year.
  • Native produce: Potatoes are native to Peru. There are over 3000 varieties grown in the country.

Where to go in Peru

There is so much to discover when travelling in Peru, from exotic jungle to coastal desert via the breathtaking peaks of the Andes.

Browse traditional crafts in Pisac market, hurtle yourself down a sand dune in Huacachina or kick back on a beach with a pisco sour.

It’s not possible to see everything in one trip but our Peru travel guide highlights some of the country’s finest attractions.

Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and around

Lima, Peru’s capital, with its mix of lifestyles and cultures and colonial elegance, has excellent museums and galleries, as well as lively bars and outstanding restaurants.

Cusco holds a wealth of wonderfully preserved Incan architecture, and an abundance of colonial treasures and flourishing Andean culture. Add to this a buzzing nightlife for an unmissable highlight of any Peru trip.

It is also the gateway to Machu Picchu, the country’s greatest archaeological attraction and a must-visit for all of those travelling Peru. The intriguing Inca citadel with its sprawl of temples and palaces is perched high up in the forested mountains of the Andes. If you have the time – and the legs for it, trekking the Inca trail is the most rewarding way to reach Machu Picchu.

Southern Peru: Nazca, Arequipa, Titicaca and around

The mysterious Nazca Lines (Líneas de Nazca), are a series of giant animal figures and geometric shapes, etched into the bleak landscape of the Pampa de San José. If the budget for your Peru trip can stretch to it, view this astonishing sight from the air.

Further south is Arequipa. Peru's second city and UNESCO World Heritage site has wonderful colonial mansions and churches fashioned from white and pale pink volcanic rock – hence the city's moniker, La Ciudad Blanca, or, The White City. This colonial gem is positioned against an extraordinary backdrop of volcanic peaks.

Colca Canyon (Cañon del Colca) is within easy reach of Arequipa and is one of the most visited attractions for those travelling in Peru. Twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, it’s a trekker’s delight. Trails pass cascading falls, hot springs, herds of llamas and traditionally dressed farmers – while majestic condors glide silently above.

Further inland is Lake Titicaca (Lago Titicaca), the world’s largest high-altitude body of water. It’s an undeniably calming and magical sight, the deep blue water reflecting the vast sky. The islands of Islas Taquile and Amantani on the lake offer a fascinating glimpse of what life must have been like five hundred years ago.

Lesser known Peru: Trujillo and the north, the Central Sierra, the Amazon

Northern Peru is chock-full of riches, both man-made and natural – but only sees a fraction of the visitors that more obvious attractions receive.

Trujillo

Lively and cosmopolitan Trujillo, dubbed the City of the Eternal Spring because of its ideal climate, is Peru’s northern capital city. It’s home to several important Inca sites, including the huge sun and moon pyramids Huaca del Sol (the largest adobe structure in the Americas), and Huaca de la Luna.

Beaches in the north

Northern Peru can bask in the glory of having some of the country's best beaches. Máncora, Peru’s trendiest resort has sunshine, warm water and near-perfect surf conditions at times – plus a hot nightlife. Or head for the isolation of Lobitos for surfing, or simple peace and quiet.

The Amazon Basin

Covering over half of the country, the Amazon is teeming with wildlife – from exotic birds, anteaters, caimans, monkeys, as well as prowling jaguars and pumas (if you’re lucky). Explore parts of this huge, dense, sultry rainforest via boat trips along the river. Stay in a jungle lodge or in an indigenous village and visit the fun and vivacious city Iquitos – hot by day, with a sizzling nightlife after sundown.

The Central Sierra

Many visitors skirt this region when they visit Peru. Yet it’s a treasure trove of archeological sites, handsome colonial architecture and tradition – such as in Tarma and Ayacucho. There’s also wonderful mountain scenery for exploring on foot.

Discover more places in Peru

Best Time to Go to Peru

Figuring out the best time to travel to Peru depends on what you plan to do and where you plan to go. Temperatures and rainfall vary across the country.

