For travelers seeking a luxury vacation to South America, Peru is a destination forever topping holiday wishlists. But its appeal can also be its challenge. With such a variety of top tourist attractions in Peru, expertly mapping your route is essential if you want to get the most out of your vacation.
Of course, the best places to visit in Peru depend on personal taste and preference. For committed foodies, Lima is an unmissable stop, filling your days with cooking classes and market visits – and by night, dining in world-renowned establishments such as Central and Maido. History buff? And you’ll want to head to the Sacred Valley where the countryside is scattered with ancient Inca relics and cities like Cusco echo the secrets of past civilizations. And for nature lovers, what is the best part of Peru? Well, the Amazon River snakes its way across the Northeastern tip of the country, creating one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
The 10 Most incredible Places to visit in Peru: Our insider guide
In recent years, however, the top tourist attractions in Peru have become so popular with travelers, that in some areas, authenticity is being replaced by commerciality. This makes Aracari’s insider knowledge crucial when it comes to visiting the best places in Peru in a way that is unique, meaningful, and most of all, authentically Peruvian.
With more than a quarter-century of experience in curating luxury vacations to South America, our guidance on the best places in Peru is unrivaled. And beyond that, we hold the secrets to visiting these destinations in ways that are separate from the tourist trail. Our privileged access enables us to offer ungoogleable experiences in some of the most popular places in Peru, as well as in those places still largely undiscovered to the public.
Within this ultimate guide to the 10 best places in Peru, you’ll glimpse a taste of the unmissable destinations found within Aracari itineraries, where every detail is considered to ensure authentic luxury travel to Peru. We have also included special snippets related to our exclusive online shop too, highlighting places that are home to some of the artists showcased in our curation of premium Adean luxury.
And before we begin, remember…
We are the ultimate specialists when it comes to bespoke travel to Peru. That means that should you wish to climb the spectacle of Rainbow Mountain and then take in the condors of the Colca Canyon, we can make it happen. Or if from Machu Picchu you’d like to fly over the Nazca lines and then recline on a pristine Mancora beach, we will take care of it. All that’s left for you to do is peruse our 10 best places to visit in Peru and then let us map the journey for you.
1. Machu Picchu: Peru’s Most Famous Bucketlist Destination
Arguably the postcard of Peru is Machu Picchu. Set amongst mist-shrouded mountains high in the Andes this manmade marvel is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites and a top pick when it comes to the best places to visit in Peru.
Hidden away from the Spanish invaders of the 1500s, Machu Picchu was for many centuries only known to the local Quechua people. It wasn’t until 1911 when American explorer Hiram Bingham, traveling to the region in search of the lost Inca capital, was led to the ruins by a local villager. Preserved by the overgrown jungle, Machu Picchu remains one of the best-preserved ancient relics ever discovered.
The popularity of the ruins has meant that the majority of Aracari’s luxury travel itineraries now include a visit to Machu Picchu – whether via means of luxury train or on foot, trekking along the magnificent Inca Trail. Take our itinerary Luxury Peru by Rail, for example, it features a luxury private charter train, sweeping guests through the Sacred Valley in style. In a recent blog, we shared five of the most unmissable train journeys in Peru, three of which are destined for Machu Picchu – suitable for every kind of traveler from honeymooners to parents traveling with kids.
For the more adventurous traveler, itineraries such as Marisol’s Favorite feature the one-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a full-day trek crossing remarkable Inca sites only approachable by foot such as Wiñay Wayna. And the famous four-day Inca Trial is also available as part of any of our tailormade travel experiences, on a private basis only with appropriate Aracari luxury comforts – including a team of chefs preparing exceptional Peruvian food, expert equipment, inflatable mattresses, spacious tents, and even a masseuse for achy muscles after a long day’s hike.
But whichever way you choose to arrive at Peru’s top tourist attraction, the most important part of a visit to Machu Picchu with Aracari is expert guidance. Our guides are true specialists when it comes to their subject knowledge, providing guests with the most fascinating anecdotes and context, unfindable in guidebooks or on signposts.
2. Rainbow Mountain: A Natural Spectacle of the Andes
Earning its place in the list of our 10 best places to visit in Peru is Rainbow Mountain. Looming large over the surrounding landscape, its slopes are covered in a spectrum of shades, best witnessed at daybreak, when the dawn light catches all colors. This surreal and highly photogenic natural phenomenon – a result of mineral deposits streaked across sandstone rock – is found in the Cordillera Vilcanota, close to the highest sacred mountain in the Cusco region, Ausangate.
