Explore Peru: What To See and Do Across This Stunning Country

machu picchu
"Peru is wonderfully diverse, with a rich history and many awe-inspiring wonders that just need to be explored. Peru is a destination that has to be seen to be believed."

Few countries in the world have as many different ecosystems and climates as Peru. In fact, in this relatively small to medium sized country, in terms of area, Peru is home to 84 of the world's 103 ecosystems and 28 of the 32 climates. From mountains and grasslands, to deserts and rainforests Peru has it to explore. So if you are into hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, or just taking in beautiful natural surroundings Peru has to be on your list of places to visit.

To go along with Peru's diverse ecosystems and climates, layer on epic historical sites such as Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuamán, and Pisac, all built by the Inca’s. Going further back in time, before the Inca’s, other indigineous people of Peru left things behind that we can take in today. For example, aerial views of the Nazca Lines created over 2000 years ago are incredible to see and the Cerro Sechin ruins built around 1600 BCE are well worth visiting.

Article Published: January 20, 2022
Last Update: January 24, 2022

Table of Contents

Lima, Peru

lima cathedral

Diverse and exciting, Lima is a large, crowded and hectic city, which can present a number of challenges for many travelers. However, it’s well worth navigating the inconveniences of Lima in order to experience the incredible array of cultural, contemporary and even natural attractions that the city has to offer.

With its long and varied history of settlement by indigenous people and Spanish conquistadors, natural disasters, political unrest and war, it’s unsurprising that Lima has a rich seam of cultural attractions to be explored.

Lima In Pictures

View our slideshow that includes contributions from our followers or social media and amazing photos we've curated from around the web.

government palace in lima peru
Government Palace, Plaza de Armas of Lima
barranco district
Barranco District, Lima Peru
ceviche and pisco sour
Ceviche Dish with Pisco Sour
Pachacamac, Pre-Inca Citadel

Things To See & Do in Lima

1. Cultural Attractions

peru government palace

With its long and varied history of settlement by indigenous people and Spanish conquistadors, natural disasters, political unrest and war, it’s unsurprising that Lima has a rich seam of cultural attractions to be explored. Start in the Centro Historico, where you’ll find several major sights around the central square, including the Government Palace, Municipal Palace and the Cathedral of Lima. The latter houses an impressive collection of religious art, as well as the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

Meanwhile, over in the upmarket Miraflores area of the city, you can find yourself admiring contemporary architecture one moment, and ruins dating from around 500 CE the next. The Huaca Ruins, incongruously placed in this ‘it’ neighborhood, is a structure of adobe and clay, built by a pre-Incan coastal civilisation. Those with a taste for the macabre may find it especially interesting for its tombs, in which human remains, including sacrificed children, have been unearthed.

2. Hipster Attractions

barranco district lima peru

Miraflores is an undoubtedly appealing area of Lima, with upscale restaurants, boutiques and bars but for a more contemporary and edgy experience of the city, head to the Barranco neighborhood, which has a great selection of cafes and restaurants, many offering vegetarian, vegan and even gluten-free menu options. The area also has a large number of old-school mansions, which have been converted into cocktail bars, with strung lights, exuberant wall art, the coolest music and the most expertly mixed drinks. Many of these 1920s mansions now also house cool boutiques, bookstores, museums and galleries - but even if you don’t enter into any of these, the abundance of vibrant street art adorning the walls of the Barranco neighborhood will keep you endlessly enthralled.

While Lima certainly has an underground party scene, there’s another subterranean attraction you should make time for: the catacombs under the St Francis Monastery, where around 25,000 bodies were buried. Exploring these is an eerie experience, but bear in mind that no photo taking is allowed, so save your Insta-perfect shots for the Magic Water Circuit, a series of thirteen illuminated fountains in Parque de la Reserva.

