Given the diverse and high number of attractions in Peru, the best itinerary really depends on your personality and interests. The most visited itinerary option here is Machu Picchu, which is often combined with other Incan sites, Spanish colonial architecture, and the incredible Amazon Rainforest. Peru contains the second largest fraction of this incredible forest, which you can visit from the rainforest gateways of Iquitos near the Amazon River or Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s south.
A popular itinerary for Peru is to combine Machu Picchu, either as a day-trip aboard the Vistodome or on a trek, such as the Inca Trail, a walk around the streets of UNESCO listed Cusco, and a visit to the Amazon Rainforest from an Amazon Rainforest lodge from Puerto Maldonado or Amazon River tour from Iquitos. This gives you a fantastic example across culture and nature and shows off the country’s most popular and most remarkable sights. There are a variety of other attractions that you can have as an add-on experience and we have composed a list of 100 things to do in Peru as an in depth example.
Another popular itinerary for independent travelers is the Gringo Trail, for example, which takes you from Lima with its colonial architecture, fantastic plazas, cathedrals, and restaurants, through Ica where you can explore the sand dunes near Huacachina, the city of Arequipa with its beautiful volcanic scenery, great restaurants, and interesting buildings, Puno for visits to the famous Lake Titicaca, which is the world’s highest large lake, and finally to UNESCO listed Cusco with its fascinating architecture and access to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. To get an idea of the different areas, you can also see the article on the top tourist cities in Peru.
Peru has had a fascinating cultural history with the Inca Empire being the largest civilization in the pre-Colombian Americas. In addition the various Inca structures and ruins, the country contains some fascinating remnants of the many other cultures and civilizations such as the Chimú, Moche, Norte Chico, Nazca, and Paracas cultures.
Peru’s most popular and most famous attraction, the incredible monument of Machu Picchu was built by the Inca Empire in the 15th century just 100 years before the Spanish would conquer the country. Although one of the Inca’s most impressive structures, Machu Picchu would remain unknown to the conquistadors and only reached international attention after the expedition of Hiram Bingham in 1911. A UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is now recognized as one of the New7Wonders of the World. To visit the structure without any hiking, we recommend taking the Vistadome train, which departs from Poroy station near Cusco and provides fantastic views of Peruvian scenery through magnificent windows and skylights.
One of the few sites in Peru that can rival Machu Picchu in size and significance, Kuelap was built by the Chachapoyas culture in Peru’s north. Known as the Warriors of the Clouds or Cloud Forest People, they lived in the cloud forests of the Andes surrounded by magnificent vegetation. Kuelap is a complex large structure and overlooks the valley of Utcubamba. Surrounding the structures is a high wall, which was mainly built with pink granite adding a fantastic effect. Although being one of northern Peru’s most advanced civilizations, little is known about the mysterious Chachapoyas and the site of Kuelap was thought to have taken over 200 years to complete.
The world’s largest adobe city, Chan Chan is located near the Peruvian city of Trujillo in the Moche Valley. This was the capital of the Chimor Empire, which spanned from AD 900 – 1470 and was conquered by the Inca Empire. Chan Chan is home to a number of large buildings with ten thousands structures in total and was thought to have housed around 50,000 people. The Chimú culture was famous for its gold, which was later acquired by the Spanish. You can walk the fascinating streets and see the different palaces adorned with different artwork. This was the more significant ruin of the Chimú culture and makes for a must-visit attraction while exploring the cultural history of Peru.
In addition to the many archaeological and cultural attractions, the natural attractions in the country cannot be overestimated. Peru is home the second largest portion of Amazon Rainforest, many beautiful lakes, a fantastic section of the Andes, and other overlooked natural wonders.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest container of wildlife and Peru contains the second largest portion of this fantastic rainforest. There are some fantastic animals and plants to see here, including many beautiful orchids, bromeliads, giant trees, several different monkeys, large and colorful parrots, caiman crocodilians, and beautiful butterflies. The two main rainforest gateways for the Amazon Rainforest are Iquitos in the north for incredible Amazon River tours and Puerto Maldonado in the south for great lodges for Tambopata and the Manu rainforest. We will mention three of our top recommendations for different budgets and styles, including a luxury cruise, a wildlife-focused deep rainforest lodge, and a budget friendly lakeside Amazon lodge.
The Rainbow Mountain is a fantastic natural attraction, which you can visit on a full day hike from Cusco. Enjoy walking through a beautiful green valley to the colorful hills deep in the Andes where different minerals color the ground to great a beautiful effect. Also known as Vinicunca Mountain, the colors on the sandstone hills give a rainbow effect leading to its other name. Tourism is relatively recent to the area, but that shouldn’t stop you visiting this incredible natural attraction.
