When planning a trip to Peru, you may find yourself in its capital city and who can blame you with Lima’s endless variety of attractions, picturesque beaches, and ideal day trips.
In reality, there is probably enough to do in Lima to occupy all of your time but you would also be shorting yourself on some pretty epic adventures.
The city’s ideal location along the coast means you will never be too far away from stunning beach views and the further out you explore, the more beautiful places you will discover.
From the mysteries of Nazca’s larger-than-life geoglyphs to the fresh seafood dishes waiting around every corner, Peru is overflowing with potential.
So feel free to wander around Lima to your heart’s content but be sure to check out this list of the eight best day trips to really appreciate all this country has to offer.
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Known for being one of the very first civilizations to ever prosper in the Americas, Caral is an ancient city that should be on everybody’s list when visiting the vibrant country of Peru.
Although the tribe that once lived here no longer exists, you can visit Caral to see the ruins of what they left behind and the remnants of a civilization way ahead of their time.
And even though the ruins are nearly five thousand years old, they are still greatly intact with plenty of ancient structures to admire like pyramids and ceremonial monuments.
Not to mention the beauty of the surrounding mountains in the backdrop which complement the ruins in such a way that it cannot be described in words.
But this World Heritage Site is not the easiest to access and most people are only lucky enough to see this grand set of ruins if they book a private tour from Lima.
It is also important to note that most of these tours are almost always in Spanish but if you are willing to take a series of buses and collectivo taxis, then you could technically manage to get to Caral on your own accord.
2. Ballestas Islands
Although the Ballestas Islands aren’t recognized as one of Peru’s main attractions, you will be amazed by the beauty of this place and it just so happens to be an easy day trip from Lima.
In fact, you’ll be shocked by just how much there is to do and see here. From an abundance of wildlife sightings to a plentiful amount of water based recreation, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The Paracas National Reserve, known for its breathtaking coastline, has earned its own spot on this list but the Ballestas Islands’ close proximity to the reserve gives you an idea of the beauty that awaits you.
One of the most popular activities around the island is bird watching and there is always something new to see with over two hundred species including the famous Peruvian Pelicans and Boobies.
But birds are not the only native wildlife you’ll spot on the island. Some other frequent sightings include sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, and many more.
This may come as a surprise given the fact that the island’s dry climate has eliminated the existence of flora but a thriving underwater ecosystem manages to keep things afloat.
With that being said, you will often see birds of all shapes and sizes diving down into the water in an attempt to catch their meal for the day.
You’ll want to dedicate a separate day to explore the wonders of the Paracas National Reserve, but be sure to keep your eyes out for some of its iconic features while on your boat ride to the Ballestas Islands.
Most boat tours to the Ballestas Islands will point these features out for you. For example, there are a variety of mysterious rock carvings that are so large that they can be seen from out on the water.
You’ll have a fine variety of boat tours to choose from, ranging from private charters to small group speed boats, and many of them come with additional highlights like complimentary food and drinks.
It is important to note that while you will have easy access to a two hour wildlife watching tour, you will not be able to explore the island on foot in order to protect its inhabitants.
Nonetheless, you can enjoy your time here in other ways by partaking in water sports along its edges with the most popular activity being kitesurfing.
The islands are a great place to visit at any time of year but to make the most of your experience, plan your trip between the months of January and March for a chance to see a slew of sea lion pups.
Drastically different in atmosphere from Peru’s lively capital, Pucusana is the place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of every day by spending endless hours relaxing on the beach.
Much of the coastline is made up of rugged cliffs, so it should come as no surprise that Pucusana can get pretty crowded considering it’s the only real beach for miles.
But with plenty of space to lay out your towel, it is easy to forget about the crowds as you listen to the calm waves while your skin soaks up the sun.
Besides, there are quite a few beaches to choose from so if one starts to get too crowded, you can always hop over to another one and so on.
Feel free to go for a swim in the refreshing water but just keep an eye out for watercrafts as this is also a popular starting point for water based recreation.
In fact, the rental shops here offer rates as low as twenty dollars an hour for jet skis and they will hand them out to pretty much anyone who is willing to pay for them.
This may come as great news for budget travelers looking to make the most of their trip but it also means that there is a fair share of reckless drivers out on the water.
