Travel in Latin America
Although Machu Picchu is one of the best known and most popular tourist sites in the world, it is not the only attraction worth seeing in Peru. To add diversity, fun and a great deal of cultural wealth to your vacation, try some or all of the following ten alternatives added to Machu Picchu if you have the time and energy!
1) Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is known as the "White City" because of the white volcanic sillar stone used to build its churches, monasteries and beautiful homes. Marvelous semi-desert countryside surrounds its city center which is a few hours drive from the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon, reputedly the deepest of the world at 9,842 feet. The area is known for its natural beauty, outdoor adventure and flights of condors, which are the world's largest land-living birds.
2) Chiclayo - Calling All Archeologists
Chiclayo in colonial times was a simple village that sat incongruously on the road between Lambayeque and Zaña. Recent archeological discoveries of the pyramids of Túcume, the Lord of Sipán from the tomb of the Huaca Rajada and the Lord of Sicán in Batán Grande are now housed in the Sicán National Museum, making them available for all to see and marvel at. These discoveries have made Chiclayo Peru's second destination after Cusco for archeological and historic interest.
3) The Sacred Valley - travel experiences with a spiritual twist
The main stretch of the Scared Valley of the Incas lies between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo and rewards visitors with a wealth of well-preserved Inca ruins, having once been the heart of the Inca Empire. Because the esteemed Urubamba River flows through the valley, you are rewarded with stunning vistas of the Andes, charming towns and many opportunities to enjoy the countryside. Those seeking adventure can go white water rafting, mountain biking or hike one of the many ancient Inca Trails in the area.
4) Huaraz and the Cordilleras
The Cordilleras are known as the White Mountain Range and sometimes the "Switzerland of South America" for their snow-capped summits, turquoise blue lagoons and spectacular Andean landscapes. Huaraz, the nearest town, is one of Peru's oldest civilizations and is home to the splendid Huascarán National Park. The area is known to travellers for its wide range of adventure sports.
5) The Amazon River
For those who love nature and biodiversity, the virgin nature of the Amazon forests and jungles offers a full range of exuberant flora and fauna. The area has been well preserved to offer some of the richest varieties of birds and mammals on the planet as well as an abundance of amphibians, insects and reptiles. Visit the jungle in either Tambopata, Manu or Iquitos depending on your budget.
6) Lima—The Capital of Peru
As the gateway to the country, Lima is a bustling metropolis. It's historical center is filled with colonial constructions and is home to one of the best museums in South America, the Larco Herrera. Lima also offers a great variety of cultural shows, game houses and has a mouth-watering culinary tradition.
7) The Nazca Lines
The Nazca lines consist of wonderful forms of immense figure and lines that are the work of an ancient Peruvian civilization and set on a high plain in the barren desert. You must see them from the air to fully enjoy their spectacular geometries on a short flight in a light aircraft.
Paracas is the destination in Peru for nature lovers and bird watchers. There is much history in the town to attract visitors in addition to the nautical sports of windsurfing, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. The nearby Ballestas Islands are not to be missed and are known as the "poor mans Galapagos islands" as the trip out is quite cheap!.
For those interested in archeological and historical tours, Trujillo offers pre-Inca locations such as Huaca de la Luna, Huaca del Sol and the ancient mud built city of Chan Chan which enable you to explore the ruins and pre-Columbian civilizations that once flourished here. Jumping forward in time, visitors can admire the downtown mansions that remind one of the profitable colonial period. Although Trujillo is Peru's third largest city located in the northwest part of the country, it still manages to maintain its small town colonial charm.
10) Puno and Lake Titicaca
Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world containing the Uros, Taquile and Amantini Islands. As a folkloric capital of Peru, Puno offers alternatives to the tourism of archeology, living culture and nature and biodiversity tourism of Peru. Peru shares the lake with Bolivia and many people combine a visit to both countries while in the area.
When considering options for your upcoming Peru vacation, resist the temptation to just follow the crowds to Machu Picchu. Consider one of the suggestions above to have a more unique experience!
Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and has lived in South America since 1998. Gary is passionate about Peruvian life, people, customs and places. Visit Gary's website for more Peru travel advice or to book Peru vacations http://www.escapedtoperu.com/.