There's a lot more things to do in Peru than just trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Albeit, you must visit the magnificent Inca ruins when you are there. But when visiting South America's most popular tourist destination, you may want to check out all the other amazing sites!
We've had the luxury of visiting Peru a couple of times. From cruising the Amazon River to sliding down the massive dunes of it's magnificent desert. Peru is surprising, diverse, welcoming and beautiful!
Things to do in Peru
Peru is a massive country and you can't see it all in just a short two week trip.
We have been to Peru three times and still have yet to see it all.
We highly recommend choosing a portion of Peru to visit instead of trying to see it all at once.
If you are going to Machu Picchu, focus on the Andes, Cuzco, Rainbow Mountain
For the South focus on: Ariquipa, Huaccuchina, Isla Ballestas and Nazca for one trip.
A separate trip could be: Lima, the Amazon and Iquitos.
Lake Titicaca is an entirely other idea for a separate tour.
And don't forget the far south to Colco Canyon.
So to help you plan your trip, here are our favourite ideas for things to do in Peru.
Make sure to spend at least a day discovering Lima. If you can, take two!
We stayed at the Swiss Hotel in Lima and it was an excellent base. Taxis are cheap and easy to get around. Just make sure you use the official taxis of the city.
Explore the old city and marvel at the colonial architecture of Plaza Mayor. Witness the Catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco and the Cathedral of Lima.
Visit the Cathedral of Lima
The Basilica Cathedral of Lima is usually the first top in city Lima located in Plaza Mayor of downtown Lima, Peru. Inside you can see conquistador Francisco Pizarro's tomb, but just taking in the beauty and serenity of inside is worth a visit.
While in Lima be sure to take a food tour to learn of the cuisine of Peru, (I recommend the Ceviche) and be sure to stroll through Mira Flores and if you're feeling adventurous go paragliding over the coast.
Check out our best of Peru video from our very first trip there where we went paragliding in Lima!
Where to go after Lima
From Lima, you can go anywhere. Most people either catch a flight to the Amazon or Machu Picchu. Both destinations are exciting and adventurous. We did the Amazon and Machu Pichhu on Separate trips giving time to properly explore. When flying to the Amazon, you will book your ticket to Iquitos. It's the main town where Amazon Cruises depart.
Amazon River Cruise
We joined International Expeditions on the luxurious riverboat where we went deep into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. A flew into Iquitos and caught our boat for a 10 day journey into the jungle.
The 10 day trip explores local jungle villages, wildlife and daily safaris. We saw pink dolphins, three toes sloths, spider and howler monkeys. This is truly the adventure of a lifetime.
Dave broke his back while traveling in the Amazon, see why you need travel insurance
The Amazon is the longest river in the world and when you take a river cruise, you really do step out of civilization and into the heart of the jungle. It is as far away from anywhere as you can get!
Read all about our experience here: What to expect on an Amazon River Cruise
Check out our video:
Fly Over the Andes
For our other trip to Peru we grabbed a flight to Cuzco after exploring Lima. Cuzco is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu and the flight is breathtaking.
Tip: Book the window seat for amazing views and if you have limited time, fly around the country.
The Andes are strikingly beautiful with their snow capped mountain peaks reaching up to the heavens. I was seriously taken aback by their beauty and didn't expect to be so awe-inspired.
Machu Picchu by Train
We landed at the airport, caught a cab to the Plaza De Armas, Cuzco's historic square. Cuzco is a lovely town and we didn't mind taking in its beauty as we looked for a room. Albeit, we were feeling a little fatigued from the altitude.
Cusco is High in Altitude, be Prepared
Cuzco sits at 3300 metres. Once you've settled in go for a cup of Cocoa tea to help ease he symptoms of altitude sickness.
But, once we found a place, we settled in and drank cocoa tea to take the edge off our altitude sickness.
