Things to do in Peru

If there's one place in South America brimming with fascinating and awe-inspiring attractions, it's Peru. With wonders such as Macchu Pichu, the Colca Canyon, the mysterious Nazca lines, the Coricancha Inca Ruins and Pisco, it's no wonder Peru is one of South America's most popular tourist destinations. The country is a favourite with backpackers and budget travellers and it is possible to travel cheaply if necessary. However, Peru's most famous tourist activity, hiking the Inca Trail, is expensive and must be organised in advance as permits are required and very limited.

Cities like Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa are charming and atmospheric, if a little shabby, with lots of colour and run-down colonial buildings. Peru has an interesting and refreshingly unique cuisine and the restaurant scene in places like Lima is fun to investigate. Lima also has a vibrant nightlife and some decent museums.

A reliable swell, fairly warm water and consistent offshore winds make the country a tremendous surfing destination too, with local surfers generally heading to Lima with its great waves. The north coast in particular has long, empty waves in beautiful locations, plus one of the world's largest left-hand point breaks.

Getting around Peru is fairly cheap and easy with plenty of internal flights operating on an almost daily basis and an affordable and reasonably reliable public transport system. It's advisable to fly between cities when possible or rent a car and explore all this mystical country has to offer, although long-haul bus trips are also an option.

Cajamarca photo

Cajamarca

Cajamarca is considered one of the best tourist destinations in Peru's northern highlands, with the Andean traditions very much alive and well. It's also where the Inca Empire fell…

Cajamarca

Cajamarca is considered one of the best tourist destinations in Peru's northern highlands, with the Andean traditions very much alive and well. It's also where the Inca Empire fell during a bloody battle with the Spanish in 1532. The steps on Santa Apolonia Hill lead up to the famous Inca Seat, from which leaders would address their subjects. Other archaeological sites include the monoliths of Kuntur Wasi, the pre-Colombian Cumbe Mayo aqueduct and the pre-Incan necropolis of Ventanillas de Otuzco. Foodies will enjoy the town's cheese, ice-cream and chocolate, while its attractive centre is filled with colonial buildings, beautiful churches and stately period mansions. Travellers may also want to see the Incan Baths in Banos del Inca, often used as homeopathic treatment for bone disease.


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The Inca Trail photo

The Inca Trail

The world-famous Inca Trail is the toast of South America's hikes. Constructed as a royal road to the citadel of Machu Picchu, the stone-paved walk ventures deep into cloud forests…

The Inca Trail

The world-famous Inca Trail is the toast of South America's hikes. Constructed as a royal road to the citadel of Machu Picchu, the stone-paved walk ventures deep into cloud forests and provides dramatic climbs up the mountains. The beautiful but arduous four-day trail is part of the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. Hikers cross over three high-altitude mountain passes and come across scattered Inca ruins, with exotic vegetation and awe-inspiring views being constant companions. The ancient royal route reaches the stone Sun Gate, from where Machu Picchu becomes visible and Huayna Picchu's looming peak dominates the background. Visitors must arrange hikes through an official Inca Trail agency as independent trekking is prohibited, with permits ideally booked long in advance.


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Amazon Basin photo

Amazon Basin

Nearly half of Peru lies within the sweltering Amazon Basin, where an untouched rainforest conceals every foot and fang. Believed to be the most biologically diverse region in the …

Amazon Basin

Nearly half of Peru lies within the sweltering Amazon Basin, where an untouched rainforest conceals every foot and fang. Believed to be the most biologically diverse region in the world, it's sparsely populated and largely inaccessible. Many of the country's indigenous tribes also call the jungle home, adding another layer to the destination's allure. Nature lovers find the basin irresistible, yielding to the pull of jaguars, pink dolphins and giant anacondas. The city of Iquitos is the best place from which to access the northern basin. Situated on the mighty Amazon River and humid all year round, Iquitos was originally founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1754, and has grown into a bustling city.


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Pisco photo

Pisco

Pisco is a small port and fishing village, best known for its fiery white-grape brandy. One of Peru's major ancient civilisations, the Paracas established their culture in the area…

Pisco

Pisco is a small port and fishing village, best known for its fiery white-grape brandy. One of Peru's major ancient civilisations, the Paracas established their culture in the area and left an astounding collection of antiquities now housed in Lima's museums. The nearby Paracas National Reserve contains an incredible variety of wildlife, with boat tours of the Ballestas Islands affording spectacular close up views of the animals.There are thousands of resident and migratory birds, such as penguins, flamingos and pelicans, and the waters are home to sea lions, dolphins, turtles and whales. Boats pass the famous Candelabra on their way to the islands, the prehistoric drawing etched into the sandstone cliffs overlooking the bay.

The Nazca Lines photo

The Nazca Lines

Nazca is a small desert town in southern Peru, famous for the mysterious lines and diagrams etched into the surrounding desert floor thousands of years ago. Visitors will also find…

The Nazca Lines

Nazca is a small desert town in southern Peru, famous for the mysterious lines and diagrams etched into the surrounding desert floor thousands of years ago. Visitors will also find interesting museums and archaeological sites, including the Chauchilla Cemetery where 12 exposed underground tombs contain skeletons and preserved mummies. The town's main attraction is an aerial flight over the Nazca Lines, which are spread over miles of the region's vast desert terrain. The dimensions of these enormous figures, spirals and geometric designs are so large that the only way to view them is from the air. Pilots will point out animal representations such as the Condor, Spider and Hummingbird and the unusual character known as the Astronaut.