The world’s highest large lake, Lake Titicaca is where the Inca and other Andean cultures thought to be the birthplace of the sun and the locals of Titicaca still wear a traditional Andean dress. Titicaca sits at the border of Peru and Bolivia with both countries providing access to the lake. There are around 500 different animals and plants in and around the lake with many adapted to the high altitude and low oxygen at this height. The area is culturally fascinating with the most famous group here known as the Uros who live on islands of reeds on the lake itself. The locals still wear traditional petticoats and bowler hats with children in colorful clothing and you can often see famous llamas walking with their owners.
Top 3 Amazon Rainforest tours
There are a diversity of Amazon Rainforest tours to choose from, such as luxury tours, budget conscious lodges, different community-owned experiences, and deep rainforest lodges to see the most wildlife. Here we will mention three of the most recommended experiences. We will also mention a fourth option under hiking tours, which is the preferred choice for adventurers looking for more flexibility in the Amazon.
The Delfin II is a luxury cruise vessel from Iquitos in the Amazon Rainforest of northern Peru. The cruise takes you into the wildlife-rich protected area of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which is one of the largest protected areas in the country. Enjoy spotting many different monkeys, colorful parrots, toucans, pink river dolphins, and fascinating plants. To compliment this incredible area, enjoy high-class service, luxury suites with large picture windows, and delicious food. From the vessel, enjoy guided tours into this incredible forest with some of the best guides in the Amazon Rainforest to find amazing wildlife on walking tours, skiff expeditions, and even a kayaking excursion.
Manu Wildlife Center
The Manu Wildlife Center is a fantastic wildlife-focused lodge located deep in the Amazon Rainforest just outside the incredible Manu National Park. The lodge is located near a large macaw clay lick, regarded as one of the most photo-friendly in all Amazonia, a clay lick to see wild tapir, and a beautiful lake to see giant river otters. In addition to seeing these icons of Amazonia, head out into the rainforest on many different forest trails to find several different monkeys, colorful birds, giant trees, and different reptiles. If you would also like to enter Manu National Park’s Reserved Zone, you can combine the Manu Wildlife Center with the Manu Tented Camp on the Manu Adventurer tour.
Sandoval Lake Lodge
The Sandoval Lake Lodge sits near the beautiful Sandoval Lake, which is one of the most attractive and wildlife-rich lakes in the Amazon. Enjoy lake tours on a small wooden catamaran to find capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and the titi monkeys that visit the lake in the mornings to feed. You will also spot the lakes resident family of giant river otters as they play and hunt as a family. Near the lake is a nesting site of scarlet macaws and you can often see the birds resting on branches on short walks around the lodge. You will also head out at night to spot the black caiman and different nocturnal animals. We recommend this lodge as one of the best tours to see the most wildlife over a short tour of one or two nights.
There are many different hiking and walking tours in Peru with an archaeological, scenic, or nature focus. Here we will mention a few of the favorites, but another great experience is to visit the Rainbow Mountain mentioned above as part of the Ausangate Trek, which is a week long trek with incredible Andean scenery, different lakes, and ending at the beautiful Rainbow Mountain.
By far the most popular trek in Peru, the Inca Trail retraces the steps of the Inca to their sacred monument of Machu Picchu. The usual walk is a four-day trek along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. However, we recommend the five-day option called the Inca Trail Discovery as it allows more time to marvel at the stunning scenery and isn’t so rushed. If you don’t have the time for these treks, you can also enjoy part of the trek on the Short Inca Trail, which takes just two days. Enjoy fantastic archaeological sites en-route and the accompanying Andean scenery before your exploration of Machu Picchu itself.
An alternative to the well-trodden Inca Trail mentioned above, the Salkantay Trek offers incredible scenery on the way to explore Machu Picchu. Enjoy trekking through areas with views of snow capped mountains, Andean farming areas, Inca ruins, and then catch the train to Aguas Calientes for your exploration of Machu Picchu itself. You will trek through the Andes environment and descend into warm valleys and encounter different Incan structures and stonework enroute. The trek is full of beautiful sights and transitional environments as we walk across open grasslands, rocky mountains, follow winding rivers, and journey through the magnificent cloud forest. Not just a scenic experience, we will also visit traditional Andean villages and see people who have maintained a similar existence since the time of the Incan Empire.
The best Amazon Rainforest lodge for a hiking experience, from the Tahuayo Lodge with your private guide on a custom itinerary you will explore the incredible Amazon habitat of the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve to find many different animals and plants. Trek passed giant trees and be followed by troops of monkeys as they investigate your presence in their jungle home. On tours of 6 days and over, you can enjoy both the Tahuayo lodges, including the main lodge and the Tahuayo Amazon Research Center, which is located near a 1000 acre primate research grid. The reserve itself was founded to help protect the range of the rare red uakaris and on hikes deep in the reserve you stand a chance of finding these elusive and magnificent monkeys.