James Gjaltema writes on travel for the Armchair Mayor News.
Peru is a fascinating country with a diverse landscape, interesting history and lots to do. During my month-long trip with a university friend, I saw great cities, amazing wildlife and awe inspiring scenes.
We arrived in Lima, then headed down the Pan-American Highway along the coast to Pisco which shares its name with a local brandy and on to Nazca, famous for its lines. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour before taking flight in a small aircraft giving us a bird’s-eye view of the enigmatic lines – huge stylized pictures drawn on the desert floor about 1,500 years ago.
Our next stop, Arequipa stood out as a beautiful city with cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial architecture, great restaurants, and an awesome vibe. I remember standing on the roof-top balcony of the hotel watching the sun set over the city, reflecting on the arches of buildings crafted from white volcanic rock, palm trees in the foreground and the imposing El Misti volcano looming in the background. Regrettably, we did not have time to do a side-trip to the Colca Canyon, which is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon with stunning scenery and soaring condors.
Lake Titicaca was another highlight. We took a boat trip to the floating islands of Los Uros – who create boats, homes and the islands on which they live out of totora reeds. This surreal experience was followed by a memorable cultural encounter. We visited the island of Amantani where we had a homestay experience with a local family. It is interesting to note that the elevation is about the same as the top of Mt. Robson – the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The island has two peaks, called Pachamama and Pachatata (Father and Mother Earth) each with pre-Inca ruins.
Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, is the natural place to visit before venturing on to the Inca Trail. The famous trek was challenging and rewarding. For four days we walked along the mountainous countryside past tiny villages and Inca ruins. We survived “Dead Woman’s Pass” and followed the trail through a cave and over another pass, setting up camp with sore legs after a long day of hiking.
On the last day, we got up early and watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu. As shadows moved over the ancient Inca settlement we hiked down to it, checked our backpacks and explored. Buildings made with trapezoidal stones hewn so precisely that they fit together and held firm with no mortar. The impressive peak in the background is called Huayna Picchu. Without our backpacks we felt light and energetic so we decided to hike it, too.
The Amazon Jungle was our next stop. We had the choice of going to Puerto Maldonado which is only an hour by plane from Cusco or Iquitos much further north. Puerto Maldonado is reportedly more pristine with greater biodiversity and features several clay licks which attract hundreds of birds including the colourful macaws.
We chose to go to Iquitos because it is on the Amazon River itself rather than tributaries. The city of half a million people was very hot and humid. We saw the Iron House, designed by Gustav Eifel at the same as his famous tower, and brought to the Amazon by a rich rubber baron. Our voyage into the jungle was unforgettable. We passed the floating market of Belen and travelled several hours down river to a remote rustic lodge. At the lodge, we saw many exotic looking birds and the unlikely scene of a monkey riding on a cat.
We had some amazing excursions including fishing for piranhas, paddling past giant lily pads in a dugout canoe, swinging on vines, holding a three-toed sloth and swimming with pink river dolphins.
We did a five day hike through the Andes, reaching altitudes of over 6,000 metres. We visited Cajamarca and Trujillo where the pre-Inca ruins of Chan Chan can be found. We still had many more places we wanted to visit like Chicama, home to the world’s longest surfable wave, but alas we ran out of time.
Airfare to Lima from Vancouver is about $1,000 including tax. G-Adventures offer some excellent group trips ranging from about $1,500 to $4,000. If you are interested in learning more, there will be a presentation on Dec. 18; call me for details.
James Gjaltema is a founding member of the Kamloops Travel Club and a Flight Centre Associate. He can be reached at 250-879-0873 or through his web-site: http://www.flightcentreassociates.com/jamesgjaltema.