Last Updated on June 20, 2023
Peru is a narrow country hugging the west coast of South America. It is well known by backpackers who flock to the jungles and the mountains. However, not everything in Peru is all backpacks and hiking boots. Peru offers a wide range of activities for tourists of all interests and abilities.
1. Machu Picchu
Top of the bucket list for most tourists visiting Peru is Machu Picchu. Also known as the “Lost City of the Incas,” Machu Picchu is South America’s most impressive archaeological ruin.
Believed to have been built as the estate for Incan emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472), the lost citadel of Machu Picchu was abandoned until “discovered” by Yale professor Hiram Bingham in 1911. Bingham, who kept a photographic record of the dig, supervised the subsequent excavation of the site.
Traveling by train from either Cusco (4-hours) or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley (2 hours) to Aguas Calientes, you then travel by bus up the mountain.
It will take at least a couple of hours walking to explore the vast ruins. There is a thatched observation hut with an extensive view over the complex for less energetic visitors.
You must be accompanied by a guide whether you are part of a tour group or traveling privately. Numbers are limited in both morning and afternoon sessions, so it is preferable to pre-book.
Located in the Sacred Valley and known as a “living museum” of Peru, Awanakancha was first developed as an alpaca farm. It grew to showcase and preserve the traditional Andean techniques of textile dyeing and weaving.
Now the fleeces from the farmed alpacas are spun and dyed in traditional ways by boiling in vats over open fires using natural dyes such as indigo, cochineal beetles, cactus, and citrus fruits. They are then woven in traditional patterns.
3. Peru’s Orient Express
The Belmond Explorer is South America’s only sleeper train. With only forty-eight passengers per trip, this is an exclusive journey not many have experienced.
When traveling by train, starting from Cusco, you climb to Abra Crucero Alto, the highest point of the journey at 4528 km. It is more gradual than when you leave from Arequipa, allowing more time to adjust to the ascending altitude.
During the three-day journey from Cusco to Arequipa, you will visit such highlights as Lake Titicaca, the reed island village of the Uros Islands, and Taquile Island. You will see the moving spiritual ritual of the Pachamama ceremony giving thanks to Mother Earth and a folkloric performance. You will also visit trackside markets and archeological sites.
Executive chef Diego Muñoz has devised a menu to delight you, showcasing Peruvian fare served in the dining car. In the evening you will join all the guests in the piano bar for cocktails, (yes there is a grand piano on the train).
Traveling on the Belmond Explorer is definitely the journey rather than the destination that highlights your trip. It is suited to anyone who loves exploring new territory with a touch of luxury.
4. Sunrise Over Lake Titicaca
On the Belmond Explorer, staying overnight in Puno allows you to enjoy the golden reflections as the sun rises over Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
5. Uros Islands
The Uru people and their traditions of living on man-made islands in Lake Titicaca date back to Pre-Inca times.
The islands, floating on a peat moss base, are then covered by layers of Totora reeds, which grow in abundance on the lake’s shores. Totora reeds are piled high for bedding on the floor of single-room dwellings. They are also used to weave small boats called balsas used for subsistence fishing.
Vividly colored dresses and the handmade souvenirs on sale brighten the straw-colored islands.
6. Pisco Tasting
Pisco sour is Peru’s national drink. You will be offered pisco sours wherever you go in Peru. The main wine grape growing area for pisco is Ica, about 300km south of Lima. Traveling there by bus will take about 6-hours.
You can take a tour of three wineries with a Pisco tasting tour—
Vista Allegre was founded in 1857 and has evolved into a highly automated winery with 97-hectares of grapes and a pecan orchard.
Tacama is the oldest winery in Peru. The highlight for us was the famous Peruvian Paso Horses’ performance. A barefoot lady presented a seductive dance for the caballero on his dancing horse.
El Catador processes grapes from small farms. Grapes are first fermented in earthenware vessels called burros–“donkeys,” also known as pisqueras. Distillation then takes place in open pits with copper heating pipes entwined around the vats.
Considering the generosity of all the tastings included in these three winery visits, it is definitely recommended to have a designated driver.
7. Desert Oasis Escape
If adrenaline tourism is your thing, then driving twenty minutes from Ica will take you to Huacachina. Known as Peru’s adventure capital, it is located in the only desert oasis in South America. The air is filled with the constant cacophony of hundreds of sand buggies racing up and down the towering sand dunes surrounding the lagoon. You can also hire sand-boards and belly-boards.
For a gentler activity, you can hire pedalos and rowboats on the lagoon. Then sip a glass of wine as you enjoy spectacular glowing sunsets over the sand dunes.
8. The Train to Huancayo
You may wonder why anyone would travel fourteen hours on a train when you can fly from Lima to the Huancayo area in an hour. That’s easy—the spectacular landscape of the Andes Mountains is breathtaking.
Snaking around the mountains, through 69 pitch-black tunnels and over 38 bridges, you experience the engineering masterpiece of the second-highest rail journey of the world. To overcome the problems of steep ascents, six switchbacks are used. The train reverses onto another short track then back onto the regular line to continue.
This journey is not just for train buffs. Traveling from Lima to Huancayo on the Ferrocarril Central Andino is a unique tourist experience. The train only runs for about one weekend a month so you should book well in advance.
9. Rainforest Glamping
Flying from either Lima or Cusco to Puerto Maldonado Airport, you then transfer by bus to the Tambopata River for an exciting four-hour journey in an open longboat to Refugio Amazonas.
Built of locally sourced timbers like split lacquered bamboos, the accommodation is spacious and everything you dream about in a luxury rainforest retreat.
Your days are divided between early morning walks, morning and afternoon excursions. An informative lecture each evening after dinner and later a night walk, all included in the tariff. You choose your next day’s activities the night before during dinner.
Experienced guides accompany all activities. Your options include an early morning beach picnic on the Tambopata River banks on the way to the macaw lick, a walk through the medicinal botanical gardens, mountain biking through the rainforest, and an early morning hike to the Oxbow Lake to hand-feed ravenous piranhas with bread.
There is a minimum two-night booking, or you can stay one night and travel on to their research lodge. We stayed four nights, and there were still lots more we would have liked to do.
Funds raised by accommodation at the Rainforest Expeditions Lodges go towards continued rainforest preservation research.
10. Explore the Rainforest Canopy
At Refugio Amazonas, in southern Amazon Peru, climbing to the top of a 35 m tower affords you a spectacular bird’s eye view above the rainforest canopy. One hundred-year-old Brazil nut trees tower over the canopy. Many birds and animals of the rainforest live high in the trees rather than near the ground.
11. Ride a Moto-taxi
To escape the greyness of the winter sky in Lima, Limeños head to Cieneguilla, about an hour’s drive inland from Lima.
Moto-taxis are not allowed in Lima’s center but are the most common form of transport in Cienaguilla. They are cheap and ideal for a sightseeing tour.
Basically, a Moto-taxi is a motorbike with either a canvas or fiberglass cabin with a big enough bench for two adult passengers. These are also used for family transport, and on one of our rides, it was both. Two giggling toddlers and a little girl, who delighted in practicing her English, were squashed with us on the bench seat; all part of the fun.
No matter where you travel in Peru, you will find delicious food. Peruvians are proud and enthusiastic about their culinary heritage. In the country, traditional food is hearty and reflects the produce of the area. You will find many restaurants in the cities where world-class chefs are offering modern menus using exotic food from the Andes, the Amazon Jungle, and bountiful food from the Pacific Ocean.