It’s an undeniable fact of life that Peru has countless incredible locations. But, where should you visit in Peru? Which cities should you visit, is Peru safe, is it expensive? There are many great questions, especially when beginning to plan your trip to the ancient land of the Incas.
So let’s break it down a little. This blog post will go over some of the best destinations in Peru for you to visit, general prices to expect, and the safety of the area you are visiting. We will cover the three different terrains of Peru (the Jungle, the Andes, and the Coast), where it is best to visit (and when), as well as looking into historical sites, cultural hotspots, off the beaten path destinations, and our absolute favorite Peruvian sites to visit.
Coastal Peru: Where to Visit – Most Popular Destinations
Coastal Peru is predominantly desert and bangs to a different drumbeat than anywhere else in the country. The best time to visit coastal Peru is December through March or the summer seasons.
A list of where to visit in Peru would be amiss without Paracas. Paracas is the third most visited tourist destination in Peru. It’s famous for the national reserve, which boasts red beaches, cathedral-like rock formations, and one of the first protected areas in the country. It also holds an extraordinary history, as the Paracas people used advanced medicine (for the time) and were used as doctors for the Incas.
You can find out all about the history of the Paracas people in a small museum on the edge of the reserve. (Note: the museum is mostly in Spanish, so you may do well to hire a private guide to accompany you).
Other draws of Paracas include Ballestas Islands, home to hundreds of seals and thousands of birds. They are known as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos and with so many boats packed full of tourists, churning gasoline in the air, it is not an ideal location for lovers of wildlife- it is, however, high on the list for many day-trippers from Lima.
That’s not to say that Paracas itself isn’t a good place to visit. It’s a peaceful, small town with plenty of activities on offer. You can take a private, more relaxed yacht tour to the Ballestas Islands and avoid the smog of crowds.
Paracas is also a great base for a day trip to the well-known Huacachina- an oasis turned party town- for some sandboarding, a visit to canon de Los Perdidos, and a few beers atop the high dunes as the sun sets.
Note: Many tour companies will warn you about being ripped off by taxis on the way to Huacachina from the bus station in Ica if you choose to travel by yourself. This will be taking the fare from 10 soles to 15- so nothing too much to worry about.
You can also access Nazca and the Nazca lines flights from Paracas, allowing you to enjoy the world-famous mysteries, and still settle back into your comfortable hotel bed on your return.
Is Paracas Safe?: Yes, incredibly so. The entire town’s economy is based on tourism, so tourists are treated very well here. You should be careful of petty theft as with everywhere, but the town is small enough for you to not have to worry about being ripped off by taxi drivers.
Where to stay when visiting Paracas:
Best: Aranwa Paracas Resort and Spa is located on a private stretch of beach and has all of the amenities that you would expect from a 5-star resort by the beach. World-class bliss.
Budget: Kokopeli hostel is consistently lauded as one of the best in South America, and it has plenty of optional extras like kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and kayaking on offer.
There is little doubt that you will visit Lima on your visit to Peru- not least because presently there is only one international airport in Peru, and it’s in Lima. While technically a coastal city, Lima isn’t really what you might call beachy. It has great surf and there is a beach in the Chorrillos district (not really recommended to visit as the surf is very strong and the sand is a little dirty).
Lima has so much more than a beach. It has amazing historical destinations within a day trip, from Caral (the first complex civilization in South America) to Punta Hermosa, a town with truly beautiful beaches and great food to boot.
There are also amazing things to see in the actual city, from huge markets with more than a lifetime of things, to the freshest (and let’s face it, the best) ceviche you’ll ever have, to cycling along the clifftop Malecon, parks full of cats, world-class restaurants inside pre-Inca ruins, and some of the best food in the world (no, really).
Most people, when arriving in Lima, get confused about what’s best to do, which is fair because Lima is like many international cities. But here are some of our favorite, off the beaten path, and actually exciting day trips from Lima:
- Caral. The oldest civilization in South America, and arguably the Americas. Day trip recommended booking with a company as they conduct their tours in Spanish.
- Rupac. A two-day hike to above the clouds and to an ancient civilization. Tip: Get a donkey to help you with your tent, and make sure that your sleeping bag is protected from the wet. Trust me.
- Punta Hermosa. Great for beach vibes, and plenty of delicious food.
- Chaclacayo. Accessible via combi (shared taxi) and a nice way to explore some green, with some nice hiking trails around the town.
