Peru, South America
Many people dream about holidays where they relax on the beach sipping cocktails all day and there are some of us that plan our holiday adventures around cultural experiences and camping under the stars.
Peru's an amazing country full of historical locations and people proud to share cultural traditions with you. Peru is a place that has multiple sub climates: that’s why they have so many different types of food.
From the coastline that barely gets rain, to the stinking hot desert of Nazca where very little grows, to a beautiful lush jungle of the Amazon where it can change from hot and humid to pouring down rain in minutes. But where else in the world can you experience all this in one trip?
Here are a few basic things you need to know about Peru.
First of all it a Spanish speaking country. So don’t get upset when the people at the airport and at your hotels don’t speak very good English. Just be open and willing to learn some basic words to get you through your trip.
As Spanish is the main spoken language expect to see a lot of channels on TV that are Spanish only.
It’s still a third world country that’s in the process of rebuilding itself, so their roads are horrible with highway speeds limited to 50km/hr or 80km/hr with randomly placed speed humps to slow the traffic down.
As Peru is located within South America they use American power plugs most the time. Take an adaptor that has multiple plugs in one so you don’t get caught out.
Our trip was organised by a Peruvian travel agent, Monica Tours Peru, to ensure that we were making the most of our time. The itinerary was full on. We never stayed in the same place for 2 nights. Most of our days consisted of sitting on a bus and getting off occasionally to look at historical or points of interest. But it wasn’t a bus tour. We only saw the same people once or twice throughout the week we had travelled down the coast from Lima to Cusco.
We started off our trip in Lima, the new capital city of Peru as it is on the Pacific Ocean for easy access to the shipping routes.
Lima is full of history, from the pre-Inca pyramids to Spanish colonial houses. There are many museums, like Larco Museum, which houses artefacts that have been found dating back more than 14,000 years. If you’re into seeing a few churches or so, Lima is only the beginning of our daily dose of church visiting for the first week. But when in Lima be sure to check out St. Francisco church where you can walk through the catacombs where scientists have found over 20,000 human bones.
As you’re heading down the coast from Lima towards Nazca, be sure to have a much needed rest stop from the bus in Paracas.
Paracas is located on the coast and on the edge is the Paracas National Reserve which has been put in place to protect a large variety of sea and bird life that occupy the islands off its coast. If you have strong stomach to put up with the stench of bird faeces or would like to get up close to take photos of Peruvian Pelicans (Alcatraz), Booby Birds, Tern and Black Skimmers then this is the place to get your camera out and snap away but of course you’re most likely to take many pictures of the lazy seals which lay all over the rocks.
Peruvian Pelicans (Alcatraz) on the head land above us
When venturing to Peru a must see on your list has to be the Nazca Lines. Archeologists still aren’t sure why the original locals created the lines, but some believe it was some sort of offering to the gods. From the air you’ll be able to see outlines of a beautiful hummingbird, lizard, tree, heron, condor, whale, monkey and a spider. With the flight over the lines only being 30 mins, it is a very fast flight so have your camera at the ready because it could be gone before they say “There it is!”. To be honest I didn’t get many shots off at all. There isn’t much contrast for the camera to focus on as everything is the same desert colour. Getting a seat towards the back of the plane is best, if your able to request it.
Figure of the Hummingbird from the sky
Since we had a little spare time in the extremely dry and hot desert of Nazca, our guide took us out to Chauchilla Cemetery where we got to see well preserved mummified humans and original pottery. The cemetery has been dated back to 200 AD.
Be sure to organise a local guide to take you out there as they are very informative and very willing to share their knowledge of the history with you.
Our final stop in Nazca was the aqueducts. Out of the 36 aqueducts, most are still functional. There is no known date for when the aqueducts were built, but many believe it was around 540 AD. They were built as a source for locals to gather water for cooking and washing. The spiral holes have an underground canal that connects them to let the water pass through as it travels downstream. Its been said that the reason for the spiral funnel was it help keep the water flowing and the difference in atmospheric pressure along the canal length forced the water through the system and eventually to the desired destination.
Sunset at Nazca Aqueducts
The bus ride between Nazca and Arequipa is a little over 12 hours with no stops. Its best to try and get the night bus as there is nothing to see out the window anyway.
Arequipa was Peru’s capital city from 1835 to 1883 before Lima was founded and became the new capital city of Peru due to its easy access to the ocean.
Arequipa is framed by some amazing mountains that are apart of the Andes. Misty Mountain, Chachani, which is the highest of the three mountains standing at 6,075 meters above sea level, and Picchu Picchu which is an inactive eroded volcano.
