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40 Best things to see & do in Peru

  • Peru

Last updated: 24 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson
  • Aguas Calientes, Cusco Region, Peru

A view of Machu Picchu ruins from a viewpoint

Bucket List Experience

Machu Picchu

Even if you’ve seen the view in a thousand pictures, you will be blown away: clouds drifting up the lush valley, the newly-risen sun burning them away and drawing the veil from the face of Huayna Picchu mountain and the cascade of ruin-strewn terraces below.

Welcome to one of South America’s most iconic sights: the remarkable Inca citadel that lay undisturbed for centuries, only to come to international attention after a National Geographic expedition in 1911.

This Inca City was lost for centuries in the cloud forest, until it was romantically ‘re-discovered’ by explorer Hiram Bingham (with the help of locals who always knew it was there). Straddling a high mountain ridge, it was famously bult as the Inca’s secret final refuge – but you can’t help thinking they chose the location for the view.

It was abandoned around the time of the Spanish Conquest, and remains relatively intact because it was never discovered by the Conquistadors.

Adult price: £28

Good for age: 13+

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Beautiful green mountains

Bucket List Experience

Hike the Inca Trail

Plunging valleys dripping with waterfalls, snow-capped peaks looming overhead, Inca ruins cresting high mountain ridges surrounded by hummingbird-filled cloud forest – and the mist rising off Machu Picchu itself, warmed by the rising sun; the Inca Trail truly is one of the world’s greatest treks. 

But it’s no walk in the park. The four-day route follows an ancient Inca road for 43km; rising and falling over passes and valleys and reaching a maximum elevation at the ominously-named Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200 metres. It’s breathy, muscle-aching work, but the views of lost Inca ruins and spectacular scenery make it an unforgettable experience. 

The standard trek takes four days; however, some operators offer the option of five days on the trail. This allows for a more leisurely pace and time to linger and explore some of the Inca ruins along the way.

Adult price: ££377

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 4-5 days

  • Iquitos, Loreto Region, Peru

Cruise the River Amazon

Bucket List Experience

Cruise the River Amazon

Travel deep into the humid rainforest on a small expedition boat to explore the headwaters of the Peruvian Amazon, one of the most inaccessible areas on the planet.

Most expeditions start in Iquitos and take you to the wildlife-rich Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, sailing along broad, muddy rivers, the bottle-green forest stretching in every direction, scarlet macaws flying overhead and occasionally, pink river dolphins swimming alongside the ship.

Expert guides lead forays ashore in search of three-toed sloths, howler and capuchin monkeys, while flat-bottomed skiffs take you along the skinny, snaking waterways of this flooded landscape to look for caiman, turtles and piranhas.

There are frequent encounters with indigenous tribes, offering a fascinating cultural insight. Kayaking, piranha fishing and swimming in freshwater river pools are all on offer.

An intrepid spirit is essential for these adventurous expeditions, which tend to attract a well-travelled crowd.

Adult price: £Varies

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 4 days +

  • Huaraz, Ancash Region, Peru

A traveller looks at the Cordillera Blanca landscape

Bucket List Experience

Hike the Santa Cruz Circuit

The Santa Cruz Circuit is the gold standard of short Andes hikes, and one of the most beautiful walks in South America. The landscapes are magnificent and the 50km trail – which takes three or four days – is doable for the moderately fit.

You won’t see long ridges of 5,000m-high, snow-capped peaks hiking on the Inca Trail around Cusco. But you will on the Santa Cruz hike, which cuts through the heart of the Cordillera Blanca – the highest range of mountains in the tropics. The trail runs through plunging valleys dotted with clear-water lakes, climbs over breathy passes, and passes by the giant 6,768m peak of Huascaran – the tallest mountain in Peru.

The Santa Cruz trek is the short counterpart to the even more spectacular, but longer and more challenging, Huayhuash circuit. Opt for Santa Cruz if you’ve only one week to spare and have concerns about altitude sickness.

Adult price: £500+

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 6-8 hours

  • Lima, Lima Region, Peru

Close up of a ceviche dish

Bucket List Experience

Lima’s best food & drink

If there’s one reason to stop over in Lima it’s the food. The city has some of the finest restaurants in the world – with chefs like Virgilio Martínez, Jaime Pesaque and Gastón Acurio ranked in the World’s ‘Fifty Best’ on the exclusive San Pellegrino list.

What makes Lima chefs so exciting is their virtuoso fusion of unique national ingredients with Asian and European techniques. Star chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino has a plate on his degustation comprising only potatoes arranged to look like beach pebbles – all from different Andean locations with astonishing, divergent flavours.

Peruvian-Japanese Micha Tsumura serves fiery tiger milk tuna tiraditos alongside river-fish sushi, and 50-hour-cooked Amazonian beef.

You could spend a week in the gastro-hub suburbs of San Isidro, Miraflores and Barranco and get a mere taste of the exciting scene. But be sure to dine in Astrid y Gaston – the pioneer of Lima gastronomy and Central, by Michelin-starred Virgilio Martínez.