- Callao. Take a taxi to the touristic part as surrounding areas can be dangerous. In recent years Callao has transformed into a beautiful beach destination, with history and art galleries everywhere. Oh, and incredible food.
- Lomas. The Lomas are day hikes found just outside of Lima. There are a few to choose from, and if you go during the cloudier season (June-August) you will see some beautiful flowers growing.
- Pisco. Pisco is probably worth a two-day trip. It’s a completely off-the-beaten-path experience, where you can find great beaches, pisco tours, and a slower step of life. It’s a really great place to relax- especially if you want to get away from the tourists.
Is Lima Safe?: Yes, but try to stick to Ubers and keep an eye out for petty theft, which has increased since the pandemic.
Where to Stay in Lima, Peru?
Best: Hotel B in the trendy bohemian district of Barranco. Found inside an old refurbished manor house and right on the brink of beautiful street art.
Budget: Pariwana Hostel is just off Kennedy Park and is well known for fun parties, and great vibes from all of the people staying there.
Way up north, Mancora is a haven for surfers, partygoers, and those who just want to relax on the beach. Mancora is relatively close to Piura, a larger city, as well as Tumbes- famous for being the landing point from the Spanish invasion.
Mancora is a relatively small town, but the year-round good weather and beautiful white beaches certainly make up for what it may be lacking in a metropolis. If you want more history then head over to Tumbes, but for just relaxing on a private beach with someone bringing you cocktails- or surfing the days away and partying through the night, Mancora is the one for you.
Is Mancora Safe?: Yes, as with much of Peru though, you should watch out for petty crime.
Where to Stay in Mancora, Peru?
Best: Máncora Marina Hotel, one of the only four-star resorts and a beautiful palm tree-lined pool, away from the hustle and bustle of the party.
Budget: The Point Mancora, a perfect combination of high-end backpacker and budget traveler, The Point has its own private pool and it is a little out of the way of the noise of the town.
Jungle Peru: Where to Visit
Peru is one of the best places in the world to experience the jungle, as it is home to the Amazon Rainforest. It also has some of the most biodiverse areas of jungle in the whole Amazon (which, need I remind you, is already the most biodiverse rainforest in the world).
The best time to visit the jungle is almost any time. The rain is heavier from December through March, so try to avoid these months, but the rest of the year is yours for picking.
Without further ado, let’s explore some of the best places in Peru to visit the jungle.
Iquitos is undoubtedly one of the most famous places to visit in Peru. There are a few reasons this city is a cool place to visit.
- It’s not accessible by road. In fact, it’s the biggest city in the world that isn’t accessible by land. You must either fly in or get a boat in. Pretty cool!
- It has access to some incredible parts of the jungle and great jungle reserves. This means that you can meet indigenous Peruvians, as well as see incredible wildlife.
- There’s a great history there- Iquitos was huge during the rubber boom. Rich people from all over the world moved there and gave it an incredible depth of architecture. Of course, they swiftly moved out at the end of the boom, leaving the amazing history and a strange sense of emptiness in such a bustling city.
- The food is fantastic. Food in Peru is different in every region, but I personally am partial to food in the jungle. It’s also home to some scarier dishes, like barbequed crocodiles, worms (delicious, trust me), and turtles.
Iquitos is also famous for being a place to take ayahuasca. However, we do recommend against this, as there are many ayahuasca ‘trip’ (see what I did there) operators who will not commit to a proper experience and will tack the experience on the end of another tour. It’s much more advisable to head to a reputable retreat for your ayahuasca experience. Make sure to research thoroughly.
It is also worth noting that once in Iquitos city, there isn’t a whole lot to do. I recommend booking a multi-day jungle tour that stays in a lodge or camps (but I don’t recommend camping because of general comfort levels in the jungle) on the edge of the reserve and having a maximum of 1 or 2 days in the actual city of Iquitos as there isn’t too much to do and the museums are quite poorly developed.
Is Iquitos Safe?: Yes, as with much of Peru though, you should watch out for petty crime. You should also avoid some of the more urban areas.
Where to Stay in Iquitos, Peru? (In the city- not a jungle lodge)
Best: Curassow Lodge is found right on the edge of the city overlooking the water. You have the option to include your tours of the jungle from here as well as food and drink. The restaurant is great and the setting is perfect for those who don’t want to stay a few hours into the river.
