For most people outside of Peru, the country is equivalent to Machu Picchu, with nothing else of significance to offer. It is only once you visit (or plan a visit to) this South American nation that you realize the abundance of gems this country holds. Home to the Inca Empire, Peru has successfully preserved its rich ancient heritage much better than most other nations around the world. Apart from historical tales, Peru has much to offer in the fields of literature, music, local cuisine, and art. One of the ten mega diverse countries in the entire world, according to the United Nations, Peru has a natural wonder hidden at every nook and corner. The question is, are you game to find it?
If you have made up your mind to explore the sublime ruins of Peru, make sure you browse through this list of 27 things to do in Peru to ensure that your tour isn’t left incomplete:
Places to visit in Peru
For most people outside Peru, the country is equivalent to Machu Picchu, with nothing else of significance to offer. It is only once you visit (or plan a visit) to this South American nation that you realize the abundance of gems this country beholds. Home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, the Inca Empire, Peru has successfully preserved its rich ancient heritage much better than most other nations around the world. Apart from those historical tales, Peru has much to offer in the field of literature, music, local cuisine and art. One of the ten mega diverse countries in the entire world according to the United Nations, Peru has a natural wonder hidden at every nook and corner. The question is – Are you game to find it?
If you have made up your mind to explore the sublime ruins of Peru, make sure you browse through this list of 27 things to do in Peru to ensure that your tour isn’t left incomplete.
1. The capital city of Lima
If you have just landed in Peru and are ready to set the ball rolling, head straight to Lima. The capital city of Peru, Lima has so much to offer that a visit later in your journey may not do justice to the city and its offerings. A long coastline, multiple pre-Columbian temples, and a host of museums, combined with some of the best places to stay and eat in the country, make Lima the topmost tourist destination in Peru. There are a number of self-driving car rental options available in the city, so if you are in the mood for driving and exploring the city, you won’t be disappointed. Well-known for its colonial architecture, the city offers tourist attractions such as the Plaza Mayor, the Monastery of San Francisco, and the Palace of Torre Tagle.
Here’s a pro tip: If you are carrying a currency other than the US dollar or the euro, you may have a hard time exchanging it in the city. So it is advised to bring the local currency (the nuevo sol) with you. And, if you are in an urgent need of an exchange, try the airport exchange counters.
2. Cusco city
The site of the Inca Empire’s historical capital, Cusco has transformed itself into a popular destination with tourists. With as many as 2 million tourists coming into Cusco each year, the city is fit for the tag of Peru’s tourist capital. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO, Cusco houses a number of attractions, including the Cristo Blanco, the Chapel of the Holy Family, and the Twelve-Sided Stone. Machu Picchu isn’t very far from the city, so you can easily enjoy the famous ruined city after your time in the city.
The cathedral of Santo Domingo in Cusco, with its late Gothic feel and exquisite designs, deserves to be a part of your travel itinerary.
3. Machu Picchu peak
Easily Peru’s most famous International brand, the Machu Picchu peak is the most well-known icon of Peru’s ancient Inca civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s popularity became evident in 2007 when it was voted as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ in a global online poll. The easiest way to reach here is to take a train from Cusco, which takes only a few hours; though most tourists prefer reaching here at the end of the Inca Trail.
An interesting fact: Of late, the idea of naked tourism has been catching the minds with many tourists posing nude for photos at Machu Picchu. However, the locals and the Peruvian government strongly disapprove of this and have objected to the practice.
4. Desert Oasis at Huacachina
A paradise in the desert is what some people call Huacachina. Built around an oasis, Huacachina village has only 100 (or even less) permanent residents, though it attracts tourists in thousands each year. A number of nearby wells have reduced the water level of the oasis, thus forcing the locals to put artificial water in the oasis. However, it hasn’t reduced the aesthetic value of this majestic site, located in one of the most barren lands in the world.
Visit this place to witness the magic of nature.
5. Islas Ballestas
Located in the Paracas district, the Ballestas group of islands is a perfect place to see some playful dolphins, sea lions, and penguins. A 2.5-hour boat ride is worth every penny and can be extremely relaxing for you and exciting for your kids!. A number of agencies offer guided boat tours, which usually cost around 25 USD per person. And if you are a small group of people and would like privacy, you can opt for the private yacht charters too.
6. Colca Canyon
There are times when nature’s beauty far surpasses anything that mankind has to offer. A visit to the Colca Canyon will be one of those times. One of the deepest canyons in the world, the Colca Canyon is a sight to behold and absorb. The area offers many recreational activities too, including adventure sports, home stays, and handicraft shopping.
If you are still contemplating whether to visit or skip the Colca Canyon, here is a fact for you – this is Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination (and Peru has many!).
7. Uros floating islands of Lake Titicaca
This place makes turning back the clock seemingly possible. These floating islands are home to a number of families living a primitive lifestyle and it makes for an exciting visit. For history-lovers, a visit to these islands is a different experience altogether. Made up of floating reeds, and occupied by the Uros people, these islands require heavy maintenance on the part of the inhabitants. Fresh reed has to be stacked on top of the existing top layer, which rots with time. These were originally made to be movable for the purposes of defense.
