Any traveler who has spent more than a few days in the Sacred Valley or Lima knows all too well just that Peru is impressively rich and unexpectedly diverse. Jam-packed with everything from surf-ready beaches, Amazonian wildlife, and enough ruins to keep your itinerary busy for months, Peru is a bucket list destination that will surprise you.
In this ultimate guide to the best things to do in Peru, you’ll find everything from off-the-beaten-path hiking trails with stunning views to tips for finding the most authentic Peruvian food, and of course, everything you need to visit the most famous landmark in Peru – Machu Picchu! Whether your itinerary allows for plenty of time to explore or just a few precious days in Peru, these are the things you won’t want to miss.
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Things To Do in Peru
1. Visit Chan Chan
Machu Picchu is far from the only ruins you’ll want to see while you visit Peru. Consider adding a visit to the ruins at Chan Chan to your Peru itinerary; this impressive Chimu ruin was the largest pre-Columbian ruin in all of the Americas, and today is one of Peru’s most important UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Located on the outskirts of the coastal city of Trujillo, Peru, Chan Chan has a totally different look and feel from the ruins you’ll find throughout the rest of Peru. Impressive sculptures, engravings, and artifacts make visiting this site one of the best things to do in Peru if you’re looking to experience more than just Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
2. Hike Laguna 69
Hidden among snow-capped mountains in Peru’s northern Cordillera Blanca mountain range, Laguna 69 is a pristine turquoise lake you have to see to believe. While the nearly 15,000 feet of elevation at the lake make the hike a taxing one, this one-day trek is easily among the best things to do in Peru for adventurous travelers.
The Laguna 69 hike is arguably one of Peru’s most famous treks, so when you visit Huaraz you’ll have plenty of opportunities for guided hikes to Laguna 69. While it’s one that can certainly be completed without the help of a guide, it can be a great option. For more “off-the-beaten-path” one-day hikes near Huaraz, consider Laguna Paron and Laguna Churup, which are both arguably just as beautiful.
3. Trek to Choquequirao
You’ve certainly heard of the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, among the most identifiable landmarks in South America and around the world. But have you heard of Choquequirao? These impressive Incan ruins are located just a short drive away and bear plenty of similarities to Machu Picchu while welcoming just a fraction of the visitors – usually less than 20 visitors a day!
Trekking to Choquequirao is no easy feat; the round-trip hike along the Apurimac River from Cachora takes most travelers four days to complete. However, you’ll get the joy of experiencing stunning Incan ruins nearly all to yourself while enjoying one of the most picturesque corners of the Andes.
Plan your trip soon – a cable car is planned that will bring travelers to the ruins in just 15 minutes, undoubtedly changing the location forever.
Read More: Choquequirao: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
4. Explore Cusco
At the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley is Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire and one of the most impressive and historic cities in South America. While many travelers know Cusco as the gateway city to Machu Picchu, it’s a rich and historic destination that very much deserves time on your itinerary regardless of its proximity to Peru’s most famous ruins.
As you spend time in Cusco, perhaps using the city to help you acclimate to the altitude before embarking on the Inca Trail or a day trip to Machu Picchu, make sure to explore all the city has to offer – its one of the best things to do in Peru.
Visit the nearby ruins of Sacsayhuamán, take in the views over the city from San Cristobal church, explore the streets of San Blas, and make sure to plan a day trip from Cusco to visit one of the many historic towns and villages that surround the city. You’ll be so impressed with what you find in Cusco – there’s enough to do here to keep you busy for weeks.
5. Hike the Inca Trail
It’s arguably the world’s most famous hike, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Taking visitors from the ancient Incan town of Ollantaytambo all the way to Machu Picchu along age-old Incan roads and past long-hidden ruins, the Inca Trail is the trek of a lifetime, by far one of the best things to do in Peru if you’re up for it.
