Peru is famous for its beautiful landscapes and its biodiversity. Although Machu Picchu always steals the spotlight for a good reason, Peru has many more stunning places to visit, where you can get in contact with nature and see different species of animals in their natural habitat.
The Peruvian people have a history of comprehension and respect towards nature. This is one factor that has helped in the preservation of the different environments we see nowadays in the country.
Due to the difference in altitude which modifies the temperature, Peru has a variety of ecosystems across its entire territory.
For those looking for hikes in Peru, the Andes, which is the continental mountain range that dominates the landscape in a great part of the country, offers a great number of hiking opportunities in different locations and environments. This opens up the possibilities of coming into contact with the different ecosystems of Peru.
However, not everybody is into hiking, but what if we want to see the natural environment of the country we are visiting? I bet everybody loves to see animals in their natural habitat as well.
Thinking about it, I’ve decided to put together this list of the best places to see wildlife in Peru.
Where to see wildlife in Peru
1. Cusco region
The starting point for anybody looking to get to Machu Picchu, Cusco is definitely the most famous Peruvian city thanks to tourism. Located 3,399 meters above sea level, you will definitely need to acclimitize to the altitude before starting any tour.
Cusco is right the middle of the Andes but also really close to the Amazon Forest, thus offering a splendid mix of environments and experiences to discover. There are a lot of things to do in Cusco.
2. Paracas region
Paracas is located on the coast, in the Ica Region, a desertic region in Peru. It is close to the capital Lima and can be visited as a day trip from there.
Paracas has many islands and is famous for its National Reserve and the Ballesta Islands. There is a tour leaving for both every day.
3. Ballestra Island
Also known as the Peruvian Galapagos, the Ballestra Island is a group of islands protected by the government as it is an area of procreation for a variety of different marine birds, including penguins and pelicans. What makes it special is how it is only accessible by boat.
Depending on the period of the year, visitors are also able to see sea lions and dolphins.
Besides being an area for the procreation of species and research, the Ballestra Islands are also known for harvesting guano (a fancy name for bird poop). Don’t scoff at this poop; this same bird poop is responsible for the biggest share of the world’s supply of fertilizer!
It is extracted only by a limited number of people who have access to the islands.
To visit the Ballestra Island, you should take a boat from Paracas. You can go to Paracas as a day trip from Lima, or stop there on your way to other cities such as Arequipa or Huacachina.
4. Arequipa region
Arequipa is one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. Its architecture reflects the Spanish colonialism period in Peru.
From the Plaza de Armas, the main square, what steals the attention is the 3 volcanoes surrounding the city.
The arid landscape is the perfect home for camelids such as alpacas, llamas and vicuñas. The region is also famous for the second deepest canyon in the world.
5. Colca Canyon
Located close to the city of Arequipa, Colca Canyon was once considered the deepest canyon in the world.
This canyon also attracts many tourists who seek to watch the flight of the Condor Real, a sacred Peruvian figure that’s the biggest bird in the world.
It’s no wonder, as the Condor can measure more than 2 metres from one wing to the other. In the Peruvian culture and based on the local religion, it is considered the symbol of the Above World.
Colca Canyon is one of the best places to watch the Condor Real, and the best time of the day is during the morning when the birds fly over the canyon searching for food.
To see the Condor in Colca Canyon, you can take a one- or two-day tour leaving from Arequipa.
For those looking for adventure, it is also possible to trek it. Some say that the Colca Canyon trail is even harder than the Inca Trail as it is a high-altitude trail. If you should decide to go with this option, be sure to spend one or two days in Arequipa first to acclimatize.
You can arrive in Arequipa by bus or by plane as one of the main airports in the country is located in this city.
6. Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Park
Also located close to Arequipa, this park is the home of wild llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos, probably the most famous animals in the Andean Wildlife.
It is possible to admire some of these animals in their natural habitat when you’re here. If you are lucky enough, you can even see an Andean cat, na Andean fox or even a puma!
