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City Tours in Peru: A Complete Guide

Unlike Europe and the USA, where cities like Paris, Barcelona and New York are real tourist magnets, Peru is less known for its architecture or urban life. Instead, most people traveling here seek to experience the beautiful landscapes, archaeological remnants and living culture of the coast, Andes and  jungle. 

However, Peru’s cities should not be underestimated. Even though you might not spend the majority of your time here, as you will soon want to head towards Machu Picchu and other incredible sites, it is definitely worth it giving the cities a chance. 

The thing is: you will have to spend at least a while touring the cities, because you need to acclimatize before heading to the high-altitude destinations of Peru. So, we suggest you use that acclimatization period to get to know the urban hubs of Peru, full of colors, culture and gastronomy. There is a lot more to explore here than you might think. 

If we have caught your attention already, you might want to scroll through all of our City Tours & Activities, where you might find a suitable experience for you. Then, after having acclimatized well enough in the cities, you should be ready to embark on one of our Hiking Tours. Or, if you are a real explorer, our Off The Beaten Path Tours might be the most tempting to you. Certainly, you will find some suitable experiences for you among all of our Travel Styles. But for now, read on to find out how to enjoy Peruvian cities to the fullest. 

San Martin square is characterized by the big monument to the independence leader | Responsible Travel Peru
San Martin square in Lima is beautiful and wide open

What characterizes City Tours?

To some people, the idea of going on a city tour might sound extremely boring. Why would anyone walk around for hours, listening to empty explanations of different buildings? If this is the impression you have of city tours, you have probably not been lucky enough to participate in a well-thought out city experience. In that case, it’s high time to change that and convince you of the contrary. 

When going on a well-organized city tour, you will soon realize that it’s not only about visiting the city itself. It’s also a great way of getting to know a country in general. We believe that it is difficult, or even impossible to get a holistic picture of Peru without having roamed some of its streets. A big part of the country lives in the urban agglomerations, which are a great spot to witness local life. 

Big cities attract people looking for jobs, wanting to trade and do business. They receive immigrants, deciding to start a new life in a new place, such as the many Chinese and Japanese people in Peru. They offer places to gather, socialize and make new friends. And they also provide the opportunity to express culture through the organization of celebrations, markets, workshops or other types of events. There is a seemingly endless array of activities you can engage in when being in the city. 

If you are lucky enough to speak some Spanish, you will also be able to chat to the local people for as long as you want. Especially the people in the markets or small shops tend to be quite talkative and curious about foreigners. Sometimes, they won’t let you go, wanting to know everything about you and your culture. You will see for yourself, once you come to Peru. 

As you can see, touring cities can be extremely varied and dependent on the places you decide to go and the activities you engage in. To offer some clarity, we have made a selection of four aspects that are most representative of city tours: 1. Admiring the architecture & beautiful art works; 2. Spending time in restaurants and cafés; 3. Witnessing local life; 4. Taking part in some of the many festivities throughout the year. 

Do you want to get more details about these four characteristics of city travel? In that case, continue reading, as we will elaborate on each one of them and suggest to you some of our unique experiences in Peru’s urban hubs. Should you not find the exact tour that you are looking for among our examples, don’t worry. You can make use of our Peru Trip Planner & Custom Itineraries service, if you would like us to tailor-make your own personal trip to Peru. If you do so, we will search for the city experience that is just right for you.

View over the red rooftops of Cusco
Stunning view over the red rooftops of Cusco contrasting with the green hills in the background

Admiring the architecture & beautiful art works 

A city’s architecture is the first aspect characterizing the place, as it is its most visible feature. In Peru, Arequipa stands out as a very clean city, plunged in white, whereas Cusco’s reddish buildings contrast perfectly with the green surrounding mountains in the rainy season. Lima, for its part, is the only place in Peru displaying real skyscrapers. Colonialism has obviously left its mark in many Peruvian cities. 

Different types of architecture styles can be observed in the city centers, as well as in the outskirts of Peru’s urban hubs. Our Lima Walking Tour is a great example of a tour taking you straight to the heart of Lima, a must-see during anyone’s visit. Here, different nationalities and cultures come together to form the interesting society of this city. 

For those who like to venture off the beaten path a little bit, a Callao Get-Away (Urban Art, History and Gastronomy) should be on the list of activities. Having been a rather dangerous place in the past, the district of Callao is starting to free itself from its bad reputation. Different art movements have given value to this place, which is now amazingly colorful and fun. This is a district with a truly interesting history. 

In other places, especially Cusco, you can immerse yourself into the architecture of the Incas. Saqsaywaman, lying just above the city of Cusco, used to be a highly important place for the Incas at the time. Seeing the immensity of the stones it is built of and how well preserved this archaeological masterpiece is, you will most probably be stunned. During our self-designed Cusco Walking Tour, you will see not only Saqsaywaman, but also another Inca site before descending to the city center.

Yanahuara's arcade, church and square
The Yanahuara arcade, the church and the square on a regular day in Arequipa

Spending time in restaurants and cafés 

Of course, city travelers should not forget to take well-deserved breaks in between. Roaming through the streets and getting lost moving from one place to another is great, but also strenuous. As soon as our feet become tired from all the walking, we love to treat ourselves to a coffee-break… Or don’t you? 

Luckily, options to go for a nice drink or meal in a cozy place are abundant in Peru’s cities. Cusco and Arequipa offer great spots to enjoy stunning views over the cities, whereas Lima impresses with its ocean views. Enjoying the golden hour in one of the many bars and restaurants is an activity not to be missed. As the sun sets, you will feel the air cooling down and look forward to falling into bed after a day of exploring. 

