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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 06 January, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

Peru is a land of jaw-dropping desert, mountain and rainforest landscapes, dotted with some of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the Americas. The food is fabulous, the people friendly and travel is great value; though roads can be rough and distances long.

The country’s west – where the Nazca lines are found – is dune-rolling desert; the centre rises to glacier-covered Andean peaks with fabulous hiking. To the east, the mountains drop into lush foothills teeming with wildlife – this is where Machu Picchu and the ruins of the Inca Empire are situated. Beyond is the giant Amazon rainforest.

Visits inevitably pass through Peru’s capital and international travel hub, Lima which has some fascinating Spanish colonial buildings and some of the best restaurants in Latin America.

Orientation

International flights arrive in Lima, the country’s sprawling, foggy capital on the central desert coast. From there, you’ll likely head off to one of six other main towns or regions depending on what you want to see and do: Arequipa, Cusco, Ica, Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado and Puno.

Lima

Sprawling along cliffs into untidy suburbs, and swathed in a seemingly perpetual sea mist, Lima isn’t a city that inspires love at first sight. But all international flights land here, and under that ugly surface, there’s plenty worth exploring – the old Spanish centre with its giant Earthquake-proof cathedral and eerie catacombs, the Peruvian restaurants of Miraflores which have the best fine dining in South America and the pre-Colombian ruins that dot the desert to the city’s north and south.

Arequipa

Huddling under the fuming cone of Misti Volcano, on the edge of high mountains and dry, gorge-cut desert and replete with fabulous Spanish-baroque buildings, Arequipa is Peru’s southern capital. It’s the jump-off point for the condor-soared Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world.

Cusco

Built in the shape of a giant Puma and sitting at the heart of an old ruined Empire, Cuzco is unmissable. There are fabulous Inca (and Spanish) buildings in the city itself – old palaces, massive forts and dozens within a day trip, including Machu Picchu – reachable on a glass-roofed train or on the Inca Trail; one of the world’s most magical long treks.

Ica

Set on a narrow ribbon of river in bone-dry desert, Ica is the hub city for visits to the Huacachina Oasis – a lake and village ringed by rolling dunes; for the Nazca Lines and for the wild, windswept coast and islands around Paracas, whose bird and sealife is protected in a string of national reserves.

Iquitos

Capital of the Northern Peruvian Amazon, this old rubber-boom city with opulent mansions and an art nouveau iron market designed by Gustave Eiffel, sits sultry on the banks of the giant river just as it enters Brazil. Close to a string of protected areas with genuine wilderness, it’s a hub for wildlife tourism and is easily reached from Lima by plane.

Puerto Maldenado

Capital of the Southern Amazon, this tiny town is the airport hub for the jungle lodges on the Tambopata River; one of the most biodiverse locations on Earth. This is where the Andes meets the Amazon and where wildlife documentaries – particularly those focusing on birds are filmed. The further upstream you go from Puerto, the wilder it gets.

Puno

Untidy, down-at-heel and sitting in rarefied air that will have you gasping, Puno town is no beauty; but you have to come here – by train or plane – to visit the islands and floating villages of Lake Titicaca. Boats and vans leave from the town to lodges and hotels in and around the lake.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes, Cusco Region, Peru

The Incas’ magnificent 15th-century mountaintop citadel sprawls across ten hectares of Peruvian cloud forest. Its elaborate architecture comprises ceremonial centres, residential areas and agricultural terraces. Wayna Picchu, the cone-shaped mountain, rises imperiously behind.

Best for ages: 8+ | £28

Hike the Inca Trail

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

A once-in-a-lifetime, 4- to 5-day hike through the Andes, retracing ancient trails, combines mountain vistas, cloud forest and subtropical jungle. The finale is incredible – the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, rising from the misty mountains.

Best for ages: 18+ | £377 | 4-5 days

Cruise the River Amazon

Iquitos, Loreto Region, Peru

A voyage deep into the Amazon rainforest brings dazzling wildlife encounters as well as visits to local communities and opportunities for trekking, fishing and kayaking.

Best for ages: 13+ | Varies | 4 days +

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Overview >

Colca Canyon

Arequipa Region, Peru

One of the world’s deepest canyons – twice the depth of the Grand Canyon – with soaring Condors and ancient pre-Columbian terraces still farmed today.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

An old pier covered in birds, with a flock of birds flying above
Experience

Ballestas Islands

Paracas, Ica Region, Peru

This archipelago of rocky islands off Paracas is a haven for rare sea birds, Humboldt penguins, sealions and fur seals. Daily boat tours operate from hotels in the Paracas Reserve.

