If you have not visited Peru, chances are, you might only know about Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Though Machu Picchu and the Incas are the most famous things about Peru, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Peru.
As one of the biggest countries in South America, Peru’s landscape is diverse. In the east, you have the exotic Amazon Rainforest, which is home to indigenous tribes and unique wildlife. The Andean Mountains divide the country in half, beckoning the bravest hikers to approach them, and on the western Pacific Coast, pristine beaches and marine life dominate.
Reasons to Visit Peru
This Peru travel guide is broken into two parts, first are the amazing reasons listed by Living out Lau and then some travel tips and information added by ThePlanetD. Peru is such a huge country, that it takes several trips to really experience it all. So when you go to Peru, make sure to spend enough time traveling from its jungles to the deserts, and the mountains to the sea because in a nutshell, Peru has it all. Are you ready to explore Peru? Let’s go.
1. Discover Machu Picchu
Let’s address the elephant in the room the Machu Picchu archaeological site. Machu Picchu is the biggest tourist attraction in Peru, receiving more than 1 million visitors annually. Besides being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is a present-day UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you might know already, Machu Picchu is a citadel built by the Incas in the 15th century. However, it was abandoned in the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors came to Peru. No one knows exactly why Machu Picchu was abandoned, but many experts believe that the Inca residents of Machu Picchu went to aid in the war efforts against the Spaniards.
The Incas were eventually defeated and Machu Picchu was left abandoned. However, what makes Machu Picchu so unique when compared to the other Inca settlements is that Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spaniards.
Perched over the Andes Mountain above the Urubamba River, Machu Picchu was practically invisible to anyone but the locals. Machu Picchu was discovered hundreds of years later exactly how it was left (minus the little bit of weathering), making it one of the most well-preserved Inca ruins on Earth.
Plan Your Trip to Machu Picchu
2. Visit The Capital of the Inca
As the ancient capital city of the Inca empire, Cusco is one of the best reasons to visit Peru. The historic centre of Cusco has kept most of its original Inca charm. Matter of fact, many of the original Inca buildings can still be seen in Cusco, offering visitors a glimpse of the impressive construction techniques used by the Incas.
The most famous Inca landmark in Cusco is Qorichancha, which translates to the Golden Temple in Quechua, Inca’s native language. It was the religious center of the Incas where they could honor one of the famous important gods – Inti, the Inca sun god.
Two kilometers from the main square of the historic centre, visitors will also find the Sacsayhuaman Inca ruins, one of the fortresses of Cusco. This hilltop Inca Citadel Perched over a hill, this was one of the most impressive citadels built, especially considering how over a hundred tons of giant stone were moved without modern technology. The citadel offers panoramic views of Cusco and the stunning Andean peaks.
Just beware of the high altitude when visiting Cusco. Located at 3,400 meters high, it is an altitude that can easily cause altitude sickness. We recommend picking one of the hotels in Cusco with possible oxygen enrichment!
3. Indulge in some of the Best Food in The World
One of the best reasons to visit Peru is for its food, especially if you are a foodie. Because Peru has a huge variety of landscapes, it is able to source a wide range of fresh ingredients. Combined with hundreds of years of culinary refinement, Peru is home to some of the best dishes in the world.
Matter of fact, the capital city of Peru, Lima, is consistently voted as the gastronomic capital of Latin America. The city is also home to two of the top 50 restaurants in the world – Central and Maido.
Cusco is also one of the best places in the world to try indigenous Peruvian food. It is here that you will find cuy (guinea pig), a traditional delicacy that was once the main source of protein for the inhabitants of the villages in the Andean Mountains.
One of the best dishes to try in Peru is Peruvian ceviche (not to be confused with regular ceviche), the national dish of Peru. It is a dish made with raw fish marinated by powerful Peruvian limes. The limes are so strong that it kills all the bacteria from the fish, essentially “cooking” it. It is a dish that lets the flavors of the fresh ingredients shine. Simple yet powerful.
Discover more Peruvian food
4. Explore one of the Tallest Waterfalls in the World
When you think of Peru, do soaring waterfalls come to your mind? I bet not. But did you know that Peru is home to many massive waterfalls such as the Gocta Waterfalls?
The Gocta Waterfalls, or Catarata de Gocta in Spanish, is one of the world’s tallest waterfalls at 771-meters high. When it was first discovered, it was the 3rd highest waterfall in the world, but now it is somewhere between third and sixteenth, depending on how it is measured.
Situated in the Amazonas region in Northern Peru, the Gocta Waterfall is surrounded by both mountains and jungle, offering a unique and stunning landscape.