If you’re making a beeline for the desert coast and stopping off in Lima, you’re best off going between December and March, when the sun is shining and it’s hot. Between April and November it’s cooler and misty. There are occasional showers over Lima, although the north generally is mostly dry.

The Andes, on the other hand, is under heavy rains from December to March, yet warm and pretty dry from June to September.

The jungle is simply hot and humid throughout the year, with heavier rainfall from December to March.

Find out more about when to go to Peru.

How to get to Peru

Most people fly in and arrive at Jorge Chávez airport in Lima. There are no direct flights from the UK to Peru and flights usually involve a stop in Europe or the US. Take a look at Skyscanner for flight options into Cusco, Lima, and Trujillo airports with a selection of different stopovers.

When arriving in Lima, we strongly advise that you take an official Taxi Green service, or use the bus transfer to Miraflores. Local taxis have a reputation for robbing passengers.

It is possible to travel overland to Peru via South America; you can get a bus from Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia or Chile.

Our Peru travel guide has more detailed information on getting to Peru: flights into Peru, buses and boats from neighbouring countries.

How to get around Peru

The quickest way to travel long distances in Peru is to take a domestic flight. It can really save you time, and many cities are within a two-hour flight of Lima. You’ll get the best fares by booking in advance.

There are a plethora of companies to choose from if you want to travel overland by bus. For intercity rides, it’s best to buy tickets in advance direct from the bus company offices.

Taxis can be found in almost every town, and any car can become a taxi. In smaller towns, you’ll also find mototaxis which are like motorcycle rickshaws. Colectivos (shared taxis) are also an option. Beware though that in the cities colectivos do not have a good safety record.

Peru has some awe-inspiring train journeys with spectacular viewing opportunities. Remember to book train tickets at least a week or two before travel.

Many of Peru’s major attractions, such as Machu Picchu, can only be reached on foot, so a good pair of walking boots are essential too.

Find out more about how to travel around Peru.

10 best places to visit in Peru

Here are 10 of the best places to visit in Peru – covering gorgeous beaches and dense jungle, deep canyons and ancient archaeological sites, as well as lively and beautiful cities.

  1. Colca Canyon (Cañyon del Colca)This enormous valley is second only to Machu Picchu as a tourist draw and one of Peru’s most popular trekking and canoeing destinations. Mirador Cruz del Condor, a breathtaking viewpoint on the rim of the canyon, offers daily sightings of wild condors swooping above and below.
  2. Cotahuasi CanyonOne of the world’s deepest canyons, Cotahuasi is exactly what adventurous types who travel to Peru are looking for. Quieter than Colca Canyon and relatively unvisited, it offers spectacular scenery – with pre-Inca towns tucked up next to the river and high up on the cliff.
  3. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

    The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are standout attractions on a visit to Peru. The majestic Inca citadel, with its remains of temples and palaces, sits within hundreds of steep terraces high up in the Andes. Alongside the classic Inca Trail, the Salcantay and Lares treks are equally breathtaking.

  4. Lima

    Explore the capital city’s museums and colonial architecture and enjoy the upmarket neighbourhood of Miraflores. Give in to tempting gourmet treats and exotic culinary experiences. Take a stroll through Parque del Amor with views of the Pacific Ocean, or Parque Kennedy for its evening craft market.

  5. Amazon Wildlife

    Spot a sloth in the treetops of the Amazon, go hummingbird spotting on a birdwatching tour and, if you’re very lucky, catch sight of a jaguar prowling through the jungle. Take time to seek out Peru’s wildlife, which is as diverse as you would expect.

  6. Lake Titicaca

    Lake Titicaca is famed for its tranquil, mirror-like water, which the Incas believed to be the birthplace of the sun. Don’t miss the floating reed islands.

  7. Isla Ballestas

    Take a boat tour around the islet of Isla Ballestas, just a few hours south of Lima. It’s full of life, including sea lions, killer whales, penguins and green leatherback turtles.

  8. Valley of the Pyramids (Valle De Las Piramides)

    North of Lima lies the Valley of the Pyramids. Comprising over 20 impressive adobe pyramids, these were built by a pre-Inca civilisation, surrounding a sacred mountain at Túcume.

  9. Mancora

    This coastal town is one of Peru’s most popular surfer hangouts with gorgeous beaches and buzzing nightlife.

  10. Cordillera Blanca

    This is a mecca for climbers and great for those who travel to Peru looking for adventure. Activities on offer include mountain climbing, trekking, horseriding and whitewater rafting.

Take a look at these wonderful photos to get a sense of Peru and its people.

Itineraries for Peru

The carefully-curated itineraries in our Peru guide will inspire you to make the most of your trip, whether you’re travelling to Peru for the first time or you’re a seasoned visitor.

We cover Peru’s principle historical and archaeological sites, as well as lesser known attractions off the beaten track, stunning beaches, desert terrain, jungle landscapes – and more.

The Grand Tour covers the main highlights and attractions in the south of Peru, including beaches and islands, a desert oasis, major cities – and the Incan citadel, Machu Picchu. It’s ideal for those who want a taster of everything with two to four weeks travel time.

The Northern Circuit takes in the surfing towns and beaches in the north and the ancient mountain citadel of Kuelap. You can also travel by river to get a taste of the Peruvian rainforest.

Or finally, choose the Top Ancient Sites tour in which you’ll seek out a collection of incredible historical sites. See all Peru itineraries.

Accommodation in Peru

There is a huge range of accommodation in Peru, from basic rooms and shared dorms to luxury international hotels. There are 5-star hotels available in Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Trujillo and Iquitos, as well as many mid-range options. Budget accommodation and hostels are available all over Peru from around S/24–34 (US $7–$10; £5–8 per night).

In the jungle, you can find Tambo lodges which can be quite luxurious, or open-sided palm-thatched huts.

Camping is possible almost everywhere in Peru. There are few organised campsites in the country, but you can choose to pitch a tent almost anywhere, and you can easily camp along the coast.

Find out more in the Peru guide to accommodation.

Food and drink in Peru

Peru is one of the world’s culinary hotspots and offers an array of food to suit all palates. It has a vibrant dining scene that has plenty of gourmet restaurants and backstreet cevicherias and different regions offer up their own specialities.

Common dishes of Peru

Guinea Pig (cuy): traditional dish available all over Peru, particularly mountain regions

Anticuchos: shish kebab made from marinated lamb or beef hearts

empanadas: a filled pie

ceviche: classic Peruvian seafood dish eaten by locals for over 2000 years – raw fish and seafood is marinated and cured in citrus juice.

Mountain food can be fairly basic, and it’s usually a staple of meat, potatoes and rice. If you head into the jungle, you’ll find dishes are often made with banana, plantain, yuca, plenty of fish and rice. Try these 6 Peruvian recipes.

Peru is also well-known for its infamous Pisco sour, a white-grape brandy with a unique, powerful and very palatable flavour. Find out more about Food and Drink in Peru.

Ecotourism in Peru

Ecotourism is well developed in the Amazon rainforest region of Peru, particularly around Manu, Iquitos in the northern jungle and the Tambopata region. Choose from river tours and jungle lodges from which you can explore the forest on foot. You will discover wildlife and all kinds of flora, and can visit riverside communities and indigenous villages.

Ecotourism is very much alive in the Peruvian Andes too. Many operators offer tours on foot or horseback into the high Andes and cloudforest regions.

Active adventures in Peru

If you’re looking for adrenaline-fuelled fun when you visit Peru, you’ll be excited to learn there are numerous outdoor activities on offer, from trekking ancient trails and whitewater rafting to hurtling through the desert on a dune-buggy.

With the highest tropical mountain range in the world, extensive areas of wilderness and a long Pacific coastline, Peru’s varied terrain makes it ideal for all kinds of active adventures.

