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Peru is one of the most popular places to visit in South America, and for good reason – it’s a geographically diverse, multicultural nation with a fascinating history (did you know it’s the birthplace of the famed Inca people!).
When most people think of Peru, they think of Machu Picchu, the world-famous Incan city that’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But there’s so much more to this exotic country than that – from the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain to the foodie capital of South America, Lima, to the shimmering Lake Titicaca, which is home to the Uros people – once you visit, you’ll never want to leave.
You could easily spend a year traveling through this gorgeous country and still not see it all. There are literally hundreds of epic places to visit in Peru, and deciding where to go will be a challenge! Peru is one of our favorite countries in the world. In fact, the first time we visited, we overstayed our visitor visas and spent nearly three months traveling this beautiful country!
We’ve put this incredibly detailed blog post together to let you in on the secret “hidden gem” places in Peru as well as to tell you about the most unique things to do in the country’s biggest cities, Arequipa and Cusco! Each destination in Peru is so different, but I just know after reading this, you’ll fall in love with them all like we did!
- Getting Around Peru
- When is the Best Time to Visit Peru?
- Best Places to Visit in Peru
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
Getting Around Peru
Peru is a huge country (it’s twice the size of Texas), so before you get there, you need to think about how you’re going to get from A to B.
The bus is the best and easiest way to get around Peru. Even though they take longer, they’re a reliable, safe, and cheap option. The best way to book a bus journey in Peru is with BusBud, as it shows you all the routes and companies available and is super easy to use!
There are several private bus companies in Peru, the most popular being Peru Hop, Cruz del Sur, Tepsa, La Linea, and Movil, but these typically only travel between cities, e.g., Lima to Ica and Cusco to Puno. They have comfortable, assigned seats and offer a checked baggage system, so you know that your luggage is being stored securely.
Another popular option is to book a shuttle service via Bookaway. These are essentially a minivan that typically goes directly from A to B and are a slightly more luxurious option. Bookaway also shows options to book bus trips if you want to grab tickets that way.
Alternatively, for travelers who want an authentic Peru experience, you can hop on a cheap local bus. These depart from the company’s office rather than the main bus terminal. So, this is the best option if you’re on a budget and don’t mind the bus stopping regularly.
If you have a bigger budget and want to go off the beaten path, then renting a car in Peru is a fantastic option, as it gives you freedom. The main roads in Peru are, for the most part, well-maintained, so driving here is a pleasant experience.
Recognizable companies like Hertz and Alamo operate in Peru, but we always use Discover Cars for our car rentals no matter where we are in the world. It lets you filter companies by their rating, which means that you can rest assured you’re booking with a reputable company.
Train travel isn’t very popular in Peru. It’s mostly used by tourists to get to Machu Picchu, as both IncaRail and PeruRail operate lines from Cusco (or the nearby town of Ollantaytambo) to Machu Picchu. PeruRail also travels to Puno and Arequipa.
Domestic flights in Peru are booming, and airlines like Star Peru, LATAM Peru, and Peruvian Airlines are the most popular in the country. They operate regular routes between major cities like Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, as well as more remote destinations like Iquitos and Pucallpa – which is handy as both these spots are notoriously hard to reach.
As you can guess, flying will work out a lot more expensive than traveling by bus, but of course, your travel time will be a lot less. Expect to pay around $127 USD for a one-way flight between Cusco and Lima!
When is the Best Time to Visit Peru?
The dry season is the best time to visit Peru. This season runs from May to October. The temperatures are lower this time of year, but it’s sunny and dry with very little rain. But keep in mind that the nights get very cold, dropping to 0°C (32°F) in Lima and often dropping below freezing in Cusco!
If you plan to hike, the dry season is when you should plan your visit as the hiking conditions are ideal. This is also the busiest time, so advance booking on Peru’s most popular hikes like the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek are essential.
If you plan to visit Peru during its wet season (November to March), temperatures will be higher, but there’s much more rainfall. If you hate crowds, this is when you should travel to Peru! Plus, hotels, flights, and activities will be cheaper during these months. Although the wet season isn’t ideal for hiking, it’s the perfect time to visit the Amazon as the flora and fauna are in full bloom, and the wildlife tends to be more active!
Related Read: Peru is a relatively safe travel destination, but if you’re feeling a little nervous about your visit, be sure to read my blog on South America Safety Tips!
Best Places to Visit in Peru
First up on my list of the best places to visit in Peru is the memorable and historic city of Cusco! In the past, Cusco served as the capital of the Inca empire, and its fascinating history is evident in the city’s top sights like Sacsayhuamán Fortress, a huge stone wall that contains stones weighing up to 300 tons!
Today, Cusco is a vibrant city that, interestingly, takes the title of Peru’s most visited destination! That’s because not only can you enjoy lots of fun activities in Cusco, but it’s the gateway to the famed Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley!
It’s important to note that because Cusco is situated at a whopping 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level (it’s one of the highest cities in the world), you’ll need to spend a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize. The best things to do in Cusco include hiking up to Sacsayhuaman, wandering around the Qoricancha Temple, shopping at San Pedro Market, and ticking off all the city’s top sights on a half-day city tour!
Start your time in Cusco with a stop-off at the lively Plaza de Armas, the city’s beating heart and a popular local hangout spot. It’s home to the stunning Cusco Cathedral and many great cafes and restaurants. About a 10-15 minute walk from here is the Mirador de Plaza Sán Cristobal, which offers one of the city’s best views! Afterward, pop over to the nearby San Pedro Markets, a huge labyrinth of market stalls selling everything from unique souvenirs to meat, fruit, and veggies!
A great way to see the San Pedro Market and learn about how the locals cook is on this Peruvian Cooking Class. You’ll meet at San Pedro Market to pick your ingredients with your local chef and can choose to cook either lunch or dinner. Then, you’ll learn how to make local dishes with a modern twist, taste a pisco sour, which is Peru’s national drink, and even try some exotic fruits for dessert. This tour costs just $59 USD per person when you book online here.
Another interesting thing to do in Cusco is to visit the Museo de La Coca, where you can learn all about the coca leaf. It’s been grown in Peru for over 5,000 years and is predominantly used in rituals, celebrations, and for health benefits like treating altitude sickness. You’ll learn so much about this important plant at the museum. I even found out while here that it’s used as a flavoring in Coca-Cola.
If you are struggling with the altitude (I get bad headaches!), trying coca leaves can help. Huge bags of leaves are for sale at markets and shops around the city for typically less than $1 USD. You can eat them raw or as part of a coca leaf tea.
In short, Cusco is my favorite city in Latin America and simply must be a part of your Peru bucket list.
2. Machu Picchu
I couldn’t put together a list of the best places to visit in Peru and not include Machu Picchu. This world-famous attraction is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is a bucket list item for many people (me included!).
Situated to the northwest of Cusco, Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca city that’s home to more than 150 buildings, and it’s spectacularly located at 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level, surrounded by the Andes mountains. Machu Picchu takes up over 5 miles (8 kilometers) of space, and there are over 3,000 steps made of stone that link the different levels together.
It was built in the mid-1400s as a large royal estate or religious site and operated for approximately 100 years before being abandoned. And with the exception of locals, it remained a secret to the world until 1911, when American archaeologist Hiram Bingham discovered it.
But you won’t appreciate how awe-inspiring Machu Picchu is until you visit. It’s crazy to see how many of the buildings are still standing thousands of years later.
Visiting Machu Picchu from Cusco can be done on an organized tour or on your own – FYI, we strongly recommend a guided tour. The three most popular hikes into Machu Pichu are the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek (which we did), and the Lars Route.
If you want to do it on your own, the easiest option is to get a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and catch a train from there to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town). From Aguas Calientes, you can either get a 30-minute bus to the Machu Picchu entrance gate or hike for around 2 hours along a fairly challenging trail.
Keep in mind that whatever option you choose, you should pre-book your entrance ticket through Viator for $89 USD, as it offers flexible cancelation. Or you can book it on the official website for a little less, but remember no refunds are offered with this option.
There are so many tours from Cusco to Machu Picchu, so to help you out, I’ve listed three of the best ones below.
- Machu Picchu Day Trip – This one-day train tour involves a train journey in a Vistadome car surrounded by glass, thus offering incredible mountain views. When you arrive at Machu Picchu, your knowledgeable guide will show you around and tell you all about the history of the world-famous site and you’ll also have a few hours to explore on your own. This particular tour costs $349 USD if you book in advance and is a great choice for anyone on a budget or short on time.
- Luxury Train Day Trip – In comparison to the above, the Hiram Bingham Luxury Train tour is a very luxurious experience. On the train ride through the Andes, you’ll be treated to live Peruvian music and a three-course lunch with wine. You’ll also have an expert guide at the ruins as well as free time to explore on your own. This is the epitome of luxury travel, and it is pricey – expect to pay around $1,215 USD per person. But if you want to splurge, tickets can be booked online here!
