Peru is one of the great centers of ancient civilization. The Norte Chico civilization already flourished along the Pacific coast as early as 3,000 BC. Many other civilizations such as the Moche, Chavin, Chimú and Nazca would follow, leaving behind fascinating ruins and artifacts.
The most famous ancient ruins in Peru were built by the sun-worshiping Incas who emerged in the 15th century and would form the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
You do not need to be a history buff to enjoy Peru however. Other popular tourist attractions in Peru are some great natural wonders. The Andes run the full length of the country, rising to almost 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). It separates the arid coastal strip from the lush Amazon rainforest providing a diverse range of things to do in Peru and the opportunity for some fun travel experiences.
In this post, we'll cover:
25. Inca Pisac
Spread out on the mountains above the bustling colonial village of Pisac are several impressive Inca ruins known as Inca Pisac. The ruins include a military citadel, religious temples, and individual dwellings, and overlooks the Sacred Valley.
It is thought that Inca Písac defended the southern entrance to the valley and controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest.
Once considered a principal center of the Inca Empire, the site also contains agricultural terraces that cling to the sides of the mountain.
If you plan to visit Pisac, you would be well advised to go in the morning, as the site gets very crowded in the afternoon.
24. Plaza de Armas in Lima
The Plaza de Armas is where the city of Lima was born. Also known as the Plaza Mayor, it is the heart of the city, located in its historic district, with streets radiating out in a grid. The location was picked by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535.
The square is flanked by some of Lima’s most important buildings. They include the Cathedral of Lima, the Government Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral and the Government Palace are open to visitors, while the square is a popular tourist destination.
Plaza de Armas is also the site of many important events and ceremonies, including military parades, political rallies, and Independence Day celebrations.
At any given time, the square is a hub of activity. Numerous street performers, vendors, and residents congregate throughout the day and into the evening.
See also: Where to Stay in Lima
Moray is an ancient Inca ruin located in the Cusco region of Peru. It consists of several large circular terraces carved into the earth.
The terraces descend into the ground, with each having its microclimate. Remarkably, the temperature difference between the top and bottom of the site can vary as much as 15°C.
The exact purpose of Moray is not known. However, as the Incas were skilled farmers, it could have been used for agricultural experimentation and to study the effects of different climates on crops.
Visitors to Moray can explore the terraces and the circular depressions, which are still partially intact. The site is not far from the town of Maras and is easily reachable by taxi or bike.
Kuelap combines ancient ruins with a cloud forest and the Amazon River.
An imposing fortress surrounded by towering stone walls, it was built by the Chachapoyans, also known as the Cloud People. They were a pre-Columbian civilization that existed in the region before the arrival of the Incas.
The ruin contains hundreds of buildings, including circular homes, tombs, and ceremonial structures, all made with massive stone blocks.
Situated on a mountaintop, it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Visitors can explore the massive walls and the stone buildings up close, some of which still contain intricate carvings and detailed paintings.
To get to the ruins, you can drive from the nearby city of Chachapoyas. After visiting them, you can also explore nearby waterfalls and hot springs.
21. Cordillera Blanca
The Cordillera Blanca is a unique and beautiful region located in the Ancash region of Peru.
One of the highest tropical mountain ranges in the world, it is home to jaw-dropping landscapes of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, turquoise lakes, and lush vegetation.
The Cordillera Blanca is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The region offers many things to do like hiking, trekking, rock climbing, and mountain biking.
One of the most popular destinations in the range includes Huascarán National Park, which houses the highest peak in Peru. The Laguna 69 is also an exquisite turquoise lake set within a glacial valley that many people visit.
If you come to the Cordillera Blanca, you should prepare for the high altitude. The range rises to over 6,000 meters in some places!
Built by the Incas, Sacsayhuaman is an ancient walled complex near Cusco. It is one of the most impressive examples of Inca military architecture still standing in Peru.
The site consists of a series of massive stone walls. Built using giant stone blocks, they fit together so precisely you cannot insert a knife between them.
Some of the stones weigh over 100 tons, and it is a mystery how the Incas were able to transport and place them.
