UPDATED FEBRUARY 2020
Things to Do | Best Time to Visit | Regional Travel Guide
The mere mention of Peru conjures up images of ancient lost worlds, incredible ruins set atop vertiginous mountains, colourful braided folks, sunburnt faces and curious looking camelids. Llamas, the Incas, pan flutes and remote lands…Peru is all these things, no doubt, but is also so much more.
Peru is amazing gastronomic discoveries, adrenalin-pumping activities, breath-taking nature and mind-boggling mysteries. The country boasting the fastest-growing tourism industry in all of South America is an absolute kaleidoscope of fascinating, unduplicated wonders.
Think Machu Picchu is all there is to Peru? Think again…
In this comprehensive travel guide to Peru, we’ll show first-time travellers the top 10 most magical Peruvian experiences, we’ll share our favourite hidden treasures for those longing to get off the beaten track, and share the best culinary specialties and best time of year to visit to soak up this glorious country at its best.
So pack your bags, double up on the woolly socks and get ready to have them blown right off!
Top 10 Things To Do In Peru
1. Visit Machu Picchu (do it YOUR way)
Yes, there’s a hell of a lot more to Peru than Machu Picchu yet that doesn’t mean you won’t find this incredible man-made wonder on the top of every Best of Peru list. Whether you choose to reach Sun Gate by taking on a challenging Classic Inca Trail, an express version, a sensational alternative trail, splurging on a bit of extra comforts on a superior Inca trail adventure, or skipping the hard yakka altogether and reaching the ancient Inca site via a cushy luxury train ride, see it you must. Declared one of the Seven New Wonders of the World by UNESCO, Machu Picchu is a bucket-list attraction bar none. The fact that reaching it is hard work, in one way or another, simply adds to the appeal.
We offer a host of other Machu Picchu experiences that include even more alternatives: with superb trails connected by luxury lodges and multi-destination itineraries that showcase the sheer convenience of the site to explore all of South America.
2. See Majestic Andean Condors at Colca Canyon
Depending on which source you quote, Peru’s Colca Canyon is either the deepest or second-deepest canyon in the world. Either way, suffice it to say it’s a long way down: twice the way down as at the Grand Canyon, in fact!
Home of the elusive Andean Condor (the bird with the largest wingspan in the world), Colca Canyon gives Machu Picchu a run for its llamas on awe-inspiring scenery alone. Standing atop the rim at sunrise, admiring soaring condors above lofty Andean peaks, is one of the most magical experiences you could ever dream of having. The base-town for trips to the canyon is wonderfully colourful Arequipa, one of central Peru’s most delightful cities.
3. Sail on Lake Titicaca and meet the Fascinating Uros People
To Peruvians, the world’s highest navigable lake is arguably the most revered place on earth. Legend has it that it was from its deep blue waters that the first Inca Emperor arose, and the mystical birthplace of their ancestors holds a very special place in their hearts. To first-time visitors, the appeal of Lake Titicaca is an incredible surprise. Discovering such a stunning lake at an altitude of more than 3,800m is wonderful enough, yet exploring inhabited reed islands and ancient pre-Inca ruins, as well as authentic lakeside villages seemingly forgotten by time, is utterly hypnotic. The lake is shared by Peru and Bolivia and straddles the spectacular mountainous border: visiting on both sides offers a multitude of highlights.
Discover all the Things to do on Lake Titicaca before choosing your preferred way of visiting.
Take a short & sweet Lake Titicaca Tour or ask us how to incorporate a visit to both the Peruvian and Bolivian side of the lake on a phenomenal Andean road trip – from La Paz to Cusco
4. Soar Above the Nazca Lines
As mysterious as the Egyptian Pyramids – and equally mesmerising – the UNESCO heritage-listed Nazca Lines of Peru have been captivating the world for decades, ever since local archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe took a stroll hillside near Nazca in 1927, spotted some exceptionally precise lines drawn on the desert ground and thought ‘What the….?’
Believed to date from between 500BC to 500AD, the Nasca Lines are a collection of geoglyphs found in the heart of Peru’s Nazca Desert. The Nazca people were primarily renowned for their ahead-of-their-time techniques of drawing water from the ground and many archaeologists believe the drawing of these amazing lines is somehow connected to that. Whatever the reason for their creation may have been, fact remains that these lines were a superb accomplishment, are still a head-scratching mystery, have survived millennia, and are simply spellbinding to admire.
