When planning a trip to Peru, many people focus on the two popular cities of Cuzco and Lima, unsure of what else to include on the itinerary. The reality is, adding some lesser-known yet worthwhile cities into the mix can really enhance a trip to this Andean country.
You can easily waste weeks in this laid-back beach town without even noticing it. Mancora is a great place to visit if you enjoy surfing, beach sports, morning yoga on the shore or just doing nothing. The town is also an excellent home base if you’re interested in visiting the fishing village of Cabo Blanco. This is where the famous author Ernest Hemingway used to hang out, drink Pisco Sours and pen classics like “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Visiting Pisco will allow you to visit one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places in the world, the Islas Ballestas. Commonly referred to as the poor man’s Galapagos, these small islands feature seals, penguins, blue-footed boobies, guanay guano birds and other marine wildlife. Additionally, Pisco is close to Paracas National Reservation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only marine reservation in Peru. Often considered one of the richest yet most bizarre ecosystems, you’ll find animals like penguins, sea lions, marine cats, black ostrich, dolphins, purple crabs and chita fish. For a bit of history in Pisco, make sure to visit Tambo Colorado. It’s an ancient adobe-style Inca fort that’s been well preserved, with mazes and various rooms to explore. You’ll also see the red, yellow and white painted walls from Inca times.
This city in northwestern Peru is full of history and culture. Visit the well-preserved ruins site of Chan Chan, which is considered the largest pre-Hispanic mud brick settlement in the Americas. Its origin dates back to the beginnings of the first millennium A.D. When in Trujillo, there is also an interesting archaeological complex called El Brujo. It dates back to the Moche culture from 100 B.C. to 650 A.D., and is thought to have been used for religious ceremonies. There is also an interesting museum about the site worth checking out. For more Moche history, travelers to Trujillo can also visit the Moche Pyramids, Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. Literally translating to “Pyramid of the Sun” and “Pyramid of the Moon,” this is where it is believed priests carried out bloody human sacrifices.
While there isn’t too much beauty in the actual city of Puno, you will find a lot of culture. Indigenous markets, authentic eateries serving three course meals for $1 and an array of unique transportation modes like go-karts and tuk-tuks abound. The main reason to go to Puno, however, is for the boat trips to the more beautiful areas of Lake Titicaca. Visit the man-made floating islands of Uros, made entirely out of reeds, while meeting the indigenous Uru people. You can also take a boat ride out to the traditional collectivist island of Taquile, known for its untouched beauty and locals who make handwoven textiles and clothing. These handicrafts are said to be of the highest quality in Peru. Moreover, the island has a unique method of tourism where cultural programming and homestays are the focus, which allows you to really get to know the people and their way of life.
Huaraz is a hiker’s paradise, and if you love unusual landscapes, this is a city you must visit on a vacation to Peru. It’s in the Cordillera Blanca region, an area of Peru’s Northern Sierra. Trekkers can go to the “House of Guides” for complimentary trail information. If you’re looking for a lengthy hike, go from Santa Cruz to Llanganuco. This four- to five-day excursion reaches 15,583 feet and allows you views of Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak, beautiful valleys and crystal lakes. Along with hiking, visitors can enjoy mountaineering, rock climbing, biking, markets, archaeological sites, museums and parks.
The main reason to visit the town of Chivay is to take in the natural beauty of “the world’s deepest canyon,” Colca Canyon. At 13,650 feet deep, it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Hike the volcanic landscape, view ancient cave art and take in the unique scenery of the area. In Chivay, you’ll also be able to enjoy natural hot springs, an astronomical observatory and cultural markets.
If you love surfing, the beach town of Huanchaco is the perfect place to add to your Peru itinerary. Surfers of all levels can enjoy the good wind and swell direction, with swells ranging from 3 feet to 8 feet or more. It can also be interesting to learn about the ancient fishing tradition that is still practiced today. You’ll notice numerous “cabalitos de torta,” or “little reed horses.” They get their name from the way they are straddled by fishermen when taking their nets into the water to catch fish. Interestingly, these boats are made of the same reeds used by the people of the Uros Islands to create their man-made floating islands. For a bit of culture, visit the town center of Huanchaco with colonial architecture, historic churches and peaceful squares.
Located in the Amazonas region of Peru, Iquitos offers opportunities to visit the largest tropical forest in the world, the Amazon Jungle. Adventurous travelers can take boat rides to view wildlife such as crocodiles, anacondas, monkeys, boas and more. There’s also trekking, visiting indigenous communities and bird watching on the Amazon tours. Other experiences to have in Iquitos include visiting butterfly farms, monkey sanctuaries, manatee orphanages, animal rescue centers and national reserves.
The main reason people visit Nazca is to see the famous Nazca Lines, the ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was believed to have been created by an ancient Nazca culture between 400 and 650 A.D., can be enjoyed on land or by viewing the site overhead from a helicopter. The Nazca Lines, however, aren’t the only reason to visit this city. There’s also hiking, sandboarding, a vibrant Sunday market, the Pardeones Ruins and Chauchilla Cemetery, which is full of mummified bodies.
The second most popular city in Peru, Arequipa lies in the Andes Mountains with excellent views of El Misti Volcano, which you’ll be able to climb if you wish. Walking around, you’ll notice Spanish-style buildings from colonial times made of pearly-white volcanic rock. Because of this unique architecture, Arequipa’s historical center was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000. Other activities of interest in the city include visiting the traditional neighborhood of Yanahuara, exploring the Santa Teresa Convent & Museum of Colonial Art and trekking through the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve.