You’ve seen the brochures – Machu Picchu treks, Lake Titicaca, surfing in Mancora.
You’ve watched the travel specials. You’ve barely contained your jealousy as friends and family members have come home bursting with stories about their time in Peru.
Now it’s your turn.
Here are things to do in Peru besides Machu Picchu. OK – we had to get it out of our system, so we’ll hit Machu Picchu first and then promise to never utter those two words again because just about everyone is talking about it. It is epic – it is breathtaking, but so are the other Peruvian destinations we feature:
- Lake Titicaca
- Surfing Mancora
- The incredible Peruvian food & drink
So buckle up. We’re heading south to the land of the Incas.
It’s hard to put this one in words, so we’ll keep it simple: no trip to Peru is complete without feasting your eyes upon this magical, mystical, jaw-droppingly incredible lost city of the Incas.
This ancient city sits 7,000 feet above sea level, nestled between the Andean Mountains and overlooking the Urabamba Valley.
With its unbeatable combination of dramatic ruins and soaring mountains you’ll spend the next few days scratching your head and wondering if what you’ve seen could possibly be real. But it is. And now you can tick it off your bucket list.
If you need a few days to kick back and let your Machu Picchu experience sink in, Cusco is the place to do it.
Cusco is the heart of the Incan empire, and thanks to a 3400 metre altitude it will literally take your breath away.
There are loads of tourists, but everyone is here for the same reason. So you’re more likely to find yourself sharing a beer with someone rather than jostling with them for the best photo vantage point.
Nearby Pisac has a lively market, and it’s the perfect place to pick up all your Peruvian souvenirs, like alpaca goodies and colourful woven blankets.
Spend your days getting lost among the cobblestone streets, then come up for air in one of Cusco’s many lively bars or pubs.
You’ll see heaps of Incan ruins and some gorgeous Spanish colonial mansions. Do yourself a favour up and hike up to Sacsayhuamán (misleadingly pronounced ‘sexy woman’) so at the very least you’ll feel you’ve earned that Pisco Sour.
Peruvian Food & Drink
Forget everything you knew about your pet guinea pig. These delectable little critters have been baked, fried, barbecued and devoured in the Andes for centuries. And I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be hooked after your first bite.
Named after the little squeaking noise it makes (prior to cooking!), cuy has a gamey flavour, sort of like quail or rabbit, and tastes best when ordered in the highlands where it’s fresh.
Be aware that most cuy is served with the head, feet, and teeth still attached. But if it’s good enough for Incan royalty, it’s good enough for us!
If something is billed as being “fresh, natural, low fat, low carb and gluten free” I’ll generally steer clear. I like my food to be full fat with all the trimmings, thanks. But ceviche is the exception to the rule. Commonly known as the “national dish of Peru” it’s basically chunks of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice. Depending which region you’re in, it’s served with things like red onion, salt and pepper, sweet potato, toasted corn, garlic, popular Andean chilli rocoto or yuyo (seaweed). Drooling yet?
When the sun goes down, the Pisco Sours are bound to come out. In fact, they’re still rather good while the sun is up! Pisco is a clear grape brandy produced in Peru since the 1520s. Mixed with lemon or lime juice, sugar and some beaten egg whites, the Pisco Sour is a sweet, tart and deceptively potent little cocktail.
And if you’re feeling the effects the morning after, ask for a shot of Leche de Tigre with your breakfast. It’s a dash of Pisco mixed with the marinade from ceviche, and is said to be a great hangover cure…as well as an aphrodisiac. You’ve been warned.
Homestay on Lake Titicaca
You’ll see them before you’ve even set foot on the islands – dozens of smiling women waving their colourful woven shawls, waiting to greet you on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
As soon as you’re off the boat, you’ll be ushered into your host home and made to feel welcome. Before long you’ll be sipping Munay tea and munching on a hearty meal with your host family, each of you yammering away in a different language but still somehow managing to communicate.
The impact of tourism on the islands surrounding the lake is carefully controlled and there are no hotels, hence why all visitors are required to stay with a family.
Ever played soccer at 11,500 feet? These guys have, and they’re not ashamed to run you ragged until sunset. Then they’ll dress you up in the traditional garb and take you off to the local disco, where you’ll be dragged onto the dance floor as pan flutes, drums, and guitars keep a rollicking rhythm.
It’s a good idea to take a gift for your host family, usually books or soccer balls for the kids and some essentials such as flour or sugar for the kitchen. And don’t even try to get away without purchasing some of the local handicrafts. After all, a poncho bought is a poncho gained.
You can’t talk about surfing Peru without making mention of Mancora, the largest left-hand point break in the world. Situated on the northern coast of Peru, it’s renowned for having blue skies and incredible surf all year round.
It has a wider variety of waves than the Central Peru or Lima area, so it’s ideal for beginners. And thanks to the influence of the Panama current the water is really warm, so for most of the year you won’t even need your wetsuit.
When you’re done catching waves, kick back with a beer and some fresh ceviche from one of the many kiosks and bars that dot the main street, and let Mancora’s relaxed vibe do the rest.
Gecko’s provides authentic travel experiences around the world – with local guides, small groups and a focus on responsible travel.
Photo courtesy of szeke.