I had spent 25 days finding the best places to visit in Peru. This South American country begs to be explored as it offers centuries of ancient history, colonial heritage and modern traditions. Regardless of the type of traveller – a foodie, outdoor adventurer, or a museum lover – Peru is a destination to satisfy the appetite of all.
In this blog post, you will find the best travel tips to help you have a fantastic stay in Peru. I selected the top 13 places worth a visit and shared tips for each one of them. Check it out, save for your next travels and have fun planning a trip to Peru.
1. Machu Picchu Hike: things I wish I knew before going to Machu Picchu
It’s not a secret that Machu Picchu hike is one of the two ways to reach the top of Peruvian Highlight. Machu Picchu hike starts at the base town, which is called Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs in Spanish). Alternatively, you can pay to take a bus for 10 USD / 9 EUR one way.
Yet I had no idea what to expect and started my Machu Picchu Hike at 5 am. For someone like me, who does sports occasionally and may have drunk 4 Pisco Sours the night before the hike – it was extremely hard to climb uphill at 5 am. I sincerely regretted that I didn’t take a bus.
I highly recommend to take a bus if you are unfit, have troubles with balance and don’t want to collapse in a puddle of sweat and tears before even reaching Machu Picchu.
In my opinion, visiting Machu Picchu is worth every penny. And paying for a bus is a sort of investment in your experience. Why? Because Machu Picchu Hike is strenuous and exhausting.
Machu Picchu Hike Tip: no heavy backpack! Only bring a bottle of water, a long-sleeve shirt, a spare shirt. Wear comfy non-slippery sneakers or hiking boots. Oh, you will also need to remain confident about your crazy decision to hike Camino Peatonal Trail at 5 o’clock in the morning.
2. Cusco Altitude Sickness is REAL!
If you are heading to the historic capital of the Inca Empire, please be aware of Cusco Altitude Sickness and take it seriously! I was way too confident that it wouldn’t hit me as I used to live in high altitude regions when I was younger. Whelp, guess who spent 3 days with horrible headaches, fever and nausea, therefore, had to cancel Salkantay Trek? This girl right here.
Cusco is located at 3400 (11200 ft) above sea level, and you can help your body to adapt faster and prevent Cusco Altitude Sickness ruining your holidays. I’d recommend you to include in your Peru itinerary first day or two to relax and acclimatise to the altitude in Cusco.
Coca leaf tea is widely available everywhere, and you can ask for a cup of tea at your hotel or hostel reception. When I felt slightly better, I crawled out of my bed and walked to the first pharmacy. There I purchased local plant-based pills, Alti Vital, widely available in Peruvian pharmacies, such as Inkafarma and MiFarma. I paid 50 soles / 15 USD / 14 EUR for a full pack, and they worked like a charm to help me to adapt to high altitude.
It’s recommended to start taking altitude sickness prevention pills a day or two before your arrival to Cusco. Rest well, drink enough water and don’t go ham on alcohol (just yet!).
Cusco Altitude Sickness Tip: Consult your travel doctor whilst you are planning a trip to Peru! Upon arrival, do not rush and allow yourself enough rest before going on any day trips from Cusco or starting a journey to Machu Picchu.
3. Sacred Valley Tour: choosing between a day trip or multi-day DYI
Between Machu Picchu and Cusco is a heartland of the Inca Empire – the Sacred Valley. Usually, every Sacred Valley tour includes following popular destinations to visit: the citadels of Pisac, Ollantaytambo ruins, Moray rings and Maras salt mines.
I decided to go on a day-trip tour Cusco. Well, I literally walked outside my hostel to find any travel agency, found a tour and paid about 60 soles / 18 USD / 16.5 EUR after a bit of haggling.
To be honest, squeezing these 4 main archaeological sites in a single day-trip means rushed schedule. We were taken from one place to another after spending 40 to 45 minutes at each location. Most of the time, we were on the bus with frequent stops to accommodate the crowd’s need for a toilet, souvenir shopping, lunch etc.
But could you possibly do Sacred Valley tour on your own without agency help? I highly doubt it. These 4 places are spread across the region, and its’ poor infrastructure means unpaved and hard-to-access roads.
However, you can easily do Ollantaytambo without going on a tour! You will have plenty of time exploring this small town, climbing the ruins and enjoying the views of the Sacred Valley.
Sacred Valley Tour Tip: Try to arrange a multi-day tour if possible. Alternatively, you can go on a day-trip to Sacred Valley but stay in Ollantaytambo town for an additional day or two, it’s worth it!