While many budget operators operate a one-day trek to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco, Aracari’s two-day route allows you to avoid most of the crowds and follow little-trodden trails to reach the colorful summit. Guests will trek through one of the most pristine mountain ecosystems in the world and take in beautiful views, as well as fascinating native wildlife. The overnight stay is spent in a tambo, an Andean lodge, relatively close to Rainbow Mountain avoiding a painfully early departure time from Cusco and reaching its peak before the crowds descend.
This more considered journey also leaves time to discover more of the multi-colored marvels discovered in this part of Peru. For millennia, this part of Peru has been famed for its textiles. Today, that precious history is preserved by master craftspeople like Timoteo Ccarita, whose work is featured exclusively in Aracari’s online shop and available to buy now.
A neighbor to Rainbow Mountain itself, Timoteo, with his wife Benita, lives and works out of the town of Pitumarca. Here they blend 16th and 17th-century Spanish influences, with Inca traditions and techniques, to create heirloom-quality pieces to be proudly hung in hallways and greeting rooms all over the world. During a visit to the majestic Rainbow Mountain, Aracari can arrange a private visit to some of the best weavers in the Andes, where you too can try your hand at this ancient technique.
3. The Amazon: An Unmissable Part of Peru
At Aracari, we’re often asked ‘what is the best part of Peru’ – and to us, that answer would be incomplete without mention of the Peruvian Amazon. Spanning across the northeast of the country, the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is a vast area of the Amazonian jungle and floodable forest. Due to its size and scale, visitors can explore the highland cloudforest on the eastern slopes of the Andes, all the way to the humid dense jungle of Iquitos and the Amazon River itself.
It’s because of that variety that we’ve dedicated an itinerary to showcasing this contrasting landscape. The Pillars of Peru: Coast, Jungle, Mountain begins with a stay in the cloudforest of Peru: the protected conservation area of Cordillera Escalera. As well as being one of the best places to visit in Peru, it’s also one of the most biodiverse, and the mountainous jungle of San Martin is where our guests will spend three days at Bosque Guardian – in one of just twelve of the sustainably-sound wooden lodges – tracking wildlife, climbing waterfalls, and dining on rainforest-to-table cuisine.
The journey then takes travelers to Iquitos, the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon, exploring its exotic bustling market before boarding a luxury Amazon River cruise and meandering through the flooded forest spotting rare, elusive wildlife, cooling off alongside dolphins in the gentle waters, and dining on a menu of Amazonian gastronomy.
4. Kuelap Ruins: A spectacular lesser-known archaeological site in Peru
Built by the people of Chachapoyas in the 6th century AD, the Kuelap Ruins are undoubtedly deserving of a mention as one of the best places to visit in Peru. Known as the ‘Machu Picchu of the north’, parallels can be drawn between Kuelap’s jaw-dropping setting with that of Machu Picchu. Kuelap – built well before the Incas ever made their mark – is the largest ancient stone structure in South America, taking around 40 million cubic feet of stone to build, that’s three times more than the Great Pyramid of Egypt.
The most noteworthy feature is the sheer size of its granite walls, rising in places up to 18 meters (60 feet) in height. With narrow entrances, ceremonial buildings, high walls, and rock reliefs, this staggering feat of engineering is breathtaking, perched on a high mountain ridge at 3,000m above sea level.
Our itinerary Undiscovered Peru is a luxury vacation to South America dedicated to connecting guests to some of the lesser known 10 best places to visit in Peru, of which Kuelap is one. A cable car through the dense mountain landscape takes visitors up to the remote setting, and the start of a 30-minute walk to the archaeological site.
Led by an expert guide, Aracari guests will spend the day exploring the impressive pre-Columbian built by the civilization known as the ‘warriors of the clouds’. It’s estimated that up to 3,000 people lived here at its height, across multiple levels, and in over 400 constructions found within the complex. A unique and truly fascinating site Kuelap remains relatively undiscovered when it comes to the top tourist attractions in Peru.
5. Gocta Waterfall: one of Peru’s must-see destinations for nature lovers
Hike through the Chachapoyas cloudforest and you’ll hear the awesome force of the Gocta waterfall before you see it. Although known to locals for centuries, it wasn’t until an expedition to Chachapoyas by a German explorer in 2005 prompted the measurement and documentation of the falls that Gocta was declared the third-highest waterfall in the world.
During Aracari’s itinerary Undiscovered Peru – a journey dedicated to the lesser-visited North of the country, guests will spend a day trekking to Gocta waterfall, high in the cloudforest. The path is generally well-maintained and wonderfully scenic throughout.
Beginning in farmland, the path passes local communities before the landscape morphs into a lush cloud forest with jungle-like vegetation. Visitors to Gocta – one of the best places to visit in Peru – will immediately be taken by the unique sounds, sights, and smells of the cloudforest. As the trek becomes steeper, walkers will be privy to unique and beautiful flora and fauna, including the endemic Spatuletail hummingbird, butterflies, flowers, occasional toucans, and monkeys.
