In September 2011, I had an AMAZING time on holiday in Peru. For three weeks we traveled around the country – by bus, plane and boat, not staying in any place for more than 2 nights.
Here are just a few of the highlights:
A bartender pours a glass of “pisco sours” – a Peruvian blend of Brandy, egg white and lime juice. The texture is very smooth and creamy, with a kick from the brandy and some bitterness from the lime.
Plaza de Armas in Lima – the Lima Cathedral and governmental buildings with riot police pictured. Peru seemed a very safe place to travel though, and these police are just to protect the important government buildings in the main plaza de armas.
Inside Lima Cathedral during a service. Peru is quite a religious place, with many churches and religious symbols around the country.
A dog watches us from the roof in Lima
A vicuna (vai-coo-nya) chomping awayA cute baby alpaca eating straw
A Peruvian lady knitting garments from alpaca wool. Baby alpaca wool is incredibly soft and warm and so it is popular with the Peruvian people. Peru is a very diverse country with many freezing cold mountainous regions in the Andes, and so baby alpaca wool scarves, hats and shawls are great for keeping out the cold. Just beware – baby alpaca wool is quite expensive and there are also a lot of disreputable places which sell “baby alpaca” wool from adult alpacas. If you find some baby alpaca wool for sale at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to well-known stores and not individual sellers or markets if you want the genuine baby alpaca wool.Sunset in Arequipa plaza de armas. Arequipa is one of several Peruvian cities with a clear Spanish influence in the architecture. Dawn over Arequipa. The Misti Volcano visible in the background.
We are out on the road again, heading into the Andes and steadily gaining altitude. We are going to drive up to the Pata Pampa Pass at Mirador de los Andes- the highest point in Peru at 16,066ft (4897m). It’s a long drive there and the altitude means that everything becomes harder. Even the bus struggles in the thin air and we have to stop occasionally to let it cool down. The air is thin and unsatisfying to breathe. It isn’t a problem when you are sitting still, but even minimal exertion means you will be out of breath for a while. Tolerance between different people varies enormously, and some of us were absolutely fine, while others started to get headaches as the bus climbed higher and higher. At the higher altitudes, it is very cold and the air is low in oxygen. Large trees and plants can not survive, and these cacti and hardy grasses are the only plant life among the rocks and dry soil. The sun is blindingly bright, and even though it is very cold, you can get sunburnt very easily. The atmosphere is much less protective at this altitude, and many Peruvians who live at high altitude have tough, sunburnt and wind burned skin. Unfortunately his also leads to health problems such as skin cancer and scarring.
“Dragons Teeth” volcanic rock formations. We stopped here for a while to have coca tea. The coca leaves are a traditional Peruvian pass time which are supposed to help to deal with the effects of altitude. They are bitter to chew, but boiling them into a tea with mint leaves and sugar is actually very tasty and the bitterness becomes more like coffee bitterness, rather than paracetamol bitterness. Admittedly, the coca tea did make me feel better but I can’t promise that it wasn’t a placebo effect!
Note the little logo on her jumper isn’t Ralph Lauren – it’s a little alpaca!
