So here we are again folks, back in my hands for the journey through PERU!
The continent of South America keeps astonishing us more and more as time goes by and crossing the frontier into Peru opened up a whole new world full of rich culture and history that made it another incredibly enchanting experience!
So with all due respect it is not possible to produce one edition for Peru and that is why we are going to again split this country into the following three releases on our website:
Peru (Part I): Puno (Lake Titicaca), Arequipa & Colca Canyon
Peru (Part II): Cusco, Pisac / Urubamba /Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley), Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu
Peru (Part III): Nazca and Lima
We really hope that you enjoy the blog and all the associated pictures and information on our experiences discovering these places.
Puno (Lake Titicaca)
After exchanging pleasantries at the respective borders we made it to our digsfor the evening in the not so beautiful lakeside town of Puno.
Our guesthouse owner was very nice but it was alarmingly clear that Puno was not a place to be walking the streets late at night, especially outside the main pedestrian area. After enjoying a surprisingly delicious pizza (thin crust) by South American standards, we bunked down and planned our movements for the following day.
Our sole objective here was to visit the floating villages on Lake Titicaca which can logistically only be accessed from the Puno port entrance.
The next day we took a tour (unusual for us) to the floating villages on Lake Titicaca where the Aymara speaking people live in a completely sustainable environment on floating reeds. The totora reeds grow in the lake, are pulled out and constantly added on top of the most recently added reeds to form a floating island. There are approximately 50 islands and people live here in their homes performing normal day to day tasks such hunting (fishing), working (at schools, hospital, shops etc) and satisfying touristic interest. The experience we had was somewhat geared for tourism, but nevertheless it was amazing to see how people function away from mainland society on these floating islands. Overall, an educational experience about an unknown culture to us!
Arequipa is located in southern Peru and is home to the second largest city in Peru. Arequipa sits at about 2,300m above sea level and virtually everywhere you go in the city you can see the magnificent snow capped volcano called El Misti – it is easily the most distinguishable feature around Arequipa and rightly so adorns most postcards!
Apparently archaeological evidence suggests the existence of the Aymaras people in the region from the pre Inca period. During the 15th century, the region occupied by the Aymaras was conquered by the Incas and served as an important provider of agricultural products to the Inca Empire. One explanation of the name is that the Aymara named the city Ari, which means "peak", and quipa, "to lie behind". Therefore, the name Arequipa means "The place that lies behind the peak".
Arequipa has more than 80 volcanoes, most of which can be found in the Valley of the Volcanoes. The city was also built on an earthquake prone area and was completely destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions during the 17th century.
Although Cusco was considered by Inca civilization as the centre of the world, Arequipa was still considered an important region during the Inca period. There exists much archeological evidence suggesting this and none more blatantly than the body of “Juanita the Ice Princess”, who was sacrificed some 400 years ago a top El Misti and left buried there until found in 1993 by an American archeologist. Significant research into her corpse was performed including sending her body to the world famous medical research institution, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. After extensive research the theory is that this young girl of only 12 - 13 years old was a virgin of the most pure nature and class, and that she was sacrificed by the Inca civilization as an offering to the gods, which were considered by the Incas to be the mountains. The story of “Juanita the Ice Princess” is now very well preserved in the rich Inca history. Juanita remained naturally embalmed some 400 years a top of El Misti and her body is now kept in a glass coffin in Arequipa. The story is captivating and brings you as close to being a part of the Inca period as you can get – the evidence is there right in front of your eyes!
Whilst in Arequipa we made the most of our time getting to know this wonderful city. The architecture is everything as spectacular as you get when it comes to Spanish colonialism, but I guess this was the first time thoughts ran threw your head that made you feel a sense of anger and sadness at how the Inca civilization was completely overthrown by Francisco Pizarro (the loyalist leader to the Spanish King) and his army. It was only when we got to Cusco and learnt more about the Incas that all hit home in terms of how this primitive and wonderfully gifted culture lost everything because of colonialism.
We met some wonderfully delightful people in Arequipa including Jacqueline (Atlanta, USA), her boyfriend Aurelien (France) and non the less than the incredibly witty and intelligent CouchSurfing host, Mr Percy Rodriguez. Not only were Percy’s digs just out of this world, but Percy is the kind of person we get along with right from the word go. He has a great sense of humour, is very funny and at the same time very caring and considerate. It was great to get to know you, your life and about your family. Thanks also for all your wonderful tips on Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. We really had an outstanding time at his place and are very happy that we have become good friends with him!
The Colca Canyon is a canyon on the Colca River that is located a few hours by bus from Arequipa (about 100 miles or 160 kilometres). It is regarded as Peru’s third most visited attraction and is apparently the world’s deepest canyon (twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in USA) at some 13,650 ft (4,160 m). Some argue this is not the case, but hey we are going to run with it!
The Colca Canyon is still inhabited by people of the “Collagua” and “Cabana” cultures and you can still see many of the people continuing to maintain their cultural roots as you trek the canyon.
After being dropped off by the bus we began our 2-day trek across, down, up, back down and back up a stretch of the Colca Canyon. It was fair to say that it was physically challenging at times, especially the many switchbacks / cutbacks that were required to descend and ascend the canyon. It really goes without saying how beautiful the landscape is around the canyon – check out our pictures and I am sure you will agree! Some of the photos that we took are quite possibly amongst the best we have taken on our entire trip to date.
We clocked up some 15kms over hard terrain on the first day and on the second day we were up early at 4am to start what looked like an almost vertical ascent. As painful as it was, it was totally enjoyable and I can honestly say now that I am enjoying hiking more than ever (having never been a hiker in my life). We also met some wonderful people including the lovely Mercedes Zacuto from Buenos Aires, Argentina but now working / living in Lima, Peru. Mercedes, as you will no doubt read later in our Lima edition, was so kind to offer us her 16th floor apartment in Miraflores for the week when we stayed in Lima! Lucky for us and very kind of Mercedes. We also met Paul from Australia and Luke from England. The five of us, along with our trusty guide, Hero, really enjoyed the few days together chatting and laughing along the way. Great fun and great company!
Other than the naturally beautiful undulations of the Colca Canyon’s landscape, the other major attraction in the region is that it is home to the Andean Condor. Since beginning our South American adventure we have been lucky enough to see a few Andean Condors here and there, but nothing compared to what we were fortunate enough to see at the Colca Canyon. All of a sudden at one moment we saw one, two, three and then ten Andean Condors gracefully gliding through the canyon and at times flying only metres above our heads. Again, check out our photos of the most beautiful bird in sky – simply breathtaking birds!
So from the Colca Canyon we were off to the centre of the world and home to the famous Inca civilization – Cusco and later on to Machu Picchu!
We will be in touch soon with Peru (Part II): Cusco, Pisac / Urubamba /Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley), Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu…