I originally wrote this series in 2012. As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.
“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: Prologue
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: #1, Machu Picchu
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: #2 & 3, Sacred Valley and Amazon Rainforest
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: #4 & 5 Lake Titicaca and the Colca Canyon
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: #6 & 7, Cuzco and Lima
- Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru: #8, 9, and 10; Iquitos, Mancora, Arequipa & Some Honorable Mentions (this post)
Narrowing Peru down to just ten things to do, see, and eat doesn’t do it justice. Sure people say that about every country, but Peru really is unique. The seat of the Inca Empire and its attendant marvelous ruins, the country also boasts the Amazon Rainforest, the world’s highest navigable lake, deserts, beaches, and a mega-city in a country twice the size of Texas.
Hike the Inca Trails in Cajamarca
The northern city, way off the beaten path, where the Inca Empire ended, Cajamarca was the site of the battle where Pizarro and 168 men defeated 80,000 Incas and captured their king. In the city, you can see the ransom room where Atahualpa was held until his people filled it with gold and twice with silver. Atahualpa was then killed. The few museums and ransom room might hold your attention for a day.
But for me the star of the area is the miles and miles of Inca trails heading in every direction. Get a good guide to take you for a day or two of hiking. You’ll learn about the ancient culture that spread across western South America, and you’ll pass tiny towns of just a few houses surrounding a lake. My day strolling along the Inca trails around Cajamarca was one of the most fun days in Peru.
Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Cajamarca (CJA)
Hotels: There is the Wyndham Costa del Sol Cajamarca which is ranked first on TripAdvisor. Apart from the Wyndham, there are many independent, smaller hotels to choose from, like Posada del Puruay which has a 9.3 rating on booking.com and is second place for the Cajamarca area just behind the Wyndham on TripAdvisor.
Time needed to visit: 2 days
Try Pisco in the Desert
Nazca is home to the Nazca Lines, geoglyphs dating to the 5th century. The lines are best viewed by a short flight in a tiny plane over the animals and other shapes etched into the desert.
Ica is home to Peru’s vineyards. They churn out wine and Peru’s national drink, pisco, which is a grape brandy. Seriously– don’t make jokes that pisco is Chilean. Anything bearing the name pisco but not produced in Peru cannot be legally brought into Peru.
Tour the vineyards and taste pisco, which is up there with ouzo on my list of worst alcohols in the world. Pisco is not totally irredeemable; it is a part of the tasty national cocktail, the pisco sour.
Ica is also the gateway to Lago Huacachina, which is a backpacker’s haven and a place to sandboard down the huge dunes. A thrilling– because of how reckless the drivers are– sandbuggy tour costs under $20.
Pisco, the city, was devastated by a 2007 earthquake. It is the gateway to Paracas National Park, marketed in Peru as the “poor man’s Galapagos.” An inexpensive half day boat tour is sure to see tons of sea lions and birds, and if it’s the right season, penguins.
Getting there: Buses connect Lima to all three cities and there are buses among the cities too.
Time needed to visit: 3 days
10. Get “Misti” Eyed in Arequipa
Arequipa is Peru’s most beautiful and second-largest city. Nicknamed la ciudad blanca for the many buildings constructed from white volcanic sillar, Arequipa has the most beautiful Plaza de Armas in all of Peru.
My top two picks for the day in Arequipa are the Santa Catalina Monastery, a 16th century labyrinth for the sisters, and Museo Santurios de la Altura. The museum features Juanita, a mummified twelve year old found on a summit near Arequipa. The icy temperatures preserved her for 500 years and gave archaeologists amazing insight into Inca religion.
At night, grab a meal and a pisco sour somewhere near the plaza. Peruvian and Arequipan specialties abound. I recommend rocoto relleno, a mild pepper stuffed with ground beef, and ocopa arequipeña, potatoes in a spicy cheese sauce.
For the adventurers, Arequipa is the gateway to El Misti, the snowcapped volcano that smiles down on the plaza. Tour operators’ competition makes the price $100 or so and they’ll take anyone up who wants. But it is a tough climb, and many people turn back before the summit.
Arequipa is also the gateway to Colca Canyon, which is #4 on this list.
Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Arequipa (AQP)
Hotels: There are plenty of tourists, hotels, and infrastructure in town. Los Tambos is a good option. it averages five stars on TripAdvisor (with over 900 reviews).
Airbnb shows plenty of options right around the Plaza de Armas. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October.
Time needed to visit: 2 days, 3 if you want to climb El Misti
9. Eat Ceviche in Mancora
Mancora is the best beach in Peru. While Peru has a ton of Pacific coastline, most of its beaches are too cold for swimming because of a cold current from Antarctica. That current is replaced in the north by a warm current, so Mancora’s water temperature averages a pleasant 75 degrees.
Mancora is a tiny town of under 10,000, and its main street is the Pan-American Highway, so the star here is the beach and seafood. The beach has good surf for beginners and experts, with cheap surfing lessons in English and Spanish. When you’re not on the beach, try ceviche, fresh raw fish cured in lime juice.
For ceviche, I recommend asking your hotel where to eat. For breakfast, I recommend Green Eggs and Ham, and for snacks and desserts, Papa Mo’s Milk Bar.
Mancora is a world-class beach year round. The high from December to March can reach 100 degrees. During the rest of the year, it’s a more mild 80 degrees.
In the years I’ve been going to Peru, Mancora’s popularity has surged, especially among young people, with both Peruvian hostel chains building big hostels in town. That makes parts of town loud all night, but should not deter beach fans from heading to Mancora.
Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LAN from Lima to Tumbes (TBP), which is an hour north by car of Mancora.
There’s also a decent selection of Airbnb properties. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October, and prices look very reasonable (take into account that during high season, late December through March, prices will be higher).
Time needed to visit: 2 days
8. Play Golf in Iquitos
Iquitos is the largest city in the world only accessible by boat and plane. This city of 400,000 is in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, so the main transportation options are public boats to other towns and modified motorcycles with a bench seat for three under a canopy behind the driver.
Iquitos is one of several Peruvian gateways to an Amazon Rainforest excursion (#2 on this list), but it has a number of interesting things to do in its own right. Check out the Belen market, where the homes float on the Amazon River.
Iquitos is also home to a large expat community. One of the projects they’ve undertaken is starting a golf course, the only one in the Amazon Rainforest. On the day I went, I was the only person at the course, so some journalists who were doing a story on the course followed me around, taking pictures for the story. One tip: if you hit the ball in a water hazard, let the caimans have it.
At night, an ice cream on the malecón, river boradwalk, is a nice way to beat the humidity. During the day, try the Yellow Rose of Texas, an authentic American steakhouse run by an expat, and an Iquiteña beer, my favorite in all of Peru.
Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Iquitos (IQT).
Hotels: No major hotels brands, so you’ll have to go indie. Nativa Apartments is the highest ranked accommodation in Iquitos on TripAdvisor. Epoca has great reviews on booking.com.
There are also cheap options on Airbnb. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October.
Time needed to visit: 1-2 days for Iquitos, more for the jungle.
Those are the honorable mentions and #’s 10-8. For most people who are going to Peru for a week or two, they won’t have time for these places. But if you’re going on an extended trip, I recommend at least a brief stint in each for to gain a well rounded sense of all the culture and landscape Peru has to offer.