- 5-Day Hiking Trip – If you’re a hiker, then this 5-day organized Salkantay hike is a brilliant option. It’s the tour we did to Machu Picchu, and honestly, I can’t fault it! It includes all transportation, three nights camping, and one night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. As well as that, all meals, a Pachamanca Cooking demonstration, and a coffee plantation tour are included in the price. If this sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to book this tour in advance, as it can sell out up to 6 months in advance! It costs around $695 USD for this bucket-list-worthy experience.
P.S. If you want an extra special experience at Machu Picchu, why not hike up to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain? Both are short, but steep hikes and have insane views as the payoff. Tickets for Huayna Picchu and tickets for Machu Picchu Mountain must be purchased in advance as visitor numbers are limited each day.
Related Read: Before you tackle any of the hikes into Machu Picchu, make sure you read my detailed guide on trekking in Peru!
3. Sacred Valley
You probably already know that the world-famous Machu Picchu is located in the Sacred Valley! But, believe me, there’s more to this Peru highlight than that – it’s dotted with tiny authentic Peruvian villages, incredible hikes, and awe-inspiring Inca ruins like the Pisac Ruins!
Once the heart of the Inca Empire, this 100-kilometer-long (62-mile) stretch of land runs along the Urubamba River and is backed by the glorious Andes Mountains. The fact that it’s located only 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Cusco only adds to this region’s popularity as it’s super-easy to access on a day trip from Cusco.
It’s believed that people have been living in the Sacred Valley for over 3,000 years. Besides the area’s rich history, there’s plenty of fun to be had here for those who are more adventurous at heart, including ziplining, hiking, and whitewater rafting on the Urubamba River!
One of the most popular places to visit in the Sacred Valley (besides Machu Picchu) is Pisac, a tiny village with tons to offer, but most notably, its fantastic market and the famed Pisac Ruins.
Yep, if you’re a shopaholic, you’re in for a treat as every day from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, a huge market takes over the Main Square here. Vendors sell everything from beautiful souvenirs to jewelry, ceramics, and hats. If you visit on a Sunday, the market is even more special as local Quechua communities participate and sell fruits, vegetables, and textiles.
Of course, Pisac’s crowning glory is the Pisac ruins. These Inca ruins are said to be the most preserved ruins in Peru, and they sit on top of a hill overlooking the valley. The ruins contain ceremonial buildings, homes, waterways, and agricultural terraces that are still used today. The ruins cost $25 USD to enter.
If you love a guided tour (like I do!), then this 1-day tour to the Sacred Valley from Cusco is my pick. This tour costs just $129 USD and not only visits the Pisac Ruins, but also the sites of Maras with its spectacular salt ponds, Moray, and Ollantaytambo. It’s a small group tour and includes transportation from Cusco, lunch, and even the chance to meet a local for a weaving demo (the handiwork is amazing!). You can easily book this tour online here.
4. Rainbow Mountain
The Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain was pretty much unheard of pre-2015, but today, thanks to the power of social media and how stunning it is, it has become one of the most popular places to visit in Peru.
Also known as Vinicunca, the mountain gets its name from the colorful striations on the surface of the mountain. To put it in more simple terms, it’s a rainbow-striped mountain!
Would you believe this uniquely colored mountain was only discovered in 2012 when melting snow revealed the myriad of colors beneath?
As I mentioned, this mountain is social-media-famous, and you probably recognize the photo above from your Instagram feed. And yes, it sure does look gorgeous, but keep in mind that the hike to Rainbow Mountain is a tough one and is best suited for those with a high level of fitness, as the altitude is challenging. FYI, the hike is about 2.5 miles (4 km) each way and has an elevation gain of about 3,937 feet (1,200 meters)!
Therefore, before you tackle one the best hikes in South America, we advise spending a few days in Cusco acclimatizing beforehand!
There are heaps of tours from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain, and the one I did cost just $49 USD, which is an awesome deal considering it included transport, a local guide, breakfast, and lunch! But note it’s a super-early departure of 3 am from your Cusco hotel! However, our guide told us we would beat the crowds and we totally did – it was worth sacrificing a bit of sleep. You can book the exact tour I took online here.
Alternatively, if you don’t think you’re up for the hike, you can do an ATV tour instead, which is so much fun and saves the hard work on your legs. This exhilarating tour also leaves Cusco early (at 3:30 am) and will set you back $85 USD.
5. Puerto Maldonado
Did you know that part of the Amazon Rainforest is in Peru? Yep, it spans across nine countries and is regarded as the most ecologically diverse region in the world. There are a whopping 40,000 plant species here and 2.5 million insect species! Plus, the Amazon Rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and holds 20% of the world’s river water. So, it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the most visited destinations in South America!