Sacsayhuaman was a fortress and played a crucial role as a line of defense for Cusco. But its exact purpose is still not understood.
Visitors to Sacsayhuaman can explore the massive stone walls and walk along the terraces. They also offer stunning views of Cusco and the surrounding landscape.
If you are interested in the pre-Columbian cultures of South America, then you should pay a visit to Sipán.
An archaeological site in the Lambayeque region of Peru, it served as the capital of the Moche culture. A pre-Columbian civilization that lived in the area between 100 and 700 AD.
The site was discovered in 1987 and is considered one of the richest archaeological discoveries in recent times.
It consists of a series of pyramids and other structures, as well as a large number of burials. These burials contained the remains of Moche rulers and their families and gold, silver, food and textiles. The Lord of Sipan, who reigned around 100 AD, has been called the King Tut of the Americas because of the richness of his tomb.
Visitors to Sipán can tour the site to see the tombs. They can also visit the fascinating museum that exhibits the region’s history.
18. Salinas de Maras
The Salinas de Maras are a series of salt ponds along the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain in the Urumbamba Valley.
A unique and beautiful sight, it features thousands of shallow pools that stretch out across the hillside, surrounded by the lush green mountains of the Andes. The salt pans are believed to have been developed in pre-Inca times and today are still actively hand-harvested by local families during the dry season, May through November.
Visitors to Salinas can walk along the terraces and see the salt production process first-hand. They can even try the salt themselves.
The site is at a high altitude so it is worth preparing yourself for the thin air and the potential for altitude sickness, should you wish to visit it.
17. Manu National Park
This vast national park in the Amazon Basin is one of the best places in South America to see a stunning variety of tropical wildlife. Manu National Park also contains a varied range of ecosystems. These include cloud forests, high-Andean grassland, and lowland tropical rainforest.
It is located in the Peruvian Amazon and is known for its rich avian biodiversity. Over 1,000 species of birds have been recorded in the park, making it a paradise for birdwatchers and ornithologists. Some notable bird species include Harpy Eagle, Marvelous Spatuletail, and Andean Cock-of-the-rock.
Visitors to Manu National Park can experience the incredible beauty and diversity of the Amazon Basin. They can also visit indigenous communities and learn about their traditional way of life.
Those who want to stay overnight can choose from several lodges and camping options.
Remote, spectacular, and still not entirely cleared, Choquequirau is the sister city of Machu Picchu.
The site covers a large area and includes many well-preserved structures. These include plazas, terraces, agricultural fields, and ceremonial buildings. It also possesses an intricate network of roads and paths that connected Choquequirao to other parts of the Inca Empire.
Nestled on a high plateau overlooking the Apurimac River, the site also showcases stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Visitors to Choquequirao can hike to the site from the nearby town of Cachora. This journey takes several days and requires a good level of physical fitness. The trail is not as well-trodden as the one to Machu Picchu, so visitors will likely have the site to themselves when they eventually reach it.
Tours leave Cusco on demand and pretty much daily during tourist season.
15. Pisac Market
The Pisac Market is a colourful and bustling market located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Held every day, it is one of the region’s largest and most famous markets. Vendors sell a wide range of goods, including handmade textiles, pottery, jewellery, and other souvenirs. Some stalls sell fresh produce and meats, while others offer ready-to-eat meals like ceviche.
Many of the goods sold are handmade and distinctive to the area. Browsing the market is one of the most popular things to do in Peru and you can find some fantastic souvenirs here.
Visitors should be aware that haggling is commonplace at the Pisac Market, so be prepared to negotiate on prices.
14. Paracas National Reserve
Paracas National Reserve is one of the country’s most important wildlife reserves.
Incorporating desert and coastal areas, it includes most of the Paracas Peninsula and the Ballestas Islands.
Located on the southern coast near Pisco, the reserve is home to several threatened and endangered wildlife species, like the Humboldt penguin, the Peruvian booby, and the South American sea lion. It is also a prime nesting site for several breeds of migratory birds, including the American flamingo.
As well as birding and wildlife watching, visitors to Paracas National Reserve can enjoy guided tours of the Ballestas Islands.
There are also several tours available that take you out to the desert to explore the dunes and see the famous Paracas Candelabra.
Ollantaytambo is an ancient Inca temple and fortress as well as a village located at the northwestern end of the Sacred Valley. This is where the Incas retreated after the Spanish took Cuzco. Below the ruins is the old town of Ollantaytambo.
The town is notable for its its strategic location as a starting point for the Machu Picchu trek.
The ruins include terraced hillsides, plazas, and several monumental structures. Two of the most significant of them are the Temple of the Sun and the Baths of the Princess.
If you are interested in the history and culture of the Andes Mountains and the Inca Empire, you should pay a visit to Ollantaytambo. Visitors can explore the ruins individually or via a tour with an expert local guide.
12. Miraflores District
Miraflores is one of Lima’s most affluent and modern neighborhoods.
Located on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, it offers stunning views of the sea and the surrounding city. Making it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. This Pacific Ocean beach also is popular with surfers and paragliders.
The district is known for its attractive parks, including the Parque Kennedy, which serves as a hub of cultural and social activities. Miraflores is also home to several museums and cultural centres and has a vibrant nightlife scene. With plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants offering international and local cuisine.
For those who want to go shopping, you will find a variety of shopping centres and boutiques in the area. Between them, they offer everything from high-end designer labels to local artisanal crafts.
11. Chan Chan
The vast adobe city of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley of northern Peru was once the largest city in pre-Columbian America. It is estimated that around 60,000 people lived in the city.
The city was built by the Chimu around 850 AD and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in 1470 AD. Although Chan Chan must have been a dazzling sight at the time, devastating floods and heavy rainfall have severely eroded the mud walls of the city. Today the most impressive aspect of the site is its sheer size.
The ruins are composed of ten distinct walled citadels, or ‘palaces’. Each of these was the residence of a different Chimu ruler.
The palaces feature intricate mud-brick designs, including ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings. All tell the story of the Chimu people and their fascinating way of life.
Surrounded by impressive dunes, Huacachina is a small desert oasis that is a popular destination for adventure-seekers.
Located in the Ica region of southern Peru, it is home to a small, scenic lake surrounded by lush vegetation.
One of the main things to do in Huacachina is sandboarding. A practice involving riding down the steep dunes on a board similar to a snowboard. It is a popular activity for visitors of all ages, and several local companies offer guided sandboarding tours.
In addition to sandboarding, visitors can also go on dune buggy tours, which take them on a scenic tour of the surrounding desert. The tours typically include stops at some of the tallest dunes in the area. Therefore, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Máncora is a quaint beach town known for its idyllic stretch of sand and clear blue waters.
Located in the Piura region, it is a popular destination for tourists and surfers, who view it as one of the best surfing spots in Peru.
Visitors to Máncora can enjoy the warm sun, cool ocean breezes, and beautiful scenery. They can also sunbathe, swim, snorkel, beach comb, or go for a long walk.
In addition to its beaches, Máncora is also known for its vibrant nightlife. It boasts numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs that come alive after dark. Whether you are after a relaxing day at the beach or a night out on the town, Máncora has something to offer everyone.
8. Iquitos & the Amazon
Iquitos is a city located in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. It is the largest city in the world that is not reachable by road and is only accessible by river or air.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and is home to hundreds of plant and animal species. According to some, the Peruvian Amazon jungle is a better adventure holiday destination than its Brazilian counterpart around Manaus, with basically the same wildlife but less spoiled and better value.
Visitors to Iquitos and the Amazon can explore this incredible ecosystem through various activities. One of the main attractions in the Amazon is the river cruises, which offer tourists a chance to see the rainforest from a unique perspective.
Visitors to the Amazon can also participate in jungle hikes, which take them into the heart of the rainforest.
7. Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs in south Peru’s Nazca Desert. They are large drawings that depict various shapes and figures, including animals, plants, and geometric designs.
The lines were created, possibly for religious or astronomical purposes, by members of the Nazca culture. They inhabited the region from 200 BC to 700 AD.
Best seen from the air, the lines of the designs are too large to be fully appreciated from the ground.