3. Ceviche and Pisco

ceviche peruvian with pisco sour

Lima is one of the culinary capitals of the world, and no visit to it would be complete with sampling two of its most famed specialties. Ceviche, for the uninitiated, is such an important part of Peruvian culture that it’s been declared a part of the country’s National Heritage and even has a public holiday in its honor. Consisting of raw fish marinated in citrus (usually lemon or lime) juice, it’s served either at room temperature or cold, and enlivened with red onion, cilantro (coriander) and chili - although there are many variations on this theme. You’ll find no end of places where you can try ceviche for yourself, ranging from low key to high end, but for a fantastically authentic experience and feast for all of the sense, head to the Mercado de Surquillo, where you can watch the hustle and bustle of the market as you eat. There are also a number of lessons that you can book, in which you’ll learn how to make the dish yourself, complete with a guided market tour for ingredients.

And what better to wash your ceviche down with than a Pisco Sour? Although this cocktail has only been around for about one hundred years, it is practically a cultural institution, devised by American bartender Victor Vaughen Morris at the Hotel Maury - making this hotel a must-visit on any Pisco pilgrimage. As far as where else to imbibe this concoction of pisco (itself a type of grape brandy), lime juice, egg white, simple syrup and Angostura bitters, the likes of the Hotel Gran Bolivar, frequented, in the past, by the likes of Hemingway and Welles, is definitely worth a visit for its super-strong take on the original. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop by some of the old-school bodegas to try the drink as well, especially in the Barranco neighborhood.

4. Beaches & Pachacamac

entrance pachacamac

You can hit the Panamerican Highway from Lima in either direction, but drive south to catch some gorgeous beaches which are all but unregulated, meaning that you may even be able to grab a couple of nights under the stars with the sound of the ocean to lull you to sleep. Another draw in this area is the presence of Pachacamac, the ruins of a sacred citadel dating back to pre-Inca times. Partially restored, the ruins include a number of pyramids and temples; allow yourself plenty of time to look around, as the altitude can make exploring tougher than usual.

5. Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla


Some areas of the Andean foothills are within reach of Lima and form a great introduction to the archeology of the country, thanks to the ruined sites of Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla. The first of these dates back to pre-Inca times; its on-site museum provides fascinating insights by way of artifacts, including tools and utensils, excavated from the site. The area is also remarkable as having been an enormous cemetery - thousands of bodies have been excavated and it is thought that even more are still there. Among these are ‘mummy bundles’ - groups of corpses wrapped together in fabric and topped with "cabezas falsas" (fake heads).

Cajamarquilla, located about 25 kilometers inland from Lima, is known as the “Dead City” and includes structures ranging from pyramids and temples, to dwellings and streets. It was built on the remains of an earlier settlement in about 500 CE and grew to be an important administrative center inhabited by around 15,000 people; it was possibly abandoned after being struck by an earthquake before the Incas arrived in 1470.

Lima In Video

Cusco Region


Once the capital of the Incan empire, Cusco perfectly blends history with a fresh and contemporary feel. Don’t make the mistake of simply using it as a launchpad to adventures of a Machu Picchu kind, or as a place to acclimatize to the altitude before tackling the Inca Trail: it has many attractions of its own.

Cusco in Pictures

Check out some great shots of Cusco and the surrounding area. If you have a photo that you'd like to contribute visit our Facebook page for more details.

rainbow mountain peru
Rainbow Mountain, Near Cusco Peru
cusco cathedral
Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, Cusco Peru
plaza de armas cusco
Plaza de Armas - Cusco Peru
pisac ruins
Pisac Ruins in The Sacred Valley near Cusco
aerial of sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman (Incan Fortress), near Cusco

Things To See & Do In and Around Cusco

1. Plaza de Armas

plaza de armas cusco

Wander the inimitable Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s central colonial square - it is a hive of activity at all hours of the day, and a great place to sit and watch the world go by. It’s bordered on one side by the Cathedral, which was completed in 1654 and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Be sure to head inside to see the splendid 1753 work of Marcos Zapata - the presence of roasted guinea pig on the table of this last supper makes it uniquely Peruvian.

