10 Lesser crowded sites worth visiting in Peru

10 Lesser crowded sites worth visiting in Peru

When talking about Peru for many visitors the main topic of discussion will be the majestic site of Machu Picchu and the Imperial City of Cusco. For people who have travelled somewhat longer in Peru this may be the highest lake in the world, Lake Titicaca or the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon, but often this is as far as the conversation goes for many first-time visitors of Peru.

When talking about Peru for many visitors the main topic of discussion will be the majestic site of Machu Picchu and the Imperial City of Cusco. For people who have travelled somewhat longer in Peru this may be the highest lake in the world, Lake Titicaca or the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon, but often this is as far as the conversation goes for many first-time visitors of Peru.

What is lesser known about Peru is the amazing and incredible diverse geography this country has to offer. Together with this topography obviously the country presents some dramatic landscapes surpassing the ones mentioned above.

Take for instance the Cordillera Blanca in the northern part of Peru. At just 8 hours’ drive from Lima you can find the city of Huaraz, the true capital in Peru when it comes to hiking and trekking. Huaraz is located in the Cordillera Blanca which is home to about 70% of all mountains over 6,000 meters above sea level in Peru (19,500Ft.). From Huaraz one can set off on a 4 to 15 day hike through some of the most impressive mountain scenery that can be found on this continent. Not only home to the 6,768 meters (21,000Ft.) above sea level towering Huascaran Mountain but also to the alleged “World’s most beautiful mountain” the Alpamayo Mountain reaching 5,947 meters high (19,500Ft.). True hiking and climbing here is not for the weak hearted and can best be undertaken with a professional company with good equipment but the feeling and views when standing among these towering mountains is indescribable. 

A little to the south along the “Carretera Central” one can find another hardly known but amazing site; Marcahuasi. Marcahuasi is home to some of the strangest rock formations that can be found on the planet. True it is not the easiest to reach place in Peru as it is located at about 1.5 hours’ drive from Lima to the East where you will find Chosica. From here you will need to travel for another 3.5 hours to another small village called San Pedro de Casta. From here it is another 2 hours walking to the site of Marcahuasi. Marcahuasi is located at an altitude of 3,900 meters and does not have any hotel facilities so you will have to camp. The altitude and the isolated location make that camping here on a clear night will provide you with a “thousand star hotel” – literally. The site is made up out of about 50 different granite rock formations some with recognizable forms such as faces and animals. The strange rock formations and energy of this place have inspired many UFOlogists to claim that this place is connected with life outside our planet. Close by, a small little known pre Inca site can also be found.

In the Southern Highlands another “lost” destination can be found; the city of Ayacucho. The city of Ayacucho has history that goes as far back as that of Cusco (maybe even further) but due to the fact that it was the strong base of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group in the eighties the city got lost from the tourist trail that runs through Peru. The city is located at about 2,740 meters (8,900Ft.) above sea level and provides a climate much less extreme than that of cities such as Cusco or Puno. Apart from its location the city’s main attractions are the 33 churches the city has (one for each year of Christ’s life) and holds a famous Holy Week of Celebrations with visitors coming from all over the continent. The city is also known for having played an important part in the independence of Peru from the Spanish. It was here just outside of the city that the Battle of Ayacucho was fought – the final and decisive battle over Peru’s independence. Finally there are several Inca and Pre-Inca sites to be found in and around the city. 

Another city known for its religious celebrations is Paucartambo. Paucartambo is located at about 3 hours south of Cusco and throughout the year is a small and quiet village in a beautiful green valley. Nevertheless once the month of July arrives the village starts preparing for the yearly “Virgen del Carmen” festival held on the three days around July 16. The celebration here is unique and the costumes used not found anywhere else in the world. The festival is one of the best examples of how the local religion got “mixed” with Christianity creating a story of belief, typical of the region. The festival takes place on the streets of the village and the main characters are the different dancers all accompanying the Virgen of Carmel through the streets. Every dancer has a different role and all participants play their part with seriousness and vigor.

For the history buffs, Peru has much more to offer than only the Inca sites left behind. Peru can look back on some civilizations among the oldest on the planet and proof of this can be found in several places in northern Peru as well.

Close to the beautiful colonial city of Trujillo one can find the ancient site of Chan Chan. Built around 850 AD by the Chimu, descendants from the Moches, this was their imperial capital and center for agriculture and trade. The city is the largest adobe city in the world and at its height housed around 30,000 people. The city lasted till it was conquered by the Inca Empire around 1470 AD. The first foreigner to discover Chan Chan is the conquistador Francisco Pizarro soon after his arrival to the Peruvian coast. 