Visitors to the Nazca Lines can book a flight tour over them to get a bird’s eye view of the designs. It enables them to see the lines in their entirety and to fully appreciate the sheer scale and incredible beauty of the drawings.
6. Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa
Founded in 1579, The Santa Catalina Monastery is a historic convent residing in Arequipa.
The convent is known for its well-preserved colonial-era architecture. It includes, most strikingly, its traditional Andean-style courtyards, bright yellow walls, and red-tiled roofs.
Within its interior, the convent is also known for its intricate design, such as frescoes, sculptures, and beautiful colonial-era furnishings.
In recent years, the Santa Catalina Monastery has become one of the top tourist attractions in Arequipa. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about its history, beautiful architecture and art.
They can also immerse themselves in the tranquil atmosphere of its beautiful gardens. When you want a break from the fast pace of the city, this convent is an excellent place to come.
5. Uros Islands
The Uros Islands are an intriguing group of floating islands upon Lake Titicaca.
These islands are home to the Uros people, who have lived there for centuries. They have built their homes and boats out of totora reeds, which grow in abundance in the lake.
Tourists to the Uros Islands can take a boat tour from Puno, the nearest city, to see the islands. There they can learn about the Uros people and their way of life. Visitors can also interact with the locals, learn about their traditional customs, and purchase handmade crafts.
In addition to its cultural significance, the Uros Islands also offer stunning views of Lake Titicaca and the surrounding Andes Mountains.
4. Plaza de Armas of Cusco
The Plaza de Armas has always been the heart of Cusco, from the time of the Inca Empire when the square was called Huacaypata or Aucaypata, to modern day.
The plaza is carefully landscaped with plenty of benches and walls for sitting, making it a popular outdoor lunch destination. Surrounded by the Cathedral of Cusco, the Palace of the Inca Rulers, and the Church of La Merced, the square has a rich history.
It has served as a gathering place for the residents of Cusco for centuries. In the past, it held prominent religious and military events, including ceremonies and parades.
Today, the Plaza de Armas of Cusco is a popular tourist attraction and a hub of activity in the city. Visitors can stroll around the square, admire its historic architecture, and enjoy the lively atmosphere. It is also a great place to people-watch and sample the local cuisine from one of its many outdoor cafes and restaurants.
3. Colca Canyon
Travelers who think the U.S. Grand Canyon is deep are likely to change their minds after visiting Colca Canyon in southern Peru. At 4,160 meters (13,650 feet), Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, though the canyon’s walls are less steep.
The big attraction here, in addition to the awesome sights, are the Andean condors. The condors can be seen at fairly close range as they float on the rising thermals.
Visitors to the Colca Canyon can take a scenic drive along the canyon road, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the canyon itself. There are also several hiking trails to explore. Some of which take you to isolated and beautiful hot springs.
2. Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is an iconic hiking trail that leads to Machu Picchu, the famous Incan citadel. It is approximately 42 km (26 miles) long and takes around four days to complete.
The trail passes through different scenic landscapes, including Andean mountain ranges, cloud forests, and valleys. It is a strenuous trek due to its high altitude and steep inclines and not an easy thing to do. So, it should only be attempted by people in good physical condition.
The trail is only accessible by a licensed tour operator, and only a limited number of permits are issued daily to preserve the site.
May to September are the best months to make the multi-day hike. Hikers should be prepared for cold nights on the trail.
Before attempting the trail, it is worth spending a few days in Cusco. Doing so will help you adjust to the high altitude before starting the trek.
1. Machu Picchu
One of the most beautiful and impressive ancient sites in the world, Machu Picchu is the indisputable #1 among the top tourist attractions in Peru. The “Lost City of the Incas” is invisible from the Urubamba Valley below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs.
Although known locally, Machu Picchu was largely unknown to the outside world before being rediscovered in 1911 by historian Hiram.
Dating back to the 15th century, the site was abandoned during the Spanish conquest a century later. It was only rediscovered in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu is known for its well-preserved stone structures, intricate stonework, and impressive architectural and engineering feats.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and is now visited by thousands of tourists annually.
If you intend to go there, you should book as far in advance of your visit as possible. It is also worth hiring a certified guide to maximize your experience.