Although it’s less imposing, the Church de La Compañia de Jesus is also well worth a visit, with its gloriously ornate Spanish Baroque architecture. Be sure to head uphill to spend some time in the San Blas neighborhood: the walk is worth it, thanks to great sunset views, cool bars and a slew of independent shops and boutiques.

2. San Pedro Market

san pedro market

Despite being located within a short walk of the Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market is an entirely different experience: an assault on all of the senses. As you approach, the streets are lined with vendors in traditional dress, selling everything from fruit to bags of nuts; venture further into the market and prepare to be immersed in a slice of authentic Peruvian life, complete with guinea pigs impaled on skewers for roasting. There are many more palatable options, however - try the lomo saltado (beef) or some fried chicken, or grab a butifarras (toasted ham sandwich) - and wash it all down with a fresh juice or smoothie. This is also the place to come for souvenirs, ranging from fridge magnets and pachamama dolls to alpaca sweaters - don’t be afraid to haggle.

3. Rainbow Mountain

rainbow mountain

Located around 3.5 hours from Cusco, this day trip involves an early start (around 2am) but, as painful as this may sound, it is worth it for the opportunity to be one of the first people on a mountain that can, these days, be somewhat overrun with Instagrammers trying to nail the perfect shot. Hidden under layers of ice until global warming revealed its multi-hued flanks in 2015, Rainbow Mountain was at first only reachable by a grueling 7-hour hike, but a recently constructed road has made access much easier. Already showing signs of over-tourism, be mindful of the fragility of this landscape of multi-colored sediment - and look for tour operators equipped with supplemental oxygen, as the altitude (you reach an altitude of 15,000 ft above sea level) can really hit hard on the 3-hour hike to the summit.

4. Sacsayhuamán

aerial of sacsayhuaman

This old Incan fortress, destroyed by invading Spaniards, is massive on a scale that really helps to understand the ingenuity and industry of the Incas; it’s also a fascinating insight into how their world collided with that of the Spanish conquistadors. Only about one-fifth of the original structure remains, but the sheer size of the stones (some weigh several tons) used in its construction is a fascinating insight into Incan engineering, as are the curious shapes of some of the stones and the way they seem to fit seamlessly with others. Thanks to its elevation, Sacsayhuamán is also an ideal spot from which to survey the whole of Cusco. If you plan your trip for the end of June, you’ll be able to partake in the celebration of Inti Raymi, a celebration of the sun that was last held in the presence of the Emperor Inca in 1535.

5. Pisac Ruins in the Sacred Valley

pisac ruins in sacred valley

Just an hour from Cusco, the Pisac Ruins are one of the most exceptional sights in the Sacred Valley, and the first town on the route. The site is a massive five times the size of Machu Picchu, with steep architectural terraces carved into the sides of the mountains. You can hike to the top of these for sensational views of the surrounding landscape; the ascent takes about two hours from the Plaza de Armas. Along the way, you will see a strategically placed fortress looking out towards Cusco, as well as a temple. Buildings throughout the site clearly demonstrate that the city served multiple functions, with various structures used for religious, agricultural and military purposes. Along the way to Machu Picchu, also located in the Sacred Valley, you should also stop in Ollantaytambo, a fortress of Inca resistance with fabulous views of the valley.

Cusco in Video

Check out Cusco Peru the former capital of the Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu & The Inca Trail

machu picchu

Of all of the natural and manmade attractions that draw travelers to Peru, the lure of Machu Picchu is one of the greatest. Built around 1540CE, Machu Picchu reveals insights into Incan life and culture. It is the jewel at the end of the Inca Trail and it is well worth the hike!

