A Travellerspoint blog

Peru

Coastal Peru

Nazca, Ica and Lima


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

We left the heartland of the Incas with an overnight bus from Cusco to Nazca close to the Pacific coast. Nazca is known for the Nazca Lines, created by the culture of the same name. We took a short 40-minute flight to see the line drawings in the sand. The Nazca people have made these drawings most likely to indicate sources of water and positions of stars important for keeping track of the seasons. The figures are between 50 and 300 meters wide and therefore impossible to see from the ground. While the flight was interesting, it was definitely not enjoyable. The plane took such stomach-churning sharp turns to show us the lines, that despite taking motion sickness medicine beforehand, we both felt bad for the second half of the flight.

‘Astronaut’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Astronaut’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Monkey’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Monkey’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Hummingbird’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Hummingbird’ figure of the Nazca Lines

‘Spider’ figure of the Nazca lines

‘Spider’ figure of the Nazca lines

‘Tree’ and ‘Hands’ figures of the Nazca lines, see cars for scale

‘Tree’ and ‘Hands’ figures of the Nazca lines, see cars for scale

Nazca town does not have anything to offer besides the lines and is in general not a pleasant place, so we quickly moved on by bus to Ica. Ica is the main region for the production of Peru’s signature spirit, Pisco. We went to visit the Tacama winery there, which claims to be South Americas first winery. Besides wine, they also produce Pisco of course. Our wine and Pisco tasting was held by a sommelier in the most sophisticated tasting room we have ever seen. Unfortunately, the wine was not as good as what we tried in Chile and Argentina, but at least the Pisco was very tasty.

Marta in the wine tasting room in Ica

Marta in the wine tasting room in Ica

Tower of the Tacama winery in Ica

Tower of the Tacama winery in Ica

Vineyards of the Tacama winery in Ica

Vineyards of the Tacama winery in Ica

Barrels at the Tacama winery in Ica

Barrels at the Tacama winery in Ica

Nearby Ica is the small village of Huacachina, surrounding a small oasis in the middle of the desert. We took a tour on the huge sand dunes with a special sand buggy. The tour also involved sandboarding, which is basically sliding down the dunes lying on a wooden board.

Sand dunes near Huacachina

Sand dunes near Huacachina

Sand dunes near Huacachina

Sand dunes near Huacachina

Sunset over the sand dunes near Huacachina

Sunset over the sand dunes near Huacachina

Marta on our dune buggy

Marta on our dune buggy

Huacachina

Huacachina

After two nights in Ica, we took the bus to Lima, the capital of Peru. Even though Lima is much closer to the equator than Rio de Janeiro, it is not a great place for a beach vacation at this time of the year. Thanks to the Humboldt current, the waters of the Pacific are below 20 °C here in May and there is an almost constant fog over the city. In fact, we haven’t seen a ray of sunshine in four days in Lima. We spent some time exploring the old town, but were not particularly impressed by it. Our highlight of Lima was the food. The city is home to some of the world’s best restaurants and we made sure to visit some of them, although the top spots were of course booked out for months.

Plaza Mayor in Lima

Plaza Mayor in Lima

Presidential palace in Lima

Presidential palace in Lima

San Francisco monastery

San Francisco monastery

Pacific coast from the Miraflores neighborhood in Lima

Pacific coast from the Miraflores neighborhood in Lima

Another high point of our time in Lima was the visit to Museo Larco. The museum did a great job showing the dozens of different cultures that have lived throughout Peru and how they influenced each other. Although the Incas get all the fame, they actually ruled for only a bit over one hundred years, while the history of Peruvian civilizations goes back for 5’000 years.

Vase in Museo Larco

Vase in Museo Larco

Golden funerary ornaments in Museo Larco

Golden funerary ornaments in Museo Larco

Overall, we enjoyed our time in Peru a lot and there were some more places we would have liked to see if time had allowed. Peru has, in our opinion, the most spectacular part of the Andes and we enjoyed our time at Lake Titicaca and the area around Cusco a lot. The coastal area, however, we found less interesting, as it is mostly desert with the occasional rusty town.

Posted by samandmarta 12:04 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Machu Picchu

Visiting South America’s most famous archaeological site, twice


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

After six great days in Cusco, we took the train to the highlight of the area and probably the country, Machu Picchu. To be precise, the train went to Aguas Calientes, the small tourist town in the valley below the Inca citadel. Conveniently for the train companies, there is no road to Aguas Calientes, so the only way to get there is by a four-day hike or using one of the very expensive train services. The famous Inca Trail was of course booked out many months in advance and we were not so keen to spend so much time on one of the less popular routes. We booked the Vistadome train from PeruRail which has panoramic windows. While the views were nice along the way, more or less every train ride in the Swiss Alps is more spectacular and costs significantly less.

