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Beyond Machu Picchu: 5 authentic ways to experience Peru


Ask anyone to picture Peru, and chances are Machu Picchu will be the first thing that comes to mind. Nestled in the Andes Mountains, this high-altitude Incan citadel is, after all, one of the country’s largest draws. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it holds its own as an impressive historical wonder, and tends to be at the heart of any trip planned to this South American destination. It’s only likely to grow in popularity in 2024, as in an effort to boost local tourism, plans are in place to increase the cap of visitors allowed to roam its grounds every day.

While we aren’t denying that Machu Picchu should be on every curious traveller’s bucket list, you’ll find many more strings to Peru’s bow, and plenty of unsung gems to unearth. Here, we run through five ways to experience this country authentically, away from the ever-popular trails of the Lost City of the Incas.

Seek out more amazing ancient vestiges

In the Amazonas region of northern Peru, Kuélap Fortress holds great historic significance: the political centre of the now-extinct Chachapoya civilisation up until circa 1400 AD, this well-preserved walled settlement is currently one of the largest ancient monuments of the Americas, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the legacy of the pre-Inca people known as Warriors of the Clouds. Under the radar and overlooked, it covers an area of about six hectares and is surrounded by limestone walls that reach as high as 20 m.

Along the country’s northern coast, you’ll find a clutch of archaeological remains well worth adding to your must-visit list. Combine sunshine and wonder as you venture from Chiclayo into the heart of the Túcume Archaeological Site, a mud-brick settlement built in the 10th century by the Lambayeque culture, and sprawled across more than 220 ha in northwestern Peru’s La Leche Valley. Further south, make the city of Trujillo your base for exploring the remains of La Libertad, including the Huacas de Moche Archaeological Complex and the pre-Columbian city of Chan Chan – the seat of the ancient Chimú civilisation.

Taste your way across vibrant foodie trails

Let your nose and stomach guide your Peruvian travels, and swap your walking boots for a plate to fill with bursts of smoky, citrusy and fusion flavours. It’s no secret: Lima is loved worldwide for its gastronomic scene which, combined with its stunning architecture, bohemian appeal and historic centre, places it firmly on the map for world-class dining experiences. From its vibrant street food offerings straight up to its award-winning restaurants adorned with Michelin stars, you’re guaranteed to find many ways in which to tantalise your taste buds – the city’s so sought-after for its culinary excellence, it’s made it to our list of top foodie destinations for 2024.

Beyond the capital’s obvious draws, settle down amidst the captivating colonial architecture of Arequipa, which is especially known for its picanterías – family-run establishments where you can fill your glass with chicha corn beer and devour plates of copa arequipeña (potato topped with spicy sauce) and soltero de queso (potato, cheese and fresh vegetable salad). For a taste of the Peruvian Highlands, get to know on-the-rise eateries in Cusco, where served-up specialities include chiri uchu (traditional festival food that combines cold meats, cheese, fish eggs, corn and more), trucha frita (fried trout with rice and cassava), cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig, a Highlands staple), and hearty bowls of chairo soup.

Learn the ways of the locals

If you’re in search of authenticity, little can beat community-focused tourism, allowing deep and genuine connections with the locals and a greater understanding of their ways of living. In southern Peru, meet the residents of Paucartambo and deep-dive into their multigenerational, UNESCO-recognised textile and weaving traditions; in July, the small town comes alive and draws large crowds by hosting the wildly colourful and wonderful Virgen del Carmen Festival. Ayacucho in south-central Peru is known for its 33 historic churches as well as its craft workshops, during which you can meet expert artisans and get to know the city’s heritage through art – try painting your very own traditional tabla de sarhua, if you’re feeling up to the challenge!

For a truly special getaway, head to the Chucuito Peninsula on the shores of Lake Titicaca to find Luquina Chico, a small town that brilliantly showcases the life of settlers in the Peruvian Andes; here, meet families and bed down in a traditional homestay; partake in typical activities such as artisanal fishing and boating across the lake’s stunning surface, and share rich and wholesome meals with the friendly locals.

Journey across lesser-visited landscapes

Beyond the surreal scenes of Machu Picchu and its surroundings, Peru certainly doesn’t lack out-of-this-world landscapes. Embark on the lesser-known trek to the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo, taking you through hamlets and across trails that offer splendid Sacred Valley views. For epic vistas of a different kind, plan a hike to the peak of Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain, so-called due to the sediment of minerals lending it a multicoloured appearance; there you’ll climb to an elevation of 5,200 m, for an outdoor experience that’s both energising and emblematic of Peru’s otherworldly beauty.

You could combine the latter with the Ausangate trek, a lesser-known option across which you’ll find the views to be both calming and embracing. The enormity of this part of the world will open itself up before you, as you soak in views of lakes, glaciers and seemingly endless Andean mountains capped in snow, dotted here and there with resident alpacas and llamas. More off-the-beaten-path marvels await in the protected Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve, which can be reached from Lima and offers an entrancing world of lagoons and waterfalls, as well as insight into local forest conservation efforts.

If this all sounds just a bit too invigorating for your liking, the PeruRail Titicaca Train from Cusco to Puno marries spectacular vistas of sprawling mountains and valleys, with the ease and luxury of travelling by rail; the train was in fact modelled after a 1920s Pullman, and on board you’ll enjoy afternoon tea, gourmet lunch, and even traditional Peruvian dancing.

Enjoy unique encounters with nature

Did you know that Peru is popular amongst surf enthusiasts? Venture along the shores of northern Peru, and you’ll find the world’s longest wave in Chicama (a dramatic sight to enjoy whether or not you’re gearing up to surf), the chilled-out and popular Máncora, and idyllic Punta Sal – a firm favourite for its smaller waves, opportunities for all-out relaxation, and resident marine life; you could organise an excursion out to sea for a better chance at spotting whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, and even whale sharks.

If you’re up for a somewhat less sporty adventure, we’d recommend a trip to the city of Iquitos: large and thriving yet remote and only accessible by plane or boat, it offers the chance to get away from the crowds and enjoy an immersive journey into the Peruvian Amazon. Wander around the port city and take in its vibrant atmosphere (its historic centre and open-air street market are particular draws), then set out to encounter a rich variety of flora and fauna – whether you’re boating down the iconic Amazon River, taking educational tours of wildlife conservation and rescue centres, or soaking up just some of Pacaya Samiria National Reserve’s incredible biodiversity.

Make it happen

Are you feeling inspired to uncover the secrets of Peru? Speak to one of our local experts today – they’ll help you craft a tailor-made itinerary for an unforgettable trip.

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