Peru is one of South America’s most magical destinations, offering a tantalising mix of ancient history, natural wonders, modern culture and world-class cuisine. Its most iconic attraction is undoubtedly Machu Picchu, a massive Inca temple high in the mountains. But although this is certainly an essential stop, the country has all kinds of other experiences to offer. From jaw-dropping landscapes to urban adventures, here are our favourite things to do in Peru.
1. Explore the Amazon
The Amazon River runs straight through Peru, and the rainforest around it is nothing short of spectacular. Peruvian Amazonia offers endless activities for intrepid travellers, from sailing the river on a luxury vessel to discovering the region’s unique wildlife first-hand.
While the Amazon Rainforest covers more than half of Peru, we highly suggest a trip to its southern section. After a quick flight from Lima or Cusco, settle into a sustainable eco-lodge like the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. From there, you can spend a few days visiting local villages and exploring the Amazon by boat – or via treetop canopy walkways.
2. Hop Aboard the Andean Explorer
Picture yourself in an elegant train carriage, gazing out your window as Peru’s most incredible scenery glides by. That’s exactly what you’ll experience on the Belmond Andean Explorer: the first luxury overnight train in South America. A two-night train journey will carry you from Cusco to Puno and then on to Arequipa, passing by Lake Titicaca on the way.
Considering that this is the world’s highest train route, the carriages supply extra oxygen to help you travel in comfort. You can enjoy gourmet meals in the dining car, kick back in the lounge, curl up in the library or browse the boutique while on board.
As part of the train journey, our travel designers are able to put together some incredible experiences for you – a visit to Sillustani Ruins, the man-made floating islands of Uros and Taquile, as well as kayaking on Lake Titicaca. The possibilities are endless…
3. Admire Cusco’s Colonial Architecture
Most people know Cusco as the gateway to Machu Picchu, but this Andean city is a worthwhile destination in itself. Here you’ll find remnants of both the original Inca culture and the Spanish occupation, including stately colonial buildings dating back to the 16th century.
Located in a valley at 3,400 metres above sea level, Cusco is the perfect place to spend a few days immersed in Peruvian culture. You can explore its cobbled alleys, admire its grand churches and squares, and sample local specialties at food markets and renowned restaurants.
Cusco is also family-friendly. One of the best experiences when travelling with kids is the ‘Treasure Hunt through Cusco’, which takes place in heritage buildings around town. It’s one unique way to get to know local history all the while having fun.
4. Marvel at Rainbow Mountain
Peru’s Rainbow Mountain – or Vinicunca, in Quechua – has to be one of the world’s most colourful wonders. This enormous ridge is striped with striking shades of purple, turquoise, orange and red, created by natural minerals in the soil.
Not surprisingly, Rainbow Mountain is an irresistible photo op – but trust us when we say that it’s infinitely more impressive in person. To see for yourself, extend your time in the Andes to account for a day trip from Cusco. If you’re feeling adventurous, set aside a few days to trek there on foot or by horse.
While the trip to Rainbow Mountain calls for an extremely early wake up call, we reckon it is absolutely worth it.
5. Enjoy Local Cuisine in Lima
The Peruvian capital is a centre of not only culture and commerce, but also cuisine. In the past several years, it’s earned a well-deserved reputation as the ‘culinary capital of South America’. In Lima you’ll have the chance to taste traditional street food, Michelin-starred molecular gastronomy and everything in between.
Our favourite spots include La Picantería, Central and Maido – and you can visit all of them on a personalised food tour of Peru. You can’t leave Lima without having a pisco sour and fresh ceviche, but we also suggest sampling chicharrón (fried pork belly), chicha morada (a sweet drink made from purple corn) and ají de gallina (chicken stew with yellow peppers).
Of the many incredible foodie experiences, one of our favourite ones is the ‘Market visit and lunch at Isolina or La Picanteria’. On this tour, you’ll make a visit to the local market, uncovering its iconic stalls and stopping for some ceviche tasting and that’s before even indulging in some incredible lunch at the local restaurant. Make room for dessert too…
6. Discover the Ruins of Choquequirao
Like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is an Inca site featuring ruins of buildings and terraced hills. But it’s much less well-known, which means you might even get it all to yourself – imagine taking in panoramic views of the ‘Cradle of Gold’ without another human in sight.
Choquequirao is incredibly remote and can only be reached on foot, making it the perfect destination for those who want to get off the beaten track. We can arrange a luxury Choquequirao tour for you, including gear, guides and even a chef to accompany you on your multi-day trek to the ruins and back.
7. Get to Know Trujillo and Chiclayo
These two lesser-known Peruvian cities should definitely be on your list. Set on the country’s northwestern coast, Trujillo is best known for its eye-catching yellow cathedral. Spend a day or two wandering through its colourful colonial old town, then explore nearby pre-Columbian sites like Chan Chan, constructed by the Chimú.
A couple hundred kilometres to the north, you’ll find Chiclayo: a historic trading hub that’s also known as ‘The City of Friendship’. It’s a great home base for discovering the area’s archaeological wonders – but there’s also plenty to enjoy in the city itself, from impressive architecture to exceptional restaurants. Head to the Mercado Modelo to browse Chiclayo’s famous ‘witch market’, where you’ll find all manner of magical items.
8. Spot Condors at Colca Canyon
Among all the towering peaks of Peru, the Colca Valley stands out in its own unique way. It features one of the world’s deepest canyons, plunging down thousands of metres. It’s also home to the endangered Andean Condor, which is among the world’s largest flying birds.
A trip to Colca Canyon isn’t complete without at least one condor sighting, and its many viewpoints are designed specifically for this purpose. You might also spot llamas, alpacas and pumas. And if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, you can go hiking, rock climbing or even rafting down the Colca River.
To bask in some of the most spectacular views, make a stop at Cruz del Condor.
9. Visit the Sacred Valley
Northwest of Cusco lies one of the most picturesque parts of Peru. Known as the Sacred Valley, it was an incredibly important area for the Incas. This is thanks in part to the Urubamba River that flows through it, which held immense spiritual and agricultural significance for them.
While in the Sacred Valley, you can visit the monumental ruins of Inca fortresses and explore local villages where traditional cultures continue to thrive. We also highly recommend a trip to the fascinating circular terraces of Moray and the ancient salt pans of Maras.
You can also explore further and meet with locals, in particular the Amaru community – they are traditional weavers and during a visit you can see the techniques they use to dye their wool with herbs and plants. You can also buy some unique pieces here.