12 Awesome Things To Do In Peru

By Jana Jansen van Vuuren 9 months ago
Categories Travel, Volunteering

1. Explore Points of Interest In Lima

things to do in lima

The beaches bordering the ochre cliffs of Lima are popular surfing and sunbathing destinations.

You won’t be at a loss for things to do in Peru’s seaside capital. Not only is the city a bustling metropolis featuring excellent shopping opportunities, illustrious fine dining establishments, and spectacular food street, it also houses classic Spanish buildings and Pre-Incan constructions within its city walls. And that’s not all. You can enjoy this capital’s incredibly sandy beaches all year long because in Lima it almost never rains and the climate is always warm and ‘spring-like’.

Take a stroll through the water fountains and manicured gardens of the Plaza de Armas courtyard hemmed in by stately colonialist architecture. Afterwards, head over to the upmarket Miraflores District, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, for a bike ride along the boardwalk. Pass through seaside Parque del Amor, Park of Love, and the famously beautiful Parque Kennedy. Stop in at posh Larcomar mall, to shop for clothes and accessories and sample classic Peruvian eats. Nearby, you can catch a glimpse of Peru’s legendary prehistory. Tour the city of Huaca Pucllana, a compound containing a Pyramid structure where sacred rites were performed by priests of the Lima culture.

If you’re more of the artistic type, why not head over to the Puente de los Suspiros, or Bridge of Sighs in the district of Barranco for romantic ambiance and scenery. The borough houses the museums of classical and modern art and is also the perfect place to explore Peru’s vibrant music scene. Or, visit the outskirts of the city to see the multicoloured homes of the informal settlements, or pueblos nuevos (young towns) stretching out onto the city’s hillsides.

2. Visit Peru’s Many Beaches

With over 1500 miles (2000 kilometres) of desert shoreline, temperatures that average 30°C or 86°F on any given day and mildly cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, it isn’t hard to understand why Peru is a favourite among tourists seeking a sunny getaway and those are on the hunt for the perfect waves. While great if you’re looking to socialise, Lima’s city beaches, like Costa Verde, can become very crowded. If you would like a more secluded spot, head over to Paracas Natural Reserve, where your only beach buddies will be many endemic bird species that make the protected area their home. You’ll also never be without friends if you’re a surfer visiting Peru. The surfing community here is very active, so much so, that one of only six surfing reserves in the world is located in the city of Trujillo, to the North of Lima.

Further Reading: 10 Things You Need To Know For Your First Volunteering Trip

3. Sandboard In Huacachina

Huacachina to do in peru

Spend time in the oasis of Huacachina, where, as legend has it, you can spot a desert-bound mermaid in the lake.

Imagine making your way across the desert landscape surrounding Lima, hoping to reach the tropical forests on the other side. You’re sweating, thirsty and covered in sand. On the horizon, you spot a something gleaming like a colossal mirror. A mirage? No, it’s healing waters of Huacachina. The little desert oasis has become a popular day trip from Lima in recent years. Travellers can spend their time working on their tan and taking a dip in the clear-water lake. The more adventurous can try out sandboarding along the dunes that stretch out as far as the eye can see. 

Further Reading: 5 Great Reasons Why You Need To Volunteer Abroad

4. Taste Peru’s Distinctive Food

Over 50 endemic species of corn occur across Peru’s natural landscape.

Sample Peru’s delectable cuisine to find out why this South American country could beat out France and Italy as the gastronomical capital of the world. Central restaurant, based in Lima, even ranks fifth on Restaurant magazine’s list of top 50 places to eat in the world.

The unique nature of Peruvian cuisine is due to the natural biodiversity of the Andes and Amazon regions as well as the incredible diversity of cultural influences. Crops, like potatoes and maize, now popular across the globe, first originated in Peru, and the world is still discovering highly nutritious, versatile and flavourful Peruvian crops like quinoa, maca, lucuma and camu camu.

Stop at a street stall to try Peruvian classics like ceviche, a tangy seafood marinade, lomo saltado, a Chinese inspired, beef stir-fry, beef heart kebabs called anticuchos, or, if you’re brave, roasted cuy, although foreigners will recognise it by another name — guinea pig. Wash it all down with a refreshing drink of Inca Kola, a gold-coloured herbal soda synonymous with Peruvian patriotism. 

