In Peru you can see spectacular attractions, visit world famous ancient ruins, explore bustling cities or book the most incredible adventure of your life.

Amelia Conrad, a traveler from the United States recently visited Peru and absolutely loved exploring the highlights of the country.

Whether travelling independently, or on a tour of Peru, Amelia has put together her list of essential places you shouldn't miss on any Peruvian itinerary.


1. Machu Picchu

There’s a reason Machu Picchu makes nearly every serious traveler’s top ten list.

I myself was a little worried about all the hype. I’d seen so many pictures, read so many recaps…how could it not be a little overrated?

Well, I stand corrected. Arriving at 6 a.m. to see the fog drift over the silhouettes of mountains and the sun rise over an ancient city… there truly are no adequate words to describe this awe-inspiring, spiritual experience.

So suck it up, spend the money, and do it. And make sure you book early so you can do the terrifying, but worthwhile hike up Huayna Picchu!


2. Lima


Lima is frequently just a pit stop on the way to Cusco and Machu Picchu, but it is a city well worth a visit.

Learn a bit about it’s history before you go and it’ll make the sites you see much more meaningful. The historic downtown is beautiful - and you may just catch it on a festive day like a saint’s canonization as I did!

Other neighborhoods, Miraflores and Barranco especially, are very safe and attractive for tourists. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, spend a day volunteering in the slums surrounding the city or go paragliding off the cliffs of the Costa Verde!

If Lima does win your heart and you feel like you want to stay, lots of foreigners who apply to teach English in Peru find jobs in the city.


3. Iquitos

Jungle Peru

Another major tourist hot-spot, Iquitos is the largest city unreachable by car. An Amazonian city that serves as a base for lots of adventure activities and nights in lodges along the river, Iquitos has a vibrant personality.

You’ll want to spend a few days doing the jungle tour: fishing for piranhas, watching  the pink river dolphins, swimming in the Amazon, holding sloths and anacondas.

If you have been researching volunteer projects in Peru some local organisations offer conservation programs here which are very rewarding. 

It’s also worth at least taking a short walk around Iquitos - check out the floating city of Belen, the markets, and the beautiful street art.


4. Huacachina


Not far from the bustling city of Lima lies a quiet desert oasis town called Huacachina.

Settled amongst towering sand dunes in the vast Peruvian coastal desert, Huacachina’s lagoon is a perfect reflecting pool surrounded by palm trees, a few hotels and restaurants, and artisan vendors.

From your basepoint in town, you can arrange sandboarding or dune buggy adventures and wine tasting tours in the local bodegas. A sunset over the sand is not to be missed.


5. Huaraz


A world away from the dusty desert of Lima or the lush Amazon, Huaraz is located high in the Andes.

Surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz is a great spot to begin various treks. Day-long hikes to places like Laguna 69 allow you to soak in incredible views and get a fantastic workout!

Chavin de Huantar, a few hours drive by private tour bus from Huaraz, is an approximately 5,000 year old civilization most fascinating because of the mysteries surrounding its origin and construction.


6. El Carmen

Ell Carmen, Peru

South of Lima lies the community of El Carmen, a famous community of Afro-Peruvians.

In this dusty little desert town, you will find incredible musicians and dancers preserving a unique blend of African and South American traditions.

Afro-Peruvian food is also well worth a taste and, as always in Peru, ruins are not far off. Local hotels offer pools and relaxation for a weekend away from city life.

You might want to learn some Spanish travel phrases before visiting El Carmen as not many people here speak English.


7. Ayacucho


A typical Peruvian sierra town, Ayacucho boasts countless colonial churches and quaint architecture lining the steep streets. This is one of the lesser known destinations in Peru, but well worth checking out on any overland itinerary.

During Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter, Ayacucho comes alive with the best Easter celebrations in Peru.

Processionals in the evening, fairs during the day, and a jala torro (literally, a “bull pull” through the streets of the city) mark the festive occasion, culminating in an all night drinking, dancing, and fireworks party in the streets prior to 4 a.m.

Easter mass (stick around for the 6 a.m. Quechuan mass if you’re up for it!)


8. The High Jungle

Moyobamba waterfall

While Iquito provides the quintessential jungle experience - canoes, piranhas, anacondas, and all - a second type of “selva” accounts for a large swath of Peruvian countryside.

The highland jungle on the eastern side of the Andes is a very different environment with diverse plants and animals as well as unique communities.

The cities of Tarapoto and Moyobamba provide basepoints for exploring this high-altitude jungle with nearby waterfalls, ruins, and resorts.


9. Cusco

Cusco, Peru

Most visitors to Peru pass through mountainous Cusco on their way to Machu Picchu, but be sure to spend some time getting acquainted with the city itself.

Nearby are some of the most spectacular ruins in Peru, including Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo, which together comprise the sacred valley.

Within the city, the stunning Coricancha is a Spanish church built atop an Incan spiritual site. Winding cobblestone streets permit views of mountains, colonial cathedrals, and the romantic red tiled roofs of the city.

If you are keen to take a Spanish language course in Peru there are lots of highly rated schools here offer affordable classes.


10. Nazca

Nazca Lines Peru

Easily combined with a trip to Huacachina, Nazca is the site of some of the most famous drawings in the world.

Although expensive, splurge on an aerial flight over the Nazca Lines to soak in the enormity of the mysterious designs (motion sickness pills recommended.)

Before leaving the dusty city, hire a cab driver to take you to Chauchilla Cemetery, a burial site with well-preserved mummies on display.


Plan a Trip to Peru

I loved traveling on my gap year in Peru, the people, culture, food and diverse attractions are incredible.

The places included on my list are perfect for first time visitors to Peru wanting to get an introduction to the country and see the main highlights. There are lots more places you could try to see including Arequipa, Rainbow Mountain, Ballestas, Lagunas Turquesas and Kuélap - just to name a few.

If you want to see more of the region search South America tours, some trips travel overland taking in more countries in the region.

By Amelia Conrad