8 Authentic Ways to Experience Peru

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.

1. Meet the lively locals

Two Peruvian women laughing and holding each other while in traditional dress.

No matter where you are, 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.

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.

A plate of ceviche - raw fish, corn, sweet potato and onion covered in citrus acid.
Ceviche, Peru’s national dish

Refreshing, tangy, and incredibly tasty, this Peruvian platter of fresh fish cooked in citrus acid is perfect for your entry point. Try it at any of the many cevicherias populated around Peru’s cities and towns. A favourite spot is the 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 flavours!

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 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.

Chef Ignacio helping someone at his cooking school while they fry something on the stove.

3. Unlock Machu Picchu with a local guide

Machu Picchu at golden hour, lit up with beautiful light.

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.  Make sure to do your research to get a reputable guide, or ask other travellers you meet out there for their personal recommendations.

4. Visit a local market

A local market in Peru, showing off textiles

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, woolly 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 neighbouring 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 souvenirs, try to be careful about what you buy. Here are our personal recommendations for 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, bread, 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, colourful 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.

5. Learn about Indigenous culture

Three Peruvian men in traditional dress stand with the Andes in the background, two of them playing wind instruments

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 it’s not uncommon to see people in fantastic colourful dresses popping down to the market for their food shop. To experience Peru in its most authentic form, connecting with these locals is a must.

Make a visit to the Manos de la Comunidad weaving centre, 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.

6. Say hi to the local Andean camels

A photo of an Andean camel with mountains in the background

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 woolly 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 and more delicate, its wool is one of the most prized materials in the world. Buying a vicuña product will set you back a fair penny, but it’s 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 to be a little adventurous and go to places that aren’t 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.  Here’s some Peru travel advice for unique local places off the beaten track.

Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness

A landscape shot of Aranwa Hotel, with Andean mountains in the background and a horse and carriage crossing a quaint bridge

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 an artificial lagoon.
  • On-site pool, jacuzzi and spa.
  • Kusi Pisco Bar, Rikhunna Restaurant, Gourmet Pukawi Restaurant.

Choco Museum, Cusco

Closeup of a cacao bean and freshly-made chocolate

Visit the Choco Museum to learn about the Peruvian chocolate-making process, from cacao beans to chocolate bars.

Sweet Flavors at Local Chicheria

Chicha beer lined up in a local chicheria

A Chicheria is a type of Andean pub where you can enjoy the flavours 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 harbours 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 of 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.

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 travellers to ponder the ancient hands that sculpted these colossal figures.

Discover the most authentic ways to experience Peru on Land of the Incas or Highlights of Peru.