Peru Best Places to Visit
If you're going to go to Peru, there are some destinations you simply cannot miss, including charming towns and Peru's cultural meccas. The town of Puno will get you as close as possible to Lake Titicaca and Aguas Calientes is your closest home base to Machu Picchu. If you're concerned about missing out on a meaningful experience, be aware that there's a difference between a 'must-see' tourist destination and a 'tourist trap.' There's only one place you can see the Uros Floating Islands, and if you don't go there, you'll miss out on them entirely.
The jumping off point for trips to magnificent Incan ruins, the mighty Amazon Jungle, and majestic Lake Titicaca, Cusco finds itself conveniently located on the gringo trail. But, don't be mistaken, this city is far more than just a base.
Cusco's cobblestone streets, mountain surrounds, and curious mix of Incan and Spanish culture create the kind of vibe that travelers cross oceans to find. Many of the city's historic sites are within walking distance of each other; independent cafes and restaurants hide around every corner; and the plazas are full of locals and visitors alike.
Once you get used to the altitude, take the time to wander the streets at a laidback pace and get a feel for the energy of Cusco. It's not hard to see why people return again and again.
As capital cities go, Lima is quite the introduction to Peru. A big, sprawling city with an irresistible charm, it has history, culture, entertainment, and nature all rolled into one.
Once the seat of power for the Spanish Conquistadors and an important trading port, Lima's history lives on today in its colonial architecture, imposing palaces, and numerous museums. With a mix of locals from all over Peru and every corner of the globe, it is also an incredibly cosmopolitan city. This diversity is especially evident in the many bars and restaurants that Lima is famous for; you will eat very well in Peru's capital.
When the hustle and bustle of city life gets to be too much, you can head to the ocean to enjoy the sunset over the South Pacific. The rolling waves and dramatic cliffs are perfect for surfing and paragliding, steps from the city streets.
Aguas Calientes is most famous for its proximity to Machu Picchu, and the well-trodden gringo trail has turned this small town into the perfect post-hike comfort base.
Situated in a steep valley, this unlikely tourist hub has grown up around the rushing Rio Aguas Calientes and a rather extraordinary railway that runs straight through town. Boutique hotels and international restaurants climb the valley, offering lovely views and a respite from the busy streets, and relaxing hot springs are a short walk away.
There are a number of different ways to approach Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, including the bus or a forest hike. If you're feeling especially adventrous and are an experienced climber, then you can pack your gear and ascend Mount Putukusi. Previously, there was a ladder available for use but it is now defunct, making this an expert climb only.
Puno isn't Peru's prettiest city, however, as the gateway to the magnificent Lake Titicaca, it is a necessary stop on the Peru itinerary of most travelers. Plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants ensure you are well prepared for a few days 'off-grid' when you do venture out to the remote islands of the lake.
While Lake Titicaca is certainly the main draw of visiting Puno, there are also a few places in town to keep you entertained. Visit the Lima pedestrian street for food and shopping, and then stroll to the Plaza de Armas to view the beautiful 17th century Catedral Basílica San Carlos Borromeo at its center.
While in Puno, you may also be lucky enough to take part in one of the many festivals that this region is famous for. If your trip doesn't coincide with one of these 300 festivals, head to a restaurant offering an evening dance performance for a taste of the Puno party atmosphere.
Located in the middle of the jungle with access to some of Peru's most beautiful national parks, Iquitos is one of Peru's coolest travel hubs. Simply arriving in Iquitos is fun, as you have to fly in over dense rainforest or cruise in on the mighty Amazon River. For Amazon adventures, this is the place to be.
A prosperous city with a population nearing half a million people, this middle of nowhere metropolis has a unique energy. The riverside is the region's most happening spot, where you can take a stroll on the boardwalk and do a spot of bird watching, or take a seat at a restaurant for a jungle-inspired meal. Interestingly, this is also a great place to sample a bit of Peruvian nightlife!
From the center, you can also take trips to the Belen floating village, the sprawling Belen market, and various animal sanctuaries like the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm.
Arequipa may just be one of Peru's most picturesque towns. Also known as the 'white city,' Arequipa's old town is remarkably well preserved — despite numerous earthquakes, and the distinct shape of three volcanoes create a striking backdrop along with the towering spires of the Basilica Cathedral.
Beautiful Spanish-era churches, bridges, and plazas are all within walking distance of one another, as well as fantastic restaurants and bars. In fact, the city is well known for its gastronomic prowess and rivals Lima for foodie delights. Time spent wandering around the city is incomplete without a trip into the colorful walls of the Santa Catalina Monastery, built in the 16th century.
Further afield, visitors have plenty of options for nature and adventure in the surrounding countryside, those iconic volcanoes, and nearby Colca Canyon.
Home to the Inca and majestic Andean peaks, it is clear upon first look how the Sacred Valley got its name. Carved by the Rio Urubamba, the valley owes everything to this cherished water source. Mighty civilizations sprung from its banks, and agriculture thrives here today.
One of the most rewarding ways to experience the area is via the many trails that dot the rugged landscape. Hiking to ancient agricultural sites, ruins, and temples offers insight into the history, culture, and nature of the region. For epic peaks, there is Calca; for intact Inca villages, there is Ollantaytambo; and for hand-crafted artisanal products, there is the market town of Pisac.
The communities of the Sacred Valley will welcome you in warmly with tales of life in the hills and a glass of local corn beer.