There are 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 too!
Things to do in Peru
We've had the luxury of visiting Peru a couple of times.
From cruising the Amazon River to sliding down the massive dunes of its magnificent desert, Peru is surprising, diverse, welcoming and beautiful!
Peru is a massive country and you can't see it all in just a short two-week trip.
We highly recommend choosing a portion of Peru to visit instead of trying to see it all at once.
So we've broken it up into sections to help you decide to make the most of your time in Peru!
You Can skip to the sections below
The Andes - Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cuzco, Rainbow Mountain
Lima - Top things to do in. Lima
Southern Peru- is an entirely another are deserving its separate tour
Peruvian Desert - Arequipa, Huaccuchina, Isla Ballestas and Nazca
The Amazon - Iquitos, The Amazon
Part 1. Lima
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. But better yet stay two or three days!
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.
2. 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.
3. Paraglide Mira Flores
If you are looking for things to do in Peru with a little adrenaline attached, this is for you. It's one of the easiest places in the world to go paragliding. Just walk down to the cliffs of Mira Flores and ask the guys to take you paragliding over the city.
The tour takes you along the coast and over Mira Flores and it's a thrill of a lifetime.
Book a Lima Day Tour
We use Get Your Guide to book city and day tours. It's an easy place to book last minute and you can cancel with ease.
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.
Suggested Tours and Resources for Peru
Get Your Guide offers great day tours and savings for city and getting out of town.
Lonely Planet Peru Travel Guide - We still love using guide books and Lonely Planet has always been our go to.
Planning on any Peru Treks? You may want to get this Peru trekking guide with information on Cusco and Arequipa Regions by Lonely Planet
4-Hour Walking Tour of Lima's Historic City Centre - There is a lot of history in Lima's city centre and the best way to see it all is on a walking tour
Lima City Bus Tour - Take a quick highlight tour of Lima on an open air bus. Stopping at places like Huaca Pucllana, the San Martin Square, the Main Square,
Lima Pisco Pub Crawl - The best way to make new friends is on a pub crawl and this one features Peru's national drink the Pisco Sour.
Airport Transfer - Book your easy transfer from the airport to downtown. A drive will be waiting with your name at the gate!
Part 2. Amazon
It took us a couple of trips before visiting the Amazon and I wish we went sooner. It is a spectacular destination.
Filled with wildlife, secluded villages and amazing scenery, you can book huts and resorts on the Amazon River or take an Amazon cruise.
4. Amazon River Cruise
We joined International Expeditions on the luxurious riverboat where we went deep into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.
Leaving from Iquitos we 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.
The Amazon is the longest river in the world.
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
Dave broke his back while traveling in the Amazon, see why you need travel insurance
It's worth spending a few days exploring Iquitos. It is the largest city in the world that is not accessible by road. You can get there by plane or boat.
There are wildlife sanctuaries, local communities and colonial buildings to discover.
With 400,000 residents, there are plenty of things to do. From dining, bars and museums.
6. Scenic Flight
If you don't have enough time for a cruise, a scenic flight over the Amazon Basin is a close second.
If you do go on a cruise, be sure to splurge on a scenic flight to see it from above. The Amazon is massive and impressive from the sky.
Plan Your Trip to Peru
- Ready to fly to Peru? Check out Cheap Flights here.
- Most countries don't need to purchase a visa to Peru, but you can check on specifics at Lima Easy.com
- Make sure you have travel insurance. We never travel without it and recommend World Nomads for short-term trips. If you are looking for something more long-term check out Allianz Travel Insurance. Read more about the value of Travel Insurance here.
- Don't forget that the water in Peru is not drinkable. We recommend bringing along the Lifestraw Go Waterbottle. We bring this with us everywhere.
- Need Data? KnowRoaming offers unlimited data and roaming for $7.99 per day. Planetd readers receive a 50% discount with code DDSave30. Read our review here.
Part 3. Andes
The Andes are a striking destination that should not be missed with traveling to Peru. The massive peaks surprised us with their grandeur.
But it shouldn't have been surprising since the Andes are the highest mountain range in the world outside of Asia with the highest peak reaching 6,961 m (22,838 ft).
7. Flight to Cusco
Tip: Book the window seat for amazing views and if you have limited time, fly around the country.
The flight to Cusco from Lima is an excursion unto itself and one of the top things to do in Peru.
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.
Cusco is located at a high altitude of 3300 metres and is the jumping off point for trekking to Machu Picchu.
Don't miss seeing the Plaza des, Armes.
Note: Cocoa tea helps with the altitude, but a trip to the travel doctor before leaving your home country for some Diamox will help greatly.
9. Sacred Valley
If you can't trek to Machu Picchu, a good option is to see the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is an impressive Inca City that you will have the chance to explore.
Surrounded by the Andes, we also walked along its agricultural terraces among the Andes mountains.
We use Get Your Guide for day tours when traveling.
You can book a trek through the Sacred Valley in advance with Get Your Guide. They also have easy cancellation and you can book last minute too.
More Cusco Day Trips
Book the Train to Machu Picchu.
If you want to see Machu Picchu but don't have time for the trek, you can book a train from Cusco. But book tickets in advance.
We went to the ticket office to buy our train ticket to Aguas Calientes the day after we arrived.
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! So we had to wait.
Plus the only tickets available were the VIP Vistadome Tickets. It cost us a lot more money than expected by not being prepared.
You can book tickets in advance at Peru Rail.
If you want more of a guided tour with fewer hassles, Get Your Guide is a tour company we often use and you can get your ticket s online.
Book Train Tickets with Get your Guide
10. Machu Picchu
The VIP Train was worth the price and the wait. The glass ceiling allowed us to see the entire view of the Andes and it was incredible.
The train goes from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes is where you spend the night before visiting Machu Picchu.
Why you should buy tickets the day before for Machu Picchu
There was already a crowd when we got to the bus at 4:30 am. After a slow ride up intense switchbacks, 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!)
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 backdrop is absolutely stunning. It is even a bit of a thrill to be there.
11. Hike the Inca Trail
"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."
Machu Picchu Tours
12. Hike Rainbow Mountain
The hike to and from Rainbow Mountain is a day-long trek 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, don't even think about trying the trek until you've spent a few days getting used to the elevation of the Cusco region.
Contribution by Irreverent Progress. Read more from him at 6 Things to Expect when Hiking Rainbow Mountain
Part 4. Peruvian Desert
Peru has one of the most impressive deserts outside Africa. The sand dunes are filled with adventures just waiting to be had!
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 and a must add to your list of things to do in Peru.
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 backyard.
14. Dune Hiking
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.
There was nothing better than hiking to the top of a dune watch the sun go down.
We love snowboarding so naturally, when we visited some of the highest sand dunes in the world we had to try sand boarding.
We weren’t as good at it as snowboarding. 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.
16. Dune Buggy Ride
You must take a dune buggy excursion here. It was the most heart-pounding, thrilling rides 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.
Part 5. Southern Peru
17. Pisco Wine Tour
Peru has good wine. We hired a driver for a day fromHuacachina to explore the nearby vineyards.
The owners are welcoming and friendly and let you taste a lot of wine.
While you are at it, be sure to taste the local spirit of Pisco!
18. Isla Ballestas
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 wildlife.
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.
19. Nazca Lines.
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.
20. Try the Local Cuisine
When visiting Peru, you must try some of the local cuisines. 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)
21. Tour Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is located at the Bolivian border and the floating houses are a highlight.
It's the 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.
22. 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 Huacachina region, this is a great trip as it's only 5 hours away!
23. Trek the Huayhuash Circuit
Contribution by Miguel of TravelSauro
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.
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
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!