If you’re planning a Peru trip, you’ve probably realized it is one of the coolest countries in the world to visit. But the nation offers so much to do—from unmatched mountain treks and desert dunes to the Amazon rainforest and some of the most famous archaeological sites in the world—that it can be a bit intimidating to figure out the best things to do in Peru.
So, to help you find them, I’ve teamed up with a bunch of fellow travel blogger friends who recently visited Peru. Together, we’ve brought you our best suggestions for what to do in Peru.
This list of Peru travel destinations has suggestions for all interests. It’s got a bit of everything: the best things to do in Lima, insane hotel suggestions that will have you hanging off the side of a mountain, multi-day treks, beaches, national parks, Amazon visits and so much more.
Visiting other destinations in Peru? Check out our other guides:
- Peruvian Cuisine: 13 Must-Try Peruvian Dishes
- The 13 Best Cusco Restaurants
- 17 Must Try Lima Restaurants
The Best Things to Do in Peru
Take a Swim In Laguna 69
Suggested by: Patrick of German Backpacker
One amazing area many seem to skip when traveling Peru is the small town of Huaraz in the Andes. While Huaraz is not on the typical tourist trail, a visit is well worth it (and it’s only a small detour from the typical route between Lima and Cusco). Travelers can easily reach Huaraz with a night bus from Lima. The small town is the base for some phenomenal hiking and trekking in the Andes. However, visitors should keep in mind that the altitude change between Lima and Huaraz is pretty high. So, it’s important to give the body one or two days to adjust to the altitude before starting a big trek.
Huaraz is the perfect starting point for both day trips and multi-day hikes. One highly recommended day trip is the famous Laguna 69—at the end of the exhausting hike, travelers are rewarded with a beautiful blue lagoon, making the exhaustion well worth it! Travelers can also visit the nearby Pastoruri glacier, which has an incredible landscape.
Ride a Dune Buggy in Paracas
Recommended by: Becky from Sight Doing
If you want something radically different from Machu Picchu, head down the Peruvian coast to the town of Paracas.
About three hours south of Lima, this small town is a fabulous place for an adrenaline-filled adventure! Dune buggies head into the desert, speeding up and down sand dunes at maximum speed. Hold on tight, and expect fast turns, exhilarating spins, and thrilling downhill races. Just when you think it can’t get even more fun, you’ll get the chance to take a break from the dune buggy to try sand-sledding or sand-boarding (depending on your balancing skills). Clock your speeds as you ride down on custom boards and then get back in the buggy to do it all again.
Paracas is easy to reach by bus from Lima and is also the launching spot for penguin and sea lion watching on the Ballestas Islands. The town also hosts gorgeous scenery at Paracas National Reserve and even wine and pisco tours.
Experience an Authentic Desert Oasis
Huacachina is an actual desert oasis just west of the town of Ica, about five hours from Lima. Here you’ll find a small village built around a lagoon. The desert setting makes for some incredible photos, both at sunrise and sunset.
Other than capturing incredible images, you can also ride dune buggies or go sand boarding. Also, just outside of the oasis, you can find wineries and pisco making factories that you are able to tour and most importantly- sample the famous national drink of Peru.
Swim with Sea Lions
Recommended by: Dan from 2Backpackers
Just off the coast of Lima, thousands of sea lions inhabit the Palomino Islands. There, visitors can get to know these residents by doing what they can’t in many other parts of the world—swimming among them!
From a dock in Lima, tour guides take visitors on a 45-minute to hour-long boat ride to the islands. First, tourists will smell the island, which smells similar to a farm, but in the middle of the ocean. Upon arrival, the sea lions will immediately start gathering near the boat (like us humans, their curiosity often gets the best of them).
Tourists then get the chance to jump in the water, likely with a wet suit on, and seals and humans are soon colliding as they swim around, touching toes and bumping bodies. Being surrounded by hundreds of sea lions is an experience unlike any other. It’s one of the most exhilarating things to do in Peru.
Take a Food Tour of Lima with The Lima Gourmet Company
One of the best things to do in Lima to learn about local Peruvian cuisine is to take a food tour. On this tour you will explore three unique neighborhoods of Peru’s capital city while sampling some of the best food the country has to offer.