Cuzco is located at a high altitude and by flying in, you don't have a chance to acclimatize. Once landing, we immediately felt fatigue, headaches and a bit of nausea.
We highly suggest visiting your doctor or a local travel clinic to prescribe Diamox to help ease the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Beware if you Visit Peru during the High Season
First thing in the morning, we went to the ticket office to buy our train ticket to Aguas Callientas to see Machu Picchu.
Because we didn't book our trek a year in advance, we couldn't get onto a trek now, so the train was the next best option.
We thought we'd have no problem, but when we got to the train station the line was around to corner.
By the time we made it to the front of the line, the next two days were sold out! Only VIP tickets were available for the next day so we sucked up the $100 USD each and bought our tickets.
The VIP Train was worth the price. The glass ceiling allowed us to see the entire view of the Andes and it was incredible.
The train goes from Cuzco to Aguas Callientas where we spent the night before catching our final mode of transportation to Machu Picchu.
The next morning we awoke at 4:00 am and ran through the rain to catch the first bus leaving at 5:00 am.
Why you should buy tickets the day before for Machu Picchu
There was already a crowd when we got there but we made it on and after a slow ride up intense switch backs, we made it to Machu Picchu.
Hundreds of people already standing in line (I have no idea where they came from because we thought we were on the first bus!) but luckily we booked our entrance tickets the day before at the cultural centre in Aguas Callientas so we skipped the line and were one of the first people on sight.
Entering Machu Picchu
I was taken aback as I walked in the dark and came across a llama in my path. It turns out there are llamas scattered all over the ruins.
The morning was foggy and we spent an hour or so in the dark, but once the sun rose, the fog burned off and the spectacular view was revealed.
The incredible thing about visiting Machu Picchu is that you can hike up other peaks to see it from different angles.
Seeing it from above really gives you a sense of the scope of the place. The ruins themselves are not spectacular, but the setting is truly out of this world and makes every struggle to get there worth the hype!
To understand how the Incan empire built this city clinging to the side of a mountain, with terraces falling into the valley is incomprehensible.
The back drop is absolutely stunning. It is even a bit of a thrill to be there.
Hike the Inca Trail
We didn't get to hike the Inca Trail on our trip because we booked our trip to Peru at the last minute, but Arienne of SeeYouSoonTravel did and this is what she had to say.
It was gruelling and exhilarating all at the same time.
The scenery was impressive, and thoughts about the indigenous people doing the same route hundreds of years before danced in my head. It was a magical feeling sleeping in a tent on the mountains and waking up amongst the clouds.
But it was even more magical reaching our final destination, Machu Picchu. It was a surreal experience walking amongst the ruins, taking it all in.
I couldn’t help but think about how it was discovered in the first place, being surrounded by mountains on all sides. I still remember this eerie spirit, or mystical vibe of civilizations past, that seemed to float through the air.
I spent some time just sitting on a rock near the top, soaking in the surroundings. It was a spiritual and humbling moment.
Read Next: The Complete Peru Travel Guide
Hike Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain Facts:
The walk to and from Rainbow Mountain is a day-long stagger at over 14,000 feet, tracing a dirt path between looming peaks of green and startling red rock.
It's a gorgeous route, passing local villages built from stone and glittering mountain streams.
But the altitude is punishing–enough to turn even the sprightliest young athlete into a panting mess.
Don't even think about trying the trek until you've spent a few days getting used to the elevation of the Cusco region.
Desert Adventures in Peru
Huacachina Peru is a village built around a natural lake in the middle of the desert called the Oasis of America. It is an incredibly beautiful location.
Hotels, restaurants and guesthouses line the lake that is surrounded by the massive dunes. They tower over the entire Oasis and you can climb up and do some sand boarding directly from your hotel's back yard.
We love snowboarding so naturally, when we visited some of the highest sand dunes in the world we had to try sand boarding.
