Must See Sights in Peru for Adventure Travelers
Peru is a wonderland for adventure travelers. Magnificent mountains full of challenging trails and climbs, some of the hottest deserts in the hemisphere and remote archeological sites that date back thousands of years. From Machu Picchu adventures to Amazon waterways, Peru literally has something for every expedition traveler enthusiast.
But all of that magic makes it hard to prioritize what to see first. You could spend months exploring the best that Peru has to offer. But since most of us have to work for a living, we’ve run down the must-see sights for adventure travelers. We can’t promise you can fit it all into one vacation, but you’ll have a blast no matter which sights you focus on.
Hike the Legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu has been named one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Built by the Incan Empire at about 1450 A.D., it’s located more than 7,000 feet above sea level and is perched among some of the most spectacular vistas in Peru. And because of that, nearly every tourist puts some Machu Picchu adventures at the top of their bucket list. Machu Picchu is filled with legendary architecture and breathtaking views. And if you’re an adventure fan, you’ll want to tackle the four-day hike up the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
The 25-mile hike begins in Cusco and the only safe way to do it is with a guide and porters. It requires passing through three high mountain passes and the hiking on the second day is pretty much straight up a mountain. But the reward is the spectacular views and the opportunity to see some incredible ruins along the way to Machu Picchu. The Andes Mountains are magnificent and this tour is the perfect opportunity to see a bit of everything they have to offer.
Make sure to leave plenty of time for sightseeing once you’re there. And there are plenty of options for the return trip, including various sizes of buses, vans, and tourist industry passenger vehicles.
The Amazon Rain Forest
Many people might not realize it, but Peru has the second largest amount of Amazon rainforest next to Brazil. There are a variety of tours for adventure travelers that focus on the Amazon rainforest, most of them leaving from either Iquitos or the Tambopata Amazon Jungle Region. The rainforest covers about 60 percent of Peru and both areas are difficult to get to by land. In fact, Iquitos is the world’s largest city in the world that can’t be accessed by road.
In fact, Iquitos itself is a fascinating city, since it’s populated by colorful old mansions that date back to the time when the area was the center of the rubber trade. Another advantage of the Iquitos area is that, unlike some other spots in Peru, you’ll be accessing the primary Amazon River. It’s also the only place on the Amazon in Peru that you can visit indigenous villages and get a sense of how people have lived in this region for a thousand years.
One popular adventure tour is to explore the Amazon waterways by boat. There are a number of adventure travel companies that offer multiple-day cruises down the Amazon and it’s a good way to safely explore one of the most challenging and dangerous environments in the world.
There is something comforting and exotic about falling asleep in an open cabin as you cruise slowly up the Amazon River as you make your way to an exotic river lodge. From there you can hike along jungle paths hundreds of years old or take advantage of being close to some of the world’s most exotic wildlife.
Tackling an adventure in the Tambopata Amazon Jungle Region is quite different. Puerto Maldonado is the jumping-off point for the area’s expedition travel and it is a much smaller city than Iquitos. And while the access to the Amazon isn’t as direct, there is an astounding amount of biodiversity in the region. Tours can take you through some of the richest wildlife areas in Peru and there are plenty of adventure travel companies that can help you find the perfect tour for you.
Sand Boarding and Dune Buggy Adventures in Huacachina
Huacachina is located about 4.5 hours south of Lima and it’s surrounded by massive sand dunes. The area has become a popular area for tourists, who flock to the desert oasis to try their hand at sand boarding and dune buggy adventures. Most hotels and adventure tour companies have old snowboards you can use if you want to try sandboarding. The locals use old wooden planks, which ups the difficulty level and possibility that you’ll fall about 50 percent.
There are organized dune buggy tours you can take, but it’s also possible to rent a dune buggy and head out on your own. It’s definitely a riskier choice, but if you’re comfortable with the idea, it can be a blast.
Surf the Waves at Mancora
Adventure travel in Peru really does cover just about any climate you can imagine. There are the Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest, deserts and yes, there are even some sweet beachfront areas. The beach town of Mancora has everything you would want in a tropical beach town. Beautiful sandy beaches, near-perfect weather and great waves that are perfect for surfing.
Mancora is also a stop along the famed Pan-American Highway hiking trail, so you’ll see plenty of backpackers mixed in with beach folks. If there’s a downside to Mancora, it’s that it is about an 18-hour bus ride from Lima. But that isolation is what makes the town and its pristine beaches so magical. It’s a hub for Peruvian adventure travel and should be on any traveler’s “must-see” list.
Hike the Colca Canyon
The Andes Mountains offer a number of spectacular Peru trekking opportunities and none of them are more memorable than the Colca Canyon. It’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, although the sides aren’t as steep and foreboding. There are plenty of trekking groups over guided tours or you can pick up supplies and plan your own route.