One of the closest cities in Peru to the Amazon is a hidden gem called Puerto Maldonado, but many tourists opt to visit the Amazon from Iquitos. However, Puerto Maldonado is easier to get to from Cusco, with a bus journey between the two cities taking around 12 hours and costing between $12-$30 USD. We found the cheapest tickets on BusBud, so check there first. You can also fly here from both Cusco and Lima.
Even though the most popular thing to do in Puerto Maldonado is to take a multi-day trip into the Amazon, it’s well worth spending a few days in the city itself. It’s a culturally rich city with a vibrant and colorful central square and many great hotels, restaurants, and stores.
As well as that, you can easily visit the wildlife-rich Sandoval Lake on this tour from Puerto Maldonado Harbor. Here, you can go for a jungle walk to try and spot wildlife, such as monkeys and macaws, before hopping in a canoe to paddle the lake in search of otters. You’ll have a guide the entire time who knows the jungle so well, so it’s perfect if this is your first hike like this. The tour is $88 USD when booked here.
If you are on a tight schedule, you can join a full-day tour to the Amazon Jungle from Puerto Maldonado. This full-day tour includes a boat ride in the Tambopata River in the heart of the Amazon jungle and a visit to the famous Macaw Clay Lick! It is by far the most popular one-day tour option because no other tours go to the Macaw Clay Lick in just a day. It costs $221 USD per person and is 11 hours long. You can book online with Viator.
This 3-day tour is the most popular trip to the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado, and it’s the tour we did! The tour’s longer duration means that you can go deep into the Tambopata Reserve and explore some of its more isolated areas. What’s great about this tour is that you will get to stay at an eco-lodge only accessible via the river and close to the Macaw Clay Lick. You should also be able to spot Jaguars from your lodge which is unreal!
I prefer this option to the tours that only visit Sandoval Lake because you can easily visit the lake on a day trip from Puerto Maldonado due to its proximity. You can book it online for $513 USD and check the reviews here.
Nicknamed the “White City” because many of the buildings here are made of stunning white volcanic stone, the city of Arequipa is one of the best places to visit in Peru! This volcanic stone comes from the four volcanoes surrounding the city. Arequipa is located in South Peru, approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Lima.
Not only is Arequipa beautiful, but it’s also the closest city to the famed Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons! Almost all of the one-day and multi-day tours to Colca Canyon start from here, as it’s only 3 hours away, but more on the iconic canyon later. Right now, let’s focus on the gorgeous city of Arequipa. You’re certain never to get bored in this big city (home to 1 million residents!) as there are plenty of great museums here, delicious restaurants, fantastic cafes, and a great viewpoint that you can easily walk to from the center of town.
Start your time in Arequipa with a stroll around the Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square. It’s here you’ll see the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, a bright white structure that’s a true marvel of architecture. You can also visit the museum inside; a guided interior tour costs only 10 soles ($2.50 USD). It’s well worth it, plus the views from the rooftop are breathtaking!
Another great museum in Arequipa is Museo Santuarios Andinos-MUSA or the Andean Shrines Museum. It houses a massive collection of textiles, ceramics, and metals from the Inca era. The famous Juanita Mummy is displayed here, too. It was found in 1996 at the top of Ampato Volcano!
Next, head out to the Yanahuara Scenic Overlook for an even better city view. You’ll see the volcanoes in the distance through the stone arches. If you’re a photography lover, it’s a must-stop.
If you’re a coffee fan or have a sweet tooth, you can’t miss Mi Kcao Cafe, which serves up the best coffee and hot chocolate in Peru (in my opinion!). It’s all made from 100% organic, locally-sourced ingredients, including from the owner’s family farm.
7. Colca Canyon
Leading on nicely to the next awesome destination – Colca Canyon, which I touched on above! This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and is one of the deepest canyons in the world. If you love to hike and are a fan of dramatic scenery, this is one of the best places in Peru to visit!
Colca Canyon is easy to reach as it’s just a 3-hour drive from Arequipa. And while you can visit the Colca Canyon on your own, I don’t recommend it. You won’t save a whole lot of money, and the hassle of organizing everything, including what route to hike, can be a headache and time-consuming.
Luckily, there are heaps of guided tours of the Colca Canyon for all budgets! These tours include all your transportation and accommodation if you opt for a multi-day hike.
This 3-day Colca Canyon tour is the one we did, and we highly recommend it. It costs just $97 USD and includes all meals and nice accommodation. Because it’s 3 days long, you can complete the hike at a slower pace. You’ll also get to see condors flying overhead, fully explore the canyon, and even stop off in some hot springs along the hike! It is a popular one, so I recommend booking online in advance.
Alternatively, this 2-day Colca Canyon sightseeing tour is perfect for those who only have 2 days to visit the Colca Canyon and don’t want to hike. It visits the main attractions like the town of Chivay, the hot springs, as well as the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve.
The only disadvantage is that you won’t have time to hike down into the depths of the canyon – but if you’re not much of a hiker, then this isn’t much of a loss. Plus, you’ll spend the night on the edge of the canyon which is pretty bucket list worthy. In short, this tour is more about sightseeing and relaxing, so if that’s you, make sure to book online here for $75 USD.
If you have limited time in Peru and don’t enjoy hiking, then a one-day Colca Canyon tour is for you. It departs and returns to Arequipa, but be warned, it is a long day at around 12-14 hours. And you’ll be spending a lot of time in the van. You will see the Colca Canyon from above and also get to chill out in some hot springs on this one-day tour. Breakfast and lunch are included. It’s the cheapest tour you can do to the Colca Canyon and costs just $38 USD when you reserve a spot in advance.
8. Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca nestled in the Andes and along the border with Bolivia, is one of the largest lakes in South America. It’s also the world’s highest navigable body of water – located at a whopping 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level! Fascinatingly, it’s believed to be the birthplace of the Inca people, and there are numerous Incan ruins scattered around the lake.
Lake Titicaca is famous among photographers, as the lake is super still and reflective, making for breathtaking travel photos. Surrounding the lake is the Titicaca National Reserve, which nature lovers will like exploring as it is home to rare and endangered species such as the Titicaca water frog – a type of giant frog.
This huge lake is home to the Uros people who live on self-constructed floating islands on the lake. Their houses on these islands are made from the reeds along the lake’s edge. Their income comes from tourism and fishing, and they can travel far out into the lake to fish thanks to their boats, which are also constructed from reeds.
Puno is the closest city to Lake Titicaca, and the best way to explore this special place is on a guided tour from Puno. This full-day tour is highly rated and will pick you up from your accommodation in Puno by bus and then transfer you by speedboat to the Uros Islands to witness the local’s unique way of life. You’ll also stop off at Taquile Island, which is where you will find the best weavers in the country. This particular tour costs $38 USD per person and can be reserved here.
This slightly shorter tour is 9 hours long and also departs from Puno. It is shorter because your boat is a high-speed boat. It includes stops at Taquile Island and the Uros Islands. One of the highlights has to be getting a chance to sail on one of the traditional boats made of reeds. If you book this tour, it also includes a typical Peruvian lunch and costs $51 USD per person.
Related Read: If you plan to visit Bolivia as part of your South America trip, be sure to check out our guide to the best things to do in Bolivia first!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
9. Isla Ballestas
Ballestas Island (or Isla Ballestas) is commonly known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” because of the mindboggling amount of wildlife you can see here for a fraction of the price of its more famous counterpart.
Expect to see sea wolves (aka the South American Sea Lion), Humboldt penguins, humpback whales, sea otters, and a wide variety of birds on a tour here! So I guess it’s safe to say that if you’re an animal lover, this is THE best place to visit in Peru!
It’s important to note that you cannot set foot on Ballestas Island. You will only see the island and its wildlife from your boat!
The best way to get to Ballestas Island is on a guided tour like this one that leaves from Paracas. You’ll travel the short distance from Paracas by speedboat and spot wildlife and even sea caves along the way. The tour is short and sweet, just 2 hours long, costing just $25 USD per person.
Alternatively, you can join a tour option from Lima, but this is a 14.5-hour day because the drive from Lima is 3 hours! It costs $267 USD per person and includes an up-close look at the Paracas Candelabra, essentially a huge candlestick carved into the cliff face. But keep in mind because of time limitations, you will only have about 30 minutes to an hour at Ballestas.
Many one-day tours to Ballestas Island from Lima include a visit to Huacachina and Ica. So, if you’ve little time in Peru, this particular tour is a great way to combine three of the best things to do in Peru into one day! Amazingly, a dune buggy ride from Huacachina is included in the price, which is reasonable at $139 USD per person. It has literally thousands of 5-star reviews, which you can check out when you book here!
Easily, one of the most famous spots in all of Peru (behind Machu Picchu) is Huacachina. It’s a teeny tiny town hidden by sand dunes located near the city of Ica. It’s been nicknamed “the Oasis” because that’s essentially what it is! Yep, the small town (only 100 people live here!) is built around a lake in the middle of the desert, and when you see it for the first time, you’ll think you’re dreaming!
As I said, Huacahina is very popular with tourists, with almost every visitor to Peru having it on their bucket list. And as a result, there are several great hotels and restaurants here, as well as fun things to do, namely sandboarding, driving a dune buggy, and doing a Pisco wine tour!
Huacachina is located a short taxi ride from the city of Ica (5 km/3.1 mi) or a 4-hour drive from Lima. Many tourists come here on a day trip from Lima, but I recommend either staying the night in Ica or Huacachina itself, as it’s a long day of travel from Lima.
Most tours from Lima are 10-12 hours long, and the majority like this one include a visit to Ballestas Island. Honestly, this tour is so good that we mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth having a second look! It’s a full day tour that includes a boat tour to Ballestas Island, sandboarding and a dune buggy ride around Huacachina, and free time to explore this desert oasis.
Dune buggying is, without a doubt, the most popular thing to do in Huacachina, and there are heaps of dune buggy tours on offer. Many dune buggy tours, like this one, include a sandboarding experience, which is another popular and thrilling activity in Huacachina. On this tour, you will get to sandboard down some of the sand dunes on your belly after you drive to the very top of a huge sand dune on your buggy! It’s a pretty epic adventure for only $25 USD!
But, if you want to try sandboarding while standing up (think snowboarding, but on sand!), you’ll need to book a sandboarding tour like this one. It’s for anyone with experience on snow and includes a proper board or skis so you can slide down the sand dune in style! I have lots of experience on snow (thanks to all that skiing around Banff and Whistler in Canada), so this was a fun reminder of home for me … but way warmer! You can book the sandboard/sandski tour here for only $55 USD.
When we visited, we were pleased to discover that Peru’s most famous Pisco distilleries and wineries are located in nearby Ica. In fact, did you know that Pisco wine can only be produced in one of five official departments in Peru? These are Ica, Lima, Arequipa, Moquegua, and Tacna.
To really get a taste of the amazing drinks in this region, we did this 3.5-hour tour that visited three different wineries and got to sample more than 30 varieties, including my favorite, a Pisco sour cocktail. The tour cost us $63 USD per person including transportation and all the tastings.
If you don’t fancy doing a half-day wine tour, then you could just get a taxi to Tacama Vineyard. This was the first winery to open in Peru, and it’s set amongst the most beautiful surroundings. Imagine vineyards, lush gardens, water fountains, and a beautifully decorated colonial-style building.
I briefly touched on Iquitos earlier in this blog post, as it’s another gateway to the Amazon rainforest. However, unlike Puerto Maldonado, it’s pretty hard to reach, which only adds to its appeal. I just love off-the-beaten-path destinations! In fact, if you’re planning a trip from Cusco or Lima, your only real way to get here is by catching a domestic flight!
Despite having a bit of a hidden gem status, Iquitos City is quite large and is home to half a million people. And of course exploring the Amazon is the most popular thing to do from here, but the city itself is filled with beautiful sights like the Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square home to stunning European-style buildings that date as far back as 1900 and the Belen district, famous for its huge open-air market and wooden homes on stilts along the Itaya River. In fact, I strongly recommend spending a few days here before joining an Amazon rainforest tour!
After a few days in Iquitos, you’ll have ticked off the best attractions and be itching to explore the Amazon. The best way to do it is on a guided tour, and this 3-day guided tour is a true immersive jungle experience. It’s the tour we did, and it was such a bucket-list-worthy experience. Throughout the three days, you’ll see loads of wildlife like monkeys, sloths, birds, exotic insects, and more.
You’ll even get to canoe down the Amazon River on your first day which was such a highlight for us. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wild pink dolphins and the rare Amazonian mata-mata turtle as you paddle along. On day two, you’ll go fishing for piranha and catfish. This tour includes return transfers to Iquitos as well as all accommodation and meals. It costs $525 USD per person, which I personally think is an incredible deal considering all it includes, so book here and get ready for an adventure!
If you’re a surfer, you’ve likely already heard of Mancora in Northern Peru. This is one of the best places to surf in the whole country, thanks to its famed warm water breaks, which are considered the best in the world. Every summer, thousands of surfers descend on this bohemian beach town.
But surfing isn’t all there’s to do in Mancora. You can also swim with sea turtles, go swimming at Las Pocitas or Vichayito beach, or go cafe or bar hopping after dark along Avenida Piura, the town’s main street!
If you’re looking for the perfect spot to learn to surf, Mancora’s the place. There are plenty of highly-rated surf schools here, including Inka Warriors Surf School. What I love about these guys is that all of their instructors are locals who know these waters like the back of their hands.
