When you hear the word “Peru”, the first thing that comes to mind is more than likely “Machu Picchu”. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, Machu Picchu was voted as one of the seven wonders of the world in 2007. Although the origins are just speculation, testing and research show that it was built around the 15th century, as an estate for the Inca Emperor.
As incredible as Machu Picchu is, I would not recommend building it as the main focus of your trip. Peru has so many other treasures that are lesser-known, with fewer tourists, that will create just as many memories. So here is my list of 10 other stops to consider on your trip.
A Desert Oasis
My favourite day of our entire trip was at Huacachina. Picture this; A beautiful desert oasis, filled with palm trees, restaurants, shops, boats, and a lagoon, smack dab in the middle of the desert! But it gets better…they have dune buggies to race up and down the massive sand dunes which surround this tiny village. Once at the top of one of these dunes, check out the epic view, and if you are daring enough, sandboard down them. No straps, no helmets, just you and a board soaring face-first down the sandy hill. Check out my YouTube video at Mellie Telly for the full experience!
A Salty Stop
Want to see something older than Inca ruins? The salt mines near Maras have been around much longer. What’s surprising is that they are not located underground or in a cave, as I had originally expected! They are completely exposed. Using water obtained from a nearby salty stream, the flow is directed into tiny square ponds where it evaporates leaving the salt behind. The owners of these pods are all families and farmers from Maras, a local nearby town. Unfortunately, you cannot walk among the pre-Inca pools, which was a slight disappointment, but you can get a great view and then purchase different varieties of fresh salt to bring home. Our favourite is the smoked salt – we put it on everything!
A rush of adrenaline
Some people go on vacation to lie on the beach, read a fictional novel and relax. Others like to go for extreme sports. Peru has a lot of activities if action is your preferred choice. Some honorable mentions are rafting through Class 3 and 4 rapids, ziplining over a ravine between mountains (if you go to Vertikal Adventure Park it also includes hiking, a scary suspension bridge and rock climbing up a waterfall), and if that was not enough, test your balance and agility on a mountain bike ride downhill. Of note, the extreme elevation changes through Peru can cause havoc on your body, which makes physical activity a bit more difficult if you are not used to it.
The Inca Trail is hard. There, I said it. (And I only hiked it for one day!). It cuts through mountains with sections that are very steep and narrow, and above all, filled with biting bugs. You do not want to see my legs right now. The view is incredible and made the hike totally worth it. If you want to trek on South America’s most famous trail, start booking fast. They only allow 500 people per day on the Classic Inca Trail, which includes tourists, tour guides, porters, chefs (for the tours), you get my drift. Check out my YouTube video at Mellie Telly for the full trail experience!
If you need a fill of Incan ruins that is more than a worn-out village, go visit Moray, an ancient food laboratory and irrigation system. Each layer of this circular infrastructure was originally designed to host a different kind of food source. It is strongly recommended to travel here first thing in the morning to beat the barrage of tour busses. The great thing about this location is that you can walk inside of the structure which allows for some great photo ops.
A must-stop: Cusco
You cannot go to Peru, without visiting Cusco (along with 2 million other visitors a year). It was impressive. From the 13th century until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, this was the capital of the Inca Empire! Some of the original structures still remain, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. I could go on about the incredible history of Cusco, but that would make this a really long article. In short, go to the main square, the market, the churches, eat some coca leaves (to help with altitude sickness) and make sure you bring your comfortable shoes (there are a lot of steps – uphill).
Paracas is located a few hours south of Lima. Here, board a boat and head over to the Paracas National Reserve to visit the neighboring islands with more birds then you can even begin to count. I’m talking in the hundreds of thousands. I’d suggest wearing a hat, not for sun protection, but bird poo prevention. Among these two winged creatures are dozens of seals! Watch them bask in the sun and admire their cuteness – their smell, not so much. Keep an eye out for the Paracas Candelabra, a prehistoric geoglyph (aka an enormous stick figure dug in stone) with no known source.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love wine! Is it wine o’clock yet? Fun fact, Peru produces wine in the region of Ica, dating back to the arrivals of the Spanish in the 16th Century. They share a similar climate to their neighbors of the South, Chile, and Argentina. They are on the sweeter side and have some interesting nicknames (such as a white one that is referred to as ‘The baby maker’!). Don’t stop there. Make sure you get a taste of Psico, resembling a brandy and native to Peru. Not up for shots? Try it in a cocktail referred to as a Pisco Sour.
Machu Picchu rests on the top of Huayna Picchu mountain, at the foot of it is one of the most unique towns I have ever visited. The town is built on a slope of a mountain that is divided by a river with several waterfalls. Originally a hub for workers during the construction of the Railway (Peru and Inca Rail), now a touristy spot with an indoor souvenir market, restaurants, and hotels. Of all the hotels we stayed in during our trip (and we pretty much settled into a new spot on a nightly basis), this had one of our favourites. The food was also super reasonably priced if you venture out a few blocks. Three courses for about 15 sol (the Peruvian currency), about 3 dollars American!
This is the one item that I am reluctant to add, and almost want to suggest avoiding. A lot of other lists will go on about the allure of Lima and how it is a must-go destination. I cannot stress enough that there are more magical places outside of Lima and would strongly recommend to avoid Lima and head straight to Cusco as a basecamp. I heard this advice before and read some blogs that reaffirmed this and thought they would be wrong. I was wrong. Skip it. If you insist on going, you won’t need more than a day to view some shops, a few churches (one which has catacombs you can tour through), the Magic Water Circuit, and perhaps fit in a free walking tour.
Peru is a beautiful country that hosts the Andes mountains, is home to parts of the rainforest, has hidden ancient ruins, some unexpectant desert locations, with lovely people, and ever-changing weather. Whatever stops you decide to make, enjoy your trip!
Remember to prepare for any altitude sickness (it is a thing! It happened to me and I found the best cure was soup and coca tea). Always have toilet paper and hand sanitizer in your day bag (you’ll need it, even in restaurants, and don’t always expect a toilet seat), and keep in mind that if anyone puts a baby llama or goat in your arms for a photo, they will be expecting money! Bon voyage!
Special thanks to KVDV Photography for the photos.