Sustainable bucket list guide for wildlife lovers
1 March 2024
Peru’s habitats and landscapes are fantastically varied, offering some of the most dramatic vistas in all of South America. The Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest and the dry, desert plains of the coastal regions all beckon travellers to stay a little longer and experience more.
The incredible legacy of the Inca Empire and other pre-Colombian civilisations add intrigue and some serious wow factor, while thriving indigenous communities open a window into a very different way of life.
With so many diverse experiences and places to visit in Peru, it can be hard to settle on an itinerary. To help you decide what to do and where to tick off your list, we’ve narrowed down our top 10 experiences.
Cusco’s atmospheric cobblestone streets and shady plazas make it just the place to begin acclimatising to the altitude of the Andes. With its mix of Spanish colonial architecture and Inca ruins, it’s a fascinating city to get to know. Wander through the historic Plaza de Armas and enjoy the buzz, busy with local markets and travellers priming themselves for Inca Trail treks (or resting up after one).
There are many things to do in Cusco, and most people spend several days enjoying the atmosphere and delving into the region’s history at various museums. The ancient Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman on the edge of Cusco showcases some incredible stonework and impressive panoramic views of the city. Its massive stone walls demonstrate the remarkable architectural prowess of the Incas. Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun, is another architectural gem. This site also houses the Convent of Santo Domingo, a beautiful colonial religious structure built on the original Inca foundations.
From Cusco, head into the serene green of the Urubamba Valley – the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This fertile land is dotted with ancient ruins, agricultural terraces and traditional colonial villages. Highlights include the ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and the effervescent Pisac Market, where you can find a kaleidoscope of bright woven textiles and handicrafts on sale.
Of all the places to visit in Peru, the dizzying ruins of Machu Picchu are perhaps the ultimate bucket-list destination. Perched high in the Andes Mountains, the Lost City of the Incas is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Built by the Incas around the 15th century and abandoned shortly after, Machu Picchu remained hidden for centuries. It was brought to the attention of the wider world in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham. This enigmatic site is believed to have been an important religious, political and cultural centre for the Incas, and is an amazing space to spend time in.
With soaring Andean peaks marching straight down its middle, Peru is an exciting and challenging option for hikers. Do keep in mind, you’ll need time to acclimatise to the altitude before setting off on some of the loftier routes.
One of the most spectacular finales to any mountain hike has to be reaching the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, and there are several different routes to choose between. These include the classic Inca Trail, the less-travelled Lares Trek or the slightly longer Salkantay Trek. All three promise spectacular views , the adventure of sleeping out under Andean skies, and the final prize of reaching Machu Picchu under your own steam.
High in the Andes, around 100km southeast of Cusco, is the magical Rainbow Mountain of Peru. This geological wonder was created by the layering of sedimentary rock containing minerals such as iron, copper and sulphur. The effect is a mesmerising pallet of ochres, umbers and rusty tones striping the landscape.
The surreal expanse of Lake Titicaca stretches from Peru into Bolivia and is the highest navigable lake in the world. This magical body of water at the top of the world was sacred to the Inca people. Add it to your Peru vacation to discover a unique local landscape of floating reed islands, traditional textiles and crafts.
Peru is home to a large swathe of the Amazon rainforest, with 60% of the country’s landmass covered by this sea of tropical green. Much of the forest is impenetrable, but in a few places within the Peruvian Amazon, visitors can still experience its exuberant natural beauty.
Manu National Park in the south is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its incredible biodiversity. Here you’ll find misty cloud forests wreathed around the Andean slopes, giving way to steamy lowland jungle. Vibrant macaws, jaguars and spider monkeys are just some of the vast array of creatures that you’ll encounter here. Further south, the Tambopata National Reserve protects a different habitat of wetlands, savannahs and rainforest.
Etched on the desert floor, the Nazca Lines are a series of giant ancient geoglyphs. The drawings depict animals such as hummingbirds, jaguars and condors and were created by the Nazca culture that flourished from around 500 B.C. They are best observed from above, flying high over the desert floor. This fact has prompted all sorts of speculation around the origin and purpose of these mysterious creations.
In recent years, the world has cottoned on to the sophisticated flavours of Peruvian cuisine. For the best ceviche and a modern restaurant scene, the coastal capital of Lima is the place to be. But there are more delights inland, where you can feast on purple potatoes and corn, fresh salads, delicately-spiced and marinated meat dishes and, should you wish, deep-fried cuy (guinea pig).
Arequipa is a real culinary hotspot on the edge of the Andes, while Cusco has an excellent and diverse range of restaurants. If you’re heading for the Amazon, feast on tropical fruits and freshwater fish flavoured with unique Amazonian herbs and spices.
With so much spectacle to witness in southern Peru, far fewer visitors venture north. Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas covering an area of approximately 20 sq km, might just tempt you with its hidden treasures. The world’s largest mud-brick citadel, it was once the home of 100,000 inhabitants of the Chimu civilisation, who stubbornly resisted the expansion of the Inca Empire.
Not far from the charming city of Arequipa in southern Peru, the huge Colca Canyon offers an epic spectacle. This is one of the deepest canyons in the world, descending some 3,270m (10,725ft) – that’s nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon (just saying).
Those who dare can peer over the precipice at Mirador Cruz del Condor, and gaze at Andean condors soaring on the thermals. Down below, the valley floor is dotted with traditional villages and pre-Incan agricultural terraces.
The best time to go to Peru depends on the regions you’d like to visit. The coastal area has a dry and mild climate year-round with sunnier days from November to April. If your Peru vacation is all about the Andes, then the dry season from May to October offers the best chance of clear days. The same goes for the Amazon rainforest, where heavy rainfall can make exploring the forest tricky.
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