Here’s the thing — Machu Picchu is incredible. From the spectacular views on the drive to the train station to the stunning vistas you’re privy to on the ride up the mountain, keeping your expectations contained can be a challenge. Even the outright terror of rounding every corner on the serpentine road to the peak is phenomenal, as is taking in the awe-inspiring Incan relic. But just as there’s more to Rome than the cathedrals, Peru is much more than the Lost City. Here, a handful of the country’s many standouts.
Arequipa, Southwestern Peru
Also known as the White City since most of its buildings are made from a local white volcanic stone, Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest metropolis. Here, mountains are used as billboards, road-side bull-fighting signs are a normal occurrence, and “Juanita the Mummy” — the young, sacrificial victim offered to the Andes mountains between 1450 and 1480, and discovered in 1995 — is one of its main draws. (From May to November in Museo Santuarios Andinos, you can catch a glimpse of the carefully preserved body.) The city’s Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which occupies an entire block and is guarded by stalwart towering walls, adds its own flavour of charm. Not your average convent, it was founded in 1580 by a wealthy widow, and at 20,000 square metres, it’s also one of the best-preserved and most fascinating religious buildings in the country. Also worth seeing: Canon del Colca. A three-hour drive from Arequipa, this massive hole in the ground measures 100 kilometres long and is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon — it makes North America’s largest pit look wee in comparison.
Cusco, South Central Peru
Nestled in the southern highlands, Cusco is brimming with gasp-inducing mountainous views and lush greenery. Home to Machu Picchu, the site is exhilarating, but the Lost City is just one attraction worthy of your time. Pisaq Market is a mecca for hagglers and souvenir aficionados with all manner of handicrafts, jewellery, minerals, spices and indigenous foods. At ChocoMuseo, where admission is free, diehard sweet-tootheds are invited to make their own chocolate, indulge in cacao tea, fondue, iced chocolate and experience a chocolate tasting with local Peruvian coffee. And then there’s the savoury food. While it’s fair to say the entire country is a foodie mecca, heading to picturesque Huaypo Lake for a five-star picnic hosted and catered by Cicciolina restaurant while taking in the surrounding green mountains is well worth the 45-minute drive. (Try the ceviche, which Peruvians claim as their own.)
Lima is dubbed the Garden City and is as diverse as they come
Lima, Central Coast
The fourth-largest city in Latin America and Peru’s most populated, Lima is dubbed the Garden City and is as diverse as they come. Founded by Spanish conquistadors, it’s home to many distinct neighbourhoods and cultures, and is peppered with unique cultural experiences and attractions. It’s also bustling, with streets so jammed they’d make the most seasoned New York City cabbie weep. Yet it’s worth braving the madness to sleuth out the many museums and galleries throughout the city. Two must-sees are Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which showcases pre-Colombian artifacts, and the Gold Museum, highlighting, well, just that. Also worth a visit is the village of Pachacamac, some 40 kilometres south of Lima. The home of Ulises Moreno, a retired plant physiologist turned agronomist, it’s completely powered by renewable energy created from the droppings of guinea pigs — one of Peru’s favourite delicacies. Take a tour of the “ranch” as Moreno explains why their poop packs a punch, and how more than 100 fruit and vegetable species growing on-property reap the benefits, and finish the experience with the nation’s choice beverage, a freshly concocted Pisco Sour.
Paracas, Southwest Coast
Located three hours south of Lima in the Pisco valley, here’s where you’ll find the famed Nazca Lines, one of the first vineyards ever planted in the New World, and the picturesque Ballestas Islands — otherwise known as the baby Galapagos, where scores of dolphins, sea lions, flamingos, pelicans and boobies thrive. It’s also here you’ll find seaside beauty to rival that of any Riviera, as well as the Paracas Candelabra, a prehistoric geoglyph measuring almost 600 feet that’s been mysteriously carved into a peninsula ridge. Also nearby is the California Desert, the most arid of its kind in the world, which presents visitors with a rare opportunity for adventure. Sand surfing is a popular undertaking here, as is riding full speed in a 4×4 up, over and around sand dunes, some of which measure 200 feet. An hour-long tour is a must before sunset, as is a light meal and glass of Champagne in a Bedouin-style tent once the sun’s gone down.
For more information, visit Prom Peru.