The classic Inca Trail last four days and culminates in a visit to Machu Picchu. However, you’ll also find numerous alternative Inca Trail experiences, which allow hikers to experience sections of the trail in as little as one day. Whether you have all the time in the world for this trek or just a few hours, it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
Alternatively, the Salkantay Trek and the Lares Trek are great options for travelers looking for the Inca Trail experience but a bit more off the beaten path. The classic Salkantay Trek lasts 5 days and the classic Lares Trek last 4 days, though you’ll find alternative routes and experiences that can take as few as 2 days.
6. Visit Gocta Falls
Located in the heart of Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, the stunning Gocta Falls (Catarata del Gocta) are Peru’s most impressive falls. This unique, two-tiered waterfall is actually one of the world’s tallest waterfalls, coming in at over 2,530 feet (771 meters) in height.
Would you believe they weren’t “discovered” by outsiders until 2002? While locals have long known of the existence of these falls, the lore of the curse of a white-haired mermaid living in the waters and their base kept the existence of the falls hidden from outsiders until just two decades ago.
Gocta Falls are now a popular destination for visitors in Peru, though their remote location makes visiting them somewhat of a journey. Most visitors start the journey in Chachapoyas – from here, take a small bus or taxi to the small town near the falls, where a 10km hike awaits. It’s not a journey that’s right for everyone, but it’s an incredible experience to visit one of Peru’s most beautiful sites.
Chachapoyas is also the gateway to the ruins of Kuelap, which we also consider among the best things to do in Peru. Kill two birds with one stone by visiting Gocta Falls and Kuelap on the same excursion, spending a few nights in Chachapoyas to experience it all.
7. Fly Over the Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines outside of Nazca, Peru are some of the most interesting – and perplexing – landmarks in South America. The uncertainty surrounding their use and creation (ancient alien landing strips, perhaps?) only adds to their appeal.
The only way to truly enjoy these massive lines is from the air, making flights over the most distinctive lines near Nazca some of the most popular things to do in Peru, and certainly in this area of the country.
You’ll find countless options for flights, including excursions that depart from Lima and include transportation, as well as flights departing directly from Nazca. Here are some options that we recommend:
8. Enjoy Lima’s Coolest Neighborhoods
I’ve been honest in other articles on this website that Lima just isn’t among my favorite cities in South America – it just isn’t! I much prefer nearby capital cities like Quito and La Paz, which just feel like they have a lot more to offer travelers. Don’t come for me – this is just my personal opinion.
However, Lima does have some pretty impressive neighborhoods that are well worth exploring if you’re passing through the city – they’re a highlight of a visit to Lima, and exploring them is one of the best things to do in Peru.
The neighborhood of Barranco is a colorful, artsy neighborhood that feels like a break from the rest of the city – it’s by far a favorite spot among the rest of Lima. Explore Barranco’s beautiful central plaza with its stunning church, and make sure to walk the colorful Bajada de los Baños before visiting any of the area’s art galleries, cafes, or restaurants.
The upscale Miraflores is another highlight of the city, located just north of Barranco. With oceanfront parks running along its long malecón seafront pedestrian walkway, making it a great place for a stroll. It’s also home to some of the city’s best restaurants, including Maido, among the 10 best restaurants in the world. You’ll find more low-key bars and places to eat, too.
Read More: 10 Cities in Peru (That Travelers Love!)
9. Stay Overnight on Lake Titicaca
At the far southern edge of Peru and nestled high in the Andes Mountains, discover Lake Titicaca, the highest-altitude lake on Earth. Steeped in both ancient and modern lore, Lake Titicaca is a destination you won’t want to skip – beloved by those who visit but still left off of far too many Peru itineraries.
A highlight of a visit is staying overnight on one of the floating Uros – islands created by locals out of nothing more than reeds from the lake. These unique floating islands are the permanent homes of many Lake Titicaca residents, and visiting is easily one of the most unique things to do in Peru.
After your time in Puno, head on to Bolivia overland to continue your trip – from the capital of La Paz hidden among the mountains to the otherworldly Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia is packed with stunning destinations. It’s one of our favorite countries in South America for travelers on a budget, though it’s just a backpacker-exclusive destination by any means!
