The Best Places to Visit in Peru For First-Timers

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Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru

Looking for some absolutely incredible places to visit in Peru? Known for its rich culture, delicious cuisine, and breathtaking nature and biodiversity, Peru is easily one of the most popular destinations in South America. Whether you want to spend your days exploring local restaurants in different cities, surfing in Lima, trekking to Machu Picchu, or walking jungle paths through the Amazon rainforest, you can do it all in Peru. 

With so many experiences and places to explore in Peru, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Lots of people combine Peru’s capital city of Lima with a detour to Cusco in the Andes on their first trip, in order to witness one of the seven wonders of the world. I certainly did, and I found it to be an epic introduction to the allure of this rich country. 

But there’s so much more to Peru than Lima and Machu Picchu.

Below you’ll find my list of the best places to visit in Peru to help you explore as much of this country as you possibly can!

The Best Places to Visit in Peru For First-Timers

1. Lima

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Lima
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Lima
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Lima
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Lima

Lima is Peru’s capital city, filled with unique street art, vivacious nightlife, world-class gastronomy, big waves for surfing, and rich history. Travelers usually fly into or out of Lima, and it’s home to Peru’s main international airport, making it a great place to start or end your trip. 

There are several different neighborhoods you’ll want to check out during your visit, from the colorfully decorated streets of Barranco to the Centro Histórico, to the beautiful neighborhood of Miraflores. 

Things to Do in Lima

  • Visit Barranco, the artists’ neighborhood, and keep an eye out for all the beautiful and powerful street art as you stroll through the busy streets.
  • Take a tour of Lima’s Centro Histórico to learn about the history of the city and see famous landmarks like Plaza San Martin, the Plaza de Armas, the Santo Domingo Church, and the Presidential Palace.
  • Grab a drink in Miraflores, and be sure to check out the beautiful flowers that grow along the malecón.
  • Take a surfing lesson or try out paragliding along the Lima coastline.
  • Take a cooking class and learn how to make a traditional Peruvian dish or the national drink, Pisco Sour.
  • Go shopping at The Larcomar, a shopping center built into a cliff.
  • Visit Lima’s Mercado Central, Mercado Artesanal, and Miraflores Indian Market for some affordable handicraft shopping and people-watching. 
  • Dine at the Restaurante Huaca Pucllana, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the pre-Incan Huaca Pucllana pyramid.

Places to Stay in Lima

See all the places to stay in Lima using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Lima

3 days minimum.

Many travelers tend to overlook Lima and only spend a day here before heading to another part of the country. Don’t be that person! You’d be missing out on an incredible gastronomic city with beautiful coastal neighborhoods and some of the best restaurants in all of Peru. Three days will give you enough time to check out these neighborhoods, try a cooking class or a surfing lesson, and eat your way through the capital city. And, don’t let the gray skies fool you – Lima is undoubtedly one of the coolest places to visit in Peru and well worth your time.

2. Cusco

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Cusco
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Cusco
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Cusco
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Cusco

Cusco, sometimes spelled “Cuzco,” is one of the most popular places to visit in Peru because of its prime location high up in the Andes and its proximity as a launching point for Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous landmark.

Brimming with traditional Incan and Spanish colonial architecture, history, and design, it’s a spectacular Peruvian city to base yourself in. There are countless museums and cultural sites as well, like Qorikancha and the Inka Museum, that are each well worth a visit. Qorikancha is one of the most important temples in the Incan Empire, built to honor Inti, the Sun God. You can still see the remains of the temple today and visit the onsite museum to see more artifacts from the Incans.

Cusco is also home to some pretty epic Peruvian nightlife where you can easily find yourself out and about until the early hours of the evening. Just be mindful if you’re a solo traveler – in my experience, Cusco can be pretty catcall-heavy after dark. 

With so many activities and things to do and learn about, Cusco is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Peru and a must to add to your itinerary.

Things to Do in Cusco

  • Take a walking tour to learn about both traditional Incan and Spanish colonial architecture, history, and design.
  • Check out cultural sites like Qorikancha–one of the most important temples in the Incan Empire built to honor Inti, the Sun God. 
  • Visit one of the many museums in Cusco, like the Inka Museum or the Museo de Arte Precolumbiano, which is dedicated to Peruvian art before the Spanish invasion.
  • Take a chocolate-making tour and class at the ChocoMuseo.
  • Take a day trip to the Rainbow Mountains. Situated in the Andes Mountains, these technicolor peaks have become a must-see destination for travelers seeking a unique and surreal adventure. Since it’s a bit of a drive from Cusco, tour companies such as Apus Peru and Alternative Peru will drive you there early in the morning and return you by the end of the day. 
  • Visit Sacsaywaman, an ancient, mind-boggling citadel up on the outskirts of town with an incredible view of Cusco.
  • Go on a pub crawl of Cusco to explore this Andean city’s infamous nightlife scene. Perfect for solo travelers looking to explore Cusco’s bars with a buddy!

