Here's how to dodge the tourists on your next Peru vacation
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You could certainly be excused for thinking that tourist crowds besiege Peru at every turn, given this is one of South America’s most visited countries. Yet you’d be surprised to know that the well-beaten Gringo Trail, which guides visitors past the country’s most famous of attractions, keeps the majority of visitors concentrated along a somewhat restricted path. There’s a ton of fantastic and uncrowded places to discover in Peru if you’re craving to get a little off the beaten path, destinations that offer just as much splendid nature, history, culture and archaeology to offer a true taste of this incredibly unique country.
Want to dodge the tourists on your next Peru vacation? Here’s where you’ll want to go.
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This northern Peruvian surfing hot-spot attracts some of the most celebrated pros in the world, who love heading here to practice their skills with blissful anonymity. Even if you’re no surfer, you’ll love this laid-back place, where the sunsets are glorious and the ceviche sensational. Mancora has managed to dodge tourist crowds because, being at the northernmost end of the coast near the border with Ecuador, it is simply too far from any major attraction to be swamped with tour buses. On a tailor-made tour of Northern Peru, however, you’ll find no better place for a stint of beach-side R&R.
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The surf isn’t quite as wicked in Chiclayo yet the fact it is much further south along the coast, and home to arguably the country’s best museum, makes it a must-visit nonetheless. The town itself is prettier than Mancora, with colonial architecture lending a very charming vibe. The Royal Tomb of the Lord of Sipan, the last ruler of the ancient Moche culture, is the crown jewel of Chiclayo, its world-class museum rated among the best in all of Latin America. For history lovers travelling to Peru, Chiclayo’s nearby beachside resorts offer an even greater reason to sojourn for a couple of days.
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Cajamarca is a stunning colonial town set in the high Peruvian Andes, one that boasts just as many delights as its more famous sister-city in the south, Arequipa, yet one which sees far fewer tourists. The prime cultural hub of the north, Cajamarca is home to a magnificent cathedral – complete with gold-leaf altar – and several outstanding Baroque churches, as well as an historic centre that’s wonderful to explore on foot. Set at an altitude of over 2500m, this beautiful city is set in a valley flanked by sky-reaching mountains and is a wonderful destination for Peru hiking trips in an uncrowded stretch of the Andes. Cajamarca continued to be a melting pot of cultures, still traditional and fascinating as ever. This was the last standing post of the mighty Inca Empire: it was right here that Atahualpa faced the Spaniards and was ultimately defeated and the area is home to archaeological sites and fascinating rock formations you can explore on hiking excursions.
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Most Peru holidays off-the-beaten-path wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kuelap, one of the most important archaeological sites in the country and one that’s remained hidden thanks to its remote location. The recent addition of a cable-car is helping more and more visitors discover the sight but given it is still hours away from the nearest major city, it means numbers are still limited. The hidden secrets of this pre-Inca site are still being unveiled and you’ll likely encounter sections that are closed off due to archaeological digging. Belonging to the Chachapoyas culture, Kuelap is believed to be over 3,000 years old, showcases some marvellous stonework and is set in a truly enchanting setting, among cloud-drenched peaks. Head to the dedicated museum in Leylabamba to learn more about this ancient culture before you visit the site and, if you want to skip the cable-car access, book a horseback riding guided tour instead. Kuelap may be a hard place to reach but, for everyone that makes up here, the unforgettable experience is absolutely worthwhile.
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As you head further south in Peru, you’ll no doubt be seeing more foreign tourists yet you still need not worry about being mobbed. Trujillo is becoming increasingly popular due to its proximity to UNESCO-listed Chan Chan, the magnificent desert citadel carved from mud by the ancient Chimus, the largest ancient city of its kind in the world. Trujillo was actually the capital of several pre-Inca civilizations and, nearby, you’ll also find El Brujo and the Temples of the Moon and Sun, three outstanding archaeological legacies of the Moche, perhaps the most important and advanced pre-Inca culture that ever lived. Trujillo itself is no mere base-point for these sites, mind you, with the city boasting an excellent stretch of beach, superb shopping (leather-goods here are amazing) a gorgeous colonial-era centre, plenty of museums and fabulous dining. Being only 600km north of Lima, Trujillo is an ideal and quite convenient addition to any Peru holiday itinerary, whether you wish to get off the beaten path for just a few days or as a great start to a fantastic exploration of the lesser-visited northern region.
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The base town for amazing hiking in the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz has always been seen as the adventurer’s mecca, the one most tourists don’t even know exists. Among mountaineering circles, however, Huaraz is world-famous and, as such, you’ll find a bevy of outdoor activities on offer. Day-long and multi-day treks will see you explore what is perhaps the most spectacular stretch of the Peruvian Andes, where glacial lakes, deep-carved canyons and snow-capped peaks offer an endless buffet of visual feasting. Huascaran, the highest tropical peak on the planet, attracts plenty of hard-core trekkers but do note that there are plenty of ‘softer’ options for nature-lovers who simply want to immerse themselves in pristine, mountainous wilderness. If you do crave a bit of an adventure and are reasonably fit, however, don’t miss the two-day trek to Lake Akilpo, one of the most remarkable glacial lakes you’ll ever see.
Exploring Peru off the well-trodden trail is not as difficult as it may seem, the country boasting a good road system and several well-placed airports that make travel to the north not at all challenging. Plus, by getting off the Gringo Trail, you’ll be immersing yourself in a side of the country that hasn’t been affected by mass tourism, with towns and cities offering truly authentic cultural experiences and regional culinary specialities.
At Viva Expeditions, we understand how enticing the major tourist sights in Peru may be and also understand that many may wish to experience the other side of the country as well, the side that often doesn’t make the cover of travel brochures. Feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about our unique collection of Peru holidays itineraries.