Scenery of Arequipa
Besides the beautiful natural scenery Arequipa has many religious buildings throughout the city. You can go on a city tour that will take you to each place, like we did, and hear the history of the city and enter into the churches and monasteries.
After a long day of walking be sure to take a load off your feet with dinner at one of the restaurants which overlook the town square. With a large choice to choose from you will find something you like.
A town square is located in every town, you travel through. The square in Arequipa is aways thriving with local action and beautifully lit up at night.
As you travel from Arequipa to Chivay through the Andes mountain range you pass through Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve which is located at 4,000 meters above sea level. Within this reserve you may get to see the smaller relative to the Alpaca, the Vicuña, which are protected species. Be sure to try and grab a few photos if you get the chance. You will definitely get to see llamas and alpacas so get your tourist photos with them.
Alpacas in Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve
While heading to Chivay you will pass through the highest point of our whole trip, 4,900 meters above sea level. Be sure to ask your tour guide to stop and take photos for you to see when you get home.
Chivay is a small town located on the southern side of the Colca Valley which happens to be the gateway to the Colca Canyon. You may travel to the Colca Canyon for many different reasons. People do treks through it or some people, like us, use it as a stop over place on the way to Puno. The Colca Canyon is home to the Condor which can be a hit or a miss if you actually get to see them. They’re only out for a small time window if you’re lucky, usually in the morning. If you’re a photographer, be sure to take a long lens to capture the birds as they fly past.
Colca Canyon Condors
While we were in Chivay we were treated to our first "cultural night”. Every country has them and it's well worth seeing at least one while you’re there. It was a great opportunity to hear the local traditional music and dances all while having lots of fun and laughs with other tourists while you eat dinner.
There was no resting on our trip, but when you are travelling to see as much as you can, who needs to rest.
The next stop on our list is Puno. Home to the famous Lake Titikaka and the floating islands.
When travelling through Peru heading out to the Uros floating islands on Lake Titikaka is high on many peoples to see lists. With more than 70 man-made totora reed islands which are occupied by more than 2800 people.
People living on floating reed islands can only be found here. Each small village, consisting of a family and their relatives, all have a designated President. The President is the protector of their community and when tourists, like ourselves, come to their island they are the ones who do all the talking, besides your guide. Of course after the explanation of how the islands can float you get a little free time to look around the small island and communicate with the locals. Don’t forget to take some money as they will sucker you into buying some of their handmade products.
The floating islands of Uros
Not far from the Uros floating islands is the island of Taquile where you will get off the boat for a little exercise and lunch. Lunch was a fresh grilled trout which we ate while looking out over Lake Titikaka to Bolivia.
View from the top of Taquile
This day is a very long day but it is a must do on your trip.
Back on the road and we head to our final destination, Cusco.
Cusco is a large historical city that still contains remnants of the Inca times before it was destroyed by the Spanish invasion. Many parts of the cities buildings sit on top of the old remains of Inca palaces and temples.
When you get to Cusco, if you haven’t already organised one, be sure to go on a city tour. It is well worth the money.
The largest church in the city was built by the Incas for the Spanish Catholics to worship God in and convert the local Incas to the catholic faith. In order to build the church the Spanish destroyed Inca places of worship and took all their gold and silver to use in their new churches.
Throughout the tour you will be taken to many different churches but most importantly you will get to see the Inca ruins of Saksaywaman which look over the city of Cusco. When you're there you will marvel over the shear size of some of the rocks, that had to be moved from more than 7 kilometres away, and the way that every rock has a place and why and how the building is still standing today.
The Inca ruins of Saksaywaman
Only a short distance out of Cusco there is a large variety of are day trips available. One of them, which we did, takes you out to Chinchilla to see a textiles business which will show you how the locals colour the sheep and llama wool before weaving it into a variety of different products like scarfs, rugs, beanies, jumpers etc.
Also, head out to the Maras salt evaporation ponds (Salt Mines). The salt ponds produce 50kgs of salt every 10-13 days. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the 300 odd ponds.
Maras salt evaporation ponds
The final stop of the day is Moray. Moray is an archaeological site on the high plateau of Cuzco about 3,500 meters about sea level. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of three terraced circular depressions. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.
Moray archaeological site
While we only had a little time to explore the local sites of Cusco, there are plenty of local sites like the Rainbow Mountains, Pikillaqta, Huchuy Qosqo & the Sacred Valley.
Peru is an amazing place and I wish there was more time to see it all. But now its time to starts packing our duffle bag and backpacks as our next adventure was about to begin: walking in the foot steps of the Incas on the Inca Trail.
Travel Agent: Monica Tours Peru - monicatoursperu.com
Airline: LANTAM Airlines - latam.com