8 places to visit that aren’t Machu Picchu

Thinking of making the long journey across the Pacific Ocean to Peru to walk the Inca Trail, take a selfie with a llama, and admire the incredible mountain ruins of Machu Picchu? Well, before you go too far in booking your trip, you might want to take a moment to spot where other you could go there while you’re there.

As special as the Machu Picchu experience is, it’s just one of many available to tourists across South America’s third-largest country. A trip to Peru can take you from the mountains to the coast and deep into the desert and jungle; here are eight exciting places to visit in Peru that can make that possible.

8 places to visit in Peru

Huacachina, Peru. Credit: Getty

Cuzco

Although some may confuse Cusco with the gateway to Machu Picchu, this Andes city is actually one of the most beautiful and entertaining in Peru. Scenic landscapes are never far away in Cusco, whether it’s the narrow streets of the San Blas neighborhood or the architecture around the Plaza de Armas.

Cusco also helps visitors immerse themselves in Andean culture, from Peruvian cuisine at San Pedro Market to learning about local culture and history at the Inca Museum. Although Cusco is an ideal base for exploring the ruins of the Sacred Valley, there are also Inca remains in the city, such as at Saqsaywaman and Qorikancha.

Lima

As the capital of Peru, Lima usually finds itself on the itineraries of most travelers. But it’s not just that Lima is the country’s largest city and a coastal destination free from the effects of altitude that are worth visiting.

Lima is a cultural powerhouse thanks to institutions like the Larco Museum with its collection of pre-Columbian artifacts and historic sites like Huaca Pucllana and Pachacamac that actually predate Machu Picchu.

What’s even more impressive is that Lima is consistently ranked among the world’s top food destinations, with a host of Michelin-starred restaurants and plenty of opportunities for visitors to try typical Peruvian dishes like ceviche and lomo saltado.

Arequipa, Peru.  Credit: Getty
Arequipa, Peru. Credit: Getty

Arequipa

Arequipa, dubbed Peru’s “White City” thanks to the white sillar stone used throughout, is the country’s second largest city and a cultural gem. The entire historic center of Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a pretty sight, due to its abundant colonial architecture and epic volcano backdrop.

Like other major cities in Peru, the main square of Plaza de Armas is where you’ll find many of Arequipa’s finest buildings. A short walk away is the Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena, a sprawling religious complex decked out in bright colors that is still home to nuns today.

Also, don’t miss the opportunity in Arequipa to venture beyond the city limits. The southern town is an ideal base for excursions to see Colca Canyon condors soar overhead and visit small villages and waterfalls among the surrounding mountains.

Lake Titicaca

Famous among trivia buffs for being the highest navigable body of water in the world and the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca is also quite a special destination in Peru. The highland lake is shared with neighboring Bolivia and has the city of Puno as a convenient entry point.

While there’s quite a bit to see in Puno — the odd colonial architecture and some gorgeous viewpoints over Lake Titicaca — the city doesn’t attract tourists to the area.

No, what makes Lake Titicaca so interesting (from the Peruvian side) are the man-made reed islands of the Uros people. The indigenous inhabitants reside here on more than 100 floating islands in the middle of the lake and allow visitors to experience their traditional and colorful way of life.

huacachina

Peru is a country of many landscapes, not just mountains, and there is no better example of this than the desert oasis of Huacachina outside the city of Ica. Social media has helped this small oasis village with its palm-fringed lagoon capture the attention of tourists to become one of the most popular places to visit in Peru.

But a visit to Huacachina isn’t just about relaxing in one of the bars that overlook the village’s scenic lagoon. The surrounding desert is essentially one big adult playground, with buggy rides and sandboarding available to play among the dunes.

Huacachina is also conveniently located near Ica’s wealth of vineyards, including those where Peru’s national drink, pisco, is also produced.

Iquitos

The Amazon is one of South America’s most alluring attractions, and to experience Peru’s rainforest corner, you’ll want to head to the gateway city of Iquitos. But visiting Iquitos comes with challenges – this remote town in northeastern Peru is inaccessible by road, meaning you either have to fly or drive down the river to reach it.

Before leaving Iquitos for an adventure in the Amazon, jungle cruises are incredibly popular here, so it’s worth leaving some time in town to see just how different this region is from the rest of the country.

Learn about the history of this port city at the Historic Ships Museum and explore the fascinating mix of goods available at the Belén Market. Or just relax along the Malecón River in the strip of bars and restaurants.

Pisco

While travelers may have heard of pisco, Peru’s signature grape brandy used in pisco sours, many may not realize the spirit is named after a port city. on the Peruvian coast. Located south of Lima, Pisco offers plenty of opportunities to try its signature drink, but it also boasts beaches and coastal attractions.

For fun in the sun while in Pisco, head to the beaches of Paracas. On the edge of this small seaside town is the Paracas National Reserve, a desert peninsula full of beaches and cliffs to explore.

Completing the interesting geography of this area are the Ballestas Islands, located just offshore. These biodiverse islands are home to all kinds of birds and wildlife, including seals and Humboldt penguins.

Trujillo
Trujillo, Peru. Credit: Getty

Trujillo

Colorful and offering a glimpse into another slice of Peruvian history, the seaside town of Trujillo makes another great addition to a diverse Peru itinerary. Located far north of Lima, Trujillo is one of the oldest colonial cities in the country, which it flaunts with its lively architecture.

The most famous attraction in this less visited destination is the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Chan Chan, the ruins of a city belonging to the Chimú people. On the other side of the ruins is the laid-back seaside village of Huanchaco, one of Peru’s most popular surf spots.

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