Peru Travel Guide
People hear Peru and their mind immediately goes to Machu Picchu, one of the seven new wonders of the world. The historical citadel is on the bucket list of so many people. But you can do a lot more in Peru than hiking the Inca trail to the famous citadel. You can spend a month in Peru without getting bored thanks to the plethora of exciting things to do.
Located in the fascinating continent of South America, Peru stands out from the crowd thanks to its spectacular landscapes and diverse natural and cultural treasures. The country also boasts of natural wonders like the Amazon, the Rainbow Mountain, Lake Titicaca, and the beautiful coastal city of Lima.
Capital city: Lima
Currency: Peruvian Nuevo Sol (PEN). 1 USD = 3.90 PEN.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type A, B, and C.
Languages: Spanish, but also Quechua and Aymara, and many other Indigenous languages.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Peru
One of the best things about traveling to and exploring Peru is that it doesn’t always have to be expensive. You’ll find people from all over the globe coming to the country to see the highlights. While there is no shortage of things to do in Peru, I’ve compiled a list of the best highlights the country has to offer.
Machu Picchu (Obviously)
Remember that saying about how to behave like a Roman when you are in Rome? Well, you have to visit Machu Picchu when you are in Peru. Millions of people travel to Peru every year just to make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
Captivating tourists with its magnificent setting and detailed stonework, you can get to the lost city by hiking the Inca Trail or making the Salkantay or the Lares Trek. If you don’t wish to trek or can’t fit time for a trek in your itinerary, you can board a train to Machu Picchu.
Huacachina Oasis & Sand Dunes
Huacachina is famous for its mighty sand dunes and a magnificent oasis right in the middle of the dunes. It’s a cool space to relax and unwind after hiking to Machu Picchu.
The sand dunes aren’t just for sightseeing. Enjoy them by strapping yourself to a sand buggy or sandboard and experience some of the best thrills you’ll ever have. Many hotels offer great deals for sandboarding tours.
Evenings are one of the best times in Huacachina as you get to witness beautiful sunsets. It’s even better if you are at the oasis, which is surrounded by palm trees. It’s a scenery straight out of paradise.
Flying Over the Nazca Lines
Nazca is as mysterious as any place can get. There are a series of over 300 huge geoglyphs portraying animals, plants, and bizarre shapes spread across an arid plateau in the desert and no one knows for sure why these lines were drawn.
The best way to experience the Nazca Lines is from an aerial perspective. Arranging a flight can cost anywhere between $70 to $100. If you don’t have the budget, there is a viewing point along the Pan-American Highway that overlooks part of the Nazca lines. A small fee is needed to access the tower.
Peru’s Lake Titicaca (shared with Bolivia) is a worthy travel destination for many reasons. For one, it is the highest navigable lake in the world with beautiful snowcapped and glaciated peaks you can see from the shores. But the real appeal of Lake Titicaca, on top of its mesmerizing deep blue color, is the Uros and Taquile Islands.
Uros Islands are a series of man-made islands completely made from the local reeds, called totora. How do islands made from reeds manage to stay afloat while holding people and houses? You’ll have to get the islands to find out. About two and a half hours away by boat is Taquile Island where you get to experience the history and culture of the Taquileños.
There’s more than one way to get to Machu Picchu. The most popular route is the Inca Trail where you literally walk in the steps of the Incas and hike through diverse scenery. But another alternative route that I really enjoyed, is the Salkantay Trek which offers mountain scenery, more solitude, and abundant wildlife chinchillas, deers, and spectacled bears (if you are lucky).
It’s worth mentioning that the Salkantay Trek is more strenuous as the terrain is rougher and steeper. The pass at 4,600 m / 15,000 ft on the second day is quite tough if you are not acclimatized. Only physically fit trekkers should attempt the Salkantay Trek.
Manu National Park
A visit to Peru’s Manu National Park is like a visit back in time to see the origins of life on our planet. The park boasts an unrivaled variety of plant (more than 20,000) and animal (more than 4,000) species. Sights such as a giant otter or a Jaguar casually resting on a tree are what you’ll experience at the park.
It’s a true privilege to see Manu and your best bet to access the park is through organized tours. Ask your tour guide to take you to the Lupuna, the oldest and tallest tree in Manu. Feel it. Touch it. It’s mother nature at her finest.
Paracas Nature Reserve
What do you think about the opportunity to see sea lions, flamingoes, and Humboldt penguins all in the same place? Pretty appealing, right? Then Paracas should be one of your stops whenever you are in Peru. There are thousands of animal species at the park and a full-day tour is very affordable.
The coastal desert of Paracas, which also has beaches, attracts hundreds of locals and tourists as they come to enjoy the sun and sea. You can decide to rest at Paracas after exploring parts of Peru before returning home. Some backpackers enjoy the warmth of Paracas before heading to more mountainous, much colder, climes!
The Colca Canyon is said to be the second deepest Canyon in the world and the little brother of Peru’s very own Cotahuasi, the biggest canyon in the world. You have to come prepared as the trek is slightly strenuous but the beauty of the area, waterfalls, and hot springs are out of this world. You visit the Colca canyon and develop a deep appreciation for nature, realizing we humans are little in the massive planet we call home.
