The country of Peru in South America is an immense popular tourist destination. Backpackers and tourists alike, everybody loves Peru.
There are just so many places to go in Peru and fun things to do.
Obviously, everyone has a few popular places on their to do list, but did you find all the cool places to visit in Peru already?
Because there is a lot more to see than just Machu Picchu!
We compiled this list with the top things to see in Peru, so stay with us!
1 - Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Steady on 1! Machu Picchu is one of the most important reasons for travelers to start their adventure in Peru. For me, it was on the first place of my wish list for years!
These ancient Inca ruins are hidden in the Peruvian Andes mountains.
With a stunning location in these mysterious mountain range, people also come to the area to hike the old trails that used to be walked by the Inca through the Sacred Valley.
In order to reach Machu Picchu, you can choose from a few different options. There’s the easy way that gets you there by train and bus. But a lot of travelers choose to hike the Inca trail or one of the other ancient trails in the area.
Before traveling to Machu Picchu, you should secure your tickets for anything you want to do, because there are visitor limits in place for most sights. There’s a limit for the amount of people that are allowed to enter Machu Picchu, but there’s also a limit for trekkers on the Inca trail and climbers of Huayna Picchu mountain.
We wrote a little more information on Machu Picchu on our blog, so if you plan on visiting, make sure to read the article first!
2 - Lima
Lima is the capital of Peru and it is one of the most beautiful and well-maintained capitals we ever visited!
Most Peru adventures start here, as it also holds the largest international airport in Peru.
So, when your airplane lands here, make sure to count a few extra days to explore this rich city.
Lima has an old colonial city center, but at the same time, it’s a thriving and metropolitan city.
We especially loved our time visiting the shoreline in the Barranco neighbourhood and seeing the rugged coastline, where you can also shoot some great dramatic skyline photos!
3 - Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is the world’s deepest river canyon and you can find it in the vicinity of the city of Arequipa in the Peruvian Andes mountains. You can do some amazing hikes in this area, but it’s not too difficult to reach the canyon just to do some landscape gazing, if you’re not into hiking.
Colca Canyon was a real highlight for us and we were super impressed by the massive Andean condors that can be seen from the steep sides of the canyon.
I must warn you about the altitude here and even though we had been in the area for days already, we still got a serious altitude reminder. We were both weak and shaky when trying to hike just a few kilometers through an accessible part of the canyon. So make sure to acclimatize to the altitude before starting a hike!
You can either choose to book a guided tour, but it’s very possible to hike Colca Canyon on your own.
4 - Arequipa
Arequipa is another one of our favorite destinations in Peru. It’s Peru’s second largest city and it is simply stunning. We really loved the historic city center and the beautiful streets, lined with ancient buildings. Still, the city doesn’t look ancient, because it is super well maintained and nicely restored.
I’d recommend spending at least 2 days in Arequipa, even if you just use it to walk around all day, taking in your surroundings. If you really want to visit museums and plan a lot of things in this city, you need a lot more time.
There’s just so much to see and do in Arequipa. If you’re short on time, consider joining a guided walking tour to the highlights of the city. This way, you get to see the best of Arequipa in half a day.
So it’s definitely a good idea to plan ahead, check out the highlights of the city and decide on your favourite things to do in the city before your visit.
5 - Lake Titicaca
Titicaca Lake is the highest navigable lake in the entire world and it is a true tourist highlight.
Travelers mostly visit this lake to take a day trip to the floating islands of Uros, which are located a few kilometers into the lake in front of the town of Puno.
Peru shares this lake with Bolivia and the actual border between these countries lies somewhere through the center of the lake.
We enjoyed visiting Lake Titicaca in Peru, as well as, in Bolivia and we also took a day to visit the floating islands of Uros. Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious that these islands are now more of a tourist draw than an original and authentic way of living. The island that are visited in these tours, are still there for tourism alone.
But that aside, they’re still pretty cool to see and experience!
6 - Chan Chan Pre Colombian ruins
It’s ok if you never heard of the Chan Chan ruins before! Neither did we!
These ruins also don’t carry the same fame as Machu Picchu and that’s perfectly fine.
But they are still mighty impressive though!
Chan Chan used the be the largest Pre Colombian city in the Americas. It was conquered by the Incas, but you can still visit the ruins.
In this massive ruin complex, you can find large plazas, temples, and artefacts.
The Chan Chan ruins are located near the city of Trujillo and they spread over a terrain of almost 20 square kilometers.
7 - Huascaran National Park
Huascaran National Park and the Huascaran mountain are located in the North of Lima.
The National Park is home to Huascaran peak, which is the highest mountain in Peru with an altitude of over 6600 m above sea level. Climbing Huascaran mountain is not an activity that is easily accessible, but you can enjoy the views of this snow capped peak from many locations inside the National Park.
The National Park is part of the Cordellera Blanca and it covers over 340 thousand hectares.
One of the most popular hikes in the park is the day trek to Laguna 69, one of the many stunning lakes inside the park.
