With so many unmissable places to visit in Peru, it’s easy to understand why this destination is one of the most popular with travellers heading to South America. The mysterious Incan ruins of Machu Picchu might be what the country is most well known for but Peru is also home to a wealth of wildlife, buzzing cities, breathtaking mountains and some of the continent’s most exciting cuisine.
If you’re trying to decide where to go in Peru, look no further! This post details our 15 favourite places to visit in the country and includes must-see attractions as well as hidden gems. ¡Buen viaje!
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15 Incredible Places to Visit in Peru
Known as the foodie capital of South America, you can’t miss Lima off of your backpacking route! Three of the world’s best restaurants are based in the city but you don’t have to go to one of these to get sublime food – it’s everywhere! Peru’s national dish ceviche is one meal you must try and owing to its coastal location, Lima is the perfect place to sample it. Also, don’t miss chowing down on chifa (the Peruvian take on Chinese food).
There’s more to the city than its growing reputation as a gourmet destination, with several museums, art galleries and even beaches to pass the time here. If you’re an animal lover, don’t miss the opportunity to swim with the sea lions at the nearby Palomino Island!
As the capital of the country, most of the flights into Peru go straight to Lima, which means it sees plenty of travellers. As such, hostels are available in abundance and cater well for backpackers. Head to the hostel bar for the chance to sip on one of Peru’s best drinks, the Pisco Sour!
If you fall in love with the capital on your visit (and believe us, many do), you may be tempted to join the growing crowd of expats and digital nomads that call this city home. Lima is one of the most popular cities to live in South America – if you can afford it.
2. Cusco and the Sacred Valley
For many travellers, the best city in Peru award goes to Cusco. Cusco, or Qosco in Quechua translates to the ‘navel of the world’, and is one of the most jaw-dropping cities on the entire continent. This Andean city, once the capital of the Inca empire, is culturally and architecturally stimulating with Spanish colonial churches and cathedrals standing side by side with Inca temples.
Tourists to Cusco often spend up to ten days revelling in the delights it has to offer, but sometimes even that isn’t enough! Once you’re all templed out, make sure to indulge in a few delectable delights. The ChocoMuseo is a great place to sample some sweet treats and if savoury food is more your thing, don’t miss a traditional Peruvian cooking class and a visit to San Pedro Market.
Speaking of markets, the nearby town of Pisac has an excellent one which is also worth a visit. As well as being the base for trekking or touring to Machu Picchu (it’s still over three hours away), there are a number of other stunning attractions within reach from Cusco, such as the Sacred Valley and colourful Rainbow Mountain.
Hint: We recommend Palccoyo, The Alternative Rainbow Mountain for those of you who want to avoid the crowds.
Also read: Amazing hostels in Cusco.
Nicknamed Ciudad Blanca (the white city), Arequipa, Peru’s second most populous city is arguably the most beautiful in the country. The nickname comes from the volcanic sillar stones which were used to make many of the buildings around the Plaza de Armas in the historical centre, yet another of Peru’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The city is dominated by the El Misti volcano, which is over 5,800m tall. You can take great photos of the volcano looming behind the city’s magically beautiful cathedral. Arequipa is also a great base for hiking and offers the chance to acclimatise before a trip to Machu Picchu and Cusco.
To get really off the beaten tourist track, make sure you check out the Salina’s Salt Lagoon – it is probably Arequipa’s best kept secret!
Not only considered the best place to hike in the country but up there with the best in the world, Huaraz is a small town situated in the Ancash region and the starting point for many of the best hikes in Peru, such as Santa Cruz and Laguna 69.
Situated at 3,000m above sea level, Huaraz is the gateway to Peru’s Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, where you’ll find the country’s highest mountain, Huascarán, reaching 6,768m up into the clouds.
The town itself has a number of tour operators, traditional handicraft shops and outdoor rental shops for your treks into the mountains. If your legs are feeling tired from all that hiking, there is a hot spring located around 7km from town.
Chachapoyas, the capital city of the Amazonas region in Northern Peru, is one of the lesser visited destinations on Peru’s tourist trail. The fact that it’s at least nine hours away from everything else shouldn’t put you off though – Chachapoyas is home to some of Northern Peru’s most important archaeological, cultural and natural sights.
See ancient ruins that are bigger than Machu Picchu at Kuélap or visit one of South America’s most enchanting waterfalls, la Catarata de Gocta. There is even the option to get acquainted with over 200 mummies in the Leymebamba museum!
The city itself has a lovely chilled out vibe and the people are very friendly. Backpacker digs are fairly limited in town but there are some cheap options available.
6. Puno and Lake Titicaca
Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru, due to the traditional dance and music that originates from the area. Most people however, come here to visit Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. At 3,830m, it straddles the border with Bolivia.
There are a few activities you can do around this area, such as kayaking or embarking on one of the Lake Titicaca tours. If you have heard that the floating islands are a tourist trap, we urge you to give them a chance.
Although most tours only visit the Uros Islands, a number also journey to lesser known islands such as Taquile and Amantaní. Overnight tours usually come with a homestay option. Away from the lake, the town has a lot of folk festivals, which are extremely lively and fun.
Introducing the largest city in the world that isn’t reachable by road! You shouldn’t be put off by the difficulties of actually getting to Iquitos though… The journey is well worth it! The city, located deep within the Amazon basin is an incredible mishmash of mansions, mud huts and jungle life.
