I get it: You want to go to Machu Picchu so you can get the perfect shot for Tinder. And, you know, because it's a World Heritage site and a Wonder of the World. Machu Picchu is definitely amazing. But Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, was built for tourists — it is not authentic Peru. If you just go to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, you're missing out on some of the most breathtaking, genuine, beautiful and rich experiences Peru has to offer. So go to Machu Picchu, but make sure you see some of the rest of the country too!
Here are seven places in Peru you should visit other than Machu Picchu:
If you love the outdoors, hiking, and mountains, Huaraz is a must-see. The city is nestled between two magnificent mountain ranges, one of which is rumored to have inspired the Paramount Pictures logo. The city itself is a great place to see Peruvian Sierra culture firsthand while enjoying tourist-friendly local businesses. Visit the market, plan a horseback riding expedition, hike to Laguna 69, get drinks at the Sierra Andina brewery, plan a trek on the Santa Cruz trail or embark on a hardcore ice-climbing expedition up Huascaran.
Machu Picchu is a site of ancient ruins, but the truth is that Peru was home to many ancient cultures and is teeming with historical ruins — some of the best (and least touristy) of which are in Chachapoyas. Kuelap castle is well preserved, and the native cloud forest plants and wild alpacas will make you feel like an explorer. Hike to the Gocta waterfall, one of the highest in the world, and try tacacho con cecina, the local specialty of smoked pork and plantains.
The largest city in the world that can't be reached by road, Iquitos is the ideal jumping-off point into the Peruvian Amazon. Spend a few days in the city to visit the Pilpintuwasi butterfly farm and the market; try juanes, the local savory version of a tamal; or take a barge up the Amazon. Find a lodge far from the city to experience the jungle — swim with the pink river dolphins, fish for piranhas, and see monkeys, iguanas, tons of birds and the largest aquatic plant in the world.
Arequipa is the easiest place on this list to add to a Machu Picchu trip, since it's relatively nearby. Though considered part of the "gringo trail," Arequipa is well worth a visit — the historic center is a World Heritage site, and the region has its own culture and traditions, which includes unique cuisine. Be sure to try a rocoto relleno (stuffed hot pepper) while you're there, and see the Monastery of Santa Catalina. Arequipa is an ideal destination because both the city and the surrounding area are beautiful. Go whitewater rafting; trek the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world; and hike the Misti Volcano.
5. Cajamarca for Carnaval
In February or early March, citywide parties will take place for carnavales, the best of which is in Cajamarca. The city will shut down for three days while children and adults take to the streets to drink, dance, parade and throw water balloons, paint and flour at each other. Before or after the festivities, explore the ruins and mountains around the city.
6. Oxapampa and Pozuzo
Central Peruvian jungle destinations Oxapampa and Pozuzo were colonized by German settlers in the 19th century, and have retained and blended many of the traditions with local ones. It's home to ranching, coffee, cheese, Tyrolean-style houses, German beer, wiener schnitzel and dirndls, in a way you won't find anywhere else in Peru — or, probably, the world. The surrounding area is chock-full of waterfalls and wildlife.
7. Ayacucho for Semana Santa
Holy Week, just before Easter, is celebrated throughout Peru, and Ayacucho is an incredible place to experience it, complete with a running of the bulls, human tower making in the plaza, sesame seed ice cream, and castillos — giant bamboo fireworks towers. While you're here, be sure to try cuy pachamanca (guinea pigs cooked in the ancient Inca style) and churros (tasty cinnamon sugar sticks with caramel). The city of Ayacucho is steeped in history, and probably has more churches per capita than anywhere else in Peru. It has sweeping views, great hiking and plenty of historical ruins to visit as well.
This is far from an exhaustive list of Peru's non-Machu Picchu destinations, but each is well worth visiting. So if Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, add at least an extra week to your Peru trip and check out some more of this incredible country!
About the Author: Tasha Prados is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (who served in Peru), a traveler, and a writer. She has lived, worked or volunteered in six countries, and been to over 20 on every continent except Antarctica. She is a contributor to Mic and to Keteka.