Machu Picchu in Pictures

Check out some great shots of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. If you have a photo that you'd like to contribute visit our Facebook page for more details.

machu picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru
machu picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru
section of the inca trail
Section Of The Inca Trail, Peru
section of the inca trail
Section Of The Inca Trail, Peru
train to machu picchu
Train to Machu Picchu, Peru
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Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu
machu picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru
machu picchu terraces and houses
Terraces & Ancient Houses, Machu Picchu
machu picchu intihuatana altar
Intihuantana Altar, Machu Picchu
section of the inca trail
Section Of The Inca Trail, Peru
drawbridge on stone wall near machu picchu
Drawbridge on Stone Wall, Inca Trail Near Machu Picchu
llactapatainca ruins seen from inca trail
Llactapatainca Ruins, Seen From Inca Trail

Things To See & Do Along The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

1. The Inca Trail

inca trail

If you choose to hike to Machu Picchu, you will not only have the opportunity to acclimatize en route, but also to encounter Dead Woman’s Pass, with its challenging paths and fabulous views, as well as the iconic Sun Gate, from which you achieve your first glimpses of Machu Picchu. Many travelers try to time their arrival at this point with sunrise.

This is a hike where it is worth remembering that the journey is as important as the destination. Although the magical expanse of Machu Picchu is the jewel in the trek’s crown, don’t be so fixated on that endpoint that you fail to give attention to the ruins, greenery, wildlife and steep paths that form the backdrop to your trek.

2. Machu Picchu

machu picchu

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu PIcchu consists of buildings ranging from temples to baths, as well as dwellings. The architecture is indicative of the excellence of Incan masonry, with clean lines and seamless connections.

Bear in mind that access to Machu Picchu is limited to a certain number of visitors per day, to limit erosion and damage to the site - plan in advance.

3. Train To Machu Picchu

train to machu picchu

You can travel by train from Cusco to Machu Picchu or hike the 26 mile long Inca Trail. The former takes around 5 hours and the hike takes 4-5 days: either way, you will need to be acclimatized, as Machu Picchu sits 7,000 feet above sea level.

Machu Picchu in Video

Check out incredible footage of Machu Picchu.

Nazca and The South Coast

nazca line spider

The Panamerican Highway stretches all the way from Lima down to Chile through desert landscape that is flanked, on either side, by the Pacific Ocean and the Andes. The region offers the traveler a huge variety of experiences, from wildlife spotting, adventure activities, beach resorts and, of course, the mysterious Nazca Lines.

Nazca and South Coast in Pictures

Check out some great shots of the Nazca Lines and the South Coast of Peru.

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Nazca Line of Hummingbird - Peru
nazca line spider
Nazca Line of Spider - Peru
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Bones in Open Chauchilla Cemetery, Nazca Region
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Sea Lions on Shore, Ballestas Islands
pisco vineyard ica peru
Pisco Vineyard, Ica Peru

Things To See & Do Around Nazca and the South Coast of Peru

1. Nazca Lines

nazca line spider

Located about 250 km south of Lima, the Nazca Lines are giant line drawings - geoglyphs - etched into the ground. They depict various plants, animals, patterns and shapes, and were created over 2000 years ago, but their purpose has been the source of debate ever since they came to public attention (thanks to aviation) in the early 20th century. Due to the sheer size of the lines - some of the straight ones are 30 miles long - the best way to see them is from the air or, alternatively, from one of the nearby hilltops. Preserved largely thanks to the area’s climate conditions, featuring little rain and wind (and therefore erosion), the fact that the lines can be seen from space has led to a number of theories around alien interactions, but the most likely explanation is that the lines were created for the purposes of water rituals.

2. Chauchilla Cemetery

bones in open cemetery

Located 18 miles away from the city of Nazca, and last used for burial in about the ninth century, this eerie cemetery was plundered by grave robbers for years until 1997 when Peruvian law was updated to protect it. Currently, efforts are being made to restore the cemetery to its original state, and the remaining bodies and bones are either on display, or have been returned to the tombs. The climate, plus the efficiency of the ancient burial practices used on the bodies, has resulted in astonishing levels of preservation, with many still in possession of their hair and skin.

