There certainly is no shortage of incredible locations to visit in Peru.
From snow-capped mountains, pristine glacier lakes to ancient Inca ruins and its own little oasis city in the desert, Peru is not only picturesque but also one of the most diverse countries that we have visited in South America.
While places like Cusco & Lima are booming with tourists every year, dig a bit deeper and you’ll find some of the tallest waterfalls in the world and turquoise rivers in the mountains that will blow away any expectations that you’ve set for Peru.
After spending a few months on the road in Peru zig-zagging through remote mountain villages, down to the coast and back into the mountains, we realized that Peru just offers endless possibilities for any type of traveler.
We’ve explored so much in this beautiful country but here are some of our favorite places that stood out to us the most.
10 Incredible things to do in Peru:
- Laguna Paron
- Laguna 69
- Huacachina Oasis
- Aguas De Huancaraylla
- Machu Picchu Ruins
- Maras Salt Mines
- Moray Ruins
- Ollantaytambo Ruins
- Gocta Waterfall
- Kuélap Ruins
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may already know that we spent 15 months on the road traveling through all of Central and South America. But when people ask me what my favorite place has been on this trip, it’s almost impossible to answer that question. Nevertheless, there certainly are places that stand out above others and for me, Cordillera Blanca region in Peru is one of those places.
Peru’s Cordillera Blanca is home to some of the most incredible, yet toughest, hikes in the world. While the 4-day Santa Cruz Trek is the most popular hike in the Cordillera Blanca that attracts visitors from all over the world, you don’t need to be a super serious hiker to see snowcapped mountains and glaciers in this region.
Lake Paron is one of the top attractions in the Cordillera Blanca that offers amazing mountain views and is accessible for just about anyone. Located an hour and a half drive from Caraz city, Laguna Paron is a beautiful lake with stunning day hikes, canoe rentals, and even free overnight camping options.
We spent two full days at Laguna Paron hiking to various viewpoints, around the lake itself and even found hidden alpine lakes nearby. If you are looking for a challenge, start early and tackle a full day hike to the Artesoncocha glacier lake that’s located on the other side of Laguna Paron. Just make sure to get an early head start, pack warm and watch the weather – it can be quite unpredictable!
Location: 2828+83 Caraz, Peru
Cost: 5 soles ($1.50 USD) to enter the lake and camp
Another jaw-dropping day hike to do in the Cordillera Blanca region is the Laguna 69 trek. This hike is a lot more challenging than Laguna Paron, especially for those that are not used to hiking in high altitude.
In retrospect, we should have spent more time adjusting to altitude after arriving in the Cordillera Blanca area. But like usual, we just jumped straight in and did this hike with our typical “just go for it” attitude. Mix in a bit of snow, hail and below freezing temps and it’s quite the surprise that we finished this trek.
Although this was one of the hardest day hikes that we’ve ever done, the views completely paid off. The Laguna 69 trail starts in a lush valley and climbs steeply up into the mountains passing a few smaller alpine lakes and waterfalls along the way.
The trek ends at the majestic Laguna 69 lake that is surrounded by glaciers and snowy mountain peaks. Due to the weather, we didn’t get to spend too much time at this turquoise lake before a hail storm chased us out, but we did hike to an incredible overlook before descending down the mountain.
Tip: Make sure to check out the Sierra Andina taproom near the Laguna 69 entrance that offers local craft beers and has an outdoor seating overlooking the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. It’s such an unexpected location for a bar but makes for the perfect spot to relax and grab a beer after tackling the tough Laguna 69 hike.
Location: X9QQ+W7 Vaquería, Peru
Cost: 30 soles ($9 USD) for entrance into the trail + 60 soles ($18 USD) for camping (optional)
Peru is a real treasure for adventurous travelers that offers some of the most diverse scenery in South America. But when you think of Peru, you wouldn’t exactly expect to see an oasis city in the midst of giant sand dunes.
When it comes to Peru, be ready to expect the unexpected. With cheap hotels, fun party vibes, sunny weather, and thrilling desert adventures, Huacachina oasis is becoming quite the popular destination to visit in southern Peru, especially for those en route from Lima to Cusco.
We’ve written a detailed guide on what you can expect from spending a few days at the Huacachina Oasis here. Take an exhilarating sand buggy tour, sandboard down a massive sand dune or hit up a pool party to cool down – there’s plenty to keep you occupied for a few days.
Located a few hours south of Lima, a lot of people even visit Huacachina as a day trip. Wondering how to best arrange a visit? Check out this Huacachina day tour from Lima that will take care of everything for you!
Location: W66P+VH Ica, Peru
Cost: Dependent on tours and activities
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Aguas De Huancaraylla
Truth be told, we planned our trip to Aguas De Huancaraylla based on a single Instagram Photo. Yes, you can judge us, we are totally those people who sometimes base their trips on social media inspiration.