If you want to brave the waves on your own, you can rent a board, and the prices are super-affordable, starting from 10 soles ($2.50 USD) for a half-day to 20 soles ($5.30 USD) for a whole day. But keep your eyes peeled for local surfers who will drop in on your waves. Frustrating, I know! To avoid this, try to steer clear of the mid-section from mid-day!
One of my favorite things in Mancora is swimming with sea turtles on a boat tour. There are abundant sea turtles on this stretch of coast, and provided you don’t make any sudden movements when you’re in the water with them, you’ll get to be side by side with these gorgeous creatures. This sunrise tour is awesome because it’s on board a catamaran, there’s live music after your swim, and you can take your own food and drinks. Plus, if you book it between July and October, you’ll have the chance to spy humpback whales too!
Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru, is thought of by many as the culinary capital of South America, with no less than four of the top 50 restaurants in the world – so, if you’re a foodie, this multicultural city HAS to make it onto your Peru itinerary.
As I said, Lima is huge and has loads of great things to do, so deciding what activities to do and what areas to visit can be a challenge, especially if you only have a few days here!
There are three must-see areas in Lima: Miraflores, Barranco, and the historic downtown (aka Centro Historico). The best way to see the Centro Historico is on a guided city tour in Lima because many tourists can be a little intimidated by the hustle and bustle of it at first look. This free walking tour visits the area’s top attractions like the Plaza de Armas and the changing of the guards at Government Palace. It’s a great way to learn about the city’s history and meet new people.
On the other hand, Miraflores is a more upmarket neighborhood with many great surfing beaches and gorgeous parks like Parque Kennedy, home to many stray cats that are cared for by a group of volunteers. Miraflores is also where most tourists to Lima tend to base themselves.
Of course, surfing is one of the most popular things to do here, so it’s worth taking a surf lesson in Lima. The lesson is 90 minutes with most of that spent in the water trying to catch some waves! It’s only $32 USD and perfect for beginners or if you’re looking to brush up on your skills.
If you’re hungry in Miraflores, take a stroll along the Malecón de Miraflores, a set of cliffside boardwalks that boasts stunning views over the bay of Lima and is home to some of the city’s best restaurants.
The final neighborhood worth visiting in Lima is Barranco, aka the trendiest part of the city. Here, you’ll find tons of bars, cute restaurants, street art, and musicians and artists lining the cobblestone streets. The best way to learn about Barranco is on this 2-hour free graffiti walking tour. We really enjoyed it as you get to see all the colorful murals and street art as well as visit the Bridge of Sighs and Bajada de Baños.
You might be surprised to learn that swimming with sea lions is one of the most popular tours from Lima. Yep, this vibrant city is very close to the Palomino Islands, a unique set of islands home to over 10,000 sea lions, penguins, and other sea birds. On this 2.5-hour tour, you’ll get to swim with dozens of these playful creatures. When I did this tour, sea lions were swimming around my feet and bumping into my legs! Tours start at 10 am, so it’s a really fun way to spend a morning out on the water – and in it too! The tour is $72 USD when you book in advance online.
And finally, as I said, Lima is one of the top foodie destinations in the world! And the restaurants here are top-class. Yep, the city is home to some of the world’s best restaurants like Kjolle and Maido, but it’s also got an abundance of authentic, casual eateries too! And the best way to get a taste of Lima (see what I did there?!) is on a food tour.
When we visited, we joined this 5-hour evening food tour with Lima Gourmet Company, and it was one of the best tours we’ve ever done! We visited four different restaurants and sampled various dishes at each one. These are special restaurants too with spectacular views of the coastline and the prestigious Huaca Pucllana Restaurant – located inside the ruins and where even the King of Spain has eaten!
But the tour wasn’t just about eating; we also learned a lot about Peru’s history and how Peruvian cuisine has come to be. The night finishes with an evening walking tour of Barranco under the moon which is also included in the $145 USD price. It’s such a memorable night in Lima, so secure your reservation here!
14. Nazca Lines
The Nazca desert in the south of Peru is one of the driest places on earth, and it’s here you’ll find a series of mysterious lines etched onto the sand. The Nazca Lines are hard to miss because they cover a massive area, with more than 10,000 lines in total.
Some lines are just plain lines, but there are also over 300 different figures, such as animals and plants, drawn onto the desert sands. Considering the space the Nazca Lines take up, the best way to see them is on a bucket-list-worthy flight over the lines.
The Nazca Lines are believed to be over 2,000 years old. But nobody really knows how they got there. In the 1960s, there was talk that aliens created them, but locals say that the purpose of the Nazca Lines for the ancient civilization that lived here was for an irrigation system!
