While the majority of visitors have their sights set on Machu Picchu, there are so many more incredible things to do in Peru. You can get your fill of Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley, but don’t miss a chance to see remnants of cultures that pre-date them in other areas. You’ll also want to explore some of Peru’s natural beauty. With parts of the Andes Mountains and Amazon, plus miles of Pacific coastline you can find towering peaks, glaciers, rainforest, desert, rugged islands, and more all in one visit.

This list, combining suggestions from almost two dozen travel bloggers contains sections about all of the top attractions. The top ten things to do in Peru are combined together into the first chunk, and then the remaining ones are grouped together into categories to help you tailor your trip to your own interests. Whatever you choose to do while there, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Peru the same way I did!


Top ten things to do in Peru

This section pulls in the best of the best things to do in Peru across all the categories in the table of contents. These are the highlights you’ll absolutely want to try to hit when you visit Peru. It should be no surprise that Machu Picchu tops the list, but lots of visitors don’t realize that Peru has so much more to see.

Visit world-famous Machu Picchu

View of historic buildings at Machu Picchu with clouds in between

Machu Picchu is no doubt the most popular place to visit in Peru, and it’s easy to see why. With its stunning location atop a mountain in the Andes, intricate ruins, and mysterious history it’s a phenomenal place to explore. In fact it’s the number one tourist attraction in all of Peru. Visitors flock to see the magnificently constructed Incan ruins seemingly set in the clouds atop a peak. The scenery is every bit as incredible as the ruins, so make sure you soak up the views while you’re there. Highlights at the citadel include the guardhouse that marks the original entrance to Machu Picchu, the Intihuatana stone, and the Temple of the Sun. You can also reserve an additional ticket to hike to the top of one of the mountains there.

Machu Picchu is accessed from the tiny town of Aguas Calientes or by hiking the legendary Inca Trail from the Sacred Valley. Most day visitors arrive via trains run by Inca Rail or PeruRail. I’d highly recommend making a morning visit, which would require staying overnight in Aguas Calientes, but Machu Picchu can also be visited as a day trip from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. New regulations at Machu Picchu have been instituted to limit the impact of visitors and preserve the site, so be sure to check them out to see what you need to know – or what’s changed if you’ve visited in the past.

Hike the Inca Trail

View from the Inca Trail

Photo by Lora from Explore with Lora

Peru is full of amazing treks and the Inca Trail is definitely one to add to the bucket list. This epic trek starts near Cusco and culminates in the ancient city of Machu Picchu after four days of trekking through the Andes mountains. The trek is 42 km (26 mi) in total and takes you through many different landscapes including snow-capped Andes Mountains, lush jungle, and mystical cloud forests. I couldn’t believe how much the landscapes changed by the hour; it was never dull walking along the trail.

Aside from the striking landscapes, there are ancient ruins to explore along the way, as it is the original trail used by the Inca empire. Nearing the end, the ancient city of Machu Picchu appears from beneath the clouds, which is a moment I’ll never forget.

Due to the popularity of the Inca trail and limited permits, you need to plan for this trek in advance. It is mandatory to go with a guide and many of the tour companies book months in advance. If you want to guarantee a spot, it’s recommended to book at least five months ahead. Another tip to make the most of the Inca trail is to spend a couple of days acclimatizing in Cusco beforehand. The elevation goes up to 4200m (13780 ft) which can cause altitude sickness, but acclimatizing will help with this. While hiking the Inca trail does require some planning in advance, it is absolutely worth it.

By Lora from Explore with Lora

Cruise through the Peruvian Amazon

Photo of a bird in the Peruvian Amazon

Photo courtesy of Bret and Mary from Green Global Travel

Stretching across some 4.6 million square miles in South America (or roughly 40% of the continent), the Amazon Rainforest basin is home to one of the world’s largest and most biodiverse populations of flora and fauna. And though the Brazilian Amazon has been plagued by a seemingly endless stream of environmental issues, including the recent fires intentionally set to clear land for agriculture, the forests of Peru remain relatively unspoiled by comparison. The Amazon rainforest covers approximately 60% of Peru, which boasts the largest number of birds and the third largest number of mammals in the entire world.

Amazon River cruises are really the only way for visitors to explore this incredible and remote region, with numerous local and international tour operators offering cruises to suit a wide range of budgets. Some small ship cruises cover more than 600 miles, venturing into remote stretches of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve (where larger ships are not allowed to go). Our luxury Amazon vessel carried just 38 passengers in total, but the ship came equipped with all the necessary amenities (including a full bar and live Peruvian music every night), and then some. Guests on our trip had an opportunity to visit an Amazonian manatee rescue center, look out for pink river dolphins, spend time with a local shaman, and take daily Zodiac excursions into remote sections of the river with expert field guides and naturalists. Along the way, we spotted countless monkeys, caiman, scarlet macaws, lizards, Hoatzin (a.k.a. punk rock birds), and other Amazon rainforest animals.

By Bret and Mary from Green Global Travel

Ride a dune buggy in Huacachina

Dune buggy near Huacachina in Peru

Photo by Lozzy from Cuppa to Copa Travels

Huacachina is perhaps one of the most famous desert oases in the world. On the very edge of the Ica desert, it’s only a few minutes in a tuktuk away from the main town of Ica, but on the far side lies miles and miles of sprawling sand dunes. The main attraction of Huacachina, and an item high on many travelers’ Peru bucket lists, is to dune-buggy across the sand dunes. Dune-buggy tours leave throughout the day, but it’s something that is best done in the late afternoon so that you can enjoy watching the sun go down over the desert. Get ready to hold on tight – buggies holding up to 20 passengers bash the dunes at every angle, as expert drivers skid and slide you back down over the other side. Dune-buggy tours in Huacachina will also include a few stops to allow you to try your hand at sand-boarding – but most of the dunes are so high that it’s safer to go down on your belly rather than standing up on the board.

