If you are looking for a vacation destination that allows you to explore a combination of coast, highlands, and jungle, then Peru should be on your radar. Located on the west coast of South America, Peru is an extremely diverse country with a wide-range of natural features and climates. You can travel to the arid plains on the Pacific coast, the peaks of the Andes mountains and the tropical Amazon basin, all within one country. The best time of the year for travel and hiking through Peru is between April and October, however, if you don’t plan to do much hiking, any time of the year is suitable for travel.
Aside from being filled with breathtaking landscapes, Peru is also full of history. The Peruvian territory was once home to the Norte Chico civilization, the oldest known civilization in the Americas with settlements dating back to 3200 BC. It was also home to the Inca Empire, the largest empire in the Pre-Columbian America. Peru has preserved a ton of these ancient settlements so people from all over the world can visit the ruins and take a journey to the past.
Ready to for a Peruvian adventure? Here are our top 10 things to do in Peru:
1. Laguna 69
Located in northern Peru, Laguna 69 is one of more than 400 lakes that form part of the Huascarán National Park and one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. Known for its spectacular viewpoints, waterfalls, meadows, and baby blue waters, Laguna 69 is the perfect day trip for hikers and nature lovers. This trek is notorious for being a bit challenging, especially if you are not adjusted to the altitude. The lagoon is located at an impressive 14,764 ft., so come prepared.
• Due to the changing altitudes, make sure to wear layers.
• Arrive in the early morning to beat the crowds.
2. Tambopata National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon Basin
The Peruvian Amazon Basin is a largely undeveloped region in Peru, making the Tambopata National Reserve one of the most wildlife-rich conservation areas on the planet. Touring through the Tambopata National Reserve provides the opportunity to partake in unforgettable jungle experiences. Also located in Tambopata National Reserve is the secluded Lake Sandoval, known for its scenic beauty and the opportunity to discover a wide variety species including monkeys, alligators, birds, and giant otters.
Fun fact: Even though the Peruvian Amazon makes up about 60% of the entire country, only 5% of Peruvians live in this area. It is said that there are still tribes in this area that have never had contact with outside civilization.
3. Machu Picchu
Named one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007, it is no surprise that Machu Picchu remains Peru’s most visited site. Built as an estate for the Inca emperor around 1450, Machu Picchu is the most familiar representation of Inca civilization. Situated deep in the Amazon rainforest on a mountain ridge 7,970 ft. above sea level, this architectural masterpiece is sure to take your breath away.
To get there, you can take a train from Cusco, or you can do a rewarding, multi-day hike. Most people choose to hike the popular Inca Trail, but if you’d rather skip the crowds, check out the alternate routes to Machu Picchu.
• If you are taking the train, make sure to plan accordingly because tickets can sell out weeks in advance
• Get there in the early morning to beat the crowd
Sacsayhuaman is the closest Incan archaeological site to Cusco. These ruins may not be as popular as Machu Picchu, but the history will make for a great introduction. Sacsayhuaman is best known for its construction. The Incas built the dry-stone walls without the use of any mortar, meaning each stone had to be cut to fit together perfectly. Now that is impressive.
• If you don’t want to dish out a ton of money for a tour guide, try to find a local who will show you around for much cheaper
5. Centro Historico De Cusco
Centro Historico De Cusco is known for its beautiful architecture, cathedrals, museums, artisanal markets, food, tours, and nightlife. If you have some down time in Cusco, take a relaxing stroll around the city’s center and get a feel for the Peruvian culture.
6. Parque de la Reserva
Located in downtown Lima is the Parque de la Reserva – a very popular public park and tourist destination. This place is great for children. During the day, there is no fee for entry. If you want, you can bring a change of clothes to get a little wet in the fountain. After 3 p.m., the park charges a small fee of $1.23 USD for entry, and offers a mesmerizing fountain laser show that portray the historic culture of Peru. Beautiful Roman style architecture also surrounds the park.
Miraflores is one of the main attractions in Lima. It is a beachfront residential district that has a ton of upscale shops, restaurants, hotels, and nightlife. They even have a multilevel mall called Larcomar that is built into the cliffside with a spectacular ocean view. If you’re not feeling shopping or dining, you can rent bikes outside of Larcomar and ride along Miraflores’ lively boardwalk.
8. Museo Larco
Museo Larco is also located in Lima. It is a world class museum that holds the largest and most important archaeological collection of ancient Peru. Museo Larco is housed in a remarkable 18th century mansion, which was built over a Pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum is small, but provides a detailed overview of ancient Peruvian history. The museum’s galleries display many treasures from ancient Peru, but is best known for its gallery of Pre-Columbian erotic pottery and art (located in a separate building).
9. Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Built in 1579, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina is one of the most important religious monuments in Peru, is known for its eccentric painted walls, lush gardens, artwork, and architecture. At its peak, the monastery housed approximately 450 people. Today, there are approximately 20 nuns living in part of the complex, but the rest of the monastery is open to the public.
• If you are interested in a deeper understanding of the history, it is best to hire a tour guide
10. Colca canyon
Located about 100 miles northeast of Arequipa is Colca Canyon – Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination and one of the deepest canyons in the world. To put it into perspective, Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It offers intense hiking with stunning scenery.
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