When people talk about Peru, the first thing that comes to mind is Machu Picchu. We get it—the Inca trail is one of the most rewarding treks in the world, and as you first see the ancient citadel emerge amongst the misty green mountains ahead, your breath and heart are truly stolen away.
That being said, we’ve seen enough of this culturally rich and vibrant country to know that Machu Picchu isn’t the only treasure to be found in Peru. Not even close. So, to tip the balance, we want to shine the limelight in some other directions for once. Here’s everything you should do in Peru that’s not Machu Picchu.
Spot condors in the plummeting Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is a plunging landscape that slices through the Andes, filled with incredible vistas, crumbling ruins and endless routes to trek. It’s also home to one of the largest birds in the world, a New World vulture called a condor. Keep your eagle eyes peeled and try to spot this mammoth scavenger as is soars overhead.
Visit the Uros islands, the floating communities constructed from reeds
These fascinating floating island communities are home to some of the first ethnic groups populating the Andean region. As you glide to the Isle of Uros you’ll discover 120 self-fashioned floating islands, constructed from dried totora reeds. As you uncover the traditional lifestyles of these resourceful fishermen, you’ll have a chance to check out the local handicraft market. After a lunch of fresh seafood, it’s time to head to Taquile, where you’ll meet the local population of farmers, fisherman and world-renowned weavers.
Try ceviche and a pisco sour in bohemian Lima
Framed by a coastline of cragged cliffs and adorned with charming colonial facades and perky palm trees, Lima is a beautiful and bohemian city that long predates any colonial presence. To the north you’ll find Caral, the oldest civilisation in all of the Americas, while to the south is the ancient archaeological complex of Pachamac. So, what better way to nod to all this culture and historical heritage than by sampling some ceviche? Ceviche is a seafood dish constructed from fresh raw fish, citrus juices and spices like cilantro. Incredibly, it’s been consumed in this region for more than 2,000 years. Wash it down with a pisco sour, a classic Peruvian cocktail, for an invigorating feast for the senses.
Explore the ancient ruins of Raqchi
The village of Racqchi wraps around numerous Inca ruins, with the holy temple of Wiracocha the most prominent. Much of these sprawling ruins served as control points that ran to all sectors of the Inca Empire, with buildings used as barracks, and for administrative and religious officials. The temple itself is a shrine to Wiracocha, a deity believed to be the giver of all life. This site is one of the biggest Inca archaeological sites, so it’s a must-see if you’re looking to live out your Indiana Jones dreams.
Head into the Amazon and fall asleep in a hammock to the sounds of the rainforest
Nestled deep within the lush Amazon Rainforest, Contiki’s Special Stay lives up to its name. Kicking back in these swaying hammocks, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the sounds of long-tailed patoos and toucans as they sing into the night. Much more than a place to rest your head, bunking down in the Amazon rainforest is an experience you’ll remember forever.
Visit the TreadRight weaving centre in Cusco
Learning about this 10,000-year-old Andean textile tradition, you’ll meet the people still working in this heritage industry. Meeting the local adults and children who still pass down their craft through generations, you’ll discover how TreadRight helps to invigorate the local community through a traditional weaving organisation, ultimately improving housing and medical care to the people who live here. Hanging out with the local llamas, surrounded by the magnificent Peruvian Andes, you’ll get a feel for the rich history of this area, before getting a chance to purchase some vibrant artefacts for yourself, further supporting the continuation of this remarkable art.
Try some local chicha de jora (corn beer)
This quintessential drink dates all the way back to the Inca empire. The story goes that during the rule of Inca Tupac Yupanqui, a thundering storm spoiled the corn silos, causing the grains to ferment. The crop was promptly thrown away, before a hungry local stumbled upon it, had his fill, and stumbled even more on the way home. This rich corn beverage quickly became a central part of Inca religious ceremonies. Today it maintains its ceremonial status throughout the Andes and is typically served with brown sugar and water. Chica de jora is must-try for anyone who wants to dive deep into the local culture.
Visit alpacas and llamas in Cusco
Cute and oh-so-cuddly, the iconic alpacas and llamas of Peru can be found all throughout the country, but there’s no better place to meet them than in Cusco, where traditional weaving still thrives. Meet and feed the friendly animals, snap a selfie and maybe give them a quick cuddle before you have a chance to buy some silky soft alpaca textiles to take home.
Visit Coricancha Temple and San Pedro Market in Cusco
Though it remains a fascinating spectacle, the citadel of Machu Picchu was not the capital of the Inca empire. That title goes to Cusco, a remarkable city near the Urubamba valley. Here, Inca temples collide with faded colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets, with ancient wonders to be found around every corner. A shrine for sun-worship (and the odd human sacrifice), Coricancha was one of the most important temples in the Inca empire and if you’re a history-buff, you’ll love it. If you’re looking for something a bit more contemporary, take a visit to San Pedro Market and get your haggling game on. An explosion of colour, sound and smells, at San Pedro you can buy anything from soft alpaca jumpers to freshly made juice and sample some local delicacies such as the custard apple.
Visit the Bridge of Sighs, and explore the spooky catacombs of Lima
One of the most famous landmarks in Lima, the wooden Bridge of Sighs was famously a point of contemplation for writers and poets, as well as a place for lovers to meet and trade sweet-nothings, hence the name: Bridge of Sighs. Today it remains a symbol of love, art and poetry. If that all sounds a bit fluffy and you’re after something more morbid, why not head down the Catacombs? The basement of a working monastery, Lima’s catacombs are home to the bones of more than 25,000 people, arranged artfully (and creepily) for visiting tourists to admire.
Hike to rainbow mountain
This spectacular rock formation has been getting increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. Its footpaths reach 14,000 feet into the sky, twisting and turning through green peaks and startling red, blue and purple contours. Staring out at the vistas ahead, it’s easy to see how this unique landscape got its name, and it gets better and better the further up you climb. Not for the faint-hearted, this trek is arguably as rewarding as Machu Picchu, but with fewer crowds. Check it out before everyone catches on.