10. Try Peruvian Food
Peruvian cuisine is finally beginning to get some of the love and recognition it has long deserved for its complex flavors, delicious combinations, and unique use of local ingredients. In fact, Lima is known as being a bonafide foodie capital, home to the world’s number one restaurant, Central.
Of course, you’ll have no problem finding delicious Peruvian food wherever you turn. For an in-depth introduction, consider taking a food tour – street food tours are a great, affordable way to try a lot of different local dishes at once while also getting excellent local advice to help you plan the rest of your trip.
Alternatively, Peruvian cooking classes are even better. You’ll find a lot of great options for cooking classes in Cusco and Lima, though you can usually find local foodie experiences wherever you look.
One of the must-try dishes in Peru and surrounding Andean countries like Ecuador is the cuy – in English, guinea pig. If you’re an adventurous eater, this is one of the best things to do in Peru! Guinea pig is a delicacy here, usually prepared by cooking it whole over a spit. If you can get over the idea of eating what some consider to be a pet, you’ll find it actually has a great flavor.
11. Explore the Peruvian Amazon
A visit to Peru isn’t complete without a stop in the Amazon Rainforest; it’s easily one of the most memorable things to do in Peru and a bucket list experience for those that add it to their itinerary.
Northern Peru’s Amazon region, which is accessible from the town of Iquitos, is the destination of choice for embarking on an Amazon river cruise. In contrast, the Madre de Dios area of central Peru, bordering both Brazil and Bolivia, is home to the country’s most impressive ecolodges for those who prefer to explore on land.
Whatever you’re looking for in your Amazon Rainforest experience in Peru, you’ll be blown away by the richness of the flora and fauna you’ll find throughout the region. In fact, the Amazonian regions located in Peru and Ecuador are known for having more wildlife than elsewhere in the rainforest, which makes Peru a great choice for your Amazon trip.
12. Hike Colca Canyon
Located outside of Peru’s “White City” of Arequipa, the dramatic Colca Canyon is among Peru’s most impressive natural attractions, which is certainly saying something! Home to condors and myriad other wildlife, it’s a memorable destination even if you only make it to the canyon’s rim.
With a depth of almost 14,000 feet, this impressive spot is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, making it well worth a visit for the views alone. However, the Colca Canyon is also one of the best destinations for trekking in Peru, especially if you’re looking for something a bit different from the hikes to be found among Peru’s northern Cordilleras or the much-loved Inca Trail.
Multi-day trekking excursions start from a variety of spots around the canyon’s rim, though most that embark from Arequipa start from the town of Cabanaconde. Trekkers can camp on the canyon floor before hiking out the following morning.
13. Surf in Máncora
It’s true that the beaches in Peru are nothing compared to those in other South American countries, especially compared to beaches in Ecuador and Colombia, which many backpackers in South America instantly fall in love with. However, if you just can’t contemplate visiting coastal Peru without spending a few good days on the sand, the small town of Máncora is your spot.
Máncora attracts a good number of surfers and is a great place to take a few surf lessons with local teachers, though this laid-back beach town (also a favorite party spot among backpackers) is also a great place for everything from whale watching and horseback riding on the beach to eating your fill of delicious, fresh seafood. Add Máncora to your itinerary – you might be surprised by how much you like it.
14. See the Aguas Turquesas de Millpú
Head south from the central Peruvian city of Ayacucho (one of the country’s most underrated cities, in our opinion!), and you’ll find the stunning Aguas Turquesas de Millpú, a series of beautiful natural turquoise pools that tumble through a dramatic canyon to create a wonder you’ll have to see to believe.
While you’ll need to be based in Ayacucho for at least one night in order to visit this remote wonder, it’s well worth it. Affordable day trips from Ayacucho make visiting the Aguas Turquesas quite a hassle-free endeavor we consider among the best things to do in Peru, and will also give you the perfect excuse to enjoy this infrequently visited but charming city.
15. Enjoy Carnival in Cajamarca
Cajamarca is just one of the beautiful and historic cities in Peru that rarely makes it onto travelers’ itineraries. It’s a shame – located towards the north of Peru, this charming and historic city is bursting at the seams with beautiful architecture, ancient ruins, and nearby natural wonders.
