5 Awesome Experiences in Peru (that are not Machu Picchu)

As you can likely tell, my blog posts cover a variety of topics. I have a lot of interests and hope that in sharing those posts that I can help or inspire someone somehow. I’m still a new blogger, so, truth be told, I’m trying to gauge what people like to read about, so I can focus on that.

So far, my most popular posts have been about travel. Which makes me very happy because travel is my favourite topic too! As you may or may not know (depends if you’ve read my previous posts), I’m a Senior Travel Consultant.

Currently, due to COVID and the subsequent drop in travel, I’m still laid off from the career I’ve built over the past 30+ years. So for now, since we can’t go there in person quite yet, I’d like to share with you some of the experiences I had during my trip to Peru a few years ago.

You may be wondering, why am I not talking about Machu Picchu in this post? Because it’s so well known already. I’d like to introduce you to some of the lesser known, but equally (OK, maybe not equally but ALMOST equally) impressive experiences I recommend for your visit to Peru.

One – Lima

I know, I know, Lima is well-known already….but I’m starting with Lima because…..

What’s the most important thing when you go somewhere? (leave a Comment below) For me, it’s the food. And Lima is one of the foodie capitals of the world!

Peru has won, by last count, eight times the award for BEST Destination by the World Travel Awards and it was named the top South America Food & Drink Destination by Frommer’s!

Peru has a multicultural population that includes immigrants from Spain, China, Japan and more, and that helps to create a thriving food scene! Peruvian fusion cooking involves incorporating unique indigenous ingredients with various cultural cooking methods, as well as regional variations, so this provides us foodies with innumerable dining options!

Lima is home to outstanding Michelin-starred restaurants, but even a meal at a simple road-side cafe or restaurant will leave you pleasantly satisfied.

Lima’s signature dishes, like ceviche and chicharones, are becoming favorites around the world and opening people’s eyes to the flavors of Peru, but I wanted to try something I’d never had before, so I tried causa and WOW, I loved it!!

From what I understand, causa (pronounced cow-sah) is traditionally made with potato (do you know how many varieties of potato grow in Peru? Over 4000!!), aji amarillo paste, avocado, and then for the “stuffing”, you can use any kind of protein you like. The Causa pictured below has a seafood stuffing as I was pescatarian at the time.

pescatarian causa

Lima can easily be regarded as the best food city in the whole country, so take a few days when you arrive to unwind from your journey, maybe sign up for a food tour or cooking class, and indulge your taste buds with new experiences.

While in Lima, I had the opportunity to do some fun things which truly made my trip memorable:

  • tandem paragliding in Miraflores, over the vast city that is Lima
  • Parque de la Reserva – especially beautiful at night with so many lit-up fountains which “perform” to beautiful music
  • guided walking tour of the city
Miraflores
I recommend booking this tandem paragliding experience in advance
jump off (and landing) point
my “pilot” was great – English-speaking so that was helpful
weeeeeeeee!
I couldn’t resist this photo-op (the one to my right smelled soooooo sexy! and yes I felt like a cougar haha!)
I love good street-art
Strolling the Parque del Amor in Miraflores

Two – Unplug and Stay At Eco Amazonia Lodge in the Amazonian Rain Forest

From Lima we took a flight over the Andes to Puerto Maldonado and then to the eco-lodge by boat on the Amazon river. Since I was a child I’ve wanted to see the Amazon river….it wasn’t what I pictured it to be. It’s not clear and green or blue, it’s brown, like chocolate milk.

The Amazon river is the world’s second-longest–behind the Nile–but it is the largest in terms of volume, according to National Geographic’s website.

