Machu Picchu is essentially the Disneyland of Peru: it’s insanely crowded, expensive, and furry mascots roam the park (except the llamas are real). Sure, it’s worth a stop as a bucket-list experience, but Peru is home to many more breathtaking sights that will quickly make you forget about the Incan wonder. Here are seven places to visit in Peru:
1. Tumbes: National Sanctuary of the Tumbes Mangroves
Starting in the north of Peru near the border with Ecuador, you’ll find the small seaside town of Tumbes. It is home to the Santuario Nacional Manglares de Tumbes, a protected area housing exotic wildlife and gorgeous flora.
When you visit the national sanctuary, you’ll have the chance to kayak through five species of beautiful mangroves. Make sure you bring along binoculars as you’ll be able to see 148 different species of birds. Being a seaside town, visiting the local cevicheria is a requirement. Tumbes boasts some of the best seafood in all of Peru.
2. Lima: Pueblo Libre District
Often overlooked in favor of the gringo hotspots, Miraflores and Barranco, Pueblo Libre will give you a taste of the local life at a fraction of the cost.
Start at the Museo Larco (Larco Museum). It is the most comprehensive museum you’ll find in Lima (and maybe in all of Peru). No habla español? No worries. The museum’s displays are provided in English, German, Chinese, and Russian. Give your brain and your feet a break by visiting the onsite restaurant. Finish your day at the Plaza de Pueblo Libre (Center of Pueblo Libre) where you’ll find delicious desserts, craft beer bars, and local cuisine.
The next day, stroll along the Playa de Magdalena. It’s a rocky beach in Magdalena, a southern neighborhood in Pueblo Libre. Afterward, sit down, grab a coffee, and chat at Mercado de Magdalena, one of the biggest markets in Lima.
3. Ayacucho: Independence Memorial
From Lima, you can catch an overnight bus to Ayacucho, a small town that still captures a traditional way of life, including the Quechua language. If you’re new to the elevation, you might need to relax for the first day as the town sits at 2,746 meters.
Once you feel good on your feet, you can explore the Plaza de Armas (Center of Ayacucho). Try homemade ice cream from all of the colorfully-dressed women. Explore the local Wari ruins by taxi or guided tour, and then head over to the main attraction in Ayacucho: the Independence Memorial.
In a vast valley surrounded by gorgeous mountains, you’ll find the giant monument that marks the site of victory in the fight against Spain for independence. If you have time, rent a horse and explore that storybook setting. Afterward, you can enjoy a local lunch of chicken, pork, or ceviche while gazing out over the view.
4. Arequipa: Lagunas de Salinas
Heading east, you’ll find the city of Arequipa. It’s small, it’s historical, and it’s packed with a variety of outdoor activities, such as the Lagunas de Salinas. For some odd reason, this beautiful place isn’t marketed as well as Colca Canyon. That’s good news for you because it’ll be free of noisy tourists.
After a two-hour drive across the mountain Picchu Picchu, you’ll see the Lagunas de Salinas (lakes of salt). The lakes are home to flamingos, llamas, and vicuñas so you’re going to have incredible photo opportunities. It’ll be cold and windy on the mountain, but there are plenty of thermal springs nearby to warm up your hands. Once you’re finished, hop on a mountain bike and spend the next two hours making your way back down. This is where you’ll get some of the best views of the volcano, El Misti.
5. Puno: Floating Islands of Uros
Lake Titicaca connects Peru and Bolivia, and the lake is the literal home and livelihood of the Uros people. No boat tour of Lake Titicaca is complete without a trip to Las Islas Flotantes de los Uros, or the floating islands of the Uros.
Once you dock, you’ll be treated to a demonstration of how the reed islands are made followed by a tour of the local homes. There are over 100 of these manmade islands, and all of them host unique Andean art. More islands are built each year and only recently have they been introduced to modernity with solar panels and electricity. If a one-day tour isn’t enough, you can spend the night on one of the islands.
6. Sacred Valley: Ollantaytambo
Most people pass right by Ollantaytambo on their way to Aguas Calientes, the go-through town to Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu, I would highly recommend dedicating a few days in Ollantaytambo before or after you scale the Lost City of the Incans.
Ollantaytambo is literally surrounded by ruins no matter where you are in the city. You can explore freely without worrying about security guards or admission fees. I hiked a new ruin each day, bathed in a giant waterfall, and had entire treks all to myself. The residents of Ollantaytambo are incredibly friendly people, who are only too happy to share their culture with you.
7. Puerto Inca: Boiling River of the Amazon Jungle
After Ollantaytambo, you can head north to the Amazon Jungle. Protected by the local shamans for many generations, the boiling river of the Amazon has only recently become a tourist attraction. This trip isn’t for the casual, resort-style traveler. If you’re willing to tough it out, you’ll discover one of the jungle’s greatest mysteries.
The boiling river of the Amazon Jungle isn’t near a heat source like a volcano vent, but it still reaches temperatures hot enough to kill unlucky wildlife that fall in. The water of the boiling river is considered sacred, and it’s used in many Shaman medicines and healing ceremonies. This is one stop you don’t want to miss if you are traveling to Peru.
Which Places to Visit in Peru Sound the Most Exciting?
Will you pay a visit to Ollantaytambo, my favorite place in Peru? Or will you suit up and tackle the thick jungles to see the boiling river in the Amazon? Have you been to Peru? What was your favorite landmark?