Visiting the well-preserved Inca city of Machu Picchu is a trip of a lifetime. However, as Peru is such a beautiful and historically rich country a trip shouldn’t only be about seeing Machu Picchu. Here are 10 things to do in Peru other than Machu Picchu and, if your time allows, should not be missed on your Peruvian vacation.
Visit the Fauna of Manu National Park
This UNESCO protected biosphere, whose preservation was made possible by its remoteness, is a short 45-minute plane ride away from Cusco (or by road, 8 hours plus a 45-minute boat ride). Most travel within Manu is done by boat, allowing for wonderful views of one of the world’s best-preserved rainforests, one that includes more than 15,000 species of plants. Manu is best known for its rich variety of animal life: jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, 13 species of monkeys, and millions of different insects. Manu is a must-see for birdwatchers, as more than a thousand avian species live within its borders.
Visit an Indigenous Community
Under an hour from Cusco, there are indigenous communities that preserve an ancient way of life few visitors are granted access to. Eight of these communities have come together to form an association that provides cultural-immersion tours and home stays. The additional income these communities receive allows them to continue to live in a traditional manner. One community, Amaru, shares its weaving techniques, sheep and alpaca shearing, spinning yarn, collecting plants to dye and treat the wool, and hand weaving intricate patterns.
Discover the Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a beautiful stretch of small villages and ancient ruins, located in Peru’s Andean highlands, northwest of Cusco. The magnificent Inca ruins found from Pisac to Ollantaytambo are some of the finest in all of the Americas and are testaments to the region’s immense ceremonial importance. The Incas built several of the empire’s greatest estates, temples, and royal palaces between the sacred centers of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages. Pisac is well known for its large local Sunday handicraft market.
Fly Over the Nazca Lines
Located in the Nazca Desert plains, the peculiar Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs that include: 70 wildlife and plant designs, 300 geometric designs and 800 straight lines all strewn over a 300 square mile region. There are several theories about how and why the geoglyphs were created but 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. The original purpose of the images remains one of the world’s great mysteries, but the lines are generally believed to have been created by the Nasca people between one and two thousand years ago as part of a religious ritual.
Hike the Colca Canyon
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. The region is also well known as the home of the rare Andean Condor. The journey passes through remarkable volcano country, at heights near 15,000ft and descends into the stunning, lush Colca Valley below. There are several mountain villages in the valley and the most popular is the town of Chivay, celebrated for its natural hot springs and dramatic views. The immense space within the towering walls is filled with some of South America’s most spectacular scenery: untouched valleys, pre-Columbian agricultural terraces, dormant volcanoes, and green oases. It’s possible to reach the Colca by vehicle overland from Cusco, but the easiest way is to take a 45-minute flight to Arequipa, which is one of Peru’s most charming cities.
Bike the Andes
Machu Picchu and Cusco are prime regions for mountain biking. It’s possible to arrange your own cycle tour, but using a guide service will give you access to a support vehicle, local knowledge of Peru’s confusing road systems and hidden Inca sites, and a vehicle to portage your bike up the area’s highest ascents. The best trips include the stunning Lares Valley, the Inca ruins-rich Sacred Valley, from Pisac to Ollantaytambo and the downhill ride through the Maras-Moray Salt Pans. Guiding Peru offers full day and multi-day back road trips throughout the Cusco and Sacred Valley region.
Visit the Maras Salt Pans and Moray Archaeological Park
A historic and cultural site not far outside of Cusco, the town of Maras makes for a fine day trip into the massive terraced salt ponds from which many Maras residents derive their livelihood. The indigenous people of the region have used evaporation to harvest salt here for centuries. Another ancient feature of the Maras area, are the mysterious Moray agricultural terraces. Resembling a Greek amphitheater, huge terraces have been built into a natural depression, all in perfect concentric circles. The Incas were highly sophisticated agricultural engineers and Moray takes their science and engineering to a new level. It is believed that these terraces were used as an agricultural research station, where different varieties of crops were cultivated and harvesting techniques refined.
Tour the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
As the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca is also known as the highest commercially navigable lake in the world and is famous for its floating reed islands. The islands are home to the Uros tribe, one that pre-dates the Incan civilization. This Indigenous group still lives on floating islands built and rebuilt out of dried reeds, drifting over the surface of the lake. Originally as a defensive strategy, and though the threat of Inca invasion is long gone, their lifestyle has managed to live on. Today, visitors can take tours of the islands and even participate in homestays with local families.
View the Wildlife of the Ballestas Islands
The Islas Ballestas are accessible by tour boat from the beach town of Paracas, generally lasting 2 hours. Described as the Galapagos of Peru, this small group islands has become one of the worlds most widely recognized bio diverse regions. The islands are home to many rare birds, including pelicans, penguins, cormorants, Peruvian boobies, and Inca terns. It’s also common to view sea lions, turtles, dolphins, and whales in the park. Next to the Manu Amazon Rainforest, the Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reservation offer the best wildlife experience in Peru.
Trekking the Cordillera Blanca in Huaraz
Huaraz is located in north-central Peru, about 250 miles north of Lima and is the gateway to the Cordillera Blanca, the highest range of the Peruvian Andes, famous for its magnificent snowcapped peaks and glaciers. The Cordillera Blanca includes Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru 22,205 ft and the third highest in the Western Hemisphere. It is arguably the best place in South America for remote trekking and backpacking expeditions, ranging from 3 to 13 days. Most of the Cordillera Blanca falls within the boundaries of the Huascarán National Park, which was formed in 1975 with the objective of conserving the enormous variety of unique wild flora and fauna, geological formations and archaeological remains found within a series of diverse habitats in the Cordillera Blanca.