Peru is a country of history, culture, beauty, and adventure, with a full spectrum of possibilities for travelers. The ancient Inca City of Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of any trip to South America, but there is much more to discover throughout Peru.
You can take a boat trip on the highest navigable lake in the world, look out over one of the deepest canyons in the world, try your luck sandboarding in the dunes, hike in the Andes, or fish for piranha in the Amazon. Other things to do in Peru include exploring the mysteries of the Nazca lines, walking through ancient ruins in the Sacred Valley, or experiencing modern Peru while wandering the streets of Lima.
The diversity of the landscape, the people, and the experiences here make Peru one of the most unique destinations on the continent. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Peru.
1. Machu Picchu
Perched high upon a ridge, 300 meters above the Urubamba River, the majestic Inca City of Machu Picchu is one of the most dramatic settings of a ruined city anywhere in the world. Almost as impressive as the ruins themselves is the spectacular backdrop of steep, lush, and often cloud-shrouded mountains.
Standing near the caretaker’s hut, looking out over Machu Picchu, the jungle-covered mountains, and the river far below, you can imagine why the Incas chose this place to build their city.
Hiram Bingham came across Machu Picchu in 1911 and believed until his death that it was the “Lost City of the Incas,” first documented by Spanish soldiers in the 1500s. However, historians believe the real lost city of the Incas was at Espíritu Pampa, a ruin Bingham knew of but discounted as being insignificant.
The journey is also part of the experience of visiting Machu Picchu, whether it’s by hiking the Inca Trail or seeing the route by train. In either case, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the scenery. Trains leave from Cusco, Ollantaytambo, or Urubamba to Aguas Calientes.
From Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu, a bus takes you up to Machu Picchu, about a 20-minute drive along a harrowing switchback road. It is possible to walk up this road to the site, but this is a long, uphill climb and not recommended.
As of January 2020, new admission rules are in place for Machu Pichu. You must tour with a guide, you must follow a set tour route, and you must enter the park at a designated time.
The high season is June to August, but the two months on either side of this also see decent weather and can be a good time to visit with fewer crowds.
2. The Inca Trail
The famous Inca Trail is a four-day hike, which terminates at Machu Picchu, and is regarded by many as the highlight of their trip to Peru. This scenic trail is often more demanding than what many people are expecting, but also more rewarding.
A couple of different starting points for the Inca Trail exist, but the traditional four-day hike begins at km 82 of the Cusco – Aguas Calientes rail line. From this point, the trail passes more than 30 Inca ruins and traverses through spectacular scenery. The most difficult portion of the trail is the second day of the hike, with a climb of 1,200 meters in elevation gain and two high passes.
The hike must be done with an agency, and reservations should be booked well in advance, particularly in the high season of June to August.
Some agencies offer a shorter version of the hike, which entails either the last two days or just the last day of the hike. There are campgrounds at intervals along the trail and one at the base of Machu Picchu.
Depending on the type of tour, hikers can either carry their own backpack or have it transported for them. The daily number of hikers and porters on the trail is strictly enforced.
3. Cusco’s Architectural Treasures
Walking through the streets of Cusco is like wandering through a museum, with history built upon history in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inca ruins have been used in the foundations of many of the lovely old colonial buildings lining the narrow roads, showcasing the city’s long history.
The main square, Plaza de Armas, in the city center is home to the Cathedral and La Compania, two equally impressive structures. The square is also a great place to start a walking tour, grab a meal, or people watch during the day.
And while there are countless buildings and museums worth visiting, the church of Santo Domingo, resting on the ruins of the Inca site of Coricancha, is one of Cusco’s must-see attractions.
4. Lake Titicaca
The sparkling blue water of Lake Titicaca is surrounded by rolling hills and traditional small villages. The lake area is a mix of beautiful scenery and culture that sets it apart from other regions of the country. Sitting at 3,820 meters above sea level, Lake Titicaca is known for being the highest navigable lake in the world.
A boat trip to the islands and surrounding villages is the best way to appreciate the lake. One of the main tourist attractions is the Uros Floating Islands (Islas Flotantes), which sustain small communities of Uros Indians. These are man-made islands constructed of reeds that have sustained a traditional way of life since the time of the Incas.
What you’ll see on tours to these islands is designed for tourism, but it does offer a glimpse into a traditional way of life. The floating islands are only one very small part of Lake Titicaca’s attraction, with the real charm lying in the small villages in the hills along the shores of Titicaca and on the main islands of Isla Taquile and Isla Amantani.
The main gateway to Lake Titicaca is the city of Puno, where you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies. There are trains and buses to Puno and flights in and out of the nearby city of Juliaca.