18-day trip to Peru
Visiting Lima, Pachacamac, Paracas National Park, Lagunillas, Pisco Ballestas Islands, Ica, Huacachina, Pampa Huayuri, oasis of Palpa, Nasca, Paradones, Sacaco, Puerto Inca, Arequipa, the Colca Valley, Chivay, the Cruz del Condor, lagoon of Lagunillas, Saint Lucia, Puno, lake Titicaca, floating islands or Flotantes, Taquile, Sillustani, Juliaca, San Pedro, Cusco, Chinchero, Pisac, Moray, Salinas, Yucai, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu, Puerto Moldonado.
Peru is known for its two most famous archaeological sites: Machu Picchu and Nazca, where there are the mysterious Lines.
Instead Peru is a country full of surprises both natural and archaeological, not to mention the wonderful traditional costumes which still are worn in the Andean area and the friendliness and hospitality of all Peruvians.
Peru: presentation with pictures of Machu Picchu and Cusco
I wish to pay homage to the magnificent Peru with an “invented” photo.
It could only be a photo taken in the most famous archaeological site in Peru: Machu Picchu.
I replaced the view from one of the windows of the Temple of the Three Windows with part of a panoramic photo shot from the Porta del Sol.
It was a shot that I had always dreamed of, but unattainable, so I thought to invent it.
Then I present two panoramic photos of the site of Machu Picchu and, at last, a picture of the archaeological capital of Peru, the city of Cusco.
In such a way I paid homage to Michele Mosca , an Italian who lives in Cusco with his family and is the owner of the Peru Paradise Travel Agency – http://www.peruparadisetravel.com/informazionisulperu/ – that organized the trip.
Michele was patient with my difficult requests and planned for us a travel which has been economically reasonable, despite being a five- star trip…!
Lima: Cathedral, Arcibishop’s Palace, Government Palace, Bar El Cordano, “Love Park”, San Francis
Lima is a huge city suffocated by smog; I wish to mention the bar “El Cordano” owned by Italians, from Genoa, which still had a vintage furniture and a glossy “Gaggia” coffee machine of the ancient times. I also remember the interesting St. Francis church, with the attached monastery.
Lima: Gold Museum
It is superb the Gold Museum where, in an underground caveu, we could see amazing archaeological findings.
Lima, surroundings: Pachacamac archeological site with Temple of Sun, Paracas National Park, Lagunillas fishermen village
We began our tour by car; we expressly requested to use the car to be able to visit as much as possible and in order to reach gradually a high altitude. In this way we tried to alleviate the annoying altitude sickness which we also managed to avoid thanks to the famous ”mate de coca” combined with the diuretic Diamox, which had been suggested to us in Italy.
Just outside Lima, it begins a desert landscape which is described by all the guidebooks but it is difficult to imagine for its length and for the alternation between the sandy and the rocky areas.
There are very few green zones.
Only at 30 kilometers from Lima, we met the archaeological site of Pachacamac that represents the memory of a civilization which dates back to a thousand years before the Inca people. It is characterized by huge ceremonial pyramids, in particular by the imposing Temple of the Sun which, splendidly, dominates the long white oceanic beaches.
We arrived at the Paracas National Park and we penetrated it until we reached the small fishing village of Lagunillas, where we stopped for lunch in a simple but lovely restaurant.
There are beautiful landscapes of the land and of the sea.
Pisco: excursion to Ballestas island, big figure “de la Candelabra”
We left at 6 p.m., to avoid the expected turbulence of the Pacific Ocean, to visit the Ballestas Islands.
We spent the night in Pisco, a town made famous because it gives its name to the Peruvian grape brandy, and the Pisco Sour is the national cocktail served with lemon juice, egg whites and Angostura bitters.
As soon as we embarked, we could admire, on the slope of the hill to our left, the giant figure (mt.170 x 55) of the Candelabra which recalls the figures of the Nazca Lines; but we know nothing about its meaning.
At the beginning of our sailing it was foggy and cloudy (the Peruvian “garua”), whereas in the Ballestas Islands there was the sun even if the ocean waves were really annoying.
We had the opportunity to admire a lively activity, both in the sky and in the sea, which anticipates what we would be going to see at the Galapagos; in fact, those islands are called the “little Galapagos ”.
