With over 60% of the country covered by the Amazon, staggering mountain ranges, two of the world’s deepest gorges and dozens of ancient relics, Peru is a country that will never fail to disappoint.
Peru’s history is curious to say the very least, with many temples and cities destroyed during the Spanish conquest and perhaps even more yet to be discovered after the Inca’s fled, one of Peru’s greatest attractions is the unknown elements that slip into Peru’s timeline.
The affectionately named “Gringo Trail” takes you on your merry way from Lima to Cusco stopping to sip on pisco in Pisco, Peru’s home brew, explore Lake Titicaca and, of course, the essential Machu Picchu. However, the best tours of Peru, and what this rough guide to Peru will show you, is that deviating off of the well-trodden trail is the best thing you can do while exploring the country.
From the endless rivers and depths of the jungle to high mountain passes and deep valleys, on every corner, there is a little insight into Peruvian culture in its many, many forms. Peruvian people make up countless ethnic groups, some of which have been here for thousands of years. No tour in Peru is complete without spending some time with locals. If you have some Spanish to hand, you’ll get along swimmingly!
Bucket-list ticker or not, standing at the top of Machu Picchu is essential on any trip to Peru. While not everyone will have the time, or fitness levels to complete the full Inca Trail, the dizzying heights of Machu Picchu will complete your Peruvian experience. It truly is as spectacular, if not more so, than it looks in the pictures!
The best way to describe food in Peru is as an experience in itself. In cities like Cusco and Lima, the latter being the main event, you’ll taste your way through Peruvian cuisine that often feels like fine dining for a very affordable price. While in the jungle or the mountains, you may not see anything other than rice, potatoes and guinea pig for days – if Lima didn’t feel like the food capital of the Americas before, it will now!
A country to suit all manners of travellers, whether you are looking for a luxury Peru tour from Lima or are backpacking on a budget; the bounty of natural, historical, cultural and culinary treasures will spoil you. This rough guide to Peru will take you on a journey through one of the jewels of the Americas, offering some cultural insights, hints and tips along the way.
- When to Go to Peru
- Unique Experiences & Places to Visit in Peru
- How to Get Around Peru
- Where to Stay in Peru
- Food & Drink in Peru
- Festivals in Peru
- Quick Tips & Important Facts about Peru
- Are You Looking to Find the Best Peru Tour?
When to Go to Peru
The best time to visit Peru is in “winter” which is more of a dry season from May to September. At this time, you can expect cooler temperatures that are perfect for trekking in the mountains. The Peruvian “summer” from December to March may be warmer but it’s also the rainy season. With a high possibility of constant heavy rain, you could end up not being able to do anything other than hop between museums.
Most of the time the shoulder seasons, between the wet and the dry seasons, are often advised as fewer people are travelling at this time. However, unfortunately, because the weather in Peru can be very unpredictable in these months, the shoulder seasons do not come highly recommended as your plans could be affected significantly.
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Unique Experiences & Places to Visit in Peru
Set high in the Andes is one of the most famous ancient citadels in the world, Machu Picchu. Honestly, this entire section could be dedicated to fascinating facts that you will learn on your Machu Picchu, Peru travels.
Shrouded in curiosity, despite the site being discovered by foreign eyes in 1911, there is still much speculation over the history over Machu Picchu and of the true extent of the site itself. Precariously situated above the Sacred Valley, sitting at 2,430 metres, if you are a little scared of heights, you won’t want to look down as the staggered terraces fall down into deep gorges!
The city was built in the 15th century by the Incan emperor, Pachacuti, who founded Cusco as the Incan Empire stronghold. About a century later, the city was abandoned as the Spanish Conquest swept across the country. Created in classical Inca style, Machu Picchu is evidence that the Incas were revolutionary in terms of engineering.
The geographical positioning alone suggests that it should not have lasted the 600 years that it has. Exploring Machu Picchu like in this 7-day Machu Picchu and Titicaca Lake tour will teach you more about the technological advancements of the Incan people.
Over 30% of Machu Picchu has been restored since 1976, and projects continue to ensure that Machu Picchu is conserved with increased restrictions in traveller numbers that makes visiting quite difficult. However, with the help of our Local Designers in Peru, we will ensure you get a space.
Puno and Lake Titicaca
Sitting at a dizzying 3,800 metres, Puno is a city that sits just moments from Lake Titicaca and is an essential stop on Peru’s tourist trail.
Known as the birthplace of the Incan Empire, Puno is a city that is bursting with folk tales, all of which are centred around Lake Titicaca, the largest navigable lake in Peru. While most only spend a day in Puno and Lake Titicaca, this is the best opportunity you will have to become acquainted with Aymara and Quechua cultures. Exploring the city, you’ll see the traditions of Andean people stand against modern development in a way that is uniquely Peruvian.
