10 Sights to See In Peru (That Aren’t Machu Picchu)

Go for the Inca ruins, sure. But we’ve got 10 more amazing sights to see in Peru that will make your trip just as worthwhile.

Known for its remarkable history, impressive beauty and sheer biodiversity (it boasts 84 ecosystems, ranging from old growth rainforests to desert sands), Peru has an abundance—almost an overabundance—of attractions. Of course, the  main sight to see in Peru is magnificent Machu Picchu, a long-lost 15th-century Inca city tucked among cloud-shrouded peaks in the center of a tropical mountain forest. But there’s more to Peru than the pictures of ancient Inca ruins splashed on the covers of guidebooks might lead you to believe.

Squirrel monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest

Photo: Thinkstock

1. Amazon Basin

Peru’s Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse areas on earth, a densely forested jungle habitat for wildlife that runs the spectrum from jaguars and giant gladiator tree frogs to scarlet macaws and hundreds of other bird species. Start your explorations in the laid-back town of Puerto Maldonado. From there, guides can take you farther up the Tambopata River and well into the wild where avid anglers or adventurous novice fishermen can try their hand at piranha fishing.

2. Nazca Lines

Soar above the desert landscape (on a pre-booked flight) to view the famous carvings that stretch some 37 miles across the desert. These enormous geoglyphs—carvings that incorporate straight lines and geometric shapes—and biomorphs— carvings that take on the form of animals, plants or humans—are thought to have been created by ancient civilizations sometime between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500.

3. Cusco and Peru’s Sacred Valley

Just over an hour’s flight inland from Lima, Cusco and Peru’s Sacred Valley feel like another world entirely and are definitely sights to see in Peru. Many travelers opt to spend a few days exploring the city and acclimating to the elevation (try the local remedy for altitude sickness—coca tea) before making a trip to Machu Picchu, but insiders know Cusco and the surrounding area are much more than just a stopover city. Here you’ll find emerald hillsides, isolated villages and mind-boggling archaeological wonders, all surrounded by snow-capped Andean peaks.

Ballestas Islands, Paracas National Reserve

Photo: Thinkstock

4. Paracas National Reserve

Known by some as the “poor man’s Galapagos,” Paracas National Reserve may be a bit easier on the wallet, but it’s no less the richer when it comes to unique wildlife. Take a boat tour around the coast and to some of the islands offshore to see a variety of marine life, land mammals and birds, including blue-footed boobies, penguins, flamingos, sea lions, whales, sea turtles and more.

5. Village of Pisac

Shop the village’s bustling, open-air market. Within walking distance of ancient Inca ruins, you’ll find everything from piping-hot empanadas to hand-woven alpaca sweaters. Or visit the Chinchero textile center, where women using traditional techniques teach the art of weaving fabric and using natural dyes.

Ollantaytambo Inca fortress

Photo: Thinkstock

6. Salktantay Trek

Unlike Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu, which are hugely popular and book months in advance, this lesser-known path offers the same awe-inspiring experience without the crowds. If you decide to do the arduous trek (not for the casual hiker), you need the right equipment and the expert services of a local guide. For something more leisurely that still offers awe-inspiring views, travel the region by scenic railway.

Uros floating islands

Photo: Thinkstock

7. Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands

This 50-mile-wide mountain lake on the border of Peru and Bolivia is the world’s highest navigable lake. The Incas believed Lake Titicaca to be the birthplace of civilization, and the area still hosts a wealth of monuments and ruins. But the lake’s most unusual feature is the Uros Islands. Inhabitants use totora, a type of reed found in the lake’s shallow portions, to constantly reconstruct more than 40 of these floating man-made islands.

8. Sand Sports in Huacachina

Sun worshipers and wine connoisseurs are known to flock to Peru’s southern Ica region. But daredevils stake their claim one of the coolest sights to see in Peru, the region’s towering sand dunes—the perfect spot for giving sandboarding a go. If that sounds a little high on the adrenaline scale, you can always opt for a dune buggy ride.

9. Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Guarded by a trio of volcanoes, Arequipa offers both scenery and substance. A must-see is Santa Catalina Monastery, a complex of structures and plazas where the city’s cloistered nuns have lived for centuries. Don’t miss a side trip to Colca Canyon. Twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon and home to Andean condors and incredible hiking trails, the gorge cleaves a valley where locals cultivate crops on terraced hillsides and flocks of alpaca graze plateaus and meadows.

10. Peruvian Urban Life

Explore grand, colonial-era palaces, stunning cathedrals and ornate wooden balconies overlooking the area’s many brightly painted facades in Lima, Peru’s vibrant capital. Be sure to check out the haunting catacombs of San Francisco Monastery, a former underground burial site that’s open to visitors. Or sip a frothy pisco sour (Peru’s national cocktail made with a brandy distilled from wine) in the hip, upscale Miraflores district where you’ll encounter some of the city’s best dining and nightlife, as well as a picture-perfect beachfront setting.

If these 10 sights to see in Peru don’t have you convinced, check out this video.

Want to see all that Peru has to offer? Check out our “Peru Explorer” tour and experience our top 10 reasons to visit Peru firsthand.

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Marco Ruiz, AAA Travel Counselor, Monterey, Calif.

I love to suggest Italy and Spain because of the culture and the flair of the people–their fashions, language and way of life. They take time to enjoy life's pleasures. When you're there, you feel it, too.

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