Peru is a magical country with so much on offer to curious travellers.
Explore ancient ruins, climb towering volcanoes in the Andes, wander through arid deserts, ride the longest waves in the ocean and learn about its rich history in its colonial-era cities. You are never short of new experiences in Peru and you’ll constantly be expanding your horizons.
Most people’s first thought when thinking of Peru is Machu Picchu. However, there are many more gems to explore, here’s our top 10 pick which we think should be on every backpackers Peru bucket-list.
Guest post by: @shallwegohometravel
If you can tick all of these things off whilst visiting Peru then well done, you’ve pretty much seen all of the best highlights the country has to offer.
We spent just over a month in Peru and managed to visit 9 out of the 10 places we’ve listed here, only missing out on trekking in Huaraz due to the rainy season starting.
However, this isn’t an essential list and seeing all these places will probably take you well over a month of time spent in the country.
READ ALSO: How to visit Machu Picchu on a budget
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10 Must-Visit Places in Peru
1) Paracas National Park
Where rolling desert dunes meet the sea and high jagged cliffs drop off to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean below. Paracas National Park is an untouched natural landscape perfect for exploration and adventure.
You can navigate the park by bicycle or ATV and as you fly down giant dunes with the ocean breeze in your hair and an endless expanse of desert in front of you, it will feel like you’re on another planet.
The impressive Playa Roja (Red Sand Beach) and the natural cliff monuments at La Cathedral are all highlights of the park. However, nothing will beat watching the sunset over the ocean sitting atop one of the dunes. It’s one of our favourite memories from our time in Peru.
Framed by a dramatic skyline of glaciers, the city of Huaraz offers an alternative to the traditional Peruvian tourist circuit.
The Cordillera Blanca, or “White Range,” is part of the Andes Mountain Range and is home to 722 glaciers and the tallest mountain in Peru: Huascaran.
It is known as the hiking capital of Peru and the options for trekking into the mountains are limitless.
Single-day hikes to Laguna 69 or Laguna Paron are perfect for those only staying a couple of days but who still want to experience the beauty of the mountains.
Alternatively, there are multi-day hikes such as the famous Santa Cruz trek or the Cordillera Huayhuash route that will see you climbing above the clouds and camping in the mountains for anything from 5 to 10-days.
Huaraz is the must-visit destination in Peru for nature and hiking lovers.
3) Huacachina Oasis
Growing up in Europe meant we had never seen a desert. Seeing Paracas for the first time was a jaw-dropping moment, but it was nothing compared to the Huacachina Oasis.
Dunes the size of small mountains surround the oasis and stretch on to the horizon beyond it.
This is a necessary stop on any backpacker’s journey through Peru for several reasons; flying across the dunes in sand buggies, sandboarding down the tallest of them (not for the fainthearted), watching epic sunsets and finally partying the night away in the crazy backpacker hostels.
|Banana’s Adventure||Nice pool and vibrant atmosphere||9.4/10||from $14|
|Wild Rover Huacachina||Poolside bar and parties||8.6/10||from $8|
|The Upcycled Hostel||Peaceful area, 10 mins from the oasis||9.2/10||from $13|
4) Colca Canyon
Trekking down into the second deepest canyon in the world was an experience like no other.
You’ll spend most of your time picking your jaw up off the floor as you walk around in awe of the canyon’s vastness. You can spend anywhere from 2 to 3 days working your way into the canyon. Explore the beautiful green slopes dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms, and meet the locals who have made these depths their home.
At the bottom, you will find a different oasis to the one at Huacachina, but beautiful nonetheless. Here you can relax and enjoy the best view of the night sky you will most likely ever get.
The depth of the canyon and lack of light pollution allows you a perfectly clear view of the stars and the Milky Way in all its glory. Being able to complete one of the toughest treks and see so much in a short amount of time makes this a must-do whilst in Peru.
5) Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,810 metres above sea level.
