Peru is land of incredible cultural diversity and historical intrigue. While it is most famous for being the centre of the Inca Empire and home to Machu Picchu, the country has so much more to offer. Whether it’s the thriving artistic scene, delicious cuisine, or the geographic extremes from Amazonian jungle to arid desert, there’s something to be found in Peru to satisfy every kind of traveller. Here are some of the best things to do in Peru to include in your Peru itinerary.
1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and the pinnacle of many a traveller’s bucket list. Witnessing the remains of this remarkable Inca citadel enshrouded in clouds is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The most rewarding way to reach Machu Picchu is to hike the famous Inca Trail, a legendary four-day trekking route that weaves through jungle terrain and passes many other Inca ruin sites along the way.
While it’s possible to visit Machu Picchu by train from the city of Cusco, the only way to see the iconic view of it descending from the Sun Gate at dawn is via the Inca Trail. This alone makes it worth the 43 kilometres of high-altitude trekking, and it’s a special bonus to experience it in relative serenity before the trainloads of day trippers arrive.
2. Explore the historic centre of Lima
Lima, Peru’s sprawling capital, is a city with a complex and layered history. It was once the administrative centre of the entire Spanish Empire in South America, a period of colonial rule that has left a lasting mark on the city’s identity.
The historical centre of Lima, Centro Historico, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features some of the most prominent landmarks of the colonial era. The grand square of Plaza Mayor at the heart of this district hosts two significant buildings of colonial heritage: the Government Palace and the Cathedral of Lima.
The outer streets of Centro Historico are dotted with several more magnificent examples of Spanish baroque architecture. The Convent of San Domingo and the Monastery of San Francisco are two of the most striking, while Torre Tagle Palace is the best-preserved example of an 18th century ‘casona’, with pink walls and weathered wooden balconies.
3. Visit the Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon rainforest covers a staggering 60% of Peru’s land. Much of this is completely untouched jungle territory. Just 5% of the population lives within Amazonia, but some inhabited areas are accessible to visitors and teeming with biodiversity to discover.
The city of Iquitos is the largest urban centre in the Peruvian Amazon. Isolated from other major cities in Peru, it can only be reached by air or river. The city is a boisterous hive of activity and the gateway to exploring the Amazon jungle.
You can take boat tours deep into the jungle from Iquitos. Experienced local guides will lead you on hikes into the thick vegetation where you can see Amazonian wildlife in its natural habitat, including anacondas, monkeys, giant frogs, tarantulas and bullet ants. Encounter indigenous tribes and learn their way of life, and drift along the river at sunset while pink dolphins splash around.
4. Fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines
The Sechura Desert in southern Peru is the ultimate contrast to the jungleland of the north. An arid plain that stretches across over two thousand kilometres of the Pacific Coast, it is a cracked and dusty wilderness.
The Nazca Lines, located deep inside this desert landscape, are a mystery that have puzzled scientists and archeologists for decades. These giant geoglyphs of animals, birds, humans and geometric objects are carved into the desert, some over a thousand feet long. It is believed they were created by indigenous people between 500 BC and 500 BC, but their origin and purpose remain unclear.
You can take a flight over the lines from the nearby city of Nazca and see them from above. Flights last about 30 minutes, with a skilled local pilot and accompanying guide who will narrate the history.
5. Seek adventure in the desert oasis of Huacachina
The desert oasis village of Huacachina in southern Peru has been transformed in recent years into an idyllic resort and adventure destination. The towering sand dunes that surround the village have become a playground for adrenaline activities.
Late every afternoon, giant dune buggies head out onto the sand and rumble up and down the slopes, filling the otherwise silent desert with the sound of screaming tourists. The dunes also double up as a great terrain for sandboarding.
Once the adrenaline has subsided you can watch a spectacular sunset from the top of the largest dune, and then relax with a pisco sour cocktail by the lake back in the village.
6. Trek in the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon in Peru is the world’s second-deepest canyon, and is twice the depth of its famous counterpart in the USA, the Grand Canyon. It is also home to some spectacular scenery of sheer rock faces, winding paths and yellow-green vegetation.
In two days it’s possible to trek into the depths of the canyon and back out again, but it’s no easy task. The second day involves a 4am start and a tough uphill trek with an elevation gain of 1,300 metres. If you’re up for the challenge, the views are a worthy prize.
The ‘White City’ of Arequipa is the closest base for taking trips to the canyon. On the way you can stop at Mirador Cruz Del Condor to see the world’s largest flying bird. Early every morning, Andean condors emerge at this spot to swoop around the landscape in search of carrion.
7. Take a trip to Lake Titicaca
Straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake. The Peruvian city of Puno stands on its western shore at nearly 4,000 metres above sea level, and is an ideal launchpad for exploring the lake’s deep blue waters.
The floating islands of Uros in the middle of the lake are one of its most captivating attractions. You can take a boat trip from Puno to meet the indigenous Uru people and learn first-hand how they constructed the islands from reeds.
Back in Puno you can eat fresh fish from the lake in a choice of local restaurants, and visit Yavari, a 19th century steamship that has been renovated and repurposed as a guest house.
8. Eat delicious Peruvian cuisine
Peru takes pride in its culture for cuisine, which is fast gaining recognition on the world stage. Wherever you are in in the country, the temptation to sample Peruvian food is irresistible.
With over 3,000 types of potato grown in Peru, the starchy vegetable forms the basis of many national dishes. One example is causa, a delicacy comprising of a potato, lemon and pepper paste that comes with a variety of fillings. Causa is as much about the creative presentation as the flavour.
The signature dish of Peru, however, is ceviche. While it is popular across Latin America today, it originated in Peru over two thousand years ago. Ceviche consists of succulent chunks of raw white fish marinated in lime, coriander and red onion, typically served with sweet potato and corns. You will find it all over the country, but for the best ceviche you don’t need to look further than Peru’s gastronomic capital, Lima.