The 13 Best Places to Visit in Peru in 2021
Oh, Peru. With Lima and Cusco as top tourist attractions for visitors to land, and the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu displayed high on bucket-lists around the world, this vast cut-out of South America has long been a destination of choice for trekkers and adventure enthusiasts. I have put together this handy guide on the 13 Best Places to Visit in Peru, just so you don’t miss out on something important during your once-in-a-lifetime visit to the ancient home of the Inca. From the dust-billowing pampas where the Nazca Lines whittle through the dirt to the wind-howling summits of the mighty Andes and the shimmering beaches of Mancora in the north, there’s all sorts to get through in this stunning part of the world.
1. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu surely needs no introduction. It’s the most iconic landmark in Peru and arguably the most extraordinary archeological site in South America. Perched a whopping 7,972 feet (2,429 meters) up in the Andes above the gushing Urubamba River, it’s the end point of the famed Inca Trail (more on that later). Machu Picchu is believed to be over 500 years old. Within its cascading terraces of stone walls amid the cloud forests and the peaks, you can find the mysterious Temple of the Sun, and Incan homesteads woven together by staircases and roads. Talk about a place you’ll never forget!
2. Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is up there with the Mount Kilimanjaro and the Everest Base Camp treks. It’s unquestionably one of the most legendary trekking routes on the planet and is one of Peru’s top tourist attractions. But it’s nothing new. In fact, the Inca Trail has been there since at least the 15th century, when it was believed to be the main route of pilgrimage to the soaring city in the clouds that is Machu Picchu. Today, trekkers of all stripes come to conquer what’s known as the Classic Inca Trail, which weaves through Peru’s famous Sacred Valley for 26 miles past enthralling ruins and relics. This well-trodden path is a top adventure and usually takes four or five days to complete from start to finish.
It’s hard not to be wowed by the sheer presence of Cusco. The one time capital of the Incan Empire, it’s a veritable layer cake of history. On top, there are the elaborate cathedrals built by the Spanish conquistadors, glowing a tinge of pink over the bustling Plaza de Armas. Occasionally, the likes of Coricancha – a mighty temple dedicated to the Incan sun god, Inti – will rise through the buildings, while the whole area is surrounded by ancient ruins and agricultural terraces that were built centuries ago. Not only is this one of the undisputed top places to visit in Peru, but it’s also close by to the starting points of the Classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu and the Salkantay Trail routes.
A cocktail of modern grit and pre-Columbian culture, Lima is one of the most enthralling places in Peru. It’s also one of the first spots that many travelers will encounter after they step off their flight in Peru. The top tourist attraction and go-to district is Centro Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses the daffodil-colored Convento de San Francisco and many of the finest museums in the country. Others prefer salt-washed Miraflores, where chic condos gaze over the Pacific coast and surfers rip up the waves. Nearly 10 million people live and work and play in Lima, so expect a hit of real Peruvian energy and pizzazz here.
5. Nazca Lina
A few hours down the coast from Lima visitors will find the Nazca Lines. Etched into the dusty earth on the southern plains of Peru, the Nazca Lines remain one of the great wonders of the continent. Known as geoglyphs, the lines take the form of great anthropomorphic representations or elaborate geometric designs, some of which measure a mighty 1,200+ feet across. It’s thought that they were forged by the mysterious Nazca peoples, who lived in this part of South America before the Incans from 100 BC to around 700 AD. There are two main ways for visitors to appreciate the full majesty of the Nazca Lines: Clamber up one of the local observation towers or take a flyover.
6. Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. It skirts the edge of the Andes as it ranges across from the far southern edge of Peru into neighboring Bolivia. They call it the highest navigable lake on planet Earth because it has an altitudinous surface elevation of over 12,500 feet up. The setting is rather amazing, with the serrated, snow-capped Bolivian Andes scarring the horizon and the shimmering lake waters glowing in the foreground. Perhaps more than anything, Lake Titicaca is known for its traditional floating islands, which are actually reed rafts forged by the pre-Columbian Uru people who’ve lived here for millennia. This top tourist attraction can be reached in a few hours by car from Cusco.
7. Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is a modern settlement nestled in a valley just minutes away from Machu Picchu. It didn’t even exist before the 20th century, but the coming of the railroad and the rediscovery of the famous city in the clouds helped development to surge. By the late 1900s, the town also known as Machupicchu Pueblo was a hub of life, with people flocking in the footsteps of the Inca. Today, it’s a key stopover on the traditional Inca Trail route to Machu Picchu, but is also famed for its natural hot springs – they’re the best place for visitors to soothe their muscles after multi-day treks through the Andes Mountains. To learn more about one of the best places to visit in Peru, Aguas Calientes’ on the Inca Trail, check out the Complete Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2021.
Looking more like something out of the Arabian Desert than a resort town of southern Peru, Huacachina is engulfed in a sea of shifting sand dunes that rise to
hundreds of feet. The whole place is anchored on a natural desert spring lake that’s said to have been left behind by a mythical native princess. True or not, it’s an amazing spot to visit, gurgling amid the sand hills and cantinas. These days, visiting urbanites come from cosmopolitan Lima to kick back and relax in the classy hotels. Or they come to crank up the adrenaline with high-octane 4X4 buggy rides and sand-boarding sessions.
Puno has all the moxie of a real smuggler’s city on the edge of Bolivia. It’s also known as one of Peru’s top craft and culture capitals. Each year, it hosts the wild and carnivalesque processions of the Festival of Virgen de la Candelaria, when up to 30,000 masked revelers take over the streets, making it one of the best places to visit in Peru. When the festival isn’t on, Puno features as the gateway to the amazing Uru islands of Lake Titicaca. Up above town are the terraces of the Kuntur Wasi Viewpoint, one of the best places in Peru to take in big Puno bay and the distant mountains in Bolivia to the east.
Interested in more festivals? Check out our packages for the Virgen Del Carmen Festival in Paucartambo.
10. Colca Canyon
Move over, Grand Canyon, because Peru’s Colca Canyon is almost twice as deep as the United States mightiest gorge. It rends the southern Peruvian Andes in two, with sheer-cut stone sides that soar to a vertigo-inducing 10,730 feet (3,270 meters) at some points. The best way to explore all that is on the multi-day Colca Canyon Trek, which includes the likes of the Mirador Cruz del Condor lookout point (watch out for the New World vultures circling overhead) and wild swimming spots along the Rio Colca. The area is more generally famed for its Quechua-speaking farming settlements and traditional villages.
Dominated by the cloud-haloed outline of El Misti volcano, Arequipa might not seem like the second-largest city in the country. It’s actually just a fraction of the size of Lima, and the wild peaks of the Salinas and Aguada Blanca seem so close you could reach out and touch them. Well…you can’t quite do that, but those visiting can launch technical trekking expeditions to the monstrous summit of Chachani at 19,872 (6,057 meters) feet if you’d like. Alternatively, stick to the city center, where cobbled streets and white-hued cathedrals converge on fountain-babbling plazas and traditional Peruvian marketplaces.
Peru’s coastline stretches more than 1,500 miles up the side of the South American Pacific. Most people would agree that there’s no part of it that’s prettier than the Mancora District. Just 70 miles shy of the Ecuadorean border, the climate here takes a turn for the balmy and the tropical. The desertscapes of the south drop away and palm trees begin to thread the bays. Basically, it’s one of the undisputed top places to visit in Peru for sand, sun, and ocean. Mancora town itself is a lazy, salt-washed conglomeration of surf shacks and smoothie stalls – AKA chilling central. Visitors can hit the waves there or just recover after the trials of the Classic Inca Trail.
For a country where the mountains always seem close, Huaraz seems to draw the summits yet closer than ever. Located North of Lima, the backdrop here is the alabaster white broadside of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. That daggers through the heart of the Huascarán National Park to mark the very highest point in the country – the glaciated pinnacle of Huarascán at 22,205 feet. That’s best left to the pro climbers, but there’s endless trekking to be done in the region, including to the turquoise mountain lakes of Laguna Paron and the eye-watering Laguna 69.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on the 13 Best Places to Visit in Peru. We know that there are even so many more extraordinary places to visit in this country. In fact, I wrote about Rainbow Mountain in Peru in an earlier blog post. We hope you get to visit Peru soon.
If you are interested to learn more about how we can take you to these extraordinary places, email us at email@example.com or click here.
I look forward to seeing you in Peru!
Founder & CEO
The Explorer’s Passage
About Jeff Bonaldi
Jeff Bonaldi is the Founder and CEO of The Explorer’s Passage, an adventure travel company. His mission is to provide travelers with the opportunity to transform their lives and the planet through the power of adventure.