The town of Huacachina is tiny, and the hub remains the oasis lake itself. Locals believe that taking a dip in the oasis water has health benefits, but if you don’t fancy getting wet there are always peddlos for hire. Staying at least one night in Huacachina is recommended so that you can experience the oasis and town around taking a dune-buggy tour of the sand dunes, but make sure you find accommodation with a swimming pool as the desert air can feel incredibly hot!

By Lozzy from Cuppa to Copa Travels 

Swim with wild sea lions at Palomino Island

Sea lions on the rocky shores of the Palomino Islands, visited on a day trip from Lima

Photo by John from Roaming Around the World

Swimming with the sea lions at Palomino Island is an incredible wildlife opportunity to seek out in Peru. This bucket list experience can be found not far from Peru’s busy capital. Located just offshore from Lima, Palomino Island boasts a population of thousands of sea lions!

Eco excursions bring passengers out to the island to see the famed residents. Palomino Island has even taken on the nickname of the “Little Galapagos of Lima.” In addition to seeing the great abundance of sea lions, those who visit Palomino Island can also spot many species of sea birds and even penguins!

But the highlight of Palomino Island is the rare chance to actually get in the open ocean and swim with the wild sea lions. Those who take the boat trip to the offshore island have an opportunity to go snorkeling with these friendly and naturally curious marine mammals. The sea lions here are quite a playful bunch who are not shy to approach visitors. Palomino Island’s sea lion population aren’t fed and strict rules are in place for visitors to ensure this remains a non-invasive, eco-friendly activity.

It results in a fantastic wildlife experience that can be pursued right from Lima. Boats depart daily from the port of Callao. It’s a 3-4 hour tour, depending on the operator, so swimming with the sea lions at Palomino Island can make a great half-day trip for nature-lovers to pursue right from the capital.

By John from Roaming Around the World

Hike the famous Rainbow Mountain

Hiker in front of the Rainbow Mountain in Peru

Photo by Sean from Living Out Lau

Rainbow Mountain, or Montaa de Siete Colores, is probably one of the most famous tourist attractions in Peru after Machu Picchu. Whereas Machu Picchu provides historical encounters of the Incan civilizations, the Rainbow Mountain provides insights into the geological formations in the region. The color of the mountain comes from different mineral deposits at the top. The Rainbow Mountain is part of the mighty Andes and sits at 5200m (17060 ft) above sea level. It is only a little less than 200 meters (656 feet) high than Mount Everest basecamp, which sits at around 5400m (17716 ft). That means when hiking the Rainbow Mountain, everyone should take the utmost precautions against altitude sickness as well as pick a tour company that has all the essential equipment in case something goes wrong.

I traveled to Rainbow Mountain through a tour agency in Cusco. The tour included transport, a guide, and breakfast and lunch. Getting a tour in Cusco is the most common way to visit Rainbow Mountain because doing it yourself is quite difficult. The transport van will take you to the base of the mountain where you will then have the option to rent a horse that will take you about 80% of the way, or hike the entire trail, which takes about 2 hours depending on your physical condition.

When I arrived at the top of Rainbow Mountain, there were stacks of people. If you want to see Rainbow Mountain without that many people, there are tour companies that arrive there in the early morning.
After you see the Rainbow Mountain, make sure you check out the nearby Red Valley, or Valle Rojo in Spanish. It is not as touristy as Rainbow Mountain and it is absolutely gorgeous. After you are done hiking Rainbow Mountain, try one of the traditional foods in Peru!

By Sean from Living Out Lau

Hike one of the deepest canyons in the world

Photo of Colca Canyon, one of the top things to do in Peru

Photo by Ellis from Backpack Adventures

The Colca Canyon trek does not get the same attention as the more famous treks around Cusco and therefore I did not expect it to become one of the highlights of my Peru trip. But it certainly was.
First of all, the Colca canyon is an area of exquisite beauty. The landscapes and the mountains are stunning. One of the major attractions are the condors, the largest birds in the world, that you can see flying through the canyon up close. The area is also famous for its indigenous cultures and traditional villages.

From Arequipa, there are plenty of day trips that take you along the most touristic spots. However, the best way to really get to know the Colca Canyon is on foot. The Colca Canyon trek is a challenging hike of 3 days that brings you to the bottom of the canyon.

The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the grand canyon so you can imagine the long and steep descent on your first day. In the canyon you can sleep in one of the small scale guest homes in the villages. I would recommend to take some time to explore rural life in the canyon before hiking out on your third day. Again it’s a long and steep climb up, but the views are so worth it. The Colca Canyon trek should definitely be on anyone’s Peru bucket list.

By Ellis from Backpack Adventures 

Take a flight over the mysterious Nazca Lines

Enormous monkey shape formation of Nazca lines viewed from the air

Photo by James Ian from Travel Collecting

The Nazca Lines are one of the world’s greatest mysteries. In the Peruvian desert, there are dozens or huge geometric shapes, lines and images that can only be seen properly from the air. Images include a tree, a monkey, a parrot, a hummingbird and a condor. There is also a space man or astronaut, created long before space travel was possible. The shapes were created by removing rocks and exposing unoxidized light soil beneath.