The best part about the Gocta Waterfall is you can hike to many different parts of the waterfall. The most popular option is a 3-hour hike from Cocachimba to the bottom of the falls, where you can fully grasp the power of nature. Just make sure everything you take with you is waterproof or don’t be damaged when wet!
5. Hike the Famous Inca Trail
One of the best reasons to visit Peru is to experience the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is a historical 4-day trek that goes through some of the routes that the Inca civilization used to navigate through the Sacred Valley.
The trail first takes you through snow-capped mountains of the Urubamba Range and ends in the deep cloud forest of Peru. Along the way, you can explore over 5 Inca ruins and learn about the history of the largest empire in Pre-Columbian America.
On the last day, you enter Machu Picchu not through the entrance, but through the Sun Gate. It is historically the only place where people could enter Machu Picchu, and many visitors were rejected because of their lack of royalty.
Inca Trail is a cultural and historical experience that comes with an exhilarating hike and gorgeous mountainous views. Its uniqueness alone is worth visiting Peru! However, we do have to warn you that booking the Inca Trail 6+ months in advance is highly recommended. This is a world-famous attraction and its popularity cannot be underestimated.
During our first trip to Peru, we didn’t book in advance and couldn’t hike the Inca Trail, however, we booked several day tours throughout the Sacred Valley, including some long hikes in the Sacred Valley. It was a good second choice to the very popular trek to Machu Picchu.
6. Go Sandboarding in Huacachina
If you are a lover of snowboarding but don’t like the cold, then one of your reasons to visit Peru must be sandboarding in Huacachina. Huacachina is a small village located in the southwestern part of Peru. It is just 4 hours away from Lima.
The village is the only natural oasis in South America, and the small lake’s contrast with the sand dunes only makes the landscape even more dramatic.
Huacachina is home to the biggest sand dunes in South America, making it perfect for sandboarding and riding dune buggies. Before visiting, decide if you want to sandboard standing up, sit, or lay on your stomach. Just be careful with this one as the only way to brake is to use your own body as a brake.
7. Explore the Amazon Jungle
Most people come to Peru for Machu Picchu and its incredible alpine hikes, but did you know that Peru is nearly 60 percent Amazonian forest? Inside the Peruvian Amazon Forest are 3940 unique species and hundreds of indigenous tribes, some of which can be visited by tourists.
The most famous gateway to the Amazon Rainforest is Iquitos, a city in the northern part of Peru. With no roads connecting it, the only way to get to Iquitos is either by boat or a plane. Iquitos is situated next to the amazing Amazon River, and thus offers visitors easier access to the magic of the Amazon.
Visitors can find tours that explore the various parts of the northern Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, such as meeting indigenous tribes, staying in one of the jungle lodges, and discovering the wildlife.
Plan Your Trip to the Amazon
8. Meet Cute Little Fluffy Alpacas
Peru is home to over 70 percent of the world’s population of alpaca, a camelid mammal whose habitat is the Andes Mountains. Alpacas are sacred in Inca culture, as they believed that they were gifts from Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Their fabric has been one of the most desirable fabrics in the history of mankind. Some historians even believe that alpaca fur was used as money for exchange.
Alpaca fabric is known to be very warm and lightweight, thanks to the extra hollow space in the fiber. It is also known to be soft and water-resistant, making it almost the ideal fabric for many different articles of clothing. In fact, one of the most popular souvenirs from Peru is alpaca-related products. In any of the shops, you will find alpaca sweaters, scarves, hoodies, ponchos, and more! We have a couple of hats that we love from our Peru trips.
9. Rainbow Mountain
When you visit Peru, getting a selfie with an alpaca is a must. You can see cute little alpacas in many of the attractions in Peru such as Rainbow Mountain and Colca Canyon. You can even find them with their owner on the cobblestone streets of Cusco, waiting to be approached and photographed (and tipped)!
Speaking of Rainbow Mountain this colorful mountain is another reason to put Peru at the top of your travel list. It’s become almost as busy as the Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, but you should not miss it. We have an entire article about how to trek and book a Rainbow Mountain trip – What To Expect When Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru
But for people that like to explore new culinary flavors on their travels, the taste of alpaca meat will surprise you. Their meat is known to be lean and tender with a hint of sweetness, and many people compare it to high-quality beef. But like beef, different parts of the alpaca have different textures and tastes, so make sure you get a nice cut if you decide to try them.
10. Discover the Highest Navigable Lake in the World
One of the coolest features of Peru is Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake at 3,812 meters high. Though that might be its most recognizable feature, Lake Titicaca is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca civilization.
Nowadays, people don’t travel to Lake Titicaca to learn about the Incas, but the Uros people instead. Why? The Uros people have built over 100 floating islands on Lake Titicaca, using only native plants grown in the lake and nothing but their hands. Talk about sustainability and impressive engineering!