You can visit the Canyon by signing up for an organized tour or independently. However, I recommend you sign up for a tour, which is affordable if you don’t have much hiking or trekking experience. On the plus side, traveling with other hikers can be fun.
The aptly named Cordillera Blanca, which means the “White Range” in Spanish, is a portion of the Andes Mountain range in the central part of Peru. You’ll find over 50 peaks that exceed 15,000 feet here as well as hundreds of glaciers and lakes. It’s a mesmerizing scenery that’s become a hotspot for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
If you are an adrenaline junkie, you’ll enjoy the multi-day trekking routes. If you want something less exerting, then you should go on day hikes or moderate multi-day hikes.
The jungle-locked Iquitos is accessible only by boat or plane which is an experience in itself. Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and has unique animal species you can’t see elsewhere.
Despite being in the heart of the Amazon, Iquitos isn’t short on amenities. There’s a fantastic treehouse hotel that’s the fantasy of many people. You’ll also see gourmet restaurants that float down the Amazon.
Peru's Geography & Landscapes
Peru has four distinct geographic regions:
- the narrow coastal desert in the West (about 25 to 40 miles wide), which is barren except for irrigated lands,
- the Andean highlands which have some of the highest peaks in the world,
- a long narrow strip of mountainous jungle (cloud forest) on the eastern slope of the Andes, in which Machu Picchu can be found,
- and the Amazon rainforest that covers more than half of the country.
The climate of Peru varies with the landscape. Tropical climates can be found in the east and the desert in the west while the Andes is temperate.
Best Time To Go To Peru
You can visit Peru at any time of the year. The country has two seasons – the rainy wet season and the dry season. The country’s climate is broken down below:
- May to October / November: Dry season is the dry season in Peru
- December to March / April: Rainy seasons.
- April and November: Shoulder months that mark the transition from one season to another.
- February is the hottest month while August is the coldest month.
The best time to visit Peru is during the dry season which is between May and October. The jungle highlands and mountainous regions are easier to access during this period. Some activities such as hiking are dangerous during the wet seasons and popular hiking trails can be closed at short notice.
So, if you intend to visit Peru to explore nature and the outdoors, your best bet is to visit the country during the dry season.
Traveling in Peru
Peru is a generally safe country but below are ways to stay safe in the country:
- Try to lodge in centrally located hostels and ask the management if there are any areas you should avoid.
- Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
- Always carry photocopies of your original documents.
- Only carry enough cash that you need for the day.
- Keep your bags with you at all times.
- Don’t make yourself an obvious target for thieves by flashing or flaunting your valuables.
- Don’t put your bags in the overhead compartment when traveling by local bus. Always hold onto your bag.
- Make sure to acclimatize before doing any physical challenges.
- Patronize restaurants and stalls that have a high turnover. This ensures the food you buy is fresh. I learned this the hard way.
- Don’t drink tap water or accept ice cubes in your cocktails. The local water quality isn’t very good. Consider buying a filter water bottle if you want to save cash on single-use water bottles.
Getting to & Around Peru
The best-priced flights to Peru usually get you to Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. Other international airports in the country are in Arequipa, Cusco, Piura, and Iquitos. There are several airports with domestic service and the major local airlines include Star Peru, LATAM, and Avianca.
- Buses are the most common and affordable way to get around Peru. Reputable bus services include Cruz del Sur, Ormeno, and Peru Hop.
- Air travel is very fast but not cheap. It’s a great option if you have the budget or are short on time. Some of the major local airlines have been mentioned above.
- Rail service in Peru is pretty much non-existent. There’s only one train from Lima that takes you across the Andes Andes to Cerro de Pasco and Huancayo. However, the train runs only once a month and isn’t a viable option for most tourists.
Some trains are made specifically for tourists such as the PeruRail and Inca Rail. These companies have trains that operate Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu Pueblo. Inca Rail operates between Cusco and Machu Picchu Pueblo.
- Car Rental: Not advisable as drivers tend to be very aggressive.
- Colectivos are minivans and are the choice of transportation of many tourists for short trips. While they can be cramped, they are cheap and give you a truly local experience of the region.
Reminder: Peruvian Nuevo Sol (PEN). 1 USD = 3.90 PEN.
One of the first things you have to do is to get your head around the difference between Peruvian currency and your home currency. Accommodations are typically affordable in Peru although you may have to spend more in big cities like Lima and Cusco.
- Hostels are easily available in the big cities and are very affordable. Popular options include Loki, Wild Rover, and Kokopelli.
- Hotels are available everywhere and the cost depends on the part of town you are in as well as the amenities available. You can also use Airbnb to book rooms if you have the budget.
- Camping: You can camp at any chosen site in Peru’s national parks. Be sure to obtain permission to camp at your preferred site and bring professional camping gear in regions where it is very cold at night. Usually, you will camp in Peru as part of a multi-day trek.