Peru Cusco skyline
Peru Cusco lady
Peru Cusco market

Once the capital of the mighty Inca Empire, Cusco is today the beating heart of Peru's tourism industry. Millions of tourists arrive each year en route to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and most stay at least a few days in Cusco. With layers of archaeology built on top of each other (often literally), the city is a stunning mix of Inca architecture and later colonial constructions. Packed with excellent restaurants serving both traditional and international cuisine, as well as hostels and hotels for every budget, Cusco has something for everyone.

Some of the most important Inca sites lie within or just outside the city. The most revered temple in the Inca Empire, the Qurikancha (or Coricancha), sits in the historic centre, a short walk from the lively Plaza de Armas with its seemingly endless parades and traditional activities. And overlooking the city is Saksaywaman, a huge complex with some of the most impressive Inca stonework you’ll see, its massive carved blocks interlinking with incredible precision. Then there are the colourful markets of Cusco, where locals sell fresh produce and intricate crafts brought in from across the region, just as they did back in the days of the Inca Empire.

6 days

Classic Peru & Machu Picchu

The classic route to Peru's most popular highlights
Lima (1 days) Cusco (2) Sacred Valley (1) Machu Picchu (1) Lima (1)
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9 days

Machu Picchu & Amazon cruise

Small-ship luxury cruise with Machu Picchu
Lima (1 days) Iquitos (3) Cusco (2) Sacred Valley (1) Machu Picchu (1) Lima (1)
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9 days

Machu Picchu & Amazon lodge

See Peru from rainforest eco-lodge to mountain empires
Lima (1 days) Puerto Maldonado (3) Cusco (2) Sacred Valley (1) Machu Picchu (1) Lima (1)
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12 days

Highlights of Peru

A grand tour of Peru's mountain civilisation
Lima (1 days) Arequipa (2) Colca Canyon (1) Lake Titicaca (2) Cusco (2) Sacred Valley (1) Machu Picchu (1) Lima (1)
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12 days

Qhapaq Ñan trek to Huanuco Pampa

Explore Peru's grand route of the Incas
Lima (1 days) Cusco (1) Sacred Valley (1) Machu Picchu (1) Cusco (1) Huaraz (5) Huaraz (1) Lima (1)
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8 days

Active Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu trek

Explore Peru's grand route of the Incas
Lima (1 days) Sacred Valley (1) Sacred Valley (1) Peru (1) Machu Picchu (1) Machu Picchu (1) Cusco (1) Lima (1)
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15 days

Iguazu Falls & Andean Highlights

A grand tour of Peru and Brazil
Lima (1 days) Puerto Maldonado (3) Sacred Valley (2) Machu Picchu (1) Cusco (2) Iguazu Falls (2) Rio de Janeiro (3)
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  • Lima

    Lima

    Peru's unfairly overlooked capital
    Many tourists arrive in Lima only to fly straight out to Cusco, Arequipa or other popular tourist destinations in Peru...
  • Sacred Valley

    Sacred Valley

    Peru's spiritual heartland
    The Urubamba River descends from Cusco, eventually connecting with tributaries of the mighty Amazon...
  • Machu Picchu

    Machu Picchu

    Peru's archaeological rock star
    Machu Picchu is the top attraction in Peru and, in 2007, was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World...
  • Arequipa

    Arequipa

    Peru's elegant White City
    Peru's second city is an elegant, refined counterweight to Lima's grey skies and frequently frenetic streets...
  • Colca Canyon

    Colca Canyon

    Flight of the condor
    Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon but a fraction of the width, Colca Canyon cuts a dramatic scar across Peru's southern Andes...
  • Lake Titicaca

    Lake Titicaca

    Shimmering heart of the Andean universe
    A tranquil expanse of turquoise water seemingly at the roof of the world, Lake Titicaca was revered as the birthplace of Peru's original civilisations and the centre of the indigenous cosmos...
  • Puerto Maldonado

    Puerto Maldonado

    Accessible Amazonian adventures
    Puerto Maldonado, in Peru's southern Amazon, is the most accessible entrance to the jungle...
  • Iquitos

