10 Travel Destinations In Peru Besides Cuzco And Lima

mancoraWhen 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.

Mancora

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.”

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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.

Trujillo

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.

puno Puno

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

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.

Chivay

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.

Huanchaco

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.

amazon jungle Iquitos

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.

Nazca

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.

Arequipa

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.

[Above images via Jessie on a Journey; Gallery images via Big Stock, AgainErick, and Jessie on a Journey]

Peruvian adventure travel and agritourism on Lake Titicaca’s Isla Amantani

While I sat at the table with her young son, Ayun, I watched Imeliana Calcin stuff wood into the stove. Although she’d greeted me at the boat dock in a skirt and faded t-shirt, she’d changed as soon as we arrived at her family’s tiny adobe house. Now, clad in the intricately-embroidered white blouse and headscarf for which the women of Isla Amantani are famed, she was preparing sopa de quinoa for our lunch.

I was on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the
unfortunately-named, highest commercially navigable lake in the world. Amantani, like neighboring Isla Taquile, is a small, natural island (not to be confused with the famous, totora reed “Floating Islands” elsewhere on the lake) populated solely by subsistence farmers like the Calcin’s.

Since the mid-eighties, agritourism has helped provide income to the islanders. Visitors stay in modest guest rooms, or share a dwelling with families, joining meals and even helping with seasonal crop harvests, if they so desire. The islanders hold frequent dances to provide visitors a chance to interact with the communities, and learn more about Amantani’s culture.

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Otherwise, there’s no other real tourism infrastructure on Amantani-no restaurants, bars, or shops, although the locals sell their embroidery at the dock. The farmstays are arranged by tour operators in the lakeside city of Puno, or through adventure travel agencies such Northern California’s Bio Bio Expeditions, the company I booked with.

The residents of Amantani and Taquile speak Quechua, the language used by various cultural groups throughout South America. The islanders, however, are more closely related to the Aymara people of the Altiplano of the Central Andes. The approximately 800 residents eke out an existence by growing quinoa, trigo (emmer wheat), corn, potatoes, and oca (a type of sweet potato); and raising sheep, chickens, pigs, alpacas, and cuy (guinea pigs, a typical indigenous dish throughout Peru). They make a mild, salty queso fresco from the milk of their cows, and sun-dry part of their potato crop to make chũno, which can be reconstituted in soups and stews for sustenance throughout the harsh winter.
I first heard about the island the previous year, while running Chilean Patagonia’s wild Futaleufu River on a Bio Bio trip.

I was really impressed by Bio Bio’s genuine regard for preserving the ecological and cultural integrity of their host countries. After learning of my interest in agritourism, Peruvian guide Piero Vellutino told me about Amantani, and suggested I visit the following summer, during the dry season. Piero-whose family is famed for their whitewater expeditions and first ascents- is National Peruvian Kayaking Champion, and an all-around badass. He and his wife, Patty, are also the Peruvian base outfitter for Bio Bio. Their company, Terra Explorer Peru, is based in Cusco, and together, the companies offer customized cultural extension trips such as cooking classes and market tours, because, Piero explains, “that’s what makes places special and distinct from one another. Water is the same everywhere.”

I booked a trip with Bio Bio to run the Apurimac River and walk the Inca Trail, then added two days on Amantani-which has excellent sea kayaking, and plenty of walking trails. Due to time constraint, I was unable to sea kayak, and instead opted to focus on food. That’s how I ended up in Imeliana’s kitchen (which also happened to be her famiy’s dining and living room, as well as bedroom). Ayun and I snacked on choclo, boiled native corn harvested that morning by his father, Esmael. When he’s not tending to his crops, Esmael can be found down by the boat dock selling blended fruit juices from a collapsible table. Entrepreneurial spirit is a necessity to support his and Imeliana’s six children, but they were genuinely sweet, gracious hosts who made me feel a part of the family.