When heading inland from Trujillo, through the Northern Andes of Peru, once can find two other remnants of the great cultures that roamed this mighty land. About 8 hours from Trujillo into the Andes Mountains one can find the city of Cajamarca. Cajamarca is a middle sized Andean city, located in a lush green valley and is the city where the Spanish Conquistadores encountered for the first time the Inca’s and here they defeated them for the first time laying the ground for the conquest of their entire empire. The city of Cajamarca is a colonial city with several Inca sites that can be visited till the day of today. The most important of these are the “Ransom Room” – the actual room where the Inca king Atahualpa was held hostage by the Spanish – and the Baños del Inca, thermal baths that can be found outside of Cajamarca and supposedly the grounds of one of the bloodiest battles fought between the Inca and the Spanish.  

From Cajamarca one can travel overland to the city of Chachapoyas located in the “Ceja de Selva” or the Peruvian Cloud Forest. Apart from the beautiful surroundings the main reason to visit Chachapoyas would be to see the impressive site Fortress of Kuelap at about 2 hours from the city. The site was built somewhere around the 6thcentury AD and abandoned somewhere in the 1500’s and is supposedly one of the few cultures that were able to withstand the conquest of the Inca Empire. The structure is located at about 3000 meters above sea level and is about 600 meters long, 110 wide and up to 19 meters tall. On top of this structure one can find the foundations of about 400 round houses, some with detailed decorations. Seeing this fortress one can imagine why the Inca’s were not able to conquer it. Around the arrival of the Spanish the city was abandoned and it took until 1843 till the site was discovered for the first time.  

From Chachapoyas we can visit another of the “unknown highlights of Peru” the impressive Gocta Falls. The falls are about 711 meters high and depending on the way one would measure the falls ,they rank between the 5th highest falls on the planet. The falls are made out of two drops and are surrounded by many other (smaller falls). The falls are reached by about a 5 hour hike from Chachapoyas and the chances are that you will be by yourself when visiting the falls which did not get any publicity till 2006. The reason for this is because local people feared the curse of a beautiful blond mermaid who lived in its waters, if they revealed its whereabouts. "The falls are supposed to be protected by a white haired mermaid like spirit whose hair can be seen flowing down the massive U shaped walls at the bottom of the falls”. In recent years the infrastructure has been improved slightly but it still remains a destination far off the beaten track.

From Chachapoyas you can get to Yurimaguas overland and from here you can embark a boat taking you over the mighty Amazon River to the city of Iquitos. Iquitos is the second largest jungle city in the world (after Manaus, Brazil) and the largest city in the world that can only be reached by air or boat. It is the main place of trade and transport in the Peruvian Amazon and a true awakening for all senses. This is an amazing bustling city and the most vibrant part of the city is the market of Belen. This market is where all goods from the area are traded and where one can find almost any product that the jungle produces. The market is made out of connecting boats and houses built on poles in the river, all bulking out with unknown exotic jungle products and animals. Especially for people coming for the first time to a jungle city this is definitely a must see and an unforgettable experience.

Finally from the deep jungle heading south in the direction of Lima one can find the peaceful city of Oxapampa located in the Pozuzo Valley. The city may look normal at first glance but looking more closely one will see the German culture that is heavily embedded in this city. Several of the houses in the city are built in the typical Tirolese style only found in Germany and Austria – not exactly the houses you would expect in the Peruvian jungle. The reason for this is the fact that the city was founded by 10,000 German settlers sent over to Peru in 1857 as the living conditions in Europe were diminishing. The settlers travelled to the region and found the region of Oxapampa ideal to start a new life due to its fertile soil and mild climate. The German Culture is still very much present and as an old song written in german says: "Pozuzo ist ein schönes Tirol isch lei oans." (Pozuzo is a beautiful valley as Tirol is the only one). The area is full of rivers, waterfalls and tropical forests and close by one can visit the little but beautiful Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park at the Canyon of Huancabamba.

This is of course not the end of the list as Peru has an almost endless number of sites that are more than worth the visit but due to larger sites such as Cusco and Machu Picchu do not get the visitors they deserve. Nevertheless we hope that with this list there will be some adventurous travellers that take it on them to not only visit the sites on the beaten track but also will take the time and energy to visit some of these lesser known sites and I can promise you that they will be more than worth the effort. 


 

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