Peru is a fascinating country, full of historical artifacts, a unique cuisine, and plenty of opportunities for adventure. So it’s a pity that most visitors to Peru fly into Lima, hop across to Cusco, visit Machu Picchu, and leave again. There’s a lot more to this South American country than just ruins — even if they are possibly the most famous ruins in the world. So, what should you do to get the most out of your visit to Peru?
Eat and drink
I assume you’ll be doing this anyway, but there are certain things you shouldn’t miss. Ceviche, a delicious raw-fish salad, can be found everywhere from five-star restaurants to roadside stalls, served in plastic cups.
You should try cuy at least once, even if the idea of eating guinea pig makes you a bit squeamish — it comes either roasted or fried, and getting around the tiny bones is an experience in itself.
Peru’s national soft drink is the omnipresent, fluorescent-yellow Inca Kola — which doesn’t taste like cola at all. It tastes… yellow. More delicious is the Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from Pisco, sugar, lemon, and egg white; its origin is disputed as Chile also claims it as its own, but it’s equally delicious in both countries.
Get out on the water
Lake Titicaca forms part of the border between Peru and Bolivia, and both countries offer excursions and activities on the lake. The most popular option on the Peruvian side is an overnight tour starting from Puno. You’ll visit the floating villages, hike to the top of Amantani Island, where you’ll spend the night with a local family, and also visit Taquile Island and check out the hand-woven goods.
It’s touristy, sure, but if you look closely enough you can see what traditional life might have looked like before we disneyfied it.
Learn to surf
Talking of coastlines, Huanchaco near Trujillo is a relaxed little township that caters to foreign surfers and a unique brand of fishermen: for generations they’ve been surfing in with the day’s catch on their small reed boats. Even if you just visit for the day, it’s something special to see them rolling into shore in the twilight. The waves here are said to be some of the most consistent in the world, which makes for a great learning environment… For surfing, rather than fishing.
Sand-board by a desert oasis
Find yourself in an oasis township, and make use of all the desert has to offer: sandboarding, 4×4 adventures, or an overnight camping safari which takes you out to the coast. All that, along with some great backpacker bars, can be found in Huacachina, not too far from Ica — another town worth visiting for its fantastic winery experiences.
5) See ruins
Well, I can’t dispute the fact that Machu Picchu is magnificent, and it has its place on any list of things to do in Peru. But these aren’t the only ruins in the country. Around Cusco there’s Tipon, Sacsayhuaman, and the Moray, and there are several others within a half-day’s journey. My personal favourite complex is further north: Kuelap, accessible on a day trip from Chachapoyas — this was one of the last towns to withstand the invasion of the Incas, who held it for only a few years before being taken over by the Spanish.
While you’re up that far north, spend a few days in Chiclayo, where there is an excellent museum called Señor de Sipan. It displays and documents all the artefacts that were found in a nearby tomb — the richness of the goods testifies to the fact that its occupant was a very important person.