Most tourists visit the Nazca Lines on a bus from Lima. The buses leave every 30 minutes and take around 7 hours. A one-way ticket averages $25 USD per person. Once you get to the Nazca desert, you can choose to look down on the lines from the observation tower, which is 43 feet (13 meters) tall, or go one better and hop on a bucket-list-worthy fixed-wing plane tour over the lines.
The flight is 30-35 minutes long and is the best way to see the lines and really appreciate the scale of them! This plane tour takes you over 18 different formations including animals and geometric shapes. It includes pick-up from Nazca bus station or your accommodation and costs $110 USD per person or $145 USD each for a private flight. Worth noting is there’s an additional fee of 77 soles ($20 USD), which you need to pay at the airport before your flight.
If you’d like to add on this flight to a larger tour that includes transportation, there’s an option for that too. This tour from Lima includes the flight, sandboarding, and a dune buggy experience in Huacachina. Be warned, it’s a very long day, so allow at least 18 hours for this tour. Prices start from $485 USD per person, including your transfer to and from Lima.
And last but certainly not least on my list of the best places to visit in Peru is the city of Huaraz. It’s nestled deep in the Andes Mountains and is basically a heaven for hikers. It’s also quickly becoming popular with fans of rock climbing and mountaineering thanks to its rugged, mountainous terrain.
If you’ve looked into visiting Huaraz, you’ll probably recognize the name “Laguna 69,” a Gatorade-blue lake that’s surrounded by snow-topped mountains. The Laguna 69 hike is one of the most popular in the region. It’s 7.5 mi (12 km) long and will take 5-6 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll be treated to epic scenery like waterfalls, colorful flowers, and dramatic mountains. But keep in mind, because this hike begins at 12,467 feet (3,800 meters) and ends at 15,092 feet (4,600 meters) above sea level, it’s quite a steep hike, and you’ll likely suffer from some form of altitude sickness during the hike.
You can’t do this hike alone. Instead, all hikers must book a tour from Huaraz, such as this full-day one. Even though the early wake-up call of 4:30 am sounds exhausting, it means that you’ll get on the trail before the crowds! This particular tour costs $40 USD, and on top of that, you’ll need to add on 30 soles ($8 USD) for the national park fee.
Next up is the Santa Cruz Trek, the most popular hike in Huaraz, but it’s a long one at 31 mi (50 km) or 3 to 4 days in duration. To be honest, I understand why it’s so popular as it’s so beautiful, and along the hike, you’ll spy amazing lakes and very famous mountains (like the one from the Paramount Pictures logo).
This awesome Santa Cruz tour is the one I did, and I highly recommend it! It cost us $380 USD plus a 30 soles ($8 USD) entry fee to the national park. Which I reckon is good value considering that it includes all your food, an English-speaking guide, and equipment, including mules to help carry all the gear.
Also, unlike Laguna 69, you can do the Santa Cruz hike on your own (without a guide). If you plan to do this, note that if you don’t already have the gear, the cost of renting the equipment, paying for transportation to/from the trail, and buying your food will cost pretty much the same as a tour, which is why we opted to book this tour when we went.
The final hike I recommend in Huaraz is the iconic and challenging Huayhuash hike, which is the main reason we visited this area in the first place. It’s considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the entire world! It’s a lengthy trek at 71.5 mi (115 km) and will take between 8 to 12 days to complete depending on the route you take.
I recommend this Huayhuash hiking tour as this trek is not for beginner hikers, but if you’re an experienced hiker and have the time, definitely do it! It was the best hike I’ve ever done, but it was also the most challenging one. It climbs over 9 mountain passes, all of which stand tall at around 16,400 feet (5,000 m) above sea level.
You’ll sleep in camps set up next to beautiful mountains and breathtaking lagoons, but come prepared with warm clothes for after-dark as temperatures drop below zero every night. The weather is unpredictable in this part of Peru, and during the day, you could experience snow and sweltering heat within a matter of minutes. If you want to book one of the most epic hikes there is, this $990 USD hiking adventure can be booked online with Viator.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
There you have it – 15 of the best places to visit in Peru. Thanks for sticking with me until the end! I really hope you found this detailed guide helpful for your upcoming Peru vacation. I’ll be completely honest – it was a hard task narrowing the list down to just 15 places. There are so many more awesome destinations in this incredible country that I could have easily added on 30 more!
Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below, and we will get back to you. Also, be sure to check out all of our Peru blogs. We’ve written heaps of useful guides about traveling to Peru, such as these ones below: