I sat there waiting for the curtain of mist to draw away, so I could get that one picture of the majestic Machu Pichu, but of course the most sought after Peruvian destination plays hard to get. And rightly so – tons of people flock to Peru every year to hike to these beautiful Incan ruins in Cuzco. The stone Incan houses made to perfection, the beautiful terraces and temples, all of it surrounded by tall Andean mountains: it is a sight worth seeing.
That said, I believe there are a lot many other things to do/see/experience in Peru than Macchu Pichu. Much cheaper to visit, way less tourism and just as beautiful. Here are 10 things that you can do in Peru, besides Machu Pichu. Also, please see Outbound Again’s backpacker map for Peru:
- Explore Lima: Colorful balconies, seaside neighbourhoods, beautiful fountains, mouthwatering food – the capital city of Peru has a lot to offer. If you are coming to Peru, chances are that you will land in Lima. Do not miss out on Plaza del Armes, take a tour of the old Lima city (hostels in Miraflores offer free city tours – a good time to bond with other backpackers), visit the Museum of San Francisco, treat yourself with a marinated concoction of raw fish (called “ceviche”) and finish the night with shot of Peruvian brandy (pisco sour).
- Bond with the sea lions at Paracas: Going south from Lima, Paracas islands a is popular destination for wild life watching. Take a ferry to the “Bellastas islands” and say hullo to friendly sea lions! Chuck Antarctica and meet the cute, human like creatures right here in Paracas. Yep, warm weather penguins are not very popular and are only found in Paracas and Galapagos (in Ecuador). You will have to book a tour with one of the numerous tour agencies in the area. The ferry will also take you through the Candelebra, one of the mysterios geoglyphs in Peru.
- Go sand-boarding in Huacachina: Literally 5 minutes away from the sleepy town of Ica (see map), is the oasis town Huacachina. Bet your bottom dollar, you wouldn’t have seen anything more beautiful in your entire life! How to reach: Take a bus from Lima to Ica. On reaching Ica, TRY NOT TO STAY IN THE CITY, it is pretty shady, and there is nothing much to do. Instead, take a shared taxi (5 soles-30 minutes) to Huacachina. On reaching your hostel, book a buggy trip to ride up and down the sand dunes and make sure you don’t miss out on sandboarding (~40 soles). Best if you take the last trip of the day (~4.00 pm) to witness the sunset.
- Take a flight over the Nasca lines: Further down southfrom Ica is the desert of Nasca, the capital town of the Nasca civilization. This civilization was known to exist in 300 BC, way before the Incan civilization (1200 AD). The Nasca lines in this region are large engravings in sand that are only visible aerially. Take a flight over the lines (~80-100$) to be able to figure out the engravings in the shape of spiders, hummingbirds & monkeys or just climb the watch tower (~3 $) to see some of these lines from a height. Also, visit the Nasca cementary close by to be surprised by how well the Nascan mummies are preserved.
- Spot a Condor in Arequipa: An overnight bus journey from Nasca will take you to Arequipa. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru. 4-5 kms south from Arequipa is the the town of Chivay, which is the entrance to the deepest canyon in Peru – Colca Canyon. The hike into the canyon and back up is 2 days (if taken with a guide). Take some time to spot the rarest Andean birds called Condors at the canyon. Alternatively, you could hike El Misti, the volcano, another beautiful hiking trail in Arequipa.
- Visit the Floating Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca: Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and it has some of the most beautiful man made reed islands. Take a ferry to the islands and meet with the locals. You can also choose to stay at the floating islands for a night – eat what they eat, live how they live, sleep where they sleep. Don’t forget to tip the locals, as tourism is how they earn their living.
- Try a guinea pig in Cuzco: To visit the Machu Pichu, you will have to start from Cuzco. While you are here, do not miss out on the beautiful central plaza, the Sacred valley of Incas (30 minutes hike from Cusco downtown) & Olanteytambo (another of Incan ruins). A very popular Andean food is the guinea pig – absolutely not for the faint hearted.
- Discover the Chachapoyas fortress: Peruvian history is full of secrets waiting to be discovered. About 1200 kms north of Lima, is a place called Chachapoyas, which once hosted a civilization of the same name. This beautiful little town is overlooked by an ancient fortress: no swarming tourists, no long waiting lines, no crazy-high entrance fee. If you are coming here after visiting Machu Pichu, you will be able to identify the differences and similarities between the two cultures.
- Iquitos: Put those survival skills to test by taking the jungle expedition into the Amazon jungle, go Piranha fishing, get face to face with the wild life, try some Ayuhuasca, the jungles sacred drink: you will never run out of things to do in Iquitos. If you do not have time to visit this city, you can visit Tarapoto, a mini version of Iquitos.
- Go surfing in Mancora: Mancora and surrounding beaches are very popular for surfing. So, if that is something you are interested in, don’t forget to head out there before bidding farewell to this wonderful country.
There is so much more to Peru, than Machu Pichu. I have tried to highlight a few of them by means of this blog. Ofcourse, there is the Huaraz mountains north of Lima, the beautiful city of Ayucucho, the posh neighbourhood of Miraflores – which deserve a mention here. If you are visiting Peru sometime soon, or visiting it the second time around, take the road less traveled and rest assured, you will not be disappointed.