On our way back, when we were already inside the bay, we were surrounded not only by the fog but also by a group of dolphins which began to circle around us.
A curiosity: we had been the last group that, for a couple of days , was able to visit the Ballestas Islands.
Later, the wind made the ocean no longer navigable.
Towards Nasca: Ica, Pampa di Huayuri, Cerro Blanco (2000-mt. dune), Nasca and its lines, Cantallo aqueduct
We continued towards Ica, surrounded by high dunes, among which stands a lagoon rich in sulfur waters and surrounded by a beautiful palm-grove. Onwards, we entered a desert area called Pampa de Huayuri, almost one hundred kilometers long. The road, tortuously, went down to the oasis of Palpa, famous for its orange-groves.
Then, we went upwards to the Nazca plateau.
Suddenly, in the horizon, it appears a majestic dune (or a mountain?) which is 2.085 meters high.
It is the “Cerro Blanco”, formed by sand and limestone ground.
Nazca (or Nasca) is worldwide famous for its Lines which are visible only viewed from the sky.
So we flew up in the sky with a plane that seemed to be tin-made because of the strong wind.
And the gusts of wind were so many, strong and sudden that, once we had landed, we received a certificate for the…courage demonstrated for having made the flight!
So we suffered, and the name Nasca does indeed mean “suffering” because of the drought; so much that, in Nazca, the rain is not measured in centimeters, but in… minutes. We made an interesting visit to the museum Antonini.
The lack of time did not allow us to enjoy the visit to the archaeological site of Paradones as it deserved.
To finish the description of the visit of Nasca, we visited Cantallo aqueducts built by the people of Nazca and still in use thanks to the control wells that allow a regular cleaning.
Please, consider that the aerial photos of the Lines are not completely satisfying because of the difficulties met during the flight.
Towards Arequipa: Nasca Fault, Porto Inca, Arequipa with Plaza de Armas and Cathedral, Monastery of Santa Caterina, Museum Santuarios Andinos (Juanita)
Transfer Day: 600 km to get to Arequipa.
After a few tens of kilometers, we made a stop at Nasca Fault that is parallel to the Pan-American Highway. It is the boundary point of the earth’s crust during earthquakes. In ancient times it was submerged by the sea, where still nowadays continues, that is why there are numerous fossils.
We went on driving on the Panamericana. In some points it seemed to disappear: on the left it was almost swallowed by the sand dunes, whereas, on the right, the Pacific Ocean, particularly rough that day, seemed to wish to submerge it.
The Pan-American Highway gets closer to the ocean and overlooks a beautiful cove: it is the bay of Porto Inca.
We visited the ruins of that fishing Inca village with conical buildings and common graves.
Inside the tombs piles of human bones are still visible.
It is said, but maybe it is a legend, that fishermen ran up to Cusco to bring fresh fish.
The road continues along the ocean and then bends toward the interior table-lands.
Arequipa is a city in which citizens, they say, do not feel Peruvians but “Arequipeños”.
The city welcomed us with a religious celebration.
It is superb the city main square (Plaza de Armas), with its Cathedral of the XVI century.
Inside there is a big organ (the largest in South America).
In the south part of the Plaza de Armas there is the beautiful Jesuit church “La Compania” whose construction dates back to 1698 .
The façade and the entrance door are rich and well-worked. On one side of the entrance, there is a dressed Christ on the Cross.
On one side of the church, there is the Chapel of San Ignacio rich in beautiful polychrome paintings which came to light after its radical restoration .
The most significant monument of Arequipa is the Monastery of St. Catherine.
The monastery was a city within a city with very colourful houses and roads.
Do not miss a visit to the “Museo Santuarios Andinos” (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) where it is possible to see the frozen mummy of Juanita , the ” Ice Maiden”.
The frozen and mummified body of Juanita was found below the summit of the volcano Ampato (6.288 meters) where it remained for 550 years.
The museum has well-organized boards in which we could see numerous burial garments of the girl: dress, cap, dolls, bag.
Juanita was an “offering” of one of the many human sacrifices discovered in the peaks of the Andes.
This is a topic to be explored to better understand the world and the cultures of the ancient Peruvian civilizations.
