Peru is one of the most visited countries of South America. It has many archaeological centers, dreamy natural and scenic sites, majestic pre-Columbian and colonial temples, ancestral pre-Inca and Inca palaces, colonial architecture and extraordinary gastronomy. Also Peru has excellent medicinal waters, biodiversity, traditional towns, millenary culture, fine textiles, varied handicrafts ... and the greatest living culture in South America.
Machu Picchu is a must-see destination, but Peru is also home to Kuelap and Chavin de Huantar, Caral and Chan Chan, the Nasca Lines, Sipan and so much more. In this article we mention the best destinations to visit in Peru but bear in mind that there is much more to visit and do.
The lost city of the Incas is one of the seven wonders of the world and it is the most essential place to visit in Peru. This ancient Inca citadel remained hidden among the mountains and thick vegetation for centuries, until it was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Machu Picchu is located about 130 kilometers from Cusco, above 2500 meters of altitude between the peaks Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, two magnificent viewpoints of the ruins, to which you can climb.
The most mystical and spectacular way to get there is by doing the Inca trail, traveling the more than 40 kilometers that in 4 days, through incredible roads and steps of ancient stones, lush forests, valleys and mountains wrapped in dense fog, will take us even the dream of many travelers.
Another way to get to the old citadel is to start at a point closer to Machu Picchu, which will save us 2 days of walking, or take a train to Aguascalientes that will be your home base to explore Machu Picchu.
Keep in mind that there is a limited number of tickets to visit Machu Picchu per day and they sell out quickly, so you have to book as far in advance as possible.
Another place to visit in Peru is Cuzco. Declared a World Heritage Site, it is one of the most beautiful cities in America and our favorite in Peru. This ancient capital of the Inca Empire preserves very few buildings from this time, although in some of the colonial buildings you can see Inca remains on its walls, such as the twelve-angle stone. Cuzco is the city where people fly to visit Machu Picchu and also the beautiful Sacred Valley.
The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco is the epicenter of the city, in which its cathedral stands out, a place chosen by many inhabitants to spend a few hours in the afternoon, enjoying the life of Cuzco.
Other of the great attractions of the city is to walk through the beautiful artisan neighborhood of San Blas, get lost in the San Pedro market, see the Inca remains of the Temple of the Moon or enter the Santo Domingo Convent, built on the Temple of the sun.
If you have more time, it is well worth doing a walking route to see the Inca ruins of Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Qenqo and the spectacular fortress of Sacsayhuaman, which are very close to the city of Cuzco.
Between Písac and Ollantaytambo, on the banks of the Urubamba River, is the famous Sacred Valley of the Incas. Due to its climate and geography, this fertile valley was one of the main sources of food supply of the Inca empire where the archaeological ruins of several Inca settlements remain and where you can also visit several traditional towns from the colonial era.
One of the most popular places to visit in the Sacred Valley is Pisac’s artisan market and the Inca archaeological remains.
Other essential places to visit are the fortress of Ollantaytambo, the town of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and Moray, an agricultural research centers of the Inca empire.
Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is located very close to the city of Puno at 3,800 meters of altitude. This immense lake, in which its calm blue waters blend into the sky, is one of the most essential places to visit in Peru.
To tour the lake and visit the islands of Uros and Taquile from Puno you can take a boat in the port. The houses and most of the articles are made of reeds, and you can even sail on a reed boat and although we generally found it a very touristy visit, we believe that it is worth knowing its history and its community.
Another island that can be visited is the Island of Taquile, more than two hours by boat from Puno, where you can also spend the night on the island sleeping in one of its neighbors' houses.
The Colca Canyon
Typical Andean vegetation surrounds one of the deepest canyons in the world: The Colca Canyon. This is the perfect setting for extreme sports as well as relaxing horseback riding, all under the watchful gaze of the monarch of these skies, the condor. Horseback riding itineraries usually begin at the Cruz del Condor viewing point, from where it is possible to appreciate the full splendor of the canyon.
Iquitos – The Peruvian Amazon
The Peruvian Amazon can be reached from Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado.
Puerto Maldonado is more accessible and cheaper than Iquitos, although over time it has become a tourist attraction that can distort the true image of the vast and wild Amazon.
Iquitos can only be reached by plane from Lima, so being in a more remote place will allow you to experience the most authentic Amazon, although as we mentioned earlier, the price is more expensive.
In this area, the lodges are located in the middle of the Amazon jungle and all offer a transfer service in small rafts from Iquitos, although the journey can last several hours.
The days in the lodge will be spent enjoying nature, taking walking routes through the jungle to see the fauna and flora, other times you will raft through its narrow rivers and at night, there are many tours to see the nocturnal animals.
Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands
This national reserve forms a unique ecosystem in the world, which combines a desert area with a great marine diversity due to the great abundance of food in the form of plankton.
We highly recommend visiting this protected natural area with a guide, especially places such as the red beach, the fossil deposits, the fauna and the archaeological remains of the ancient Paracas Culture who will give you so much knowledge and understanding of the history of this area of the country.
Very close to Paracas is another of the places to visit in Peru, the Ballestas Islands, small rocky islands where colonies of of Humboldt penguins and other animals can be witnessed from boats.
Arequipa, known as the white city and built above 2,000 meters of altitude, in the desert mountains of the Andes, is together with Cuzco, one of the most beautiful cities in Peru, dominated by white volcanic stone houses, which together with the historic center were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Our favorite place in Arequipa is Santa Catalina monastery, a small citadel with beautiful streets, houses and cloisters where you can get lost for hours.
Other must-visit in Arequipa is the Plaza de Armas with its Cathedral, the Church of the Company and its cloisters, the Casa del Moral and the Carmen Alto or Yanahuara viewpoint, with magnificent visits to the city and the Misti volcano.
This spectacular Chilean national park offers some of the best trekking in the world. Here, you will spend up to 8 hours a day hiking in the wild, but with some of the world’s most stunning viewpoints, there is no way you’ll get bored. For the W trek some hiking experience is highly recommended. (This is the big difference with the treks to Fitz Roy Mountain where there are many trekking opportunities for people of all ages and no experience is needed).
The best time to visit Chilean Patagonia is November to early March (summertime in the southern hemisphere). Although you'll compete with heavy crowds during this peak season, the weather is ideal for exploring Torres del Paine National Park and Tierra del Fuego. The W Trek in Torres del Paine is undoubtedly one of the best treks in Patagonia. This “W” shaped hiking trail highlights the best of Torres del Paine National Park, including Grey glacier, the French Valley and the Towers’ Base Viewpoint.
One of the great archaeological mysteries of history is found in the arid Nazca desert. Between 700 BC and 200 AD the Nazca culture developed in this area, in which its inhabitants created the Nazca Lines, removing the red stones and leaving the white sandstone underneath, thus forming huge geoglyphs with human, animal or geometric figures. The only way to see the figures is to fly over the Nazca lines by plane from its small airport located near the town of Nazca.
Other visits that are very worthwhile in Nazca, is the Chauchilla Cemetery, a necropolis from pre-Inca times, which is a perfect complement to the overflight of the Nazca Lines.
A good way to learn about the great history of Lima, Cusco and the surrounding Inca ruins, is to book tours with one of our local guides. They are engaging and knowledgeable guides who are passionate about their culture and their history. The guides make the difference and are responsible for all the unforgettable experiences that you will have in Peru.
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