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Setting Forth To Peru

Peru was always a destination on our bucket list. When planning the trip I figured – if I’m going to fly half way around the world, I might as well see as much of Peru as possible, so I decided to spend almost three weeks there and visit as much of the south as I could.

Lima

At Lima airport the guide was waiting promptly for us, and we started our journey through Lima towards our hotel. The journey through Lima, although technically a transfer, was like a tour itself as my ears and eyes were drawn to the buzz around the car and fascinated by the city of Lima – the constant humdrum of horns, shouting of street sellers, flashing of lights, vibrant colours of the architecture… it was an exhilarating journey and an exciting welcome to Peru.

 

We arrived at the hotel, the fabulous Casa Andina Select Miraflores, and were delighted at the modernity and size of the room. However we weren’t in Peru to appreciate the inside of our hotel room!, and as our formal excursions weren’t starting until the next day we decided to use the time to explore Miraflores, which was easy given how central the hotel was. On first impressions, certainly in Miraflores, Lima felt very modern, with a nice mix of coast line (with fabulous views of the Pacific) where we had a little stroll. Later in the afternoon we decided to take your advice and visit the ancient pyramid in Miraflores, and we suddenly started to feel like we were in South America – where else can you find a pyramid in the middle of a modern city? We paid only a few pounds to enter the site with a full guided tour, and were blown away by how such an ancient pyramid (2500 years old apparently) can be found right in the heart of a modern district of Lima. We ended the afternoon eating in one of the local eateries in Miraflores, specifically choosing one that was full of Peruvians, and ate what I have to say was a gorgeous three-course meal for only 9 soles (around £2).

Cheap Restaurant Lima - Go Andes Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Peru - Go Andes

Although slightly jet-lagged by late afternoon, we made a commitment to ourselves to stay up late and go to bed at a normal Peruvian time, so that we would adjust to the 6-hour time difference as quickly as possible, so in the evening rather than calling it a night early we took a taxi to another of Go Andes recommendations in Lima, and visited the fountain park, Circuito Magico del Agua. We got dropped off by the taxi right at the entrance, and entered the park. There was an immediate buzz of enjoyment around the place – it is clearly very popular with locals – and we found ourselves immersed in the sounds of enjoyment, laughing, playing, excitement, coupled with the splashing of water from the many fountains, which I have to say were beautiful. We probably spent over an hour just walking and exploring the large site, before returning for a unique display – where cinematic moving pictures were projected on a wall of water created by many dancing fountains, all choreographed to music. I have never seen anything like this before, and for the entry fee (which was next to nothing) was blown away by how great this place was.

Circuito Magico del Agua, Lima - Go Andes

Journey South in Peru

The next morning it was time to leave Lima behind and we headed south by bus driving through the desert-like landscapes. We arrived at the village of Paracas, which was smaller than I was expecting, and spent the afternoon wandering near the shore, admiring the ageing fishing vessels in their brightly coloured patterns and the many friendly pelicans that seemed to hang-around hoping for a stray fish.

The next day was our Islas Ballestas tour. Prior to booking the holiday this was not something I had ever hard of, but the tour was great. The first surprise was the giant Candelabro sign we passed, carved into the rock like a giant candlestick. The guide explained that the origins of this giant man-made landmark are unknown, although he said it is believed to be from the time of the Nazca lines. The boat then approached the Ballestas islands themselves, and we spent the next hour or so circling around the islands so we could appreciate them from all sides – we saw hundreds of thousands of birds, pelicans, penguins, sea lions. This tour was really enjoyable and a real surprise, with a great blend of scenery and wild-life. I don’t think I have ever seen as many birds in one place before.

Islas Ballestas, Peru - Go Andes El Candelabro, Islas Ballestas, Peru - Go Andes

Islas Ballestas, Peru - Go Andes Islas Ballestas, Peru - Go Andes

Our adventure continued the following morning with a trip I was looking forward to with equal measures of apprehension, and excitement! Unlike the Islas Ballestas the Nazca Lines is something I had heard about… but I am famed for not having a very strong stomach so the idea of being cooped up in a tiny plane was not my first idea of fun. However we had researched the trip before coming, and although we were given the option of seeing the lines from a viewing tower, many websites had basically said this was a waste of time with you not being able to see much, so we decided “why not?”… and proceeded to the Nazca Airport.