Just in case you needed any more reasons to consider a visit to Cajamarca, this charming city boasts one of the very best carnival celebrations in the entire country – it’s one of the best things to do in Peru. This multi-day event occurs every year 40 days before Easter and is marked by parades, concerts, costumes, and street food. planning your visit to Cajamarca during this celebration will be a highlight of your trip.
16. Go Sandboarding in Huacachina
Peru is a rainbow of unique and diverse ecosystems and environments, with everything from glaciers and mountains to tropical rainforests and sandy deserts, among many more. Experience a totally unique destination in Peru by heading to Huacachina, a tiny oasis town hidden among the sand dunes outside of the city of Ica.
Just stepping foot in this oasis town surrounded by sand is an unforgettable travel experience, but add a little adrenaline to your trip by booking an experience riding in a dune buggy across the sands or even sandboarding down the slopes. Most dune buggy excursions include the opportunity to sandboard, though laying down on a board – for the full sandboarding experience, book an excursion that is specifically using a board for riding down the dunes standing up.
17. Explore Cañon de los Perdidos
Known as the Canyon of the Lost, the impressive Cañon de los Perdidos is a stunning natural formation located in the remote desert outside of Ica, Peru. We consider visiting this unique site as one of the best things to do in Peru if you’re looking for a change of scenery from either the rainforest or the mountainside – there’s nothing like it!
The best way to explore the canyon is by embarking on one of the affordable group excursions that depart from Ica; with transportation included, it’s by far the easiest way to access this remote site. Guides take visitors through the most beautiful parts of the canyon to spot fossils, and to impressive lookouts for a birds-eye view of the canyon. It’s unforgettable.
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18. Visit Rainbow Mountain – or, a Rainbow Mountain Range
You’ve certainly seen the images. Peru’s Rainbow Mountain is a stunning natural wonder, now among the country’s most popular attractions. Many travelers are surprised to learn that Rainbow Mountain only recently became a tourist attraction in Peru; a warming climate means that this mountain, once covered in snow, started revealing its rainbow-hued stripes only within the last decade.
Keep in mind that the day trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain is a long one, usually departing quite early in the morning from Cusco to make time for the 3.5-hour drive to the mountain.
For visitors looking for a more intimate experience with Rainbow Mountain, and the similarly impressive rainbow mountains that surround it, consider undertaking the Ausangate Trek – or a portion of it. This 43-mile trek is one of the most challenging in the Cusco area but well worth it for an off-the-beaten-path experience among some of the area’s most stunning scenery.
Read More: 30 Best Things To Do in Cusco
19. Climb a Volcano
If the snowy peaks of Huaraz and the ruin-scattered roads of the Inca Trail aren’t the hiking experience you’re looking for in Peru, consider conquering one of Peru’s numerous volcanoes. Located mostly in the southern part of the country, the volcanoes of Peru range from long-extinct mountains to ultra-active, rumbling giants.
While there are plenty of volcanoes in Peru that adventurous travelers are able to summit, the four volcanoes that surround the gorgeous city of Arequipa – Chachani, Ampato, El Misti, and Pichu Pichu – ake for the most popular climbs. More experienced climbers can try conquering challenging Ampato, while El Misti and Chachani are doable in a day or two, even for less experienced trekkers.
20. Trek Through Peru’s Northern Cordilleras
If you’re looking for breathtakingly-beautiful and dramatic mountain landscapes in Peru, consider exploring the country’s northern Cordillera Blanca or Cordillera Huayhuash mountain ranges – they make the peaks around Cusco look like tiny hills in comparison.
The Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz is now quite famous with serious trekkers, considered one of the best destinations for multi-day treks in South America. Choose from the fan-favorite 4-day Santa Cruz trek, or even choose from treks that take just a day and depart from Huaraz, like Laguna 69, Laguna Churup, and Laguna Paron.
