From the native Quechua culture in the Andes to the warmth of the Amazon rainforest, Peru is pure magic. While we can’t list every single thing you’ve gotta see while you’re on tour in Peru (we’d be here for days), we can share some of our all-time favorite spots. Read on for seven can’t-miss attractions in Peru.
1. Parque del Amor in Lima
Peru has a stunning coastline, and Lima’s Parque del Amor, which means “park of love,” is the place to go to see it at its best. Not only are the views spectacular (“I saw one of the prettiest pink sunsets of my life here,” says staffer Jamie), but the colorful mosaics and famous sculpture titled El Beso (The Kiss), make it that much more special. There are even lines of Peruvian poetry along the walls that talk about—you guessed it—love.
Lima travel tip: Try ceviche every single chance you get! This dish is made from (super, super fresh) raw fish marinated in lime juice and sliced onion. It’s a Peruvian classic, and Lima’s coastal location makes it the place to try it. Speaking of ceviche... if you choose to order it while visiting Peru’s inland cities like Cusco, just be sure it’s trout. Inland cities are a long way from the ocean, so any fish pulled from the sea won’t be fresh enough for the dish by the time it’s transported. But, fresh rainbow trout is caught in Peru’s lakes, so it’s a safe (and delicious) bet.
2. The Amazon
Spotting elusive pink dolphins as you cruise to Iquitos, walking through the rainforest with naturalist guides, fishing for piranha—there’s so much to experience in the Amazon. Even with so much to see, one of the most unforgettable moments is visiting an indigenous Yagua village. In fact, it was one of traveler Rick’s top memories from South America. “While I was totally at home in Lima, it couldn’t compare to the beauty and stillness of nature, and visiting the community of the native Yagua people was a highlight of the trip,” he said. “Children and elders emerged from their grass huts in traditional garments to welcome us. Children were accompanied by their pets including sloths, kinkajous, and bright green parrots.”
Amazon Rainforest travel tip: Bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The Amazon rainforest is hot and muggy—which is part of its charm and authenticity!—but it doesn’t take long to get sunburned and dehydrated if you’re not prepared while out exploring.
3. Cuzco Cathedral
Cuzco is spectacular, and is one of the top sights in Peru for good reason. While the capital of the Inca Empire is breathtaking no matter which way you slice it, the cathedral in Plaza de Armas really shines as an ode to the city’s ancient Inca history. Construction started in the 1550’s when Spanish colonizers made the Incas convert to Catholicism. But, there are countless hidden symbols of sacred mythology that the Incas incorporated into the building’s design. For example, there are mirrors that reflect the sun, which allowed the Incas to secretly worship the sun while they pretended to worship at the Catholic alter.
Cuzco travel tip: Brace yourself for the altitude. Cuzco is sitting pretty at over 11,000 feet above sea level, and leaving low-altitude places like Lima or the Amazon and arriving at such a high elevation can be an adjustment. So, chat with your doctor about altitude medication, or use these natural remedies suggested by Tour Director Edwin:
- Rest at your hotel for a bit once you arrive to get acclimated
- Walk slowly to get used to less oxygen at the high elevation
- Eat something light, like soup, your first night in Cuzco, as digestion can be more difficult at high altitudes
- Potassium helps, so eat bananas!
- Stay well hydrated at all times
- Replace any sugars or electrolytes you lose by sipping sugary drinks like Gatorade or the locals’ favorite soda, IncaCola
- Try Andean mint tea, called Muña tea
- Sip coca tea (but not too much, as it’s a diuretic)
- Rub a few drops of Florida water into your palms and inhale the smell (Tour Director Edwin swears by this stuff, and it’s very easy to buy some cheaply when you arrive in Cusco!)
You may not have heard of this ancient spot in the Sacred Valley, but there’s no doubt that the village of Ollantaytambo is one of the top Peru attractions. Here, you’ll find massive ruins that were the site of the former royal estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti, and the ancient grain storehouses, quarries, homes, and terraces are a marvel to see in person. Sitting at the base of this ancient fortress is a town that has been inhabited by locals for centuries. Needless to say, getting a feel for Inca city planning as you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets is very cool, indeed.
Ollantaytambo travel tip: If you want the best views, climb the steps to the top of the ruins. It’s a bit of an effort, especially at the high altitude, but walking where the ancient Inca walked and looking down from the top is worth it. If you want to feel more secure on the steps, a walking stick can be helpful!
5. The Sacred Valley
High in the Andes are some of the Sacred Valley’s traditional villages, which are true jewels of Peruvian culture. We visit two of these inspiring communities on our Incan Traditions: Chinchero Village & Misminay Community excursion, and we can’t stress this enough: You’ve gotta see them. “Unforgettable” is the only way to describe watching a weaving demonstration in the village of Chinchero, nicknamed the birthplace of the rainbow, or learning to honor Pachamama, Mother Earth, with Quechua villagers in Misminay Village (with the mountains as your backdrop!).
Sacred Valley travel tip: Ask your Tour Director where to buy items made from baby Alpaca wool. This is a high-quality regional product (similar to cashmere), and is the perfect souvenir to bring home. The alpaca wool is best when it’s the “first shear,“ which is when an alpaca gets its very first haircut. The authentic stuff feels almost cold and humid to the touch, which is one way to know you’ve got the real thing.
6. Machu Picchu
It’s probably a given that this UNESCO-listed archaeological site is one of the must-visit attractions in Peru. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the country. Our team has been again and again, and seeing this 15th-century citadel never gets old. There are stunning views of the Peruvian Andes, ancient buildings, and as staffer Courtney says in her tour takeover of Peru, there’s so much intrigue. “So much of this site remains a mystery and to this day, nobody knows for sure how it was constructed,” she says. As a team that loves a good mystery, this is right up our alley.
Machu Picchu travel tip: Use the restroom outside the gates before you enter the site. It’s only 2 soles, and you won’t find another restroom inside, so it’s best to make a quick stop before going in. Also, be sure to have all your essentials with you for your visit, including your entrance ticket and passport—you need both to be permitted entry! Plus, you can get your passport stamped right outside the exit when you leave, which is a fun souvenir.
7. The Uros islands in Lake Titicaca
This place is really something special. Have you ever heard of Lake Titicaca’s floating islands? Well, those are the Uros Islands for you. They’re manmade islands created from dried totora reeds that grow in the lake, and everything from the houses and furniture to the watch tower and boats are expertly made from reeds. Even more impressive is the fact that the Uros tribe that lives there is one of the oldest tribes in Peru—it dates bake to before Inca times. Lake Titicaca (which at 12,500 feet above sea level is the highest navigable lake in the world!) and the islands are beautiful in pictures, but there’s nothing quite like walking along the soft surface and meeting the locals who call it home.
Lake Titicaca travel tip: Buy some woven tapestries handmade by the Uros women (hello, most beautiful table runner ever) or small, model-sized reed boats made by the Uros men. Souvenirs don’t get much more authentic than that.