Budget: Hostal Macambo is a hostel and restaurant with plenty of indigenous art, as well as cool rooms and running water at all times (better than it sounds in the jungle!)
#2 Puerto Maldonado
Puerto Maldonado is the capital of the Madre de Dios region in southern Peru. Again, the city itself isn’t the most incredible city you’ll see, but who goes to the jungle to see the cities?
Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the Tambopata reserve, and one of the best places to see the macaw clay lick. This is why it has made it onto the list of best places to visit in Peru.
It’s also a great spot for some rafting- we offer a 10-day rafting adventure that takes travelers to the heart of the reserve down waterways other travelers rarely experience into a truly secluded and authentic experience with the jungle.
Is Puerto Maldonado Safe?: Yes, as with much of Peru though, you should watch out for petty crime. You should also avoid some of the more urban areas.
Where to Stay in Puerto Maldonado, Peru? (In the city- not a jungle lodge)
Best: Amazon Yoga Center is a little further away from the city center, but only in the name of giving you true peace and tranquility on your jungle break. It’s also the only 5-star hotel in the area, so if you’re seeking luxury, look no further.
Budget: With an outdoor pool, room service, and a bar, what more could Wasai Hotel offer you? It’s great, and it’s on budget. Win-win.
Manu is the most biodiverse reserve in the Amazon Rainforest- making Peru one of the best places to visit the Amazon. The reserve is found on a hill, so it has both highland and lowland jungle, and a huge plethora of different species of flora and fauna. In short, Manu is undoubtedly the best place for you to experience the majesty of the Amazon Jungle. There’s no recommendation of hotels in the town because there is no town, just lodges in the depths of the reserve.
If you want to add a little adventure into your Manu experience, you could try biking there from Cusco with this unique adventure experience.
Is Manu Safe?: Yes, and isn’t technically a town, so no need to worry about the dangers of crime here.
Get in contact with us today to find out more about recommendations for where to stay in Manu jungle reserve.
Highland Peru: Where to Visit
The highlands of Peru are probably what you think of when you think of Peru. It’s where the most recognizable cultures are, it’s where the Incas spent the majority of their time, and it’s where Machu Picchu is.
Puno is the home of Lake Titicaca and the floating islands of Uros- handmade islands that have been used as homes for the Uros people since the time of the Incas. The islands are made out of totora reeds that sit on the bank of the Lake.
You can take a ride on a traditional boat made from the reeds, learn about the culture of the islanders, have a homestay with a family, or just sit on the banks with a pisco sour and some of the freshest trout you can find in Peru. It’s also the gateway to Bolivia for those who wish to see two countries in one.
It is worth remembering that Puno is the highest commonly visited city in Peru (check out our blog on altitude if you haven’t already), so prepare yourself and head there at the end of your trip, preferably after visiting Cusco.
Is Puno Safe?: Yes, as with much of Peru though, you should watch out for petty crime. You should also avoid some of the more urban areas and keep your valuables hidden.
Where to Stay in Puno, Peru?
Best: Titilaka. Found in its own peninsula, Titilaka is the most tranquil retreat you could imagine. With modern luxury intertwined with the traditional values of Puno and Lake Titicaca, you won’t want to leave.
Budget: Koala Hostel. Cheap, friendly, and accessible space for those on a budget to enjoy- and it’s almost in the center of the city.
Huaraz is one of my personal favorite places in Peru. It’s known about, but it’s not super popular because of transportation options (you have to get a night bus from Lima), and hotel options (there’s not a lot). However, if you look past this and are willing to slum it out in a slightly overpriced old hotel, Huaraz is a treasure chest of activities.
From Chavin de Huantar, one of the major pre-Inca cultures, to lagoons every shade of blue and green you could possibly imagine, to authentic cuisine, friendly people, and budget alpaca goods. Huaraz is a hidden wonderland that can share with you any number of mountainous activities and some of the best views in Peru.
Is Huaraz Safe?: Yes, as with much of Peru though, you should watch out for petty crime.
Where to Stay in Huaraz, Peru?
Best: Benkawasi Experience is an eco-friendly bungalow a little out of town with an unforgettable view of the mountains. Is there a better place to enjoy your morning coffee?
Budget: Selina has rooms fit for all types of travelers. They keep it neat and clean with beautiful artwork in each location. A great spot for you to check out on a budget.
The man, the myth, the legend. Cusco was the capital city of the Incas and the whole place is dripping in history. Wander for more than 10 minutes and you’re sure to come across some Inca stonework, women in traditional clothing leading their alpacas around, and beautiful boutique shops and restaurants.
Cusco is also the starting point for getting to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountain, and all of the famous places to visit. It’s unmissable on your itinerary and there is more to see and do than you will get a chance in a lifetime. If you only have a week and you are wondering where to visit in Peru, Cusco is the place for you.
Is Cusco a safe place to visit?: Cusco is probably the safest city in all of Peru for tourists. Since the city relies so heavily on tourists the locals look out for you. However, as with everywhere, you should be aware of petty thieves and keep your valuables hidden.
Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru?
Best: While JW Marriott El Convento Cusco may be considered a little too business for many, it is not. In Cusco, it is perfectly located just on the fringe of the hustle and bustle (and poorly piped) historical center as well as having a plethora of luxurious additions.
Budget: There are many, many, many excellent hotels in Cusco for all kinds of travelers. It’s impossible to pick just one. Think about whether you would prefer a backpacker party spot, or a peaceful hotel with a beautiful view and begin your search from there.
Where else to visit in Peru?
So we’ve taken you through the three best places to visit for each area of Peru- but there are still some more that demand to be spoken about. So here are our three extra recommendations for those who want to get a little more off the beaten track.
Arequipa is known as the white city, and this is because it is made almost entirely of white stones. This is a great pit stop on your way to Cusco so that you can adjust to the altitude, as the city sits at 2,300m (which as our altitude blog will tell you, is just below where you may start feeling the negative effects of altitude).
It’s known as the city of eternal spring, as year-round, there is a beautiful spring climate of warm weather with cool mornings and evenings. The city is overlooked by the Misti Volcano, which adventurers can climb if they wish to.
Deep in the highlands of Peru, Ayacucho is a place where really only locals know to travel to. However, it has the enchanting waters of Milpool, bright blue baths hidden deep in the valley. It’s also one of the best places to learn about the dark times that Peru had during the 1980s to early 2000s when a brutal Guirrella group attempted to overthrow the government.
Note: Ayacucho is known to be a little dangerous to travel to so if you do decide to visit, you should definitely fly.
Not many people venture to Northern Peru, but if you do then you should definitely put Chachapoyas on your list. It’s in the highland jungle so the temperatures can get nice and hot, and it has some incredible day trips as well as being a historically important place.
Visiting Chachapoyas while you are on holiday in Peru will mean you can see one of the highest waterfalls in South America (Gocta Falls)- as well as stay in a beautiful hotel that overlooks the valley. It also means that you can get a little more acquainted with pre-Inca Peruvian history by visiting the Kuelap ruins, protected from discovery by a cloud forest shrouding the mountain.
Cajamarca is the city where the Inca King Atahualpa was held for two years until his death at the hands of the Spanish. This city is a haven for Inca meets Spanish history, along with amazing natural rock forests and some of the best cheese you can find in Peru.
It also has some amazing food combinations (ceviche and chicharron? On the same plate?) that I’ve found in Peru. If you have an extended amount of time in Peru, Cajamarca is a must.
What Sites to visit in Peru? 5 of the Most Popular Sites to Visit in Peru and their Alternatives
If you’re like me and you’re constantly looking for off the beaten track destinations when you travel- as well as avoiding the places that you know are overflowing with tourists (Rainbow Mountain, I’m looking at you) Then this list of where to visit in Peru is your bible.
Machu Picchu – Choquequirao
I know, I know. Everyone has to visit Machu Picchu on their trip to Peru. But if you want to see a lost Incan citadel on top of a mountain on the brink of an incredible valley, and you want to do it with no one around… and you want to explore the ruins with less structure than comes at Machu Picchu… Choquequirao might just be for you.
Choquequirao is a bigger, better preserved, and overall, just a more impressive version of Machu Picchu. In a year it gets as many visitors as Machu Picchu gets in a day because it is only accessible through a relatively tough hike up and down a valley. But I know that you will still want to visit Machu Picchu- so we created a hike that hits both sites (and saves you from the walk back through the up and downs of the valleys).
Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) – Palcoyo
There are many, many reasons that you should not visit Vinicunca (or the Rainbow Mountain as it is commonly known), but does that mean you have to miss out on the amazing colors? No, it does not, and in fact, you can see more, better, and closer if you head to Palcoyo instead.
