While Machu Picchu is the signature site of Peru, the country is filled with other incredible archaeological sites and natural wonders that are more than worthy of a visit. In addition to Inca ruins, Peru’s many pre-Incan civilizations left their imprint on the landscape and culture. The country is one of the most biodiverse in the world, with beaches and arid deserts that stretch to the Amazon and the Andes. Here are some of the things to do in Peru that aren’t Machu Picchu.
What else is there to say except that it is the Amazon jungle, the place you marveled at as a child. With its mega biodiversity, a wealth of natural resources, and the lungs of the planet. Come to the Peruvian Amazon and see one of the most important and vital places in the world in all its glorious prowess.
Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the Incas and home to the Uros people, who call the highest navigable lake in the world home. The Uros people, continue to live in many of their traditional ways, which include living on floating islands made out of reeds, while the Quechua communities live in a distinctive way that their ancestors always have done.
This mountain is indeed rainbow-colored. While there aren’t any bright greens or yellows, there are obvious striped patterns that come together to form a stunning visual effect. Not only is the climb, up to Rainbow Mountain at 5020 meters elevation, but you can also appreciate the sacred Apu of Ausangate, and witness living Andean communities of Alpaca farmers and weavers, participating Rainbow Mountain win their daily life.
The largest adobe city in the world was once a bustling city outside present-day Trujillo. In its day, before the Inca conquest of Peru, it was the largest city in the Americas. Chan Chan the one-time capital of the Chimú kingdom, is located just three miles northwest of Trujillo and would have, during the halcyon days of the empire’s height, contained an array of gold and silver – later plundered by the Spaniards. These days, the most treasured features are the earthen walls, which are adorned with geometric reliefs as well as depictions of animals and mythological figures.
Located in the Sacred Valley outside Urubamba you can do these two Inca sites in one trip because they’re so close together. Moray is an incredible feat of agricultural ingenuity, with nearly 100 large terraces that rise and fall in elevation and which were used as places for crop experimentation. The Incas were incredible at growing enough food to sustain their large empire, and this is where they perfected their craft. At Maras, you can see remarkable salt pans that offer visitors jaw-dropping beauty, and plenty of souvenir salt.
In the northern Amazonas region of Peru lies the white-washed colonial city of Chachapoyas. This city is surrounded by archaeological ruins, some even older than Machu Picchu. The archaeological site of Kuelap is a walled city with hundreds of buildings from an ancient civilization built before Machu Picchu. The natural beauty and ancient wonders surrounding Chachapoyas are plenty and this is a not-to-be-missed destination on your trip to Peru! Equally awe-inspiring is the hike to one of the world’s tallest waterfalls, Gocta Falls. This majestic two-level waterfall drops a powerful surge of water over 2,500 feet. It will take your breath away, even from a far distance. The hike is quite strenuous and not for the faint of heart. You are often on a steep rocky surface and surrounded by the thick Amazon jungle that shelters toucans and howler monkeys.
Located in the Central Andes, Huaraz is the perfect base camp for hikers, outdoor adventurers, and mountaineers. Huascarán National Park has over 600 glaciers, 300 glacial lakes, hundreds of snow-capped peaks, and over 25 trekking routes. The region’s most popular hikes include the one-day Laguna 69 trail. Don’t be fooled by this hike’s popularity; however, as it’s still quite challenging. The hike is 7.5 miles roundtrip and gains 800 vertical feet of elevation. The Laguna 69 hike ends at the crystalline-blue Laguna 69, which contrasts beautifully with the tundra and snow-capped mountain views. It’s arguably the world’s most photogenic lake!
This is considered Machu Picchu´s sister site. It has a similar construction to Peru’s most famous attraction and sits atop a mountain with stunning views of the valley. While Machu Picchu has become fairly easy to visit, Choquequirao certainly hasn’t. It involves a grueling hike to the top and the ascent in altitude can be intense, but the solitude and scenery more than makeup for the difficulty in getting there.
Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US. Colca Canyon offers numerous hiking opportunities with amazing views and is one of the best places in the world to see Andean condors. At the bottom of the canyon lies a green oasis that is a much-needed resting point. If you decide to stay overnight, there are even rustic accommodations with a pool for relaxing before you hike back out of the canyon.
Start your off-the-beaten-path Peru itinerary in the North. Many visitors to Peru miss out on this part of the country and all the sun and surf it provides. For one of the best surf spots in Peru check out the small beach town of Lobitos. Hidden in an arid desert, Lobitos is home to a multitude of waves that all break in different swell sizes. It makes it a perfect destination for advanced surfers. Or, if you are new to surfing, consider a stop in Puerto Malabrigo, known to the locals as “Chicama“. This small coastal town in northwestern Peru is located in the La Libertad Region. It is about 40 miles north of the city of Trujillo. Chicama is home to the longest left-breaking wave in the world – perfect for beginner surfers. If you are seeking something more social, head to the hip beach town of Mancora for beach parties, surfing, kitesurfing, swimming with sea turtles, and lazy pool days. Whatever Peruvian beach you choose, the water is beautiful and provides a much-needed escape from the heat.