Before visiting Peru, I didn’t even know Peru had a desert. Let alone a giant desert occupying 188,700 square km. It is one of the most stunning deserts I have ever seen and riding its slopes was a blast.
We weren’t as good at it as snow boarding. It is a little harder to carve out edges, but once we got the hang of it, it was a thrill.
We found it was easier to ride high on the sand and point the board down not turning too much.
Go on a Crazy Dune Buggy Ride
You must take a dune buggy excursion here. It was the most heart pounding, thrilling ride we've ever taken.
My heart was racing as we drove to the top of one of these giants.
You could see the peak coming at you and as we drove closer, I thought to myself, “We aren’t actually going over that thing are we?” Sure enough, we zipped over the edge and plunged in a near vertical nosedive.
It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.
It's Peru’s version of the Galapagos Islands. Near the town of Pisco, you can catch a boat out to the islands to see Sea Lions and Penguins frolic around in their natural habitat.
It was the cutest thing I had ever seen. I could spend hours watching wild life.
The only problem with these tours is that they really disrupt the lives of the animals, they need to work on staying farther away from the animals and spewing fumes into their faces.
Destinations like this are a bit tricky. If conservation and standards are put in place for the best interest of the wildlife than it is a winning experience for everyone.
It is a double-edged sword. Without tourists going to see the wildlife, there is no need for conservation in the eyes of governments but then it is the tourists that disrupt the lives of the wildlife that they are going to see.
The Nazca Lines are the coolest thing you can see in Peru. These ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert can't be explained. They are believed to have originated 500BC by the Nazca culture, but we think they were made by aliens.
Think about it, how could primitive human beings create intricate designs in the desert reaching 370 metres (1,200 feet) long?
But even crazier is how have they lasted for 2500 years through erosion, rain winds and time?
There are many theories that you can read about, but we suggest just going to Peru and taking a scenic flight over them to see for yourselves.
Try the Local Cuisine
When visiting Peru, you must try some of the local cuisine. Ica is the wine region where you can sample some of Peru's vintages.
The national drink is the Pisco Sour. It's a refreshing lime drink that packs a punch. If you are daring you may try some barbecued guinea pig or the local delicacy of alpaca.
Some Traditional Food of Peru:
Ceviche (raw fish salad), Cuy (Guinea Pig), Alpaca, Lomo Saltado (Stir Fried Beef), Pollo a la Brasa (Roasted Chicken)
Turns out there is a lot to do in the Sacred Valley around Cuzco.
We booked a tour to see Ollantaytambo and impressive Inca ruin it its own right. Surrounded by the Andes, we walked along its agricultural terraces, checked out the structures.
We took a tour of the valley and walked along a section of the Inca Trail. It was definitely worth the visit.
Lake Titicaca is located at the Bolivian border and the floating houses are a highlight.
It's highest navigable lake in the world located at 3,812 metres (12,300 feet) in the Andes. A trip to Titicaca is a place where you can delve into the culture of Peru.
The Uros people live on floating islands made out of reeds creating entire communities living on the lake. New reeds are constantly added to the top as old rotting reeds float away.
Huayhuash Circuit – Perú
This is a challenging long hike that will take you deep into the Peruvian Andes, where you’ll find massive mountains, glaciers, mirror lakes and local culture.
Contribution by Miguel of TravelSauro
It’s a good alternative to the beaten Santa Cruz trek, with fewer hikers. You’ll have the chance to visit villages, buy cheese from the locals and enjoy awesome scenery, which you’ll have almost to yourself!
Duration: 10-12 days
See more at the 10 Best Hikes in South America
Hike Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is a popular destination famed for the condors that soar through the air.
There are two and five day options to hike to Colca Canyon.
Located in the south of the country, it is twice as deep as the grand canyon. If you are exploring the Arequipa and Huaccucina region, this is a great trip as it's only 5 hours away!
So there you have it, our top suggestions for things to do in Peru. Do you have any additions? We'd love to hear and check them out the next time we go!