Palcoyo has three different mountains you can explore, and it gets a fraction of the visits of Vinicunca. As in, Vinicunca during the peak season may have between 2000 and 3000 visitors, whereas Palcoyo will have between 20 and 30.
The hike is shorter and less taxing at Palcoyo (45 minutes vs 3 hours) and there are incredible views of the valley surrounding you. There’s no reason to choose Rainbow Mountain over Palcoyo.
Inca Trail – The 5 Day Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is a huge draw for many people. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s the real road Incas used to get to Machu Picchu. However, there are 500 people per day who embark on this journey (and an extra 500 on the last day into the citadel).
That means campsites are full, there’s no opportunity for a relaxed and lone walk, as you’re constantly surrounded by porters, other groups, and other guides. It’s just not how you might imagine the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be.
Since it’s so once in a lifetime, what’s an extra day? We run the 5 day Inca Trail, as it gives hikers the chance to let the other groups race ahead. We camp at different campsites, we walk at different times. It’s a more relaxed way to experience the trail and you can enjoy the peacefulness of this without worrying.
Laguna Humantay – Ausangate 7 Lagunas
After Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, Laguna Humantay is the most visited place in the Cusco Valley. Partially because it is on the starting day for the Salkantay trek, but also because It’s an easy (enough) day trip and it’s beautiful.
However, the Ausangate 7 Lake Trek is one that you could argue is 7x better than Humantay. The day is long and the hike is tougher than Humantay, but it is 100% worth it, especially if you choose to take a dip in the local natural hot springs at the end of your hike.
The clue is in the name, and the Ausangate 7 Lakes Trek covers 7 different lakes of varying shades of blue and green (and one murky brown- but that one has pink shores!). It’s a great day out, getting you away from the crowds and into the real highlands of Peru.
Salkantay Trek – Lares Trek
The Salkantay Trek is the most popular of alternatives to the Inca Trail. It’s so popular that some days there are more people starting the Salkantay Trek than there are on the Inca Trail. This is because there are a limited number of people who can do the Inca Trail which is not the case for the Salkantay Trek.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to beat these crowds and you will be walking alongside other groups if you choose the Salkantay Trek. So, an alternative is to take on the Lares Trek. While there are plenty of operators that offer the Lares Trek, most take different routes to each other, making it difficult to run into others.
At Amazonas Explorer, we’ve worked hard over the 30+ years we’ve been operating to create strong bonds with the communities of the Lares Valley. This means that you can get to know local indigenous people in a truly authentic way, and our guides are experts at knowing whether the group wants to spend the day interacting with the community or take on the hike (or both!).
The whole way is also supported by cars so it’s a really good choice if you or anyone in your group is prone to injury or even simply giving up (read: It’s great for families with kids) and you can adjust the journey to how your group is feeling. This isn’t possible on any other trek to Machu Picchu.
How much does Peru Cost Per Day (Budgeting Peru Travel)
The cost of Peru per day really varies wildly. You can go to the Plaza de Armas and find tours for as little as 20 soles, or you can go full luxury and spend $500 on a day tour. In short, Peru costs what you want it to cost.
But bear in mind that 20 soles tours are obviously very uncomfortable with 50 people packed in a tour bus, no lunch included, and guides paid on tips and the commission of whatever place you have visited and been encouraged to buy things.
20 soles tours are cheap but they are not good quality and they are not particularly ethical when it comes to sustainable tourism. They profit off the back of desperate guides, and they make as little effort to ensure you are comfortable and safe as they can get away with.
There is plenty of middle ground between the cheapest tours and the most expensive, but you should aim to be paying between $50 and $100 per tour to ensure that your guide is being paid fairly, with correct working conditions.
When it comes to food, you can find a 6 soles menu that will fill you for the afternoon, but equally, you can spend $200 on a tasting menu at one of the world-class restaurants. Hotel and Hostel rooms go from $6 a night and can peak at over $1000. In short, the budget you need to travel in Peru depends on how you like to travel.
Peru is best known for its Inca history, eclipsing in Machu Picchu. It’s not an expensive or a dangerous place to visit, but there are several must-visit places for tourists, so when it comes to where to visit in Peru there are lots to be confused and overwhelmed about.
Whether you want to stick to Peruvian cities, explore the Amazon, or really get deep into the sites around, there’s more than a lifetime of places to visit in Peru. Get in contact with one of our travel experts today and discover a little more about what might interest you the most.0