Places to Stay in Cusco

See all the places to stay in Cusco using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Cusco

2 days minimum, but 3 days is ideal.

Cusco isn’t a very big city, so you can explore most of it within a few days. Two days will usually be just enough to wander the hilly, winding streets, take in the views, and get acclimated to the high altitude before you continue with your Peru trip. However, three days is better so you can slow down a bit (and, as a buffer in case you experience any lingering signs of altitude sickness).

3. Machu Picchu

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Machu Picchu
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Machu Picchu
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Machu Picchu
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Machu Picchu

No list of places to visit in Peru would be complete without mentioning Machu Picchu. This ancient Inca city perched atop a mountain in the Andes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But beyond its many accolades and titles, it really is just a spectacular manifestation of human will, determination, and faith.  

The most popular way to get there is via Cusco by either taking a multi-day hike or a train and bus from the nearest town, Aguas Calientes. Make sure to plan your trip to Machu Picchu in advance, as visitation is capped by the government to preserve the site, and only a certain number of tickets are released each year. It is advised to book your tickets, accommodations, and guided tours a few months in advance, especially if you plan to visit during the peak season (May to September). 

If you plan to do any hiking while visiting Machu Picchu (the Inca and Saklantay Trails are the most popular), bake in a few days of acclimatization in Cusco or the Sacred Valley beforehand – you’ll need it before you do any strenuous activity at elevation! I personally did the one-day Inca Trail which is about 7.5 miles at altitude and even as an avid hiker, I was feeling the burn. 

Read up on my tips for combatting altitude sickness here.

Things to Do in Machu Picchu

  • Take a tour of the ruins by booking ahead of time or finding a guide on-site and negotiating a price.
  • Hike Huayna Picchu or trek up to Machu Picchu via the Inca or Saklantay Trails.
  • Visit nearby Aguas Calientes, the town that is typically any Machu Picchu visitor’s overnight base. It’s known for its hot springs and is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully picturesque towns I’ve seen in my entire life. 

Places to Stay in Machu Picchu

See all places to stay near Machu Picchu using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Machu Picchu

1 to 2 days unless doing a multi-day hike.

If hiking, be sure to allow one to two days beforehand to adjust to the altitude first! You’ll only need to spend a few hours at the ruins, making it an easy day trip if you’re limited on time. However, I recommend spending a night before or after in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain. If you’re hiking and depending on the visitation access you have, you might be able to visit Machu Picchu twice to witness it at different times of day. The sun positioning, clouds, and crowds can all make for an entirely different experience each time, so it’s well worth it to visit as much as your ticket access allows!

4. Sacred Valley

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Sacred Valley
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Sacred Valley
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Sacred Valley

Nestled high up in the Andes, the Sacred Valley is a stunning region filled with natural beauty, history, and indigenous culture. It’s a popular stop for many while they’re en route from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley was once the heartland of the Inca Empire and its fertile soil was considered sacred, thus giving the region its name. It is home to several impressive ruins, such as Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Chinchero.

Be sure to check out the Pisac Market, a bustling place to find handmade goods, intricately woven textiles, traditional ceramics and jewelry, and other artisanal wares. It’s also a great place to try some local, authentic Peruvian cuisine. Try dishes like alpaca steak, fresh trout from local rivers, and traditional Andean soups.

When you’re driving around Peru’s sacred valley, keep an eye out for homes and buildings with red sacks hanging on the exterior. This is typically a symbol that the people inside brew chicha, a Peruvian kombucha-like drink made from corn that contains slight amounts of alcohol. While the texture can be a bit funky for the uninitiated, the flavor is quite mild and delicious (in my opinion, at least!).

Pro Tip: Many people spend the night in Ollantaytambo before heading to Machu Picchu, followed by a night in Aguas Calientes after. You can take the train to Aguas Calientes directly from here. 

Things to Do in the Sacred Valley

  • Take a horseback riding tour at Salinaras Ranch where you’ll be able to see gorgeous views and explore the area.
  • Explore the Pisac Market.
  • Discover the many hikes in Sacred Valley. Some popular ones with great views include Kinsa Cocha Lakes, Saywa Mountain Urubamba, and Maras Salt Mines.
  • Tour the archeological sites of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and the Maras Salt Mines. 
  • Sample a glass of chicha, a sour, almost kombucha-like and mildly alcoholic beverage made from corn. You can find these Peruvian ‘breweries’ – which are typically people’s homes – across the Sacred Valley indicated by a red plastic bag hung around a wooden pole and visibly displayed on the outside of the building. 