3. Lunahuana Valley vineyards

pisco vineyard lunahuana

After sampling the Pisco sours in Lima, you can enrich your Peruvian experience by visiting a winery in which Pisco, the brandy which is the cocktail’s key ingredient, is made. There are five protected winemaking regions in the country - one of these, Lunahuana, makes a popular day trip from Lima, but there is more than enough in the area to keep you occupied for a longer stay, including a number of adventure sports activities. There are five wineries on the Lunahuana Route: Bodega El Sol, Bodega Santa Maria, Bodega De La Cruz, Bodega de la Motta and Viña Los Reyes. You’ll learn about the varieties of Pisco, the making process and, of course, have the opportunity to sample some Pisco for yourself.

4. Pisco, Peru

sea lions shore ballestas islands

There’s more to Pisco than - well, Pisco. This old port town is the gateway to a series of islands - Las Islas Ballestas - which are sometimes referred to as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’ but which have a delightful array of wildlife to be seen from an organized boat tour. Look out, in particular, for penguins, seals and the blue-footed booby. This area is also the gateway to the Paracas National Reserve, which covers 827,800 acres of coastal desert and marine habitat, with vast, scenic beaches and starkly beautiful landscapes. While you’re here, you’ll likely see El Candelabro, a huge and solitary geoglyph akin to those at Nasca.

5. Ica, Peru

pisco vineyard ica peru

Ica’s lushness is attributed to the Incan construction of a canal to channel water from the Andes to irrigate the desert landscape: a move that later enabled the Spanish to plant multiple vineyards. You can certainly spend a pleasant day or two touring these bodegas. One popular choice is El Catador; its decor and style has a certain eccentric and old-fashioned appeal, and tastings tours are available all year round. Time your visit for the February-March harvest and you may even get the opportunity to take part in crushing the grapes with your bare feet. If you prefer an experience less messy, Tacama’s pink exterior walls are the perfect backdrop for a photo - and its wines are as sweet as its appearance. Also popular is Hacienda La Caravedo, which has been producing wines since the late 17th century, and Bodega Lazo, which has the added appeal of being small and family run, and of storing their pisco the authentic way, in vats crafted from clay.

Nazca Lines in Video

Peruvian Amazon Rainforest

cloud rainforest peru

The Amazon Rainforest covers almost two-thirds of Peru, and hosts an astonishing degree of biodiversity. Despite its vast size, only about five percent of the country’s inhabitants live in the rainforest, and visitors to these regions may have the opportunity to interact with small and remote populations, as well as to see a stunning array of flora and fauna.

Peruvian Amazon in Pictures

Check out some incredible shots of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.

jungle lodge in manu national park
Jungle Lodge - Manu National Park
Amazon Rainforest Near Iquitos
Amazon Rainforest - Near Iquitos Peru
Iquitos with Itaya River
View of Iquitos with Itaya River - Iquitos Peru
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Sandoval Lake at Sunset - Tambopata Region Peru
waterfall in chanchamayo bayoz national park
Jungle Waterfall, Chanchamayo Bayoz National Park

Things To See & Do in The Different Regions of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest

1. Iquitos Region

Iquitos with Itaya River

Thanks to its remoteness (it is accessible only by boat or plane) and the fact of its opulent architecture, a remnant of the successful rubber trade that once existed here, Iquitos is worth a visit in its own right. However, its primary allure for travelers is that it is the gateway to huge swathes of virgin rainforest. Delve deep into the region by staying at a jungle lodge at a distance from the city and even beyond the main waterways: here you will maximize your chances of pink river dolphins. Take a guided tour, on which you can expect to see wild animals, piranhas and birds; there is also a canopy walkway located 35m above the ground and extending to 500m in length.

2. Manu Region

jungle lodge in Manu National Park

Located a 40 minute flight away from Cusco, this region was created as a national park in 1973 and later, in 1987, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the world’s most closed-off communities live within its 1.5 million hectares, in settlements virtually uncontacted by anyone else. The area is also home to wildly diverse landscapes, from lofty cloud forests and crashing waterfalls in the High Plains, to humid, sticky rainforest at an altitude of just 300m. Naturally, these geographical contrasts mean that there is an abundance and variety of flora and fauna to be experienced: there are over 200 types of mammal, including the capybara, giant otter and black spider monkey. Expect also to see macaws and caiman.