Vistadome train to Machu Picchu

Vistadome train to Machu Picchu

While many tourists visit Machu Picchu on a long day trip from Cusco, taking the train there in the morning and back in the evening, we decided to spend two nights in Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu twice. Since we came so far to see this place, we wanted to increase our chances of good weather. It would be very disappointing to spend the day in the fog or heavy rain, so we booked tickets for two days. Also, when staying in Aguas Calientes, one can visit the Inca site in the early morning or late afternoon when it is significantly less crowded. Our first visit was in the afternoon of the day we arrived by train and the sky was completely overcast. Not the worst that could happen, but not optimal. We were much luckier on our second visit early on the following morning, when we were able to enjoy Machu Picchu with perfectly clear skies. Therefore, most of the photos here will be from the second visit.

Machu Picchu in the morning

Machu Picchu in the morning

Sam and Marta in front of Machu Picchu

Sam and Marta in front of Machu Picchu

What distinguishes Machu Picchu from other impressive Inca sites like Saqsaywaman is its spectacular surrounding and how well it is preserved. Machu Picchu is one of very few places that were not discovered by the Spanish and therefore it was never willfully destroyed. Only in 1911 was the site rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham. The steep mountains and valleys around Machu Picchu make it a spectacular place to see.

Machu Picchu ruins

Machu Picchu ruins

Stone wall with windows in front of Intihuatana pyramid in Machu Picchu

Stone wall with windows in front of Intihuatana pyramid in Machu Picchu

Llama in Machu Picchu

Llama in Machu Picchu

Viscacha In Machu Picchu

Viscacha In Machu Picchu

For our second visit (the one with the good weather), we had also booked a spot to hike Montaña Machupicchu, one of the two mountains around Machu Picchu. It was a strenuous morning exercise to climb to the peak, which was about 600 meters above the ruins. The entire hike consisted of steep stairs and there was hardly any flat part along the way. The view from the top was worth it though, as not only Machu Picchu could be seen, but also many snow-capped mountains around.

Sam on top of Montaña Machupicchu (3061m)

Sam on top of Montaña Machupicchu (3061m)

Marta on top of Montaña Machupicchu (3061m), looking down on the Machu Picchu ruins

Marta on top of Montaña Machupicchu (3061m), looking down on the Machu Picchu ruins

Marta on the steep way down from Montaña Machupicchu (3061m)

Marta on the steep way down from Montaña Machupicchu (3061m)

We left Aguas Calientes again by train, but this time we did not go all the way back to Cusco, but disembarked in Ollantaytambo. In Ollantaytambo, we visited Inca ruins for one last time. The Ollantaytambo ruins were thankfully not visited as heavily as Machu Picchu, which made it a relaxing visit for us. The most distinguishing feature of this site was the elaborate water distribution system. There were many fountains around the site, which still work to this day, simply by taking advantage of gravity. Some water channels were even running underground.

Marta standing in a door at the Ollantaytambo ruins

Marta standing in a door at the Ollantaytambo ruins

Ollantaytambo town with mountain behind, seen from the Ollantaytambo ruins

Ollantaytambo town with mountain behind, seen from the Ollantaytambo ruins

Inca-built water channel at the Ollantaytambo ruins

Inca-built water channel at the Ollantaytambo ruins

After Ollantaytambo, we had seen enough ruins for a while. Instead, we booked one night in a very nice spa hotel in Urubamba to relax after an intensive week of hiking and sightseeing. Before leaving for our next destination, we still went to see one small sight though. The Salinas de Maras is a salt production site built before the Incas and still operating today. Naturally occurring salty water is collected in small ponds where the water is evaporated by the sun until only the salt remains.

Salinas de Maras

Salinas de Maras

Close-up of Salinas de Maras

Close-up of Salinas de Maras

Posted by samandmarta 11:27 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Hiking and visiting ruins around the Inca capital


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

We spent six days in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca empire. Cusco is a beautiful mix of colonial and Inca architecture. Especially the historic center, with its many churches and squares is very picturesque. In addition, there are many scenic hikes and fascinating Inca sites to explore in the area around Cusco. While Peruvian food is great in general, we liked it the most in Cusco, where there are many amazing restaurants for reasonable prices. For all those reasons, we found Cusco one of the most worthwhile places to stay on our trip.

