A list of the top 10 things to do in Peru, from exploring the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu to flying over the ancient and mysterious Nazca Lines.

Top 10 things to do in Peru

1. Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and the icon of South America, is clearly the big gun in Peru’s archaeological canon. Whether you first glimpse the Incan citadel under a shroud of fog or brilliant blue sky, you will not be disappointed.

Beautiful stone architecture set against a backdrop of cloud-forested mountains and deep valleys make it clear why this is one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions. Of all the things to do in Peru, this is and always will be number one.

2. Inca Trail / alternative trek to Machu Picchu: So how to get to Machu Picchu? You could simply take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes or you could take one of the numerous trails across the Andes over several days of mud, sweat and unparalleled Andean vistas.

The classic (and crowded) Inca Trail is of course the most popular but it’s usually necessary to book months in advance and can only be done as part of a tour group. There are several alternative treks, some of which cover part of the original Inca Trail route. We chose the Salkantay Trek and loved the challenging and secluded route.

3. Nazca Lines: Peru’s southern coast is home to the mysterious Nazca Lines, a network of 300 giant geometric figures known as ‘geoglyphs’, 70 animal and plant drawings or ‘biomorphs’ and 800 giant lines etched into the floor of the desert. Their purpose is unknown and they remain one of archaeology’s enduring enigmas. A flight across the area ensures a great view of at least 13 famous figures as well as the huge winter and summer solstice lines.

4. Lake Titicaca: The world’s highest navigable lake at 3,812 metres (12,507ft) is home to the floating islands of Uros which were one of the most charming discoveries of our trip through South America.

From Puno, you can take a tour to visit Taquile Island and the floating islands of the Uros which includes lunch in Luquina Chico on the Chucuito Peninsula. There are also options to sail on traditional boats from Luquina and on reed boats between the floating islands.

5. Colca Canyon: The massive Colca Canyon, at 3,270m (10,725ft) deep, is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the US. The higher edges of the Colca are dotted with fine examples of pre-Incan stepped terrace while in some places the canyon’s slopes are so steep, it’s impossible to see the valley floor below.

Complementing the staggering scenery are craggy mountains, herds of llamas and traditionally dressed Andean peasants working the steps.

6. Chan Chan: This unique archaeological wonder situated in the region of La Libertad was built circa 1300 and covers roughly 20 square kilometres, making it the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America as well as the largest adobe city in the world. At the height of the Chimú empire, the city’s 10 walled citadels housed an estimated 60,000 inhabitants and contained a vast wealth of gold, silver and ceramics.

7. Cordillera Blanca and Huaraz: So often overshadowed by the well-trodden Inca trails and hiking opportunities further south, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca region offer some of the best hiking and mountaineering in the Americas.

If you’re unfamiliar with crampons and ice axes, you can still enjoy the region’s capital. Huaraz is tourist-friendly, has a vibrant atmosphere and is the ideal base for exploring the nearby ruins, lagoons, glaciers and less strenuous but still remote hiking trails.

8. Madre de Dios: This wild, hot and humid part of the Peruvian jungle is still relatively untouched. The forests of Madre de Dios and the broad river of the same name that flows through the area are rich in flora and fauna and protected by the national parks and reserves of Manu Biosphere Reserve, Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park.

Jungle lodges, fishing and nature trips along with visits to nearby beaches and indigenous communities are all available.

9. Cajamarca: Cusco has been omitted from this list. If you’re visiting Machu Picchu, you will invariably pass through Cusco, arguably the country’s most beautiful town. In second place is the Andean town of Cajamarca, graced with stone architecture, dramatic mountain scenery and a pleasant year-round climate.

10. Lima: Peru’s buzzing yet elegant capital is a modern city that effortlessly blends traditional Peruvian heritage with 21st Century glamour. The old colonial heart, Lima Centro, is full of beautiful architecture and interesting culture while the more modern neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco provide a contemporary and vibrant atmosphere including some of the more quirky things to do in Peru.

Lonely Planet Peru is a comprehensive guide to Peru, ideal for those who want to explore the top things to do in Peru as well as take the road less travelled.The guide includes: colour maps and images throughout, highlights and itineraries, insider tips, essential information, honest reviews for all budgets, cultural insights and over 50 local maps.

Lonely Planet South America on a shoestring is a great help if you need to keep costs down during a trip to South America.

Lead image: Dreamstime