Coricancha Inca Ruins photo

Coricancha Inca Ruins

The sacred complex of Coricancha was considered the centre of the Inca world, with the walls and floors of the Temple of the Sun once covered in sheets of solid gold and accompanie…

Coricancha Inca Ruins

The sacred complex of Coricancha was considered the centre of the Inca world, with the walls and floors of the Temple of the Sun once covered in sheets of solid gold and accompanied by golden statues. But Spanish colonists constructed the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, destroying the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, though the stone walls still stand and bear testament to their sophisticated masonry. Visitors will find an underground archaeological site museum nearby, containing a number of interesting pieces such as mummies, textiles and sacred idols.

Sacsayhuaman photo

Sacsayhuaman

Of the four ruins near Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman is the closest and most remarkable. Spanish conquistadors used it as a quarry during their day, providing many of the materials for the c…

Sacsayhuaman

Of the four ruins near Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman is the closest and most remarkable. Spanish conquistadors used it as a quarry during their day, providing many of the materials for the city's colonial buildings. It's often referred to as a fortress because of its high, impenetrable walls but some believe it to be a religious or ceremonial centre. According to estimates, the complex took about 100 years to build, requiring thousands of labourers. The massive blocks of stone fit together perfectly, each weighing between 90 and 125 tonnes, and standing around 16ft (5m) tall. History buffs will note that the Inca and Spanish fought at the centre during the infamously bloody battle of 1536. Today, the site holds the annual celebrations of Cuzco's most important festival, the colourful Inti Raymi.

Transport

A steep 40 minute (2km) walk up from the Plaza de Armas.

The Sacred Valley (Urubamba River Valley) photo

The Sacred Valley (Urubamba River Valley)

Known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this breathtakingly beautiful and fertile valley stretches between the villages of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Travellers will navigate it on …

The Sacred Valley (Urubamba River Valley)

Known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this breathtakingly beautiful and fertile valley stretches between the villages of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Travellers will navigate it on the winding Urubamba River, with ancient Inca ruins watching from the hilltops above. Agricultural terraces flank the steep sides of a mountain crowned by alarmingly narrow trails, all leading to the cliff-hugging citadel above Pisac with massive stone doorways and stairways cut into rock. The temple-fortress of ancient Ollantaytambo also sits on the cliff edge. Originally developed as an Inca administrative centre, its layout is one of the few remaining models of an Inca grid plan. The ruins include the Royal Chamber, the Princess Baths and the Temple of the Sun.

Chan Chan photo

Chan Chan

Once the Chimu Kingdom's capital, Chan Chan was home to around 60 000 inhabitants and was wealthy in gold, silver and ceramics. Most of its treasures disappeared with Spanish loote…

Chan Chan

Once the Chimu Kingdom's capital, Chan Chan was home to around 60 000 inhabitants and was wealthy in gold, silver and ceramics. Most of its treasures disappeared with Spanish looters generations ago, though it remains the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world. Only one of the UNESCO site's nine palaces has been properly excavated and opened to the public, but visitors will still see more than enough to paint a picture of what the city must have looked like. Highlights include the intricate murals of birds, fish and otters, which add mesmerizing details to the massive site.

Website www.chanchan.gob.pe

Machu Picchu photo

Machu Picchu

The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is regarded as the most significant archaeological site in South America, perched high in the Andes. Fortunately, Spanish colonists didn't …

Machu Picchu

The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is regarded as the most significant archaeological site in South America, perched high in the Andes. Fortunately, Spanish colonists didn't discover and destroy the structure, as it's completely concealed from below. The site is surrounded by grazing llamas and steep agricultural terraces, and consists of a central plaza, towers, palaces and water canals, as well as ornate fountains and a sacred ceremonial area of royal tombs and intricately carved temples. The sacred Temple of the Sun is one of the site's highlights, with the mountain of Huayna Picchu forming a dramatic backdrop to the city.

Website www.machupicchu.gob.pe

Lake Titicaca photo

Lake Titicaca

Many Peruvians revere Lake Titicaca as legend says the founders of the Inca rose from its waters. Today, the Uros people live on man-made floating islands, fishing in beautiful car…

Lake Titicaca

Many Peruvians revere Lake Titicaca as legend says the founders of the Inca rose from its waters. Today, the Uros people live on man-made floating islands, fishing in beautiful carved canoes atop the highest navigable lake on the planet. Tourists will find a splendid mix of indigenous and colonial structures in nearby Puno, as well as mestizo art and crafts. Puno is also reputedly the centre of Peruvian folklore, with its inhabitants descending from the Aymara and Quechua Andean tribes. Visitors can experience some of the country's most vibrant traditional festivals, such as February's feast of the Virgen de la Candelaria and its main event: the Dance of The Devils.


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The Colca Canyon photo

The Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa and the world's second deepest canyon. The picturesque valley is home to huge mountains, grand churches and lively mark…

The Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa and the world's second deepest canyon. The picturesque valley is home to huge mountains, grand churches and lively market places, as well as herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor is the region's most popular viewing point, and the best place to see giant condors soaring over the dramatic depths. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, offering a good range of hiking trails, bus services and accommodation. Travellers can choose from a number of tour operators or set off for a solo adventure.

Marcahuasi photo

Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi is a plateau in the Andes, where travellers interested in the mythical side of Peruvian culture will find a wonderful excursion from nearby Lima. The mountains are home …

Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi is a plateau in the Andes, where travellers interested in the mythical side of Peruvian culture will find a wonderful excursion from nearby Lima. The mountains are home to some massive rock formations of mysterious origin, depicting various animals, human faces and other symbols. Visitors will also see ruins on the north side of the plateau, where more than 50 structures stand in varying states of dilapidation. Some locals view the plateau with superstitious awe and consider it a spiritual site of great power. Marcahuasi has campsites and the views from the plateau are breathtakingly beautiful. Nights can be freezing cold, though. Visitors can rent tents, mattresses and other equipment in the village of San Pedro de Casta, which is the gateway to Marcahuasi.

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