Lake Titicaca makes Puno look like a village; it’s the largest isolated lake in South America. Straddling the Peruvian-Bolivina border, Lake Titicaca is a cultural melting pot, so to speak. Here, Andean traditions hold true as the ancestral land of at least five different ethnicities making it a popular addition to Peru and Bolivia travel packages.
To understand a little about the people that live around Lake Titicaca, it is possible to explore Taquile Island, Uros and Llachon to meet the communities there, like on this Peru guided tour.
Sitting on the coast, Lima is such a big city that you could spend five days in it before you realise its stunning coastal position. With a thriving arts scene, pre-Columbian and colonial history standing next to each other, and the grand title of the best food in the Americas; there is not much that Lima does not offer.
Tours of Lima like this 8-day Cusco to Lima, Peru tour take you to the heart of the city in Plaza de Armas where you’ll begin to take in its wonders.
While not the prettiest city, what Lima lacks in attraction, it makes up for in interest whether that’s sampling pisco on the Peruvian coastline with a side of ceviche fresh from the ocean that morning or strolling through gallery after gallery of stunning artworks, you’ll find it in this megalopolis.
Cusco and Ollantaytambo
The fully-intended gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cusco is the former Incan kingdom and stronghold of pre-Colombian Peru. Today, the streets are alive ringing to the sound of hikers having just finished the Incan trail and backpackers on their merry way.
Cusco is characterised by charming colonial shutters and cobbled streets that talk to the Spanish take over of this mountainous township. However, some of the most interesting sights in the city help you to uncover its Incan past. The most fascinating part of any Cusco, Peru tour is The Temple of Sun and Iglesia Santo Domingo, the latter of which was quite literally built on top of the former.
Ollantaytambo is a relaxed alternative to the bustling streets of Cusco. Part of the Sacred Valley, the village was actually once a city, an Incan administrative centre of the region. With two huge archaeological sites dominating the village, Ollantaytambo hasn’t really changed much since the 13th century.
Having been continuously inhabited since its creation, Ollantaytambo is the best surviving Incan city planning archaeologists have found. The best part of Ollantaytambo is that the people get so excited about seeing Machu Picchu, they don’t realise that Ollantaytambo is like a living version of it!
If you visit Ollantaytambo and its ruins in the middle of the day, like in this 15-day exploring the south of Peru trip, you’ll almost have the place to yourself as people make their way to Machu Picchu.
Amazon Cruise Explorations
A go-to when it comes to Peru luxury tours, the desire to discover the wonders of the Amazon has completely changed the small town of Iquitos, the gateway to the largest river in the world.
Iquitos will be your last contact with civilisation for the next 48 hours, as you board your cruise and enter the jungle.
Depending on how many days you have chosen –for example, this 10-day luxury Amazon cruise and Machu Picchu includes a 4-day cruise– you’ll have time to explore the river in as many ways as possible. This Amazon-Iquitos tour includes experiences such as kayaking, standup paddling boarding or trekking with the chances of sighting pink dolphins in the middle of the Amazon River. You’ll also be accompanied by a naturalist who will take you trekking through the jungle to see what you can find.
Arequipa and Colca Canyon
The second-largest city in Peru, Arequipa is sandwiched in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. Arequipa lends its nickname, the White City, to the sillar Baroque buildings constructed using white volcanic rock, giving the whole city a white-washed rustic feel. In stark contrast to the White City is El Misti, a colossal dormant volcano towering 5,822 metres above the city which welcomes only the most experienced hikers to challenge its trails.
A tour of Arequipa like in this 15-day Lima, Arequipa, Puno and Cusco tour will demonstrate a unique blend of pre-Hispanic and colonial history that quite literally seeps through the cracks of the city, offering a fascinating insight not just into Arequipa but Peru as a whole. While you are here, making a Colca Canyon tour from Arequipa is essential. As the deepest canyon in the world, it goes without saying that it is set to impress.
The Peru Inca Trail Tour and Salkantay Trekking
About the equivalent of Everest in Asia, the Incan Trail is the legendary path to Machu Picchu. Similarly, while the route is stunning, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
Although just 26 miles, the Inca Trail climbs a steep ascent from 2,600 metres to 3,300 metres above sea level, the highest point of which is Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 metres where altitude will definitely not be your friend. The route takes around four days at an easy pace to help you deal with the steep climbs and dizzying heights. Of course, you will be generously rewarded with the majesty of one of the New Wonders of the World, like in this trip to Machu Picchu from Lima.