Walking on these islands may seem akin to walking on a waterbed! The easiest way to reach these islands is by taking the vessel at Puno.
A local guide would serve you well here since the local people may not be readily willing to engage in a conversation.
8. The city of Chan Chan
Literally meaning ‘Sun Sun’, this well-known archeological site served as a thriving capital of the Chimor Empire in yesteryears. Extremely well-preserved by the national government, this city is the closest you can get if you wish to feel the vibes of the prehistoric era. The inscriptions on the walls are well-cleaned and draw your attention at once. There are usually a number of guides at the site, though their proficiency in English and their ability to keep you engaged may differ!
9. The city of Iquitos
The city of Iquitos is synonymous with adventure. As the world’s largest city that is unreachable by road, Iquitos sits on the banks of the Amazon River. European architecture, indigenous and exotic cuisines, Spanish influences, and a host of accommodation options make this city an extremely-favored tourist destination among international travelers. The Amazon Golf Course, Maniti Camp expeditions and the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Zoo are some of the must-visit places in the city. Once in the city, do try out the popular dish of tacacho.
10. The Sacred Valley of the Incas
According to tourists, the photos, however good they may be, don’t really do justice to the beauty of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. As a part of the famous Inca Trail, the Sacred Valley is a kind of a prelude to the peak of Machu Picchu. But rather than playing second fiddle to one of the New Wonders of the World, the Sacred Valley holds its own and stuns all those who pay a visit. Majestic views of the mountains, valley, and highlands are good enough to compensate for all the effort put in during the Inca Trail.
11. Huayna Picchu
Standing over the famed Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu divides the lost city of Incas into different sections. The peak, 360 meters (1,181 feet) higher than Machu Picchu, holds many stories of its own. According to local legends, the peak was the home of local virgins and the high priests. The number of daily visitors is restricted to just 400. You can buy tickets online, which would guarantee your admission. The hike is slippery, rough, and sloppy in phases, and can take up to an hour. Also, the site remains closed on days of bad weather, so plan your visit accordingly.
12. Qurikancha, or the Temple of the Sun
Some call it the most significant building of the Inca Empire. The Qurikancha has not lost its significance over the years. One of the most-visited spots in the city of Cusco, the Qurikancha once had walls completely covered in solid gold. The courtyard, which lies adjacent to the temple, housed a number of solid gold statues before the Spanish decided to take it all away in exchange for the life of the Inca leader Atahualpa. The Spanish demolished the temple and instead resurrected the Church of Santo Domingo at this place.
To hear more such stories, plan a visit to this place soon!
13. Saksaywaman, near Cusco
One of the multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peru, Saksaywaman lies on the outskirts of Cusco. The dry-stone walls, which were built using humongous stones, make this site an architectural marvel and an enigma. A number of theories have been presented about the possible techniques applied for the construction of the walls but none have been universally agreed. Like with most other places in Peru, you should hire a guide to unravel the local anecdotes attached to this place.
14. Huaca Pucllana
These are a group of clay pyramids built on as many as seven elevated platforms. One of the prime spots that highlight the Peruvian culture in all its prowess, the Huaca Pucllana has now been transformed into a tailor-made tourist destination for a romantic dinner and some memorable photographs. Wear comfortable shoes and apply a lot a sunscreen since the outside tour can be a bit harsh when the sun is beating down on you. If possible, avoid bringing very small children since they may not be able to put in the effort needed to go around the monument.
Another prominent archeological site in Peru, the Tambomachay houses a host of waterfalls, canals and aqueducts. The ceremonial bathing pools and beautiful sights make this place a favorite among visitors. Since the archeologists haven’t confirmed the actual application of this site, go with the stories the guides tell you and relish the history.
Note: enjoying this place will need a good leg workout from you, so make sure you are in your best possible shape before you visit here.
Fun activities in Peru
16. Hiking the Inca Trail
No visit to Peru is complete without visiting the famed Inca Trail. Widely regarded as one of the top treks globally, the trail takes you through some of the most beautiful natural scenes, including majestic peaks, dense forests, ruins, dark tunnels, and paving stones. The final destination of the trail is nothing short of a prize for completing the trail successfully – Machu Picchu. You can easily find trek guides that offer different packages, with the most common ones being 4 or 5 day treks. The accommodation facilities (usually tents) are well set up to ensure a pleasant experience for travelers.
Do the Inca Trail and check it off your bucket list of things to do!
17. Surfing at the northern beaches of Peru
If you are a surfing enthusiast, there aren’t many better places to visit than Peru. With a long coastline facing the Pacific, Peru presents an ideal surfing ground. The Peruvian coast is known for friendly and consistent waves, thus making it a hub for surfers from around the world. Some of the most popular surfing destinations include Lima, San Pedro, Las Señoritas and Punta Hermosa. A wonderful surfing experience, some of the most delectable seafood, and some amazing places to stay make Peru an ideal beach holiday destination.
