Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Lima often top of mind when visiting the incredibly diverse country of Peru. As the best-known archaeological site not only in Peru but in South America, Machu Picchu draws up to 2,500 people a day in the high season. Though Machu Picchu is an absolutely unmissable sight, especially for first-timers in Peru, those looking to explore the country in more depth and learn even more about what Peru has to offer have plenty of opportunities.
From sampling the incredible gastronomy that Peru is known for to exploring indigenous communities, visiting ruins that date back thousands of years ago, swimming with penguins, and more – Kuoda wants your Peru vacation experience to encompass it all. Here are some of our favorite lesser-known destinations to visit in Peru for those looking for a deeper dive into the country. We can’t wait to create a tailor-made itinerary for you that lends itself to a life-changing experience here in Peru. Contact us today to get started planning!
Despite being Peru’s second-largest city, Arequipa is often overlooked in favor of visiting Lima or Cuzco. Set on the edge of the Andes, this city is framed by not one but three commanding volcanoes. Offering vistas that are only made more beautiful by Arequipa’s baroque architecture.
Much of Arequipa’s center is built from a local type of white volcanic stone. This has led to both its nickname as ‘the white city’ and UNESCO World Heritage status. Towering over the Plaza de Armas is the cathedral, one of Arequipa’s most photographed sites and a magnificent house of worship. Alongside its architecture, Arequipa is a fantastic foodie destination with more local dishes than any other Peruvian city. After a few hours here, you’ll struggle to understand why Arequipa is so underrated.
2. Nazca Lines
Found close to Nazca on a coastal plain in the southwest of Peru, the Nazca Lines remain one of the country’s great mysteries. The site is composed of giant geoglyphs thought to have been made between AD 450 and 600.
The Nazca Lines feature over 300 geometric figures, 800 straight lines, and 70 plant and animal designs – some of which are as large as the Empire State Building. It’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its purpose garnering countless theories since being discovered over 80 years ago. Due to their immense size, the Nazca Lines are best viewed from the air on a helicopter, offering jaw-dropping views of the area and a clear sight of the figures.
3. Colca Canyon
As the world’s second deepest canyon, Colca Canyon reaches depths of approximately 3,400 meters. Stretching dozens of miles through the High Andes, it’s epic in terms of both its size and scenery.
Visitors can take advantage of the endless trekking routes or look out for the resident birds of prey. Alongside kestrels and peregrine falcons, the canyon is famous for its population of Andean Condors. Soaring on the rising thermals, these giant scavengers are one of the largest flying birds on Earth.
Colca Canyon is also home to ancient terraced hillsides, some fields of which still support local agriculture today. Surrounding the canyon you’ll find colorful, traditional villages that are well worth a stop.
4. Manu National Park
Manu National Park is notably considered to be the most biodiverse National Park in the world, and fortunately, it is also easily accessible to visitors looking to experience where the majestic Andes meet the tropical Amazonian jungle. Tourists can get to Manu National Park by car from Cusco city or by boat from Puerto Maldonado. A fantastic addition to your Peru itinerary, you can begin the trip in Cusco city and finish it in Puerto Maldonado. This way, you will have the whole experience: you will start driving through a well-preserved cloud forest and end up cruising a river in the middle of the rainforest.
Once you arrive at Manu National Park, there are a plethora of adventures that await you -kayak your way through Lake Salvador to see some monkeys, caiman, capybara, and river turtles, or hike to see the petroglyphs of Pusharo, mysterious ancient rock carvings located near the settlement. To see the jungle from a different perspective, take to the treetops in a canopy walk.
In rainforests, much of the action takes place far above the ground, and a canopy walk gives visitors a deeper understanding of life in the trees. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure in Manu and the grade I and II rapids near Pilcopata offer a chance at a small adrenaline rush against the scenic backdrop of lush jungle. To fully experience the jungle, try glamping in Manu National Park, surrounded only by darkness and the sounds of the night.
