Peru has been a popular place for trekkers and adventurers for a long time. Lima and Cusco are two of the most popular places for tourists to visit, and the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu is high on dream lists all over the world. I made this handy list of the 16 best places to visit in Peru so that you don’t miss anything important on your once-in-a-lifetime trip to the old Inca home.
From the dusty pampas where the Nazca Lines are carved into the ground to the windy tops of the mighty Andes and the beautiful beaches of Mancora in the north, this beautiful part of the world has a lot to offer.
The Best Places to Visit in Peru
The top 10 places to visit in Peru are all beautiful. Check out what’s there and how these places can make your trip truly special and memorable.
1. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu surely doesn’t need to be explained. It is the most famous landmark in Peru and may be the most interesting archeological place in all of South America. It’s the end of the famous Inca Trail, and it’s way up in the Andes, 7,972 feet (2,429 meters) above the rushing Urubamba River.
It is thought that Machu Picchu is more than 500 years old. In its tumbling stone walls and cloud forests and hills, you can find the mysterious Temple of the Sun and Incan villages that are connected by stairs and roads. What a place to remember forever!
2. The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is one of the best hikes, along with Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp. It’s without a doubt one of the most famous hiking routes in the world, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Peru. But it’s not a new thing. In fact, it has been there at least since the 15th century, when it was thought to be the main way to get to Machu Picchu, the high city in the clouds.
Today, hikers of all kinds come to complete the Classic Inca Trail, which goes for 26 miles (42 kilometers) through Peru’s famous Sacred Valley and past interesting sites and artifacts. This well-traveled road is a great adventure, and it usually takes four or five days to do it all.
It’s hard not to be blown away by Cusco’s sheer size. It used to be the capital of the Incan Empire and has a lot of history. On top are the fancy churches that the Spanish conquerors built. They shine a pinkish light over the busy Plaza de Armas. Coricancha, a powerful temple to the Incan sun god Inti, will sometimes rise up through the buildings.
The whole area is surrounded by old ruins and agricultural terraces that were built hundreds of years ago. This is one of the best places to visit in Peru, and it’s close to where the Classic Inca Trail walk to Machu Picchu and the Salkantay Trail routes begin.
Lima is one of the most interesting places in Peru because it has a mix of current grit and pre-Columbian culture. It’s also one of the first places that many tourists see when they arrive in Peru by plane. Centro Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the daffodil-colored Convento de San Francisco and many of the best museums in the country, is the most popular place for tourists to visit and is the place to go.
Some people like the salty Miraflores neighborhood, where stylish homes look out over the Pacific coast and surfers ride the waves. Lima is where nearly 10 million people live, work, and play, so you can expect to feel the energy and excitement of Peru.
5. Nazca Lina
The Nazca Lines are a few hours’ drive down the coast from Lima. The Nazca Lines, which are carved into the dusty ground on the plains in the south of Peru, are still one of the great wonders of the continent. The lines are called geoglyphs, and some of them are as big as 1,200 feet (3,658 meters) across and look like huge people or complicated geometric designs.
People think that they were made by the mysterious Nazca people, who lived in this part of South America before the Incans, from about 100 BC to around 700 AD. Visitors can get a good look at the Nazca Lines in two main ways: by climbing up one of the nearby viewing towers or by flying over them.
6. Titicaca Lake
Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake. It goes from the very south of Peru into nearby Bolivia. Along the way, it goes close to the edge of the Andes. They call it the “highest navigable lake on Earth” because its surface is more than 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level.
The setting is pretty amazing, with the jagged, snow-covered Bolivian Andes scarring the horizon and the sparkling lake water shining in the center. It is probably best known for its unique floating islands, which are actually reed rafts made by the Uru people who lived here before Columbus. From Cusco, it takes a few hours by car to get to this popular tourist spot.
7. Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is a modern town in a valley that is only a few minutes from Machu Picchu. Before the 20th century, it didn’t even exist, but the arrival of the train and the rediscovery of the famous “city in the clouds” helped growth take off. By the late 1900s, the town, which was also called Machupicchu Pueblo, was a hub of activity, with many people going there to follow in the paths of the Inca.
Today, it’s an important stop on the traditional Inca Trail road to Machu Picchu. It’s also known for its natural hot springs, which are the best place for people to relax their muscles after long hikes through the Andes Mountains. Check out the Complete Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2021 to learn more about one of the best places to visit in Peru, Aguas Calientes on the Inca Trail.
Huacachina is surrounded by a sea of shifting sand dunes that rise to hundreds of feet (dozens of meters). It looks more like something from the Arabian Desert than a tourist town in southern Peru.
The whole place is built around a natural desert spring lake that people say a magical native princess left behind. Whether or not it’s true, it’s a great place to visit, with its bubbling water and sand hills and cantinas.
Puno on the border of Bolivia has all the guts of a real smuggler’s city. It’s also known as one of the best places in Peru for arts and crafts. It is one of the best places to visit in Peru because every year it hosts the wild and carnival-like processions of the Festival of Virgen de la Candelaria when up to 30,000 people in masks take over the streets.
When the event isn’t going on, Puno is the place to go to get to the beautiful Uru islands on Lake Titicaca. The slopes of Kuntur Wasi Viewpoint, which is high above the town, are one of the best places in Peru to see Puno Bay and the mountains in Bolivia to the east.
10. Colca Canyon, Peru
Move over, Grand Canyon. The Colca Canyon in Peru is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It splits the southern Peruvian Andes in two, with sheer-cut stone walls that reach up to 3,270 meters (10,730 feet) high in some places.
The best way to see all of this is on the multi-day Colca Canyon Trek, which includes places like the Mirador Cruz del Condor lookout point (watch out for New World vultures circling above) and wild swimming spots along the Rio Colca. In general, the Quechua-speaking farming communities and traditional towns in Colca Canyon are what makes it famous.
If you want to go to Cusco or do the Machu Picchu trek, the best time to go is between May and September, which is the dry season. This is when people can visit the best sights in these places without any trouble.
The wettest season is summer, which starts in December and lasts until March. During this time, there are often strong rains. And from April to October, the weather here can change a lot, just like in the UK.