Peru’s tourism is among the most varied in South America, thanks to a diverse climate and topography that has given way to a wealth of natural wonders. Most people come for the Machu Picchu and other ruins around Cusco, but there’s a lot more to see and do. Indeed, it takes more than one visit to really appreciate what the country has to offer. If you’ve already seen the ruins or just want to go off the beaten path, here are some alternative tourist attractions in Peru that may be worth your time.
Islas Ballestas: Nicknamed the “Peruvian Galápagos” (referring to the famous islands off neighboring Ecuador), this small cluster is home to rare sea lions, turtles, penguins, and a variety of wild, endangered seabirds. It forms the bulk of the Paracas Natural Reserve. From offshore, the bird droppings (guano) on top of the beautiful rock formations can be mistaken for polar ice caps.
Colca Valley: Travel guide Arthur Frommer calls this the best place to see giant condors in South America. Visitors are treated to scenic volcanoes capped with (real) snow, gorges cutting through verdant valleys, and vast patches of desert. The trip there takes you through a couple of nature reserves, where on a good day you may spot local wildlife like llamas and alpacas.
Manu National Park: If you’re up for a long drive, this biosphere reserve—the country’s second largest protected area—is well worth the trip. Because it’s so remote, it has one of the best-preserved flora and fauna in the continent, with habitats ranging from cloud forests to the Andes highlands to tropical rainforests. It also has the world’s highest level of plant, bird, and mammal diversity.
Huascarán National Park: Nature lovers and adventure-seekers will love the wild topography of this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which runs almost the entire length of the Cordillera Blanca in the north. You’ll need the whole day and a good deal of stamina to explore its hundreds of glaciers and alpine lakes, and enjoy the unparalleled views from its peaks.
Llanganuco Lakes: Just a short distance from Huascarán, the Lagunas Llanganuco offer a quiet respite from the Cordilleras. The twin turquoise lakes are tucked away in a valley, fed by glaciers and always clear enough to reflect the mountains around it. Some 35 miles off, you’ll also find giant bromeliads called the Puya Raimondi, which rise up to 40 feet high and bloom just every hundred years.