Since this is technically a fishing village, it only makes sense that you hop on a fishing boat tour where you will get to take in the beautiful views of the water while gaining some insight into how the locals spend their days.
Not into fishing? There are plenty of other boat tours that can get you out on the water without being exposed to an afternoon of smelly fish and oftentimes, you will be accompanied by other marine life like dolphins and sea lions.
Volleyball is a big deal in Peru so you will find plenty of space to get a game started and it’s a great activity if you are looking to make friends with some of the Peruvians in the area.
Just do yourself a favor and try some of the village’s ceviche because you won’t find another place in the country that serves up seafood that is this fresh.
Known for being the tourist destination that wears many hats, you will find endless things to do during your visit to Chosica and its close proximity to Lima makes it a necessary day trip.
One of the most popular things to do in Chosica is hiking and there are plenty of places to do it, whether it be up the famous Andes Mountains or amongst the mysterious stone forest of Marcahuasi.
For starters, Chosica is located at the base of the Andes Mountains so there is a huge variety of hiking trails that lead up to vantage points overlooking the city and the monstrous mountain range.
For something a little less strenuous but equally as exciting, go for a hike through the stone forest and marvel at the beautiful mysteries that lie within it.
Here you will find an interesting selection of stone carvings that often resemble humans and animals but the origins of these creations remain unknown.
Make sure you bring your appetite because the selection of street food that is available here will have your mouth watering every couple of minutes.
But save room for Pachamanca, a classic Andes dish that is cooked over hot rocks for multiple hours, as this is one of the few places in the world where you will get to enjoy it.
Pachamanca can be made with a variety of different meats and the very best place to get a taste of this authentic dish is at Chosica’s El Paraiso Huanca.
Some streets are completely lined with food stalls run by locals and boasting a delicious variety of quick bites like picarones, churros, and anticuchos.
There is never a bad time to visit Plaza de Armas but the area really comes to life at night when there are plenty of carnival rides, food vendors, and alcohol stalls in full effect.
When you realize that a day trip is just not enough time to take in Chosica’s beauty, consider setting up camp at the foot of the Andes Mountains or along the river that winds through the city.
Known as the capital of the Central Andes, Huancayo offers all of the luxuries of city life while also supplying breathtaking views of the mountain range.
The best way to see all of the city has to offer is by taking a guided tour since many of Huancayo’s main attractions are located off the beaten path and can be a hassle to get to on your own.
Although it doesn’t take much effort to visit the Parque de la Identidad Huanca which is located at the center of the city and boasts a variety of stone statues that tell the story of the city’s history.
You’ll want to schedule a tour guide to visit Torre Torre since the remote journey there has been famous for issues like pickpocketing but don’t let that deter you from making the trip out.
This famous attraction is made up of towering red clay formations that reach impressive heights of one hundred feet and stand in clusters to create a castle-like appearance.
Another beautiful place that is better appreciated with a guide is Arwaturo because you get to learn about the rich history of the area while exploring the ancient ruins.
These ruins are located at the end of a steep hike but its short length, incredible views, and seventeen stone structures make it worth every step.
Not to mention the fact that on your way back down you can stop at Ñahuinpuquio Lake for a scenic picnic or spoil yourself with a waterfront meal at one of the local restaurants.
And speaking of restaurants, you have to try La Cabaña during your visit but wait until dinner time when you can enjoy live music with your meal.
No trip to Peru would be complete without trying your hand at an afternoon of traditional gourd carving and there is no better place to learn than Cochas.
Cochas is located on the outskirts of town but it is worth the trip to partake in such an activity and if you’re lucky, you may even get to carve your own story into one of the gourds.
To learn more about Peruvian traditions, head over to San Jerónimo de Tunán and Hualhuas where you can see goldsmiths and textile artists in action.
If you are visiting on a Sunday, be sure to check out the La Feria Dominical fair and walk amongst the many local vendors selling things like jewelry and textiles for ten blocks straight.
Once a quiet little town that saw very little foot traffic, Lunahuana is making a name for itself as one of the best places in Peru to enjoy extreme outdoor recreation.
