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Many guidebooks have been devoted to Peru’s major tourists destinations, like Cusco, Lima, and Arequipa. For good reason, these cities demand every traveler’s undivided attention. But along the way, traveling from one city to the next, over-determined travelers might overlook the things that make Peru Peru: the little towns with enough character and charm for an entire city. Here are the most underrated towns in Peru that should be included on your itinerary.
Máncora gets some hype for being the party capital of Peru—a sort of Peruvian spring break destination—but it’s much more than that too. For those thinking you’d rather avoid the party and should thereby avoid Máncora, you should think twice. While the party is certainly there, and at times right in your face, there are little stretches of beaches like Las Pocitas that you’d send home postcards of. If you know where to look in this town, you’ll never want to leave.
Cajamarca is Peru’s classic mountain town. At night, everyone heads to the expansive Plaza de Armas to enjoy the well-manicured gardens and each other’s company. They are also known for their cheese and yogurt, delivered fresh from the local farms.
This fishing village exists in the shadow cast by the colonial city of Trujillo. Huanchaco has adapted to travelers’ diets, opening a large selection of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, without losing its fishing traditions. Fishermen are still seen riding their caballitos de totora (reed boats) as they have been for thousands of years, bringing freshly caught fish to the local restaurants. The town has the perfect mix of tradition and progression.
Ollantaytambo is everything you would want out of a Peruvian town in the Andes. It offers an ancient street layout (featuring narrow, cobblestoned roads), has Inca ruins, and possesses that rarified feeling of a true Inca town. Many of the buildings have survived for so many years that merely walking down a street feels like you’ve been transported back in time. Its proximity to Machu Picchu makes it an ideal place to stay before you see the Inca ruins in the sky.
This tiny town, sandwiched by giant sand dunes, is one of Peru’s most unique towns. It’s famous for the loud dune buggies that climb the sand mountains, and you’ll find plenty of intrigue in this small town outside of Ica.
This is a classic Peruvian fishing town that has stayed true to its roots. The fresh fish and surf are its main draws and the local supply of pisco is always nice after a long day in the sun.
The bobbing oil rigs, scatted houses, and post-apocalyptic landscape give Lobitos the feel of a town that has been deserted after some massive disaster. If you look more closely, you’ll find a classic Peruvian fishing town with a twist—it’s one of the best surf spots in all of Peru. The vibes alone can satisfy both non-surfers and surfers, and no one will want to get out of the water.