    Iquitos

    The jungle city
    Famous for being accessible only by air or boat, Iquitos lies in Peru's distant north-eastern Amazon with a distinct frontier vibe to match...
  • Manú National Park

    ...
  • Chavín de Huántar

    Chavín de Huántar

    "Birthplace of South American culture”
    If you have an interest in the formation of Andean civilisation, Chavín de Huántar is vastly more significant than the famed Machu Picchu, but with a fraction of the crowds...
  • Choquequirao

    Choquequirao

    Machu Picchu without the crowds (for now)
    Machu Picchu 2...
  • Trujillo

    Northern historical heartlands
    ...
  • Chiclayo

    ...
  • Chachapoyas & Kuelap

    Chachapoyas & Kuelap

    The great cloud forest citadel
    ...
  • Huaraz

    Huaraz

    Peru's mountain exploration base
    Huaraz is Peru’s premier destination for trekking and mountain climbing in the Andes...
  • Arica

    ...

Things to do in Cusco

Our recommended experiences and activities

Explore historic Cusco
Cusco

Explore historic Cusco

Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, combines pre-Colombian heritage with colonial-era architecture and vibrant contemporary city life. You can (and should) spend some time exploring solo, but a good quality guided tour will visit the popular sites of Sacsayhuaman, Koricancha and Cusco Cathedral, while avoiding the tourist traps and giving you an insight into the stories behind this fascinating city.

Overland from Puno to Cusco
Cusco

Overland from Puno to Cusco

Much better than the short flight from Puno (via Juliaca) to Cusco is a road-trip by minivan, giving you a more immersive view of life in this remote and rural Andean landscape. For a true taste of luxury, try the Andean Explorer train which conveys you to Cusco in classic style.

Explore Peru's most eclectic market
Cusco

Explore Peru's most eclectic market

Explore El Baratillo, a sprawling flea market that takes place every Saturday from 5am onwards. It’s not a touristy market at all, and you need to keep a firm grip on your wallet, but you’ll be dazzled by the amount of truly random items on sale. You’ll see stalls selling car license plates and hand-woven textiles; old Peruvian banknotes and dubious “antiques;” carved wooden plates and knuckle dusters. It’s a bizarre mix, but well worth a visit.

See rock slides used by Inca children
Cusco

See rock slides used by Inca children

Head up to the Saksaywaman archaeological site and go find the Rodadero slides. The Rodadero is a massive outcrop of diorite rock, notable for the smooth rock channels that run down its side. Formed by some ancient geological process, the channels have been further smoothed out over the last few centuries by people sliding down them for fun, including Inca children in the 16th century all the way up to the present day.

Where to go in Peru

Our recommended places

Lima

Lima

Many tourists arrive in Lima only to fly straight out to Cusco, Arequipa or other popular tourist destinations in Peru. But the country’s sprawling capital deserves a chance to impress, and travellers who stick around for a few days are rewarded with a fascinating mix of history, culture, food and drink in this metropolitan melting-pot of all things Peruvian.

Lima is increasingly recognised as the culinary hotspot of South America, and foodies flock here to dine at world-renowned restaurants owned by Peruvian celebrity chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez. The city is also packed with lively cafes, bars and nightclubs, spread across bohemian districts, chic upscale areas, and places where regular Peruvians grab a cold beer.

The city is also home to most of Peru’s best museums and art galleries, while the historic centre – all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – is packed with mansions, churches and palaces from Peru’s colonial period and the Republican Era. You’ll also find archaeological sites right in the heart of the city, such as Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, as well as the vast complex of Pachacamac just south of Lima’s urban boundary.

Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

The Urubamba River descends from Cusco, eventually connecting with tributaries of the mighty Amazon. Over immense periods of time, this river has carved out a deep valley whose beauty defies the imagination. Little wonder then that the Inca chose this stunning and fertile location as their spiritual and agricultural heartland. Scattered with ruins, towns and villages where Quechua is still commonly heard, the Sacred Valley is much more than a mere stop-off before Machu Picchu. It’s a destination in its own right, and one that is easily explored from Cusco or by staying in the valley itself.

