The magic of seeing a dream destination feels a little less like a technicolor memory when it’s packed with slow-moving crowds. Overcrowding is a very real problem when visiting cherished historical sites, and it can be tough to gain the solitude and cultural understanding you crave while wading through thousands of tour bus crowds. Overtourism in Machu Picchu is a serious problem, which authorities are trying to mitigate by implementing new entrance regulations, with timed entrance slots. So far, the crowds persist, and it will be unlikely that things change, as more and more people want to visit bucket list destinations. And Machu Picchu is one of the top ones in every list.
So, why not try something a little different?
If you want a taste of South American culture and history without all the crowds, there are plenty of alternative adventures to try. On a tailor made experience with Aracari, you’ll visit pristine little known sites, and your expert guides can help you avoid the throngs of crowds. Below, some of Aracari’s top experiences to inspire.
Known as a sister city to Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is a rarely visited Incan site that is sometimes thought of as an alternative Machu Picchu. Tucked into the mountains, this ancient city can only be reached by foot. The ruins are as far-reaching and extensive as Machu Picchu, but have remained under the radar for centuries. It’s one of the top trips to Peru to inspire.
Like Machu Picchu, the city sits on a mountain outcrop and looks out over a river. In fact, Choquequirao was even known by Machu Picchu’s current nickname, “the lost city of the Incas,” for over one hundred years. It’s believed to be where Inca leaders fled when Cusco was taken by the Spanish.
You can reach Choquequirao with Aracari by diverging from the beaten path on a strenuous five day trek and taking in scenic mountain views as you make your way to the ruins. Choquequirao wasn’t written about by outside explorers until the 18th century, and much of the city has yet to be excavated. You’ll find pristine archaeological treasures just waiting to be explored.
2. Ancascocha Trek
An excellent Inca Trail alternative is the Ancascocha trail trek, a three day journey through high peaks and stunning wildlife. You’ll test your physical capabilities as you travel among untouched natural wonders and steep paths. Along the way are peaceful landscapes that are rarely traversed by large groups.
You’ll trek to Abra Huayanay, 15,000-foot peak. You’ll pass glaciers, mountains, and Paucarcancha, a breathtaking Incan ruins site.
The Ancascocha trail is an especially great option if you’re a last-minute traveler and haven’t made the six-month advance reservation required for the Inca trail. Ancascocha treks can be booked on relatively short notice, and you’ll still get your fix of nature and archeological history.
3. Salar de Uyuni During The Shoulder Season
Southern Bolivia’s otherworldly Salar de Uyuni are a sight to behold. These wide-ranging salt flats have been around for 40,000 years, and are no less fascinating to look at than they were at the beginning. The vast stretches of white against a bright blue sky are a photographer’s dream come true.
While many visitors to the salt flats immediately head to Inca Wasi Island, a crowded spot in the center of the flats, there are so any other interesting things to do during your stay. You can visit remote communities, climb a volcano, or simply spend time soaking in your unique surroundings. If you visit Salar de Uyuni during the shoulder season, you’ll have the area mostly to yourself, and may even be able to enjoy Inca Wasi Island without too many other visitors.
You can stay in a salt hotel (yes, it’s made of salt!) along the shores of the flats, and when night falls, you’ll gaze up at stars that are totally uninhibited by light pollution.
4. Sucre, Bolivia
Sucre, Bolivia’s most charming city, is far less crowded than many of its surrounding metropolises. Sucre is known for its French vibe, stunning architecture and monuments, and fantastic food. Even if you do nothing but take a long strong through the city, you’d experience views worth writing home about.
Sucre is a great destination for anyone who loves textiles. You’ll want to visit the Museo de Art Indigena, which celebrates local indigenous weaving techniques.
If you’re looking to venture a bit outside the city, the Sunday Indigenous Market, Tarabuco, offers a chance to explore local treasures in an environment that’s not too crowded. Near the city are many talented indigenous communities of weavers with renowned techniques. You can expand your textile adventure even further by visiting Hacienda Candelaria, home of a local Sucre fixture who can guide you through visits with local indigenous weavers.
5. Chachapoyas, Peru
This city Chachapoyas in northern Peru is a treasure trove of rich culture, stunning wildlife, and waterfalls. It’s like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie. Chachapoyas is located where the Amazon, the Andes mountains, and the Peruvian coast meet. It’s an off-the-beaten path adventure without the tour buses and lines that often crowd other sites, so there’s for anyone looking for trips to Peru to inspire, it’s no surprise that it’s known as Peru’s best-kept secret.
Chachapoyas a bit difficult to access, but upon reaching it you’ll be rewarded with rich archaeological experiences and few crowds. You can visit some of the world’s highest waterfalls, the ancient fortified city of Kuelap, and the fantastic Leymebamba Museum, which preserves local mummified remains. You’ll be able to traverse deep into rarely traveled territory and journey to archaeological sites that are rarely open to the public.
6. Cruise Through The Western Galapagos Islands
The Western Galapagos are the ideal place to escape the crowds and get to know wildlife in a whole new way. You’ll up close and personal with penguins, rays, sea lions, sharks, and native fish and visit local communities on the islands.
You can hike to the Sierra Negro Volcano, hang out with sea lions on the beach, and snorkel with local sea creatures before heading back onto the boat for delicious Ecuadorian meals. An 8 day cruise visiting Fernandina, Isabela and Genovesa will do the trick.
7. Machu Picchu in February
There’s a reason Machu Picchu gets so crowded almost every month of the year – it’s a truly life-affirming experience. That said, if you want to see it without crowds, your best bet is to visit in February.
February is the rainy season, and a bit warmer than most months, but the main reason it’s such a great time to visit is because the Inca Trail is closed to the public each February for maintenance and construction. If you don’t plan to hike the trail, this is the ideal time to see the ruins without as many crowds around you. Other less-crowded months are April, May, September, October, and November.
8. Chaparri, Peru
This private forested nature reserve is home to the beautiful and endangered Spectacled Bear, as well as many other protected species. Pay a visit to spot exotic birds, foxes, deer, cougars, and of course, the famous bears. The bears are offered rescue and rehab services, and while some will be reintroduced to the wild, others will live peacefully at the reserve for the rest of their lives. This is a rare opportunity to see them in a candid setting. Check our Paddington Bear Itinerary!
Accomodations in Chaparri:
The beautiful Chaparri Lodge is located within a 34,412 hectare community-owned and managed private conservation area located in the dry forests of northern Peru.
9. Wellness Retreat In Mancora, Peru
Peru’s northern beaches are sunny, naturalistic, and rarely crowded. Few people besides surfers know much about the Peruvian shore, which makes for a quiet and peaceful visit. The city of Mancora is a great place to lounge by the waterfront and experience a wellness retreat. (This feels even more luxurious right after partaking in a strenuous trek elsewhere in the country.)
In Mancora, you can stay in beautiful beachfront properties like KiChic and Arennas Mancora; where you’ll be treated to healthy meals, luxury renovated spaces, yoga studios, meditation, and water activities like snorkeling. It’s the ideal space to disconnect and recharge.
10. The Moche Route
The Moche culture is not nearly as well-known as the Inca, but they left behind a robust series of archaeological artifacts that are fascinating to explore. The Moche Route is a delightful and immersive path that includes cities of Trujillo and Chiclayo as well as a series of fascinating historic sites along the way.
You’ll be able to take in pyramids, a former mud city, ancient living spaces, and sacred royal tombs. You’ll go behind the scenes to see archaeological sites that are not usually open to the public.
For more inspiration on off-the-beaten-path Peru, Bolivia and Galapagos trips, do browse our itineraries!