The colonial city of Trujillo is like stepping into a time machine – the glamorous streets lead to a profusion of colonial-era churches and remarkable pre-Incan archaeological sites nearby. This compact city is a lively intersection of ancient culture and modern arts. The multicolored Tunnel of Wishes on the Paseo de Aguas is a fabulous place for people-watching. Locally brewed corn beer is worth a try. If you’re a nightlife lover, pace yourself—bars and clubs get going late, and then go all night.
Visitors to Trujillo can also experience the behemoth Chimú capital of Chan Chan, nearby. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, making it the top attraction in the region. Other Chimú sites can be discovered in the surrounding desert, among them the immense and suitably impressive Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon), which date back 1500 years.
For beachgoers, enjoy the laid-back surfer village of Huanchaco, just 20 minutes away.
6. Lake Titicaca
Located on the border shared by Peru and Bolivia is the historic Lake Titicaca, South America’s highest navigable lake. Known as the largest lake in South America, this body of water sits high in the Andes Mountains and has served as the home to the Uros people for nearly 4,000 years. This indigenous community lives on top of islands formed out of dried Totora reeds, woven together to create large floating structures. Each island is hand built and constantly maintained by the Uros people.
Visiting the Uros Islands offers an immersive experience to get to know the indigenous community of the Uros people. Local residents are often excited to show visitors around, and even get a private boat tour from the families that create the unique reed boats. For those who want an even more immersive experience with Lake Titicaca’s tribe, commit to a short homestay. Not only do these opportunities provide direct financial support for the Uros tribe, but also provide you with a sustainable way to travel through South America’s historic, floating community.
In addition to the Uros Islands, visitors can experience the pre-Inca Sillustani ruins comprised of 28 stone burial towers, called chullpas, overlooking Lake Umayo. Researchers believe that they were commonly filled with fine foods, crafts, jewels, and other exquisite worldly possessions.
A few hours’ drive from Lima lies the Peruvian coastal town of Paracas, Travelers flock here year-round to visit the nearby Ballestas Islands, which give a taste of the Galapagos islands without leaving Peru! The islands are home to sea lions, Peruvian boobies, and even penguins. Paracas is also famous for its expansive National Reserve, which was declared a UNESCO-protected area in 1975. This marine reserve juts out into the bay, forming the Paracas peninsula. The area offers lots to do for travelers looking for a mix of adventure and relaxation, such as ATVs, hiking around its rocky cliffs, horseback riding, sailing, to the Ballestas islands, wildlife spotting, snorkeling, and more.
But Paracas is not all about action; it also boasts plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation. Wind down by the pool at one of the town’s luxurious seaside resorts. Enjoy a delicious, fresh meal, prepared with locally sourced, seasonal seafood. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage at the spa. Or wander around the small town, known as El Chaco, to soak in the charming coastal atmosphere.
While many travelers adore Peru for the overgrown tropical jungles and Andean landscapes, there is a gem awaiting towards the south called Ica. This prehistoric coastal desert region is a unique destination you cannot miss while visiting Peru. If the adults are looking for a place to spend a day indulging on their own, Ica is famous for its locally produced wines. Take a tour of one of the vineyards and enjoy specialty Peruvian wines during the parents-day-off!
And don’t worry, there’s plenty to do with the whole family while you’re here. For any archeology buffs, the desert is home to many fascinating exhibits that dive into the mummification process. Also on display in this museum are the fascinating elongated skulls from the Paracas culture, which many people say look like alien life forms!
Kids who are interested in science, history, and the supernatural will love exploring this destination. Ancient remains and artifacts are on display at the Regional Museum of Ica “Adolfo Bermúdez Jenkins.” Various indigenous cultures can be studied here, including the Inca, Nazca, and Chincha. For the family who finds cultural and historic exploration to be the most exciting vacation activity, this is a can’t-miss opportunity.
Among all the activities in Ica, a trip to the town of Huacachina is essential. This is a true desert oasis, centered around Laguna Huacachina, a small body of water surrounded by picturesque palm trees and sandy slopes. For a one-day stop, this is the perfect destination to enjoy delicious local specialties as well as some essential action adventures like sandboarding or dune buggy rides. You can also explore the lagoon with a paddle boat for a more relaxed activity. Whichever you choose, a family vacation to Peru is not complete without a day trip to an authentic oasis!