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]

Top ten cities to visit in 2011, according to Lonely Planet

Another decade is about to bite the dust, but the savvy travelers at Lonely Planet have given us a jump start on the hot list for 2011. They’ve just announced their picks for the world’s best cities to visit next year, and while you’ll find some of the usual suspects (New York, which will debut the National September 11 Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks), there are also some surprises. The great news? About half of these places are easy on the budget once you get there. Some list-makers, below:

Tangier, Morocco
Once derided as dirty and dangerous, this port city at the crossroads of Europe and Africa has undergone a major renovation and clean-up. A thriving arts, food, and shopping scene are drawing visitors.

Iquitos
, Peru
A major Amazonian trading port formerly known for its raucous nightlife, general mayhem, riverside shanties, and rubber-boom barons, Iquitos has gotten a major upgrade. Accessible only by air or boat, the city still has a rocking after-hours scene, but it’s also a “cultural hub” providing a “sultry slice of Amazon life.”

Delhi, India
The 2010 Commonwealth Games got the city into shape, there’s a “futuristic” Metro (who knew?) and 2011 marks the city’s 100th anniversary. Be prepared for lots of celebrations.

Not as wallet-friendly, but absolutely stunning:

Wellington, New Zealand
Nicknamed the “coolest little capital in the world,” this laidback, far southern North Island city has it all: a hopping food and wine scene, boutiques and galleries featuring NZ’s hottest designers and artists, a serious arts and culture scene that includes the world-famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and accommodations ranging from high-end hotel and styley boutique sleeps, to funky hostels and guesthouses. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy miles of hiking trails, city parks, hilly streets, and golden beaches.

What cities are on your personal 2011 must-visit list?

[Photo credits:Tangier, Flickr user Lumumo; Wellington, Flickr user 111 Emergency]

Gadling TAKE FIVE: Week of May 16–May 22

It’s been a week already since a bulk of Gadling writers descended upon Chicago. Now that Memorial Day weekend is upon us as a kick off to the summer, we’ve been gearing up to give you some tools for the road and ideas of where to head.

  • Sean, our newest Gadling blogger has graced us with a post on Oxford, England’s Pitt Rivers Museum. After it year of remodeling, the museum has reopened. Check out the gallery he’s included and details about the shrunken heads. The post is part of a new series Museum Junkie.
  • For anyone who has traveled with a pet, particularly a canine, finding a hotel that is happy to have Fido can be problematic. Annie’s post on the top five pet friendly budget hotel chains is a handy guide. I can vouch for La Quinta Inns, one of the suggestions. Staying there with our dog this past December was a breeze and it didn’t cost us one dime more.
  • Kraig, an adventurer to the max has been writing posts about his travels to the Amazon. The one on Iquitos, Peru covers what makes this region of the world so spectacular and is a starting off point for finding out what he discovered.
  • If you’re a “where did the film this scene?” kind of person, there’s a map designed just for you. Scott’s post on Where It’s At, a web site focused on pop culture landmarks is interactive. People can add the landmarks they know to help it grow.
  • As part of our budget summer travel series, Brenda suggests a trip to Molokai from Honolulu. It sounds simply fabulous.

Adventures in the Amazon: A Trip to the Market

Iquitos, Peru is, without a doubt, a unique city. Its colonial heritage can be seen at every turn, and its jungle roots can still be felt, despite the fact that modern conveniences have become a part of everyday life. No where is this contrasting lifestyle more evident then in the Belen district, home to a sprawling market that is loud, colorful, and hot.

The Belen Market is by far the largest in Iquitos, and people come from all over the city, and the surrounding jungle, to buy and sell their goods there. it can be approached by land or boat, and many of the merchants sell their goods from floating platforms and their own boats as well. When I visited Belen, it was Palm Sunday, and very crowded, so we elected to stroll through on foot rather than approach from the river.

The narrow streets are lined with stalls, and the crowds jam in tightly, examining the merchandise and haggling over prices. Thick plastic tarps are used to create makeshift awnings, and they prove their worth on the 270 days a year that it rains in the Amazon. While I was there, however, it was sunny, and hot, and those colorful tarps just trapped in the heat and cast an eerie blue or red glow over the entire place.

If the colors and heat don’t overwhelm you, the sounds just might. As you walk past the hundreds of tables, well stocked with a variety of goods, the merchants shout out prices and beckon for you to come nearer. The shoppers tend to shout right back with counter offers, which are met with a variety of reactions ranging from jubilation to outright disdain.. Some of the stalls have an old radio which contributes to the cacophony of the market, blaring out the unmistakable sounds of Latin music. The occasional scooter or motorbike adds to the din, puttering up the crowded streets, leaving exhaust in their wake.