With about a third of the way to go before reaching the falls, the vegetation opens, and finally, trekkers will glimpse Gocta. For the rest of the walk, the incredible thunderous flow of water is in both sight and earshot, culminating at the base of the falls. Accompanied by an expert guide, Aracari guests may be able to take a dip in the refreshing pools below, an unforgettable experience for those in search of the top 10 places to visit in Peru.
6. Huaca de la Luna: The Secrets of the Ancient Moche Culture
Long before the Incas ruled Peru, other sophisticated civilizations built advanced infrastructure and artistic legacies across the country. One of those civilizations is the Moche culture, which prospered from around AD 1 to 700, and dominated several valleys on Peru’s northern coast. The Moche left an especially vivid creative legacy, particularly in their pottery and metallurgy. A series of Moche centers dating from about AD 300 to 550 controlled Peru’s northern valleys, places that today are more than deserving of a place in the list of top ten places to visit in Peru.
The Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna (Pyramids of the Sun and Moon) can be found in Peru’s dusty Trujillo Valley. These truncated mud pyramids lie on the south bank of the Rio Moche, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of Trujillo by way of a rough road, and form part of the increasingly well-known Moche Route, where travelers can explore this fascinating history along the northern coastal desert.
The Huacas are terraced adobe mounds that likely complemented each other, with Huaca del Sol serving an administrative function and Huaca de la Luna a religious one. The Huaca del Sol is the single largest Pre-Columbian structure in Peru. The smaller Huaca de la Luna is about 500 meters away across the open desert. Although less impressive in size, the Huaca de la Luna has yielded many more artifacts. Dozens of pottery shards lie around its open area, and the pyramid is riddled with rooms that once contained the Moche’s signature ceramics, precious metals, and polychrome friezes. It’s thought some 10,000 people may have lived and produced a wide array of crafts in the plain separating the Huacas.
During our itinerary Undiscovered Peru, Aracrai guests will visit the superb archaeological accompanied by archaeologist and project director Dr. Ricardo Morales. A unique experience offering guests the chance to unearth the captivating story of an ancient civilization.
Today, the craftsmanship of the Moche people lives on, inspiring the work of modern artists. Such inspiration is found in the work of jewelry designer, Carole Fraresso, whose exquisite goldsmithing features in our Andean luxury online shop.
Carole Fraresso founded Motché in 2010 with a vision focused on the recovery and transmission of the cultural heritage present in Peruvian jewelry. And since then, she’s done just that. Carole´s approach is a mix of archaeology, historical craftsmanship, and modern design perpetuating the gestures of exceptional Peruvian artisans, in an ethical and responsible process. Explore the full collection inspired by the Moche route now.
7. The Nazca Lines: Peru’s enigmatic drawings
The Nazca Lines have drawn thousands of visitors since they were first discovered in the 1920s, thus cementing their position as one of the top tourist attractions in Peru. Their mystery is part of their allure; it seems no one can confirm for certain why the lines were drawn. Some scientists believe they are related to astrology, while others thought that perhaps they were drawn as a tribute to the Gods. One group of scientists even purported the myth that the lines, some eight kilometers (five miles) long, were markers for extraterrestrial landings.
Our itinerary An Amazing Andean Adventure includes a private flight over the ancient geoglyphs, before a delicious seafood lunch and an exploration of the National Marine Reserve of Paracas, the only one in Peru. This experience is ideal for those seeking the best places to visit in Peru with older kids, providing an exhilarating and unforgettable view over the expansive Nazca lines.
And for those fascinated by the origin of one of Peru’s top tourist attractions, Aracari can arrange an insider guide to tell you more about the ongoing research into emerging theories, those such as the lines indicating water sources in the desert. For more on that conversation, you can read of our talk with specialist guide Ana Maria Cogorno, Director of the Maria Reiche Association.
8. Huascaran: scale Peru’s highest Mountain
Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, Mount Huascarán rises to 6,768 m above sea level. The deep ravines watered by numerous torrents, glacial lakes, and a variety of vegetation make it a site of spectacular beauty, and one of the 10 best places to visit in Peru, especially for adventure lovers.
It’s a place that’s inspired naturalists and artists alike, and the Cordillera Blanca along with other of Peru’s mountainous landscapes is the founding inspiration behind the work of Kristie Arias – whose magnificent textile art features in our online shop. The pieces featured include Kristie’s series titled ‘The Fetishized Andean Clouds’ – beautiful and bright textile art woven to reflect the ever-changing clouds and mists of the Andes. Born from a passion for fiber and textiles, Kirstie’s work is a deeply meaningful imagination of art and nature, and one that’s available to view and buy via our online curation of Andean luxury now.
The striking beauty of the Cordillera Blanca landscape is also only the beginning. Here the wide range of ecosystems and vegetation types includes small pockets of montane tropical forests in some of the lower elevations and valleys. The climate makes for an ideal habitat for the emblematic Vicuna, which was close to extinction in the 1960s but has since recovered, one of the most spectacular conservation successes in South America. As well as other charismatic mammals, such as the North Andean Deer, Puma or Mountain Lion, the vulnerable Spectacled Bear, and the endangered Andean Mountain Cat.
For hikers asking what the best part of Peru is, the Huascarán National Park, certainly delivers. The full range of high peaks offers some incredible vistas and amazing walking routes, and since it is the highest tropical mountain range in the world, it’s also a haven for climbers with a longer season than other climbing hotspots such as the Himalayas. Aracari draws on over 26 years of experience to offer discerning travelers authentic luxury Peru treks away from the crowds, with top-notch equipment, first-class guiding, and uncompromised safety standards.
9. Mancora Beach: Peru’s pristine Pacific coast
The year-round sunshine of Peru’s Northern coast makes these shores a warm invitation. Combine that deserted white sand beaches, turquoise waters, freshly prepared seafood dishes, and seasonal whale watching – and it’s easy to see why Mancora has made its way into our list of the 10 best places to visit in Peru.
And visiting the North Coast as part of a luxury Peru vacation with Aracari truly is extra special. You see, this part of Peru is home to our collection of luxury villas – a handpicked selection of sublime beachfront properties, offering serenity and seclusion on white sandy shores. Equipped with every comfort you need for an unforgettable stay, many of these private villas in Peru also include your own private chef. Masters of coastal cuisine, these chefs will prepare fresh fish dishes every evening, cooked in the property’s professional kitchen, the outdoor grill, or an open fire right on the beach.
Depending on the season there’s also the chance to catch your own fish of the day. Out on the open water, you’ll be accompanied by an expert fisherman – who will lead you to the best spot to catch marlin, swordfish, and tuna. And once back on dry land, you’ll be guided on how to prepare a delicious local dish with the day’s catch.
These shores are also home to more than charming fishing villages and pristine beaches. Here, in one of the most unmissable parts of Peru, works designer and artist Vicky Lynch. Born and raised in Lima, Vicky has spent a career fascinated by Peruvian traditions of bygone eras. And it’s by retracing the history of Toquilla Straw weaving, native to Peru’s northern coastline, that Vicky began her own unique, preservation of this precious craft.
In a collection of Catacaos hats, showcased exclusively on Aracari Shop, Vicky has brought the tradition and heritage of Peru’s pacific shores to life in effortlessly chic headwear. Perfect for the approaching Peruvian summer, and your next trip to Mancora beach.
10. The Colca Canyon: One of Peru’s most dramatic and spectacular natural landscapes
At 3,182 meters (10,439 feet) deep, Peru’s Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Its dramatic landscape is created by the Colca River, considered by a National Geographic survey to be the source of the Amazon, which cuts a sensational scar through the mountains for more than 50 km (31mi).
It’s not only the breathtaking landscape that puts a visit here onto our list of the top ten places to visit in Peru, but the cultures and communities scattered across a lost paradise of Spanish Villages. Their churches still stand despite being battered by earthquakes, and their women still dress in their traditional voluminous Andean skirts and colorful hats.
The Colca Canyon is best visited in combination with the city of Arequipa – 4 hours away by car and another top tourist attraction in Peru. In our newly refreshed itinerary, The Golden Age of Travel: Luxury Peru by Rail Aracari guests will explore the Colca Valley aboard South America’s only luxury sleeper train: the Belmond Andean Explorer.
Following one of the highest railways in the world, the Belmond Andean Explorer travels through sweeping highland scenery from Cusco to Puno, by Lake Titicaca, and onto Arequipa. Away from the luxury of your private suite onboard, you’ll explore the islands of Lake Titicaca, take in the sunsets over La Raya point, and visit the ancient caves of Sumbay. And after three days aboard one of the best luxury trains in Peru, you’ll reach Arequipa for your final night on this private South American tour, exploring the UNESCO World Heritage city and its unmissable foodie scene.
So, what do you think is the best part of Peru?
Of course, these are just ten of the top places to visit in Peru; a country mapped and marbled with so many unmissable destinations.
At Aracari, our specialism is curating an ungoogleable luxury South American vacation. Connecting our clients to the experiences that can’t be found online, but rather only via our privileged access built over 26 years in the business.
By speaking to one of our expert travel designers about any of the destinations that have piqued your interest in travel to Peru, you can begin your journey to a custom-built vacation – taking in as many of the country’s wonders as you desire.