At the top of Mirador de los Andes, 16066ft (4897m) up. This is the highest point and to signify it Peruvians (and tourists) rest small towers of stones for good luck. The stones are supposed to represent the three layer of heaven, earth and the underworld (represented by the condor, the puma and the snake), and you will often see this pattern repeated across Peru, or see small engravings of condors, pumas or snakes in stone walls. The peak is covered with these little towers, but I would point out that both of the stone towers below have four stones – so they were probably built by tourists rather than Peruvians.We are now in the Colca area. Still at high altitude, but much lower than the Pata Pampa Pass. There are stunning landscapes in the Colca area, including the Colca Canyon. These terraces are man-made structures used for farming. There is still very little in the way of natural vegetation in the area – only hardy grasses and small spiky bushes, but it is more hospitable to crop growth compared to the dry, rocky mountains.The Colca Canyon itself. This is actually much larger than the Grand Canyon in America, but the Grand Canyon has much steeper sides and the red coloured rocks, giving it a more dramatic appearance. However, I still think the Colca Canyon is pretty dramatic! This landscape is absolutely breathtakingly vast. The sun is blindingly bright and the air is cold and fresh. On the right hand side you can just about make out people at the viewing point waiting for the Peruvian condors. Waiting for the condors at the Colca Canyon. Condors spend most of their time riding the hot air streams along the canyon, but there are a few points along the way where they like to swoop up high into the air. We are there patiently waiting to photograph them!This is a female Peruvian condor with the wattle (aka the flaps of skin on the head). The wingspan is huge at around 2m (7ft) and they are incredibly impressive as they fly overhead and cast huge shadows onto the ground below. You can see the trademark white ring around the neck and also the strange three-clawed feet with an elongated middle “toe”. The “finger” shaped feather at the end of their wings also give a trademark profile as they fly against the sky, making them fairly easy to identify.And now a male condor soaring above the Andes. You can see that he is a male because there is no wattle around his head, and he is also a bit fatter than the female!Back on the road again through some wetland areas. Peru has an incredible mix of climates within a relatively small area. In contrast to harsh, dry and rocky mountains, we now we find lakes, marshes and wildlife grazing in the fields. This young alpaca is wild but I was able to get close enough to take this photo of him/her enjoying the view. They are very hardy animals, and are great climbers. As you can see in this photo, when they stand their feet can be placed very closely together, allowing them to perch on tiny little outcrops on rocks. And wherever you go, of course there are things for sale. Lots of knitted wool garments, blankets and decorations – as well as stuffed alpaca, llama and vicuna cuddly toys!
A different side of Peru. Wetlands populated by grazing wild llamas and alpacas.We are now at Lake Titicaca in the Puno region of Peru. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and so even though this looks like a normal lake, we are still 12,500ft (3,811m) above sea level. The air is still thin and physical exertion like climbing a small hill is more tiring than normal if you are used t living at sea level. Lake Titicaca is absolutely beautiful though, with crystal clear waters and fresh clean air. On Taquile Island, we did a (slow) hour-long climb to the top of this hill, for a stunning view down onto Lake Titicaca. There are over 40 islands on Lake Titicaca, and locals often own or share their own boats to travel between them. Taquile is a beautiful island with a rich history of culture and tradition. There no cars on the island and no hotels, although many local Taquilenos own small lodges or will rent out their spare rooms to tourists. The population of Taquile run the island based on collectivism, with the residents sharing duties of fishing, crop cultivation and tourist-related activities. They have also divided the island into six sectors for crop rotation to help maintain a healthy ecology for the agricultural economy. The beautiful harbour at Lake Titicaca, just outside of PunoYes, Peruvian people eat guinea pigs – a speciality dish called “cuy chactado”. To be honest, you don’t get a lot of meat on the bones!
Beautiful scenes of the Peru countryside. It is raining, but there are still patches of sun through the cloud, and women and children are tending to their cattle in the fields.
These young Peruvian girls with baby lambs are dressed in traditional costume. As in many countries, begging and charity are complicated issues. In the interests of full disclosure, I paid the girls two sols for this photo (around £0.50). But I am aware that in many countries giving money to children is often discouraged because economic pressure means that parents will then keep their children out of school and encourage them to beg for money. However, our local guide assured us that for children like this, this is a part-time job for them (and in fairness it was a weekend) and that they would be attending school as normal. I know that this isn’t the case in many countries, and in Egypt, India and parts of South East Asia, you need to be cruel to be kind and keep your money in your pocket. This helps to ensure that children receive the education they deserve and do not become dependent on hand-outs.