The Cordillera Huayhuash, in contrast, is much less visited but no by no means less beautiful. The classic Cordillera Huayhuash trek lasts 12 days and takes hikers past incredible high-altitude lakes, past glacier-capped mountains, and through passes with vistas you need to see to believe – it handily earns its title among the best treks in the world.
21. Learn to Make Pisco Sours
If you’re not satisfied with just sampling Peru’s most famous cocktail, take a mixology class and learn how to prepare one yourself! There are plenty of pisco-tasting experiences in Lima (including an excellent one offered by Civitatis!) and Cusco, though you’ll find similar experiences in most cities in Peru.
We always recommend experiences like this for travelers; whether it’s a food tour or a cooking class or any other similar experience, they tend to be a real hands-on highlight of any trip and a great way to connect with locals. Make sure to add something like this to your itinerary!
22. Stay at an Eco Lodge
Sustainability is a travel trend that’s here to stay, and nowhere is that more true than in Peru. From Amazon lodges nestled within private nature reserves to high-altitude hotels in the Andes, Peru’s ecolodges offer some of the most memorable accommodation options you’ll find around the country.
Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica was named among the world’s best ecolodges by National Geographic and boasts a stunning location in the heart of Tambopata National Reserve and on the banks of the Madre de Dios River. It’s by far one of the best ways to experience the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.
For an eco-friendly stay in the Sacred Valley, consider staying at Las Qolqas. Nestled along a beautiful section of the Urubamba River, this sustainable haven features luxurious safari-style tents that make the most of the gorgeous mountain views. Guests can also look forward to a number of bespoke activities from hikes along imperial Incan trails to cooking lessons using local ingredients and Andean ceremonies to get in touch with local traditions.
Read More: 25 Best Eco Lodges Around the World
23. Visit the Ballestas Islands
Located within a protected area off of the coast of Paracas, the Ballestas Islands – often referred to as “Peru’s Galapagos Islands,” are one of the most impressive destinations to visit off the coast of Peru. Home to massive colonies of sea lions and seals, sea birds, and even penguins, taking a tour of the Ballestas Islands from Paracas is easily one of the best things to do in Peru, especially for wildlife lovers.
Paracas is located just three hours south of Lima, meaning that you’ll also find Ballestas Islands excursions from Lima with transportation included. While these excursions make for long days, they’re a great way to enjoy the experience if you don’t want to spend at least one night in Paracas.
24. See the Ruins at Kuelap
Some visitors call it “the Machu Picchu of the north.” Tucked away in the Amazon rainforest northeast of Cajamarca, the ancient ruins of Kuelap are some of the most impressive ruins in Peru – and that is saying something!
The ruins at Kuelap are remote and were formerly only accessible via a lengthy hike, though the completion of a cable car from the town of Nuevo Tingo ferries visitors to the site in a matter of minutes. However, travelers that make it to these pre-Incan Chachapoyas ruins include their visit among the best things to do in Peru.
25. Hike Tinajani Canyon
The Colca Canyon is one of the most well-known attractions in Peru, but the little-visited Tinajani Canyon near Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca is another dramatic landscape you’ll find just as stunning. What was once the bed of an ancient lake is now home to landforms formed by water, air, and ancient volcanic activity; it’s an impressive site to behold.
Day trips departing from Puno are the best way to experience the Tinajani Canyon, among the more hidden gems to make our list of the best things to do in Peru. Depending on how much time you have to spend here, you can also find plenty of opportunities for adventure sports like paragliding and rock climbing, as well as a number of great hiking trails.
Bonus: Visit Machu Picchu
Did you really think a list of the best things to do in Peru would be complete without mentioning Machu Picchu? Of course not! For most travelers visiting Peru for the first time, Machu Picchu is at the very top of their Peru bucket list, and rightfully so.
Whether you visit Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco or prefer to take the long route and embark on the legendary Inca Trail, Machu Picchu is bound to be a travel experience you’ll never forget. Anyone who says that visiting Machu Picchu isn’t one of the best things to do in Peru is a cynic – this spot is unlike any other.