5. Trek The Inca Trail Through The Andes Mountains

machu picchu

The Machu Picchu terraces allowed the Inca to maximise their crop output.

No list of Peruvian adventures would be complete without exploring the wonders of the magnificent Inca trail to the palace complex of Machu Picchu. The trail begins in Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire. It then heads upwards along a trail built by the Incas, crossing into treeless tundras and cloud forests, and passing clear-watered mountain streams, gentle waters and an abundance of unclassified tropical blooms. You will encounter several Inca villages and structures, like storage house and farms, along the way. Finally, on the fifth day, you’ll climb the stairs up to Machu Picchu.

What most people don’t realise about these remanents of Inca society, is that they aren’t ancient, but medieval. Like most Inca settlements you’ll find a series of terraces with built-in irrigation systems as well as a temple to their sun god, Inti. The star attractions are the mammoth intihuatana stone, a place believed to anchor the sun’s journey and a ceremonial cave with carefully placed windows that allow sunlight in to light up the space during the winter solstice. While you’re here also be sure to visit the thermal baths of the neighbouring town of Aguas Calientes.

From bright sun across the tundra to intense humidity in the forests and freezing temperatures at some of the highest points, be aware that as you ascend the peaks the climate can be dramatic and harsh. Altitude sickness is also a concern when trekking up the Inca trail and it’s no joke.  The way to deal with the effects of this condition is to take it slow. Therefore it is important to find a trustable tour operator who will allocate time for you to rest and acclimatised to the lower levels of oxygen. Even so, you should take along some commonly available medication to prevent nausea and headaches. It’s also recommended to pack lightweight warm clothes that can fit in a backpack as well as a waterproof poncho and sunscreen.

If you are planning a visit, ensure that you book early. The trail is closed during February for repairs to prevent damage to the natural environment and spaces are limited during the open season. Due its popularity, spaces fill up incredibly quickly incredibly which means that it’s best to book at least a year in advance.

Further Reading: 16 of the Best Fundraising Ideas for Volunteers

6. Explore Ruins Around Cusco

Moray Cusco

Few agree on the true function of the Moray structure is, but it’s temperature range suggest that it might have been used to test farming methods.

If you weren’t able to book a trip up the Inca Trail, don’t despair. The Sacred Valley was not originally part of Inca land, Cusco is where the Inca Empire originated and there is a lot to see within the walls of the Inca capital itself. Then there is Pisac, a settlement designed for the nobility, similar to Machu Picchu, including temples designed to align to the sun, sacred altars, baths, and fountains.  Ollantaytambo is another estate built for an Inca sovereign, that can be visited on a day trip from Cusco. The town is still inhabited and a large temple, storehouses, and terraces are located close by. You can also learn more about the milt yourself about the military prowess of the Inca by visiting the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. If your interest is more in the empire’s farming practices, tour Moray, believed by archaeologists to be a kind of scientific agricultural experience, or speak to the farmers of the Maras salt plains, which were originally established during the time of the Inca.

Further Reading: 17 Excellent Reasons To Volunteer In 2017

7. Shop For Peruvian Souvenirs

Peru souvenirs

Peruvian fabrics are handspun from llama or alpaca wool and woven using a backstrap loom.

Let’s be honest, most of the keepsakes you bring home from holiday can be pretty tacky, and downright expensive at that. But Peruvian souvenirs are a must buy. Made using a practice perfected over three millennia, Peru’s master weavers create vibrant, lightweight and oh so soft fabrics from alpaca and llama wool. The craft developed as a way for the people of the Andes to stay warm in the icy climate of higher altitudes. Shop local markets for unique items created using these fabrics, including blankets, skirts, hoodies, and hats.

8. Visit the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

floating islands lake titicaca

The boats of the Uru people are made using the totora reed.

In the South of Peru, on the border of Bolivia, you’ll find the small town of Puno and the enormous lake Titicaca. Not only is the scenery breathtaking and inhabited by rare land and water life found nowhere else, but is also home to the Uru whose fascinating tradition of creating islands out of floating reeds has attracts thousands of tourists a year. The islands are hand-woven from the stalks of the totora, a water plant native to the area. It’s pretty hard work keeping the islands afloat as the parts submerged in the river soften and rot over time. To prevent their island from disappearing, villagers regular adding a top layer of reeds. The Uru also create huts and boats out of the totora plant and use the roots as food and medicine.  