Standout attractions in the Sacred Valley include the Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and the towns that sit beneath them. Here you’ll find traditional markets selling beautiful textiles and handicrafts made by the locals. Two other popular sites, located in close proximity to each other, are Maras and Moray. Moray features a series of terraced circular depressions, used by the Inca for crop experimentation at different altitudes and microclimates. Maras, meanwhile, is home to thousands of salt evaporation ponds that have been in use since Inca times. In more recent years, the Sacred Valley has become a destination for trekking, rafting, rock climbing and paragliding.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is the top attraction in Peru and, in 2007, was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. More than 1.5 million tourists visit Machu Picchu each year, and for good reason. It’s an archaeological gem and one of the finest examples of Inca architecture, stonework and planning. Adding to that is the citadel’s breath-taking location atop a lush mountain ridge, between the two peaks of Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu, with the steep sides of the mountain plunging down into the misty river valleys below.

The most famous route to Machu Picchu is the classic Inca Trail, a four-day trek through the mountains, cloud forest and alpine tundra. Alternative treks have become increasingly popular over the last decade or so, and trails like Lares and Salkantay offer different experiences, both geographically and culturally, to the classic trail. Or you can take the train to Aguas Calientes, the lively town below Machu Picchu, and from there a short bus ride up a zigzagging road to the Inca citadel.

Arequipa

Arequipa

Peru's second city is an elegant, refined counterweight to Lima's grey skies and frequently frenetic streets. A colonial-era city constructed from sillar, a type of white volcanic stone, Arequipa is home to some outstanding architecture, fantastic cuisine, and a fiercely independent spirit. And the year-round sunshine makes it very tempting to linger.

The sillar is the product of nearby volcanic activity. From most points in the city, you can see the conical and still active stratovolcano Misti, a wonderful if slightly disconcerting presence, as it last erupted in 1985. The main tourist attractions in the “White City,” as it is known, include the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a picturesque monastery that covers an entire city block. Then there’s the Museo Santuarios Andinos, a modern museum that contains the eerily well-preserved mummy of Juanita, a 12-year-old Inca girl sacrificed to the gods in the 1450s. Arequipa is also the main starting point for tours to the nearby Colca Canyon.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon but a fraction of the width, Colca Canyon cuts a dramatic scar across Peru's southern Andes. Located about 70 miles northwest of Arequipa, it’s one of the most visited natural attractions in Peru. People head to Colca for two main reasons: to watch Andean condors as they glide on the thermals close to the canyon walls, and to trek down to the canyon floor. Many tours combine both, creating a fascinating mix of wildlife spotting, cultural engagement and trekking.

The trek down into the canyon is comparatively leisurely, but be prepared for a gruelling trek back up. This is, after all, one of the deepest canyons in the world. If you are going all the way down, you’ll stay in one of the small villages dotted along the canyon floor. In some cases, you’ll find yourself near a thermal spring, the perfect place to relax while drinking a cold beer.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

A tranquil expanse of turquoise water seemingly at the roof of the world, Lake Titicaca was revered as the birthplace of Peru's original civilisations and the centre of the indigenous cosmos. Puno, on the lake's western shores, is a functional but pleasant enough city and makes a good springboard for the islands that dot the shimmering waters.

The Floating Islands of the Uros people are Lake Titicaca’s most famous attraction, at least on the Peruvian side (the eastern half of Titicaca is located in Bolivia). The islands are made from reeds, and have been continuously rebuilt and maintained by the indigenous Uros people for hundreds of years. It’s a total tourist trap, but an interesting sight nonetheless. For a more relaxed cultural experience, spend a night or two on Isla Taquile or Isla Amantaní, two enchanting islands inhabited by indigenous Quechua speakers, including master weavers who produce some of the finest textiles in Peru.

Puerto Maldonado

Puerto Maldonado

Puerto Maldonado, in Peru's southern Amazon, is the most accessible entrance to the jungle. The town itself is nothing to write home about, but it's the best way of reaching one of the many lodges found deeper in the interior. Some lodges are more luxurious than others but all include guided wildlife and bird-spotting excursions, delicious meals and the unforgettable experience of drifting to sleep to the cacophonous sound of the jungle at night.