Got some spare time in Lima? Take a quick trip south and combine a sightseeing flight over the Nazca lines with a trip to the marine-life brimming Ballestas Islands on our 3-day Nazca Line return trip from Lima
5. Get Lost in the Amazon
It’s quite funny to know that the one South American country that’s mostly renowned for its high mountainous exploits be the one home to the second-largest swath of Amazonian jungle. Peru is arguably the best Amazon destination of all the countries that share this incredible rainforest, simply because it offers an array of different jungle experiences: from lodge-based stays to luxury river cruising. Plus, it boasts remote regions only accessible by plane, yet with flights from all the most touristed cities (Lima & Cusco) so it’s superbly easy to include a trip to the Amazon whilst you’re up in the Andes visiting Machu Picchu.
If you aren’t sure which Amazon experience may suit you best, read our Amazon Lodge VS River Cruise blog which details the main differences and should help you identify the right type of trip for you. We’ve also compiled this Guide to the Peruvian Amazon, specifically, to learn what makes this portion of the jungle so very special. And then…simply trust that whichever way you choose to experience the Amazon in Peru, rest assured that it’ll be one of the most extraordinary experiences you’ll ever have. This is a unique ecosystem everyone needs to experience, at least once in life.
See all our Amazon Tours on offer
6. Sandboard in Huacachina
Just a few hours out of Lima, in the heart of the stupendous Peruvian desert, is where you’ll find Huacachina, a stunning desert oasis that’s framed by some of the most impressively high sand dunes in the world. Just say the word and we can take you there, strap on some waxed sand boards to your feet and hurl you down some vertiginous sand dune at breakneck speed. Because that’s just the kind of enthusiastic travel operator we are! And don’t worry, we’ll have a cold glass of pisco sour waiting for you just as soon as you manage to remove all those fine grains out of all bodily orifices you never even knew you had. Want something a little demure? Yes, Huacachina has that too. Enjoy thrilling dune-buggy rides (which are a little less death-defying than sandboarding) or simply hike atop a dune at sunset to watch the breathtaking spectacle of the Huacachina oasis from above.
Want to include an adrenalin-pumping afternoon in Huacachina on your bespoke Peru tour? Oh yes….we can do that too!
7. Head to Chan Chan in Northern Peru
So, as you will have noticed by now, central Peru gets all the fame and glory. Fair enough too, with the region being home to so many household-name attractions. This makes the expansive north of the country something of a hidden treasure. Among dedicated travel circles, be it for surfing, mountaineering or archaeology, northern Peru is certainly no mystery yet among mainstream tourists, it’s like half the country barely exist. But it does and, at the ancient mud-city of Chan Chan, we’ll show you why you need to know about it.
Chan Chan is the largest mud-brick city ever built and it’s over 1200 years old. At the height of its prominence, the fully-fledged city covered an area of a mind-boggling 20 square kilometres. This was a bonafide and quite sophisticated city, built entirely out of sand by the Chimu people in the arid desert coast of northern Peru. The carved detailing and construction are absolutely amazing and, more amazing still, is the fact that new discoveries are made here on an almost yearly basis. The fact that it’s been UNESCO-protected for more than two decades tells you how incredibly important Chan Chan is, and may also make you wonder how on earth this site is still so unknown.
This is just one of many highlights around the northern city of Trujillo. Come check out the rest.
Here’s a cool 7-day itinerary suggestion through Peru’s Northern Kingdoms
8. Discover Peru’s lesser-known “lost” Ancient City, Choquequirao
Just as the Incas weren’t the only ancient civilisation to have lived in Peru, Machu Picchu is also not the only ‘lost city’ to have been discovered here. If you want to learn and discover more about this mesmerizing country’s history then your options to get off the Gringo Trail are plentiful. Choquequirao is probably our first choice of alternate sites simply because it was also constructed by the Incas and requires a hearty multi-day hike to reach, so it has that ‘Andean remoteness’ aspect that entices so many visitors to South America. Since it was picked up by guide-books in 2017, Choquequirao – found in the same region as Machu Picchu – has become quite the Instagram star and there’s even talks (shock-horror) of a possible cable-car being constructed here to aid the masses of potential tourists. Peru is replete with ‘Machu Picchu alternatives’ actually, both in terms of trails that actually reach this most famous of cities and others which take you to remoter areas barely known to the outside world. Tell us just how remote you wish to hike and we’ll get you there!