Most of the Uros people have moved off the floating islands, but there are still plenty that reside on them. Typically, a big island can fit up to 10 families and a small one can fit about 2 to 3. They even have a school on one of the islands, how cool is that?
If you wish to learn more about Lake Titicaca, the Uros people, and its cultural significance, taking a tour with a local guide is highly recommended. Luckily, there are plenty of tours that leave from the lakeside city of Puno!
11. Hike One of the Deepest Canyons in the World
Home to the Andes Mountains, there is no surprise that Peru is filled with wonderful hikes. But there is one hike that is quite special – the Colca Canyon hike. The deepest canyon in Peru, it is also the second deepest canyon in the world.
Colca Canyon is a river canyon situated in southern Peru, approximately 4.5 hours away from the popular city of Arequipa. For the local tribes that live there, the Colca Canyon is known as the natural habitat for condors, a symbol of Hanan Pacha, or heavenly world, in the Inca culture.
But for tourists, Colca Canyon is a hike to be conquered. The Colca Canyon is considered one of the deepest canyons in the world. In fact, it is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the United States, which is already pretty darn impressive.
For visitors that want to hike the Colca Canyon, you can go on a 2-day or 3-day circuit that starts at the top and goes to the bottom and back up. Both tours have a similar itinerary, one just has shorter days than the other.
But before you go, we highly recommend that you get acclimated to the altitude. You will need to hike at around 3,200 meters altitude for this trek.
12. Witness the Mystery of the Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Researchers have been studying them for decades, but nobody has been able to explain what they are or why they were built. Why did the Nazca people make these famous geoglyphs? Located on a coastal plain 250 miles from Peru’s Capital in the Paracas National Reserve makes for an exciting day trip.
There are over 800 straight lines and 300 geometric patterns that stretch across the plain. Finally, there are over 70 depictions of plants and animals, some of which are over 1,200 feet long. Are they ancient religious artwork? A constellation chart to track the stars? Or a long-lost alien landing strip? You decide!
13. Visit the Poor Man’s Galapagos
Okay, it’s not the best nickname of Isla Ballestas, but a visit to the Galapagos can be expensive. We visited these beautiful islands off the coast and saw penguins, sea lions, and hundreds of different bird species. Located near the town of Pisco, you can catch a boat out to the islands to see the marine life frolic around in their natural habitat.
When to Visit Peru
Peru is located on the West Coast of South America spanning from the Pacific Ocean through the Andes Mountains to the Amazon basin. It is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile giving Peru a very vast landscape and climate range.
Usually, the best time to visit Peru is during the months of May to September as it is a good time for all areas.
- Peru’s summer is from December to March. This is the warmest time to visit, but it is also the rainy season.
- High season for visiting Peru is during its winter months May – September. This is when it is warmest and it is the dry season.
- The best time for the weather to visit Machu Picchu is from April to November. But crowds are big and you will have to book in advance.
Peru is also a large country with very different climates.
- The Amazon Rainforest is hot and humid. From May to September it is very humid with temperatures above 30 degrees. It is very rainy from Oct – April.
- The desert in Huacachina is dry and hot and can be visited any time of the year as it doesn’t change much.
- The Andes can get very cold and the coast can have varied temperatures and climate.
- From December to March it is rainy and colder but you can still trek it if you want to experience fewer crowds.
How to Get Around Peru
When traveling in Peru, we got around by bus, train, and plane. We personally found each one of them to suit specific needs.
By air: Domestic flights are becoming more reasonable and it is much safer and faster to fly from Lima to Cusco or the Amazon Rainforest than taking a bus through the Andes. There are regular flights from the Lima Airport to hubs and major cities around the country.
When searching for domestic air travel look for the mainstays of Peruvian airlines such as Taca, LAN Peru, and Peruvian Airlines.
By Bus – bus travel in Peru has a reputation of being unsafe and recent crashes have added to that stigma. There are good bus company options with luxury buses that are quite comfortable. Just make sure to use a reputable bus company. Two good choices for bus travel in Peru is Cruz del Sur and Peru Hop. The bus is the most economical way to travel domestically in Peru, but it can be dicy.
When taking public transportation keep an eye on your valuables as petty crime is common at bus and train stations. I wouldn’t book overnight buses as criminal activity increases at night. We booked our buses on well travelled routes during daylight hours.
By Train: We only took the train to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu and if you are not hiking the Inca Trail, this is a great way to get to Machu Picchu. Train travel isn’t a popular form of transportation in Peru as trains need to go through the high Andes Mountains but there are a few lines that you can take if you want the experience.
Get more Information on Traveling to Peru