The first time I planned to go to Peru, I noticed that most people asked the same question when they found out where I was heading: “You’re going to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s all there is of interest in Peru! While Machu Picchu is magnificent – it is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – there is so much more to see and do in Peru! Here are the top ten Peru destinations that aren’t Machu Picchu – but are just as amazing:
1. The Nazca Lines
These are a series of large ancient (500 BC – 500 AD) geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity, from simple lines and geometric shapes to designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. The largest figures are up to 1,200 feet long!
A few caveats: the Nazca lines are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t likely to be much else to do once you’ve seen them. Also, you can only see them from above, so you will need to book a short sightseeing flight for this Peru destination.
2. Lake Titicaca
The mountain lake with the funny name lies between Peru’s Puno Region and the country of Bolivia. At 12,000+ feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake contains several “Floating Islands,” which are small man-made islands constructed by the Uru people from layers of a cut reed that grows in the lake. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands.
Be sure to visit the island of Taquile, which features pre-Inca ruins and a tradition of beautiful hand-crafted items. It also makes an ideal location for stargazing as there is very little light pollution at night.
3. Trujillo & Chan Chan
Trujillo is located on the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the country. It is considered one of the primary cultural Peru destinations due to its association with prominent writers, dances, festivals, gastronomy, etc. Three miles to the west of Trujillo lies Chan Chan, the archaeological site and former capital of the Chimu civilization. It is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest adobe city in the world.
The Chimu inhabited the area from roughly 900 AD until they fell to the Incas around 1450 AD. Because Chan Chan is basically built from mud, the site has suffered some erosion, and there is a serious concern that climate change could destroy what is left. Therefore, if you’re interested in visiting, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.
4. Huascarán National Park
Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the center of this park is Mount Huascarán, which rises to over 22,000 feet above sea-level.
Hundreds of glaciers and lakes in the park include the shrinking Pastoruri Glacier and the brilliant blue Llanganuco lagoons. Trails lead to the high-altitude Laguna 69, known for its turquoise waters. The park is a haven for pumas, Andean condors and spectacled bears. If nature is your thing, you should definitely put Huascarán National Park on the top of your list of Peru destinations.
5. Lima’s Historic Center
In the capital of Peru, you will find a beautiful historic center with many places of interest. The Church & Convent of San Francisco, for example, is a stunning example of colonial architecture that also boasts a 25,000 volume library and some spooky catacombs.
There is also the Presidential Palace, which you can tour. Alternatively, you can stay outside and witness the changing of the guard. In addition, you might want to see the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Cathedral of Lima, take in the beautiful courtyards at the convent of Santo Domingo, and/or look for ornate wooden balconies on the older buildings in the city. There are many fascinating sites in the capital for anyone who enjoys history, art, or architecture. Since Lima is the port of entry to Peru for most travelers, it can easily be paired with your other Peru destinations.
Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and the country’s largest jungle town. Surrounded by water on one side and thick Amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. While there, you can take a trip into the jungle and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans, anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more. (Just make sure you are using a reputable tour guide and not a scam artist!)
Alternatively, you can partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew made from local plants and used by shamans for thousands of years. It seems like something that could be a little risky, though, so please be careful if you do!
7. Colca Canyon
This massive canyon located about 100 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has more diverse scenery. The Andean condor calls the canyon home; you are likely to get an up close view of them soaring past the canyon walls if you visit here.
The town of Chivay, located in the canyon, is the site of hot springs. Elsewhere, visitors can see the Infiernillo Geyser. There are numerous archaeological sites as well, including 6000-year-old rock art that depicts the domestication of alpacas.
8. Paracas National Reserve
The reserve is located about 165 miles south of Lima on the Pacific Coast, and is home to an abundance of wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, and many birds, especially near the water’s edge.
The Paracas Reserve contains the largest concentration of birds on earth. The terrain is diverse as well, spanning desert, ocean and islands. In addition to the wildlife, visitors will enjoy red sand beaches, a museum of ancient artifacts from the Paracas culture, a necropolis, and a geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabro.
Located in northern Peru, Chiclayo was once the home to the Moche civilization, who were prolific pre-Columbian artists. The Lord of Sipán is the most famous archaeological discovery to come out of the area – he was the first of several mummies discovered in 1987. Amazingly, the tomb was completely intact and did not appear to have been disturbed at all.
Much like ancient Egyptians, the mummy was buried with treasures, animals, and other people. As a result, the Lord of Sipán is known as “The King Tutankhamun of the Americas.”
If you’ve ever wondered what a real-life oasis in the desert looks like, go to Huacachina and see for yourself. The city is built around a small natural lake in the desert.
Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families and also as an attraction for tourists who want to try sand boarding on the massive dunes. Other popular activities include dune buggy rides, making this one of the favorite Peru destinations for people who don’t mind sand.
So as you can see, Peru has a lot more to offer tourists than just Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip there, why not take a side trip to visit some of the other destinations? There’s something for everyone in Peru!