For a sense of the huge variety of ingredients Lima’s top chefs draw on visit Mercado No1 de Surquillo – packed with exotic fruit, vegetables and medicinal plants. It’s also a good spot to sample simple ceviche, but don’t focus on the street food – Lima’s all about fine dining.

Adult price: £35

Good for age: 18+

  • Huaraz, Ancash Region, Peru

Hike the Huayhuash Circuit

Bucket List Experience

Hike the Huayhuash Circuit

Hikers in the know call this the greatest alpine trek in the world. Mountain scenery just doesn’t get better – steep valleys of jagged snow-capped peaks reaching heights of over 6,000m, dotted with icy blue lakes; fiery razor-sharp ridges caught in the setting sun, high glaciers, condors flying over fields of grazing vicunas…

On the way you pass some of the most spectacular peaks in the Andes including Siulá Grande, site of Joe Simpson’s epic ‘Touching the Void’; and 6634 metre-high Yerupajá, the second-tallest mountain in the tropics.

Be aware that Huayhuash is a long, tiring high-altitude walk that makes the Inca Trail look like a stroll. Most hikers do the circuit itself in around 11-12 days. You’ll need at least two weeks including essential acclimatisation.

Adult price: £1000

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 12 days

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Aerial view of the Cusco town in Peru

Bucket List Experience

A day in Cusco

Cusco was the Inca capital, laid out in the shape of a giant puma, sitting at the heart of an empire that stretched to Ecuador and Bolivia. It was from Cuzco that the Incas administered their vast empire and the city centre’s tight grid, laid out in the 1400s, still bears their mark – as well as that of their conquerors, the Spanish.

Inca foundations are capped with Mediterranean-style structures, and the sun temple has an adjacent baroque church. Inca ruins litter the city – the bell-shaped Qoricancha temple, hulking Sacsayhuaman fort with its massive ramparts and Inca walls everywhere – jigsaw-pieced together from huge boulders, cut into bewildering geometric shapes. There are Spanish treasures too – magnificent churches and convents decorated with art made by indigenous Peruvian artisans.

Today, Cusco is the official ‘historic capital’ of Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet many visitors use Cusco merely as a base for Machu Picchu, and miss out on all these sights.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 1 day

  • Arequipa Region, Peru

Mountains in Colca Canyon

Bucket List Experience

Colca Canyon

Two kilometres deep, surrounded by steaming volcanoes, and with condors soaring on the thermals, Colca Canyon is one of Peru’s great natural wonders. It’s twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, far wilder and has wonderful views at every turn.

Day-trippers come to peer over the rim and spot condors. Trekkers hike the rugged trails, stopping to soak in the hot springs or swim in the icy Colca River, which ribbons the canyon floor. And farmers still till the soil on the ancient valley terraces cut long before the Spanish arrived.

Good for age: 13+

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

A train winding through green mountains

Bucket List Experience

Hiram Bingham Train

If you’re not hiking the Inca Trail, this is the way to reach the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in comfort and style. Starting from the former Inca capital at Cusco, you’re whisked through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, past the towering Inca fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo before entering the rainforest-shrouded Urubamba Valley.

Named after the man who rediscovered the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, this specially built narrow-gauge train has opulent carriages redolent of 1920s Pullman cars, with comfortable armchairs surrounded by varnished wood and brass fittings. Food is served in the dining car on fine white linen; dishes feature local ingredients in unfamiliar ways (with abundant Pisco Sours). A band plays Peruvian music with the cajón and tambourines in the bar car.

There are wonderful views en route – misty mountains, forgotten Quechua villages, distant ridges of serrated snow-capped peaks. The open observation car at the back of the train is the perfect place to soak in the views.

Transfers, guides and tea at the exclusive Sanctuary Lodge are included in the price.

Adult price: £550

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Lima Region, Peru

Pale yellow painted cathedral in Lima, viewed from below

Bucket List Experience

A day in Lima

Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro – audacious conqueror of the Inca Empire – Lima was the capital of most of Spanish South America for nearly 300 years. The affairs of an empire were once managed from its narrow, low-slung streets, but today the city’s colonial heart is choked with traffic and soot.  

However, to understand Peruvian history, this 500-year-old grid is a must-see, housing extravagant baroque churches, historic buildings, the presidential palace and the cathedral where Pizarro is buried. Look out for the San Francisco church with its bone-filled catacombs, the filigree-carved balconies of Torre Tagle mansion and the opulent, rococo archbishop’s palace.

Elsewhere, there are fascinating museums dedicated to Peru’s history. The best museums sit in the colonial centre. They include MALI, a Lima Art gallery, with 7,000 pre-Columbian and Spanish pieces, all housed in a beautiful art nouveau building set in gardens. The Gold Museum has glittering artefacts from the country’s principal ancient civilisations.

The city also has a renowned world-class dining scene and some of the finest restaurants in the world, serving up a virtuoso fusion of unique national ingredients with Asian and European techniques. Book ahead for the best restaurants.

Most trips to Peru inevitably involve a stop in Lima – thankfully there’s plenty worth seeing for a day.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 1 day