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The 20 Best Things to Do in Peru for First Timers

Machu Picchu

Peru is a beautiful country in western South America. It is known for being home to a section of the Amazon rainforest and a stretch of the Andes mountains. Peru is home to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, and the Sacred Valley, all of which attract hikers and archaeologists. The countries capital is Lima, which has a rich history and culture, while Peru’s stunning coastline is where the sun-seeking tourists head. If you are visiting this amazing country, then you will find a vast array of things to see and do to suit all tastes. To help you plan your visit, here are the 20 best things to do in Peru for first-timers.

Museo Tumbas

20. See the Exhibits at Museo Tumbas

There are many museums in Peru, but Museo Tumbas is considered one of the best in South America. According to Time Out, this museum is located in the town of Lambayeque. The exhibits include precious artifacts, including elaborate shell necklaces and gold ceremonial masks. These were discovered in the tombs of the Mochica royalty. There are also examples of the outstanding metalwork of this culture in northern Peru.

Bears at Chaparri Conservation Area

19. See the Bears at Chaparri Conservation Area

Paddington Bear is arguably the most famous fictional bear in the world, and this character is based on the spectacled bears of Peru. Spectacle bears are the only species of bear for which South America is their natural habitat. If you want to see these bears up close, then you should go to the Chaparri Conservation Area. This preserve consists of vertical rock walls and grassy hills. It is home to the endangered species, and there is also a rescue center for sick or injured spectacle bears and other animals. There is also the Chaparri Eco-Lodge where visitors can stay if they want to spend a few days with the bears.

Lost City of Choquequirao

18. Visit the Lost City of Choquequirao

The Lost City of Choquequirao is one of the most breathtaking sites in Peru. Although Macha Picchu is the most famous of the Incan ruin sites, Choquequirao is far more extensive. It is also more remote and harder to reach. It is in an elevated position on a hilltop that overlooks the lush jungle below. The site sits at the junction of three rivers, and it consists of terraces and rings of stone. It often has a magical and mysterious appearance as it is ringed with clouds. There are usually fewer tourists at this site than at Machu Picchu. There is a challenging hike to reach this site, which usually takes two days.

Inca Mummies at Arequipa

17. See the Inca Mummies at Arequipa

Arequipa is a Peruvian colonial city that has a Baroque town center and it is surrounded by three volcanoes. The main attraction in this city is the Santa Catalina Convent. This has beautiful buildings and a labyrinth of cobbled alleys. It is also where you will find Santuarios Andinos, which is a small museum. Within this museum, there are the mummified remains of young people who were used as human sacrifices. The best-preserved of these is that of the 550-year-old ‘Ice Maiden’ Juanita.

White Water Rafting on the Rio Apurimac

16. Go White Water Rafting on the Rio Apurimac

If you are an adrenaline junkie who enjoys thrilling outdoor activities, then an activity you might like to try is white water rafting on the Rio Apurimac. This river begins as a stream high in the Andes and then gains in size and power as the river heads down towards the Amazon. The river carves through a deep canyon near Cusco, and there are challenging rapids that are surrounded by magnificent cliffs. Many white water rafting trips involve stopping for lunch on a sandy beach along the quieter sections of the river.

Hidden World of Iquitos

15. Explore the Hidden World of Iquitos

Peru is full of hidden gems and the way that people live in this country is different from anywhere else in the world. Many of the communities are separated from modern life and amenities. One such place is Iquitos, which is the largest city in the world that is not accessible by road. The only way to reach this hidden city is by airplane or boat. Despite the city being segregated from other communities due to the lack of a road, you will find plenty of things to see and do if you stay there for a few days. There are wildlife sanctuaries, colonial buildings, bars, museums, and restaurants.

Cathedral of Lima and the Catacombs of Lima

14. See the Cathedral of Lima and the Catacombs of Lima

If you are in Peru’s capital, then one of the top landmarks to visit is the Cathedral of Lima. You will find the cathedral on Plaza Mayor in the downtown area of Lima. The structure is impressive from the outside. Once inside, you can enjoy the beauty and serenity of this religious monument. You can also see the tomb of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. While you are at Plaza Mayor, you should also see the Catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco.


13. Spend a Few Days in Lima

Lima is the capital of Peru, and it is where most travelers begin their Peruvian journey. However, many move straight on to exploring the Incan Trail and the Amazon jungle without spending any time in the city. According to The Planet D, this is a mistake as you should spend at least a few days exploring this city. It has some excellent hotels, outstanding restaurants, and multiple historic landmarks to see.