The Calcin’s live in Colquercachi community, the largest on the tiny island. Through sign language and rudimentary Spanish on both our parts, Imeliana taught me how to prepare the soup, and described typical meals- primarily some type of grain-based soup or stew, rice and boiled potatoes, and corn. When lunch was served-brothy soup augmented with greens, potato, carrot, and onion, accompanied by fried queso fresco, and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes- several of the children straggled in from school to pick up their lunch. Imeliana portioned their meals onto aluminum plates, wrapped them in cloth, tying the ends into a handle, and sent them on their way with a dazzling smile. The meal concluded with muňa tea, a mint-like herb prized for it’s medicinal properties.

After lunch, I hiked to Pachatata, the highest point on the desolate, nine-kilometer island. I passed women harvesting potatoes in brick-red dirt fields, and men carrying sheaves of trigo upon their shoulders. At the “summit,” there is a small temple used for private rituals and feast days. Spread out beneath me in all directions lay terraced farm plots, divided by low rock walls. Far across the lake, the snow-covered Bolivian Andes were visible. Amantani is wild, and lonely, and emblematic of a way of life that-for better or for worse- has changed little in thousands of years. It’s not a luxury holiday, but it’s a rich experience that helps preserve a globally vanishing way of life.

If you visit Amantani or Taquile, it is appropriate to bring a house gift such as fresh fruit, which is difficult to find on the island, or staples such as rice, sugar, or flour. Donated clothing for the island’s children is also appreciated.

LAN offers flights from Lima to Juliaca, which shares an airport with Puno (one hour by minibus). Alternatively, you can take a coach from Arequipa or Cuzco (five and six hours, respectively). If you’re traveling alone to Puno by bus, be sure to book a trip that gets in at a reasonable hour. I ended up arriving at 4am, and the Puno bus station (or any bus station, really) isn’t somewhere you want to be, alone, at that hour.

Sopa de Quinoa
Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes since approximately 3,000 BC. It has a mild, nutty flavor, and is a complete protein (meaning it has all the essential amino acids). Substitute it for couscous or rice in soups and salads, or as an accompaniment to meat or vegetarian dishes. This recipe is actually one I obtained from a dairy I visited in Ecuador; it differs from Imeliana’s in that it contains…dairy. But it’s so unbelievably delicious, especially when made with pasture-raised eggs, and good-quality milk, butter, and cheese, that I had to include it.

Recipe courtesy of chef Jose Maria Pumisacho, Hacienda Zuleta

Serves four

2 cups quinoa
6 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 scallions, white part only, sliced
1/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup of milk
yolks of two large eggs
½ cup of grated, semi-firm cheese that melts well, such as Gruyere
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put water into a stockpot, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, add quinoa, and cover the pot, stirring occasionally. Cook quinoa for approximately one- to one-and a half hours, or until the grains are soft.
While quinoa is cooking heat an eight-inch frying pan over medium heat, add butter, and when butter is melted, add onions and cook until transparent. When quinoa is ready, add onions and half of the milk to the quinoa and bring to a boil for five minutes, then reduce heat and let simmer.

While quinoa mixture is simmering, add egg yolks, the remaining milk, cream, and cheese in a blender, and process for one minute. Add this mixture to the soup right before serving, and stir it into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Photo of the Day (4/21/07)

Dessert Time

My reasons for picking today’s shot out of Peru as captured by viscidleigh on Day 9 in Puno’s Plaza Mayor are many. First off, the mysterious woman delivering or selling what must be one tempting dessert reminds me of a doll I once had as a child that uncle brought all the way back from South America. Also, I love the fact that we can’t see her face and that the photographer seems sooo close behind as if sneaking up to nab one of the delicious jello looking treats. Another thing that strikes me is how clean the streets look.

If you’d like to see your mysterious person, dessert, and urban vacation travel photo work featured on Gadling, be sure to place them in our Flickr pool