The best things to do in Peru definitely include activities outside of Machu Picchu. The top tourist attractions in Peru include everything from surfing, the Amazon rainforest, and even exploring Lima’s cuisine.
Peru used to be one of the most backward countries in Latin America. Bolivia and Peru were two peas in a pod in that respect. Peru, unlike Bolivia, has recently turned the corner and it is beginning to become of the most prosperous nations in the region; fantastic news for travel agencies and sites such as Latin America For Less. Tourists no longer visit Peru for just Machu Picchu.
It is still one of the cheapest countries in South America with very inexpensive housing and food.
The city of Lima has also turned itself into a cultural phenomenon with great cuisine and arts. I was a bit concerned upon visiting because I was prepared for the worst but boy was I pleasantly surprised! I myself have been looking for ways to possibly open a day trading center in Lima because I enjoyed the city so much.
The rumors were that Peru was still very similar to Bolivia; infrastructure was lacking, it was complicated and difficult to get from place to place, food wasn’t clean, water wasn’t drinkable, etc.
One pleasant surprise is that you can even withdraw US dollars out of atm’s in the country.
Once I arrived I was completely amazed by crisp manicured lawns, things working properly, gracious people, and the ease of getting to and from any location. Peru has definitely come along way.
Here are the top things to do in Peru:
The bustling capital of Peru has turned into quite an interesting city. It is now known as having world class cuisine, the Ceviche will make your tongue sizzle (in a good way). Make sure to stay in the trendy Miraflores district along the Pacific Coast to experience the best nightlife, restaurants, and shopping. When you have extra time step into one of the most impressive colonial city centers in the world. Sitting on a striking cliff, Lima is also a great place for paragliding.
A very interesting city where most tourists will most likely begin and end their journey in Peru.
One of the most visited tourist attractions in Peru, this is the most common route towards Machu Picchu. Many tourists take the train, myself included, which can be found in a quick 5-10 minute taxi ride from Cuzco.
The historic city and its culture will certainly enthuse the senses as you wander aimlessly along the city streets. Make sure to visit Plaza de Armas which is the extremely impressive center part of the city. There is great nightlife to be found and also trail walking nearby.
As overrated as this popular tourist attraction may be, it is 100% worth it. There are few places in the world that have left me speechless and this is definitely one of them. It is one of the most popular things to see in South America and also the what everyone comes to Peru for!
You could spend hours walking around the lost city of the Incas.
Would highly recommend finding a tour guide (which you can find at the entrance of Machu Picchu) to discover all of the unique tales and history of the lost city. Walking towards the Inca Bridge you will find an incredible canon ridge and mountains to take pictures of.
Make sure to book your train ticket in advance. If you want to hike up the Huayna Picchu and take the iconic picture of Machu Picchu, also make sure to well ahead of schedule. Spots fill up very quickly.
Hiking The Inca Trail
Possibly the second most popular tourist attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu. The walk ends at the famed Machu Picchu. I took the train but many people enjoy taking the trail to explore the countryside and follow in the footsteps of the Incas. Definitely worth it if you have the time and love hiking.
The Amazon at Iquitos
Many people don’t realize that the best places to visit the Amazon rain forest are Peru and Ecuador, not Brazil. Iquitos is the largest city in the rain forest of Peru and is only accessible via boat or plane. Iquitos is also the largest city in the world that doesn’t have road access.
Scratch that world record off your list and don’t forget the mosquito repellent.
Desert Oasis at Huacachina
Heading back south of Lima is one of my favorite sites. The once natural desert oasis is now supported by an artificial water supply but that doesn’t take away from its splendor. A great place to kick back and relax. Accommodation and food are very reasonable. Make sure to take advantage of the sand boarding and the sand buggies.
Paracas & Islas Ballestas
Very close to Huacachina, this is where wildlife can be found in Peru outside of the Amazon. Commonly referred to as the Galapagos of Peru or a poor man’s Galapagos, it is a great place to see unique marine animals in their wild habitat.
Although this would be included as one of the best things to see in Peru, I would recommend seeing wildlife elsewhere in South America (or even in the Peruvian Amazon). One can see everything from sea lions, turtles, dolphins, Peruvian boobies, penguins, and a variety of other birds.
Continuing further south is an attraction that I wouldn’t recommend visiting. The Nazca lines can be seen by taking a small prop plane over the Nazca Valley where one can fly over the ancient Nazca lines. I included them in the list because so many people ask for them.
Although the flights are very inexpensive and it only takes half a day, there are more impressive things to see in Peru. Many of the lines can barely be seen from the plane and most photos found online are processed. The picture above shows one of the only figures I was able to see clearly. This isn’t worth the trip unless you have an extra half day to waste.
Arequipa & Colca Canyon
Arriving at Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, is not to be confused with the delicious milk caramel served in many places in South America. It is the access point to the Colca Canyon which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The cliffs are not as steep but there is a great hiking and many people come to see the Andean Condor.
The city of Arequipa is an exceptionally beautiful colonial city. Make sure to visit the Santa Catalina Monastery with its colorful walls and winding walkways. It is of the most beautiful monasteries in South America.
Lake Titicaca & Uros Islands
This popular attraction in Peru is shared with Bolivia. Considered to be the world’s largest lake with the highest altitude, Lake Titicaca offers quite a bit to tourists. One can visit the weekend market at Puno, take a boat ride around the lake, and also enjoy a folk festival.
One of the most popular attractions at the lake is the Uros islands. The islands are about a 40 minute boat ride from the main port in Puno. The history of the Uros people is particularly fascinating. On the Uros islands make sure to take a boat ride on a puma-heard reed boat.
We can find one of the best things to do in Peru in the north in the historical site in the city of Chan Chan. Not often mentioned, the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America contains several walled citadels which housed roughly 30,000 people. If you like architecture and history this would definitely be a spot to visit that would be considered off the beaten track.
Surfing In the Northern Beaches Of Peru
Closing off our best things to do in Peru is the beautiful coastline in the north. While not as picturesque as other beaches found in South America, definitely worth the trip. Especially if you love surf.
There are many small beach towns to explore that have excellent surfing. You can use Mancora as a home base and travel north and south to find the beach of your choice. There are also many beaches to explore in the south for surfing but Mancora is one of the most popular.
The top things to do in Peru can be done within about a week or so. Machu Picchu and Cuzco could be done in a few days depending if you are hiking the Inca trail (schedule a week if doing the hike). It is very easy to get transportation to many places in the country and if you head south you can arrive at Arequipa and take a flight back to Lima.
I am considering making Lima a home base since it was such an interesting city while I was there. If you are thinking about living overseas in South America would recommend taking a closer look at Lima, Peru. The country has a lot of upside!