4. Puerto Maldonado vs Iquitos for Amazon rainforest tour
Peru is famous for Machu Picchu, Inca Empire ruins and breathtaking mountains, but how much do you know about the Peruvian part of Amazon Rainforest? It’s easily one of the best places to visit in Peru, and it’s a pity that many travellers overlook it.
If you decide to take a trip there (which you must do because it’s a 10/10 experience!), you will have to decide where to start your Amazon adventures.
Puerto Maldonado vs Iquitos
As a traveller, you can access Amazon Rainforest via Puerto Maldonado, Iquitos or Manu. However, in this blog post, I’m going to compare Puerto Maldonado vs Iquitos only. Manu is a lot more remote and far more expensive option than the other two.
Puerto Maldonado is more accessible than Iquitos as there is a direct transport link with major Peruvian cities. For example, you can hop on one of the overnight buses from Cusco, Arequipa and other cities in Peru. There are also direct flights from Lima and Cusco, which means you can include Puerto Maldonado even if you are don’t have that much time.
There is the Tambopata National Reserve, located just south of the city. You can visit Lake Sandoval, known for giant river otters and Collpa Colorado, the largest Macau clay lick int he world! If you are lucky, you will even spot jaguar that also resides in this region of the Amazon. Tambopata National Reserve is home for many rare species, such as tapirs, caiman and spider monkeys. It’s also remote enough for you to escape everyday routine and unplug for a couple of days.
Usually, 2D/1N Amazon tours from Puerto Maldonado cost 400 PEN / 120 USD / 110 EUR per person and can be book upon arrival to town.
Iquitos is another popular destination and is only linked to Lima via regular flights. Thus, it’s not accessible neither by flight nor bus from Cusco or other Peruvian cities, which makes it slightly harder to squeeze in your Peru itinerary. But you can see pink river dolphins only in this part of Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, as well as get to see Amazon River close to its birthplace. It’s 5 times bigger than Puerto Maldonado, and the rainforest around Iquitos is more degraded than one near Puerto Maldonado.
You will need to spend at least 2 to 4 days in Iquitos to reach the lodge, located deep in the jungles. Please note that tours in Iquitos are more expensive and require more time commitment. It’s a good option for those travellers who have enough time and money in their bank account.
5. Arequipa: The White City of Peru
Arequipa is definitely one of the most underrated destinations in Peru. It is such a beautiful city with rich colonial heritage, historical museums, lots of cosy cafés and outdoor activities for every taste.
Arequipa is located 2380 meters above sea level and officially considered to be 2nd largest city in Peru. It is known as the White City mainly due to the white volcanic rock (sillar), which was used for most of the buildings in the historical city centre.
There are plenty of things to do in Arequipa Peru. Just to name a few:
- hiking Colca Canyon and El Misti Volcano,
- visiting the city centre, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site,
- wandering around Santa Catalina Monastery dated back to 16th century
Arequipa Travel Tip: Allocate at least 3 days in this town to fully explore the beauty of it, hike Colca Canyon and visit the famous Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, where you can find Mummy Juanita.
I stayed 4 days in Arequipa because I enjoyed its chill vibes, local cuisine (different from typical Peruvian food!) and surrounding nature. For example, Colca Canyon is the deepest of its kind in the world, and definitely worth the visit!
6. Huacachina oasis, sand boarding and wild parties
Another hidden gem of Peru is Huacachina oasis in Ica. To be honest, I was surprised when I learnt that there are a desert and oasis just 4 hours bus ride from Lima. And my travel mates, who hiked Machu Picchu together with me, kept raving about their experience in Huacachina.
One of the most popular activities to do in Huacachina is buggy dune rides and sandboarding. I highly recommend you to try it at least once! It’s for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies.
But wait, there is more to know about Ica and Huacachina! I even have a full blog post about things to do in Huacachina, check it out.
Parties… who doesn’t like a good wild night out with new friends you just met at the hostel? Wild Rover, very famous party hostel chain in Peru, has their chapter in Huacachina as well. And it is perhaps the wildest one.
Parties in Huacachina are a perfect fit for backpackers, solo travellers or already established group of friends. You can start with happy hour in Wild Rover, dance on their barstools until 2 am and then move next door for another dance battles with locals.
Huacachina Travel Tip: If you only want to try sandboarding, then a day-trip to Huacachina oasis will be sufficient. However, stay at least 1 night if you’re going to check out both parties and Pisco vineyard in Ica.