Main plaza of Cusco

Main plaza of Cusco

Main plaza of Cusco, seen from Saqsaywaman

Main plaza of Cusco, seen from Saqsaywaman

Cusco in the evening from a narrow alley

Cusco in the evening from a narrow alley

Traditional local music and dance performance in Cusco

Traditional local music and dance performance in Cusco

On our first day in Cusco, we started very early to go hiking around Ausangate. Ausangate’s peak is 6’384 meters above sea level, which makes it the highest peak in the Cusco region. As such, the mountain was of great importance to the Incas. The area where we were hiking was spectacular, with many small and intensely blue lagoons dotted around the landscape and several high peaks surrounding us. In fact, this was our favorite hike since leaving Patagonia and the part of the Andes around Cusco was the most scenic one we have seen. During the hike, we passed many herds of alpacas and we even saw one viscacha, the Andean rabbit.

Ausangate (6384m) in the morning

Ausangate (6384m) in the morning

Marta and a Peruvian woman in traditional clothing in front of Ausangate (6384m)

Marta and a Peruvian woman in traditional clothing in front of Ausangate (6384m)

Sam and Marta sitting in front of a small lake reflecting Ausangate (6384m)

Sam and Marta sitting in front of a small lake reflecting Ausangate (6384m)

Marta sitting in front of a lagoon and snow-capped mountains

Marta sitting in front of a lagoon and snow-capped mountains

Viscacha

Viscacha

There are several Inca ruins very close to Cusco. We spent one afternoon exploring the ruins to the North of the city. The first three (Tambomachay, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo) were relatively small and insignificant, but the last one we visited was very impressive. Saqsaywaman, often called “sexy woman” for simplicity, was a giant fortress of the Incas that overlooks Cusco. Sadly, after the conquest, the Spaniards took the stones from Saqsaywaman to build their own colonial houses and today, only about 20% of the structures remain. Still, the walls built from gigantic stones, cut precisely to fit on top of each other like puzzle pieces, are a stunning sight. They built their walls without mortar and the stones fit so tightly that not even a piece of paper could be fitted in-between.

Inca stone walls in Saqsaywaman

Inca stone walls in Saqsaywaman

Sam in front of an Inca stone wall in Saqsaywaman

Sam in front of an Inca stone wall in Saqsaywaman

Sam sliding down a rock in Saqsaywaman

Sam sliding down a rock in Saqsaywaman

Marta in front of an Inca stone wall in Puka Pukara

Marta in front of an Inca stone wall in Puka Pukara

A bit farther away from Cusco, at the entrance to the Sacred Valley lies Pisac, another great Inca site. The Pisac site consists of several different ruins in different parts of a steep hill above the namesake village. Since the highest site is more than 500 meters above the village, we took a taxi to the top and walked down to the village from there. Pisac is notable for the huge terraces that the Incas have built into the hill to increase agricultural production. It is hard to imagine what an effort the construction of those terraces must have been without the help of machines. Another interesting aspect is the water distribution system. There are many water channels throughout the site, connecting to natural streams to provide running water. We found it amazing that the water still moves through those channels to this day.

Terraces and ruins at the Inca site in Pisac

Terraces and ruins at the Inca site in Pisac

Sam in front of the terraces at the Inca site in Pisac

Sam in front of the terraces at the Inca site in Pisac

Inca ruins in Pisac

Inca ruins in Pisac

Still functioning water channel at the Inca ruins of Pisac

Still functioning water channel at the Inca ruins of Pisac

On our last day in Cusco, we joined a day tour to Vinicunca, better known as the Rainbow Mountain. To see the beautifully colored mountain, we had to climb beyond 5’000 meters for one last time on our trip. Interestingly, the differently colored layers are sedimentary layers, from when this entire area was below the ocean millions of years ago. Since then, plate tectonics have lifted the mountain up more than 5 kilometers. Besides the Rainbow Mountain, there were also great views of Ausangate in the other direction. After the Rainbow Mountain, we returned by hiking through the Red Valley. We were very surprised that hardly any of the hundreds of people who took the long trip from Cusco chose to walk the 10 extra minutes to the Red Valley. While the Rainbow Mountain was very crowded, the Red Valley was empty. We enjoyed our 2-hour hike through the valley a lot. It was very peaceful and we found the scenery to be even better then Rainbow Mountain. We also saw vicuñas running through the red sands and alpacas feeding on the green patches.