We offer a superb 6-day Choquequirao Trek that’ll blow you away
9. Take a Jaw-dropping Train Ride through the Andean Clouds
The moment Belmond introduced its world-renowned luxury railway to the Central Andes, we knew that our list of ‘magical things to do in Peru’ had its new entry. We’re talking amazing butler service, gourmet cuisine, sublime spa treatments and, the most priceless aspect of all, a startling visual feasting of the Andean peaks that literally mark the route between Arequipa (of Colca Canyon fame) and Cusco (the base-town for Machu Picchu visits).
The first-ever luxury sleeper train in the continent joins its cousins to create a Peruvian train-maze that’ll have railway junkies busting for the door, suitcase in hand. On the 2-day ride from Arequipa to Cusco, you can tag a return-trip to Machu Picchu aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train, about the most comfortable and indulgent way to reach the ancient Inca citadel. Need another train-fix? Oh yes, there’s more! After your visit to Cusco, you can yet again board another sumptuous Belmond train (be careful, these things are addictive) and head east to Puno, the Peruvian town at the shores of Lake Titicaca, on a 2-day luxury train ride. Yep, you can join three magical experiences on our list via luxury trains, for a startling journey you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.
10. The Bonus Train Ride to Huancayo!
Guess what? There’s another stunning train ride you need to know about, the one that’ll take you to and through some of the most impressive Peruvian landscapes of all.
The Lima to Huancayo train ride is not run by Belmond so the level of luxury isn’t quite as lush but we bet you’ll hardly notice, given that the 14-hour ride through the lesser-visited Cordillera Occidental mountain range crosses an eye-popping 69 tunnels, 58 bridges, and countless hair-raising switchbacks, across some of the deepest canyons in the continent.
Peru off the beaten track
Whether you’re planning your first or fifth visit to Peru, we can probably entice you to check out some of the lesser-known gems in the country – those hidden treasures that are bound to hit the big time in years to come but are, as of right now, almost entirely anonymous.
Peru boasts as many highlights off the Gringo Trail as it does on it, with a wealth of archaeological sites and natural delights that seem to be hiding in plain sight. Here are just a few of our favourites:
One of Peru’s best-preserved archaeological sites comprises the impressive fortress of Kuelap in what is, essentially, one of the Northern Andes’ remotest region. Avid hikers and wannabe archaeologists have known about this place for years and although mainstream tourism is tentatively knocking at the door, the site’s isolation should (hopefully) keep it pristine for a few years yet. The Chachapoyas were known as the Warriors of the Clouds in Peru, thriving in the cloud forests of the Amazon before being conquered by the Incas. The Chachapoyas and their unique funerary traditions were featured in the BBC documentary The Lost Kingdoms of South America, which is really worth watching if you’re planning to head to northern Peru.
If you need yet another reason to explore the Amazonas region of northern Peru off the beaten track, then we’ll give you 777 of them. That’s how many metres the spellbinding Gocta Falls, found nearby Chachapoyas, tumble down from the heavens in the heart of spectacular wilderness. This is not just Peru’s tallest waterfall but one of the tallest in the world and we bet you’ve probably never even heard of it!
Food in Peru: Local Culinary Specialities
Peru is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting foodie destinations in the world, let alone South America. The country’s culinary prowess is the stuff of legends, with international awards rolling in every year, a bevy of Michelin-starred gems found in the capital, Lima (three of the 10 best restaurants in the continent are here) and a sensational array of tastes offered in every single one of the country’s many regions. Variety is Peru’s best asset and that’s as true of its culinary specialties as it is about its natural and cultural highlights.
Peru boasts some of South America’s most recognisable epicurean highlights, including ceviche, rocoto relleno, cuy, dulce de leche and empanadas. Aside from native ingredients, cooking methods and flavours, Peru also boasts a stunning array of fusion traditions, stemming from the historic influx of immigrants from almost every corner of the globe. Here, you’ll feast on excellent Italian, Thai and Chinese food, the latter infiltrating itself into local culinary culture so much, it’s even spawned its own unique slant. Chifa is an inherently Peruvian nowadays as empanadas,
Learn more about this fascinating aspect of the Peruvian Cuisine and come discover what a delectable country this is!