There are two ways to see the Nazca Lines. There are a couple of viewing towers, but these are not high enough to get a clear view. The best way is to take a flight over the Nazca Lines (read here for full details). Flights are typically 30 or 60 minutes long, and this enables you to see all of the major shapes. It is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience to see these shapes that were created long before air travel.

The lines are hundreds of years old, and no one is certain exactly why they were created, though there are several different theories. Some theories involve aliens. Others involve the ancient Nazca people. There was a severe drought around the time of their creation, and many of the lines point to water sources, so it is speculated that they are designed to draw the gods’ attention to the people’s need for water. It is also thought possible that shamans took peyote, a hallucinogenic, and that they ‘flew’ in their minds, enabling them to conceptualize the images from above.

Whatever the truth, flying over these mysterious shapes and pictures is an incredible experience and should definitely be on your Peru bucket list.

By James Ian from Travel Collecting

Visit one of the world’s tallest waterfalls

Photo of Catarata de Gocta, one of the world's tallest waterfalls

Photo by Sean from Living Out Lau

Are you a waterfall lover? If you said yes, then this attraction is perfect for you. Perú has 3 types of landscapes ranging from deserts to mountains to rainforest, and luckily for you, one of the highest waterfalls in the world as well. Catarata de Gocta, or just Gocta, was officially the third highest waterfall when it was discovered, just behind Angel Falls in Venezuela and Tugela Falls in South Africa. However, more information was presented and now Gocta is officially the 16th tallest waterfall in the world according to the World Waterfall Database. Nonetheless, the power and volume of water from the Gocta waterfall is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The water from Catarata de Gocta drops 771m (2530 ft), the height of two Eiffel Towers combined.

To get to Catarata de Gocta, you will want to base yourself out of the city of Chachapoyas, close to the Amazon rainforest of Peru. From there, you can easily find a tour to Gocta or DIY by taking a shared van at the bus terminal to the town of Cocachimba. There you will embark on a 6-hour round trip to see one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world. While you are there, make sure you check out some of the other top things to do in Chachapoyas!

By Sean from Living Out Lau

Visit the floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Visitor at the floating Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca

Photo by Priyanka from On My Canvas

As you arrive closer to the Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca, you would see about 60 man-made islands floating on the shimmery waters of Titicaca. How were these islands made? Hundreds of years ago, people migrated from the Amazon forest to live in the villages near Puno. But the locals didn’t let the Amazonian people settle on the shores. The 1200 people that inhabit the Uros Islands these days are descendants of those Amazonian people who built these floating pieces from a buoyant reed called Totora that grows in Titicaca to save themselves from the villagers. One must take a tour to the Uros Islands while traveling in Puno.

Though you cannot stay overnight on the islands, you can take a combined tour to the Uros Islands and Taquile island. Visit Uros during the day, understand how the homes and islands are made of reed and re-strengthened every fifteen days, sail around with the locals in a totora boat, and then head over to Taquile island to spend the night there. The tour takes about one and a half days and a night. Don’t forget to carry a torch, mosquito spray, basic medicines, and other essentials with you for you do not get anything on the Uros Islands.

By Priyanka from On My Canvas

Other Incan ruins in Peru

Don’t make a beeline straight to and from Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley! Stop and check out some of these other fascinating sites built by the Incas – including one right in Cusco.

See the Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo

Terraces at the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo

Some of the most substantial Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley can be found in Ollantaytambo, a small town between Cusco and Machu Picchu. It’s easily accessed by taxi or bus, and is also a stop on the train route between the two tourist spots. The fortress at Ollantaytambo was the site of one of the few Incan victories in a battle against the Spanish invaders. The massive terraces leading up to the top of the fort are deceptively large until you find yourself making your way up the stairs. The climb to the top is a pretty good illustration of why it was a powerful stronghold, though it was eventually captured. Once you head back down toward the base of the ruins, you’ll be able to explore a granary with a restored straw roof. There are also a series of fountains and baths that you can view.

Outside the ruins, you can wander through the town itself to see more Incan construction. Locals are proud that their houses are built on old Incan foundations, which are still holding up to the elements. For more ruins, you can make the steep climb up to the storehouses visible from the main fortress.

Hike to secluded Choquequirao

Incan ruins at Choquequirao

Photo by Clare from Travels in Peru

Choquequirao is an Inca ruin not too far from Cusco, but it’s much less famous than Machu Picchu. It is more magical than Machu Picchu though as it has far fewer visitors. To get to Choquequirao, it is around a 3 hour drive from Cusco to the start of the 44km round trip hike to the ruins, which normally is a 4 day trip. It’s not an easy hike – in fact it’s really tough – but when you arrive at Choquequirao it’s well worth the pain. You will need a decent level of fitness to complete this hike.

To start, you hike down the mountainside 1,500 meters in height to the river, you then cross the river and climb 1,800 meters, arriving to Choquequirao on day 2. Once you have visited Choquequirao you will return the same way on day 3. Choquequirao is becoming more popular and you may need to share it with another 20 tourists, but its remote location is what makes it appealing. There are no roads, no traffic you can hear, just the sound of nature while you sit and look at the amazing views of the valley. The main plaza area is smaller than Machu Picchu but there are still lots of houses and terraces you can visit and a must-see is the llama decorated terraces. Only 30-40% of Choquequirao has been excavated as it has so few visitors and little funding.