Some fun-facts about the Amazon River:

  • the Amazon River originates high in the Andean mountains of Peru
  • the Amazon River system goes through nine (9) South American countries (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil; tributaries flood the Amazon basin in Bolivia, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana)
  • a Slovenian athlete and Guinness World Record holder, named Martin Strel, nicknamed “The Hero In A Speedo”, in 2007 swam almost the entire length of the Amazon River in only 66 days (the Amazon’s entire length is 6,400 km and he swam 5,268 of it….a distance which is actually greater than the width of the Atlantic Ocean!!)
  • the Amazon River used to flow backwards
  • The Amazon River itself and all its countless tributaries comprise an ecosystem all their own, home to more than 2,000 species of fish and more than 400 amphibians.
  • small-ship cruises are especially rewarding for spotting wildlife on the river shores. The most famous creatures that inhabit this region include sloths, anacondas, piranhas, river dolphins, innumerable birds including macaws and toucans and a crazy number of frogs, spiders, snakes and other insects.
  • One of the rarest and most endangered Amazon River animals is the boto, a dolphin whose skin is so thin it can appear grey or pink (hence its nickname – pink river dolphin) depending on how excited it gets and how much its blood-vessels expand.
  • there are no bridges built across the Amazon River 
  • The Amazon River discharges a breathtaking 200,000 cubic metres of water into the Atlantic every single second!

OK, wow did I ever get side-tracked!

Onward….

We loaded ourselves into boats and headed off to the EcoAmazonia Lodge.

The EcoAmazonia Lodge is located in the middle of a 10,000 hectare ecological reserve known as The Tambopata; only 30 km from Puerto Maldonado on the Madre de Dios River (which is a tributary of the Amazon).

Because it’s an eco-lodge, they conserve the use of electricity by shutting it down for most of the day. We were out and about (the guide we had was phenomenal! He spotted wildlife well before any of our small group did and even took my camera so he could snap a photo of monkeys I couldn’t see with the naked eye), so not having electricity didn’t interfere with my day at all. I think they turn it back on at 5 pm or so, so if you need to charge any devices, that’s the time to do it.

Ladies, if you normally dry your hair after showering, or you curl it or straighten it, don’t bother packing a hair dryer, curling wand or flat iron because it’s so humid, your hair won’t stay the way you want it to. Pack a hat if you’re self-conscious about how your hair looks au naturel.

Power is shut off over night, so either take a head-lamp or you can use the flashlight they provide (I brought my own little solar-powered flashlight as I didn’t know they provide flashlights), in case you need to make your way to the washroom in the middle of the night; each cabin has its own washroom (sink, toilet and shower).

During our stay, we went to monkey island and for me, that was the highlight of the trip! Why? Because I had a WILD monkey jump onto my shoulders! Yes it was stinky but I was thrilled (I love animals and when a WILD animal CHOOSES to trust you, well, there’s no greater feeling!).

In the afternoons we would head into the jungle (I kept expecting Tarzan to come sailing through the trees on the vines) and our wonderfully knowledgable guide would show us and tell us all the things that could kill us….just kidding, he also taught us things that weren’t dangerous about the jungle.

Because our days had been so full, it was very humid which tends to make you move at a slower pace, and there isn’t really much to do there at night (there are board games and there’s also a billiards table), we’d turn in early and fall asleep to the beautiful sounds of the jungle.

The cabin rooms are basic but clean, we had no issues with hot water and the beds are comfortable. There is no air-con, afterall, this is an eco resort, but the overhead fans did a decent job at moving the air around. To really cool off, you can go to their indoor pool.

The kitchen staff were wonderful (if you have special dietary needs, such as vegan or vegetarian, for instance, I was pescatarian, be sure to indicate this as often the meals will include meat). Bar staff is available in the late afternoon and evening.

loved my stay at the EcoAmazonia!
kapok tree
spooky nest
yikes! spikes!
The Amazon region contains more than 1,000 species of ants, this is one of them

yes this is a real tarantula!
anyone know what kind of bird this is?
this is the monkey our guide spotted – photo quality isn’t great because the monkey was very, very far away and up in the tree
breakfast
dinner

one of the monkeys at Monkey Island

Three – Cusco

no drama llama and mama

As great as Lima is for dining options, I prefer smaller cities, like Cusco. Cusco is such a lively little city, it seemed like every day there was a celebration or parade of some sort.

When I visit a new place, and when I have time, I love checking out their local farmer’s market, and wow, this one did not disappoint! So much variety and fresh products to choose from!

Well, in one way it disappointed me….not really so much the market itself, but when I did a little research, what I found was disappointing. Let me explain….