Rainbow Mountains

12. See the Rainbow Mountains

Once known as Vincunca, the rainbow Mountains have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru. They are a unique sight and it is hard to believe that the stunning layers of color have occurred natural. The mountains and sand dunes have ribbons of color running through them that give the appearance of sand art. These mountains have only been visited by tourists for a few years, and there is some concern that mass tourism could damage the fragile environment.

Ballestas Islands

11. See the Wildlife at the Ballestas Islands

The Ballestas Islands are just off the southern coast of Peru. You can only access the islands by booking a boat trip. The main reason that people visit the Ballestas Islands is to see the wildlife, especially the penguins, pelicans, and cormorants for which the islands are famous. Other birds that you will probably see during your visit include Inca terns and Peruvian boobies. There are even more animals to see in the waters of the marine park, including dolphins, whales, sea lions, and turtles. These islands are sometimes described as the Galapagos Islands of Peru.


10. Go Sightseeing in Cusco

Cusco is a city that is also known as the City of the Incas, and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city is located 3,400 meters above sea level, so you may need to acclimatize to the high altitude. There are multiple historic landmarks to see in this city, include the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, Plaza de Armas, Koricancha Temple, and the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus. You should also see Sascayhuaman citadel, which is a fortified complex.

Valley of the Incas

9. Visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Although Macha Picchu is the most popular Incan destination in Peru, you should also visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This is a popular destination for people who are interested in archaeology and history. The valley stretches from Pisac to Ollantaytambo along the Urubamba River. Other than being known for the ruins and archaeological sites, the valley is also famous for its lush agriculture and remarkable landscapes.

Surfing in Mancora

8. Go Surfing in Mancora

Peru has a stunning coastline with beautiful beaches. The coastline is also a fantastic place to try some fun, outdoor activities. One of the most popular activities is surfing, and a great place to enjoy this watersport is at Mancora. Not only does this location have one of the best beaches in Peru, but the surf conditions are also perfect for surfing enthusiasts. There are plenty of places where you can hire surfing gear if you have not brought along your own.

Sand Dunes at Huacachina

7. Have Fun at the Sand Dunes at Huacachina

Peru has a diverse landscape, and this even includes sand dunes in the desert. You will find these at Huacachina, and there are plenty of fun adventures you can have in this location. Some of the most popular activities to try include sand skiing, sandboarding, and taking a high-speed dune buggy ride. There are many companies that offer equipment hire and instructors.

Mysterious Nazca Lines

6. Fly Over the Mysterious Nazca Lines

The World Heritage-listed ancient geoglyphs called the Nazca Lines are located int eh Nazca Desert plains. They include geometric and wildlife designs. Although there are many theories about their existence, nobody really knows how long they have been there or for what purpose. However, it is believed that they are pre-Columbian. The only way to see the Nazca Lines is by air, so you will need to take an airplane or helicopter tour.

Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

5. Visit the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, and it is famous for its floating reed islands, says Traveling Canucks. The manmade islands are home to the Uros, who are indigenous people who pre-date the Incan civilization. There are more than 100 floating islands to explore.

Colca Canyons

4. See the Condors at Colca Canyons

Colca Canyons are some of the world’s deepest canyons, and they are known for being the home of giant condors. Watching these magnificent birds fly high above you before swooping into the deep canyons is a spectacular sight. The best place to watch the birds is at the Cruz del Condor viewpoint. Not only can you watch the birds in flight, but you can also enjoy the impressive views.

Eat Peruvian Cuisine

3. Eat Peruvian Cuisine

Peruvian cuisine is unique, and you should make sure you sample as much of the Peruvian cuisine as you can during your stay. Peru has become a culinary destination for foodies, and there are many interesting foods you can try. It is famous for its dishes made from guinea pig, and there are more than 3,800 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru, so you will see these featuring in many of the dishes. Peru is home to some of the top restaurants in the world, and you will find the best restaurants anywhere from along the coast to in the cities, and even hidden locations in the mountains. However, you do not need to head to the pricey restaurants to try Peruvian cuisine, as there are food stalls in the cities and at the markets that will introduce you to the delights of Peruvian flavors.

Machu Picchu

2. Go to Machu Picchu

One of the most famous parts of Peru is Machu Picchu. This is an ancient city along the Inca Trail where some of the most famous Inca ruins are located. It is a four-day hike over some challenging terrain to get to this historic site. The Inca trail is the most popular route, although there are other ways to get to Macha Picchu. An alternative to hiking is to take one of the horseback trails with guides.

Manu National Park

1. Explore the Manu National Park

According to Wanderlust, the best thing to do in Peru for first-timers is to explore the Manu National Park. This national park is a section of the Amazon jungle, and it is arguably the most diverse section of the jungle in any of the countries it covers. It is home to more than 200 mammal species and over a thousand species of birds. One of the best ways to experience the sights is to take a boat tour along the river.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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