South America has long been a backpacker’s paradise and Peru has seen a rise from a hidden gem to a must-see travel destination over recent years. With an eclectic mix of history and nature and some truly jaw-dropping sights, it is a country that offers something for everyone, from my time spent travelling around in this incredible country, here is my choice for the best and most beautiful places to visit in Peru…
1. Cusco – one of the best places to visit in Peru
While the city is mainly used as the gateway to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it has plenty to offer. Cusco is actually at a higher altitude than Machu Picchu and is used to get acclimatized to the thinner air. The cobbled streets pave the way towards a place rich in history.
You should hike or bus your way up to the Cristo Blanco for a stunning view of the city, explore the interesting markets, and chill out in the beautiful Plaza de Armas. All this before you take a tour for a look at some awesome Inca ruins like Sacsayhuaman, Choquequirao and Pisac. Cusco is not to be underestimated or overlooked.
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2. Rainbow Mountain – listed by National Geographic in the top 100 places to visit before you die
Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, Winikunka, or Montaña de Colores, the latter meaning Colorful Mountain, is an iconic and spectacular attraction located in the Andes Range on the road to Apu Ausangate. It derives its name from its 7 distinctly colorful layers that are present due to the weathering mineralogical composition.
This mountain used to be covered by glacier caps until recently (due to global warming). Now, its vibrantly striped slopes are visibly exposed and have been listed by National Geographic in the top 100 places to visit before you die.
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Beautiful Rainbow Mountain and the Andes by 4k drone…
3. Machu Picchu – the most famous and most beautiful place to explore in Peru
It might be a cliché, but there is a reason why clichés exist. Yes, thinking about Peru is synonymous with Machu Picchu but that’s because it’s incredible. Whether you take the train from Cusco or push yourself with the Inca Trail, the view when you get there is breathtaking.
Arrive early morning and, on a good day, you can see the sunrise from the sun gate while you should try to take the opportunity to climb Huanya Picchu as well.
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4. Lake Titicaca – a stunning lake to explore in Peru
The train journey that you can take from Cusco to Puno is a 10-hour trip through rural Peru to the banks of Lake Titicaca that is considered one of the world’s great train journeys.
Undoubtedly a beautiful journey, but back at Lake Titicaca and this is your chance to see a fascinating and mystical lake, the largest in South America. Recent discoveries on the Bolivian side show that there is plenty of mystery left here yet.
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5. Manu National Park
The massive 1.5 million-hectare Manu National Park is a world-famous epicenter of biodiversity. A meeting point for the Tropical Andes and the Amazon Basin in Southwestern Peru, the national park has unique natural vegetation that grows in tiers from 150m up to 4200m above sea-level.
The flora ranges from diverse Andean grasslands to mountain cloud forests and pristine rainforest, and plant diversity runs in thousands. The lower tropical forest is home to an astronomical array of fauna. There are over 1000 vertebrate species, including at least 200 species of mammals and more than 800 species of birds. Among the mammals are the Giant Otter, 13 primates species, and 8 felids, including Jaguar, Puma, and the endangered Andean Mountain Cat.
Manu National Park also has unparalleled variety in terms of altitude, microclimate, soils, and other ecological conditions. This vast, isolated and still roadless region has been spared from most human impacts, maintaining its original, natural state.
6. Salinas de Maras
The famous Salineras de Maras is a beautiful place located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, near the town of Maras. This spectacular landscape is made up of more than 3 thousand small pools carved into the mountainside.
These pools are fed by an underground hypersaline spring that originated 110 million years ago during the formation of the Andes Mountains. The high salinity makes this water saltier than seawater but also offers incredible natural therapeutic salts rich in magnesium, calcium, potassium, and silicon. The salt wells and crystal formations create a breathtaking contrast of colours that make this location truly picturesque and a must-visit.
7. Oasis of Huacachina, Atacama Desert
Tucked between sand dunes in the world’s driest desert lies a geological marvel, a flourishing fertile lagoon enveloped by tall palm trees. Around the oasis sprung the town of Huacachina and attracted tourists to take advantage of the oasis’ supposed healing properties.
This magical destination is beaming with tourism and activities. The only desert oasis in South America, Oasis of Huacachina, offers extraordinary adventures and extreme sports. Like sandboarding, dune buggy rides, flight rides over the Nazca Lines, and more!
8. The Andes Mountains
The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world and boasts some of the highest peaks, the world’s highest volcano, ruins of ancient civilizations, and the source of a malaria treatment.