Get hold of your surfing board now!
18. A visit to Laguna 69
One of the most beautiful places in the country, Laguna 69 can be reached after a ‘not so difficult’ 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) trek. Known for its crystal clear water, Laguna 69 is an experience that can’t be missed. The trek will take you past some amazing waterfalls, lush green fields, and majestic mountains before you end up at the Laguna 69. The last part of the hike can be a bit unkind at times since there is lack of oxygen at higher altitudes.
Don’t forget to bring your swimming gear out with you, because you won’t be able to resist a dive.
19. Fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines
One of the most perplexing features of Peru’s rich history, the Nazca Lines were named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1994. Some of the figures made on the plateau include spiders, lizards, monkeys and hummingbirds. Other figures resemble trees, fish, birds and several other animals. The largest figures stretch over 200 meters (600 feet). The mystery of these lines is still largely unsolved. The short flights over these lines are an experience that is difficult to put in words. Seeing an artifact which is thousands of years old can give you goosebumps like nothing else.
20. Sandboarding and dune buggy ride on the sand dunes of Huacachina
Once you are done with all the trekking and hiking to reach the ruins, try your hand at sandboarding on the sand dunes in Huacachina! The shivering jeeps may seem a bit dangerous from the outside at first sight, but herein lies the adventure! The drivers are well-trained and make sure that you are safe and excited at the same time. Do hold on to everything you can because the drive will be fast and bumpy!
21. Taste the authentic Peruvian food
You never really get to know a country without eating its indigenous food. With the Peruvian food making inroads in a number of countries around the world, getting your hands on it while in Peru is almost obligatory. Some of the must-have dishes include ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice), cuy (guinea pig, baked or barbecued), causa (ingredients include potato and avocados) and lomo saltado (part Chinese and part Peruvian, made from beef, tomatoes, and onions in soy sauce).
Places to relish art, history and culture in Peru
22. Museo Larco
The tagline of this museum justifies its worth – ‘treasures from ancient Peru’. This privately-owned museum boasts of some of the best collections of pre-Columbian art in Peru. Housed in a vice royal building from the 18th century, the museum’s biggest attraction is the collection of erotic poetry of the pre-Columbian era. Open seven days a week, the museum has a 30 PEN entry fee (equivalent to 9 USD).
23. Parque de la Reserva
The name translates into ‘Park of the Reserve’ in English. Built in a neoclassical style, this park houses a number of sculptures and fountains. The biggest attraction of the park is the Magic Water Tour. The largest fountain of the park, the magic fountain, throws water up to a height of 80 meters (262 feet). Some of the other exciting activities on offer include a walk through the tunnel of water, the children’s fountain, the musical fountains, and a regular laser and picture show.
Overall, Parque de la Reserva is an ideal place to relax with your kids who might be tired of all the trekking and hiking.
24. Ollantaytambo Archaeological Park
This place has successfully kept Peru’s history alive for a number of years. The preserved ruins have old stories of their own. Again, hiring a local guide would be highly recommended or else it would only seem like a collection of huge rocks and ruins. To enjoy the entire park, you would need to climb over 200 steps (some of them steep), so make sure you bring a well-rested self here.
This site isn’t as large as Machu Picchu but it is no less fascinating.
25. Plaza Mayor in Lima
Plaza de Armas of Lima, or the Plaza Mayor, is where the city of Lima was born. Surrounded by the Government Palace, the Park of the Flag, Casa del Oidor, the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Club of the Union, and the Cathedral of Lima, the Plaza Mayor is easily the most significant destination in Lima. On any normal day, you can see two flags flying here: the Peruvian national flag and the rainbow colored flag of Tahuantinsuyo. The plaza looks strikingly different during day and night since it is extremely well-lit after dark. Regular dance festivals, music ceremonies, and the switching of the guards ceremony make the plaza a real treat for tourists. This is just the place to be if you wish to sit back and watch!
26. Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Carrying a significant bit of history with it, this monastery dates back to 1579 and took its present shape in the 17th century. The vividly-painted walls of the complex and a long history of nuns associated with this monastery make for an interesting couple of hours of storytelling. The roof top view of the volcanoes is an added incentive for visiting this peaceful place.
27. Faces of Cusco
If you are at a loss for ideas about what to do in Cusco, just head over to the Faces of Cusco. A group of self-styled entrepreneurs, the Faces of Cusco has become a hub for international travelers coming to Peru. They offer local tours, take you to the best local restaurants, invite you to hobby classes, get you the best chocolates, and lots more.
Wait for the best part – They also offer a few free services!
Come to Peru and discover the hidden wonders
There is hardly a place on the globe that represents a better amalgamation of the past, present, and future than Peru. This is a place where nature overtakes your senses and reminds you of its powers and playfulness, all at once. Come to Peru and discover a land of hidden treasures.
Pro tip: Learn a few words in Spanish and you will be a favorite with the locals!
This article was originally published on May 12, 2016
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