While you’re on lake Titicaca, you can also explore the several naturally occurring islands scattered across this enormous body of water. On the Bolivian side of the lake you’ll find the rumoured birthplace of the Sun and Moon, the islands of the Isla Del Sol and Isla De La Luna.

Further Reading: 6 Tips On How To Be A Responsible Volunteer

9. Celebrate The Rites of The Puno Festival

If you’re lucky enough to be in Puno early in February you’ll be able to witness the spectacular Feast of the Virgin of Candelaria. This two-week festival is one of the biggest in South America drawing crowds by the thousands. Anthropologists and historians believe it might date back to an indigenous harvest festival, which became Christianised during colonial times. The main event is a dance competition where dance troupes decked out in gaudy regalia compete for top spot.

Further Reading: 9 Inspirational Travel and Volunteering Quotes

10. Marvel At The Mysterious Nazca Lines

Nazca lines

Some believe that the spider-spade Nazca line is a representation of the constellation of Orion.

Hop on a small plane or hot air balloon and head South, down the coast of Peru. As you engrossed in the rolling hills and dunes of the arid desert landscape you might notice some massive geometrical shapes that are undoubtedly man-made. A tree, a bird, a spider — these are the gargantuan drawings of the Nazca. Older shapes were made by scraping off the top layer of red soil, revealing the white layer underneath. More recent ones are created by piling stones on top of the ruddy top layer. No one really agrees on what they were used for, but most believe they were created for some ritualistic purpose, whether that was to keep track of the stars or to communicate with the sky gods.  

11. Take A Riverboat Through The Amazon

Peru amazon

This squirrel monkey is one of over 30 species you could see on a trip through the rainforest.

More than 50% of Peru’s landscape is made up of Amazonian rainforest and one of the best ways to experience the splendid natural beauty of this environment is to take a riverboat through the area. Book one in Pucallpa, the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon, and travel down the Ucayali river. The butterfly life here is unlike anything else in the world, so don’t be surprised when swarms part of the boat to cross an expanse of massive lily pads. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the blue morphos, a topaz hued butterfly the size of your hand. Keep your eye out for the pink noses of river dolphins in the dark green river water and the charcoal grey backs of the West Indian manatee. Keep your eyes on the treetops to spot the tails of the many varieties of monkeys that make the jungle their home. Among the luscious green leaves and vines, you are also sure to discern the lurid plumage of a parrot or hummingbird. Stop off at the central jungle town of Iquitos, the historical center of the rubber industry, to sample the spicy lemongrass flavour of leafcutter ants in Belen, an informal settlement of huts built on stilts implanted in the riverbed. You can travel deeper into the jungle to visit the many small villages of the Bora people, to learn more about their commitment to a symbiotic relationship with the forest.

Further Reading: 6 Unusual Animals To Look Out For In Costa Rica

12. Discover Peru’s Boiling River

Of all the crazy things you’re likely to find in the Amazon, a river that scorches everything that comes near it tops the list. The ‘boiling river’ was recently rediscovered by Andres Ruzo, a young geophysicist, who introduced the river to the global scientific community. The river is seen as a sacred spot by the people who have lived here for centuries. Because this is a relatively new tourist destination, you’ll have to trek through a good few miles of jungle to get there. A tour offered by several companies in Pucallpa. Once you’re there, keep an eye out for, Sumrina, a powerful spiritual teacher said to appear in the center of the river, but only to those who are truly ready to hear his wisdom.

Further Reading: 6 Reasons You Need to Volunteer Abroad in Mexico

Useful Information For Travel To Peru

  • Time: Time in Peru is 5 hours behind GMT.
  • Currency: One US dollar will buy you 3.24 Peruvian Soles.
  • Language: Spanish is the national language although the native languages of Quechua and Aymara is also spoken.
  • Country Code: Phone Peru by calling 0051.

Where Can I Volunteer in Peru With GVI?

As a GVI volunteer in Peru you will be based in Lima, and work with lower income communities along the city borders. You can choose to work for two to twelve weeks on gender equality initiatives or help schools in the area. We also short term, three-month international development internships in Peru. Community interns will work on education and women’s empowerment projects and other assistance requested by leaders in the community.