Created over 50 million years ago, when the South American and Pacific tectonic plates collided, it is a collection of numerous mountain chains that were joined together in what is called orographic knots. Over 9000km long the Andes span along the western coast of South America through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. In the southern and northern tips of the continent, they tumble into the sea forming scattered Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao.
The Peruvian Andes hold the largest gold mine in the world, Yanacocha, and are known for their impressive biodiversity in climatic zones and countless species of mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, and amphibians. Activities along the Andes include climbing to hiking, white water rafting, cycling, skiing, stargazing, and more.
9. Lima, National Capital
Shrouded in history, and sprawling with metropolitan life, Lima, the capital of Peru, has an incomparable chaotic charm. Due to its huge size, Lima accounts for one-fourth of the total population of Peru.
Converging cultures and trends by its people, Lima is filled with Spanish influenced architecture and colonial-era riches, stately museums, baroque churches, chic art galleries, and a buzzing nightlife. Lima is rightly hailed as the gastronomic capital of Latin America because of the culinary genius of its incredible gourmet eateries and establishments.
10. Tambopata National Reserve
A crowning jewel of the Amazon Rainforest and a must-visit spot for nature lovers, the Tambopata National Reserve in Southeastern Peru is thriving with history, ecology, and diversity. The vast habitat comprises lowland Amazon rainforest, riverine forest, oxbow lakes, and three rivers. The innumerous species of butterflies, birds, mammals, other animals, and trees make this reserve one of the most diverse places on Earth!
Further, the Reserve and the surrounding area has been home to indigenous Ese Eja People and has preserved its cultural richness.
11. Lost City Kuelap
Located in northern Peru on the slopes of the Andes, the ancient city of Kuelap contains some of the most amazing architectural structures in the world. Built between the 6th and 16th centuries in the Chachapoyas civilization, the fortress lies on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley and remains over 10,000 ft above sea level.
You take a picturesque cable car/gondola ride to the site. With its majestic monument and historic culture, Kuelap is popularly known as the Machu Picchu of the north and is quickly becoming just as popular!
Arequipa – one of the most beautiful cities to explore in Peru
Known as the White City thanks to its unique architecture, Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru. Characterised by a skyline dominated by imposing volcanoes, the eternal spring means that any time of the year is perfect for visiting the city.
The charming destination boasts buildings mainly made from volcanic rock and the Historic Centre has been a World Heritage Site for more than a decade. Arequipa’s Basilica Cathedral is an iconic sight and it is a great start before heading out to the Colca Canyon.
12. Floating House at Iquitos – a hidden gem to explore in Peru
The Barrio of Belen is situated in the outskirts of the largest market in Iquitos. This area is one of the poorest and chaotic in Iquitos. The area has a flight of stairs that open into a busy market that sells things, mostly fruits like bananas at cheaper prices. In the dry season, you can walk through the smelly streets and look into apartments and businesses but in the monsoon, the first stories will be submerged in water. You can witness people going around and selling products by boat from the second story up.
To see the rest of the barrio, take a boat taxi around the river to find floating houses tied to poles during the wet season and houses on stilts during the dry season. While not the most glamorous the Floating Houses are definitely an interesting and intriguing site to see.
13. Lake 69, Huascaran, Huaraz – a stunning natural mountain lake
A truly exemplary hike, Laguna 69 offers one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. This site is truly extraordinary not only because of the beauty of the lake but also the scenic hike that leads to it.
Lake 69 sits at the feet of a gigantic glacier, Pisco Peak at an elevation of 15,000 ft. Located in Huaraz, the hiking and trekking capital of Peru, this high-altitude one-day hike is not steep but the altitude makes Laguna 69 a slightly challenging hike.
14. Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, or El Valle Sagrado, as it is locally known, lies in Río Urubamba Valley at the mountain foothills north of the town of Cuzco. This ancient valley is a hidden gem full of marvel and wonder.
This secluded pocket in the Andes thrives with scattered towns, traditional villages, bustling markets, and significant ruins, namely the famous Inca citadels of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.Besides the incredible culture, the valley offers a multitude of Adrenaline activities like rock climbing, trekking, and rafting.
15. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon in southern Peru is recognised as one of the world’s deepest canyons. With River Colca running east to west and its slopes on both sides steep and rocky, the canyon displays stunning waterfalls formed along the slopes. With no road at the bottom of the canyon, the views are more mesmerizing than ever!
The landscape is made up of a green valley spotted with terraced agriculture from remote villages. The canyon is popularly visited as a trekking site and the river is known for rafting.