Places to Stay in the Sacred Valley

See all Ollantaytambo hotels here and all Pisac hotels here.

How Much Time to Spend in the Sacred Valley

1 to 2 days.

The Sacred Valley is beautiful but quiet. One to two days should be sufficient to spend some time seeing the ruins, shopping for handicrafts, and exploring Ollantaytambo.

5. Arequipa

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Arequipa

Peru’s former capital is a thriving metropolis and cultural hub for the southern region of the country, and one of the best cities in Peru. It can be found on the highlands of the Huayco Uchamayo and is surrounded by three volcanoes: Misti, Pikchu Pikchu, and Chachani. That’s why so many of the buildings in Arequipa are white–they’re made of volcanic rock!

A lot of travelers stop here because of the amazing hiking available at Colca Canyon, a popular tourist destination, or as a stopping point before crossing the border further into South America. 

Things to Do in Arequipa

Places to Stay in Arequipa

See all places to stay in Arequipa using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Arequipa

3 days minimum.

Three days in Arequipa will give you enough time to see some beautiful buildings, spend a day hiking, and explore the city. Anything less and you might not be able to see a complete overview of what Arequipa has to offer. 

6. Huacachina

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Huacachina

Did you know Peru has a desert? Huacachina is a stunning oasis surrounded by towering sand dunes with a big lake in the middle, making it one of the most visually unique places to visit in Peru.

You can visit Huacachina on a day trip from Lima, but it’ll be easier (and more relaxing) to spend a night in this oasis before carrying on with your Peru vacation. 

Things to Do in Huacachina

  • Relax alongside the lagoon in the middle of Huacachina town. 
  • Try sandboarding or dune buggying. You can enjoy the surreal views of the desert oasis from up high and tear down the sandy peaks surrounding it while you’re at it.
  • Rent a paddleboard and gain a vantage point of Huacachina from the heart of the oasis. When you’re done, grab a bite to eat from one of the local restaurants by the water. 

Places to Stay in Huacachina

See all places to stay in Huacachina using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Huacachina

2 to 3 days.

Huacachina is really small, so you could easily do most things the town has to offer within two days. It can be done as a day trip from Lima, but it’s a very long day. I suggest spending at least one night here in order to not feel too rushed.

7. Máncora

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Manorca
Photo Credit: Digital Nomad World

Máncora is an ideal place for beach lovers. Located on the northern coast of Peru, it’s a tropical region with golden sands and crystal-clear waters, making it a haven for rest and relaxation.

The nightlife is also something not to miss! In Máncora, you’ll find a ton of dancing bars, local hot spots, and beachfront clubs with parties that last until the early hours of the morning.

Things to Do in Mánorca

  • Hit the beach! Máncora’s beaches are some of the best in the country, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. It’s known for some of the best waves too, and is popular for both beginners and pros. Kitesurfing is another popular water sport here too, due to strong winds in the area. 
  • Party at one of the local bars and nightclubs. Some of the best bars and nightclubs include The Point Máncora – Beach Hostel which is infamous among locals and travelers and Loki Máncora, a party hostel that looks, feels, and acts like a nightclub. 
  • Go whale watching (July – October). Humpback whales migrate along the coast during these months, and boat tours are available to get up close to these magnificent creatures as they pass by.

Places to Stay in Mánorca

See all places to stay in Mánorca using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Mánorca

2 to 3 days.

You can do a lot in Mánorca within two to three days. Of course, if you’re here to learn how to surf, you might want to stay longer in this beautiful beach town and I wouldn’t blame you!

8. Tarapoto

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Tarapoto

Tarapoto is a rainforest town in the north of Peru, known for its jungle waterfalls, clear lakes and lagoons, and birdwatching. It is an hour’s plane ride away from Lima and is the region’s largest city. 

This town has plenty to do for adventurous nature lovers, as well as those looking for a quiet rainforest escape. Tarapoto is also known for its gastronomy and vibrant nightlife.