Besides, the park also offers many scenic views with the beautiful volcano Misti in its background.
There are many companies offering tours to the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Park from Arequipa and the park can be visited as a day trip.
Every year during spring, the locals hold an ancient tradition of shearing the Vicuñas of the Salinas y Aguas Calientes region. The animals are captured, sheared and returned to the wild.
Vicuñas are hard animals to domesticate, so the locals prefer to capture and shear the wild animals instead of domesticate and breed them in farms. This is one of the reasons why products made of Vicuña wool are so expensive.
7. Manu Park
Located just a few hours away from Cusco, Manu Park has a bit of both mountain and forest. The trail takes from 3 to 5 days, offering you the possibility of admiring different ecosystems as you decrease in altitude.
The trail starts close to Cusco, where you will be able to observe the wildlife of the Andean ecosystem, such as llamas and alpacas.
As the days pass by, you will arrive at the Peruvian Amazon, where you will experience the South American rainforest.
Monkeys and colourful birds such as macaws are common in the region. It is also possible to see many reptiles and insects that are typical of this region.
The trail is done by foot and during the day. For those who go for the longest option, there is also a night walk that you can embark on, where you will be able to enjoy all the rainforest’s glory in the dark. Here, you can observe nocturnal animals in their natural habitat.
You can start the tour in Cusco, with one of the many companies that offer it. To get to Cusco, you can arrive by plane or by bus from Lima or Arequipa.
8. Iquitos region
Iquitos is the biggest city in the Peruvian Amazon. It is regarded as the largest continental city unreachable by road.
When visiting Iquitos, prepare yourself for a very basic and simple city.
It is perfect for those looking to visit the rainforest, but keep in mind that it doesn’t offer all the comfort you will find in other cities in Peru.
Bear in mind it has no road connection to the rest of the world.
9. Amazon forest
Similar to the Manu Park tour, this trail starts right in the middle of the Amazon forest.
The Amazon Forest tour allows you to observe the Peruvian side of the biggest forest in the world, home of numerous animals and plants.
You can admire colourful birds, different monkey species and other mammals. If that’s not enough, drive in a river and say hello to the crocodiles and the giant river otters.
If you are lucky, you may be able to spot a jaguar. They are so shy it usually doesn’t show itself, making it really challenging to locate.
In the Amazon Forest tour, you can also see the famous pink river dolphin, the biggest subspecies of river dolphins. Unsurprisingly, it is famous for its unique pink colour.
You can take the Amazon Tour from Iquitos, a city located in the Peruvian Amazon. To get to Iquitos, you must go by plane or by boat as there are no roads linking Iquitos to any other city.
Things to note before going to Peru
Before embarking on your trip to Peru, be mindful about altitude sickness.
It is important to note that most of the places listed below are located in high altitudes. In order to get there and enjoy yourself, you will have to acclimatise your body to the altitudes first.
Altitude sickness is a response by your body to a big variation of altitude, whether it is from low altitude to high altitude or vice versa.
The symptoms involve fatigue, dehydration, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
There is no real cure for altitude sickness, however, there are ways to decrease the symptoms.
When you’ve arrived at a place located at a high altitude, take one or two days when to rest. Don’t jump right into any tours the moment you touch down in Peru.
Drink a lot of water. The first symptom of dehydration usually comes in the form of a headache, and when you’re at a high altitude, you may experience headaches even before you feel thirsty. So always carry a bottle with you, and make sure to drink many bottles of water during the day.
In Peru, it is common to drink the famous Coca tea. Coca tea is made with coca leaves.
Although the consumption of coca leaves is prohibited in most countries, it does not have side effects and doesn’t work as a drug. So no, you won’t get high or anything like that.
What it does is it helps to expand your veins so that your brain receives more oxygen, which helps when you’re at a high altitude where oxygen is not as abundant as it is at sea level.
Another great tea you should take is Muña tea. Muña is great to treat nausea. You can also mix the leaves with coca leaves to make your tea.