16. Ancient Inca Circular Terraces at Moray
Based in the Sacred Valley, this ancient site is unlike any other. These Inca ruins look like a Roman amphitheatre but are, in fact, an agricultural research laboratory.
Though the precise use of these marvelous circular terraces is unknown, some believe these ruins were used to experiment on different crops at various temperatures. Irrespective of their purpose, these terraces are truly a wonder to witness.
17. Huascarán National Park
The amazing Huascarán National Park is situated in an idyllic setting, surrounded by glaciers and their rivers, studded with turquoise lakes, filled with a vast diversity of plants and animals, and housing 33 historic archaeological sites.
This 13,000 sq mile of heaven on Earth includes the world’s highest tropical mountain range and the Puya Raimondi plant that grows up to 12 meters in height. Besides the cloud-scrapping mountains, the high-altitude plants, the tropical glaciers, and Elysian water bodies, the national park is renowned for its exotic wildlife like the spectacled bears, giant hummingbirds, South American camels, and mountain cats. It’s unbelievable terrain and well-balanced ecosystem makes it a national park like no other.
You can also find guided tours for boating, hiking, climbing, camping, and other activities.
All the way up the Northern Coastline you find beautiful beaches for relaxation. The adventurous nature of a trip around Peru makes the beaches at Mancora, Punta Sal or Tumbes well worth a visit for a wind-down.
Not convinced? Well, Ernest Hemingway stayed at the fishing village of Cabo Blanco for over a month whilst filming for ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and if it was good enough for him then you can bet it is worth a visit.
Located in Peru’s misty selva alta, the high jungle, the Chachapoyas landscape combines the harsh, jagged edges of the mountains with the lush, verdant jungle. This isolated region receives few visitors, probably due to the fact that it takes two full days of overland travel to get there.
But if you do go, you’ll be able to see world-class sites like the Pre-Incan ruins of Kuelap, perched on top of a jungle-covered mountain, or take a hike to Gocta Cataracts, one of the tallest free-standing waterfalls in the world.
19. Colca Canyon
Generally speaking, like Cusco, many people go to Arequipa for the surrounding area and the Colca Canyon is a joy to behold. One of Peru’s most popular tourist attractions, it is 4,160 metres deep making it much deeper than the Grand Canyon and one of the deepest in the world.
From vibrant culture to extreme sports there is something for everyone and, of course, the Cruz del Condor viewpoint is the pinnacle where you can get a great appreciation for the grandeur of this astounding place alongside the chance to witness the majestic Andean Condors.
20. The Amazon
Going to the jungle is one of the most memorable experiences you could ever wish to have. From peaceful evenings looking at stars, listening to bullfrogs and searching for alligators to eventful days trekking through the rainforest, meeting tribes and listening to howler monkeys the usual three or four-day trips are filled with excitement.
It is worth classing the Amazon as a whole for this because while most people head to Iquitos before going, Puerto Maldonado is widely believed to be more aesthetically pleasing from a city perspective.
Travellers also sometimes opt to volunteer in the programs are organized in this extraordinary country and Maximo Nivel offers projects both in and outside of the city centre. This gives volunteers the opportunity to serve in both urban and rural communities.
A German village in the middle of the Selva Alta in Peru is bound to be an interesting destination. It was the middle of the 1800s when poor living conditions in Central Europe when 10,000 colonists came to virgin lands. Many people travel there for the festival Selvamonos but while being just seven hours away on Google Maps, the bus ride from Lima is a 15-hour slog. However, when you get there, the food is great, the people welcoming and the surrounding areas with waterfalls and the beautiful green countryside are perfect for camping and hiking.
Ever been sandboarding? If not, then make your first time in Peru. Huacachina can probably be best described as a novelty, the blue-green laguna and a backdrop of huge sand dunes is a beautiful site. It is the definition of a tourist town and is worth a visit.
Take a dune buggy ride up and down the dunes before getting out to sandboard from top to bottom. It’s an awful lot of fun but getting back up is an effort! It is an easy trip from Lima to the closest big city of Ica and from here you can get to Nazca and Paracas which are other popular destinations.
Río Abiseo National Park
The Rio Abiseo National Park is one of Peru’s 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the most remote, placed between two rivers on the Eastern slopes of the tropical Andes in North-Central Peru.
Located within the park are 30 culturally rich pre-Columbian archaeological sites spanning eight millennia of human history and dating back to 6000 BC. There are also 7 climate zones and a whole world of wildlife. The park is known for its vast range of approximately1000 known plant species, 13 of which are endemic, and most importantly the rediscovery of the thought-to-be-extinct Yellow-Tailed Wooly Monkey.