This is the place to be if you enjoy an exciting day filled with white water rafting and in the summer months, the river is in full blast with rapids reaching Class V status.
It is only right that you try the country’s national drink during your visit and the good news is that Lunahuana offers plenty of places to grab a drink in between thrill seeking adventures.
A popular place to sample Pisco is bodega Santa Maria where you will get a tour of its picturesque grounds before sitting down for a glass or two.
And while you are sampling alcoholic beverages, you might as well continue the journey to La Reyna de Lunahuaná to try out some of Peru’s famously sweet wines and equally beautiful grounds.
Many of the ruins in this area have been completely destroyed which makes a visit to the Incahuasi ruins that much more special and its ideal location on the outskirts of time makes it easy to visit during your time here.
Keep the good times rolling with a zip lining adventure across the Rio Cañete. Plus, it is hard to say no when you can enjoy one of the most extensive zip lining systems in the country for just thirty dollars.
Take things to the next level with an afternoon of abseiling. This activity will send you safely plummeting down the side of a cliff and just when the view of the ground gets too close for comfort, the harness system will send you bouncing back up.
For something that will get your heart pumping in a more relaxing way, rent a bike in town and spend the day cycling amongst its picturesque streets and surrounding wilderness.
7. Nazca Desert
Easily one of the most popular attractions in Peru, you would be a fool not to take the day trip out to the Nazca Desert during your visit to Lima.
This unique area has risen to fame solely because of its mysterious geoglyphs and the best way to see them for yourself is by taking a small plane ride over this archeological site.
The Nazca Lines as it is called is a series of massive drawings that have been carved into the ground and depict a variety of animals, plants, and shapes that have left archeologists stumped for years.
Although the origins and creation of these geoglyphs remain unknown, it is still an amazing experience to look down below at their grand size and try to come to conclusions about their place on earth.
Just keep in mind that since some of these geoglyphs stretch out more than one thousand feet, the only way to really appreciate them is by admiring them from the sky.
And even though this is the main attraction in Nazca, there are plenty of other things to see during your visit to this historic desert.
Another interesting attraction is the Cantalloc Aqueducts because it demonstrates the sophistication of the civilization through an irrigation system that was way before its time.
Get up close and personal with ancient mummies at the Chauchilla Cemetery and marvel at the impressive preservation process that has left 9th century skeletons still with their hair and nails.
Schedule a tour of the Cahuachi Pyramids for a chance to walk amongst ancient ruins sporting the remnants of more than forty adobe pyramids and boasting a growing number of artifacts.
Or make your way over to the Paredones for a different kind of ruin that is made up of ancient adobe homes and is believed to be the home of what once was the community’s civil center.
Learn more about the history of the Nazca people with a visit to the Museo Antonini where you will get to see a large variety of artifacts and even a replica of the famous Nazca Lines.
Another place you don’t want to miss during your visit is the Cerro Blanco Sand Dune where opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless.
Climb to the very top of the dune for breathtaking views of the surrounding area, partake in some sandboarding to say that you slid down one of the tallest dunes in the world, zip around the san in a dune buggy, and even fly high above it all with an afternoon of paragliding.
Home to what many people call the “poor man’s Galapagos”, Paracas is the place that most people visit just to tour the Ballestas Islands but this coastal town has so much more to offer.
And since the Ballestas Islands are already mentioned on this list as a day trip in its own right, this section will be completely dedicated to all other great things that can be seen and done here.
For starters, this town is the gateway to the Paracas National Reserve which spans out over three thousand miles of breathtaking shoreline and supplies more than four hundred species with a place to call home.
The rugged cliffs perfectly complement the rich, turquoise waters but the beauty of this place is really one of those things that you have to see to believe.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy your time here including cycling around its edges, exploring its many wild beaches, and even enjoying a romantic open tent dinner along its shoreline.
The town itself might not be the easiest on the eyes but it is also one of the best places to grab a meal and an affordable one at that.
The running joke is that it is always happy hour in Paracas as you can always find a deal like two for one drinks and multi course fish dinners.
And don’t feel the need to rush out of here because the local beach is one of the very best places along the coast to watch the sunset over the water.
There is just enough to do here to justify the three hour drive from Lima when you combine the day trip with a tour of the famous Ballestas Islands.