8 - Choquequirao Ruins
If Machu Picchu draws your attention, you should definitely consider visiting Choquequirao Inca ruins as well!
They’re super impressive but, much less visited. These ruins are about 3 times the size of Machu Picchu and located in the same mysterious mountain range.
It can, however, be difficult to reach them, as you have to do an actual hike to get there. That’s why we recommend joining a hiking group to visit Choquequirao.
Maybe that is the main reason why they’re less visited and unspoiled by tourists. The Choquequirao trek is also called: the toughest hike in Peru.
So prepare to be knackered by the time you reach the ruins!
9 - Cusco
I guess this is the one city you weren’t thinking about skipping!
Cusco is a must-visit when in Peru. It is the place where all Machu Picchu visits begin, but it’s also a good hub for visiting a variety of other places in the country.
We think back about Cusco with loads of love for this city and it had kind of a magical vibe for us.
A long time ago, Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire and a lot of this era can still be found in the city.
To really discover the secrets all the historical buildings hold, we definitely recommend joining a guided walking tour of the city.
10 - Salkantay Hike
The Salkantay hike is one of the many trails that lead up to Machu Picchu and it is one of the most spectacular of them all.
This hike takes you through the Salkantay mountain pass, which is simply stunning.
Salkantay trek is not for beginner hikers, as the trail is one of the more difficult trails to complete, but also one of the most rewarding of all. The hike takes 4 to 7 days to complete with a rate of 8 hiking hours each day.
During this trek, you have to cross rivers, climb up steep stairs, and luckily: enjoy the amazing scenery along the way.
This trek can’t be done independently and we recommend booking this guided hike with G Adventures.
11 - Islas Ballestas and Paracas National Park
Ballestas Islands is a small group of island in front of the Peruvian coast. They’re protected area, but you can vist the region by boat, which we totally recommend. The islands are ofter referred to as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’, which may not sound too tempting. But don’t get the wrong idea! These islands are super beautiful.
The islands are pretty rough, as is the sea around it. Aside from the tons of wildlife you can spot here, it’s also amazing to watch the waves clash into these rugges islands.
As for the wildlife residing here, there are tons of seals sunbathing on the rocky ridges, but also a variety of penguins and birds.
When booking a boat trip to this island, expect to be stacked on a giant heap of tourists with massive camera’s. The boat trip is super popular and even more crowded, but still worth it!
Some boat trips only go to the Islas Ballestas, while other boats also visit the Paracas National Park. The second trip lasts a little longer and takes you to the Paracas peninsula, which consists of an empty desert and steep coastal cliffs.
You can take off on these boat trips from the coastal town of Paracas or the Port of San Martin.
12 - Huacachina desert oasis
The Huacachina desert Oasis is a small village a few kilometers outside of Ica. It’s easy to reach and popular among day trippers who only visit the oasis for a few hours.
There are only a few streets, all centered around the Laguna Huacachina, the lagoon that makes the oasis fertile.
Over the years, more and more hotels and hostels were opened and the place really turned into a tourist highlight.
The little village is popular for desert activities like sand boarding and desert buggy tours.
13 - Kuelap
Another ruin complex in this list!
Kuelap is located in the North of Peru and it’s most accessible from the cities Chiclayo or Trujillo.
These ruins are actually a fortified settlement, which dates back to the 6th century. It stands on the top of a mountain and offers scenic views over the surrounding area.
Visiting Kuelap Citadel has grown more popular over the last few years and more and more tours include it in their itinerary. So it isn’t as ‘off-the-beaten-path’ as it used to be, but it has not yet reached the popularity Machu Picchu has.
So you might still be able to visit this gem without the major hordes of tourists.
And the ruins itself are actually really spectacular as they are almost built onto a steep mountain cliff, surrounded by mountains that reach into the clouds.
14 - Iquitos and the Amazon Basin
Iquitos is the largest city in the world where not even one road goes! You can only reach the city of Iquitos by riverboat (and by airplane!)
This Amazon jungle city has long been cut of from the rest of Peru. But these days, the city is starting to get quite touristy. It’s seems to be a great tourist draw to visit a city where no roads lead to.
Being such a large city, without road access, Iquitos is a great cultural treat and it’s interesting to learn about this lifestyle and how the city functions by only relying on the river.
Iquitos is a great starting point to discover the Amazon jungle and river basin. When using Iquitos as a starting point, you can travel all the way to the Atlantic Ocean by river boat, passing through the entire country of Brazil.
You can visit Iquitos on your own, or you can join a group of fellow travelers to experience the Amazon river boat adventure.
Best places to visit in Peru
These are just some of the intriguing and beautiful places to visit in Peru, but there’s so much more once you leave the tourist trail. To see Peru off the beaten track, you have to do a lot of research first and take a lot of time to travel the country.
If you’re short on time, but still want to see the very best of Peru, it’s a great idea to join a guided tour. We recommend this 3 week tour by G Adventures, which includes many of the best things to see in Peru.