Aching to experience Peru like a local, and not like a typical tourist? The Land of the Incas is one of the world’s most loved destinations, and for good reason. Boasting ancient ruins, unique traditions, strong indigenous heritage, and landscapes that draw crowds from all over…it’s not hard to see why everyone has Peru on their travel bucket-list.
But with popularity comes tourist traps. In Peru, it’s easy to merely scratch the surface and no more, missing out on the raw, authentic side of the country that makes a visit here so memorable.
Luckily, with these insider tips you’ll feel like a savvy local in no time. Here are 8 of the most authentic ways to experience Peru, from discovering its markets to meeting its locals.
Tip: All of these are unlocked for you on our Peru tours.
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1. Meet the lively locals
No matter where you are in the world, there is no better way to experience a destination than through its local people. They are a place’s beating heart; more than the sights, the cities, and even the food. It’s within the local smiles and stories that you’ll find the soul of a country. Try your best to speak and connect with the Peruvian people.
This is pretty hard when you’re a tourist. You stick out, you often don’t speak the language, and local people are too busy going about their day to make new friends. That’s exactly why Trafalgar is so popular: we unlock these closed doors so you can meet the real people of Peru. Like the locals who invite you onto their Giant Corn Farm in the Sacred Valley on Land of the Incas.
Here you’ll learn all about corn, one of Peru’s most sacred ingredients, before sharing a lunch with your new local friends. That same evening, you’ll meet a different kind of local – Peter Frost. Writer, photographer, and independent scholar who has explored the Andes and Amazon for 47 years, locating and investigating the previously unknown Inca and pre-Inca site of Qoriwayrachina. He currently resides in Peru and works as an accompanying expert for National Geographic Expeditions. Get ready for a fascinating conversation as he introduces you to the beautiful Land of the Incas as your Local Specialist for the evening.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll visit social projects, meet local food vendors, get personalised tours by store owners, and meet more Local Specialists who’ll guide you through their beautiful country. The local experience just can’t be beat.
2. Be adventurous with your food
Did you know that Lima, Peru’s capital, is considered the gastronomical capital of South America? With restaurants like Central, we can see why. This unique establishment celebrates Indigenous cooking and ingredients, and in 2023 became the world’s best restaurant!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to get a seat at Central to taste good Peruvian food. In fact, you don’t need to go far at all. Lima is full of amazing local eateries, tasty food stalls, vibrant markets, and fine dining spots like Central too. The best place to start is with the national dish – Ceviche.
Refreshing, tangy, and incredibly tasty, this Peruvian platter of fresh fish cooked in citrus acid is perfect your entry point. Try it at any of the many cevicherias populated around Peru’s cities and towns. One of our favorite spots is local hangout Canta Rana, in Barranco, Lima. You’ll see loads of Argentine flags and memorabilia inside, but don’t fret. This place is as authentic as it comes. After you’ve had enough ceviche, give Nikkei a try. This is a cuisine that comes out of Peru’s Japanese population, and has taken the world by storm. Think Japanese dishes, but with Peruvian ingredients and flavors!
After you’ve tried ceviche and Nikkei, it’s time to get a bit more adventurous. This is where you’ll really start eating like a local, with dishes like cuy (roasted guinea pig) lining up Peruvian markets, and alpaca steaks in the Sacred Valley. You wanted to eat like a local, right?
Take it one step further by opting for a cooking experience. One that you can do on Highlights of Peru is going to Chef Ignacio’s local cooking school in Lima.
Ignacio Barrios has worked alongside many of Peru’s award-winning chefs, now you get to join in! He’ll give you a cooking demonstration on how to prepare some of Peru’s most popular dishes. You’ll then get to taste it yourself. Afterwards, get a good lesson on how to pour the perfect Pisco sour, Peru’s native drink. Ignacio will explain the history of Pisco, show you the Pisco Sour, and also a less-known (but locally more popular) drink called “Chilcano”. This cocktail of Pisco, lime juice, ginger ale and bitters is a refreshing twist on the Pisco Sour that only the locals know.
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3. Unlock Machu Picchu with a local guide
The sight of Machu Picchu is one you’ll never forget. The citadel in the sky holds untold secrets and reveals no answers – only more questions. Take it from this writer, you’ll want someone there to answer those questions. The only thing I regret about my visit was not having a guide to explain the history of this Incan marvel. Make sure to do your research to get a reputable guide, or ask other travelers you meet out there for their personal recommendations.
However, if you’re traveling with Trafalgar, your guide is already covered. You’ll have a Local Specialist showing you through this wonder, giving you the full lowdown of the Incan citadel. You’ll learn about the ceremonial rooms, storage areas, agricultural land, temples, astronomical observatories, and more. Plus, expect plenty of fascinating anecdotes on the story of the Incas and how Machu Picchu came to be.
4. Visit a local market
Getting lost in the markets is one of the best ways to experience Peru at its most authentic. In sprawling handicraft markets you’ll find amazing textiles, blankets made of alpaca, wooly hats as soft as a cloud, and more. In covered food markets you’ll see stall after stall of vibrant ingredients and dishes sold by the Indigenous locals.
But be aware – Peru’s markets are lined with tourist traps. They can be filled with cheap, mass-produced goods arriving from neighboring Latin American countries. This is especially true for huge, touristy markets like Mercado de Artesania in Pisac. While places like these are great to get some souvinirs, try be careful about what you buy. Here are our personal recommendations of some other markets to check out as well.
San Camilo is one of Arequipa’s most famous attractions. Almost like a temple to Peru’s produce, this is where the locals get their daily supplies like fresh produce, breads, cheeses, and delicacies like the giant guinea pig. As local as it is, this sprawling market is very famous so it does get pretty touristy. Try out Urubamba market up in the Sacred Valley for something different. Here farmers sell local produce all throughout the week. Though, visit on Wednesdays, Fridays or Sundays for the really wacky stuff. Traveling vendors come and peddle rare, unusual wares from across the mountains, forests and coastlines of Peru.
