We’ll be the first to admit that the main reason we visited Peru was to experience the world famous Incan city of Machu Picchu. After all, it is a new Seven Wonder of the World and has become one of the most recognizable tourist attractions on the planet.
Like many before us, our goal was to hike the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The challenging 4-day trek has become one of the most memorable experiences we’ve had overseas. It’s the primary reason that Peru has become one of our favourite countries!
Although Machu Picchu gets all the fame and glory, there is so much more to do in Peru.
There is more to Peru than Machu Picchu
Today we share the Top Things to do in Peru that don’t include Machu Picchu (but make sure you visit Machu Picchu, too!).
1. Hike the Colca Canyon
Even if hiking is not your thing, witnessing the beauty of the Colca Canyon should not be missed. Along with its spectacular scenery, the Colca Canyon’s claim to fame is that it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States, though the walls are not as vertical or dramatic.
Colca Canyon is said to be one of the deepest canyons in the world, so trekkers are advised to take it slow to avoid altitude sickness (the depth is over 10,000 feet).
It’s easy to book overnight trekking tours from Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city. The journey passes through remarkable volcano country, at heights as high as 4,900 meters, before descending into the stunning Colca Valley. You can also join a trekking tour that goes from Cusco to Colca Canyon or vice versa.
There are several mountain villages in the valley but the most popular with tourists is the town of Chivay, celebrated for its natural hot springs and some of the most incredible terraced hillsides in the world. Technically, you can take a day trip to Colca Canyon, but it would be a very long day. We recommend you stay overnight in Chivay. Here are a few things to do in Chivay.
Colca Canyon weather can be unpredictable, given the region’s diverse landscapes. Bring warm clothing and layers, even if you don’t plan to go hiking the Colca Canyon. The Colca Valley is Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination with about 120,000 visitors annually.
The region is also well known as the home of the rare Andean Condor, an enormous bird with the largest wing span of any land bird, at 3.2 meters.
Related – Exploring Peru’s epic Colca Canyon
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2. Tour the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
Aside from having the title as being the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca is famous for its floating reed islands. The islands are home to the Uros tribe, one that pre-dates the Incan civilization.
Though quite a popular tourist attraction in Peru, touring the floating islands offers an interesting perspective into the lives of Peru’s aboriginal people. It’s a weird feeling the first time you step on an island made entirely of reeds!
The best way to travel to Lake Titicaca is to take the bus from Cusco to Puno (assuming you visit after exploring Machu Picchu) or from Arequipa. You don’t need to make reservations ahead of time because it’s easy to book day trips to the floating islands from the city of Puno.
3. Explore the Amazon Rainforest
Did you know that Peru has the second largest amount of Amazon Rainforest after Brazil? The Peruvian Amazon covers 60% of the country, creating a unique and diverse ecosystem when combined with the mighty Andean Mountain range and Pacific Ocean.
The two main entry points into the Amazon Basin from Peru are Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. It is recommended to fly to both regions because of rough road infrastructure.
We traveled from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, where we transferred to a river boat that took us 3 hours upriver to an isolated jungle lodge along the banks of the Tambopata River.
There is something eerie, yet peaceful, about sleeping in an open cabin in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, while rain drops hit the thatched roof and howler monkeys chant in the distance.
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4. Fly over the mysterious Nazca Lines
Located in the Nazca Desert plains, the peculiar Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs that range from wildlife to geometric designs. There are several theories about how and why the geoglyphs were created but it seems nothing is conclusive. Regardless, the Nazca Lines are clearly one of Peru’s most interesting and peculiar attractions.
The best way to view these extraordinary designs is by air, though be prepared for some added adventure because the planes are small! You can book airplane tours of the Nazca Lines from Lima, Ica and Nazca.
5. Sandboarding and Dune Buggy in Huacachina
Huacachina is located just outside the city of Ica, about 4.5 hours south of Lima and 10 hours from Arequipa (by tourist class bus). The desert village is built around a small natural lake with towering sand dunes surrounding it from all sides.
