There are many essential places to see in Peru, beyond the wonderful Machu Picchu, although we cannot deny that this alone already justifies a trip to one of our favorite countries. Peru is one of the most popular trips in South America, where we will find Inca ruins, historic cities, the wild nature of the Amazon, incredible landscapes of valleys, deserts, and beaches, along with one of the best cuisines in the world, with ceviche as star dish, which will make this trip exceed all your expectations.
We have made a list of what we think are the 10 essential places to visit in Peru. Let’s start!
1. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas and one of the seven wonders of the world, is the most essential place to visit in Peru. This ancient Inca citadel remained hidden for centuries among the mountains and thick vegetation, until it was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Machu Picchu is located about 130 kilometers from Cusco, above 2,500 meters of altitude between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu peaks, two magnificent viewpoints of the ruins, which you can climb, taking out the corresponding entrance next to the ruins.
The most mystical and spectacular way to get there is by following the Inca Trail, covering more than 40 kilometers that in 4 days, through incredible paths and ancient stone steps, lush forests, valleys and mountains wrapped in dense fog, will take us even the dream of many travelers.
Other more comfortable ways to get to the old citadel is to start at a point closer to Machu Picchu, which will save us 2 days of walking, or take a van or train to Aguascalientes and there very early, go by bus or walking to the ruins.
Keep in mind that there is a limited number of tickets to see Machu Picchu and they sell out quickly, so you have to book as far in advance as possible.
Cusco, declared a World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful cities in America and our favorite in Peru. This ancient capital of the Inca Empire preserves very few buildings from this era, although in some of the colonial buildings you can see Inca remains on their walls, such as the twelve-angled stone.
The Plaza de Armas is the epicenter of the city, in which its cathedral stands out, a place chosen by many inhabitants to spend a few hours in the afternoon, enjoying the life of Cuzco.
Other of the great attractions of the city is to walk through the beautiful artisan neighborhood of San Blas, get lost in the San Pedro market, see the Inca remains of the Temple of the Moon or enter the Santo Domingo Convent, built on the Temple of the sun.
If you have more time, it is worth doing a walking route to see the Inca tuinas of Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Qenqo and the spectacular fortress of Sacsayhuamán, which are very close to the city. During the tour you will also pass by a viewpoint near the Cristo Blanco, one of the most essential places to visit in Cusco, from where you have the best views of the city.
One of the most important decisions, depending on the days available, is whether or not to include the Peruvian Amazon in the trip and enter the jungle from Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado.
We, after the experience, have no doubts, we recommend booking between 3 and 5 days to visit the Amazon, one of the most essential places to visit in Peru and whenever possible, both for days and for a budget, to do it in the area from Iquitos.
Puerto Maldonado is more accessible and cheaper than Iquitos, although over time it has become a tourist attraction that can distort the true image of the immense and wild Amazon.
Iquitos can only be reached by boat or plane from Lima, so being more isolated will allow you to experience the most authentic Amazon, although as we mentioned earlier, the price is more expensive.
In this area, the lodges are located in the middle of the Amazon jungle and all of them have a transfer service in small rafts from Iquitos, although you must take into account that the journey can last several hours.
The days at the Lodge will be spent enjoying the wildest nature, taking routes on foot through the jungle to see the fauna and flora, other times rafting through its narrow rivers and some night tours to see the most timid animals.
4. Colca Valley, one of the essential places to see in Peru
From the beautiful Arequipa you can do one of the best excursions in Peru, the 2-day tour to the Colca Valley and thus be able to see the flight of its most famous bird, the condor.
During the bus trip to the valley from Arequipa, you pass through altitudes between 4,000 and 5,000 meters, so it is highly recommended to chew coca leaves to avoid suffering from the dreaded altitude sickness or soroche.
During the tour of about 4 hours you will see landscapes that seem from another world, with snow-capped volcanoes and large plains where alpacas and vicuñas roam freely.
When you arrive at the Colca Valley you can stay in a hotel that has hot springs and take a relaxing bath, something that we assure you is unforgettable.
The next day very early, the condor usually flies first thing in the morning, you will enter the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, up to the Cruz del Cóndor viewpoint, where if you are lucky you will be able to see these huge birds flying a few meters from you.
During the way back you can enjoy the incredible viewpoints of the canyon and some traditional towns like Chivay, which will be the best ending point of the trip.
5. Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is located very close to the city of Puno at an altitude of 3,800 meters. This immense lake, in which its calm blue waters blend with the sky, is one of the most essential places to see in Peru.
To tour the lake and visit the islands of Uros and Taquile from Puno you can take a boat from the port, from where just over 5 kilometers from the pier you will find the Isla de Iros, built with reeds, a typical aquatic plant of the area. .
The houses and most of the items are made from this plant, and you can even sail on a reed boat and although we generally found it to be a very touristy visit, we believe that it is worth knowing its history and if you have time, it is A must visit in this area of the country.
Another island that can be visited is the Island of Taquile, more than two hours by boat from Puno, where you can also spend the night on the island sleeping in a neighbor’s house. As we did not have any extra days, we opted only to cross the island on foot, eat good fish and enjoy its viewpoints over the lake.
6. Paracas National Reserve and the Ballestas Islands
A little less than 4 hours by bus from Lima is the Paracas National Reserve, located along the Peruvian coast and another of the best places in Peru. This national reserve forms a unique ecosystem in the world, which combines a desert area with great marine diversity due to the great abundance of food in the form of plankton.
It is advisable to visit this protected natural area with a guide, especially so as not to miss places such as the red beach, fossil deposits, fauna and the archaeological remains of the ancient Paracas Culture, explained by an expert, which will bring you much closer to the history of this part of the country.
Very close to Paracas is another of the places to visit in Peru, the Ballestas Islands, some small rocky islands that are surrounded by small boats on excursions that leave from the Paracas pier to see its large number of birds, the colony of Humboldt penguins and sea lions.
Arequipa, known as the white city and built above 2,000 meters of altitude, in the mountains of the Andes desert, is together with Cuzco, one of the most beautiful cities in Peru, in which volcanic stone houses predominate blanca, which together with the historic center were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Our favorite place in the city is the monastery of Santa Catalina, a small citadel with pretty streets, houses and cloisters where you can lose yourself for hours.
Other essentials in Arequipa are the Plaza de Armas with its Cathedral, the Iglesia de la Compañía and its cloisters, the Casa del Moral and the Carmen Alto or Yanahuara viewpoint, with magnificent views of the city and the Misti volcano.
8. Huacachina Oasis
Located about 5 kilometers from the city of Ica, is the photogenic Huacachina Oasis, another of the places that enters all the routes through the country and that is on the list of essential things to visit in Peru.
This oasis located in the middle of the coastal desert, with emerald green waters and surrounded by palm trees, is one of the few remaining natural oases in all of America.
The oasis has a hotel infrastructure to spend the night and many leisure activities such as boggy rides through the desert, practicing sandboarding from its high dunes or simply walking to the top of a dune to contemplate the beautiful sunset over the oasis.
One of the great archaeological mysteries of history is found in the arid desert of Nazca. Between the years 700 B.C. and 200 AD the Nazca culture developed in this area, in which its inhabitants created the Nazca Lines, removing the red stones and leaving the white sandstone below, thus forming huge geoglyphs with human, animal or geometric figures, only visible from the air.
Many theories, from a huge calendar to religious ceremonies or visiting aliens, have been written about the reasons why these huge figures were created, without reaching any definitive conclusion or provable theory today.
The only way to see the figures is to fly over the Nasca lines in a small plane from its small airport located next door. The flight, due to the wind and the pilot’s maneuvers, tends to be moved, so it is advisable not to have breakfast before, take something for dizziness and go prepared with the bag that they will give you when you go up.
Another of the visits that are very worthwhile in Nazca is the Chauchilla Cemetery, a pre-Inca necropolis, which is a perfect complement to the overflight of the Nazca Lines.
10. Sacred Valley
Between Písac and Ollantaytambo, on the banks of the Urubamba River, is the famous Sacred Valley of the Incas. Due to its climate and geography, this fertile valley was one of the main sources of food supply for the Inca empire where the archaeological ruins of several Inca settlements remain and where you can also visit several traditional towns from the colonial era
Pisac with its craft market and the Inca archaeological remains located on a mountain is one of the most famous places in the sacred valley and that we recommend you cannot miss in Peru.
Other essential attractions are the Ollantaytambo fortress, the town of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and Moray, one of the agricultural research centers of the Inca empire.