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The real draw to this colorful market is the amazing array of things for sale. There are colorful fruits of all shapes and sizes, locally grown tobacco in a number of forms, unique meats, like monkey, turtle, and caiman, and of course, dozens of varieties of fish as well. The Amazon is the home for hundreds of species of fish, and most of them find their way into the market in a variety of sizes. Piranha were in abundance of course, as were Paiche, a species that can grow several meters in length.

One of the more interesting, and out of the way, sections of the Belen Market was a narrow alley where the merchants were selling home remedies and other concoctions. The stall that I stopped at had all kinds of odd looking elixirs poured into old coke bottles and a variety of jars. Most of them didn’t look appetizing in the least, but the young woman behind the table assured me that they could cure baldness, heal a variety of ailments, or serve as a powerful aphrodesiac. Each was made with planets and fruits gathered from the rainforest, and created from a formula that is passed down from one generation to the next verbally, and is committed to memory.

If you visit Belen, be sure to go early. I spent the morning there taking in the sights and marveling at the endless variety of things to purchase, but by late morning many of the shops were closing up, as they were either already out of their wares, or they were endanger of spoiling. This was especially the case for the meats and fish. The warm afternoon sun would make them go bad quickly, so if there was any hope of preserving them, they have to be removed quickly.

Visiting an open air market in a foreign country has always an interesting experience for me, and Belen continued that tradition. You get to see a “slice of life” from the place you are visiting, and a sense of how the locals life. You also learn about the local quisine as well, and if you’re luck, you might even get to sample some. In Belen, you can easily see the still very strong connections between the people of Iquitos and the Amazon.

Next: We head out on the river at last!

Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE

Adventures in the Amazon: Iquitos, Peru

The Amazon River Basin is an amazing place. It is a vast ecosystem with the most diverse array of plant and animal life found anywhere on the planet. It is also one of those iconic destinations that sparks visions of adventure, with thoughts of Indiana Jones raiding lost temples for golden idols. It was all of these things, and more, that spurred my recent visit to the Peruvian Amazon, seeking a little adventure of my own.

The Amazon River officially begins at the confluence of the Ucayalli and Marañon Rivers in the Maynas Province of Peru. The largest city and capital of that region is Iquitos, which also serves as the gateway to the Amazon headwaters. With a population of nearly 400,000, Iquitos holds the distinction of being the largest city in the world that is not accessible by road. The city sits on the banks of the river, and is encroached on at all sides by the rainforest. Visitors to the city must arrive by plane or boat, and many goods still need to be shipped in via the river.

Iquitos was originally founded as a Jesuit mission around 1750, but it remained relatively small until the 1860’s when it became the seat of government for the region. It remained a modest sized town until the early 20th century, when the rubber industry exploded, and the population of the city followed suit. The remnants of that era can still be found all over the city, with large mansions still in use, and colonial architecture dominating certain districts as well.

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Today, tourism has become one of the biggest industries, with adventure travelers making the journey to gain access to both the Amazon River and Jungle. But even with the increased tourist trade, Iquitos is still far off the beaten path for most, as many who go to Peru are there to hike the Inca Trail and pay a visit to Machu Picchu. Indeed, in my time in the city, I saw few people who could easily be identified as tourists at all.

Iquitos is clearly a town steeped in tradition. On Saturday nights the Plaza de Armas, one of the major town squares, is lit up like a carnival, with music playing, bright lights flashing, and food and drink in abundance. On Sunday morning, the same plaza hosts an elaborate flag ceremony, with soldiers and sailors stationed in the city, marching the square, while the flags of Peru, the Maynas Province, and the city are run up the pole to great pomp and circumstance. Locals line the street watching the proceedings, as if they are watching the weekly ceremony for the first time.

Despite the fact that Iquitos is a fairly large city, the people that live there still have a sense of harmony with the Amazon. It may be the largest city in the region, but it is still a jungle town at heart, and that is reflected in the way its inhabitants live. Many of their homes are literally right on the water, and plenty still depend on the jungle in one fashion or another, for their livelihood. The town markets are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and other meats harvested from the Amazon.

Iquitos is indeed a fascinating and lively place, with a rich history. But its real allure is the huge natural resource that surrounds it, and in upcoming stories, I’ll share my experiences there. It is filled with life, both plant and animal, but also plenty of people as well. And the diversity of all three is amazing to behold.

Next: A Visit to the Market

Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE.