A guide to the best places to visit in Peru
Where is Peru? If you aren’t sure where Peru is, it is located in South America on the western coast. It borders Ecuador & Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east and Chile to the South.
There are so many amazing places to visit in Peru but most people have only heard of Machu Picchu. In fact on my first visit to Peru I just came, saw Lima for a few days and then went to Cusco to do the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.
This is what most tourists do. If you only have a short amount of time, one or two weeks then people generally spend a few days in Lima, before flying to the south and spending time in Cusco and Arequipa.
If you have longer to spend in Peru then you can really get to know this amazing country and realise how easy it is to get stuck here, there is so much to see and do here and I have listed below the 10 most popular places to visit in Peru.
In 2017 more than 3.8m people visited Peru, with 2.27m of these visiting the capital city Lima. For most people it is the entry point of Peru when flying in from overseas and also where most internal flights connect.
It was founded on the 18th of January 1535 by the Spanish, Francisco Pizzaro and now has a population of over 9 million people. It is the most populated city in the country and 3rd largest in Latin America.
There is a lot for visitors to do in this city, visiting the historical centre and seeing the Plaza de armas, the Basilica’s, the palaces.
One of my favourite things to do in Lima is a bicycle tour of the Miraflores area. Located by the sea its high up on the cliffs with lots of green parks and a great area to explore by bike.
Here also you can go paragliding and see the neighbourhoods and ocean from up high.
Barranco is now the coolest place to visit in Lima, with its art scene and historical architecture, it’s a place that everyone should visit, especially to see the market during the day and at night when it becomes Lima’s party scene.
If you enjoy visiting archaeological sites then Pucllana temple is located in miraflores and is one of the few pre-columbian ruins that remains. It was built around 500AD.
It was estimated that in 2018 over 3m people visited Cusco with 90% of tourists to Peru visiting Machu Picchu.
Cusco has founded in 1100’s and was the historic capital of the Inca’s until the Spanish conquest in the 1600’s. In 1983 it became a UNESCO world heritage site.
It is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the Andes mountain range.
There is so much to see and do in Cusco whether it is within walking distance of the centre or a little further out and a few hours drive away. It is one of my favourite places in Peru to visit.
It is also the starting point for visiting Machu Picchu or Choquequirao, my 2 favourite places in the world.
Arequipa is located in Southern Peru, just one hour from the coast. It is the 2nd largest city in Peru with a population of over 850,000. It was founded on the 15th August 1540 and it’s great to watch the celebrations if you are there then.
It is located 2,300 metres above sea level and is dominated by 3 volcanoes, Misti (for me the perfect shaped volcano), Pichu Pichu and Chachani.
You can hike to the top of Misti (5,822 metres ) or Chachani. (6,057 metres), though the hike to Misti is harder as you start at 3,500 metres.
There is so much to do in Arequipa, visiting the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, though a must see is Santa Catalina Monastery. It was home to around 150 nuns until it was badly damaged by lighting and earthquakes in the 1960’s.
A lot of people go to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa and this is an amazing hike and a great place to see Condors. I personally have done the 3 day hike twice and it is a much more relaxed hike than the 2 day one and you really get to appreciate the scenery while you are there.
Huacachina is located in southern Peru, around 5 hours south of Lima. It is a little oasis in the desert. A small village in the sand dunes which surrounds a lake. It is around 5km from the town of Ica.
To get to Huacachina you will need to get a bus from Lima to Ica and from Ica a taxi.
It is a great place to go to do sand boarding and one of the tours you can do in the area, includes riding the sand dunes in a buggy before sand boarding down the dunes.
Huacachina is only an hour from the coast and a great day trip from here is Paracas (the poor man’s Galapagos), worth a visit if you have a spare day, though if you have visited the real Galapagos then you may be disappointed.
Nazca is located in southern Peru around 8 hours from Lima, in one of the driest areas in Peru with only 4mm of rain annually.
Most people who visit Nazca are here to see the famous Nazca Lines, geoglphs etched into the ground, around 2,000 years ago.
