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20 Must-Visit Attractions in Peru

Picture of Brandon Dupre
Updated: 5 August 2017
Looking at a Peru guidebook will be overwhelming. Peru offers so many spectacular and unique sights that planning a trip may seem exhausting—but don’t worry. We’ve narrowed it down to the 20 must-see attractions that Peru has to offer. From Lima’s museums to riding a boat in the Amazon and hiking in the Andes, here are the must-visit sights in Peru.

Lima museums

Lima is home to Peru’s best and most famous museums. From the ancient and erotic pottery art at Museo Larco to Museo de Arte de Lima, the city has so many museums that visitors can spend days exploring them. Learn about Peru’s great history in Lima.

Surfing Mancora

Considered Peru’s best beach town, Mancora offers surfers year-round waves. The left-hand reef break is a magnet for north swells, which hit the coastline consistently throughout the summer. The water hovers around 69F (20C) degrees, giving surfers a chance to ditch their wetsuits for board-shorts.

Surfing at Manorca, Peru
Surfing at Manorca, Peru | © ms.akr/Flickr

Lima Cuisine

Lima’s food scene has exploded and is now considered the gastronomical capital of Latin America. With the Pacific Ocean right next door, it’s hard to beat fresh seafood and ceviche. Plus, the number of world-class restaurants here is hard to beat anywhere in the world, with Lima boasting two restaurants that rank inside the top 10 in the world.

Amazon cruise

Take a jungle boat cruise through the Amazon. This opportunity will give you the chance to catch glimpses of rarely-sighted jungle animals like the Amazonian pink dolphin.

A pink dolphin which can be spotted on Amazon cruises
A pink dolphin which can be spotted on Amazon cruises | © chem7/Flickr

Sand surfing

Giant dunes of sand are a defining feature of the region—the orange-ish mounds seem to roll on forever. Three hours south of Lima lies the small desert oasis town of Huacachina, which is surrounded by sand dunes. Take a dune buggy with a group of friends and surf the steep sand faces.

Pisco tasting

Peru is home to pisco, a delicious-tasting colored brandy. Head to the winemaking city of Ica where you can go on pisco tasting tours and learn how the brandy is made. The town of Ica is a five-hour ride from Lima and offers visitors the best pisco that Peru has to offer.

Cusco

Cusco was considered the “navel” of the universe and was the capital of the Incas until it was taken over by the Spanish. Visiting Cusco, you’ll experience the beautiful confluence of Inca and Spanish architecture—that alone is worth the trip. This city high up in the Andes is unlike any city you’ve ever seen.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Plaza de Armas, Cusco | © Lorna Mitchell/Flickr

Hiking Cañón del Colca

While Machu Picchu and Cusco get all the attention, Cañón del Colca might be the most naturally beautiful place to visit in Peru. The canyon is 62 miles (100km) from end to end and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The area is also rich with ruins from pre-Incan and Incan societies, as well as numerous Spanish structures.

Machu Picchu

Somewhere on everyone’s bucket list is Machu Picchu. There isn’t enough to say about the Inca ruins in the sky. Surrounded by towering peaks, with its lush green terraces, the sights at Machu Picchu are unimaginable. Even if you can only go for a day, take the train or bus up to the famous ruins and discover its beauty and mystery for yourself.

A classic view of Machu Picchu, Peru
A classic view of Machu Picchu, Peru | © Jae/Flickr

Parque Nacional Manu

This is a perfect destination for you to have the Amazonian jungle adventure you’ve always wanted. It’s Peru’s best-protected national park, and you can catch glimpses of exotic jungle animals such as the pink dolphin and the jaguar—and of course monkeys. It’s an adventurer’s dream.

Nasca lines

The Nasca lines have baffled experts and tourists alike forever. Academics have spent their entire lives trying to make sense out of the mysterious lines in the ground, only to come to no clear, unanimous conclusion. You must take a plane ride to truly make out the images carved into the ground and experience the wonder and mystery for yourself.

Desert fun

Dunes are integral to the landscape of the region, seemingly rolling off into the horizon forever. As already mentioned, the place to make the best of this natural terrain is the desert oasis town of Huacachina, three hours’ drive south of Lima. Go for a dune buggy ride and surf the steep sand face, or hangout by the pool in the middle of the desert.

Sand boarding in Huacachina, Peru
Sand boarding in Huacachina, Peru | © Justin Vidamo/Flickr

Inca trail

There may be other trails in Peru, but none can match the beauty and history of the Inca Trail. Hike the four- or five-day journey along the ancient road, winding your way around the stunning mountains, ending at Machu Picchu. This holy trail will be one you’ll never forget.

Visiting the floating reeds

High in the Andes you’ll find Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, where the Uros people have constructed islands built out of reeds. The islands were built centuries ago in order to escape invaders, and require constant rebuilding as the bottom slowly rots away. These surreal islands are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Paracas National Reserve

Located along Peru’s southern coast, this national reserve is a protected area covering coastal water, islands and mainland sections. The reserve boasts beautiful red beaches and islands teeming with marine life.

Paracas National Reserve
Paracas National Reserve | © ilker ender/Flickr

Islas Ballestas

Considered the “poor man’s Galapagos,” Islas Ballestas are islands just off of the Paracas Reserve in the south of Peru. The boat tours to the islands offer glimpses of dolphins, turtles, penguins, sea lions, and plenty of birds. Views of the marine life are definitely worth the around 35 soles (US$10) boat tour.

Sacred Valley

The sacred land of the Incas is breathtaking. Surrounded by craggy mountains and green grass, it is truly a remarkable landscape. Not only is the area beautiful, but there are also plenty of things to do to keep you busy, such as zip-lining, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rafting.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas | © Jae/Flickr

Markets

From classic souvenirs such as alpaca blankets, to more unusual items like witches’ potions, Peru’s markets have all. These large gatherings of people, food, and culture are an unmissable part of any visit to Peru.

Hike to Peru’s Stone Faces

Located just five hours from Lima, Marcahuasi is a stone forest in the Andes. It has gained world recognition because of its mysteriously-shaped stones that resemble human faces and animals. The origins of these seemingly carved figures has been the subject of countless debates, with some posturing that they were created by aliens.

Rafting the Urubamba River

This is not one for the faint of heart. Companies offer adrenaline-seekers a chance to raft down class III and IV rapids in the Sacred Valley, located a short distance from Cusco. Go with a guide and a group of friends and enjoy the rush of river rafting. Companies will provide transportation and outfit you with gear, which includes a helmet because it can get dangerous. It is a great way to escape the city life of Cusco and raft world-class rapids.