From Puerto Maldonado, which has daily flights to and from Lima and Cusco, it’s easy to reach the Tambopata National Reserve, one of the most pristine and biodiverse parks in Peru. Once you reach your jungle lodge, you can then push deeper into the jungle in search of giant river otters, spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, pumas and jaguars. If you’re short on time, you could instead visit Lake Sandoval, located within easy reach of Puerto Maldonado by boat. The lake is a great place to spot a range of species, including caiman, turtles, monkeys, giant river otters and a huge amount of colourful birds.

Iquitos

Iquitos

Famous for being accessible only by air or boat, Iquitos lies in Peru's distant north-eastern Amazon with a distinct frontier vibe to match. The city itself is a lot of fun to explore, particularly the jungle markets, the lively riverfront boulevard and ramshackle stilted neighbourhoods. But its main draw is as the departure point for trips to remote jungle lodges and luxurious river cruises on the mighty Amazon River.

Iquitos became an important jungle settlement in the late 1800s, when the rubber boom brought Europeans to this part of Peru. The rubber boom days have long since ended, but people from across the world still come to Iquitos to explore the surrounding jungle. Luxury river cruises depart on a daily basis, and jungle lodges are dotted all across the surrounding jungle. Iquitos is also an access point to Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Peru. Many foreigners come to Iquitos to take ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic jungle vine that has long been part of traditional Amazonian rituals and medicine.

Chavín de Huántar

Chavín de Huántar

If you have an interest in the formation of Andean civilisation, Chavín de Huántar is vastly more significant than the famed Machu Picchu, but with a fraction of the crowds. Situated in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, some 160 miles north of Lima and within easy reach of the trekking hub of Huaraz, the site was once the most important pilgrimage destination in the Andes. The renowned Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello called Chavín de Huántar “the birthplace of South American culture.”

Due to their extreme age, with portions dating to at least 1,000 BC, the ruins don't look like much from the outside. But get inside -- and underground -- and you'll discover an eerie world of subterranean passageways, sunken courtyards and strange carvings that help explain the origins and rituals of the original Andean civilisation. Many mysteries still surround Chavín de Huántar. How much power did local priests wield over the surrounding communities? What was the exact nature of the rituals carried out at the site? Archaeologists are still trying to piece together the pieces, and excavations are ongoing. As recently as 2018, laser scanning and robot explorers have discovered more tunnels and graves beneath the temple, potentially offering further insights into the mystery of Chavín de Huántar.

Choquequirao

Choquequirao

Machu Picchu 2.0: at least, that’s what many visitors say about this mountaintop citadel in Peru’s rugged Vilcabamba region. And indeed, if any Inca ruin can give the more celebrated site a run for its money, it’s this one. Choquequirao is situated on a levelled hill saddle some 60 miles as the crow — or condor — flies from Cusco. The site occupies seven square miles, three times the size of Machu Picchu, with well-preserved walled terraces, plazas, and a variety of temples, halls and other buildings, all set against a backdrop of simply incredible views over the thundering Apurimac River below.

Choquequirao has received much more attention in the last few years, with far more agencies in Cusco now offering four- to nine-day treks to the site. But it’s a tough hike and not many people go there, for now at least. That could all change in the next few years, with plans being made to build a cable car to Choquequirao, opening up access to the site and bringing far more tourists. For now, at least, it’s still possible to arrive at Choquequirao and see only a handful of fellow tourists, or perhaps none at all.

Huaraz

Huaraz

Huaraz is Peru’s premier destination for trekking and mountain climbing in the Andes. The town itself isn’t the prettiest of places, but it has a friendly atmosphere and a real buzz during the high season, when mountaineers and trekkers of all abilities come to explore the Cordillera Blanca and Huascaran National Park, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Peru. There’s the trek to Laguna 69, with its crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by snow-capped peaks. And the four- to five-day Santa Cruz trek, passing through landscapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lord of the Rings movie. Then, for true trekking enthusiasts, there’s the Huayhuash trek, a 10- to 14-day hike that takes you as high as 16,404 feet above sea level.

When you return exhilarated but exhausted from your outdoor adventures, you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants in Huaraz, where you can wind down before heading on – or setting off on yet another awe-inspiring trip into the mountains.

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