Tuesday 29 September 2015

PERU: Reasons To Visit Peru Without Machu Picchu

Peru has its fair share of awe-inspiring sights, but most visitors skip right over them and head for the grand finale, Machu Picchu. And though the ancient city is certainly worthy of your time, there is much more to this vast country than a litter-ridden Inca Trail. Dine with the Peruvian elite, walk a manmade island, or raft a canyon that requires a mule to get to; but whatever you do, don't beeline for the Andes then skip town.
Here are five really good reasons to go to Peru that don't include Machu Picchu.

1. The Beach Town of Máncora
It's no longer the secluded surfer retreat that it once was, but the town of Máncora on Peru's northern coast is a must-do for anyone who likes to drink their cervezas barefoot. The former fishing village sports a classic South American beach vibe where you'll hear the Macarena perhaps a few too many times and dodge Americans practicing their best 7th-grade Spanish. But even with the crowds that come with cult popularity, Máncora retains the charm that initially attracted the carefree lot. Sandy beaches stretch for miles, dotted with beach chairs and plush resorts (plus the random hostel), while waves fit for Kelly Slater await offshore. Hut-like restaurants offer the Pacific's freshest seafood and the coldest beer south of Ecuador. When the sun goes down, so does the level of what's morally acceptable. Known for its raucous nightlife, Máncora transforms into a South American Cancun during the summer months (December to March). Your options of getting here from the capital city of Lima include a somewhat pricey but relatively short plane ride into the cities of Piura or Tumbes (followed by a taxi ride on in), a 16-hour bus ride up the coast, or renting a car and going at it alone.

2. The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
Deep in the Andes, Lake Titicaca splits the border of Peru and Bolivia. The massive lake is (literally) home to the descendants of the Uros tribe, one that pre-dates the Incan civilization. The Incas paid them little respect, though with their simple floating homes fashioned of totora reeds, the Uros outlasted the Incas and their colossal stone structures. Roughly 2,000 Uros still live on the lake, making their living by catching their own fish, weaving their own clothing, and now, by the money that tourism brings in. Visitors can float out to the islands on reed boats, made by the Uros themselves, and purchase crafts from the locals. The Uros children attend school on one of several islands, each made solely for the purpose of schooling. Once they're older, many go mainland to attend university in the nearby town of Puno. And though their lifestyle seems quite primitive, they actually embrace modern technology-you'll notice solar panels for televisions and motorized boats.

3. Shop at Pisac Market
The sleepy colonial town of Pisac turns into a shopper's wonderland come Sunday as locals set up stalls from wall to wall of the main square. This outdoor artisan market features anything from handmade jewelry and musical instruments to alpaca sweaters and fresh produce. Though there's plenty of tourist tack to riffle through, you'll still find a lot of classic traditions as surrounding villagers come to haggle and trade, a unique sight to witness if you post up at one of the cafés surrounding the square. Bartering is still very much an accepted custom for the people living in the Andes. Come early though, much of the activity stills by 3 p.m. so that villagers have time to walk home before nightfall.

4. Visit Cotahuasi Canyon
Peru is home to one official world wonder, though it arguably has a second that's not too far behind in sheer mind-blowing scale. Cotahuasi Canyon is the deepest in the Americas and regarded as the deepest in the world to many geologists-more than doubling the depth of the Grand Canyon. Splitting apart the Coropuna and Solimana mountains in southern Peru, the Cotahuasi River flows down the middle of the canyon, creating one powerful waterslide for hydrophilics. Raft your way down 80 miles of class IV and V rapids, dropping in after the 300-foot Sipia Falls. But like a lot of things in life, it's the journey, not the destination, that truly sets this adventure apart. Most guided tours (the first being as recent as 1994) require a 12-hour drive through steep desert mountain switchbacks and a grueling two- to three-day mule trek around the falls to finally dip your oar in the whitewater. Surrounding the canyon's steep cliff walls are extensive sections of Incan ruins; these settlements sprung up when they used the route for fur trading with coastal communities. Be prepared to spend a full five to six days paddling, camping on the riverbanks each night under a clear Peruvian sky.

5. Sand Board at Huacachina
The oasis town of Huacachina, in the middle of the barren Peruvian desert, is famed for the extensive sand dunes that tower around the water-blessed community. At one point, it was a wealthy Peruvian playground, where locals with the dough came to swim in the supposedly medicinal lagoon. Though there are now several options for travelers on a budget, it still largely caters to those looking for a luxurious respite from the endless desert swelter. Legend credits the creation of the lake to a beautiful princess who was disturbed from her bath when an overzealous suitor accosted her; fleeing, she left the bath water behind. Now, the legend says, the princess lives in the lagoon as a mermaid and can be seen peeking her head out for a glimpse at the palm trees and manicured lawns that rim her home. Whether you believe the hype or not, you're likely to leave Huacachina with your own legend to tell. Outdoor adventures abound here: buckle in for a sand-buggy ride over 300-foot dunes or tighten your straps on a converted snowboard to sail down sun-soaked sand hot to the touch. And if you tire of your rooftop pool, take a dip with the princess herself in the lagoon, or rent a paddle boat from a local outfitter to stay above water.

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