Far-flung Peru conjures up evocative images of ancient cities, lonely mountains and all the drama of a once-mighty civilisation.
The jewel in the crown of Peru’s historical treasures has to be the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains. But there’s much more to discover, from the northern city of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas, to the puzzling Nazca lines etched in the desert floor further south. Putting history to one side, Peru encompasses a huge swathe of Amazon Rainforest where you’ll encounter a dizzying array of wildlife. Head high to experience the otherworldly landscapes around Lake Titicaca, or hit the capital city Lima to make the most of Peru’s cutting-edge restaurant scene.
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Top things to do in Peru
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this mountainous land. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts at the foot of this page, but in the meantime here are our top three things to do in Peru.
Discover the Inca heartland
The incredible Inca ruins of Machu Picchu set amongst pinnacles of rock in the middle of nowhere are as mind-blowing as they are impressive. Most visitors to the Inca Citadel base themselves in Cusco, a history-packed town in its own right. From there you can either head to Machu Picchu on foot along the legendry Inca Trail, or catch a train through the beautiful Sacred Valley. Soak up the Andean culture as you go, dipping into the region’s colourful markets and frequent fiestas.
Delve deep in the Amazon
Taking up nearly two-thirds of Peru’s landmass, the Amazon Jungle is ripe for adventure. Remote eco-lodges let you experience the rainforest up close - here you’ll awake to the sounds of the dawn chorus and drift off to sleep as the nocturnal forest comes alive. From monkeys to macaws and clown frogs to pink river dolphins, the Amazon is brimming with wildlife. Take a boat trip through the most bio diverse region on the planet and marvel at creatures great and small.
Fill your plate
One of the highlights of Peru has to be discovering its delicious cuisine. Feast on slithers of fresh ceviche gently marinated in zesty Leche de Tigre (tiger’s milk), tuck into purple Andean potatoes, and sip on a pisco sour. From Michelin-Starred restaurants in Lima, to Chifa, a hybrid of Chinese and Peruvian fast food, to the Andean staple of Cuy (yes, guinea pig!), Peru’s table really is a diverse and fascinating one – pull up a chair.
Get to know Cusco
Much more than just a jumping off point for the Inca relics nearby, Cusco is a lively and appealing town deserving of your time and attention. Spread out across a scenic bowl in the mountains, its location is part of its charm and forays into the surroundings for all sorts of adventure sports and outdoor pursuits are easy to make. The town itself centers on the lively and historic Plaza de Armas, home to a clutch of churches and some great venues for people watching while you dine.
Lesser-known things to do in Peru
While there are many well-known things to do in Peru, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Peruvian adventure.
Lake of wonder
Sitting at a lofty 3827 metres above sea level and extending to more than 8000 square kilometres, Lake Titicaca is the world’s largest high altitude lake. Admiring the dazzling blue waters and mountainous backdrop, seeking out diverse bird life and discovering the intriguing local culture are the primary reasons to explore the lake, a region which has been inhabited for millennia. Don’t miss the incredible floating communities who live on man made islands constructed from reeds.
A desert mystery
Right down in the southern desert of Peru, the unbroken monotony of the barren landscape has been adorned with the elaborate and intriguing Nazca Lines, a series of images and shapes which have been created by etching into the darker rocky surface, exposing a paler layer of sand below. The most notable and well known images are vast outlines of a hummingbird, a spider and a monkey, as well as various geometric shapes. The size of the geoglyphs means that from ground level it is hard to make sense of the lines - they are best viewed from the air.
Secrets of the Sacred Valley
Following the course of the Urubamba river the Sacred Valley winds its way between Cusco and the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. As well as the scattered, magnificent Inca ruins such as temples and terraces which pepper the landscape, the area today is known for its colourful Andean villages and the tessellating pattern of fields that surround them. Highlights of touring the area are the Inca ruins, but don’t miss the fantastic markets at Pisac and Chinchero, an enchanting slice of local life and some excellent handicrafts.
The condors of Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is a great cleft in the Peruvian Sierra which is thought to be the second deepest canyon in the world. Known for its breathtaking scenery and great trekking, this is an adventurer’s dream destination. Head off into the precipitous wilds for incredible mountain views and a look at rural life in the southern Sierra. There are hot springs to soak in, challenging trails to conquer, and the chance to see the aerobatic display of majestic Andean condors in flight.
When is the best time to go to Peru?
Planning when is best to visit Peru will need some thought. There aren't many destinations that can offer coast, mountain, desert and rainforest, but this exciting mixture means that there is no one period of the year when the whole country is climatically at its best. June, July and August are prime months for visiting the highlands and the Amazon basin, while the weather on the coast is at its finest from December to March. Avoid February if you plan to hike the Inca Trail because it is closed for cleaning throughout the month.
Interesting facts about Peru
Peru is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
- The world’s tallest flowering plant, Puya Raimondii is native to Peru and belongs to the same group of plants as the pineapple. It can take up to 100 years to flower, and once it has bloomed it will then die.
- The potato has its origins in Peru, where it has been harvested for around 8,000 years. There are around 3,000 species of potato grown in Peru.
- Peru is a rewarding destination for birdwatchers. More than half of birds migrating across the Americas will pass through Peru, taking the total number of avian species to 1,800.
- Peruvians are master weavers. Techniques still in use today have their origins in the methods used by ancient Andean weavers, some of these methods and techniques date back around 5,000 years.
- Guinea pig is a popular delicacy in Peru, and it is estimated that around 50 million are eaten annually.
What to read before you go to Peru
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Peru, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Death In The Andes' by Mario Vargas Llosa
A deep dive into life in an isolated Andean community through the eyes of a detective who is investigating a series of intriguing disappearances.
'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' by Thornton Wilder
A novel exploring a monk’s viewpoint on the fallout from a bridge collapse which took five lives. A fine exploration of the human condition.
'The Conquest Of The Incas' by John Hemming
The early sixteenth century saw a band of explorers from Spain set out on a conquest of the Inca empire
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