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The legendary city of the Incas might be the attraction on everyone’s bucket list, but there are so many more things do in Peru besides Machu Picchu.
20+ Things to Do in Peru on the Journey to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is truly worthy of wonder. Perched on the top of a remote mountain peak high in the Peruvian Andes, the remarkably well-preserved citadel has earned its place on the bucket lists of travellers from all over the world.
What comes as a surprise to many who are planning to turn their Machu Picchu dreams into reality is that getting there is a process—a rather lengthy one, which literally involves planes, trains and automobiles.
Your journey to the fabled lost city of the Incas begins with a flight into the Peruvian capital of Lima (which often requires a connection in the U.S.), after which you’ll catch a domestic flight to Cusco. From Cusco, you’ll board a bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, where you’ll meet a Peru Rail train with service terminating in Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Sound gruelling? It can be—if you fail to plan an itinerary that makes that journey part of the adventure. Instead of treating Lima, Cusco and Ollantaytambo as weigh-stations en route to Machu Picchu, think of them as destinations in and of themselves. Taking the time to explore Peru’s often-overlooked cities, towns and roadside attractions rewards the adventurous traveller with some truly unique experiences, and a deeper appreciation of this fascinating country and its warm and welcoming people.
Stroll the Miraflores Boardwalk in Lima
At first glance, Lima can be hard to love. Although it’s perched on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the horizon is often obscured by a dense, smoggy haze. The locals are the first to admit there are only two seasons—relentlessly sunny and oppressively overcast—and, receiving a scant inch of rain each year, it’s officially considered a desert. Despite this, Lima is home to 10-million people—roughly a third of Peru’s entire population—and it rewards the adventurous traveller with a number of hidden gems—if they only know where to search for them.
As you might expect given its climate, green space is in short supply in Lima; a fact that makes the boardwalk in the city’s Miraflores neighbourhood that much more significant an attraction. Buffered by lush lawns, and boasting an incredible array of public art, the 10-kilometre trail follows the clifftop that looms over Lima’s Green Coast—a popular surf spot that’s soon to play host to the 2019 PanAm games. One of the highlights along the boardwalk is the Parque del Amore (Park of Love), an outdoor space in the style of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi that’s adorned with sculptures and romantic phrases displayed in mosaic tile. It’s a great place to grab a coffee and catch your breath before tackling the next Peru attraction on your itinerary.
Here are eight more places you’ve never considered visiting—but should!
Climb a Pyramid in the Heart of Lima
Upon landing in Lima, you’ll likely be chomping at the bit to fast-forward your itinerary to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu itself. The good news is, there are plenty of fascinating ruins within Lima’s city limits that will whet your appetite for the archeological wonders to come.
One of the greatest of these sites is also one of the strangest—a sprawling complex in the Miraflores district of central Lima called Huaca Pucllana. Translated from the native Quechua language as “Sacred Place,” the six-hectare site is dominated by a pyramid that’s totally unlike anything you’d find in Egypt, or even Mexico for that matter. Built by the Lima culture—farmers and fishers who predated the Incans by several centuries—the bizarrely-shaped pyramid is fashioned from adobe bricks, shaped by hand (no molds were involved in their manufacture), which often still bear the handprints of their makers, captured in the drying mud and clearly visible 1,400 years on. These bricks are arranged like books on a shelf, often with quite sizable gaps in between. It was this loose construction—along with trapezoidal-shaped doorways—that gave the building its structural resilience, allowing it to survive countless earthquakes over the centuries. Over those years, tier upon tier was added to the pyramid, ultimately reaching a height of 24 metres, which allowed the priests who walked its summit to see as far as the ocean.
Curious architecture aside, the site boasts a number of captivating mysteries. Not much is known of the Lima culture that built the structure over a period of 300 years, but there are several clues in the dig that suggest they revered the shark. They also performed ritual sacrifice, as the bodies of 30 women were found in the complex square, having met a grisly end by spearing and stoning. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is what still lies beneath the bustling city streets surrounding the pyramid. Archeologists have been excavating at Huaca Pucllana for the past 37 years, and estimate they won’t be finished unearthing the remaining 13 hectares for another 30.
Check out more of the weirdest discoveries archeologists have made.