You’ll learn about the food and its rich heritage. You’ll even get to sample a pisco sour, the country’s signature drink. Some tours even include a ceviche-making class so you can learn to make authentic Peruvian food for your friends and family back home!
Lima Gourmet Company has several different tours for to you to choose from, so be sure to visit their website to learn more and book a tour for yourself!
Visit Manu National Park
Recommended by: Ellis of Backpack Adventures
Beautiful Manu National Park is located in Peru’s Amazon. For many, a visit quickly becomes one of the highlights of any Peru trip. The pristine nature is home to a variety of birds, animals, plants, and even some of the last indigenous peoples on earth to live as hunter-gatherers. They probably know more about us than we about them, because they’ve chosen to continue their lives in the forest and evade any contact with the outside world.
When booking a tour through this area, it helps to have a good guide. Be prepared to wake up early, as that’s when the animals are most active. Every morning, hundreds of macaw parrots come to the salt licks, where the salt in the clay helps clean out their body toxins. But macaws are not the only animals around. With a bit of luck, you’ll see monkeys, capybara, crocodiles, toucans, the prehistoric Hoatzin, and maybe even the rare Andean cock of the rock or a jaguar.
This park is less visited than other parks near Iquitos and Puerto Maldonaldo, it should still certainly make your list of places to visit in Peru. There are fewer choices for accommodation, but your visit will be more authentic and more in tune with nature.
Go River Rafting on the Apurimac River
Recommended by: James from Travel Collecting
Rafting the Apurimac River is one of the best things to do in Peru. A minibus leaves from Cusco for the 4-hour drive to the river. Upon arrival, a team of expert guides gives everyone instructions on what to do as they navigate through rapids. The river runs through the Black Canyon, and the first few minutes on the raft offer the chance to take in the canyon’s sheer cliffs. The cliff faces rise dramatically on both sides of the river, an occasional condor circling far overhead.
But, it isn’t long before the first rapids are encountered. This trip is not for the faint-hearted. There are many Class III rapids, the most severe class many white water rafting trips navigate, and even several Class IV rapids. These are serious, and guides give careful instructions on what to do before entering them. But later on, the tour will ride through Class V rapids (Class VI rapids are basically unnavigable)—this is serious stuff.
Water breaks over the sides, the raft drops down several meters, and rocks and water are everywhere. The journey is exhilarating, crazy, adrenaline-pumping, terrifying, and a whole lot of fun. This is one of the top ten white water rafting trips in the world!
Splash Around Lima’s Magical Waterpark
Recommended by: Thais of World Trip Diaries
If you’re wondering what to do in Lima, check out a park called Parque de la Reserva. One side of this park is filled with water fountains that come alive at night. It’s magical!
The whole water circuit is called Circuito Magico del Agua (Magic Circuit of Water), and you need to see it.
There are countless fountains, and they’re all different! Some dance, some sing, some form a tunnel you can walk beneath. They all light up in stunning shows. The biggest fountain even has images projected onto it, which is a pretty neat experience. If you’re feeling lucky, you can enter a maze of water jets that sprout from the floor, randomly wetting (or narrowly missing) the people in it.
Take a change of clothes so you can splash about—there are changing rooms—and enjoy the park to the fullest. At the exit, stop at one of the food stalls to grab some picarones (a pumpkin dough shaped like a doughnut) too!
Experience Paracas National Reserve
On a visit to Paracas National Reserve, you can see dolphins, sea lions, and desert landscapes, all in the same park!
Most visits to the reserve start with a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands. The islands hold a wealth of marine life and caves to explore. On the way, you’ll also view the Paracas Candelabra geoglyph—a huge hillside etching of mysterious origins. Scholars think the glyph could date back to 200 B.C.
The second part of the tour will take you to visit some truly stunning beaches (one featuring unique red sand!) and then stop at a museum that explains the history of the reserve. Finally, you’ll get to try a few authentic local dishes at a beachside restaurant.
There are many tour companies in the area that can arrange your visit, but we worked with Flamencos Bahia Tours, and I’m happy to recommend them.
