This was my first visit to South America, and I can truly say I was blown away.
I covered a massive area in the 12 days, and for 3 of the days it involved 12-hour long coach journeys. However, if I’d have flown from city to city, I would not have seen the ‘real’ Peru. I am so pleased I saw the countryside and little communities where people live and work. I saw such stunning and varied scenery from the Atacama Desert to the river valleys to the high plains to the Pacific coastline; to fields of cacti, rice and olive trees. There was always something interesting to look at. The highest pass was 4,400m. A country full of diversity, culture and interesting history both ancient and modern, just waiting to be explored.
Altitude sickness doesn’t affect everybody, and it has no bearing on age or gender. If it affects you, just walk slowly, drink plenty of water and wear sun screen, as you can burn much quicker at altitude.
My Travel Tips
- Take wet one’s, hand steriliser and tissues. - Mosquitoes or a similar insect were prevalent at Machu Picchu, it’s worth wearing long trousers. - Take a sun hat and lip balm, the sun can be very strong. Ski sun cream and ski lip balm would be worth taking. - Take rich tea biscuits in case you are feeling a bit ill with altitude sickness; the plainness of them helped me. - Get your hotel to change a note so you have some 1 Sol coins for the toilets when you are on the open road. - If you visit the Ballestas Islands wear a hat and rain coat as the birds can mess on you. - At altitude (Arequipa, Puno & Cusco), temperatures at night do drop. - As with anywhere there are opportunist thieves and pick-pockets, so be on your guard.
Peru exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to return in 2019 and walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
My itinerary in brief
I arrived at Lima and headed down the coast to Paracas. A boat trip to the Islas Ballestas which was full of marine life and home to sea lions, pelicans and Humboldt penguins. We passed the Paracas Candelabra, a hillside etching of mysterious origins.
The next stop was a Pisco distillery to learn the process of how the traditional Peruvian Pisco drink is made. Onto Huacachina, a desert oasis and tiny village overlooking Huacachina Lagoon. A lovely place to stop at and take in the desert, but if you are after a little more adrenaline then try the dune buggies.
The Nazca Lines was one of my highlights on this amazing trip. You get an idea of this unexplained phenomena from the viewing tower, but if you get the option to take a scenic flight, I’d highly recommend it and then you’ll see the enormous figures and patterns etched in the desert sand. One of the world's great archaeological mysteries!
Onto Arequipa the second largest city in Peru with it’s beautiful square and 15th century cathedral. I recommend a visit to the Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) where we saw the young girl Juanita - a human sacrifice from the pre-Inca time who has been well-preserved. This is a must to see, very moving. It’s cold in the museum due to how Juanita is kept, so do take a jumper! The landscape around the city is dominated by the three volcanos making it very picturesque.
I started to feel the real effects of the altitude once we arrived in Puno. Puno was used as the base for the day trip to Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world). I visited Taquile Island and the Uros Titino Floating Islands. At Uros Titino a traditional welcome was given before learning how they build their reed islands, boats and learnt about their way of life before being invited into their homes. “The Uros-Titinos people harvested the reeds in the shallows of the lake, bundled them together tightly and built floating island platforms complete with reed houses and canoes, creating their own little world”.
Onto Cusco and a great base to start to acclimatise to the altitude, as it is located 3,400m above sea level. Cusco is a beautiful city and a great find was the Museo Del Café with its free museum and lovely coffee shop. The highlight in Cusco was Sacsayhuaman, an enormous structure overlooking the city of Cusco. Its constructions are amazing, with huge rocks perfectly fitted. It is said that it took over 10,000 workers 50 years to build. The origin of the temple of Sacsayhuaman is still unknown. From Cusco onto the Sacred Valley with a stop by a viewpoint from where you could see the whole of the Sacred Valley before descending in to the town of Pisac which has a great market, known for its multi-coloured textiles, local foods, and indigenous clothing - a great opportunity to pick up some souvenirs as well as take some great photos. The overnight stop was Ollantaytambo, but before relaxing a climb to the huge Sun Temple had to be done.
The wow for the whole trip was the visit to Machu Picchu standing at 2,430m above sea level. The Peru Rail Expedition service from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientas exceeded expectations in comfort and views. From Aguas Calientas buses make the final steep, zigzagging climb through the cloud forest to the Lost City of the Incas. The phenomenal site must be viewed with a guide so you can appreciate the archaeological mysterious wonder. The site is much bigger than I had realised with its giant walls, terraces and ramps, an amazing creation of the Inca Empire at its height.
Lima was our final stop, with a drive to the colonial side of the Capital to explore the Cathedral, Government Palace, the Monastery of San Francisco, a seventeenth-century complex that houses some wonderful paintings as well as the catacombs which run under the church. Then returning to Miraflores for lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a quick photo stop with the Paddington Bear statue.