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Christian Baines Senior Content Editor 1 year, 5 months ago

The Best Peru Trips… without Machu Picchu!

  • Colca Canyon, Peru

The centerpiece of countless South America and Peru tours, Machu Picchu is the ultimate symbol of Inca ingenuity and achievement. Whether glimpsed at the end of the Inca Trail trek or a scenic train ride, the ruined citadel is a spectacular must-see on most trips to Peru.

But what if you’ve seen it before?

Stay with us. Maybe you’re planning that second trip to Peru. Maybe it’s high season and you just want to focus on other attractions with smaller crowds. Maybe your heart is set on doing the Inca Trail one day and you weren’t able to secure a permit this time. Still want to go to Peru? We don’t blame you! Look, Machu Picchu is incredible, but there’s a lot more to see in this spectacular country. From endlessly diverse rainforests to high-altitude lakes, spectacular canyons and delicious cuisine, it’s entirely possible to have an amazing Peru adventure without (gasp) visiting Machu Picchu!A Peruvian Kitchen

 

Lima: Culinary Hotspot and Your Gateway to Peru

Once dismissed as a mere big city gateway to bigger and better Peru adventures, Lima is finally getting its due as a major destination for food and Peruvian culture. There’s much to love about its patchwork of colonial and modern architecture, spectacular clifftop views, or just exploring hip neighbourhoods like Miraflores. But when you slip that first piece of fresh ceviche between your lips, the reasons for Peru’s journey to culinary superstardom become crystal clear. Potatoes and a wide variety of meats form the backbone of Peruvian cuisine, but you can expect the unexpected in Lima. It’s a big, modern city with a big modern culinary scene, where chefs are always looking to push the boundaries for an increasingly discerning and adventurous clientele.Arequipa and the volcano Misti, Peru 

Arequipa: The White City and Colca Canyon

Peru’s second-largest city doesn’t lure quite as many travellers as Cuzco, but it’s close! The white stone walls of its colonial architecture fit together in a vast mosaic at the foot of the snow-capped volcano Misti. The only better view in the area can be had exploring Arequipa’s streets for yourself. “The White City” is unlike any other in South America, preserving an incredible history in the shadow of the Andes, luring history lovers and mountaineers in equal numbers. Nearby Colca Canyon is one of the world’s deepest river canyons and one of the best places in the world to spot the mighty condor, the largest flying bird in the Americas. Though an ideal spot for hiking, stay a night or two if you’re coming from Arequipa. A day trip will leave you either exhausted or rushed, and this incredible region is too beautiful for you to be feeling either.Uros floating island on Lake Titicaca

 

Lake Titicaca, Puno, and the Uros Islands

Sacred to the Inca and still a major centre of life on the Peru-Bolivia border today, Lake Titicaca also happens to be one of the most fascinating high-altitude lakes you’ll ever visit. It’s said to be the birthplace of Inca founder, Manco Capac, and even more importantly, the place where the god Viracocha sparked creation. While that paradox might not hold much water, the lake contains a whopping 893 cubic km (214 cubic miles) of water and is the highest navigable lake in the world. Not far from Puno, a delightful town on Titicaca’s shore, you’ll find the Uros Floating Islands, an artificial archipelago of 62 islands that some 1200 people call home. Feeling adventurous? Cross the border into Bolivia’s section of the lake and visit Isla del Sol, a treasure trove of Inca sites that more than lives up to its name “Island of the Sun.”Jaguar in a tree in the Amazon

 

The Peruvian Amazon

Think the Amazon Rainforest is all about Brazil? How would you like to visit the largest city on Earth with no road access? In Iquito, Peru, it’s just you on the Amazon’s doorstep. This is a phenomenal side of the country many visitors don’t even realize is there. Stay in a stunning treehouse lodge in the forest canopy, or in a perfectly appointed cabin while you cruise down the Amazon River. Either way, your neighbours range from colourful butterflies and macaws to cheeky monkeys and coatis. Sloths, tapirs, toucans and caimans round out nature’s menagerie here. You might even spot the elusive jaguar or fearsome anaconda! The Peruvian Amazon however is particularly known for its large river dwellers including the Amazon river dolphin and the Amazonian manatee.The Nasca Lines

 

Peru Before the Inca

The Inca might be the most famous, but they weren’t the first people of Peru! Scattered around the country, particularly to the north of Lima, you’ll find sites that tell the story of pre-Inca civilization in the region. The most famous are the Nasca lines, built by the namesake people before 700AD. To the north, the Chimu Empire left its most mighty monument at Chan Chan, at one time thought to be the largest city in pre-colonial South America. Visit the Huaja Rajada complex, famous for its pyramids, and Kuelap Fortress, one of few traces that remain of the Chachapoya civilization. We could go on, but why spoil a journey that is guaranteed to be packed with pre-Inca discoveries?Colourful Peruvian textiles

 

Cusco and the Sacred Valley (but not Machu Picchu!)

Even if you’re skipping Machu Picchu, Cusco is one of South America’s best destinations to experience a taste of Inca culture as it survives today. Cusco is Peru’s single most popular town with tourists, which has brought international influences to its cuisine (it’s second only to Lima for culinary variety and excellence). More than that, however, this is the traditional capital of the Inca Empire. Nobody mastered living in the Andes like the Inca, and it shows in Cusco’s architecture, even when crisscrossed with colonial neighbours. Of course, those remnants stretch well beyond the city, so it’s not uncommon for visitors to return to Cusco and the Sacred Valley again and again to make new discoveries and interact with the local people, long after that first visit to mighty Machu Picchu.

21 Oct 2022, 9:19 p.m.

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