While capital city Lima on the Pacific coast and iconic Machu Picchu get the headlines, know that every inch of Peru is paradise. From arid deserts to drenched Amazon rainforest. Colossal canyons, wonderful waterfalls, soaring sand dunes and shimmering lakes. And even rainbow coloured mountains (yes really), Peru is Mother Nature’s playground. That’s why we’ve pulled together 15 stunning places to visit in Peru, just for you.
Flanked by awesome Andes Mountains, the Inca trail to Machu Picchu’s ancient ruins is one of the most special places to visit in Peru. A bucket-list spot and one of the Seven Wonders of the World for good reason. This 15th century citadel was the pride of place of Incan civilisations, and remarkably escaped the attention of Spanish conquerers. Perched on a 2,430 metre mountain ridge, gaze at gigantic stones that fit perfectly together (without the need for mortar), which Incas carved into the rock. Wave hello to llamas as you walk. Oh, and remember your camera.
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Facing the gorgeous Pacific coast and flanked by dramatic mountain landscapes, Peru’s capital is picture perfect. There’s also vibrant life at every turn here. From succulent ceviche to lively nightlife. You can also admire colonial architecture, religious paintings, sculptures and other pre-Columbian artefacts that reveal aspects of ancient Peruvian cultures. Revel in this ‘culinary capital’ of South America and one of the most vibrant places to visit in Peru with a trip to a local food market – where bright vegetables and fresh seafood seemingly stretch for miles, igniting the senses.
Salt Mines of Maras
Step into village of Maras, 50 km in the northeast of Cusco city. Locals continue to farm salt from 4,500 salt pools here and sell it in the city – using the same traditional techniques they used 500 years ago. On our Highlights of Peru tour, discover these salt mining techniques first-hand from villages and try your hand yourself. Or simply soak in this staggeringly beautiful sight.
Meet Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake above sea level at 3,812 m. Sat on the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes mountains, your heart will skip a beat here. Cruise past the floating islands constructed by the Uros Indians – and hear about weaving and knitting traditions from locals on Taquile Island.
Cerro Blanco Dunes
Step into a wild expanse of sand southeast of Nazca City, truly one of the most stunning places to visit in Peru. Cerro Blanco dunes are 3,860 feet (1,176 meters) from base to peak – making it one of the tallest sand dunes in the world. And a jaw-dropping picture to show your friends back home.
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Sea lions, pelicans and penguins roam around Paracas’ red sand beaches on Peru’s west coast. Head to the Inca region (152 miles from Lima) to gaze at a melting pot of mother nature: with desert, ocean and islands all in sight.
The Rainbow Mountains
Amazingly, snow melted in 2015 to reveal the seven colours of the rocks underneath this spot which is one of the best places to visit in Peru. Vinicunca (also known as The Rainbow Mountains) is a sight to behold. Put on your hiking shoes and scale 1,585 metres above sea level for a sighting. We recommend visiting between March and November to see it in good light.
This majestic waterfall was unknown until 2002, when a German researcher called Stefan Ziemendorff and a group of locals took stumbled across it during an expedition waterfall. Visitors now flock to see this 771m high mass of water crashing down into th Cocahuayco River below.
Once capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco city in the Andes Mountains is now one of the most unmissable places to visit in Peru. Explore the ruins of the UNESCO-listed Sacsayhuaman fortress overlooking Cusco, take in Spanish colonial architecture, and stare at the Sacred Valley’s fertile farmland 15km to the north. A beautiful moment of calm every trip needs.
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Step onto warm white sand at Mancora beach. Turn to face the warm turquoise sea, and sun-drenched skies. Grab a surf board and dive in before relaxing with a fresh plate of ceviche and refreshing pisco sour. It would be rude not to.
The Nazca lines are 1000 square kilometres of ancient geoglyphs etched into the Incan desert. It’s estimated there are 300 figures in total, including a waving figure that is open to interpretations. As well as flowers, trees and monkeys, hummingbirds, cactus plants, whales, ducks and llamas. It’s likely these were drawn by the Nazca people but their message remains a mystery. Scholars believe these lines were carved as a ritual to the gods and prayer for rain.
Huascaran National Park
The snow-capped peaks of Huascarán National Park radiate awesome power. Gaze at glaciers and turquoise lakes. And keep your eyes peeled for pumas, vicunas and bears roaming these hills.
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Find one of South America’s few remaining glaciers in north Peru. Located 70km southeast of Huaraz, this makes an unforgettable day trip. Despite being 5,250 metres above sea level, it is constantly retreating. And while preservation efforts are ongoing, there’s no better time than the present to visit.
Stand before Cotahuasi Canyon (near Arequipa city) – nearly double the depth of the Grand Canyon (at 3515 metres). It formed out of past volcanic eruptions and the erosion of rivers and glaciers over millions of years. And deserves a spot on your bucket list.
Last but not least: Peru’s slice of the jaw-dropping Amazon River and rainforest is staggering. On a Trafalgar Footsteps of the Incas tour, you’ll explore it with Local Specialist Peter Frost (a writer, photographer and independent scholar who has explored the Andes and Amazon for 47 years). You’ll climb the Inkaterra Canopy Walkway to view the rainforest from its rooftop. Spot multi-coloured parrots and monkeys swinging between trees on monkey island. Hike through thick jungle in Tambopata National Reserve – taking in towering green walls of vegetation, the cacophony of birdcalls, and light filtering beautifully through the trees. What are you waiting for?
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Ready to visit Peru? Let us know where you’d most like to explore in the comments below!