Here is a list of the best things to do in Peru to help you plan your visit (with some references on where to find out more).
Go to Machu Picchu — (yes, it really is pretty wonderful…) for scenic beauty, historical interest, nature/flora/fauna and, for some, wonder/spiritual communing. Also (unless you go by private plane and helicopter) you pretty much can’t avoid enjoying the journey there —seeing the sights of Cuzco and the Sacred Valley including the Inca core of Cuzco, Andean towns, women in traditional dress, llamas dressed up for pictures, and all the other sights that make even the most touristy parts worth visiting. For the hearty few, the Inca Trail is absolutely the BEST way to get there. I recommend spending a week in the Cusco-Machu Picchu area and at least two days at Machu Picchu.
For more information on Machu Picchu see our recommended general guidebooks, Lonely Planet Peru, Peru In Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture and/or the following references:
Lima — spend a day (or several) in Lima. Go to a museum in the morning, have a wonderful lunch, take a brief city tour and then go shopping. Cap it all off with a sunset drink at the Rosa Nautica and then have dinner at the Huaca Pucclana for the full experience.
Check out Lima, A Cultural History.
Things to do in Peru, by Category
Explore Archaeological Ruins (Lima, Cuzco/Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu, Puno, Trujillo/North Coast, Nazca, Paracas, Ayacucho, and almost everywhere else on the coast, sierra, and highlands)
See exotic animals — Everywhere, although they’re harder to spot on the desert coast and than in the highlands and jungle areas.
Visit the museums — most cities, many towns and some archaeological sites. From large state museums in various states (from elegance to neglect) to private museums and site museums, many of Peru’s treasures are on display in museums around the country. I always make it a point to check the local museums, because so many of them, even in the most out of the way places, have something extraordinary in them. I’ve listed some favorites on the pages for each destination and the guidebooks generally list them for each town.
Explore the National Parks and Preserves — They contain wonders of nature (and culture) and are highly recommended. Most will require a little extra travel time but it is well worth it. Most of them are quiet and peaceful, far from the crowds that flock to Machu Picchu and the other famous attractions. Lonely Planet Peru, is a good starting point for finding these.
Buy wonderful handicrafts (Ayacucho, Puno, Trujillo/Chiclayo/North Coast, Arequipa/Colca Valley, etc. etc.) and all of it is also available in Lima – check the mercados indios in Miraflores and Pueblo Libre, and Mari Solari’s store Las Pallas in Barranco. NOTE: don’t purchase anything purported to be a real huaco (ancient pot) or a genuine piece of colonial art. These items are protected from export by Peruvian law and they can be confiscated as you leave the country. Also they are mostly fakes anyway.
Visit picturesque Colonial cities and towns (Central Lima, Arequipa, etc., etc.) and picturesque remote towns where people still dress in traditional clothing (many highland areas including Colca Valley and the Cusco area). Note that the clothing you see is, like so many things in Peru, a hybrid form, developed out of combination of ancient Andean tradition as well as colonial and later European influences.
If you’re interested in history start with The Conquest of the Incas
Go to the Beach (especially in Peruvian summer – December through February) for sunbathing, surfing, swimming, etc. The water warms up enough in summer to spend most of the day in the waves
Eat great Peruvian food (see our Peruvian Food page), including these items for the more adventurous
Go trekking in the high Andes (Arequipa, Andahuaylas, etc.) See the major guidebooks or the more focused guides such as Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes
Go river rafting in southern Peru
Explore the peaceful and picturesque countryside (campiña) in Arequipa, or spend days in the Sacred Valley
Explore the churches and cathedrals — you can see distinctive colonial art in the cities and towns and wonderful syncretic altars in the smaller towns in the countryside
Go horseback riding — you can see Peruvian Paso horses on the North coast or take a ride through the Sacred Valley
Get out and hear some Peruvian music (and buy some cds to take home). Note that in Cuzco several restaurants and hotels feature shows of traditional music and dance (often performed by dance troupes from the local university). These can be pretty good, and they are sometimes introduced and interpreted for additional enjoyment. Outside of Cuzco (e.g. in Puno) these kinds of performances can be awful.
Before you go you can listen to some samples of many of the different musical genres on the “Rincón Musical Peruano” (Peruvian Musical Corner) website. You can also find a few items for sale in the U.S. such as
Go Dancing — any kind for every age. You can go to “Discos” where rock, rap/regaeton, salsa/merengue other latin forms are played, or bars where Waltzes/Creole music and dancing are featured. Every city has its hot spots, with Lima having the most and the best.
If you still need more ideas, you can also find a thousand other things to do in Peru, from volunteering to going to the zoo, from going to the theatre to camping, from studying quechua to... It’s a wonderful country and a great place to visit. Check out the guidebooks (I always begin with old ones available at the public library to start thinking about a destination) or the website of the national chamber of commerce if you do want more specific ideas . And buen viaje (have a good trip!)
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