Besides all of the jaw-dropping vistas in the Colca Canyon, the area is also the home of the rare Andean Condor, a large bird which has the longest wing-span of any bird in the world. While they aren’t plentiful, they aren’t at the endangered level yet and it’s certainly possible you’ll have the chance to spot one of these magnificent creatures.
Visit Huaraz and Trek the Cordillera Blanca
If you are looking to push your trekking skills to their limits, consider a trip to the north-central Peruvian town of Huaraz. Located about 400 miles north of Lima, the town is the gateway to the Cordillera Blanca, the highest range of mountains in Peru.
Famed for its snow-capped mountains and formidable climbs, the Cordillera Blanca includes Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru. At 22,205 feet, it is the third-highest peak in the Western Hemisphere and it’s a popular destination for world-class climbers looking for a challenge.
Qollor Riti Pilgrimage
The Taytacha Qoyorti is an old religious procession that takes place over a four-day period each year just before the celebration of Corpus Christi. Every small village around the ancient town of Mawayany sends a group of brightly-clad dancers to the Chapel of the Lord of Qoylloriti. That chapel is located at the base of the Sinakara Mountain, a few hours walk from Mawayany.
Watching the procession is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and they welcome any visitor who wants to join in the walk. After the procession, there is a festival with plenty of food and dancing. The area and the procession are little known to tourists and planning a trek there will give you the ultimate authentic Peru historical experience.
Hike the Rainbow Mountains
Located just outside of Cusco, the Rainbow Mountains offer up a treasure trove of reminders of the Incan Empire, along with some of the most peaceful hiking trails you’ll encounter in South America. The Rainbow Mountains have become a popular tourist destination and guided day tours are readily available.
But for trekking groups that want to mix long hikes with spectacular scenery, multi-day adventure offers up a nice mix of reasonably challenging trails with some truly memorable ruins. The area is filled with backpackers and some of the trails wind their way to Argentina.
The Cusco & Rainbow Mountains area also offers some under-appreciated archeological sites, including the Temple Of The Moon. The temple isn’t near a paved road, so it doesn’t get the normal tourist crowd. In fact, the best way to get there is by taxi and return to Cusco via a two-hour walk. But it’s a fascinating mystery and well worth seeing. It’s a giant hill with two large caves cut into it, with temples built inside. The big mystery is the age of the main temples. Most archeologists will only speculate that it dates to a time before the Incas, but some experts claim the earliest carvings could date back 5,000 years or more.
By any measure, Lake Titicaca is an impressive sight. Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, it is the largest lake in South America and it has the highest navigable body of water in the world. Nicknamed the “Birthplace of the Sun,” Lake Titicaca is believed to be the place where the Incan civilization began and the area is surrounded by remnants of that impressive culture.
Lake Titicaca is so large that it includes a number of smaller islands, each with its own unique personality. Amantani is about 6 square miles in area and has about 4,000 residents. It allows no machinery, so all of the farming is done by hand using traditional methods. Visitors are allowed and there are opportunities to experience life in a pre-mechanical age.
Taquile is a small rectangular island that was once used as the site of a Spanish prison. It has about 2,200 residents and cars aren’t allowed on the island. There are no hotels, but it has some camping areas that provide 360 degree looks around the entire Lake Titicaca area.
No matter what else you do at Lake Titicaca, you have to take a trip on one of the lake’s several steamboats. Each of them was built in parts, then carried up the lake where the ship was then assembled. It’s a fascinating story and the steamboats are a wonderful reminder of Lake Titicaca’s complicated history.
Sacred Valley Bicycle Tours
Peru’s Sacred Valley region is far off the typical tourist route and it is filled with rolling hills and lots of small, native villages. The area is known for its basket making and one of the more popular ways to explore is on a one-day bike ride through the Sacred Valley. You’ll see how the baskets are woven, sample local dishes and by the end of it all you’ll feel as if you have a better understanding of what life in those villages is all about.
The bike routes aren’t for beginners, but they aren’t so challenging that they will distract you from the natural beauty of the area and the friendliness of its residents.
Volunteer To Help An Archeologist
Peru is filled with archeology and despite a lot of resources being devoted to examining the ruins, there is way more to do than any organization can possibly fund. If you’re an amateur archeologist or just like getting your hands dirty, there are hundreds of opportunities to spend a few times helping out at a real-life archeological dig. You’ll never look at “Indiana Jones’ the same way again.
As you can see, there is an impressive range of options for adventure travelers planning to visit Peru. Whether you like to be part of a bigger group as part of some expedition travel or if you’re looking for some more intimate Peru trekking in the Andes, you’ll find something to love in Peru.