Exploring Peru, from the Mountains to the Jungle
Peru is a place I've wanted to visit for a long time. The Amazon rainforest was the main draw. But we also enjoyed the capitol of Lima, and the town of Cusco and ruins of Machu Picchu as well. In fact, Cusco and Machu Picchu became our favorite destinations during this adventure!
We began our adventure in the Barranco District of Lima, at the guesthouse of artist Victor Delfin! Delfín, born in 1927, has a worldwide reputation; his art has been exhibited across South and North America and is housed in major museum and private collections. His son runs the guesthouse on his estate, filled with his paintings and sculptures and overlooking the ocean, at Second Home Peru.
While in Lima we toured the Museo Larco. It contains exquisite gold, silver, and clay Inca and pre-Colombian artifacts, as well as beautiful gardens and an amazing restaurant! And some of the sculptures are a little more, shall we say, erotic?
We also explored the Plaza de Armas de Lima, or Plaza Mayor, in downtown Lima. And we toured the intricate Cathedral of Lima, where we saw our first mummies and human skulls in their catacombs and crypts!
At night we enjoyed Peruvian folkloric dancing, like the famous Danza de las Tijeras, or scissor dance, at La Candelaria in the Barranco District of Lima! We witnessed additional dances like Spanish, Amazonian, Cusco, and many others. We also tried our first pisco sours, a traditional Peruvian drink. And they even got us on stage to dance to the Village People's YMCA as well!
Next was the town of Cusco, Peru, high (11,000 ft/3,400 meters) in the Andes mountains. It was so high, in fact, that we were prescribed altitude sickness prevention medication called Acetazolamide by our health care provider.
We stayed in the popular San Blas District, at the Tariq Boutique Hotel. The views of Cusco from our room were incredible! We walked down the stairs and cobblestone streets each day to the Plaza de Armas de Cusco. The Plaza is beautiful, especially at night! A statue of Pachacuti can be found in the plaza atop a fountain. Pachacuti was the ninth ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco and later the Emperor of the Inca Empire. Also around the plaza is the Iglesia de la Companía de Jesús and the Cathedral of Cusco.
Women stand along the cobblestone streets near the plaza with their llamas and alpacas willing to pose for a photograph. They suggest you pay whatever you want, but we discovered that anything less than 20 Peruvian soles ($5 USD) receives the comment, "Is that all?!"
We also explored the market stalls at Mercado Central de San Pedro (1.3 km, or 17 min. walking from our hotel) while in Cusco as well. You can find everything there, from fresh fruits and nuts, to souvenirs, to cheese and even fish! A tip to the wise, stock up on delicious Peruvian chocolate from brands like El Portal Del Cusco and Los Tesoros Machu Picchu while you're there!
The Tariq Hotel also arranged a private guided tour through the Sacred Valley of the Incas for us! We explored the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary, Salineras salt flats and the village of Chincheros.
The Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary houses Andean condors and tortoises for eventual release. You can also pet llamas and alpacas there as well. And the Salineras de Maras salt pans are fed by a salt water spring which has been used since pre-Inca times to collect salt which is many times saltier than that obtained from the ocean.
Chincheros has a population of about 50,000. The inhabitants are mainly indigenous citizen of Chanka descent, primarily speaking the Quechuan language. The women of Chincheros all dress in the same clothing and colors! We visited a weaving cooperative where they demonstrated the yarn making, dying, and weaving processes. And the white church of Chincheros, built in 1607 by colonial Spaniards, lies upon the ruins of the Incas. It is believed the Incas deliberately destroyed their constructions so the Spanish could not utilize them.
We took a ride aboard the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu! It was an enjoyable 75 kilometer, or approximately 3 to 4 hour, ride from the Poroy train station outside of Cusco. Launched in 1999, the train was named after Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered the largely forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu. The train consists of multiple dining cars, a bar car with an open bar, and a rear observation car with an open deck and live entertainment. Passengers have brunch on the outbound journey and dinner on the return. I purchased our tickets directly from Peru Rail. I also purchased our tickets to Machu Picchu online, and our bus tickets to and from Machu Picchu online as well.
Machu Picchu is awesome! Wow! Some archeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). In 1911 American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham traveled the region looking for the old Inca capital and was led to Machu Picchu by a villager, Melchor Arteaga. Today, Machu Picchu receives over half a million visitors each year.
Machu Picchu ("old mountain" in Quechua) is the larger mountain behind or above you as you're walking around the ruins. The smaller, more iconic mountain everyone photographs is actually named Huayna Picchu ("young mountain").
The only other place we have been which is comparable is the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. There are many other mountains around you, but you cannot take your eyes away from this famous natural monument. Simply stunning! It's like going to the moon, you can't believe you're actually there!
We explored Machu Picchu in the afternoon and again the next morning. During the rainy season, October through March, it tends to rain in the afternoons and is partly sunny in the mornings. Also during the rainy season, mosquitoes can be vicious! Bring insect repellant and wear clothing which covers your skin. We stayed in Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, overnight. There are many nice hotels in town, as well as restaurants and shops. We lodged at Casa Del Sol. The pueblo is the terminus for trains taking you to and from Machu Picchu, and is also where you take the bus to the iconic ruins.
Our final destination was the Amazon rainforest via the city of Iquitos, Peru. From Iquitos were were taken deep into the Amazon by Amazonia Expeditions, which has two lodges: Tahuayo Lodge and the Amazon Research Center. It's a 3 to 4 hour boat ride from Iquitos to Tahuayo Lodge. And the Amazon Research Center is even further than that, nestled inside a regional conservation area. The accommodations are rustic. Yet the staff go above and beyond to ensure you're taken care of, and the food is satisfying. It's super hot and humid, of course, and sleeping at night was like trying to sleep in a sauna, especially with the mosquito sheets lowered around the bed. Bring a rechargeable fan!
We had excellent wildlife opportunities, and spotted pigmy marmosets, woolly monkeys, pink dolphins, kingfishers, hawks, cara caras, blue and yellow macaws, giant river otter, three-toed sloth, common potoo, and hoatzin. We also went piranha fishing, and visited a nearby village. Trekking through the Amazon jungle is definitely not easy. The combination of deep mud, fallen trees, and thorns creates an obstacle course worthy of the most difficult courses in the world!
We were in the Amazon in October, during the dry season. Snow melt from the Andes Mountains was finally making its way to the Amazon river basin, meaning river levels were beginning to rise again from their lowest point. The pink river dolphins were once again entering the smaller river tributaries to hunt for fish. This allowed us to see many dolphins while we were there, since water levels were still relatively low and the dolphins were confined to these tributaries.
When it comes to food, I'll admit, I'm no foodie. But the cuisine of Peru was exceptionally prepared! We enjoyed many delicacies, including Andean trout and stuffed peppers, drinks such as coca tea and pisco sour, and delicious Peruvian chocolate! Stock up on local chocolate brands like El Portal Del Cusco and Los Tesoros Machu Picchu while you're in Cusco!
Peru is definitely a must see destination, just for Machu Picchu alone! But be sure to explore some of the smaller towns and villages while you're there as well. Meet the people. Watch their dances, their weaving, their way of life. Enjoy their delicious foods. Your life will surely be enriched by all Peru has to offer.