What do you get when you combine history, culture and natural beauty? Peru! From the ancient city of Machu Picchu to learning the art of sandboarding, Peru offers adventures for all travelers. Here are the top 9 things to do in Peru.
1. Explore the Amazon.
Popular wisdom would have you believing that you’d have to travel to Brazil to explore the Amazon, but did you know Peru is where this mighty region starts? Plus, in Peru, you have access to the many forms the Amazon takes, from the jungle to the river. The Amazon gets its start in Carhuasanta, then travels down the Andes and into the Amazon basin. Within Peru, and especially in Manu National Park, the Amazon is as bio-diverse as it gets – at least 1,000 birds and over 200 mammal species. The best jumping-off point for Amazon exploration is Puerto Maldonado – you’ll be able to access areas to see caimans, capybara, monkeys, parrots, turtles and piranhas. Venture out by boat to learn about the jungle and its indigenous communities or help out on a conservation or volun-tour trip. Try to include trips into the Reserva Nacional Tambopata and the Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene – perhaps staying at one of their jungle lodges.
2. Visit Machu Picchu
There’s no “right” way to visit, or even get to, Machu Picchu. But if you’re in Peru, we urge you to get yourself these epic Inca ruins in whatever way appeals to you. Get to the secret city, high above the Urubamba River, via the renowned Inca Trail, a four-day walk along Inca stone staircases, villages and terraced fields. Other trail options include the Choquequirao Trail or the Lares Trek. The Salkantay Trek is more challenging and takes more time, but the staggeringly beautiful scenery is worth it. It’s not as busy as the other trails and crosses 15 different ecosystems. Prefer the train? Routes leave from Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. From there, you can take a bus up the switchbacks to the site.
3. Find Serenity in the Sacred Valley.
Escape the hustle and bustle of Cusco and drive less than an hour north to the Sacred Valley and the charming towns of Pisac, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Before continuing on to Machu Picchu, give the Sacred Valley the attention it deserves as you shop the local markets, soak up the culture, visit the Pisac Ruins and wander the Pisac Sunday market and explore the ruins and fortress in Ollantaytambo.
4. Linger in Lima
Look farther than Cusco and Arequipa and visit the capital of Lima. This charming city has easy access to lovely coastline, jagged mountains and lush jungle. Make this your jumping-off point for whitewater rafting and wine tasting in Lunahuana, uncovering pre-Columbian history in Tarma and visiting South America’s deepest cave. Within the city itself, you can take a walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed colonial town for free – the historic center was founded in the 1500s and is a beautiful setting for a stroll. Don’t miss the main square, Plaza de Armas, with its historic cathedral and Government Palace, or the shops and restaurants of the pedestrian street Jiron de la Union.
5. Marvel as the Nazca Lines.
Learn the story of these gigantic and elaborate drawings etched into Peru’s coastal desert. Archaeologists believe the Nazca and Paracas peoples created the lines between 900 BC and AD 600 (these cultures predate the Incas by approximately 2,000 years). Thanks to the extreme landscape and environment, the lines have survived over the centuries. To fully appreciate the scale of the lines, it’s best to take an aerial tour. This way, you’ll be able to look down on 79 different plant and animal drawings, as well as lines and geometrical shapes. Look for the huge lizard, condor, monkey, hummingbird, orca whale and spider. While you’re in the area, consider visit the Cantalloc Aqueducts, built around AD 300 to 600, some of which are still in use today, and the Cemetery of Chauchilla, with its Nazca remains and mummies.
6. Boat to the Ballestas Islands.
If you’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands, consider Peru’s Ballestas Islands instead. The Paracas National Reserves near Pisco offer the chance to explore desert, ocean and island landscapes, the sandy beaches of La Mina and Mendieta, the mysterious Paracas Candelabra geoglyph. Take the boat ride out to the Ballestas for their huge colonies of sea lions, penguins and seabirds, including the albatross, booby and pelican.
7. See the Floating Homes of Lake Titicaca.
The largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world, sparkling Lake Titicaca was believed, by the Inca people, to be the birthplace of the sun. Join the many who have fallen in love with this famous lake, known for its man-made islands. The islands are constructed from local totora reeds and used as floating homes by the Uros Indians. Use nearby Puno as your home base. Take a tour to the Uros Floating Islands (Islas Flotantes) to get a glimpse into the traditional way of life in this area. Back on shore, don’t miss the small villages in the hills along the lakeshore and on the main islands of Isla Taquile and Isla Amantani. Wondering how to get there? If you’re in Cusco, try the Titicaca train that will whisk you across the Andean altiplano to the lake – you’ll see llamas and Adobe villages along the way.
8. Delve into Colca Canyon.
Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is the second deepest in the world (after the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon). The canyon is the result of a seismic fault between two volcanoes and reaches a depth of 11,154 feet. Several civilizations have inhabited the area, including the Collagua, Cabana and Inca peoples. You can see stone terracing along the canyon walls that dates to AD 800. The best way to explore the canyon is via multi-day trip from Arequipa (four-hour drive). Spend a couple days hiking, soaking in hot springs and exploring churches, villages and Inca ruins. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a condor or two soaring past the cliff walls.
9. Go Sandboarding at the Sand Dunes at Huacachina.
Think outside the box and visit the oasis resort of Huacachina outside Ica. There’s a huge lagoon, surrounded by massive sand dunes that will soon be calling your name. Don’t leave without trying sandboarding – a sport similar to snowboarding. Rent a sandboard, then surf your way down these undulating mountains of sand. Or, rent a dune buggy and explore as far as you wish.