This desert oasis has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction for adventurers drawn to sandboarding and high speed dune buggy rides (we highly recommend you visit).
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Use an old snowboard with proper bindings and boots if available – you can usually find boards at hostels and hotels. Otherwise you’re likely to be strapped to a heavy wooden plank with poor control. And watch your speed. Falling leads to unwanted mouthfuls of sand!
6. Surfing in Mancora
Where’s the best place to surf in Peru? Well, that depends on who you ask! Located on the Pacific coast of Peru, the beach town of Mancora is famed for its pristine beaches, great surf and chilled out atmosphere.
If beach lounging and catching waves are your thing, Mancora is calling you.
It’s also a great stop on the popular South America backpacking trail along the Pan-American Highway. To travel to Mancora by tourist bus from Guayaquil, Ecuador is about 7 hours.
It’s an 18-hour bus from Lima to Mancora, so bring a pillow!
7. Witness the Rainbow Mountains
The Rainbow Mountains, located just outside of Cusco, have quickly become a top destination in Peru. As you can see from the above image, the colourful mountain range offers a truly unique experience that highlights the diverse beauty of the Andes.
You can witness these mountains by taking a day trip from Cusco, but, if you have some extra time, a multi-day trekking experience that links to the Ausangate circuit trek will surely be a highlight from your time in the mountains. FlashpackerConnect is a tour operator that offers both day treks and multi-day camping experiences.
8. Discover the Sacred Valley of the Incas
Though Machu Picchu is the clear fan favourite when it comes to Incan archaeology, the Sacred Valley is a must for history buffs and cultural connoisseurs. Geographically, the Sacred Valley stretches along the Urubamba River from Pisac to Ollantaytambo. Aside from the ruins and archaeological sites, the region is well known for its remarkable landscapes and lush agriculture.
Guided tours of the Sacred Valley can be organized from Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire, and can include river rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.
There are also several historical Incan sites and unique attractions within Cusco, giving you plenty to do while you acclimatize to the high altitude of the region.
Get a $45 credit for AirBnB accommodations here.
9. Wildlife viewing on the Ballestas Islands
The Islas Ballestas are accessible from the beach town of Paracas (near Pisco) by tour boat, typically lasting about 2 hours. Often described as ‘the Galapagos Islands‘ of Peru, the islands are home to many rare birds, including pelicans, penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns. It’s also common to spot sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and whales in the park.
Next to the Amazon Rainforest, the Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reservation offer the best wildlife experience in Peru. Due to its ideal location on the Pacific coast, day trips can be made while you explore the sand dunes of Huacachina or fly over the Nazca Lines.
10. Sightseeing in Lima
Often used as the ‘layover’ en route to Cusco, Peru’s largest metropolitan city often gets overlooked. Though it does have a bad reputation for safety, Lima is extremely rich in history and culture. It has interesting museums, beautiful cathedrals, eerie catacombs, tasty traditional Peruvian cuisine (try the ceviche!), electric nightlife and endless shopping.
Don’t miss the bluffs at Miraflores (see above photo) and its spectacular Pacific ocean views!
BONUS – Trekking the Cordillera Blanca in Huaraz
This option is for the serious trekker and adventure seekers. Huaraz is located in north-central Peru, about 420 km north of Lima. It is the gateway to the Cordillera Blanca, the highest range of the Peruvian Andes and famous for its magnificent snowcapped peaks and glaciers.
The Cordillera Blanca includes Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru at 6,768 metres (22,205 ft) and the third highest in the Western Hemisphere. It is arguably the best place in South America for trekking and mountain climbing expeditions.
What’s the lesson learned?
There is much more to Peru than Machu Picchu! But make sure you visit Machu Picchu, too. It’s well worth it and definitely lives up to the hype.
And, if you’re the adventurous type, we recommend you hike the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. To this day, it’s one of our favourite hikes!
Read more – Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
For organized tours, check out G Adventures and Intrepid Travel. Both have great reputations. Click here to save Save up to 25% on Adventure Travel Packages to South America.
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