The best time to visit Peru
Despite the fact that Peru’s most prominent highlights sit at high altitude, the majority of the country actually sits quite low, with over half taken up by the Amazon Rainforest. This means that, when it comes to the best time to visit Peru, it’s a lot more relevant to think of seasons in terms of wet and dry, rather than winter and summer. Yep, even in the high Andes.
Extensive regional differences, however, mean that Peru really is a year-round destination: no matter when you want to travel, there will always be one specific region at its very best.
Here’s a quick overview of the best time to visit Peru, by region.
The best time to visit the Peruvian Andes
The Peruvian Andes, although they only take up a small percentage of the country, are home to its most famous highlights (namely Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Lake Titicaca, the Colca Canyon and wonderful Arequipa) which is why everyone thinks of Peru as being primarily mountainous.
Although it might make sense to high-altitude destinations during the hottest months of the year (October to March) the almost incessant summer rains cause havoc on roads, disrupt travel and bring about extensive cloud cover all over the Andes. The Inca Trail is even closed to hikers in February due to excessive rainfall and scheduled maintenance so do keep that in mind and do keep away from the Peruvian Andes during the wettest period if you can.
For the clearest skies, best daytime temps and most dependable weather, you’re better off visiting the Andes of Peru during the much drier winter months, between May to September. The height of tourist season is in July and August, a time when Machu Picchu tickets sell out months in advance and all hotels and transfers must be booked way ahead of time. The shoulder months (May and June, and again September) are particularly rewarding, as rains are still nearly non-existent yet crowds are manageable, prominent sites still relatively uncrowded and the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
Short on time and just want a taste of the Peruvian Andes? We offer this fantastic 4-day Little Cusco Tour that delivers the best of the ancient Incan stomping ground in a condensed, easy and very rewarding journey – a fantastic add-on to any South America tour itinerary given the many regional connections to Cusco
The best time to visit the Peruvian Amazon
Peru’s Amazon Rainforest enjoys a healthy amount of rain all year long (hence the spectacularly luscious wilderness!) although heavier and more consistent rains are experienced between November and March, in line with the wet season in the Central Andes. During this phenomenal rain season, the Amazon River and its tributaries in Peru can rise by up to an astonishing 20 metres, flooding riverbanks and allowing Amazon cruise ships to travel much further than at any other time of year.
Given the extensive difference in water levels between the wet and dry seasons, the best time to visit the Peruvian Amazon will depend highly on the kind of experience you crave. If you’re dreaming of a Peruvian Amazon cruise that lets you explore further into the depths of the jungle, then plan your trip to Iquitos and the Pacaya Samiria National Park when water levels are high (December – March) and, if you’d prefer to base yourself in one of the many eco-lodges and take daily boat and on-land excursions then aim to visit the Amazon during the driest months, between May and October. The dry season in the Amazon is preferred by many, as lower humidity, fewer mosquitos and more concentrated wildlife sightings can make for a more enjoyable trip.
The best time to visit the Peruvian desert coast
Revered as one of the world’s best surfing destinations, the Peruvian coast enjoys a relatively stable, dry and not-too-cold climate almost all year round. In winter, between June and August, temps don’t usually dip below 15-degree-C and, at the height of summer, you can expect a very comfortable temp in the mid to late 20s, unless you travel to the northern hub of Mancora (Peru’s ceviche capital) and the archaeological gem of Chan Chan at the height of the summer, between December and March.
The arid and dramatic nature of Peru’s coast is created by a combination of unique factors: the dryness comes from this being an extension of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the frosty temperature of the sea is thanks to the Humboldt Current which travels north from Antarctica and causes the infamous garua – a low-lying misty cloud that shrouds the coasts of both Peru and northern Chile for almost 8 months every year, from April to November.
If you’re travelling to Peru specifically to surf the world-class waves, you’ll want to visit the coast during the summer, between December and March. Not only will you enjoy the months with the clearest skies on the coast but you’ll enjoy warmer air and sea temps thanks to the warmer northerly swells. This is also an ideal time to spend some time in Lima, visit the desert oasis of Huacachina, the fascinating Nazca Lines and the marine-life enriched Ballestas Islands.
At Chimu Adventures, we offer a wide range of tailor-made travel options to South America, as well as a ton of Peru Tour itinerary suggestions. Simply contact us and we can help you plan your unforgettable journey, no matter when or for how long you plan to visit.