When I first saw this massive flag hanging inside the market, I thought, “Oh great! Peru is LGBTQ+friendly!” Not quite.

Although the official flag of Cusco looks remarkably similar to the LGBTQ+ flag, Peru, a predominantly Catholic and socially conservative country, could not be considered among the world’s most progressive in terms of societal freedoms for gays and lesbians.

Unfortunately, Peru remains a male-dominated, macho society where homosexuality is considered deviant.

Across Peru, there is still considerable prejudice exhibited toward gays and lesbians who are out, or men—be they straight or gay—who are thought to be effeminate. The word maricón is, sadly, a commonly used derogatory term for homosexuals.

With that said, in the larger cities, such as Lima and Cusco, there are a number of establishments—bars, discos, inns, and restaurants—that are either gay-friendly or predominantly gay.

Outside those areas, and in the small towns and villages of rural Peru, openly gay behavior is unlikely to be tolerated by the general population.

Knowing that, it didn’t affect me personally as I’m not LGBTQ+, but for those of you who are, I thought I should share that info.

On a more positive note, Peru is a very safe country for solo travellers. I mean, you always want to use your best judgement, keep an eye on your surroundings and be aware of what’s going on near you, but relatively speaking, solo travel, including solo female travel is good in Peru. I wandered the streets of Cusco completely on my own and never once felt any less safe than I do here at home in Canada.

A few tips for solo female travellers to Peru (well, these tips apply no matter where you live or travel to actually):

  • Travel with reliable companies, for both long-distance trips and on tours. I recommend G Adventures.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings at all times, if you’re at a busy bus station or in a crowded bar then be extra vigilant. Have fun, but don’t lose yourself in the moment.
  • Use common sense, don’t walk alone at night, stay on busy roads and keep your bag close to you at all times.
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t accept drinks from strangers, and where possible, watch your drink being made.
  • Use taxi apps and send your location and the taxi’s license plate to someone you trust when you get in a taxi.
  • Be extra vigilant in bus stations, train stations and airports.
  • Use a padlock on your actual suitcase; if travelling with just a backpack, keep your cash and passport right next to your body.
  • Don’t use ATMs at night, particularly outside of the tourist centers of large cities.
  • Don’t carry around large amounts of money. Only take the cash you need for the day with you.
  • Take a business card from the establishment you’re staying at
  • Keep note of important information, such as your passport number, travel insurance number, local emergency number and the address of your local embassy and keep the information with you. It also never hurts to know a few phrases in the local language in case you need to ask for help.
  • Be aware of strangers. Traveling is great to meet people, but be aware and listen to what your gut says about someone. If you don’t like their vibe, move on.
  • If you feel as though you are being followed, don’t hesitate to go into a shop and ask for help, or just hang out in there until the person leaves.
  • Get a local sim card so you can make calls and access the internet if necessary.
  • Have an offline map and translator app on your phone so you don’t get lost.

Four – The Sacred Valley

“what happens in the Sacred Valley, stays in the Sacred Valley”

The Valle Sagrado de Los Incas, Urubamba River Valley, or the Sacred Valley of the Incas, winds its way between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo and offers jaw-droppingly stunning landscapes.

It’s called the Sacred Valley because it contains some of the best land in the region and was not a part of the Empire but the property of Manco Cápac – founder of the Incan civilization.

Its fertile soil and various microclimates allowed the Inca Empire to farm an abundance of potatoes, cereals, vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants.

From snow-capped peaks and deep blue lakes to flowering meadows, the beautiful region, home to its sacred Apu mountain spirits, also guarded many of their important spiritual temples.

Rio Urubamba

Labeled “The Sacred River” and upstream as “The House of the Sun”, much of life around it is still resolutely traditional in its habits today, with many locals continuing to weave and wear customary dress, sell their wares at the markets in the little village of Chinchero, work the fields, and speak the main language of the Incan Empire, Quechuan.

Photos don’t do it justice! You really need to see it for yourself to appreciate the vastness, and majesty of the land.

