I was very lucky to escort a group to South America a couple of years ago, somewhere that had been on my bucket list forever and it did not disappoint! I loved every minute of it, each country offering me something different to experience. Different cultures, way of life, food and scenery. One highlight amongst many was my visit to Peru which I thought was totally amazing and a must see for everyone. Peru offered me what I imagined South America to be, one of the places left where you can see people in traditional dress, mixed with a lot of western customs now so if you are thinking of heading to Peru, I suggest doing this sooner rather than later before you miss this experience.
Our first stop in Peru was Cuzco which stands 3310 meters above sea level so the first thing to do was to acclimatise to the altitude. Luckily our whole group did well and we did not have any of the altitude sickness you hear of. Cuzco is a beautiful city full of colonial churches, monasteries, convents and extensive Inca ruins, which can be seen throughout the city with remains of the Inca walls, arches and doorways. It is home to some fantastic restaurants as well and I enjoyed lots of local food while staying here. Cuzco was to become one of my favourite cities I visited on this trip. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in this continent and has been declared an UNESCO site.
From Cuzco we visited the Sacred Valley – a long narrow valley and home of the Incas for many years. We visited the famous Andean market of Pisac where you can see local handcrafts, food & people which was a truly wonderful experience. Stunning scenery throughout and visiting the ruins of Ollantaytambo with its ruins and terraces showed us how life used to be so many years ago. This made me more excited to visit Machu Picchu the following day, which had been in my top 5 places I wanted to visit for so long.
The following day we went by train to Aguas Calientes which is the town at the base of Machu Picchu and our home for the next 2 nights. The train was amazing with our Vista dome carriage offering us amazing views the whole way of the valley & gorge which grew more narrow and deeper as we went. Walking in to Machu Picchu on a beautiful sunny day was so surreal and did not disappoint one expectation I had of visiting here. There are many theories as to what Machu Picchu once was, some say it was a secret refuge. The Incas had no written language and the existence of Machu Picchu seems to be completely erased from official records. Despite all of this it is one of the most stunning places I have ever visited, it is mystical and some find it a place of strong spiritual feelings. Machu Picchu is well known for its 4 day trek in to it which is an unforgettable experience however you can do this by getting the train to Aguas Calientes and then a local bus up which operates every 3o minutes up the mountain. A must do as well is to get up there for sunrise, watching the sun rise over these ruins is truly amazing.
Returning to Cuzco and then we travelled by train to Puno aboard the Andean Explorer which is one of the famous Pullman trains of the 1920’s. This was a truly spectacular trip firstly travelling through the Andean mountains which tower over deep valleys and then more gentle rolling plains where from the viewing car we could see many alpacas grazing. We had a stop in the middle of the day at La Raya which was 4321 meters above sea level and the highest point that we travelled to. From here we could see snow-capped peak mountains and it seemed like such a remote place, however there was a market all set up in place for our arrival again with handicrafts, local food to try and even music!
From Puno we visited the Uros Islands one of the more unique places on our trip where we were made to feel so welcome by all of the local families. This was where we got to experience some true Andean culture. These islands are all made up by reeds as is their boats, houses and many of the items they use in a daily basis. The people are so friendly, very poor but always a smile on their faces. Each island usually has 2 or 3 families living on them. One thing I found interesting was if these families ever had a fight and didn’t want to live together anymore they could cut off part of the island to remove themselves from each other and float to join up with another island and their family! The boats were amazing and we got to sail around looking at the other islands in the area.
Our last stop in Peru before crossing over in to Bolivia was Lake Titicaca. We were able to cruise around this area and see yet again some more stunning scenery. We visited Sun Island the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire and got to see the snow-capped mountains of Cordilleria Real. The sun was shining for us again so we were able to just sit back and take in the beautiful landscape.
Peru to me was what South America was about and I enjoyed every moment here, every experience and learning about the way of life. I want to travel back to South America one day and Peru is on my list to revisit and explore more of.
To find out more give one of our travel experts a call on 1300 783 840.