Peru is a unique adventure country – with ruins of the Inca people, the Amazon jungle, steep canyons, arid deserts and a rich tradition.
If for you Peru is Machu Picchu, you will quickly discover that this destination offers much more diversity. If you are a gourmet, the city of Lima will delight your taste buds, and if you love history, you will discover Incan ruins to visit. Nature lovers can immerse themselves in exploring the biodiversity of the Amazon and also shiver with adrenaline by rafting on class III and IV rapids.
There is so much to see in Peru that you will want to spend several weeks there to explore the most important sites. So what are the must-see destinations in Peru? Here are some of the most impressive places to visit.
You will probably want to fly to Lima, so organize your stay to spend time and enjoy the city. The capital of Peru is colourful and energetic, full of culinary delights and very lively at night. It is a favourite gastronomic destination in South America, and it is the only city with two restaurants ranked in the Top 10 of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.
After a delicious dinner (try the ceviche!), you can go to the Miraflores coast or the Barranco district to enjoy live music, refresh yourself with a pisco sour cocktail and dance until the end of the night. In the heart of the colonial-style buildings, you will feel the historical importance and majestic atmosphere of the “City of Kings”.
The most famous archaeological site in all of Peru is an incredible place that will be on the list of things to do before dying of adventure enthusiasts. Perched on the top of a steep green mountain overlooking the Rio Urubamba, you will see that the ruins of this 15th century sacred city have a legendary air of mystery.
This remote mountain-top city was inhabited for only 100 years before being abandoned during the Spanish conquest, and then kept secret until it was rediscovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. You can choose to take four days to follow the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, difficult but so rewarding, to reach the ruins, or take the bus to visit them from the small town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of the mountain.
Panorama of Machu Picchu, Guard House, terraced cultivation, Huayna Picchu and surrounding mountains in the background.
An elegant colonial city before a large central square and a conical volcano dominating the city, Arequipa is really worth a visit if you go to Peru. You will see many magnificent Baroque style buildings, built of white volcanic rock from the surrounding mountains. Although the city is frequently shaken by earthquakes, this natural building material makes the structures very resistant.
Be sure to visit the amazing Cathedral of Our Lady of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an impressive architectural wonder. Like Lima, Arequipa is one of the best gastronomic destinations in Peru. The classic dishes served are for example ocopa (potato cream, spicy sauce) and Rocoto relleno (rocoto pepper-based).
Believe it or not, this natural wonder is twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon. If you are going to Peru and you like adventure, you must absolutely go there.
At the top of the canyon, you will find dry and dusty villages with adobe houses and Andean Condors hovering over the thermal currents. As you walk down the winding paths, the desert landscape becomes greener and more vibrant.
At the foot of the canyon, you will find yourself in an oasis of fresh greenery; hear the rustling of leaves and the river flowing on the rocks. At the bottom of the canyon is a charming hotel of simplicity, with stone huts, a swimming pool and lots of hammocks – you can stay as long as you want. If you don’t want to climb up again, local carriers can offer you a donkey ride service.
The Urubamba Valley is also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and is one of the most culturally significant regions in Peru. The steep hills of these high plateaus are dotted with ancient ruins of the Inca people and multi-century-old traditions, still alive.
The valley stretches along the Andes, following the course of the Urubamba River. Along the valley, you will find towns and historic sites, such as Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Calca. This whole region was once a spiritual region for the Incas and is an ideal place to learn about the history of this fascinating civilization.
This destination is also popular with adventurers who want to raft on the Class III and IV rapids of the Urubamba River. Excellent local companies will provide you with a helmet and appropriate equipment, and guide you down the river.
It is one of the most picturesque villages in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Ollantaytambo was a fortress of the Inca resistance against the Spanish. It is now the starting point of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, as well as a charming and peaceful village where Peruvian culture is omnipresent.
You will find some of the oldest buildings that have always been inhabited and that are remarkably well preserved. You can also visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo, which have religious significance and were used as defensive structures by the Incas against the Spanish. Guided tours allow you to discover the history of these ruins.
Located at high altitude in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco (or Cuzco) is a city to see if you are going to Peru. It is the ancient heart of the Inca Empire and one of the most touristic destinations in Peru.
Stroll through the Plaza de Armas, the city’s largest square and cultural centre – you will find bars and restaurants. Don’t forget to visit the San Pedro Market, which is full of fruit, vegetables and meat. Try to go as early as possible in the morning to find the freshest products.
Be sure to check out the Chocolate Museum – if you want to learn how to make your own chocolates, they offer fun and delicious interactive workshops. You can also have a drink in Paddy – the world’s highest Irish pub and a popular place for cyclists and expatriates.
Puno is a fascinating place in southern Peru, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca (a lake so large that it looks like an ocean). If this city has many modern buildings, traditions are still very present and you will see many people wearing very colourful regional clothing.
Take a tour to the Uros Islands, fascinating floating islands made with totora reeds. You can stay in the houses with the inhabitants and share their traditional lives. You can also walk along the Jiron Lima, the city’s main pedestrian street, which is dotted with excellent bars and restaurants.
If you think that Peru’s landscapes are mostly mountainous, 62% of the country is actually covered by the jungle. The Amazon rainforest is an amazing wilderness to explore, teeming with more than 14,000 animal species and 20,000 plants.
The best way to immerse yourself in the Amazon is to stay for several days, including accommodation, guides, meals and boat transport. Don’t forget to bring long pants, insect repellents and boots to walk in muddy areas.
You will stay in a simple cabin and go for a walk in the rainforest, a great opportunity to observe animals, such as the giant otter, the Amazonian tapir and 14 different species of monkeys. One of the best places to visit is Manu National Park, to discover its abundant fauna and flora.
Iquitos is a good starting point for adventures in the Amazon. It is the largest city in the world not being connected by road, you cannot go by car. The only way to get there is by plane, or by boat for a three- or four-day trip on the river. Just getting there is an adventure, but exploring this unique city is also very interesting.
Visit the Belen Market, where you will find all kinds of things, potions made by shamans, weird looking fish from the Amazon River, edible worms and spiritual remedies, among others. There is also a beautiful beach in Quistococha where you can relax on the sand in the middle of the jungle.
There are some incredible destinations in Peru – be sure to include them in your itinerary when you visit this exceptional country.