If you want somewhere off the beaten track and don’t want to explore an Inca ruin with 2,500 people then hike to Choquequirao.

By Clare from Travels in Peru 

Visit the Incan ruins at Pisac

Incan terraces at Pisac in the Sacred Valley

Another one of the most impressive Incan sites in the Sacred Valley can be found at Pisac, just a short drive from Cusco. These ruins are believed to have served defensive, agricultural, and religious purposes. The most striking part of the ruins visually are the endless terraces built onto the mountain sides. These increased the Incas’ agricultural production and allowed them to farm at higher elevations than that would normally be possible.

Visiting the Pisac ruins is covered by the tourist ticket that includes several other Incan sites and museums in the Sacred Valley. You’ll also want to combine your visit with a stroll through the famous Pisac market that takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

Visit the Incan fortress of Sacsayhuamán

Incan stones in Sacsayhuaman, one of the top things to do in Cusco, Peru

Set on a hilltop overlooking Cusco, this Incan fortress offers dramatic views over the city. The site was first inhabited by the Killke culture, but was built up to its impressive appearance by the Incas once they rose to prominence. It was also the center of a siege during the battles between the Spanish invaders and Manco Inca. Sadly, the Spaniards demolished much of the site to build houses and other buildings in Cusco, but strolling through what remains gives you a great sense of how incredible the Incas’ stone working skills were. Several paths through the foundations that once housed store rooms and weapons are open to visitors. There is also a natural cave you can walk through if you don’t mind hunching over in the dark.

Visits to Sacsayhuaman are included with the tourist ticket that also provides entrance to several of the other Inca sites and museums listed in this post. It’s a walkable distance from the historic Plaza de Armas city center, but it is a decent climb. I took a taxi up to the ruins and then walked down, enjoying the views of sunset over the city along the way.

Visit the mysterious Moray

Incan ruins at Moray on our Cusco to Ollantaytambo tour

The strange, circular terraces of Moray are a quick, but fascinating place to visit. Smaller and less elaborate than several of the other Inca sites on this list, its purpose is somewhat mysterious. The prevailing theory is that these oddly shaped constructions were used for agricultural experimentation. The different heights and angles create a surprisingly wide range of temperatures that would have allowed the Incas to try out different crops and growing techniques in a small area.

Visitors can easily enjoy a view of the main terrace from an overlook near the parking area. If you’re up for the slight climb on the return trip, you can take a sloped pathway down to the top level of the terrace and then continue on to view some of the smaller ones. There are bathrooms nearby, but you have to bring your own toilet paper

Visiting the area can be done independently or through one of the many organized day tours from Cusco. It’s frequently combined with the nearby salt mines of Maras (covered later on in this article) as we did with our taxi tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. You should be able to see the site in an hour, but plan on a bit more time if you really want to explore all of the pathways.

Pre-Incan ruins in Peru

The Incas get a lot of the attention from people who visit Peru, but there were plenty of other historic cultures present within its boundaries at various points in time. It’s well worth taking some time to learn a little bit about these other cultures and see some of the ruins they left behind.

Visit the pre-Incan ruins of Pikillacta

Photo of ruins at Pikillacta

Photo by Heather from The Conversant Traveller

Tucked away well off the beaten track, just an hour from Cusco, are the strange and little-understood ruins of Pikillacta. Unlike the Inca ruin sites in the Sacred Valley, Pikillacta receives hardly any visitors, and most of those that do come here are locals. Built by the Wari civilization, this ancient city pre-dates the Incas by about 2000 years, and not much is really known about the culture and communities of those who lived here. Indeed, the site is still being excavated, and you may come across archaeologists as you wander around.

The site is fascinating, with incredibly straight streets with rows of buildings on either side spread out over 50 hectares. There’s still a lot of be discovered, so the city could, in reality, be even bigger. The name translates as ‘City of the Fleas,’ supposedly thanks to a Wari Queen who locked an inferior suitor in a room containing thousands of fleas, and left him there until he died. Whilst very few visitors have even heard of Pikillacta, it’s actually really easy to reach, but you’ll need to hire a car as there’s little public transport that passes this way. If you really want to understand the ruins, it’s best to hire a guide in Cusco as there aren’t any at the site itself, and there’s not much information there either. Entrance fees are included in the Full Cusco Tourist Ticket, as well as one of the Partial Tourist Tickets.

By Heather from The Conversant Traveller

Visit the remote Kingdom of the Cloud People

Photo of ruins at Kuelap, Peru

Photo by Kiara from Gallop Around the Globe

The vast majority of people who make it to Peru will pay a visit to the 15th century Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. But did you know that there’s also a fabulous, ruined citadel in the mountains southwest of Chachapoyas that pre-dates the Incas? One whose location, 3100 meters (10170 feet) above sea level, offers some unrivaled views across the Utcubamba Valley in northern Peru? But one that sees just 2.63% of the number tourists who walk through the gates of Machu Picchu every year?

I’m talking about Kuélap – also known as the ‘Kingdom of the Cloud People‘ (after the Chachapoyan people who built it). If you’re looking for an off-the beaten path experience in Peru then Kuélap is definitely somewhere worth adding to your itinerary.

The citadel was once made up of 400 individual structures (most of them circular in design) that were inhabited by approximately 3000 people. The site is mostly unrestored – a fact that definitely adds to its ‘undiscovered’ appeal – and is slowly being reclaimed by the vegetation that surrounds it. However, the imposing outer wall (there were actually two lines of defense here) still remains largely intact, along with a few of the individual buildings. And due to Kuélap’s size (the citadel measured 600 meters (1968 feet) from one end to the other), you can quite easily spend a whole morning or afternoon here.

Getting to Kuélap is not easy: the citadel is located in an isolated position, a two-three hour drive from Chachapoyas, along rough, unpaved mountain roads, and there is nowhere to stay nearby. Your best bet is to book a tour from Chachapoyas. We had a fantastic guide on ours who gave us so many curious pieces of information about the site that we probably never would’ve learned via a guidebook or online.

By Kiara from Gallop Around the Globe 

See pre-Incan ruins right in Lima

View from the top of the Huaca Pucllana pyramid.

Most visitors to Peru are planning to hit the famous Incan sites, but there were plenty of civilizations existing in Peru prior to their rise to prominence. One of these created the ruins of Huaca Pucllana right in the heart of what is now Lima. Visitors can take tours of the pyramid-like structure and surrounding ruins in both Spanish and English. The contrast between the ancient structure and modern-day buildings surrounding it is impressive. You’ll also get to see figures demonstrating how the bricks were constructed with the methods used at the time. The tour includes a semi-steep climb to the top, so come wearing sturdy shoes and be prepared for some stairs. The view from the top is pretty cool, so it’s definitely worth the effort.

The site also has a small museum with artifacts from the ruins that you can spend a short time exploring. There were also some temporary cultural exhibits and an organization raising funds for Peruvian hairless dogs when we visited. The on-site restaurant is highly regarded, but we didn’t eat there so I can’t vouch for it personally.

See the giant sarcophagi of the Warriors of the Clouds

Photo of the Chachapoya Sarcophagai in Peru

Photo by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan

Most visitors to Peru head straight for Cusco and Machu Picchu, but there are also some amazing sights in the north of the country that see far fewer tourists. The Incas weren’t the only pre-Colombian civilization; others have left behind mysterious fortresses and burial sites that have been all but forgotten. Exploring these little-known sites feels like a real adventure, and you may even have them all to yourself.

One of the best examples of these off-the-beaten-track sites in the north is the larger-than-life-sized sarcophagi left behind by the Chachapoya, or, as they are sometimes called in English, the Warriors of the Clouds. These fierce fighters once ruled their own small nation in the cloud forests of the Amazon. When the warriors fell in battle, their comrades would bury them in painted sarcophagi called “purunmachos” and carry them up to seemingly inaccessible gaps in the cliffs.

Given that the purunmachos are about 600 years old and are made from sticks, grass and clay, it’s incredible that some of the paintings on them are still preserved. They stand up to 2.5 meters (8 feet), much taller than the warriors whose bodies rest inside them. In some cases, the skulls of a warrior’s slain enemies would be placed on top of his purunmacho.

To see the purunmachos, you’ll need to go to Karajía, which lies about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the city of Chachapoyas. The easiest way to do this is on a day tour from Chachapoyas. Several companies run these tours, which often combine Karajía with a visit to nearby caves to see stalagmite and stalactite formations. Be prepared to walk for about 40 minutes on a sometimes muddy trail to reach the purunmachos.

By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan

Hikes in Peru

If you can’t get those elusive reservations for the Inca Trail, don’t fret. There are plenty of other challenging and rewarding hikes to do in the Sacred Valley and other parts of Peru.

Hike to gorgeous blue Laguna 69

Hiker posing in front of Laguna 69 in Peru

Photo courtesy of Mitch from Project Untethered

If you’re headed to Peru, the Laguna 69 day trek is something you won’t want to miss. This trek starts from the town of Huaraz and is one of my top 5 favorite day treks of all time. While it can be done independently, I recommend going with a group. It’s not only the safer option, but it can also end up being cheaper (and you won’t have to worry about all the logistics). Since tour companies are always popping up all over the place, I’d recommend a quick Tripadvisor search to find the one with the best reviews.

While anyone with a moderate level of fitness should be fine on the Laguna 69 trek, it’s important to remember that the entire trek is at high altitude (the town Huaraz itself sits at around 3000 meters/9842 feet).
Altitude sickness is a legitimate concern. If you’re arriving from a sea-level destination, I recommend spending a day or two acclimating your body. Drink lots of water, don’t drink alcohol, don’t push yourself too hard, and try chewing on some coca leaves.

The hike itself lasts around 6 hours total. Depending on your pace, it’ll take around 3 hours to get to the top and 2.5 hours back down (again, please don’t push yourself). That said, the faster you reach the top, the more time you’ll have to soak in the breathtaking view of Laguna 69 and get that perfect Instagram photo (and for the perfect photo caption, check out this huge list of adventure quotes).

All in all, Laguna 69 is one-of-a-kind and is sure to be a travel memory you’ll never forget!

By Mitch from Project Untethered

Hike the challenging Huayhuash Circuit through the Andes

Photo of mountain lakes in the Andes on the Huahuash Trek

Photo by Bailey from Destinationless Travel

The most challenging thing I did in Peru, but also the best thing, was hiking the Huayhuash Circuit. It was 8 days of high altitude hiking in the Andes and although it was tough, the views were unlike anywhere else I’ve ever seen and were nothing short of breathtaking.

The Huayhuash Circuit is typically done between 8-12 days. It involves going over 9 mountain passes and hiking at altitudes over 5,000 meters (16404 feet)! The circuit is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) long, and while that isn’t a huge distance, the altitude makes it tough. For this reason, most people choose to hike the Huayhuash Circuit on a tour or with a guide. This way, you have someone with you who knows the way (the trail isn’t well marked at all) and have safety equipment including a horse for emergencies.

Most people start the Huayhuash trek in the small hiking town of Huaraz, about an 8-hour bus ride from Lima. This town is a great base for getting prepared for such a massive hike. You can book a tour, rent gear, or even just get acclimatized (which is a great idea before tackling the trail!). If you want to explore this region but the Huayhuash sounds like a bit too much, the Laguna 69 hike can be done in one day and makes for a good alternative or even a practice hike!

By Bailey from Destinationless Travel

Hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Hikers jumping along the Salkantay Trek trail in Peru

Photo courtesy of Mildred from Ameturist Advice

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu weaves you up a mountain pass at 4,600 m (15092 ft) above sea level. After your head spins from the altitude, you can catch your breath while hiking through the Andean cloud forests. At night you’ll find yourself in camp sites surrounded by mountains and stars. The grand finale of the trek is setting foot in Machu Picchu.

The most popular route to Machu Picchu is the Inca trail. However, the 5 day Salkantay trek leads you closer to those snowy peaks, and it’s also possible to complete without a guide. Unfortunately, I struggle with survival and navigational skills so I decided to trek with Alpaca Expeditions. Our guide, Manuel, and his team did a great job in keeping our hiking group happy, safe and well fed.

I won’t sugar coat it – this trail is challenging! The first day will take you straight to Salkantay pass, the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range. You may experience difficulty breathing due to the high altitude, but it’s worth it to have the chance to see the Milky Way as you camp in the mountains.

Each day you will hike 12-18 km (7.5-11 mi) through the Andean valleys, where you will experience charming village life, and maybe even visit a small coffee farm. The Salkantay Trek is an enriching experience that leads you to the most popular bucket list destination in Peru. But after all your adventures on this 5 day trek, Machu Picchu will feel like icing on the cake on an already incredible journey.

By Mildred from Ameturist Advice 

Hike the Ausangate Trek in the Sacred Valley

Photo of mountain peaks and an alpine lake along the Ausangate Trek in Peru

Photo courtesy of Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads

The Ausangate trek is a high altitude, multi day trek in the Peruvian mountains near Cusco with an average altitude of over 4000m (13123 ft). This is one of the lesser-known routes in the Sacred Valley, Cusco and is the perfect trek for those who prefer going off the beaten path, adventure and being in-nature. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Ausangate trek doesn’t go past Inca ruins and settlements. Instead, it takes hikers to some breathtaking natural wonders like turquoise lakes, massive glaciers and Peru’s famous Rainbow mountain. This colorful mountain with perfectly separated colors resembling a rainbow looks like something out of a storybook. It is often done as a day trip, but can be seen as part of the Ausangate trek. If you like beautiful nature, going off the beaten track and hiking, this trek is for you.

Ausangate is one of the most challenging and unique hikes around Cusco due to the altitude and the isolation of the route. The total distance of the trek is 70km (43.5mi) with two passes going over points higher than 5000m (16400ft) above sea level. The trek can be done independently or as part of a tour. Ausangate is a wild trek – hikers have to carry all the camping gear and provisions, enough for the period of the hike and belongs on the bucket list of any adventurer.

By Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads

Hike Huayna Picchu above the Machu Picchu citadel

Photo of the Machu Picchu ruins from the top of Huayna Picchu

Photo courtesy of Pubali and Indranil from Paradise Catchers

We are all familiar with the classic photo of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. You must have noticed the tall green mountain that forms the backdrop of the main Machu Picchu citadel. In fact, if you look closer, you can visualize it as the nose of a face lying down. That is the Huayna Picchu mountain. This stunning backdrop of Machu Picchu is not the only cool part about Huayna Picchu though. You can actually hike up the Huayna Picchu mountain.

Hiking Huayna Picchu requires a great deal of planning because the entry slots get booked months in advance. There are just 2 entry slots on a day, one at 7:00 am and the other at 10:00 am, not allowing more than 200 people in one slot.

It is a steep uphill hike with an altitude gain of more than 300 meters (984 feet). You will be climbing up the rough shaped and unevenly laid Incan stairs all the way up to the summit. Do not be surprised if your climb often turns into crawling, adjusting for the space. And the hike down is no less thrilling. However, all along the hiking route, you will have for company the stunning views of the mountains, the Urubamba river and the Machu Picchu citadel.

However, if the weather is not your friend on the day of your hike, you may not be able to see anything beyond clouds from the Huayna Picchu mountaintop. So, is it at all worth the advance planning and the difficult hike? Believe us, it is totally worth betting the odds. Huayna Picchu mountain offers the best possible views of the Machu Picchu citadel.

By Pubali and Indranil from Paradise Catchers

Natural Wonders in Peru

With the towering Andes mountains, part of the Amazon rainforest, dramatic seaside cliffs, deserts, and more, Peru has almost every type of landscape you can imagine. Check out some of the natural wonders you can visit. They’re incredible.

Go wildlife spotting at the Poor Man’s Galapagos

Photo of birds perched on rocks in the Ballestas Islands off the coast of Peru

Photo by Sheree from Winging the World

Islas Ballestas, commonly known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ is a bucket list item for wildlife fanatics visiting Peru. These rocky islands are located off the coast of Paracas, around three and a half hours south of Lima. Unlike Isla de la Plata, which is Ecuador’s answer to the Galapagos on a budget, the Ballestas Islands are home to sea lions as well as a whole myriad of seabird colonies.

Until you visit Islas Ballestas, it is hard to get an idea of the sheer amount of birds that you can see here. There are so many in fact, that they actually collect up all of the poo every few years to sell as fertilizer!
Although you can see Boobys in this area, they are not the same blue-footed variety that the Galapagos is well-known for. However, Galapagos favorites, the pelican and the cormorant are pretty much guaranteed sightings. Perhaps the coolest thing about the Ballestas Islands is the chance of seeing penguins!

Although you don’t leave the boat during the trip, this is certainly not a dull outing! As you float aside the rugged outcrops, you will bear witness to one of the most impressive feeding rituals on earth. Stare in awe as the birds dive-bomb the water around you, all in the pursuit of breakfast. It really is a sight to behold.

Boat trips to the Ballestas Islands leave daily from Paracas. The only way to get there is by part of an organized tour. These cost around 30 soles ($9USD), not including the island entrance fee which is an additional 16 soles (around $5USD).

By Sheree from Winging the World

Experience the varied scenery of Paracas National Reserve

Photo of rocky coastline at Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Photo by Becky from Sight Doing

Most travelers don’t picture the desert when they think of Peru, but Paracas National Reserve is an incredible destination in its own right. The reserve covers desolate desert right next to coastal cliffs and beaches, giving it an incredible juxtaposition of colors and features. You’ll pass red-sand beaches, yellow rocks, marine fossils, and waves in constant motion against the cliffs and beaches.

The area gets its name from a Quechua word meaning “raining sands,” a nod to the frequent winds that carry sand around and in turn, have eroded some incredible rock formations. Compared to other national parks in the world, this reserve isn’t geared toward hikers. Most visitors take a tour by bus or private taxi for a scenic drive and several photo stops at iconic places. It will take about two hours for a basic tour, but most travelers allow extra time to swim and sunbathe at one of the beaches and enjoy a fresh seafood lunch at one of the reserve restaurants. To get to Paracas, take one of the frequent buses from Lima for the 3-hour trip. It makes a great stop on the way to Huacachina and Nazca and there are several hotels in town if you want to spend the night.

By Becky from Sight Doing

Visit the disappearing Pastoruri Glacier

Photo of clouds over Peru's Pastoruri Glacier

Photo by Ellie from The Wandering Quinn

If you want to test your altitude limits, visiting Pastoruri Glacier is one of the ways you can do this in Peru! The glacier is famous for being 5000 meters (16404 feet) above sea level and it’s a popular choice because unlike a few other glaciers and lagoons in this area, you don’t have to hike far to see it.

Huaraz is the closest city to Pastoruri Glacier, which is located in the Cordillera Blanca, and from here you must take a tour or your own transport into Huascaran National Park before starting a 45-minute walk to see the glacier.

The walk is quite intense because of the altitude and altitude sickness could occur, especially if you have recently travelled from Lima to Huaraz. In fact, it’s recommended that you give yourself a day in the city to acclimatize. However, it is by no means a tough hike.

Another reason to add Pastoruri Glacier to your Peru bucket list is that it is slowly disappearing. This used to be a huge glacier but forecasts say we will only see the remains of this for another decade or so.

I found a stop in Huaraz and a day trip to Pastoruri Glacier a great way to break up my journey from Lima into Northern Peru.

By Ellie from The Wandering Quinn

Other things to do in Peru

This final group consists of some amazing things to do in Peru that just don’t fit into any of the other categories

Get wet at the Magic Water Circuit

Brightly colored fountain at the Parque de la Reserva

The dancing fountains of the Magic Water Circuit – officially titled the Circuito Mágico del Agua – was my favorite thing we did in Lima. These fountains are open all day, but really come to life at night. Admission is very affordable, and it’s well worth battling the crowds to see the display. Set in the Parque de la Reserva in Lima, the fountains range from simple lighting to coordinated shows with projections, lasers, and music. You’ll definitely want to coordinate your visit to catch one of the scheduled performances of the show at the Fantasy Fountain. There are water mazes you can make your way through if you don’t mind the chance of getting wet and a very popular water tunnel that allows you to walk under an arc of lighted jets. The park even holds a Guinness world record for the largest collection of fountains in a public park, so don’t miss a chance to stop by and see it.

Explore Cusco’s historic Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

The Plaza de Armas is the heart of the tourist area and home to several of the top things to do in Cusco. The historic square features tons of shops and restaurants – many with upstairs balconies to enjoy the view from – as well as two of the city’s most famous buildings. It was built on part of an old Inca gathering place, but the surrounding buildings are definitively Spanish colonial style – though many of them are actually sitting on Incan foundations. The Cusco Cathedral is located on one side and is most famous for its depiction of the famous Last Supper painting with one Peruvian twist – they’re dining on guinea pig. The Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus also adjoins the plaza.

In the center of the Plaza de Armas, you’ll find a statue honoring Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru, who was executed in the square after leading an uprising against the Spanish conquerors. Around the corner from the cathedral, you’ll find the famous 12-angled stone. It should be easy to spot because there will likely be a crowd of people taking photos of it. this particular stone is famous for its irregular, but perfectly fitted, sides that sit impossibly well in the foundation of the building.

Go surfing in Mancora

Sunset on the beach in Mancora, Peru

Photo by Claire from Tales of a Backpacker

Surfing might not be the first thing you think of when you picture Peru, but the waves on the Pacific Coast in the north of Peru are perfect for surfers. Mancora is a popular destination for surfers, and Mancora’s sandy beaches and party vibe mean many travelers end up staying much longer than they intended! There aren’t too many foreign tourists who make it to northern Peru, although if you’re traveling from Lima up to Ecuador, it’s the perfect place to break up the journey and spend a couple of days by the beach. Mancora is popular with Peruvians and locals from Lima flock there in the holiday season, so try to avoid peak times if you can.

There isn’t that much to do in Mancora town, but the main draw in Mancora is the beach. Diving and kitesurfing are also popular here, and if you’re lucky you might see whales or dolphins swimming off the coast. Surfing is really where Mancora comes into its own, with sandy beaches and ocean swells perfect for catching some waves. There are several surf shops where you can take lessons or rent a board, and most of the hostels in Mancora offer surfing lessons too.

After a busy day surfing or chilling by the beach, the best way to relax is enjoying a Pisco Sour or two – or more! Mancora is known as a party town, so you can definitely enjoy the nightlife here, or just chill out in a hammock if you prefer. Unfortunately, the warm weather also attracts mosquitos, so bring plenty of repellent with you!

By Claire from Tales of a Backpacker

Visit the floating Belén Mercado

Floating market at the Belen Mercado

Photo by Andrew from RoadGoat

Peru is a country full of history and wildlife wonders. It attracts visitors from all over the world seeking to experience the ancient human history and the exotic ambiance of the region. But a trip to Peru would not be complete without a traditional boat tour on the floating Belen Market in Iquitos. At the southern tip of the exotic Iquitos region, the Belén Mercado sits next to the inner channels of the Amazon River. Its lively floating market is full of local merchants selling and trading jungle produce from the region. The floating huts and rafts rise and fall with the river during low-water months, providing a colorful and wonderous sight for any travelers.

The best time to visit Belén Mercado is early in the morning. You can arrive at Los Chinos and rent a canoe to take you around the floating village. Enjoying the liveliness of the market while taking in the ambiance of the beautiful river scenery is a must-do for any adventurous travelers in Peru. You can find some of the most exotic produce ranging from insect grubs to handmade herbal medicine made from Amazon plants. Both old and new, the sight of Belén Mercado from the boat will have you imagining what life was like for Peruvians hundreds of years ago.

By Andrew from RoadGoat 

See the salt mines of Maras

Salineras de Maras or the Maras Salt Mines on a Sacred Valley tour in Peru

Located in the Sacred Valley, Maras has been used for salt processing since before the Incas. They refined the practice and had a presence here, but I opted to put this in the “other things to do in Peru” section rather than the Incan ruins section for one very important reason – the salt pans here are still in use by modern day local families.

Though they’re frequently called salt mines, there isn’t really any mining done here. Saltwater bubbles up from a natural spring and has been channeled into the small earthen enclosures built into the side of the mountain slope. Once a pan is full, it’s sealed off from the channel and the water is allowed to evaporate until the valuable salt remains. The workers then collect the salt and refine it to be sold.

Sadly, due to careless tourists leaving things like plastic and cigarette butts that ended up in the salt pans, visitors can no longer walk amongst them as of summer 2019. There is still a viewing terrace at the gift shop where you can appreciate their beauty, but you won’t be able to get up close to them.

Visit the catacombs at the St. Francis Convent

Photo of the entrance to Lima's St. Francis Convent and Basilica

Located in Lima’s UNESCO designated historic center, the Basilica and Convent of St. Francis sits atop catacombs containing thousands of bones. Visitors can take guided tours of the convent in both English and Spanish during opening hours to see the beautifully decorated upper levels and learn about its history. The church itself is gorgeous, and seeing the gigantic choir books was interesting.

The convent is most known for the catacombs below it that were only rediscovered in the 1940s. The underground area contains an estimated 25,000 unidentified bodies laid to rest there during the 1800s. Many of the bones found here have been arranged into geometric patterns combining skulls and other parts. It sounds a little bit morbid, but it’s a fascinating display. It’s definitely worth making the short walk over from the main plaza to check out.

Go wine tasting in Ica

Wine barrels in Ica, Peru

Photo by Sarah from A Social Nomad

You might pass through Ica on your way to Huachachina, Peru’s oasis in the desert. You’ll want to check out, though, what Ica has on offer. This is where the Peruvian wine industry is centered. There have been winemakers in Peru since the country was colonized by the Spanish, but Peru is ultimately more famous for Pisco, the liquor made from distilled grape brandy. That’s not to say that the wine is to be ignored though!

The Peruvian wine industry might be small, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find it in the export market, so that’s another reason to stop off in Ica and taste it while you can! The easiest way to wine taste in Ica is to select two or three of the smaller bodegas located around the area. Some are very localized, and the wine taste matches that, but there are a couple of wineries here that would give Californian wineries a run for their money!

We’d recommend Bodegas Vista Alegre and Bodegas Lazo as the best places to taste wine in Peru. You’ll not only get a tour but tastes of both wine and also Pisco too. The best, though, is Tacama, which is truly special. If you can’t make a tour here, try and visit for lunch and check out the specials which are amazing.

By Sarah from A Social Nomad

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