Colca Valley: Chachani, El Misti and Pichu Pichu volcanoes, Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca,
We left Arequipa to go towards the Colca Valley.
Just outside the city there are beautiful rural views, with farmers busy in collecting agricultural product, enriched with the surrounding landscape. In fact, the plateau of Arequipa is surrounded by spectacular mountains; the main ones are represented by three volcanoes: the Chachani, El Misti and Pichu Pichu, the lowest. That is 5.571 meters!
We went on and the landscape became even wider. In the distance we saw mountains characterized by long tongues that looked like white snow or ice, even considering the altitude (3.500/4.000 meters) . Instead it was sand transported by the wind!
We entered the immense “Reserva Nacional Salinas” y “Aguada Blanca”.
We began to see camelids grazing . First of all, the vicuña , the only animal that lives only in the wild.
In large enclosures, we could see immense herds of llamas and alpacas.
We arrived to the Pass where there is a “mirador” (vantage point) of the volcanic chain of the Andes.
We were at 4.910 meters above sea level. Just think that the Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, is a hundred meters lower!
In the distance, we could see several volcanoes including the Chachani (6,075 mt.) and Ampato (6,288 mt.), still in activity. On the Ampato it was found the mummified body of Juanita.
Colca Valley (or Canyon): Yanque, Cruz del Condor
The valley is also known as the “Canon del Colca” (Colca canyon).
The homonymous river over millennia has carved a deep canyon on the sides of which were built a multitude of stepped terraces for the cultivation of cereals.
The most easily accessible terraces are still used today.
The guide indicated a rock of Inca origin which is the scale model of the main terraces of the valley.
If you make water run on this rock, it moves from a terrace to the other managing to flush them all.
Among the various villages of the valley, I remember Yanque where a group of people, mostly women and children, but also animals, welcomed us dressed in colourful traditional costumes.
The “Cruz del Condor” is the vantage point from which you can see the condors fly.
We were lucky enough to see them, but not to photograph them (they were too far).
The condor, whose nest is located at the bottom of the canyon ,flies upwards thanks to the updrafts.
It is impressive the depth of the canyon because the river flows 1.200 meters below.
If you consider that the above Mount Mismi is 3.200 mt., the canyon depth reaches 3.400 meters.
It is the deepest canyon in the world!
Titicaca Lake: Lagunillas lagoon, floating islands (by “totora”) inhabited by Uros people, Taquile island
After visiting the valley, including the Cruz del Condor, we drove back along the street until we reached the junction with the Transoceanic Road (a road under construction to connect the Pacific coast and the Atlantic one).
We went on crossing the immense Natural Reserve and met many grazing animals as well as birds (both birds of prey and partridges).
We were always at a high altitude (over 3.800 meters), and we also crossed the Cerro Alto at 4.500 meters.
The shadows of the evening were approaching and a storm darkened the sky while the beautiful lagoon of Lagunillas was still lightened.
We arrived in Puno, the main town on Lake Titicaca, during a strong storm.
The next morning we had the pleasant surprise of a beautiful sunny day and, in the distance, right in front of our hotel room, we could see the group of floating islands inhabited by the Uros.
It was like a dream looking at that lake, often imagined but considered almost unattainable for its height (we were at 3.800 meters).
We quickly reached the islands made with totora reeds. When reeds rot away, the Uros add layers to the top so that the islands do not sink ever.
When you walk there you have the feeling of being on a mattress filled with water.
Using the totora reeds, the Uros also build their characteristic boats (called “balsas”) characterized by a muzzle of an animal on their bow.
The boats last one year, as maximum duration, then rot.
We moved to the island of Taquile, very long , and we crossed it on foot by climbing from the 3.800 meters of the lake to the 4.050 meters of the village. We could admire beautiful views of the lake .
The women, dressed in traditional costumes, were busy in spinning wool.
The sun was at peak and the heat began to become unbearable, despite the 4.000 meters height.
We made frequent stops, even to watch the beautiful sunsets over the lake.
Far away, on the horizon, almost hidden by the clouds, we saw the island of the Sun which is in Bolivia.
We took more than an hour and a half to get into the village.
It was a pleasure to take a shot of one of the many men busy in knitting (with four irons!) to get a wool hats.
We went upwards beyond the village and met a number of arches, some very scenic.