Rainbow Mountain (5080m)

Rainbow Mountain (5080m)

Ausangate (6384m), seen from Rainbow Mountain (5080m)

Ausangate (6384m), seen from Rainbow Mountain (5080m)

Sam and Marta in the Red Valley

Sam and Marta in the Red Valley

Vicuñas running up a mountain in the Red Valley

Vicuñas running up a mountain in the Red Valley

Alpacas are abundant in the Peruvian Andes. The alpaca is the last of the four camelid species endemic to South America that we saw. We found them to be the cutest of the four, because they have such wooly faces. Like llamas, they are domesticated animals and we always saw them in herds. They were specifically bred for their wool, which is finer than that of llamas, but still not as luxurious as the one of the vicuña.

Alpaca

Alpaca

Alpacas in the Red Valley

Alpacas in the Red Valley

Posted by samandmarta 18:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

Island life on South America’s largest lake


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

We spent our last two days in Bolivia in the town Copacabana at Lake Titicaca, which we reached by bus from La Paz. About 40% of Lake Titicaca lies in Bolivia, while the rest belongs to Peru. The only way to reach Copacabana without crossing Peru is by taking the 800-meter ferry at the Strait of Tiquina, which separates the two main basins of the lake. On the strait, we immediately felt a good energy coming from the lake in the form of a light breeze. Lake Titicaca is not only South America’s largest lake, but also the world’s largest high-altitude lake, with a surface elevation of 3’812 meters.

Sam on a ferry crossing the Strait of Tiquina

Sam on a ferry crossing the Strait of Tiquina

Car ferry crossing the Strait of Tiquina

Car ferry crossing the Strait of Tiquina

Copacabana

Copacabana

From Copacabana, we spent one day exploring Isla del Sol. The large island was an important place in the Inca culture, as it was believed to be the birth place of the sun god. Today, there are many Inca ruins across the entire island. The most interesting ones were supposed to be on the North of the island, but this part was closed for tourists when we visited, due to some disputes between the island’s indigenous populations. Instead, we spent the day hiking around the Southern part of the island near the town Yumani, which was very enjoyable too.

Yumani on Isla del Sol, seen from Cerro Palla Khasa

Yumani on Isla del Sol, seen from Cerro Palla Khasa

View South from Cerro Queñuani on Isla del Sol

View South from Cerro Queñuani on Isla del Sol

Sam on Isla del Sol with a glass of wine reading our South America guidebook

Sam on Isla del Sol with a glass of wine reading our South America guidebook

Bolivian woman sitting on her balcony in Yumani on Isla del Sol

Bolivian woman sitting on her balcony in Yumani on Isla del Sol

We left Bolivia after only 9 days. We could have definitely spent more time here, but on the other hand, we were running out of time for the other countries we still plan to visit. The border crossing to Peru was an easy process. Our bus stopped on both sides of the border to allow us to get our passports stamped. Once in Peru, we continued to the city of Puno, which is located at Lake Titicaca too.

Instead of staying in Puno, we spent the night on one of the Uros islands. A few kilometers off the coast of the lake, the Uros people have built a very unique way of life. They live on islands that are entirely built from totora reed, a plant that grows in the shallow areas of Lake Titicaca. We stayed with a local, who had built two very nice rooms for tourists on his island, though we were the only people staying that day. Our stay was both relaxing and informative, as our host explained us all about the construction of the islands and their way of life. Walking on a floating island is a very interesting experience. The ground is very soft and it feels a bit weird, that there is nothing but plants between you and the lake. Having a floating island is also a lot of work. The totora constantly rots away at the bottom and new totora has to be added on top about once a month. In total, an island can live for around 40 years, before it becomes too heavy and a new island has to be built. The totora has many other uses for the locals. They also build boats from it, use it as medicine, produce handicraft they sell as souvenirs and it can be eaten too.

Entrance gate to the floating island where we stayed

Entrance gate to the floating island where we stayed

Marta on top of our hut on the floating island

Marta on top of our hut on the floating island

The floating island where we stayed

The floating island where we stayed

View over Lake Titicaca from the floating island where we stayed

View over Lake Titicaca from the floating island where we stayed

Sam with our host on a boat made from totora reed

Sam with our host on a boat made from totora reed

Boat on Lake Titicaca bringing totora reed for island maintenance

Boat on Lake Titicaca bringing totora reed for island maintenance

Traditional boat with Puma heads made from totora reed

Traditional boat with Puma heads made from totora reed

After our fantastic stay on the floating island, we spent one more night in Puno. Compared to charming Copacabana, Puno is a rather large, industrious city, which we enjoyed less. The next morning, we moved on by bus to Cusco.

Posted by samandmarta 20:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]