Peru

  • Date: September 2012
  • Duration: 2 weeks
  • Currency: Peruvian Sol
  • Lasting impressions:
    • The Inca Trail deserves the mega publicity it gets, it is a magical pathway that will lead you to spiritual place. Machu Picchu was the destination, but the three-day trek to get there was the most challenging, rewarding, and introspective journey I have ever made.
    • Altitude sickness is a real threat, respect it and make sure to plan for acclimation time in Arequipa and Cusco to adjust before setting out on any physically demanding touring.
    • Pisco sours are glowing flavor bombs of tang, energy, and liquid courage.
    • Roosters will be all the alarm clock you need. Their guttural calls make it sound like they’re dying, and yet they keep crowing for a solid hours in the wee hours of the morning.
    • Aji de gallina is somehow only a mash of chicken, eggs, curry, and rice, and yet it is the most delicious dish that can be found in Peru.
    • Quinoa can be made into just about anything, a side dish, pancakes, soup, oatmeal, beauty products, you name it.
    • Llamas may be trendy in the US now, but in Peru they’ve been trendy for millennia. You will fall in love with them, and also learn to differentiate them from their cousins alpacas and vicunas.

Itinerary

  • Lima  – 1 day
  • Paracas – 2 days
  • Huacachina – 1 day
  • Arequipa – 2 days
  • Cusco – 2 days
  • Inca Trail – 4 days
  • Lima – 2 days

peru.001

Lima

Getting there: Airplane from the US

Highlights:

  • Mix of European-style colonial buildings and run-down concrete and rebar.
  • Plaza Mayor, a large central plaza with fountain, flanked by yellow and white colonial buildings.
  • Plaza San Martin and Plaza de Armas, two squares of colonial buildings.
  • Miraflores, a clean, modern neighborhood right near the coast and abounding with green, flowered parks. A breath of fresh air compared to the more industrial neighborhoods.
  • Malecon de la Marina and Malecon Cisneros, two of the roads of the coastal boardwalk that connect a series of small parks, each of which were nice and had their own theme, some dedicated to local important peoples, nature, love, etc.
  • Park of Love, a memorable park along the boardwalk, with a large statue of a man and woman embraced in a passionate kiss.

Paracas

Getting there: 3.5 hour bus ride from Lima

Highlights:

  • Small town (about 2×3 blocks) in the middle of an alien landscape, sand dunes and a few scattered concrete houses. It was hit hard by an earthquake in 2007 and hadn’t recovered much when we visited.
  • Islas Ballestas, “Crossbow Islands”, named for the arches between the islands that look like crossbows. Boat tours ferry you around the rock formations, which were inundated with sea birds and seals, swarming like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. Beneath the birds, the rocks are heavily coated in guano, a fancy word for thick syrupy bird poop!
  • Candelabra, a prehistoric geoglyph in the shape of a candlestick that has been etched into the sand and remains undisturbed.
  • Paracas National Park, a mix of unimpressive desolate desert landscape and few stunning coastal viewpoints, best of which were La Catedral arch and the Red Sand Beach.

Huacachina

Getting there: 1 hour bus ride from Paracas

Highlights:

  • Huacachina is a small oasis surrounding by miles of large, rolling sand dunes, and mostly filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, perfect for lounging next to a pool with a Pisco Sour in hand.
  • Dune buggy tour, two hours zipping up and down the sand dunes! Sprawling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Our driver alternated between fast and slow speeds, and we went up and down some steep slopes. At one point we stopped to sandboard down the dunes. By the end we had sand all over our bodies, and we were still shaking sand out of clothes and shoes a week later.

Arequipa

Getting there: 11 hour night bus from Huacachina

Highlights:

  • Monastery of Saint Catalina, a very large, enclosed old convent, who interior was sillar (similar to stucco) painted in rich red, blue, and white tones. There are a series of courtyards surround by nun rooms.
  • Plaza de Armas, edged with teeming, well-maintained colonial buildings, surrounding a green space and fountain.
  • Basilica Cathedral, the most striking building along the Plaza de Armas, beautiful during the day and illuminated at night.
  • We sample “cuy” (guinea pig), it seemed like a must-do activity in Peru. It was served roasted whole, seemingly straight from a pet store! Once was enough.
  • Chachani Mountain bike tour, where guides drove us 2.5 hours out of town to a high point on the mountain range, suited us up in protective padding, and let us mountain bike down the gravel roads. While the biking wasn’t serious, the views were! Looking down on the greenish valley floor below and Mount Misti across the way.

Cusco

Getting there: 30 minute flight from Arequipa to Cusco

Highlights:

  • Cusco is Peru’s sparkling gem of a city, with tan, muted red, and ivory architecture and well-maintained churches and buildings. It is thick with tourists but deserves to be, as the launching point to the popular Machu Picchu.
  • Plaza de Armas, the heart of Cusco and the ideal spot to sit back with a coffee and watch the activity in the square.
  • Mercado San Pedro, a huge indoor market with aisles of stalls of souvenirs and food, a broader variety of grains, corn, beans, and potatoes than we had ever seen! Also assorted butchered meats and jars of snakes, that were not tempting to purchase.
  • San Francisco Church and Santa Clara Church, stunning brown stone churches.
  • Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha and Iglesia de Santo Domingo, two beautiful large brown stone buildings fronted by a vibrant green lawn, which was kept short by fluffy roaming alpacas.
  • Cristo Blanco, a 20 minute walk up into the hills, providing a great view of the city below.

Inca Trail

Getting there: Van from Cusco to the Inca Trail Checkpoint

Highlights:

  • 4 Day / 3 Night trek to Machu Picchu. Truly the most inspiring adventure I have ever been on, physically exhausting but spiritually refreshing. Miles of well-maintained stone path, thousands of steps (some large, some small), and stunning views.
  • Trek Porters, I’ve never been so impressed by anyone’s physical strength and endurance. They would pack up camp after we left, cover the trail at a fast hike and sometimes jog pace, and set up camp and have a hot meal waiting when we arrived. They carried all the camping gear, propane tanks, food, portable bathrooms, everything, and never appeared tired, always smiling. We were so grateful for their help and guidance, hiking the trail with even a small backpack was exhausting for us.
  • Urubamba River, the entry point to the Inca Trail, a mild flat trail snaking along the river through a canyon.
  • Dead Woman’s Pass, a grueling ascent reaching 4,200 meters / 13,800 feet, by far the hardest portion of the trek but immensely rewarding to peak.
  • Llullucha valley, a steep valley with my favorite smaller ruin, a circular set of stones soaking up the sun rays.
  • Cloud Forest, where floating fog patches further amplify the mystical aura.
  • Wiñay Wayna, a serene set of stone-edged terraces, at the end of Day 3 where we camped to rest up before the final day.
  • Machu Picchu, the grand finale to a few hard days of hiking, we started hiking towards it before 6am and had a few hours to enjoy the site before returning to Agua Calientes to train back to Cusco. Amazing, yes, but I’d have to say the trek to get there was even more spectacular and memorable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s