Each nation across our planet is as diverse as it is wonderful, yet despite their long lists of worthy attractions, awe-inspiring cities, and breathtaking natural vistas, we tend to associate each country with one bedazzled, talk-of-the-town spot and sweep the rest under the rug.
Peru is perhaps the epitome of this concept. People flock from far and wide to get a glimpse of the ancient lost Incan city of Machu Picchu, but in doing so, often overlook the rest of Peru - and to their own detriment! The South American nation is overflowing with adventure, culture, and natural beauty, and sometimes we simply need to turn past the cover page to find it.
10 The vistas of Rainbow Mountain
The hike to Rainbow Mountain and the views at the finish line are as beautiful as they are underrated. Rainbow Mountain, which is known locally as Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors), sits about three hours from Cusco, nestled in the Peruvian Andes.
The trek to this one-of-a-kind location is a popular one for active tourists with an adventurous flair. You’ll spend about a full day walking in total, but the results and photos are well worth the effort. Along the journey, hikers pass through local villages built from stone for unique insights into the local culture, as well as shimmering mountain streams.
9 The mystery of the Nazca Lines
As much as we humans know (or think that we know), there are some mysteries that even the smartest of scientists and historians can’t crack. One of those unsolvable cases is the perfectly straight lines etched into the desert that forms almost 300 different animal and plant figures, known as the Nazca Lines.
Some of these designs are over 5 miles in length, with distinguishable shapes including a monkey, a spider, and a bird, among countless other intriguing shapes. While the Nazca Lines can be viewed from mountaintops, nothing compares to an overhead flight (although we recommend some nausea pills for all the imminent barrel rolls).
8 The adventure at Huacachina
About five hours south of Lima, en route toward Arequipa and Cusco, there’s plenty of hidden adventure to be had if you (or your tour guide) just know where to look. A secluded desert oasis by the name of Huacachina is home to some of the most unique activities that are sure to get your heart racing at a mile a minute - sand boarding and riding around in dune buggies at top speed.
The thrilling dune activities are also relatively close to Nazca Lines, a handful of winery tours, and the docks where boat tours depart to see Humboldt penguins and sea lions, so there’s plenty to do in the area.
7 The serenity of Lake Titicaca
Known as both “The Birthplace of the Incas” and “The Birthplace of the Sun,” Lake Titicaca is one of South America’s highest lakes and is referred to widely as the highest navigable body of water worldwide. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that it has deep roots in Incan culture and is one of the highest lakes that people can actually visit, at 3,800 meters above sea level.
The nature and the vistas are serene, and the floating houses are an unquestionable highlight. Nestled on the border of Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is a great place to explore traditional Peruvian culture before heading off on the next leg of your South American journey.
6 The beauty and history of Cusco
With beautifully well-preserved colonial architecture and a fascinating and complex history, Cusco is without a doubt one of Peru’s most intriguing and unique cities. As the capital of the Cusco region in Peru’s south, it is also the base camp for many day and multi-day trips, including the world-famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (and the various other trails), Rainbow Mountain, Lake Humantay, and the preserved yet under-the-radar ancient Incan city of Pisac.
Due to the high altitude of Machu Picchu and the Andes surrounding the area, people often choose (smartly) to stay in Cusco for a few days in the lead up to any hikes.
5 The off-the-grid Peruvian Amazon
Even though the vast majority of the world’s largest rainforest sits in the mammoth country of Brazil, it also extends to its neighbors, including Colombia and Peru.
When travelers set off to explore the Peruvian Amazon, they come face to face with an incredible array of biodiversity and wildlife, and an insight into rural Peruvian communities that are otherwise so hard to discover and understand. It’s a wild, off-the-grid adventure that the majority of city slickers have never had the chance to experience.Just don’t forget the insect repellant and any necessary vaccinations if you’re planning a visit sometime soon.
4 The jaw-dropping Colca Canyon
If you thought that the Grand Canyon was impressive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The mighty Colca Canyon in the south of Peru is twice as deep as the USA’s Grand Canyon and only behind China’s Tsangpo Canyon as the deepest in the entire world, measuring a depth of 10,700 feet (3270 meters). It’s that’s not motivation enough to check it out, we’ve got plenty more ammo to unload.
As marvelous as the views from the top are, it’s not the only thing worth writing home about. The circling condors (the Western Hemisphere’s largest flying birds), picturesque hiking trails, stunning waterfalls, and natural hot springs round out the list of reasons to visit.
3 The opportunity to get adventurous with the palate
If you’ve been living off of cheese sandwiches, Cheetos, and Big Macs from McDonald’s for as long as you remember, then you’re in for a real kick in the guts when touring through Peru.
Peru's menus aren't for the faint-hearted by any stretch of the imagination, no sir. From deep-fried guinea pig (known locally as cuy) which is served in its full form, to the world’s most foul-smelling potatoes, and even alpaca meat, there’s no shortage of acquired tastes for the more adventurous foodies to explore. Other well-known and popular dishes include ceviche (fish cooked in lime juice), anticuchos de corazón (grilled beef hearts), and, of course, pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken).
2 The bustling metropolis of Lima
Sitting on the Pacific west coast of the nation, Lima is both the capital of Peru and its largest city by far. In fact, it’s one of the biggest cities in all of South America, sitting only behind Sao Paulo, Brazil in terms of population.
Lima is full of history and there’s plenty to do in terms of shopping, eating, and drinking, nightlife and museums. As the main transport hub of Peru, odds are that your flight (unless you’re connecting immediately to Cusco) will stop off in Lima. It’s worth taking a couple of days to explore, work off the jet lag and acclimatize while discovering a new culture and country.
1 The untouched Ballestas Islands
Not too far from the town of Paracas, on the south coast of Peru in the Ica Region (about 3 hours south of Lima), the Ballestas Islands are known for their abundance of birds and marine wildlife, and the countless natural caves and arching rock formations. This incredible biodiversity has helped the group of islands earn the nickname as “The Poor Man's Galapagos”.
Visitors aren’t allowed to swim with the seals and other animals or walk on the islands themselves due to them being protected by law, but the views from the boats are still very much up close and personal.