As expected the plane was small with only 7 seats (including the pilot) and was certainly the smallest plane I’ve ever flown in, but I suppose this is perfect for sightseeing (or at least that’s what I was telling myself), and in I stepped and off we went. After a surprisingly short take-off I suddenly found myself in the air, and before I knew it the pilot was talking to me in headphones, as the plane sharply banked right and left, with the pilot excitedly pointing at the lines. We saw the alien, whale, spider, monkey and hummingbird, as well as a few triangle shapes which the pilot called “geoglyphs”, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience… the thrill of seeing the first line (which was the alien) was like nothing I’d felt before. When the pilot banked right, pointed to the ground, and I could suddenly see this giant alien / space-man like shape etched in giant lines on the side of a hill… the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I got a great thrill, like I had almost discovered the lines for myself. A great experience.

Nazca Lines, Peru - Go Andes Nazca Lines, Peru - Go Andes

Travel to the Andes

Our next destination was the city of Arequipa, which, on hindsight, we loved. Despite being Peru’s second largest city, at least according to the guide book, it felt like a very small, friendly city, helped due to our hotel being very central. The city has a great charm, great food (we loved the stuffed peppers you recommended), gorgeous central plaza, but wasn’t as busy as Cuzco. We spent most of the afternoon in the Santa Catalina monastery, and enjoyed ourselves so much we didn’t actually realise how long we’d been inside when we left. It has a curious old-world charm, a rare mixture of tranquillity and pacification, and its simple colour scheme of pastel-shades of red and blue is subtlety stunning – we loved it and would highly recommend it.

Arequipa, Peru - Go Andes Food in Peru - Go Andes

The Wondrous Colca Canyon

Leaving Arequipa behind, and wishing we had stayed a bit longer, our epic Peru tour continued into the Colca Canyon, with yet another fascinating journey. Just like the initial transfer from Lima airport to our hotel, and the bus from Lima to Paracas, the bus journey we took from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon was like a tour rather than a simple journey, and I spent the whole journey glued to the window spotting rural farming houses, llamas and other animals grazing in the wilderness, volcanoes, and a turquoise blue sky.

Colca Canyon, Peru - Go Andes Vicuna, Colca Canyon, Peru - Go Andes

When we booked the trip I have to say we didn’t pay much attention to the hotels, taking your advice on which ones to stay at, but of all the hotels we stayed one of the highlights had to be the Colca Lodge and Hot Springs. It is very difficult to put into words the Colca Canyon, as it is so much deeper and grander than any landscape I have ever seen before, and to stay in a hotel nestled within the valleys of the Colca Canyon was a great experience.

Colca Canyon, Peru - Go Andes Colca Canyon, Peru - Go Andes

I have to say I made the most of the spa, and we loved that we were able to have a relaxing drink in the hot springs and just kick-back and admire the view. The excursions arranged during our time in the Canyon also gave us a great overview of life in the Canyon, more views of the great scenery, and we were lucky enough to see some condors which is something I had always wanted to see.

Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru - Go Andes

Visiting Lake Titicaca

After the canyons of the Andes in the Colca Canyon we next headed to Lake Titicaca, and our hotel in the city of Puno. Lake Titicaca is obviously famous for being one of the highest lakes in the world, but I hadn’t heard of the city of Puno before researching for this trip, and, compared to cities like Cuzco and Arequipa, it did feel a bit of a let-down as it doesn’t share the beauty of those cities. Lake Titicaca, on the other hand, is gorgeous – a luscious turquoise colour with fabulous rolling mountainous surroundings. We had a tour to the Uros Islands, the floating islands made of reeds, and found the tour fascinating – stepping aboard the “islands”, and feeling the soft reeds depress beneath your feet and hearing the reeds bristle and squash as you step on top of them was a unique experience, and the inhabitants of the islands, although keen to sell their crafts, were very friendly and joyful people. What was more of a surprise, in a good way, was the visit to Isla Taquile, which felt very authentic, like a true traditional island. The people there were even more friendly, with their multi-coloured hats and traditional dress, and the island had a very tranquil calm about it.

