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Known for the spectacular Machu Picchu that sits high in the Andes Mountains, Peru is a country that is full of rich history, vibrant culture and outdoor adventures. While most travelers come to hike the ancient Incan city, there’s also plenty of interesting museums, historic landmarks and natural wonders for you to see as well. From the unspoiled landscapes of Manu National Park to the sand dunes surrounding Huacachina, here are the best things to do in Peru.
Machu Picchu is at the top of everyone’s bucket list, as the fascinating ruins sit perched high up on a ridge and boasts one of the most dramatic settings in the world. It’s one of the most significant archaeological sites on the planet, where you can prepare for an adventure as you soak up views of the surrounding peaks and its lush green terraces as you either hike up to the top or take the train or bus up to the ruins.
A must-see on any visit to Peru, take your time to explore the picturesque Plaza de Armas in Lima. The main square sits in the heart of the city’s historic district and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 18th century. Some of the highlights here include an ornate cathedral, Government Palace, Archbishop’s Palace and the Casa del Oidor. Afterwards, meander through the shops and restaurants along Jiron de la Union.
Walk through the streets of Cusco and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a living museum, as the UNESCO World Heritage Site is dotted with old colonial buildings. Wander through the main square, or Plaza de Armas, to discover the Cusco Cathedral and its historic features that date back to 1560. Admire its three ornate wooden doors and look up to see its star-shaped ceiling beams, then admire the 14-sided chapels that house paintings, artwork and statues of saints.
You’ll find Paracas National Reserve sitting along Peru’s southern coast, surrounded by beautiful water, islands and mainland sections. Many travelers visit this part of Peru to go wildlife watching, as its home to various seabirds, sea lions, otters and Humboldt penguins. You can also visit the nearby Islas Ballestas on a boat tour, which takes you past the “Candelabra”, which is a hillside geoglyph seen from the coast.
Discover pre-Columbian treasures at Museo Larco in Lima, which showcases pre-Columbian art in an 18th-century mansion. Admire the collection of ancient ceramics, see the Moche portrait vessels and learn about Wari weaving. If you like sparkly things head to the gold and jewel section, and if you need a break from browsing the collection of exhibits, visit the Cafe del Museo to enjoy ceviche in a private garden.
Surfers and beach lovers in general will surely want to put Mancora at the top of their itinerary when exploring Peru, as this once attractive fishing port has been transformed into a trendy beach area. Mancora lures in surf enthusiasts from around the globe with its breaking waves, as the city is an ideal stopover when crossing Peru’s northern coast. It’s got everything you need to enjoy your beach holiday, from a buzzing nightlife scene to warm weather and delicious food.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, head to Manu National Park. Here you can go on an Amazonian jungle excursion at one of Peru’s best-protected national parks, where it’s possible for you to spot exotic species such as pink dolphins, jaguars and monkeys. Admire the Manu River that winds through the park, or reach higher elevations to see the Puna grasslands and mountain cloud forests.
Head to Puno, the “Folkloric Capital of Peru”, to experience its rich traditions and lively festivals, while the main highlight is the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca. It is the world’s highest navigable body of water where Uros people have constructed islands built out of reeds. Admire the sparkling blue water and traditional villages, then visit historic landmarks such as the Puno Cathedral with its Andean baroque-style architecture.
Located less than an hour north of Cusco, the Sacred Valley is surrounded by craggy mountains and green landscapes that can be seen on outdoor adventures such as zip lining, mountain biking, horseback riding and rafting. Visit the Pisac Ruins, the Sunday Market in Pisac and the ruins and fortress in Ollantaytambo. See for yourself the cradle of the ancient Inca civilization on a guided or self-guided tour of the region.
Arequipa is a whitewashed city surrounded by three volcanoes, showcasing a mix of the indigenous and Spanish colonial cultures in its historic landmarks. See the Santa Catalina Convent and its display of colorful buildings and flowers, then marvel at other buildings made using the distinctive white or pink volcanic ashlar stone. Explore the beautiful Plaza de Armas and vibrant food scene, or visit the enormous Colca Canyon just a short drive away.
Those looking for a thrill can visit Huacachina, as the surrounding sand dunes reach up to 328 feet in height and offer a chance to go sandboarding or simply gaze at its seemingly endless landscapes that stretch out into the horizon. The oasis town is popular for those wanting to go dune buggy riding and surfing on the sand, while the palm-fringed town also offers plenty of swimming holes to take a dip.
Only a short five-hour drive from Lima, Marcahuasi is one of the most unique destinations in Peru. Here you’ll discover a stone forest in the Andes, which has gained world recognition because of its mysteriously-shaped stones. If you look close, you can see that the stones resemble human faces and animals, and the history behind it also remains a mystery, as the origin has become the subject of many debates.