Go Stargazing at the Cusco Planetarium
Recommended by: Jen of Jen on a Jet Plane
Twenty minutes outside of downtown Cusco, there’s a place where guests can gaze at the stars, admire the distinct constellations of the Southern Hemisphere and even spot Jupiter on a clear night. This is Planetarium Cusco.
Privately owned and operated by a local family, the planetarium boasts warm touches like flannel blankets and lessons in Incan history that won’t soon be forgotten. A typical visit begins in the interpretation room, where 25 people sit in a dome and observe an astronomy workshop, entranced by vivid images projected around them, mimicking the Peruvian sky and giving context to the stellar skies seen outside.
Once outside, high-end telescopes are programmed to ensure optimum viewing based on the evening’s weather conditions. Transport can be challenging since the Planetarium is in a remote location to avoid ambient light—thankfully, tours include free pick-up from the downtown area and operate daily from Monday to Friday. Reservations can be made online.
Complete the Gorgeous Huayhuash Trek
Recommended by: Jill of Jack and Jill Travel the World
Huayhuash Trek is a multi-day trek located in Cordilera Huayhuash in Northern Peru. The trek can be done in between 8-14 days, but most groups take about 10 days to complete the circuit. It’s one of the best hikes on the continent, offering turquoise lakes and endless vistas of impressive snow-capped peaks.
One of the peaks in the Huayhuash range is Siula Grande, which was featured in the movie “Touching the Void”. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how spectacular this area is. But the trek is not for the faint of heart. On it, you’ll hike across 8 mountain passes, all of them over 12000 ft in elevation. The starting point of the hike is the town of Huaraz.
Altitude acclimation is very important, and Huaraz offers many day hikes to help with the process. There are also many travel agencies that can help set you up with a guide, equipment rental, and donkeys if you choose to.
For an Easier Trek, Consider the Santa Cruz Trail
Recommended by: Miguel of Travel Sauro
The Santa Cruz Trek has become one of the most popular trails in the Huascaran National Park. It boasts terrific cliffs, huge glaciers, and beautiful lakes.
This scenic route is perfect for those who are just getting into multi-day hiking. It’s not technically difficult; it can be completed in 4 days, and it’s even doable without a guide. Those who need to rent some hiking gear will find everything they need in Huaraz, the region’s main town.
This popular hike is a good alternative to the famous Huayhuash Trek, which is considered a more serious trail. Hiking the whole Huayhuash Circuit usually takes about 10 days and requires mountain experience and good physical fitness.
Marvel at the Mysterious Nazca Lines
Recommended by: Gigi from Beach Addicted
The Nazca lines remain one of the most mysterious things to see on a Peru trip. Around 1200 simple lines stretch out across the Nazca desert soil in the southern part of Peru. It’s still not clear why they are there. Many wonder what their meaning might be. Were maybe even aliens involved?
It is hard to imagine that the indigenous people at that time (between 500 BC and 500 AD) could create such unique and large shapes. To be precise, there are 800 straight lines, over 300 geometric shapes, 70 simple lines of animals, trees, and flowers. The most famous ones are the hummingbird, the spider, the monkey and the human.
But why are they there? Most theories mention religious reasons. By creating those monumental shapes, the indigenous people wanted to please their gods. If there were bad times, most commonly caused by lack of water, they would show their respect and submission to the gods by creating these lines. The best way to see the Nazca lines is definitely from above. A flight over the lines is an extraordinary experience and a “must do” on any Peru trip.
Visit the Ancient Ruins of Kuelap
Recommended by: Claire of Tales of a Backpacker
Kuelap is estimated to be three times older than Machu Picchu, yet this citadel high in the Andes is much less well known. Archaeologists believe Kuelap was built in the 6th Century AD by the Chachapoya people, who were known as the Warriors of the Clouds. Their name is quite apt considering the location of Kuelap, perched on top of a mountain at 3000 m above sea level. Apparently, they chose to build as high up as possible to be closer to their gods.