Things to Do in Tarapoto

  • Go birdwatching and try to spot native hummingbirds including the Little Woodstar and Black-bellied Thorntail as well as different types of owls.
  • Visit the Ahuashiyacu Waterfall, one of Tarapoto’s most iconic waterfalls. It’s easily accessible in the rainforest, close to the main part of the city. Take a short hike through the jungle to swim in this waterfall’s crystal-clear pool and immerse yourself in the beautiful rainforest. 
  • Go kayaking or tubing along the Cumbaza River.
  • Swim, paddle, or simply take in the views of the Blue Lagoon, also known as Lake Sauce.

Places to Stay in Tarapoto

See all places to stay in Tarapoto using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Tarapoto

2 to 3 days.

Two to three days in Tarapoto should be enough to explore the rainforest and spend a full day on the water.

9. Iquitos

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Iquitos

This is the Amazon’s capital city and the largest city in the world that’s reachable only by boat or plane! You will want to have this on your itinerary for sure when narrowing down all the places to visit in Peru.

Iquitos is known for its floating village and street markets, river cruises, and rich biodiversity. This hidden region is surrounded by the jungle and rainforest making for an intrepid Peruvian expedition.

Things to Do in Iquitos

  • Visit La Isla De Los Monos otherwise known as “Monkey Island.” This reserve operates both as a tourist park and a recovery center for injured monkeys. You can interact with over 8 different species of monkeys and sloths here.
  • Hire a canoe or book a tour to explore the floating city and taste your way through the Belen Market.
  • Walk through history in the Plaza De Armas featuring unique architecture (like the Casa de Fierro – constructed by the same architect of the Eiffel Tower), museums, and riverfront views.
  • Visit Pilpintuwasi – a wildlife rescue center and butterfly farm to learn more about endangered species and their habitat.
  • Take your pick from an adventure or luxury cruise along the river. You can book anywhere from one to seven days on different boats, experiencing the lively city, flora and fauna, and jungle surrounding.

Places to Stay in Iquitos

See all places to stay in Iquitos using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Iquitos

At least 3 days.

This is the largest city in the Amazon, so I’d dedicate a day to exploring the city, markets, and museums, a full day on the water, and another day to either relax at your lodge or continue maximizing your Amazon adventures.

10. Tambopata

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Tambopata

Tambopata is a province in the Madre de Dios state of the Amazon famous for its National Reserve. You’ll likely enter through – and stay in – its biggest city, Puerto Maldonado. Think of this place as a giant National Park (the reserve is about the same size as Yosemite National Park, but this entire region is over 14,000 square miles!) where the majority of the landscape and wildlife is untouched, creating the best backdoor for outdoor adventures and wildlife viewing.

Things to Do in Tambopata

  • Visit a clay lick where you’ll find dozens of colorful Macaws (and several other species of birds) against the cliffs.
  • Book a jungle tour to get an in-depth lay of the land. Several accommodations in the area offer jungle tours, but you can also book one ahead of time here.
  • Take a sunset cruise along the Amazon River.
  • Get an aerial 360 view of the rainforest at the top of the Canopy Tower.
  • Explore the Oxbow lakes and look out for the local wildlife – otters, caimans, and piranhas can be spotted here!

Places to Stay in Tambopata

See all places to stay in Tambopata using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Tambopata

2 to 3 days. 

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so will want to give yourself enough time to take in all the sights and sounds. I recommend at least two to three days to explore the area.

11. Lake Titicaca

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru - Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake and the world’s highest lake dipping into both Peru and Bolivia. This place is totally for nature lovers and history/culture buffs. And, there’s a lot of rich symbolism and significance here, as Lake Titicaca is considered the birthplace of the Incas.

Things to Do in Lake Titicaca

  • Go island-hopping in Lake Titicaca and explore the islands of Taquile, Isla del Sol, Uros, and Amantani – each of them featuring different ceremonial sites and landscapes. For an exceptionally authentic experience, consider a local homestay when visiting Taquile.
  • Kayak on top of the world (at least that’s what it feels like!) on a guided tour around the lake.
  • Explore Titicaca’s coastal, folkloric city of Puno – booming with festivities, music, and art. Take a walking tour of the city.
  • Visit the mysterious, tower-like tombs of Sillustani, visible remains of a pre-Inca tradition of elaborate burial ceremonies for the community’s elite.

Places to Stay in Lake Titicaca

See all places to stay in Puno using this link.

How Much Time to Spend in Lake Titicaca

2 to 3 days is enough time to explore Lake Titicaca.

There you have it! Though not the biggest country in South America, Peru has so much diversity to explore – from sand dunes and deserts to rich rainforests and mountains.

Pick a couple places to visit in Peru and venture out – you’ll be surprised how much ground you can cover even with just one or two weeks! 

Where are you planning to go on your Peru trip? Let me know in the comments below!

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Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit in Peru

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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