Whereas all urban hubs have their own charm, Lima certainly is the place to be when it comes to culinary experiences. If you are a fan of gastronomy, make sure to allow for enough days in the capital before heading to other regions of Peru. One experience that deserves special attention is the Street Food and Old Taverns Night tour in Lima’s Historic Center. On this tour, you will experience Lima by night, learn about local life and, at the same time, treat yourself to different tastes.

View of the main square in Cusco from a café
Various cafés and restaurants at Cusco’s Plaza de Armas offer a nice view over the square.

Witnessing local life 

In Peru, a big part of people’s lives happens outside, on the streets. And that is not only the case for the many people living in the countryside, in the mountains or in the jungle, but also in the cities. Here, a lot of hustle and bustle is going on day in, day out. The street is a place where people sell all kinds of goods, from fruits and vegetables to clothes and umbrellas. It seems like you can find anything your heart desires without even entering any shop. Walking around these busy streets is a great way to witness how the people of Peru lead their everyday lives. 

The streets are also a place of encounter, where people get together to keep each other company. In Cusco, to give just one example, the Plaza San Cristobal is a popular place for tourists and locals to sit down, have a drink and enjoy the views over Cusco and the snow-capped Ausangate mountain in the distance. The square is a great place to feel like a real Cusquenian enjoying their free time after work. 

In every city, life is organized in a slightly different way. Again, the best way to see the differences in habits and traditions is to go on our Walking Tours in Peru’s main urban hubs: Lima Walking Tour, Arequipa Walking Tour, Cusco Walking Tour. They will enable you to get a real insight into each one of these unique places and learn about people’s daily lives. As soon as you get out of the city, you will also be able to compare urban life to rural life and witness yet a different reality.

Woman in traditional clothes and sweets in her hands
A woman dressed in traditional clothes roaming the streets of Arequipa with sweets in her hands

Taking part in festivities 

Peru is home to many unique festivities of Christian or Incan desscent. Many of them are also a mix of both religions and thus a great example of syncretism. Each city has its own traditions and customs when it comes to celebrating their religious beliefs. Hereunder, we present the most important celebration dates of Arequipa, Lima and Cusco. 

Arequipa

August can be considered the perfect month to visit Arequipa. A series of events are held during this month commemorating the anniversary of the Spanish foundation of the city on August 15, 1540. 

The Entrada de Ccapo Parade is among the most important ones. During this event, people pick and collect the “ccapo”: a type of bush from the highlands near the city. It was originally transferred by donkeys or mules to the main square, where bonfires were lit on the eve of Arequipa’s anniversary. Nowadays, local dancers and music bands get together to make their way to the Plaza de Armas. Here, the party ends with performances of local folklore.

Lima 

Lima is above all famous for an event called “Señor de los Milagros”. This tradition is actually hundreds of years old, dating back to the 1600s. At that time, the Spaniards had already conquered Lima and built their epicenter there, as opposed to Cusco, which was the center of the Incas. Lima was full of Spaniards, but also indigenous people and slaves from abroad. 

One day, one of the slaves painted their god on a wall in Lima, namely the Pachacamilla (Creator of the Earth). Then came the month of October, during which many earthquakes would occur in Lima. Strong ones hit the city on the 18th and 28th of October. The wall with the painting, however, survived the earthquakes, while many other buildings helplessly collapsed. People started venerating the painting, which had survived so many earthquakes and decided to build a church around the wall of the painting. 

With time, the Pachacamilla turned into the so-called “Señor de Milagros” (Lord of Miracles) and grew ever more important. People have reproduced the person you could see on the wall as an actual painting that they started to take out of the church in a procession. This happened for the first time 1687 and is a custom that has been kept ever since. If you happen to be in Lima in the month of October, make sure you don’t miss this ancient historical tradition.

Cusco 

Cusco wouldn’t be what it is without the many festivities going on here all year round. On these occasions, the streets fill with music, colors and dancing people; there is no escape!

When in Cusco during the month of June, you can count yourself lucky, as you will have the chance to witness the “Inti Raymi”. The Festival of the Sun used to be the most important celebration at the time of the Incas. Taking place on the 24th of June, close to the winter solstice, it worships the Sun God, or “Tayta Inti”. 

This colorful festivity starts early in the morning at the Sun Temple of Cusco, Qoricancha. When dances finish here, people make their way to the Plaza de Armas for a second spectacle. Lastly, the crowd ascends to the important ruins of Saqsayhuaman for the great finale of Inti Raymi. Throughout the whole ceremony, one truly gets the impression of going back in time and living a piece of what the Inca culture used to be. This event is undoubtedly magical and will be remembered for a long time by those who witnessed it.

Impression from the colorful Inti Raymi festival in Cusco

What makes a responsible City Tour unique? 

Touring through big cities might not necessarily call for sustainability. But we must not lose sight of this important concept, be it in the countryside, in the forest or in the city. 

At RESPONSible Travel Peru, we try to create our City Tours in the most responsible way possible, reducing emissions where possible (Walking Tours are the best anyway, aren’t they?) and maximizing contact with and profits for the local population. 

Discover Peru’s urban hubs our way and let us convince you of our approach to City Tours. If ever you have a question about any of our tours or our sustainability concept, feel free to contact us.

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ABOUT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU

RESPONS’ mission is to improve living conditions in Peru through developing and promoting sustainable tourism. We’ve implemented a business model in which all areas of human relations are respected, and - equally important - respect for the planet is incorporated.

Following this business model, we practice fair trade, foster cultural identity, promote equal opportunities, and we preserve the environment that surrounds us and other species.

Together with you we improve, day by day, on the always-demanding path towards sustainability.

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Typical Peruvian Food Tour in Artsy Barranco

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