1. Spend time on the shores of the Madre de Dios.
While the majority of travelers hoping to experience the Amazon head straight to Iquitos, a (much) smaller number visit the Amazon regions surrounding the Madre de Dios River, namely Tambopata National Reserve and Manu National Reserve. Most guest lodges are about an hour to three hours downstream from Puerto Maldonado, the nearest town.
Slide your feet into high rubber boots to trek through the mud, explore the jungle (by flashlight at night for the best sightings), paddle around hidden lakes, and fish for piranha. You can spot the shining eyes of the caimans in the Madre de Dios via spotlight during evening boat rides, listen to the locals’ eerie stories about the Chullachaqui, and even participate in an ayahuasca ritual. (Just make sure you do your research prior.)
Don’t expect to be updating your Instagram during this leg of your trip.
2. Arrange a homestay in the village of Vicos.
Vicos is a small village at the base of the fourth-highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, Huascarán. The population of Vicos is a little over 1,000, made up primarily of agriculturists. By arranging a homestay in Vicos, you’ll live just as the locals do. Drink coca tea. Work on the farm with the family, cutting wheat and herding cattle. Learn the traditional cooking techniques and taste the cuisine, which includes papakashki, an Andean potato soup.
Exposure to the lifestyle of a town that hasn’t been affected by Peru’s tourism boom is an experience most will never have the chance to enjoy.
3. Visit Choquequirao, the Machu Picchu no one’s heard of.
Nearly everyone who visits Peru makes Machu Picchu the main stop of the trip. It’s a monumental destination, but you’ll be sharing it with thousands of other tourists.
Choquequirao, on the other hand, is a rediscovered ruined Inca city in the Cusco region, reached by a strenuous two-to-three-day hike from the village of Cachora and visited by only a handful of adventurers daily. Similar to Machu Picchu in overall structure, Choquequirao is still being excavated, and archaeologists can sometimes be seen working at the site.
Guides are readily available, but you can also go on your own. Just remember to bring appropriate provisions, including a tent, a warm sleeping bag, and some sturdy boots.
4. Make your way to Lake Akilpo via Huaraz.
A little-known trek, the journey to Lake Akilpo from Huaraz in Peru’s Ancash region isn’t an easy one, due in part to the altitude. The lengthy hike brings travelers through a mountain pass, a forest of quenual, and an impressive valley.
Unless you’ve been climbing mountains at altitude regularly, you’re likely going to take it slow and get plenty of rest on the overnight. Day two entails a roughly two-hour hike to reach Lake Akilpo, a glacier-fed lake reminiscent of Canada’s Moraine Lake with its nearly fluorescent color. Bring a friend or two, because you won’t see too many faces on this journey.
5. Visit Cusco’s Baratillo Market on a Saturday.
You’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Cusco’s path is as beaten as ever.” And, yes, much of it is. Plaza de Armas has a McDonald’s in it. There’s no argument there.
Roaming on a Saturday? Find the Baratillo Market. You’ll see every sort of ware you can imagine, from jeans to toasters, but not as many tourists as you’d expect. Show up early. Just make sure to keep a hand on your wallet.
Not looking to roam so far off the beaten path? Give the San Pedro Market a visit and try the caldo de gallina for lunch.
6. Take in the views of Lake Titicaca from Llachón.
If you’re looking to experience Lake Titicaca without the commotion of Puno, visit Llachón, a village about 75km to the northeast. Visitors can typically show up accommodation-less with no worry.
The quiet village isn’t a typical tourist haunt, and the vibe reflects that. Sleep in a small guesthouse for the evening and spend your morning kayaking on the lake. The experience is rather refreshing if you’ve seen the Disneyfication of Lake Titicaca and its floating islands near Puno, or the party scene in nearby Copacabana, Bolivia.
7. Appreciate the architecture of Cajamarca’s churches.
A small city in the Peruvian highlands, Cajamarca isn’t visited by many tourists but remains well known for its architecture — in particular, six Christian churches built in the Spanish colonial style. Three of them have pretty impressive facades.
The city is also known as a center of Carnaval, when Peruvians and (some) tourists visit the city to celebrate before Lent begins.