Lake Titicaca, Peru - Go Andes Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru - Go Andes

Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru - Go Andes Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru - Go Andes

Onwards to Cuzco

The next morning we set off early on tour to Cuzco, the Ruta del Sol bus, and thoroughly enjoyed the journey, particularly the Raqchi part which was an unexpected surprise. However it was our arrival in Cuzco that we had been looking forward to, a dream for many years, and to finally arrive was a great feeling. Everything about the city lived up to expectations, from the tiny cobbled streets, Inca ruins everywhere (the “12-sided stone” is incredible!), lovely painted old houses, and the friendly people with their traditional dress which gives the whole place an oldy-worldy vibe – just brilliant! Of the Cuzco city tour Saqsayhuaman was a stand-out – we couldn’t believe the size of some of the stones and it was amazing that the Incas managed to build with such massive objects.

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru - Go Andes Cusco, Peru - Go Andes

The next day we embarked on the Sacred Valley tour, which, looking back, we both thought was probably one of the highlights of the entire trip. At this point we hadn’t yet had our tour of Machu Picchu, so hadn’t had to much exposure of the Inca ruins yet, other than the ones in Cuzco, so to visit Ollantaytambo and Moray was special – our first taste of larger Inca ruins with that very distinctive stonework – and to learn more about the agricultural experiments from Moray was really interesting, it is amazing just how ahead of their times the Inca people were. The other thing that was nice was just how beautiful the Sacred Valley actually is, and our hotel looking out over the valley was in a great location – what a view!

Chinchero, Sacred Valley, Peru - Go Andes Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru - Go Andes

Sacred Valley, Peru - Go Andes

Tour of Machu Picchu

The day had finally arrived! Of course on a holiday in Peru Machu Picchu is pretty much on your mind the whole way through, and, although the rest of the holiday was fantastic, we had been slowly counting down the days to Machu Picchu! Our day started at around 4.30am when our alarm went off, as we had planned to wake early in the wonderful Sacred Valley hotel we were staying in to rendezvous with the guide and to be transferred to the train station at Ollantaytambo by 5.30am to catch the early train to Machu Picchu. The train journey itself was worth the money, a few Dutch tourists behind us used the journey to catch up on more sleep, but we were glued to the window not wanting to miss a thing and just admiring the landscape, watching for signs of tiny settlements, farmland, and the occasional Inca terrace. The train arrived at the station at Aguas Calientes, and within 5 minutes we found ourselves on the bus heading up the steep valley side to the ruin, and within what felt like 10 minutes had departed from the bus and were heading through the entrance gate to Machu Picchu…. And, just a few more steps around the corner, and there it was, spread out before us like a lost world, still draped in just a sprinkle of cloud cover just to make the whole scene appear more magical. This was a goose bumps moment, and something I will never forget – my first site of Machu Picchu. Once we’d taken more photos than I can possibly ever need, we then set off on a tour of the entire site, and although it was quite busy (which I suppose is to be expected) nevertheless we still found it very interesting – I think my favourite part was the Inca toilet!, and the waterways and troughs the Incas had designed so that running water was available throughout the city, just ingenious.

Machu Picchu, Peru - Go Andes Machu Picchu, Peru - Go Andes

Holiday in Peru

In the run up to retirement we had been planning a long celebration trip, and decided that Peru was the destination most likely to fulfill our dreams. We weren't mistaken! We loved it so much that we aim to visit Peru again to see more of this amazing country (maybe the north and more of the Andes) as we were really impressed at how great a holiday we had. Everything was so easy, organised perfectly with no hiccups and the genuine, friendly and informative tour guides were fantastic. We knew that Peru would be a great destination to visit, but we had no idea how beautiful we would find the people, food, landscapes, and culture. We’ll never forget that ceviche restaurant we ate at in Lima on the final night, our first glimpse of a smoking volcano on the high-plain near Arequipa, the sensation of seeing the Nazca lines for the first time, and of course seeing Machu Picchu for the first time.

Absolutely wonderful. An incredible, all-round experience.

 

 

Many thanks from Go Andes to Sandra for sending us her holiday diary and photographs.

All photos courtesy of Sandra C.

 
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