When it comes to offbeat travel experiences, Peru is a fantastic destination. Its array of landscapes, cultures, and environments set the stage for a truly unique travel experience.
But what is the meaning of “offbeat travel?”
Just like it sounds, “offbeat travel” means leaving the beaten path and going beyond tourist attractions. It means finding hidden gems and obscure places that are a wonder.
What does this amount to in Peru? Travelers may find themselves trekking through a humid rainforest brimming with life, scaling majestic mountains, or exploring the arid coast. It might mean volunteering in Peru, or exploring lonely villages and befriending the locals. That’s not to mention the ancient temples, artifacts, and architecture that dot the country, waiting to be found.
In Peru, being an offbeat traveler has meaning that spans all these experiences and more. Here are just a few offbeat travel ideas to help interested folks set off down “the road less traveled.”
10 Off the Beaten Path Travel Destinations in Peru
1. Stand in Awe at Huayllay National Sanctuary
A remarkable geological formation, the Huayllay Stone Forest was once at the bottom of the sea. Now well above sea-level, the tall rock faces resemble a forest of giant trees that have been petrified.
This natural wonder is located in a remote area of Peru near the western coast. Determined travelers can reach it with a certain amount of creativity and ingenuity, as transportation and lodging options in the area are slim.
Travel Tip: Try to stay for a minimum of 3 days so you can have enough time to explore the hiking trails, check out the painted caves, and enjoy a dip in the hot springs.
2. See the Many-Colored Rainbow Mountain
Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain, is a remote peak in the Ausangate range of the Andes. This hard-to-reach mountain is well worth the effort, as it is striped with unusual colors — lavender, turquoise, brown, gold, and terra cotta, among others — due to its unique location and environment.
All but the most experienced hikers need not apply. The peak is notoriously hard to find and can take as many as six days of vigorous hiking to reach.
Travel Tip: Arrive a few days before the trip in Cusco so you can get acclimated with the altitude.
3. Find a Path Through the Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest covers at least 60% of Peru, and offers up its diverse and fascinating eco-system for exploration to adventurous travelers. Plus, with as much as 30% of the entire world’s animal species residing here, the adventurous are sure to spot strange and beautiful creatures during a trek.
Travel Tip: Recommended entry points are at Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos. From there, one can hire a boat and travel farther into the Amazon Basin — or start a hike.
4. Give Back and Volunteer in Peru
Despite its many wonders and natural beauties, Peru is a country dogged by issues such as poverty, rainforest deforestation, water and air pollution, and more.
Travelers thinking about off the beaten path travel destinations should also consider giving back to the beautiful country that will enthrall and delight them. Volunteering in Peru can be a life-changing activity for offbeat traveling. When volunteering, travelers are awarded with the opportunity to truly and authentically experience a local community, its people, traditions, cultures, cuisine, and more.
For instance, adventurers can help support community development in remote areas, promote education for disadvantaged children, rescue abandoned or mistreated street dogs in cities, or help with rehabilitation efforts for Peru’s wild animals.
The goal for any volunteer should be to assist with sustainable, ethical, and responsible efforts to help communities, animals, and environments in Peru.
Travel Tip: Research nonprofit organization in Peru ahead of time, and communicate with them directly to see if there is a good match for a volunteering opportunity while you travel.
5. Visit the Ancient Ruins of Kuelap
The ancient city of Kuelap, built in the 6th century, was once a walled fortress that protected the Chachapoyas, or the “warriors of the cloud.” This magnificent city was built on a mountain slope in the northern Andes and was protected by a stone wall averaging over 65 feet tall and 260 feet wide.
Travel Tip: This ancient city is completely packed with interesting stories and history, so it is best to take a tour with a local guide to truly experience this magical place.
6. Walk Along the Bottom of Colca Canyon
Deeper than the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon also boasts ancient terraces carved into mountainsides, and is home to a bird with the largest wingspan of any in the world, the Andean condor.
Hikers will also come across villages, spectacular views, and winding paths through this unique part of the world.
Travel Tip: Avoid taking night rides to Colca Canyon during the winter months. Roads can freeze over and become quite dangerous at nights for driving.
7. Surf Along the Coast
Along Peru’s western coast, surfing is a natural activity. The sheer expanse of the shoreline (over 3,000 kilometers long) means there are numberless opportunities to catch a wave.
Travel Tip: Surf enthusiasts are urged to try the coastal towns of Mancora or Chicama, which are both along the northern shoreline.
8. Sandboard Near a Desert Oasis
You wouldn’t expect to find a desert in the same country that holds part of the Amazon, but that’s the beauty of Peru. Along with the desert, you’ll find Huacachina, a tiny oasis town and one of the only true desert oases in the world.
It’s the perfect place to rest and relax after sandboarding on the nearby desert dunes. What is sandboarding? Think snowboarding, but with sand.
Travel Tip: If speeds faster than the sandboard re desired, travelers can also try taking a spin on dune buggies.
9. Discover Strange, Hidden Markets
Secreted away beneath a train station in Lima, the Witch’s Market, or Mercado de Brujas, is the place to find folk remedies and medicines. Everything from curious mixtures of herbs and spices to snake fat and frog (for arthritis) is on offer. If that’s not enough, visitors can also consult with witch doctors and healers.
Travel Tip: For a truly authentic experience – have a healing remedy prepared for you at one of the stalls in the market!
10. Meet the Residents of a Ghost Town
Mistakenly labeled a ghost town, the village of Zaña actually has a population of about 1,000, according to Atlas Obscura. Perhaps the confusion comes from the town’s history — it was destroyed by a mammoth flood in the 18th century. However, only the Spanish slavers abandoned the town. Their surviving slaves remained behind, and their descendants are who populate the magnificent ruins today.
Travel Tip: Zaña is quite famous for its local candies – so be sure to buy some to take home.
Offbeat travel experiences in Peru are as diverse as the country itself. If travelers have the gumption, they can leave the tourist traps behind and discover their own unique adventure.
Which off-beat travel destination in Peru will you choose?
And if you are planning to visit the Machu Pichu Inca Trail, make sure you have have packed right.
Related: Inspired to read more about Peru? Do read Explore Peru through Pisco
Guest Post Contribution
Aviv is the Head of Community at GivingWay.com - a social platform for travelers and nonprofits to connect and communicate directly. Aviv loves every opportunity she gets to meet a new nonprofit or chat with travelers about their recent experiences. At the top of her travel bucket list is a trip to India and the Philippines.