The most suggestive one is placed on the summit of the island and, beyond it, there is an interminable flight of steps (they are 540!).
Towards Cusco: Juliaca, Sillustani, funerary towers (Chullpas), Raqchi ruins, Virococha temple, Andahuaylillas with a painting by E.Murrillo
Leaving Lake Titicaca, we found the small town of Juliaca, considered the “Naples of Peru” because it is a city where everything is imitated .
We visited the burial site of Sillustani which overlooks the lake Umayo. It is characterized by some funerary towers (“chullpas”); some of them date back to the pre-Inca period and are very simple whereas some others belong to the Inca period and are 12 meters high and built with blocks which fit perfectly together. On the way back we visited a farmer’s house.
Then we reached the ruins of Raqchi, one of the most sacred temples for the Incas and, for this reason, it was destroyed by the Spaniards. The temple was dedicated to Virococha, the creator god of the universe.
It was covered by a roof which was the largest one built by the Incas placed on 22 huge columns.
Near the temple it is still visible the housing area. In the northern edge, there are a number of circular buildings used as warehouses .
In the square of the small village of San Pedro, in front of the temple , there is a beautiful quaint church with a dressed crucifix.
On our way to Cusco, we stopped at La Raya Pass (“only” 4.335 meters high). It is an interesting place because it is dominated by the mountain from which springs the river Urubamba which crosses all the Sacred Valley and is one of two main tributaries of the Rio Amazon.
Further on, we stopped at Andahuaylilla to visit a beautiful Jesuit church of the seventeenth century.
Its inner decorations (to be restored) are stunning: there are a magnificent and well-preserved wooden ceiling and a number of interesting paintings. It is also worth of mention the painting depicting the Immaculate Conception by Esteban Murrillo.
Cusco: San Blas, parish of Christ the Poor, Tambo Machay (“El bano del Inca”), Puca Pucara Fort, Qenko, Sacsayhuaman
We arrived in Cusco, a city considered the archaeological capital, not only of Peru, but of the Americas.
Nowadays there are only few and massive walls of the old Inca city of Cusco. The Spanish razed to the ground the city and today Cusco is a modern and colonial city. The narrow and steep pedestrian streets are quite impressive. They have also some stairways and lead up to the artisan district of San Blas where it is frequent to encounter street musicians dressed in traditional costumes.
Of particular interest it is a visit to the Franciscan parish of Christ the Poor with numerous works of art, mainly paintings.
As soon as you move away from Cusco you can enjoy beautiful views and stunning rural scenes.
There are four archaeological sites on the outskirts of the city.
Tambomachay is a small ruin of a beautiful ceremonial bath which, in the valley, is called “El bano del Inca “(The Bath of the Inca). It is interesting the perfect interlocking of the stones on the wall above it.
A short distance away, in a wonderful position there is the Puca Pucara Fort.
Its name means ”Red Fort” for the colour of its rocks.
The literal translation of Qenko is ”zigzag”. The site is a huge rock, all carved, engraved with ”zigzag”. The blood of the animals, sacrificed in the altar below, had to flow on the rock and, depending on the part where the blood flowed, crops were considered to be more or less abundant.
Sacsayhuaman is an enormous and spectacular walled complex which consists of blocks weighing over 300 tons.
Today, it is possible to visit only a fifth of the original site because the rest has been removed by the Spanish to build the new Cusco.
The imposing complex represented the head of a puma and the zigzag walls were its teeth.
The Incas designed the city of Cusco giving it the shape of a puma, and Sacsayhuaman was its head.
Surroundings of Cusco: Chinchero, Moray, Salinas
In the surroundings of Cusco we visited the village of Chinchero, located at 3.700 meters above sea level, with interesting Inca ruins and a beautiful colonial church.
Being Sunday there was also a picturesque craft market.
Then, we went to visit the agricultural terraces of Moray. It was a real agricultural Inca outdoors university.
In those circular terraces, depending on insolation, wind and irrigation, the Incas set out the locations for various agricultural crops.
We reached Salinas from a road which is higher than the saline and this made us enjoy spectacular views.
Those saline sites have been used since Inca times. The Incas channeled the salt water of a stream and made it slide in puddles of water placed on the sloping side of the mountain. With the evaporation of the water they obtained salt for agriculture.