Best for ages: 5+ | £2

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Overview >
The ancient site seen from afar, with mountains in the background
Experience

Caral

Lima, Lima Region, Peru

The remains of the oldest city in the Americas, dating back 5,000 years, with pyramids and plazas carved out of the desert. It’s well worth the drive to this little-visited spot, 180km north of Lima.

Best for ages: 18+ | £2

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Overview >
Town square and market with small church viewed from across the valley.
Experience

Chinchero village

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

This little village in the Sacred Valley near Cusco is a centre for traditional indigenous weaving in Peru. It has a lively market and ancient Inca agricultural terraces.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Overview >
A golden sculpture of a face, with gemstones
Experience

Gold Museum

Lima, Lima Region, Peru

One of the world’s largest collections of pre-Colombian Peruvian gold, more than 7,000 artefacts, includes items from Inca, Sican and Moche culture. The museum also houses an extensive collection of weapons from around the world, dating back to the 13th century. Open daily.

Best for ages: 13+ | £6

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

10-day Tour from Lima: Amazon Jungle, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca

10-day Tour from Lima: Amazon Jungle, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca

Lima

Explore Peru on a 10 day tour from Lima. Fly to the Amazon Jungle and see native wildlife in their natural habitat. Visit the Sacred Valley ...

$2,090 | Rating 4.71 / 5 [7 ratings]

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7-Day Lima and Cusco Tour with Sunrise at Machu Picchu

7-Day Lima and Cusco Tour with Sunrise at Machu Picchu

Lima

Discover the very best of both Lima and Cusco on a 7-day tour of Peru. Visit the famous landmarks and government buildings of Lima before he...

$869 | Rating 4.31 / 5 [82 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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7-Day Peru Deep Dive: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu Tour

7-Day Peru Deep Dive: Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu Tour

Lima

Take a tour to Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. This 7-day adventure is perfect for any group whether it be couples, familie...

$899 | Rating 4.76 / 5 [13 ratings]

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8-Day Tour from Lima: Machu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle

8-Day Tour from Lima: Machu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle

Lima

Go on an 8-day adventure in Peru and enjoy your vacation to the fullest as you visit incredible places. Travel to Cusco and wander through t...

$1,670 | Rating 4.90 / 5 [11 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Skylodge Adventure Suites

Ollantaytambo, Cusco Region, Peru

Extraordinary glass-walled pods pinned to the side of the canyon offer a condor’s view of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, but getting there is scary.

Official star rating:

El Mercado

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Good-value, centrally located hotel with modern rooms fitted into the cloisters of the Spanish-colonial market.

Official star rating:

El Retablo

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

A tranquil, family-run guesthouse sits in up-and-coming, arty San Blas neighbourhood, with views of central Cusco at every street corner.

Official star rating:

Treehouse Lodge

Loreto Region, Peru

Comfortable rooms perched over the rainforest canopy in a remote, wild area of the Peurvian Amazon.

Official star rating:

When to go

The peak travel season is June to August, when the weather is clearest in the Andes. The shoulder seasons (April-May, September-October) are less crowded, though there may be occasional rain. June to August (the dry season) is also best for travel to the Amazon, as it’s the optimal time to see wildlife.

The coast comes to life in summer (late November-early March). Note that the Inca Trail shuts down for the entire month of February.

Getting there and away

The main international airport – Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez – is in Lima. From here, there are domestic flights to Arequipa, Cuzco (for visits to Machu Picchu), Puno (for Lake Titicaca) and Puerto Maldonado (for the southern Amazon) among other destinations.

Getting around

To avoid hours or even days on a bus you will need to fly pretty much everywhere except Trujillo from Lima. Planes and buses (around 6 hrs) connect Cuzco to Arequipa. Trains connect Cuzco to Machu Picchu and Puno (overnight). To reach either Iquitos or Puerto Maldonado you will need to fly from either Lima or Cusco.

Private river transfers to jungle lodges are included in their room prices and lodge staff will meet you at the airport. It is possible to continue from either Amazon city into Brazil by boat or (from Puerto Maldonado) by bus.

Where to stay

In Lima, the best places to stay are the well-heeled, contiguous neighbourhoods of San Isidro and Miraflores. These areas are safe, have plentiful restaurants and are convenient for the city’s main sights.

In Cuzco and Arequipa, the historic city centres have an array of charming hotel options that lie within walking distance of most major attractions.

If visiting Lake Titicaca, the most peaceful hotels are the ones that lie outside of Puno outskirts, on the shores of the lake or on islands.

Amazon travellers should plan on spending a few nights at an all-inclusive rainforest lodge. It’s often the only way to access the reserves, and the lodges offer a complement of jungle tours and activities.