With imposed restrictions on the Inca Trail due to over-tourism, the Salkantay trail is an attractive alternative that is easier to get a permit for. Despite literally translating to “savage mountain” in Quechua, the Salkantay trail is truly spectacular; it’s up there in the 25 best trails in the world by National Geographic. Reaching a slightly higher peak of 4,620 metres, while Salkantay does not have the same historic merit, of all the trips to Machu Picchu, this is the quietest.
How to Get Around Peru
There are many different standards of buses in Peru and it is not always clear what you will be getting. Through booking with one of our Local Designers in Peru you will be guaranteed a comfortable and safe experience. Buses are just one way of experiencing the beauty of Peru’s landscapes, although, sometimes the routes can be hair-raising.
In the Amazon, the best and often only way to get around is by boat. In this part of the world, roads don’t connect towns, the river does! This is an essential Peruvian experience: zipping up the longest river in the world on a long-tail boat and walking through a town to hop on another boat to reach your next destination is the norm here.
With more practical international connections through Lima, you will use the capital as your base to explore Peru. There are domestic airports that will connect you to all corners of the country that provide a great alternative to bus journeys as they are more convenient and often quite cheap.
For a more intimate travel experience, you can opt for a Peru tour guide and driver. This will take you from A-to-B comfortably, safely and with the added bonus of getting to stop whenever you want to take photos!
Let’s be honest, travelling by train in Peru is anything but cheap! However, it is a good experience as an alternative form of tour; the views are incredible. The train from Cusco to Machu Picchu like in this 15-day Lima, Arequipa, Cusco and Puno tour is the most famous in Peru. Although there are express luxury trains going from Arequipa to Cusco and some smaller, more local lines available to get your around, the trains are fairly infrequent.
Where to Stay in Peru
As the capital city, where a third of the population resides, there are lots of different types of accommodation available across the city. The recommended areas to stay in are Barranco, which will give you a lovely view of the sea and Miraflores, where you’ll be right at the heart of the action, even though it has the reputation for being a sleepy resort town.
Cusco and the Surrounds
The capital and beating heart of the Incan Empire, Cusco is Peru’s centre of tourism. With this in mind, there is a great variety of accommodation available, however, if the city is not quite what you are looking for, it doesn’t have to be where you stay.
For those who are looking to experience more of the Incan way, there are a number of towns that are about as interesting as Machu Picchu itself, and you get to stay in them! While some are limited to guesthouses and homestays, places like Urumbamba and Ollantaytambo are home to impressive resorts that embrace its surroundings.
Taking up more than half of the country, it seems a little silly to entitle this “The Amazon”. However, private Peru tours tend to have similar accommodation choices in Iquitos when going into the Amazon, like in this 3-day northern Amazon tour.
There are a great variety of lodges available in the heart of the jungle. From the lodge, there is a range of activities that can be organised during your stay. All of these lodges are accessible by boat.
From living with locals to top-class hotels, Puno and Lake Titicaca have all manner of accommodation choices. Puno is fairly quiet, however, there is a plethora of options that sit on its peaceful, colossal lakeside. Ranging from 5-star hotels to lodge experiences with a twist, you will not be disappointed with the choices around Lake Titicaca.
For those with an interest in truly being immersed in Andean cultures, staying with locals is a must. There are a range of homestays that have been set up by locals from different villages in the area including the floating islands of Uro. The homestay arrangements are usually organised by a luxury Peru travel company, however, you can arrange this with one of our Local Designers.
Food & Drink in Peru
In Peru, guinea pig served up in its purest form (think skewered, carcass and all) may be the most popular dish, Lima is particularly well known for its range of vegetarian dishes which will delight the increasing number of conscious eaters out there. As a culinary capital of the world, Lima has tantalising dishes at every turn.
While fish will be the dish of the day by the seafront, further into the city you’ll find tasty dishes with costs ranging from a sol or two to fine dining dishes in restaurants, however, you might struggle to decide which is better! Among snacks to sample in Lima are anticucho, cow’s heart grilled on a skewer, and potato doughnuts called picarones.
The national drink of Peru, pisco is a brandy-like liquor from the city of the same name. Pisco originated from the Spanish colonial era in the 16th century that was created as an alternative to a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain.
Known as a fermented grape juice that comes from both Peru and Chile, a trip to Peru is not complete without a pisco sour or two. The cocktail of the hour blends pisco brandy with lime juice and an egg white which is shaken to give a foamy head to the cocktail – delicious!