Trekking and climbing

The Colca Canyon and Cordillera Blanca area are the most popular areas for trekking and climbing. The desert coast has unique eco-niches that are easily explored from Lima, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Nasca, Pisco, Ica and Arequipa.

Canoeing

Peru is hard to beat for canoeing and whitewater rafting and Cusco is one of the top rafting and canoeing centres in South America. You can gain access to a whole range of river grades from 2 to 5 on the Rio Urubamba. Note however, you should only attempt river running with reputable companies and knowledgeable local guides.

Cycling

Several companies offer guided cycling tours, which can be an excellent way to see the best of Peru. Huaraz and Cusco are both popular destinations for bikers.

Surfing

People have surfed the waves off the coast of Peru for thousands of years. The best beaches – Chicama, Cabo Blanco and Punta Rocas rival those of Hawaii and Brazil.

There are numerous reputable tour operators offering guided trips and adventure expeditions. For more comprehensive listings we recommend purchasing the Rough Guide to Peru.

Peru’s National Parks

Peru’s National Parks are host to incredible wildlife and plants. Almost 10% of Peru is incorporated into some form of protected area, including national parks and reserves, sanctuaries and forests.

The largest of these protected areas is the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria, an incredible tropical forest region in northern Peru. Closely following in size is the Manu Biosphere Reserve, another vast and stunning jungle area.

Reserva Nacional Tambopata and Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene are areas of the Amazon with possibly the richest flora and fauna of any region on the planet, including many exotic and colourful birds. Smaller, but just as fascinating, is the Parque Nacional Huascarán in the high snowcapped mountains of the Andes, near Huaraz – a popular trekking and climbing region. The lesser-visited Reserva Nacional Pampas Galeras, close to Nasca is also worth exploring.

There’s usually a small charge to visit the national parks or nature reserves.

Travel advice for Peru

Check out the travel essentials section for all the Peru travel advice you need to make sure your trip runs smoothly. It covers tips on travelling in Peru, including staying healthy and safe, costs and insurance. It also includes tips on travelling with children, customs, etiquette, and more.

Travel visa requirements for Peru

Citizens from the UK don’t need a travel visa if the purpose of the visit is tourism. Currently, EU, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African citizens can stay in Peru as tourists for up to 183 days. If you travel to Peru for any other reason, it’s best to check entry requirements with the Peruvian Consulate in London or your local embassy. On arrival, you are usually given permission to stay for up to 90 days.

If you travel into Peru overland from a neighbouring country, be sure to get your passport stamped with a Peruvian entry stamp at the local immigration office. Find out more about the travel requirements for Peru for the UK or check with your local embassy for more information.

Top image © Stefano73/Shutterstock

Best of the fiestas

Peruvians love any excuse for a celebration. In Andean towns and villages, especially, communities host a huge number of festivals. Most of these have some link to the religious calendar, and the major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter – infused with indigenous elements – still provide the basis for the biggest festivities. Cusco in particular is a great place for holidays that involve some sort of Inca ritual, Puno is renowned as the capital of Andean music and folkloric tradition, and in the hills around Huaraz, it’s common to stumble across a village fiesta, with its explosion of human energy and noise, bright colours and a mixture of pagan and Catholic symbolism. Costumed processions, eating and drinking are the core activities of village celebrations, and gatherings are an excuse for locals to show off their musical talents and dance moves.

Peruvian cuisine

Peru’s astonishing ecological diversity has helped to produce an exciting cuisine. The national dish – ceviche – is made from fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and chillies, then served with sweet potato, a cob of corn and salad. Washed down at Sunday lunchtime with a cool Cusqueña beer, it’s an experience not to be missed.

Cuy (roast guinea pig), an exotic local speciality, is also worth a try, even if the thought may be off-putting. Street snacks are tasty and good value – grilled meats and empanadas are available almost anywhere, alongside delicious tropical produce. Finally, don’t leave without sampling the national tipple, pisco sour: a mix of Peruvian pisco, lime, syrup, egg white and bitters – delicious and surprisingly potent.

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Rough Guides Editors
11/5/2020
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