A huge wall surrounds the fortress, and a narrow passageway acts as the entrance to the city, which has gradually been reclaimed by nature. Abandoned by the Chachapoya, then the Inca and the Spanish, moss-covered trees and bromeliads now lay claim to the site and add to its charm. The remains of circular stone buildings, with their intricate stone patterns and decorative carvings, fill the city. Although the site lacks the grandeur of Machu Picchu, exploring this city in the clouds practically by yourself more than makes up for it. Kuelap should definitely make the list if you’re still wondering what to see in Peru!
Take the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu
Recommended by: John of Roaming Around the World
Taking the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu is one of the best things to do in Peru! Rather than simply hiking to Peru’s famous Incan ruins, the Jungle Trek takes you on a four-day journey composed of multiple adventure activities. During the Jungle Trek, travelers go mountain biking, whitewater rafting, trekking, and ziplining on an action-packed route through the jungle and up into the mountains.
This high-octane adventure begins way up in the Andes with some thrilling downhill mountain biking. Thrill-seekers descend 2000 meters down a twisting road into the jungle over the course of several hours.
That’s where the roadway connects to the Urubamba River. Here, bikes are traded in for paddles and a nearly two-hour rapid ride commences through Class-3 rapids.
The second day of the Jungle Trek is a scenic 21-kilometer hike across jungle-covered mountains. The long jaunt culminates at natural hot springs to help ease those weary hiking aches.
The big adventure of the third day—ziplining across rivers and over valleys. It’s a nice adrenaline rush that energizes everyone for the final push, a trek across lush terrain.
The final day of the Jungle Trek ends in perhaps the most spectacular way possible, a hike up into Machu Picchu. Yet it’s the incredible adventure embarked on in the jungle to reach the famous site that makes this last leg of the journey so spectacular.
Experience the Colors of Rainbow Mountain
Recommended by Lora of Explore With Lora
Rainbow mountain is a day hike from Cusco in the Andes of Peru.
The area has only been opened to tourists in recent years, but it has become very popular at that time due to the mountain’s unique and colorful geological features.
The total length of the hike is 11 km round trip, but many find it challenging due to the altitude. The trail starts at just under 5000m and goes up to 5200m. It is a good idea to spend a few days in Cusco before hiking a rainbow mountain in order to acclimatize.
Although difficult, the hike is well worth the challenge, and the beautiful views along the way could keep anyone motivated to the top. The trail passes through snow-capped mountains, fields of llamas, and colorful valleys.
Rainbow mountain itself is not visible until the end of the hike, but as one reaches the summit, the landscape explodes with color below.
Most of the tour companies arrive at the trailhead around the same time (9 am), making the trail crowded. But for those with the flexibility of a car, it is possible to skip the crowds by arriving earlier or later in the day.
Crowded or not, Rainbow Mountain is an incredible adventure and place to visit in Peru.
Pay a Visit to the Maras Salt Mines
Recommended by: Abbie of Speck On the Globe
The Sacred Valley is found in the heart of the Andes and has a strong connection to the Inca Empire. The landscape boasts lush dramatic farmland dotted with small villages nestled within valleys.
In addition to visits to the area’s famous ruins, Salineras de Maras is one of the must-see places to visit in Peru. The salt pans here employ an ancient way of mining salt, and thousands of pans are still in use here today. The process is laborious and an educational look into how salt makes its way from the ground to the shaker on your kitchen table.
Visitors can take a day trip from Cusco to Maras. There, they’ll learn more about the process of salt mining while observing family-run salt pools carved into the side of the valley. For a small fee, locals provide a tour of the Salineras. At the end be sure to pick up a bag of salt as a souvenir. It’s some of the best in the world!
Visit the Tombs of El Señor de Sipán In Northern Peru
Recommended by Elisa from World in Paris
The royal tombs of Sipán are a true wonder and almost unknown to foreign visitors.
Located in the city of Sipán (hence the name), near the better-known city of Chiclayo (Northern Peru), the royal tombs of Sipán are one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Some say the findings in Sipán are as important as the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt.
The Lord of Sipán was a local chief of the Moche culture, which dominated Northern Peru 1000 years before the Inca. When he died, he was buried with all his belongings in a stepped pyramid in the Lambayeque Valley. Today, visitors can learn about the Moche culture and admire the tombs’ amazing treasures in a dedicated museum. The museum also displays a recreation of the tomb where the Lord of Sipán was buried.
The easiest way to visit Sipán is via a day tour from Trujillo. However, it is also possible to go by public transportation. Take the first bus in the morning from Trujillo to Chiclayo and a second bus from Chiclayo to the tombs. Photos aren’t allowed inside the museum.
Stay the Night in an Amazonian Lodge
Recommended by: Liliane of My Toronto, My World
One of the best things to see in Peru is the Amazon jungle. The best trips to the Amazon require a couple of days and ideally a couple of nights.
Unlike the Amazon in other parts of South America, the Peruvian Amazon is quite accessible! Most choose to start their Amazon experience from Iquitos, where many tour agencies can assist in arranging a stay.
Once in the jungle, there is plenty to see and experience. One of the best experiences can be had by staying in a jungle lodge.
While staying in a lodge, guests have the choice of a number of activities, including piranha fishing, a visit to a rum distillery, sloth searching, hikes through the jungle and so much more.
An Amazon jungle experience is also a great way to learn about local customs and plants/animals and try some delicious local dishes!
Spend the Night Hanging Off the Side of A Mountain
Suggested by: Leo from Safari Nomad
This unique and innovative accommodation, located in Cuzco’s Sacred Valley, is perfect for adventure enthusiasts looking for something different.
Skylodge Adventure Suites offers the chance to sleep in a transparent capsule that hangs from the top of the mountain some 400 meters (1,312 feet) above the ground.
Guests can choose from a couple of routes to access the pods. They can hike up 400 m of Via Ferrata or opt for a trail with zip lines, all accompanied by professional guides. Each route takes about an hour. Once guests are on the top, they will find three accommodation capsules. Each pod has beds for four guests, a dining area, and a separate bathroom. Above the pods, guests can have breakfast and a gourmet dinner.
The accommodations are eco-friendly with solar-powered lighting and bathrooms with dry and eco-friendly toilets and sinks. From above, visitors get the chance to admire an extraordinary view of the valley, the amazing Andes mountains, and an unparalleled view of the night stars.
This is one Peru travel experience that absolutely nobody should miss.
Experience an Authentic Pachamanca Meal
Suggested by: Kaila of Nomlist
To fully enjoy this dining experience, the diner must understand the meaning of the term pachamanca. Pacha means “earth,” and maca means “oven” in the Incan Empire language known as Quechua. This type of meal is one that was used only for special occasions to celebrate the connection between food and earth.
A pachamanca might feature chicken, lamb, and pork. It may also have potatoes, lima beans (habas), and sweet potatoes.
Stones are arranged around a wood and charcoal fire and then placed into a pit when hot. Ingredients then go onto the stones, starting with potatoes, followed by meat, and then ending with corn. More hot stones are placed on top of the food as it cooks.
Herbs season the food for more flavor. Diners will enjoy the smoky, fresh flavors and crispy textures. Be sure to go slowly and treasure the time, effort and care put into the meal.
Trek the Stunning Ausangate Circuit
Recommended by: Jen of Long Haul Trekkers
The relatively unknown Ausangate Circuit is a 95 km trek that follows pastoral trails along some of the most beautiful scenery in Peru.
Since most nearby tourists are visiting Machu Picchu or nearby Rainbow Mountain, the trails remain relatively free from other travelers. Those who do wish to see Rainbow Mountain can simply add it to their loop.
Inhabited by llama and alpaca herding communities, the region is home to some of the world’s last remaining pastoral societies. At a massive 6,384 masl (20,926 feet), Ausangate Mountain is the fifth tallest peak in Peru. Because of the extreme elevation (the full trek includes three difficult mountain passes, including two over 5,000m), acclimating well before embarking on this trek will make the journey safer and more enjoyable.
It’s certainly possible to hike the Ausangate Circuit without hiring a guide, an arrierio (a local guide with a mule), or a company. But, unpredictable mountain weather, demanding passes, a high likelihood of altitude sickness, and unmarked trails can pose a challenge to those unequipped or unfamiliar with the trails. The trail’s knowledgeable and hospitable guides know the area well, and their mules will carry the bulk of the weight.
Which of these things to do in Peru look best to you? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.