Rainforest cuisine offers something a little different to the other foodie spots of the country and a totally different experience from anywhere else in Peru.
Iquitos is a great place to base yourself for a boat trip into the Amazon and a few nights in a jungle lodge. The great news is that these lodges often practise sustainable ecotourism and at the same time, offer the opportunity to see several unusual flora and fauna native to the area.
The third most populous metropolitan area in Peru, Trujillo is a coastal city that is full of life and the capital of the La Libertad region. It’s an intriguing mix of colonial Spanish splendour, which you can see in the Plaza de Armas and traditional architecture of the pre-Incan Moche and Chimu cultures.
Some of the most famous remnants of these cultures include the world’s largest Adobe city, Chan Chan, numerous temples and pyramids including Huaca del Sol, Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Dragón.
If adrenaline sports are more your thing, head to nearby Laguna Conache for a bit of sandboarding. Those looking for a more chilled way to spend the day won’t want to miss nearby Huanchaco. This laid back hippie town is a popular surf spot and you can even take a trip in one of the famous reed boats!
Nasca is the capital city of the province with the same name, located in the Ica region of Peru.
The main reason to visit this area is the ancient Nazca Lines, some of the most mysterious and unusual oddities on the whole South American continent. Carved into the desert floor are a number of giant geometric shapes and creatures, including a hummingbird, a monkey and a human.
To see the lines, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, you can take a flight over them, or scale one of the surrounding foothills to see them from above. There is also a viewing tower, although the views from here are nowhere as good as they are from the air. Find out what to expect when flying the Nazca Lines here.
10. Machu Picchu
No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting Machu Picchu, considered to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Amazingly, these Inca ruins were only discovered in 1911!
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the entire world, attracting over 1 million visitors a year since its opening in 1983. It is so heavily foot trafficked that the authorities have had to impose visitor caps to try and preserve the site.
The journey to Machu Picchu begins from Cusco, although there are many different ways to reach the ruins. Read more about them in this article – 8 ways to reach Machu Picchu.
If you’re feeling really brave, take a hike to Huayna Picchu once you’re there to get a different perspective on the ancient city. Be warned though, the track is narrow and not one for those afraid of heights!
You’ve probably seen Peru’s well known desert oasis on Instagram. However, unlike some other ‘insta famous’ attractions, Huacachina is well worth a visit. This lazy backpacker town has a super chilled vibe and the only activities are relaxing, swimming, wine tasting and sandboarding. Sounds pretty great, right?!
As you would expect from anywhere which attracts a lot of backpackers, there is also a decent nightlife scene. If you’re looking to party, head to Hucacf**kingchina (also known as HFC Resto Bar) or Wild Rover.
Sandboarding and vineyard tours can be organised from pretty anywhere in town but you should avoid the touts who sell on the streets. The town is filled with high-quality hostels, all of whom offer the most popular trips for good prices.
Read about one backpacker’s experience sandboarding and sand-skiing in Huacachina here.
12. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is one of the country’s most well-loved hikes and for good reason. It’s the second deepest canyon in the world and the views are simply outstanding. It is also the best place in Peru to spot one of South America’s most amazing animals: the mighty Condor.
Most travellers tend to visit the area on a tour from Arequipa as this can often be cheaper than going it alone. A DIY trip to Chivay and Colca Canyon is easy to arrange too if you prefer a bit more freedom.
The main Colca Canyon treks range from 1-3 days and there is also zip-lining for those craving extra adventure. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Located three hours from Lima, Paracas is a popular beach escape for many Limeños. To be honest, the beach isn’t all that great but the town itself is charming in a rustic way. This is one of the best places to enjoy fresh ceviche!
There are also a couple of great day trips from the town. The most famous of these is Islas Ballestas, also known as the Peruvian ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’. This is so named because you can see some of the birdlife which the Galapagos is famous for, including penguins, pelicans and boobies.
The area is also home to Paracas National Park which is wonderful to explore. As Peru is one of South America’s cheapest countries, day trips tend to be inexpensive and easy to arrange. If you fancy more freedom, rent a bike and explore yourself.
Cajamarca is an Andean town, located in the northern part of Peru. It is usually skipped by travellers but that isn’t to say there is nothing to do here!
The colonial architecture throughout the city is stunning and there are several intricately designed churches to marvel over. You can also stand in El Cuarto del Rescate (the Ransom Room). This is commonly believed to have been the room in which the Incan Empire died, after the capture and later execution of Emperor Atahualpa.
If you’re a cheese lover, you’ve come to the right place. Cajamarca is known for its wide range of cheeses and it would be criminal to travel here and not sample at least a few!
15. Manú National Park
It’s no secret that there are some world-class national parks in South America and Manú is no different. This park spans a huge 1.5million hectares and is home to an array of wonderful wildlife, including the elusive jaguar.
As well as interesting fauna, this area is also home to a number of native people and there is a whole section of rainforest where it is impossible to enter unless you’re a researcher.
For the rest of us, tours are available with licensed companies. You can only visit Manú National Park with a guide and although this might be a disappointment to intrepid adventurers, a local expert definitely helps you spot more wildlife!
What is the best place in Peru you’ve visited? Let us know in the comments and tell other travellers about it in our Facebook community!