A few of the lines you can see from nearby hills but the best view is from the air. If you do one of the flights then you normally get to see 12 of the 300 figures, some of them being the hummingbird, condor, monkey and astronaut.
If you are in Nazca longer then you could also visit the Cantalloc Aqueduct, Cahuachi ruins and the Chauchilla cemetry.
Huaraz is located in the Peruvian Andes in northern Peru, around 8 hours north of Lima at an altitude of 3,000 metres. It attracts many visitors for hiking, climbing, mountain biking and snow boarding.
The most famous day hike in the area has to be Laguna 69, a 6-8 hour hike up to an altitude of 4,600 metres to see the beautiful lake.
If you don’t like hiking then you can visit the nearby archaeological ruins of Chavin de Huantar or Huascaran National Park to visit Lagunas Llanganuco.
Huaraz is great for multi day hikes and the one I did was the 4 day Santa Cruz trek, where you hike mountain passes, see glaciers and visit stunning lakes.
The next hike I want to do in the area is the Huayhuash, you can do from 4-12 days hiking. I have seen the pictures and the scenery is stunning and I can’t wait to see for myself.
Chachapoyas is located in northern Peru at an altitude of 2,300 metres, it is in the mountains but is on the border of the jungle meaning that it can have quite high rainfall but without the humid temperatures of the jungle.
It is 10 hours on the bus from Chiclayo on the northern peruvian coast, or 15 hours from Trujillo, it also has an airport that you can fly into.
Chachapoyas is most famous for the nearby ruins of Kuelap. Built in the 6th Century AD on the top of a mountain at 3,000 metres, it is a walled settlement that was abandoned in 1570 following the Spanish conquest.
Most people visiting Chachapoyas will visit Kuelap and from 2017 you can now get a cable car that takes 20 minutes to get up to the site. Before you had to take the winding mountain road, which was a 4 hour drive!!
There is so much to see from Chachapoyas, I stayed a week and still didn’t see everything I wanted to see. You must visit though Kuelap, Gocta Waterfall, Yumbilla Waterfall, Sarcophagi of Karajia, Sonche Canyon.
Iquitos is known as the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon. It is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road, you either need to get a boat or fly in. It is a large city of around 500,000 people and very bustling.
It has been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, though it is only recorded as a city from 1757.
Most people in Peru who want to visit the Peruvian Amazon will start there journey from Iquitos. Around 250,000 people visit Iquitos each year, which is only 5% of the visitors to Peru.
There is so much to see and do here from visiting the old town and exploring the floating markets to a multi day trip into the jungle to see all the wildlife in the Amazon.
Huanchaco is the beach town located near Trujillo, the 3rd largest city in Peru. It is famous for it’s surf breaks and Caballitos de Totora (the reed boats used by the fishermen) and ceviche.
It is only 10 hours by bus from Lima and also has an airport meaning that a lot of Peruvians visit for the weekend from Lima. It is also a great place to stop to break up the bus journey to Mancora.
It was originally a fishing village, which became a port and now with the port moved in the 1900’s it attracts visitors from within the country and also other countries. It is very popular with surfers and it is believed that surfing originated in Huanchaco and not Hawaii.
It’s a place you come to and get stuck. There is something enchanting about the place. While writing this, it’s my 3rd summer here and I am not even a beach girl!! I have never surfed and hate sand but here I am living in this place and calling it home.
It’s not just a place for sun lovers and surfers, it also has a lot of archaeological sites nearby and you can go sand boarding on the nearby dunes.
If you are planning on staying in Huanchaco, then read my guides on:
Mancora is located on the coast in the north west of Peru around 3 hours from the border with Ecuador it’s known for it’s warm weather, warm sea and party vibe.
It attracts lots of tourists all year due to the climate with lots of water activities from Surfing, Kite Surfing, diving and snorkelling. It also has some beautiful beaches in the area.
The town has a lot of restaurants and bars and is perfect if you want to party, though you can find places to stay away from it.
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