Sacred Valley: Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Yucay, Posada de l’Inca
We crossed the “El Valle Sagrado de los Incas” ( Sacred Valley of the Incas ), where we could find the most interesting archaeological sites.
Pisac is famous because the present village, where a market is held every Thursday (very touristy), is dominated by the ruins of the Inca Pisac situated on the high edge of the mountain.
Spectacular views can be enjoyed. There are very beautiful terraces, connected by diagonal flight of steps, which are placed on the slopes of the mountain.
It was very tiring (as usual) to reach the top of the ruins of the archaeological sites.
I think that the site of Ollantaytambo has been the most difficult to be reached because set on the slope of the mountain A proof is given by the fact that the Spaniards lost an important battle over there.
On the top there is the temple that can be reached only by climbing endless stairways.
The mighty and splendid walls have never been completed.
On the opposite side of the hill, in the middle of the slope, in a point where the winds are more intense, there is a large building. It was the warehouse where the Incas kept the goods fresh thanks to the wind.
In order to reach Machu Picchu more easily, without covering a long transfer journey from Cusco, we stopped to sleep in Yucay.
The name of the hotel is “Posada del Inca”; in the past it had been a monastery, characterized by a nice church with beautiful gardens, colourful buildings and even a small museum.
Towards Machu Picchu: Vistadome train, Aguas Calientes, Guardhouse, Ceremonial Rock, Solstice Rock, Condor temple
We left our hotel early in the morning to move to the Ollantaytambo train station where we took the Vistadome train for tourists which led us up to Aguas Calientes.
Shortly after, the real forest begins, the part which the locals call: eyebrows of the forest.
Aguas Calientes is the town where the train arrives. Machu Picchu is only reachable by bus, by a narrow winding road that climbs the mountain, bend after bend , until you get to the archaeological site.
Machu Picchu is the most famous archaeological site in South America, and also the most spectacular one.
I want to remember that it was accidentally discovered in 1911 and, this why it was not destroyed by the Spaniards.
We do not know the exact function of the place. Maybe it was an important ceremonial center as they have been found several (hundred) human remains, mostly belonging to women. In fact young women were those who were destined to be sacrificed.
Just passing the entrance, we climbed a flight of steps at the end of which we could face the splendid view of Machu Picchu in all its glory .
We were at the point known as: the Guardhouse of the Ceremonial Rock. On the grass behind the house, there is a large rock terrace with a big stone where, they say , nobles were mummified.
Machu Picchu: Porta del Sol, Huayna Picchu (the small Picchu)
The guide suggested two routes in the vicinity of the site.
Certainly they were nice, but definitely challenging. We made both of them with great difficulty.
In order to reach the “Porta del Sol”, we followed a path that climbs to a 350-meter rise.
From the top, we could enjoy a great view of the archaeological site.
It took to us an hour and ten minutes to climb up and fifty minutes to descend.
With another breathtaking climb, characterized more by high and irregular steps than of path, we climbed up to Huayna Picchu (Little Picchu).
The difference in height is more than 350 meters , but the length is much less than half of the Porta del Sol length.
At the beginning, we had to sign the book stating that we had begun…the adventure.
Then we started and remained immediately…breathless. The steps, carved from the rock, are very uneven, the strings that help you in the climb are full of uncovered wire… we found many practical difficulties but our strong goodwill made us overcome all of them.
We took one hour and forty minutes to go up. Only forty minutes…more than the average time!
But it was worth it because the views, which we could enjoy from the top, were really exciting for their magnificence.
Amazon Rainforest: Tambopata Candano National Reserve, Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata river, Rio Madre de Dios
We concluded our wonderful trip to Peru with a flying visit in the Amazon rainforest, specifically in the Tambopata-Candamo National Reserve, located in the south of Puerto Maldonado, along the Tambopata River, a tributary of the Rio Madre de Dios.
The experience was not a happy one due to the heat, the humidity, the accomodation, the poverty of food and the nuisance of mosquitoes and the like.
Of course, we had considered all those discomforts, but they were even more than we had expected.
Personally I believe it is an experience which could be avoided because the sacrifice is repaid only partially by what you see.
For information: in the area there are 1.200 species of butterflies and about 600 species of birds.