The 10 Best Things to See and Do in the Highlands of Peru

Laguna Churup trail from Huaraz
Laguna Churup trail from Huaraz | © Madeleine Deaton / Flickr
Brandon Dupre

The most visited areas of Peru are without a doubt its highlands, and for good reason. In Huaraz you’ll find craggy snow-topped mountains with bright green valleys stretching towards the horizon. There are the Andes mountains, and the Incan civilization that left ruins scattered throughout the valleys. The highlands of Peru are where Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Arequipa await you, to name just a few of the highlights. Here is a guide to exploring the best the Peruvian highlands have to offer.

Explore Cusco

The Incas considered Cusco the center of the universe, and it was the capital of the Incas until the Spanish arrived. The city boasts some beautiful architecture that combines both Spanish and Inca styles, and narrow cobblestone streets that can barely fit a car. This once-great Incan city is unlike anyplace else in the world.


Hike to Machu Picchu

You may have come to Peru just to hike to this famous citadel in the sky. The most famous option is taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but don’t wait on reserving a trip; this hike sells out early and will need to be booked months in advance.

Search for Inca Ruins

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is home to many spectacular Incan ruins that are more remote and less frequented than the ones near Cusco. You can take multiple day hikes through the valley, finding ancient citadels and watchtowers once inhabited by the Incas.

Visit Lake Titicaca

The highest navigable lake in the world is home to the Uros people, who still live on floating islands built out of reeds on the lake. You can take boat trips on the lake and even do a homestay and live with an Uros family.

Lake Titicaca

Eat Cheese in Cajamarca

This is the town where the Spanish captured the last Inca ruler, Atahualpa, and imprisoned him for a ransom of a room filled with gold and silver. You can visit the actual room that the Inca king filled with gold and silver, and then stroll around the beautiful Plaza de Armas while enjoying some of the cheese that the city is well known for.

Visit Kuelap

Kuelap is a walled city outside of Chachapoyas, built by the Chachapoyas culture in the 6th century. The Peruvian government has recently installed a gondola that conveniently takes tourists to the ruins, saving you the arduous long hike to the site.

See the Gocta Waterfall

This is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and, until recently, was known only by locals. From Chachapoyas, you can take a hike to the waterfall with one of the many tours offered in the Plaza de Armas. The hike takes about three hours for the round trip and takes you right up to the waterfall.

Gocta waterfall

Explore Chavin de Huantar

These ancient ruins are located in the Ancash Region of Peru and are reachable from the the tourist hub of Huaraz. They date back to 1200 BC and were later occupied by the Chavin culture, who were a major pre-Incan civilization. The site has been has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visit Arequipa

The second-largest city in Peru is a perfect combination of the best aspects of urban Lima and the history and culture of Cusco. The all-white plaza and the church are its main attractions, but you can also see Canyon del Colca, the second-deepest canyon in the world. The city also has a volcano as its backdrop.

Hike to Huaraz

The backpackers, adventurers paradise, Huaraz is the ideal base camp for exploring the beautiful Cordilleras mountain range. The hikes offer unrivaled views of towering, snowcapped peaks, pristine lakes, and bright green valleys. Huaraz is also home to one of Peru’s best craft breweries, Sierra Andina.

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