Half of it sits in Peru, the other half in Bolivia. The town of Puno on the Peru side is nothing to write home about, but the lake itself is a must-see, especially if you aren’t making your way over to Bolivia on your South America travels.
The floating reed islands of the indigenous Uros people are an impressive sight and climbing up to heights of 4200m on Taquile Island for panoramic views of the lake is an unforgettable experience.
By spending one day out on the lake, you will learn so much about the unique ways of life in this region. These are so different from those of the indigenous people on the mainland.
6) Salkantay Trek
Whilst the individual sights along the Salkantay trek could all have their own paragraphs on this post, we will group them into one.
Laguna Humantay and Salkantay Mountain are just two of the incredible places you will visit on this 5-day trek that eventually takes you to Machu Picchu.
The best part though is the c.120km you’ll walk, the friendships formed, and the sense of accomplishment gained from trekking in the mountains for 5 days with a bunch of random backpackers.
7) Machu Picchu
One of the 7 New Wonders of the World. If you go to Peru and don’t go to Machu Picchu then people will question if you even went!
Whilst it may have become a huge tourist destination these days, going via the Salkantay trek can be one of the best ways of visiting as your experience is more than just seeing Machu Picchu.
You’ll visit the ancient ruins on the 5th and final day of the trek, arriving at the top just before sunrise. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll hopefully see the ancient Inca ruins lit up in the glow of the early morning sun and you’ll be down the mountain again before the mass of tourists arrive later in the day.
READ ALSO: How to visit Machu Picchu on a budget
8) Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain is the second most visited tourist attraction in Peru after Machu Picchu.
Set high in the Andes at a breath-taking 5,200m, the colourful mountain has come onto everyone’s bucket list over the last few years when the glacial ice covering it melted away, revealing it to the world.
Whilst it’s not easy getting to the top, conquering this natural wonder and the challenge of reaching 5,200m is a huge accomplishment for any hiker or backpacker wanting to test their metal.
If there is one word to describe Mancora it would be wild.
This beach town is filled with locals, backpackers and other tourists wanting to do two simple things: surf and party. The hottest places to let loose are the Loki and Wild Rover hostels, but to be honest any of the other backpacker hostels in town which double up as bars and clubs will lead to a wild night.
Once the party is over, it’s time to jump in the ocean and get rid of that hangover. It’s a great place for beginners who have never been on a board before, as well as intermediate and advanced surfers. The continual waves, calm water and warm weather culminate in the perfect conditions for surfing.
10) Cusco City
The ancient capital of the Inca Empire, known for a wealth of archaeological remains and beautiful Spanish colonial-era architecture, Cusco is now one of the most popular backpacker hubs in all of South America.
Whether you visit to tear it up in the famous Wild Rover hostel or to spend a few days acclimatising before visiting Machu Pichu or Rainbow Mountain, the city won’t disappoint.
Cusco also has a wealth of culinary experiences for you to indulge in from one of the best vegan restaurants we’ve ever eaten at to local delicacies such as Guinea Pig – there’s so much to try!
About the author
Alex Koumi & Joe Bayfield – Self-Proclaimed South America Backpacking Experts
We are both recovering Londoners. One a recovering accountant (Koum – the ginger one) and the other a recovering teacher (Bayf – the non-ginger one). No one calls us by our first names.
Our eyes were opened to the joy of travelling in 2014 during our first long trip away from ‘home’ backpacking around South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
It took us 5 years after that to realise that living in the big smoke and seeing the world on two week holidays once a year just wasn’t enough for us, so we decided to turn our passion into a lifestyle.
We took the plunge in April 2019, quitting our jobs and setting out to explore South and Central America for 18 months. We started in LA, crossed the border into Mexico and spent 5 months there, then flew to Ecuador.
From Ecuador we made our way down into Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and then Chile (with a brief 1-week jaunt to Rio for carnival).
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis sent us home 12 months into the trip, but every cloud has a silver lining. We are now working day and night on our blog and Instagram to become the no.1 go-to blog for backpackers heading to South and Central America. Fingers crossed we will be back on the road in 2021!