Another place to check out is the Tarapoto Artisan Market. This is an Amazonian sanctuary for those looking for distinctive, handcrafted goods, like complex pottery, colorful fabrics, and Indigenous Amazonian instruments.
One more place you should check out is the Witchcraft market in Chiclayo. In the Mercado Modelo, there’s a “brujos” section – for witches and witch doctors. All kinds of trinkets, herbs, spiritual relics and intriguing ingredients are on display here, so stop by to see Peru’s mysterious spiritual side.
Remember Chef Ignacio? In Lima, before we visit his cooking school, he’ll take us to a local market where he’ll explain how Peruvian fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats are the basis of Peruvian cooking.
5. Learn about Indigenous culture
As you travel through Peru, you’ll see plenty of the Indigenous locals. They are far more integrated than in other Latin American countries, and its not uncommon to see people in fantastic colorful dress popping down to the market for their food shop. To experience Peru in it’s most authentic form, connecting with these locals is a must.
However, that’s easier said than done. That’s why with Trafalgar, we’ve made connections with the local community, doing the hard work for you. Through our interactive experiences, you’ll learn about their rich culture and take away priceless experiences that money can’t buy.
One of these is a visit to the Manos de la Comunidad weaving center, which you’ll stop by while on Highlights of Peru. Here you’ll learn about the artistic tradition of weaving, as well as traditions of the Sacred Valley such as “lindaje”. This typical tradition reinforces the borders of each community and involves several customs, one of which involves men dancing in typical women’s clothes.
Another similar experience on the same tour is when you get to meet Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, a master Quechua weaver and the first person from her village to attend university. She has been an ambassador for Andean traditions since she began learning ancient pre-Columbian weaving techniques as a young girl in the 1960s. You’ll speak with her and learn about the traditional weaving practice using natural dyeing techniques, as well as its importance to Indigenous identity and culture.
Both of these are MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, helping preserve and promote traditional pre-Columbian weaving techniques in the 21st century.
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6. Say hi to the local Andean camels
Experience Peru through its furry friends, the local llamas and alpacas that are as much a part of the local identity as the people. The Andean camels are a national symbol of the country, much loved by locals and tourists alike. The llamas and alpacas are the most famous: you’ll find them herded by locals, and roaming through the cities and meadows nearby. They’re also what most of the wooly crafts are made of. Then you have the Guanaco – the more slender cousin of the previous two, and the Vicuña. Both are wild, but the latter is far smaller, more delicate, and its wool is one of the most prized materials in the world. Buying a vicuña product will set you back a fair penny, but its truly one of the most rare and authentic Peruvian materials you could ever have your hands on!
7. Visit unique places off the beaten track
To experience Peru authentically, you have be a little adventurous and go to places not on the tourist trail. Try heading into local shops, organic farms, and unique businesses that you wouldn’t normally go into. They’ll happily welcome tourists into their little world. Of course, it’s hard to know where to start when you’re not familiar with the country. So our itineraries make sure you’re covered. Here’s some Peru travel advice for unique local places off the beaten track, based on our wonderful itinerary Land of the Incas.
Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness
Level up your Peru experience by going to Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness, a 5-star spa hotel nestled along the Vilcanota riverbank in the Sacred Valley. Built on the lands of an old 17th-century colonial hacienda, this is a truly unique stay that you’ll never forget. Here are a few of the unique things you’ll find:
- The 17th-century Hacienda Yaravilca, a colonial kitchen and chapel.
- On-site art Gallery “Martín Chambi”, library, site museum and cinema.
- Orchid garden, gardens with hummingbirds, organic vegetable garden, and walnut orchard.
- Feeding fish in artificial lagoon.
- On-site pool, jacuzzi and spa.
- Kusi Pisco Bar, Rikhunna Restaurant, Gourmet Pukawi Restaurant.
Choco Museum, Cusco
Visit the Choco Museum to learn about the Peruvian chocolate making process, from cacao bean to chocolate bar. On our itineraries Land of the Incas and Highlights of Peru, you’ll get a workshop which includes getting involved and making a bar yourself.
Sweet Flavors at Local Chicheria
A Chicheria is a type of Andean pub where you can enjoy the flavors of chicha, a Peruvian corn beer. On our itineraries, you’ll not only stop by a chicheria to whet the whistle, but also hear about how chicha is brewed by the local Indigenous women. You’ll learn about its Incan history, and about the different types of chica: alcoholic sour chicha de jora made from fermented jora corn, and the non-alcoholic, sweeter, chicha morada.
8. Unlock the most mysterious sites of all
While the iconic Machu Picchu and the enigmatic ruins of the Sacred Valley rightfully claim the spotlight, Peru harbors an array of lesser-known but equally fascinating ancient wonders. Venture beyond the well-trodden paths and discover the mysteries woven into pre-Incan structures that trace their roots back hundreds years. From the intricate designs of Chan Chan to the fortress of Kuélap, these remnants offer a glimpse into ancient societies that thrived in the region. Read about one of these ruins that you can find in the middle of Lima: the huacas from the Lima people.
Adding to Peru’s allure are the mystical Nazca Lines, etched into the vast desert landscape supposedly thousands of years ago. Best appreciated from the air, these enormous geoglyphs depict animals, plants, and geometric shapes. Their purpose remains shrouded in mystery, sparking the imagination and inviting travelers to ponder the ancient hands that sculpted these colossal figures. On Land of the Incas, you’ll get to take a flight to observe the ancient lines, all while learning about the Nazca people who are thought to have made them.