Posted by: Jessie Kwak | February 3, 2010

Peru: beyond Machu Picchu

If you’re planning travel to Machu Picchu, it will likely be closed through March. In Cusco city and the Sacred Valley, a myriad of other historical sites (Inca and pre-Inca) will still be available to visit, as will the entire rest of this amazingly diverse and beautiful country. Between the coast, the mountainous sierra and the jungle, a wealth of adventures awaits. (Video from PromPeru).

Traveling Peru’s Southern Circuit

While Machu Picchu has long been considered Peru’s main attraction (sometimes the only attraction), most travelers visit the ruins as part of a larger circuit. Machu Picchu may be taking a long-needed break from visitors, but that just leaves time to more fully explore the rest of Peru’s Southern Circuit. If you had your heart set on hiking to an undiscovered Inca citadel, try the equally majestic and less-touristy Choquequirao.

(Too many words? If you prefer to be inspired by photos, check out Robert’s Flickr page.)

Paracas Reserve and the Islas Ballestas (Ica Department): A wildlife-rich reserve several hours south of Lima where visitors have a chance to see colonies of sea lions, Humboldt penguins, flamingoes, and dolphins, as well as dozens of migrating bird species.

Ica and Huacachina (Ica Department): Set in the middle of Peru’s southern coastal desert, Ica is a major center of Peru’s wine and pisco production. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adrenaline, you’ll find it here. Spend the day wine tasting, or hit the dunes to try the unique sport of sand boarding.

Nazca lines (Ica Department): These mysterious lines etched in the desert have attracted almost as many theories as they have visitors. Take a flight over them and catch a glimpse of the Hummingbird, the Monkey, the Astronaut, and dozens of others.

Arequipa and Colca Canyon (Arequipa Department): Beautiful Arequipa is known as “the white city” for the volcanic sillar that many of its colonial buildings are constructed of. The nearby area, including Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US) is known for its scenery, trekking, and white-water rafting.

Puno and Lake Titicaca (Puno Department): Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake, and home to the fascinating floating islands of Uros, the stationary islands of Taquile and Amantani, as well as the ruins of Inca and pre-Inca cultures.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley (Cusco Department): Cusco was the capitol of the Inca Empire, and so is surrounded by literally hundreds of Inca ruins. The Sacred Valley is full of of places to visit, the most traveled-through being Ollantaytambo, a city worth exploring on its own merits.

Travel to Northern Peru

If you’re interested in archaeology, check out this article I wrote on pre-Inca sites in Northern Peru

Caral (Lima Department): Ruins from the oldest civilization in South America (from 2500 BC), this site is only a few hours north of Lima.

Huaraz (Huaraz Department): The best place for hiking and trekking in Peru, Huaraz is bursting with adventures. Visit Peru’s receding glaciers, go mountain climbing, or take a hike like the Santa Cruz trek through the Cordillera Blanca.

Cajamarca (Cajamarca Department): A pretty Spanish colonial town set amid gorgeous mountains, ingenious ancient aqueducts, and Inca hot springs, Cajamarca is renowned for its carnival celebrations.

Chachapoyas (Amazonas Department): I can’t say enough about how great this under-explored region is. The grand fortress of Kuelap. Towering hidden waterfalls. Ancient mausoleums. Spectacular roads. Mummies! Fantastically beautiful trekking.

Northern Peru’s beaches (La Libertad Department): Home to the sprawling adobe city Chan Chan, as well as some of Peru’s best surfing in Huanchaco. Nearby Chicama is home to the longest left-hand wave in the world. Need some more surfing (or just want to work on your tan)? Head up to Mancora.

What we missed

Obviously an article this short will miss plenty of things.

Looking for more ideas? Take the world’s second-highest passenger train up into the Andes to visit the quaint towns such as Huancavelica. Go spelunking in one of South America’s deepest caves. Head down the river to Iquitos or visit the Manu Reserve to experience untouched jungle.

Welcome to Peru!

Resources to get you on your way:

Prom Peru has some fascinating and informative Virtual Tours of Peru (in English and Spanish), panoramic videos of nine different major sites. They also have brochures available for download, and a wealth of information on the activities, sites and culture of Peru.

Check out their YouTube channel of promotional videos, as well.

Rumbos Online: The Travel Magazine of Peru. A listing of various travel articles published in Rumbos del Peru, organized by theme and destination, and searchable by keywords. In English.

[Update (Feb 4): Stuart Stars has reposted this article with some great extra information on his En Peru Blog: Without Machu Picchu you’ll enjoy the trip of a lifetime.]



  1. Thanks for the links, Jessie!

    • Thanks for the great Choquequirao article!

  2. Were you guys trapped in Machu Picchu because of the rain? It was all over the news!

    • We were leaving Pisac after one of the first nights of heavy rain, and there were massive boulders and mudslides all over the road. We breathed a sigh of relief that the road was still passable, and left Cusco the next day.

      The day after that, sitting in warm, dry Arequipa, we started reading all the news about what problems the continuing rain had caused. Very crazy–we just missed it by 24 hours!

  3. […] article is heavily based on the original by Jessie Kwak found here. A few of the thumbnails are of photos taken by Robert Kittilson and Marcos Granda. The video is by […]

  4. Really? Wow, you guys were really lucky then! I’m glad to hear that, because it got ugly there. I too plan to go on a road trip around South America when I finish college. I loved your website! Will be coming more often. ;)

  5. What I love about the video is that of 5:13 minutes, only 15 seconds have anything to do with Machu Picchu. A bit of prospective, no?

  6. […] However I just wanted to bring awareness like a lot of my fellow bloggers (Stuart Starrs and Jessie Kwak) that Machu Picchu is a small part of Peru, if us Peruvians hype it up it’s only because we […]

  7. Jessie, thanks for the links on the other website you posted yesterday. After reading through all your postings on your blog it’s made me realize I don’t know enough about Peru and am going to have to plan at least several more trips. The back packing up north to Kuelap sounds way cool. While I still want to do Machu Picchu/Inca trail some time I like the idea of getting off the beaten path where there are fewer crowds. Thanks again!


    • Glad we could help! We had fun traveling in Peru, and even more fun writing and telling other people about it. Enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to report back to let us know how your trip went.

  8. […] possible “alternatives” to visiting Machu Picchu. (The knkexplore blog’s “Peru: Beyond Machu Picchu” is a good starting point). Even the national tourism agency has launched the “Meet […]

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