Once we saw a photo of this blue limestone river surrounded by towering cliffs, it quickly topped our Peru bucket list. But this river is not well documented and doesn’t even have an official name so finding this location was no easy task.
After doing some deep research, we found a spot on Google Maps marked as “Aguas De Huancaraylla”. We decided to give this spot a shot and set out on a journey from Huacachina Oasis in search of this hidden paradise.
Two days later (and somewhat lost in the Peruvian mountains) we still hadn’t found it and we were starting to feel a bit defeated. Were we on a wild goose chase that was leading nowhere? We had no reception and just a slight idea in which direction to go.
We were about to give up when a local man approached us and claimed to know exactly where this river was located. At this point, we had nothing to lose so we hopped in our van and followed this mysterious fellow down the road. A short drive later we finally reached the destination and to our luck, it was the same blue river that we had seen in the photo!
We spent the entire afternoon exploring the turquoise blue Aguas De Huancaraylla river and it’s endless limestone pools. Although it’s possible to go down to the river bottom itself, the water was quite cold and none of the other visitors were brave enough to swim in it.
The best views can be found from a path along the steep cliffs that overlook the river. If you keep hiking along the trail, you will also come across a stunning waterfall and a camping area where you can pitch a tent if you plan to stay there overnight.
As we later found out, tours to the Aguas De Huancaraylla river can be organized from Ayacucho city. This location is still very little known so the tour options and bus times are very limited. In the near future, I can see this location getting more traction especially since it’s located at a halfway point between Lima and Cusco.
Tip: Just outside the river entrance there are a few restaurants where visitors can try some local trout that is grown in this region. For a few bucks, you can get a dish with freshly cooked trout, rice, and a side salad – very delicious!
Location: 7V29+7M Huancaraylla District, Peru
Cost: 2 soles ($.60 USD) if you go on your own
Machu Picchu Ruins
No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the world-famous Machu Picchu ruins. Despite the remote location, difficult access, crowds, and high cost, the Machu Picchu ruins is on just about everyone’s bucket list.
What makes Machu Picchu archeological site so special is that it’s one of the few Inca cities that was never discovered by the Spanish conquerors. Although the Machu Picchu site was abandoned just shortly after it was built, the city and its buildings remain in an excellent condition compared to the other Inca sites that were destroyed by the Spanish.
Machu Picchu is located on top of a steep mountain so getting there isn’t exactly easy and requires quite a bit of planning ahead of time. Most people opt to sign up for a day tour like this one, but you can certainly plan a visit on your own to save a bit of money like we did.
If we were to go again, we’d probably take the easy route and go with a tour to eliminate the headache of coordinating a bus to Ollantaytambo, a train from there to Aguas Calientes plus a bus up to the citadel itself. But if you’re traveling on a budget and choose to visit Machu Picchu without a tour, here’s our Machu Picchu guide covering everything you need to know including different cost options, how to get there, where to stay and more!
Location: RFP4+P2 Aguas Calientes, Peru
Cost: Varies based on different tour and entrance ticket options but $250 per person is what we paid to go on our own
Maras Salt Mines
Without a doubt, Machu Picchu is Peru’s main attraction that draws endless crowds to Cusco every year. But, there are plenty of other cool things to see and do in the area, like the Maras salt mines, that are well worth escaping Cusco for the day.
The Maras salt mines consist of a few thousand different salt pools that are believed to exist since Inca times, or perhaps even before. This salt farm relies on an intricate water system that flows from the upper pools down across the lower pools and is maintained by the local community. When the water evaporates, salt crystallizes in these pools that can be harvested and sold at the local markets.
Each salt mine can be individually owned and dependent on the farmer’s technique used, can result in different colors. This creates quite the picturesque scenery that is open for anyone to enjoy. A set of narrow pathways leads through the Maras salt mines that visitors can use to get a closer look at these colorful pools.
If you don’t have a personal car to get there from Cusco, you can arrange transportation to the Maras Salt Mines through this tour (entrance tickets not included). For a more adventurous way to get there, check out this Quad tour that will take you to the Maras salt mines on a Quad bike!
Location: PR2V+G5 Urubamba, Peru
Cost: 10 soles ($3 USD) entrance ticket
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If you’re already venturing out of Cusco to explore the Maras salt mines, make sure not to miss the Moray Ruins that are located in the same area. In fact, due to the close proximity of both sites, most people combine a visit to the Maras Salt Mines and Moray Ruins into one day trip.
Unlike most Inca ruins that consist of residential housing structures, the Moray archeological site is quite unique and shaped to look like giant round circles. Looking at this site from the top of a hill just feels pretty surreal and a bit alien-like.
Although the purpose of these circles is unknown, it is believed that the Moray location was used by Incas to test different planting methods for growing crops. While many Incan ruins showcase a variety of stepped irrigation systems, this one is by far the most complex and advanced. This is why it is believed that the Moray site was a place for agricultural research.
In honor of the Moray site, a modern biological and cultural research center has been built overlooking the ruins. The MIL research studio is currently collecting and documenting samples of vegetables, fruits, and plants that are locally grown throughout Peru. As part of our MIL restaurant reservation, we got to enjoy a private tour of the research facility and see how local foods are incorporated into modern cooking.
Location: MRC3+34 Maras, Peru
Cost: 70 soles ($21 USD) to enter the ruins
Ollantaytambo is a city in Peru’s Sacred Valley region on the route between Cusco and Machu Picchu. If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu ruins, it’s likely that you’ll end up in Ollantaytambo at some point, but there’s more to this charming city than the Machu Pichu train station or the Inca Trail starting point.
Ollantaytambo is one of the longest occupied Inca settlements and was once used by the Inca emperor Pachacuti for his personal residence. Along with housing some of the top Inca noblemen, this location also served as an agricultural farm and a place for worship.
Similar to Moray ruins, stepped irrigation terraces were built at Ollantaytambo along the side of a steep mountain creating lateral farming fields. This was a popular farming method that allowed the Incas to plant different types of vegetables and plants at various temperature levels allowing the plants to flourish where they would not typically grow otherwise.
The Ollantaytambo ruins can be accessed via steep steps that lead to the top of the ruins where temples were built for worshipping and tracking calendar days.
The Ollantaytambo settlement also plays an important part in the Inca culture and history. This was one of the few locations that successfully defended off the Spanish invasion before the Incas retreated to Vilcabamba.
To visit this site consider signing up for a full-day Sacred Valley tour that will take you to the Ollantaytambo ruins and a few other popular spots nearby.
Location: PPVM+8J Ollantaytambo, Peru
Cost: 70 soles ($21 USD)
Located on the outskirts of a tiny village in Peru’s Chachapoyas region, the Gocta waterfall is one of those places that very few people have heard of, yet you’d be surprised to learn that the Gocta waterfall is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world (16th to be more specific).
Potholed roads, sketchy mountain passes and lack of transportation don’t exactly make this an easy destination for travelers. But since Gocta’s so-called “discovery” by the international travel community (locals have always known about its existence), the little Cocachimba village where the waterfall is located has experienced an influx of tourism.
One major bonus that puts Gocta waterfall on traveler’s radar is the beautiful Gocta Andes Lodge that was built to have an unobstructed view of the entire waterfall. This hotel also comes with a picturesque infinity pool where visitors can jump in for a refreshing swim after tackling the waterfall hike.
If staying at the Gocta Andes Lodge is something that interests you, make sure to contact the hotel for availability and reservations well in advance. The lodge only has 10 rooms so it frequently gets sold out.
The hike to the Gocta waterfall starts at the Cocachimba village and is super easy to find. The Cocachimba village itself is very small and only consists of a few buildings so any local can point you in the right direction when you’re ready to tackle this hike.
The trail to the waterfall is pretty straight forward and goes along a wide road through lush jungle terrain. While we love hiking and try to spend as much time outdoors as we can, this hike did kick our butts quite a bit. As soon as we passed one hill we were faced with another one and that went on for a few hours (there and back).
After hiking the Gocta Falls make sure to check out the Yumbilla waterfall hike in the same region. Yumbilla waterfall actually ranks as the 3rd tallest waterfall in the world but is even less known than the Gocta Falls.
For more information on visiting these waterfalls, check out our Chachapoyas travel guide here.
Location: X4G7+Q3 Cocachimba, Peru
Cost: 10 Soles ($3 USD)
There is no shortage of incredible ruins to visit in Peru. Some, like Machu Picchu, are well known and visited by thousands of people every day. Others, like Kuélap ruins, are equally stunning, yet little known to the general population.
Due to a few reasons like the remote location and terrifying mountain roads that separate the Kuélap ruins from the rest of Peru, not many visitors venture into this region. Maybe we just got lucky but we were the only people at this archeological site during our visit. We got a private tour by one of the security guards and had to pinch ourselves that we had the entire place to explore without battling any tourist crowds.
Built high up in the mountains, the Kuélap ruins are considered “The Machu Picchu” of Northern Peru. This archeological site is best known for the giant walls that surround the settlement and the round huts that used to house the local indigenous people.
One of the coolest features of this site is the cable car that picks up visitors near the Nuevo Tingo village and takes tourists on a ride of a lifetime through the Utcubamba valley dropping off at the Kuélap entrance while passing some mind-blowing mountains on the way.
If you love visiting remote places that are a bit off the “beaten path”, the Kuélap ruins is well worth the effort and time. For more info on this site, visit our Chachapoyas guide here.
Location: H3MG+5C Longuita District, Peru
Cost: 20 soles ($6 USD) for the cable car + 30 soles ($9 USD) pp for entry into ruins
Peru has undeniably some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We hope our guide has helped to add a place (or two) on your Peru bucket list as well. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
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