Ceviche and Empanadas
While ceviche is one of the most enjoyed dishes of Peru, the most interesting part of ceviche is why Peruvians like it; the lime. Similar to why pisco is the most enjoyed drink in Peru, the limes here have a ph level unlike anywhere else in the world, giving it a distinctive flavour that will transform both ceviche and a pisco sour!
Ceviche is a very simple combination of fish and a range of local peppers drenched in lime. Traditionally in Lima, you’ll also find some yuka and sweet potato as a garnish.
While empanadas originated in Portugal and in Galicia in Spain, they became popularised in colonial South America; you’ll find them in every single country in this part of the world. Found on street corners, empanadas are soft pastries that can be filled with just about anything.
The national dish, guinea pig or cuy is on menus all across Peru. Easily caught high in the Andes, guinea pig is a staple in the poorer regions of Peru as wild guinea pigs can be found everywhere. Although, if you have ever tried to catch a guinea pig, you’ll know that they are very quick when they want to be!
Guinea pig has been a staple dish in the Andes for over 4,000 years. Typically grilled in the streets, you’ll see guinea pig on skewers everywhere – sorry, non-meat eaters.
Rice and Potatoes
Whether it’s in stews, on the side with grilled steak or served up with an egg, you’ll find that no matter what you order in Peru, it comes with rice and potatoes.
With varying climates across the mountains and into the desert-like regions surrounding Pisco, it’s incredibly easy to grow rice and potatoes in Peru, meaning that it is an essential among the poorer communities, particularly around the Amazon and Andes.
Festivals in Peru
Fiesta de la Candelaria – February
Celebrated in Puno, Fiesta de la Candelaria is a Catholic homage to the Virgin Candelaria in a uniquely Andean way. Bringing together, culture and faith, the Virgin Candelaria is a symbol of fertility and purity that is representative of the Pachamama – Mother Earth. This festival is your chance to see how two faiths have become one in Peru.
Festividad del Señor del los Temblores del Cusco – April
Known as the Lord of Earthquakes, Senor del los Temblores is the patron saint of Cusco. The image is actually of the crucifixion of Jesus who is believed to have protected Cusco from the 1650 earthquake which was brought from Seville. Celebrated on Easter, this is yet another example of Andean culture and Catholic faith combining through similarities.
Inti Raymi – June
As we are in the Southern Hemisphere in Peru, the Incan Festival of the Sun, Inti Raymi can be associated with the winter solstice, just the other way around. The history of Inti Raymi is one of mass gatherings and sacrifice, however, today, it is very different!
Set in Cusco, the processions start early at the Temple of the Sun and continue to several different ancient Incan locations with representatives of each Incan suyos (district) performing different parts of the rituals. The ceremonies finish with the sacrifice of a llama, however, during the Incan Empire, as many as 200 would be sacrificed throughout the celebration.
Día de Santa Rosa de Lima – August
Celebrating the life and death of Saint Rosa of Lima, this festival is celebrated across the Americas on the 30th of August. Saint Rosa was known for taking care of the sick and less-fortunate. Her remains are enshrined in the Convent of San Domingo where the day’s procession starts, later finishing at the Lima Cathedral.
Quick Tips & Important Facts about Peru
Currency: The currency in Peru is Peruvian Sol or “soles” for the plural. At the time of writing, in October 2020, 1 USD was equal to 3.60 Soles.
Language: Spanish is spoken throughout the country. However, the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara are still spoken in some parts.
Religion: The main religion in Peru is Catholic; some parts of the country have intertwined Catholicism with indigenous beliefs
Visas: You’ll need to find out whether or not you need a visa for Peru. If you are American or European, you may be delighted to find that you do not need one.
Safety: Petty theft in Peru is a big problem. Be mindful of where your things are, separate small money and big money and store expensive items safely.
Health: Check with a medical professional for vaccinations that you may need before travelling to Peru. Altitude sickness is very common in the mountains, take medication if necessary and rest before going out. Decocainised coca tea is a popular local remedy.
Booking: As Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail require permits up to six months in advance, for the best Peru tour, you’ll need to book early.
Culture Shock: Some parts of Peru are poor and living standards can be drastically different to what you are used to. If you have not experienced this before, be prepared for a culture shock. It’s quite a strange feeling but this can lead to feeling a little emotional, lost and even helpless.
Are You Looking to Find the Best Peru Tour?
This rough guide to Peru has shown you that Peru, as a country to travel to, really is the complete package.
To begin thinking about your trip to Peru, contact one of our Local Designers in Peru or click ‘design your own Peru trip’ to begin discussing your favourite ways to travel and to create your perfect trip. Alternatively, browse our range of fully-customisable trips to Peru and be inspired by the wealth of activities that are waiting for you!