Taray
natural dyes for wool
traditional methods that will–hopefully-last forever
sweet little girl, simply enjoying her Bugles
did you know that Peru has 55 varieties of corn?! In Canada we only have three types of corn:  for grain, for silage, and sweet corn

Five – Lake Titicaca and Isla Uros Titimarka – Floating Village

The name “Titicaca” to a child of 10 years of age was one that made me giggle, but learning about it in grade four geography made it stick in my mind for decades, and so I was beyond happy that I could see it for myself!

Whereas seeing the muddy Amazon was a disappointment, seeing Lake Titicaca was super surprising because the lake is HUUUUUUUGE and a gorgeous deep blue colour.

During our boating ride, as I was looking toward the horizon, I kept looking for breaching whales and leaping dolphins….but then reminded myself, this is a lake, not an ocean. It’s feels as huge as an ocean, but no, there are no whales or dolphins.

Ready for some more fun-facts? (Comment in the section below whether you enjoy reading fun-facts or not)

  • At 3,810 meters/12,500 feet, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America
  • The lake was formed about 60 million years ago when a massive earthquake hit the Andes Mountains, splitting the range in two and creating a hallow which then filled with water from melting glaciers.
  • To the Incas, Lake Titicaca is the birth place of the sun and its people. In essence, they believe the world began at Lake Titicaca and therefore call it the “cradle of the world“.
  • Lake Titicaca has 41 islands, including the famous floating reed islands, which were built by the Uru people

The Uros are a unique indigenous race who migrated to Lake Titicaca an estimated 3,700 years ago. Due to political uncertainty in the region, particularly with the arrival of the Incas, the Uros built a mobile floating city in order to evade their enemies. Unfortunately, the Inca eventually found their colony and forced many Uros into slavery. Today they make their living from fishing and from selling their handicrafts to tourists.

The Uros use the totora reed, which is plentiful along the edges of the lake, to make their homes, their furniture, their boats, and the islands themselves.

As reeds disintegrate from the bottom of the islands, which are four to eight feet thick, residents must add more to the surface, which is soft and occasionally spongy. Over time, the reeds start to rot away and eventually disintegrate, a problem that’s exacerbated by people walking around. Tourists may not realize it, but their very presence creates a substantial amount of extra work for the locals.

Their boats are shaped like canoes, but with animal heads at the prow and are used for fishing and to bring visitors out to the islands.

Upon landing on Titimarka, we were warmly greeted by some of the residents and then a guide showed us around and explained some of their history and traditions. During the tour, we were given the opportunity to try on some traditional garb, which made me feel silly but you only live once and I knew I would never get this opportunity again.

During the tour we also had the opportunity to purchase some of their handmade handicrafts.

I’d like to say this now:

…..if you visit a foreign country, especially one that relies on tourism, don’t be tight with your money. You’re a guest, and that person in front of your has taken time away from their family to try and put food on the table; they aren’t looking for charity, they’re hardworking people trying to support their families, same as you are. So please, support the local economy.

Also, in this specific case, remember that just being there, on these handmade floating islands, you are literally contributing to the decay of their home property, which results in the need for a substantial amount of restoration work.

I felt zero pressure to purchase something, but I did (I purchased a beautiful tapestry) because I knew I was helping the local economy. Also, as a group we made a cash donation to the school as well as we donated some school supplies.

Despite the traditional lifestyle, the Uros people are not against modern amenities. Some families have motorboats or solar panels, and the main island is home to a radio station that plays music for several hours each day. The islands can be reached from either side of the lake; we got there by boat from Puno (but first, we were picked up at our hotel by tuktuks).

Puno
our chariots
and the award for “most colourful greeting goes to”…..
I just love how the puppy is looking at this young girl so adoringly – puppy love is puppy love, no matter the language
puppy was not for sale – so I bought a tapestry instead
peer pressure

And there you have it….5 Places To Visit In Peru (that aren’t Machu Picchu)….but wait…did you really think I wouldn’t include some photos of my visit to Machu Picchu? Silly!

Please note: all photos are my own. If you would like to purchase a print, please contact me privately and I’d be happy to discuss with you.

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful blog Elizabeth,. All of it, Pictures , description of places and for me I especially I like Tips for solo female travelers

    Thank you and keep up the good work..

    Like

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