Peru is Home to Countless Superlatives. Would You Conquer Them?

Many aspire to journey to Machu Picchu in Peru — one of the world’s seven wonders. It's the kind of place you just can't skip, despite the tourist hubbub.

Yet, amidst this fervor, many overlook the depth of Peru's offerings. The country boasts an array of superlatives that extend far beyond its famed landmarks. From the deepest to the highest, the strangest to the driest, Peru showcases remarkable diversity. Locals are well aware of this abundance, but for some reason, the country struggles to broadcast its riches to the wider world.

Here, a wild coastline stretches over 3,000 kilometers. The Amazon runs into Peru, hiding some of the most untouched rainforests on the planet. The canyons in Peru are some of the deepest in the world. Peru also boasts colonial cities and arguably the best cuisine in South America. Venture inland, and you’ll stumble upon remnants of ancient, sophisticated cultures. And then there are the Peruvian Andes — raw, rugged, and one of the longest, most defiant mountain ranges in the world.

Driven by a passion for immersive overland travel, Nomadic Road set its sights on southern Peru. Covering roughly 2,500 kilometers, the 11-day Peruvian expedition is a journey like no other in this land of extremes.

Canyons in Peru: Deeper Than the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon in Arizona delivers awe-inspiring panoramas. At its deepest, it reaches approximately 6,000 feet — equivalent to stacking six Eiffel Towers atop each other. No wonder it has made it to the big screen on several occasions.

But when you explore Peru, you'll discover canyons that surpass even the Grand Canyon. One such example is the Cotahuasi Canyon, which is nearly twice as deep. It plunges to approximately 11,000 feet at its lowest point.

Reaching Cotahuasi poses challenges due to its remote location. Travellers must navigate the rugged Andean mountains via winding switchback roads, often encountering bumpy terrain along the way. But the route is accompanied by scenic views of Inca and Wari ruins nestled among towering peaks.

The Cotahuasi Canyon, also known as El Cañón de las Maravillas (The Canyon of Wonders), lives up to its name. Surrounding it are agricultural terraces dating back to the Pre-Inca period, still farmed today. Magnificent waterfalls cascade off cliff edges. Stone forests feature naturally sculpted rocks that seem otherworldly. Giant cacti forests boast cacti from 2 inches to towering 500-inch specimens.

Not far from Cotahuasi lies Colca Canyon, adding to Peru's list of superlatives as the world's second deepest canyon. The journey involves a full day of driving along winding roads leading to Chivay. Surrounding the area are 119 geosites, with Colca being one of them.

Here, sheer cliffs plunge into deep ravines, their walls painted in layers of reds, browns, and golds. They tell a geological story millions of years in the making. What sets Colca Canyon apart is its staggering altitude, reaching approximately 3,500 meters. This creates a breathtaking backdrop against the majestic Andes. 

Pause and observe, and you might catch sight of Andean condors gracefully gliding above. With a wingspan exceeding 7 feet, they rank among the largest flying creatures globally. Witnessing them up-close is oddly terrifying. Still, it evokes a mix of awe and humility.

The Peruvian Andes: The World’s Longest Mountain Range

So much about South America ties back to the Andes: the dramatic landscapes, rich indigenous cultures, diverse cuisines, vast wilderness, and incredible wildlife. The Andes slice South America in two from north to south. As one of the longest mountain ranges in the world, it spans seven countries, including Peru.

It is in the Andes in Peru that we encounter awe-inspiring canyons. Climbing higher into the Andes from Cotahuasi, the drive gets rough. Treacherous, winding roads with steep climbs and drops push drivers to their limits. But reaching Andagua, the Valley of Volcanoes, makes it all worth it.

Andagua feels like something out of a dream. Shaped by ferocious volcanic activity, it's home to nearly a hundred volcanoes, each with its own unique character. Peppered with cactus groves and villages atop ancient lava flows, it's a place that defies belief.

But the Andes range is a gift that keeps giving. Driving at altitudes ranging from 3,500 to 4,000 meters, the beauty is rugged and untouched. The scent of wildflowers and freshly growing herbs hangs in the breeze. These high altitudes are home to exotic wildlife you won't find back home, with herds of llamas dotting the landscape.

As our expedition nears its end, we arrive at Lake Titicaca — yet another marvel born of the Andes.

Lake Titicaca: More Than Just the Largest Navigable Lake

Lake Titicaca is a treasure trove of superlatives. It's South America's biggest freshwater lake and the world's highest navigable one, nestled about 3,810 meters above sea level in the Andes. Shared by Peru and Bolivia, it hosts one of the world's most extraordinary feats of human engineering: the Uros Islands.

The man-made floating islets, inhabited by the indigenous Uros people, are crafted by layering totora roots and reeds. Despite their uniqueness, the Uros Islands often escape tourist itineraries. We visit Titicaca towards the end of our journey, offering travellers a respite from driving. Boarding boats, we admire their enduring ingenuity.

Amidst sweeping modernization and technological revolutions, there are pockets in the world that cling to traditional ways of living. It's fascinating to observe, to say the least. But Lake Titicaca is as exceptional naturally as it is culturally. The deep blue water blends seamlessly with the sky, creating a stunning visual. Snow-tipped peaks surround the lake, giving the sensation of floating atop the earth's highest elevations.

The Inca Empire: A Colossal Civilization of the Americas

Legend has it that Lake Titicaca is where the Incas originated. They likely descended from local alpaca farmers, as suggested by nearby ancient ruins. The Inca Civilization was one of the largest and most advanced in the Americas.

The Incas were pioneers in many ways. Despite limited access to flat land, they ingeniously constructed agricultural terraces by carving sections of the Andes. They were among the first to master freeze-drying techniques, and were also exceptional surgeons.

In several parts of southern Peru, travellers catch glimpses of Inca traditions. On our final expedition day, we arrive in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. The city and its nearby ruins transports you into the cosmic realm of ancient Andean culture.

But the capital of Cuzco is only the gateway. Beyond it stretches the Sacred Valley, with its Andean villages, high-altitude hamlets, and ruins, all linked by trails and railways to the continent's biggest attraction, Machu Picchu.

Peru: Home to the Most Treacherous and Mysterious

When you explore Peru, you’re in constant awe. Nomadic Road’s travellers often remark on the country’s incredible diversity. For overlanding enthusiasts, this means navigating various terrains: starting with tarmac, moving through Peruvian dunes, driving along rivers and beaches, and crossing mountains and plateaus.

Here, travellers conquer some of the toughest trails. Peru has proudly hosted the Dakar Rally, an off-road race renowned for tracing some of the deadliest routes worldwide. Many expedition participants have seen it on television but never imagine they'd drive on it themselves.

In Peru, you might also come to realise how little we understand about the world we inhabit. This land of superlatives holds some of the greatest mysteries, like the enigmatic Nazca Lines. These are massive geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert, depicting animals, plants, and shapes. 

Their purpose is unknown, with theories suggesting they were used for astronomical or religious reasons. Created over 1,500 years ago, they still puzzle researchers today. Travellers embark on early morning flights over the enigmatic Nazca Lines, an experience truly unlike any other.

Southern Peru — Remote, Rugged, and Raw

On Nomadic Road’s expedition through southern Peru, we venture into uncharted territories. For miles on end, there are no tourists — just llamas, a handful of locals, and our convoy. It’s not for no reason that we call it the Uncharted Sierra Expedition.