3. Tambopata Region

sandoval lake tambopata peru

Located in the southeastern region of the country, the Tambopata National Reserve boasts incredible biodiversity, with 1200 species of butterfly alone, not to mention 180 species of fish, 632 species of bird and 103 species of reptile. Although a few indigenous people still live on the outskirts, the only inhabitants within the reserve itself are rangers and researchers. In terms of activities and adventures - which include canoeing around the lakes, exploring the rainforest canopy via an elevated walkway and witnessing the spectacle of animals and birds feasting upon the collpas (mounds of mineral-rich clay) the driest months in the area are April to November.

4. Chanchamayo

waterfall in chanchamayo bayoz national park

The drive from Lima to Chanchamayo will take you at least a day (it is 300 km away by road) but is worth it, if only for the wonderful variations in landscape that you’ll witness en route, from snow-frosted mountains to dusty deserts. The Chanchamayo region, also known as La Selva Central (the central jungle), is a vital area of fruit growing (particularly oranges and pineapples) and coffee production, so don’t miss the opportunity to sample both during your stay. The region is particularly popular with birdwatchers, but come here also for spectacular hiking, surrounded by verdant mountain scenery and crystal-clear, rushing rivers.

Peruvian Amazon in Video

Huaraz & Ancash Region

lake paron huascaran national park

Most travelers head to this region, which lies north of Lima, for access to the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, whether for the purposes of technical mountain climbing or arduous trekking. As well as its majestic and mountainous landscape, however, there are also sweeping beaches and ancient ruins to be explored.

Huaraz & Ancash Region in Pictures

Check out some great shots of this incredible region that is home to Huascaran National Park.

lake paron in huascaran national park
Lake Paron - Huascaran National Park
outer wall cerro sechin ruins
Lake Paron - Huascaran National Park

Things To See & Do in Huaraz & Ancash Region

1. Cerro Sechin Ruins

outer wall cerro sechin ruins

It’s unclear what the purpose of Cerro Sechin was before it fell into disuse in 800 BCE, but its outer walls are emblazoned with bas-relief sculptures expliciting both victorious warriors and gruesome scenes of their slaughtered victims. Their victims are shown being disembowell, having their eyeballs unapologetically removed and in various poses with severed body parts. It’s unclear what the purpose of the site was although experts have speculated that the outer wall of the ruins was added later to commemorate a great victory over an enemy or the crushing of a popular rebellion by the ruling elite. The Cerro Sechin Ruins were left undiscovered for over 2000 years until they were rediscovered by Peruvian archeologists Julio C. Tello and Toribio Mejía Xesspe.

2. Huaraz and Its Market

fresh chickens huaraz market

Situated more than 3,000 meters above sea level, Huaraz is backed by the majesty of the Cordillera Blanca to the east. Its proximity to a range of hiking trails means that backpackers are well catered to: expect to find a surprisingly active nightlife. For a taste of authenticity, head to the central market where rural farmers come from far and wide to sell their produce and where traditional dress is worn authentically - not as a tourist gimmick. Also, be prepared for row upon row of raw meat, dangling from hooks as the smell can get a little overwhelming. In the surrounding streets, you’ll also find a range of artisanal goods, ranging from woolen items and leather goods to woven ponchos and rugs.

3. Mountains and Hiking

cordillera huayhuash

The fact that this region of the country is often referred to as “the Switzerland of Peru” is indicative of the type of landscape you can expect to find here. From one-day hikes to longer expeditions, the scenery is jaw dropping. Those with eight days to spend in the area should trek the Cordillera Huayhuash, a 130 kilometer circuit through remote, mountainous landscape with views of glassy lagoons and snow-dusted peaks.

Cordillera Huayhuash in Video