With Machu Picchu classified as one of the New World Wonders, there is good reason for the constant influx of tourists to witness its greatness. And while I by no means want to downplay how amazing it was to go to Machu Picchu and how wonderful the surrounds are, there is plenty of information out there on how to get there and what to see in and around the area. But after spending 4 months in Peru, I did realize that there was so much more to see!
Ica, Paracas and the Nazca Lines
Located only a few hours away from Lima, Ica, Paracas and the Nazca Lines do make it on the list for many standard Peru itineraries. And I highly recommend venturing out this way for a few days. It’s absolutely amazing what you can see in just a short time. Ica is famous for its dune oasis, where you can watch the sunset, ride a dune buggy and just generally enjoy the views. Nearby, you also have the Pisco wineries, which make for a great day-trip. In Paracas, you can take a boat and get up close and personal with the sea lions on the Ballestas Islands. Finally, a flight over the Nazca Lines is a must when visiting Peru.
Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Quite a bit south, you will find the stunning white city of Arequipa. The city maintains much of its colonial architecture and is one of the most beautiful in South America. Plus, it has some of the best food in the country – and that says a lot, since you are already in Peru! From here, you can easily reach a few attractions, such as the surrounding volcanoes, but I highly recommend the Colca Canyon. The area offers incredible scenery. You can go hiking, visit hot springs, get to know some of the local villages, and just generally unwind from the hustle and bustle of your everyday world.
Peru and Bolivia share Lake Titicaca, so if you have the chance, visit both sides. In Peru, the lake is famous for the Uros Islands or the floating islands. The place is quite fascinating – the islands were created by indigenous tribes from the region by weaving totora reeds. Typically, tourists just come for a few islands, but there are some homestay options for a deep dive into Peru’s indigenous culture. Just beware of who you book with and make sure the company focuses on sustainability. If you are already in the area, I highly recommend crossing over to the Bolivian side as well to see the Isla del Sol. It’s a serene and lovely place, but most importantly, legend has it that this is where the first Inca was born.
Trujillo and Chan Chan
Since most people come to Peru for Machu Picchu, many don’t realize how many ancient sites the country actually has. The coastal city is lovely, with a nice colonial city center and as always, amazing food. But the real treat here are the Chan Chan ruins and the Moche Pyramids. Both are ancient ruins and pre-date the Incan Empire. Chan Chan is characterized by its use of adobe as the primary building material and the intricate, rolling designs. The Moche Pyramids and the Huaca de la Luna y Sol date all the way back to the 1st century. While not as well-preserved as many other sites, it is still fascinating to go that far back in time and the murals are absolutely stunning.
Peru has a lot of coast, but few beaches that I would characterize as really nice, unless you are a surfer. While Northern Peru is no Caribbean, there are some great beachfront options here. It’s also a great stop if you are traveling further to Ecuador. While most people head over to Máncora, I really did not get the appeal. The place is a little overrun with tourists, the food was just OK and the nightlife is somewhat disturbing. However, if you keep going north, you’ll find Punta Sal. While it is still a super touristic town, it is also really lovely and quaint. There are many beachfront options here, the sand is very white and the waves are gentler than elsewhere.
Ayacucho likely would not have come up on my travel radar, but I was sent there for work. What surprised me is the fact that it’s a great little travel destination. The town itself is very colonial, with many churches and lovely buildings. The cuisine here is quite different from the other areas that I visited in Peru, more Andean, since Ayacucho is in the mountains. But what’s really great for travelers is the fact that there are many things to do around Ayacucho. You can visit the Wari ruins, which are some of the oldest in the region and are really well preserved. There is also a quaint village called La Quinua, with particularly interesting architecture. History buffs will enjoy the nearby Pampa de Quinua obelisk, which commemorates Peru’s war for independence. There are also some natural treks in the area, such as waterfalls and hikes.
Iquitos or Madre de Dios
Peru is an incredibly diverse country. I’ve already mentioned beaches, deserts, canyons, and mountains. Now, we head to the jungle. Iquitos is the entry point for the Amazonian part of the country, meanwhile Madre de Dios is not quite the Amazon, but a really lovely area nonetheless. To reach Iquitos, you absolutely have to fly, unless you coming down the Amazon River from Brazil. For Madre de Dios, flying is recommended, but it’s also relatively close to Cuzco, so a good alternative to combine it with a trip to Machu Picchu. I highly recommend a visit here, since you can learn so much about biodiversity, try new flavors and also see how magnificent the Amazon truly is.
Tarapoto and Kuelap
If heading all the way to Iquitos is a little too far, then Tarapoto is another option. It’s sort of a pre-Amazon town, where the mountains end and the jungles begin. This makes for some amazing landscape and outdoors activities. Hikes, waterfalls, forests, tropical plants, lakes, luscious greenery – it’s all there. And to make it even more amazing, the Kuelap ruins are in the same general area. Kuelap is one of the biggest sites of ancient ruins in Peru and according to many, one of the most stunning ones. I didn’t make it out here, but it’s the first thing I am going to do when I go back to Peru. Particularly, because it is still not on many tourists’ radar, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to visit before it starts getting the crowds like Machu Picchu.
This is just a quick overview of the amazing places you can visit in Peru. To see everything is nearly impossible, since it’s a very large country, with a diverse culture and stunningly varied landscapes. However, if you are planning a trip to Peru, why not add a few extra days for a less-visited destination?