Finally we arrive at one of the trip highlights. One of the seven wonders of the world. An ancient, lost city of the Incas, perched on a flat ridge between two vast mountains. Of course, it is Macchu Picchu. I love this shot because it isn’t the typical shot that everybody takes, and it shows just how massive the buildings are. The wall is easily 4-5x taller than the man and the rooms in the background would be capable of holding large groups of people at a time. This helps to remind you that Macchu Picchu really was a proper city with defined districts, a central plaza and a lot of buildings with different distinct purposes such as houses, temples, shops etc. Macchu Picchu was a thriving community until the Inca people abandoned it in 1572. It’s easy to forget that when you see the next photos which make the city look smaller than it actually is.A lot of cloud rolling in over Macchu Picchu. The City itself is almost hidden apart from the distinctive shape of the mountain. Even though Macchu Picchu is only 50km from the Inca capital City of Cusco, it is easy to realise how this City was undiscovered to the outside world for almost 400 years after the Inca people abandoned it. The journey up the mountains to Macchu Picchu city is long and steep, and few would suspect a civilised city to be present up here. After the city was abandoned, the jungle would quickly overgrown most recognisably human features, and bad weather often hides the city entirely from the view of surrounding mountains.
A break in the cloud shows Macchu Picchu in all of its glory. The grassy area in the center used to be the main market square, full of shops and traders. There are temples (such as the famous Temple of the Sun), a residential district and terraces carved out for crop cultivation. The actual purpose of Macchu Picchu is still not fully understood and many academics theorise about why the city was built. Current theories suggest an estate for a powerful Emperor, a religious site, a scientific research station or even a prison. There are certainly religious and ritual significance to the position and organisation of Macchu Picchu and the presence of several temples and ritual burial sites would certainly agree with that. The surrounding mountains are known to be sacred sites of the Inca people and many carvings and styles of stonework were also found in Macchu Picchu that are similar to those found in other sites in Peru which were known to be Inca religious sites. The research station theory is also interesting. Modern calculations have shown that the terraces surrounding the city would not be capable of supporting enough crops to supply the city, and so maybe the Inca people were experimenting by using different terraces with different orientations to grown crops and examine the effects of sunlight, wind exposure and orientation on crop yields.
Suddenly the heavens opened and a crazy amount of rain started to fall from the sky. All of the terraces instantly turned into flowing waterfalls. Luckily I had packed waterproofs, and so I stayed out to brave the rain with my camera. Most tourists ran away, leaving the whole city almost empty for some more authentic exploration! Tourism is a controversial issue at Macchu Picchu. While it is important for the local economy and the economy of Peru as a whole, the people do not want to be over-run by tourists, or have their own local traditions and customs ruined by excessive tourism. There is also the concern for the local environment and damage to the ancient sites. Therefore numbers of visitors to the site are restricted, and so if you wish to visit Macchu Picchu, you need to plan ahead and preferably book with an agency who can guarantee your tickets.
Back to the fancy Inca Terra lodge at the base of Macchu Picchu. The view from the dining room is amazing, as we are completely surrounded by real jungle on every side. Back in Cusco, native Peruvian dancers in traditional costume with the infamous Peruvian pan pipe bands put on a show for us. We are now heading to the Iquitos region of Peru so that we can visit the Amazon River and Amazon Rainforest. The first highlight was something which I could not immediately identify. Coming from the UK, I have never seen a pineapple which looks like this before!Welcome to the Amazon. This is a native trive of the Amazon. Again in the interests of full-disclosure, I haven’t discovered a wild tribe living in the wilderness. This tribe are a real tribe, but they are here for tourists and they depend on us for their continued survival. However, they freely admit this and were honest that they do not live in wooden huts and go hunting for food any more. However, they were keen to show us how their people used to live in wooden huts, and presented us with traditional dancing, singing and handicrafts. I think that this approach is fair enough, and it keeps the history and knowledge of their tribe alive in their community, as well as being entertaining and informative for tourists. The performance was free but at the end there were several items like bracelets, hats, woven fabrics etc for sale. The expectation is that you will buy one or two items in return for the free show. Again, I think this is fair and it keeps the skills of making their traditional jewellery and textiles alive. It is also better than simply paying to watch them perform. And at least they were honest about their intentions- over the course of travels I have seen several “tribes” who clearly don’t live in the traditional ways that they show to tourists.Heading up the Amazon by speedboat. In contrast to the cold, barren and mountainous regions of Peru, the Amazon is swelteringly hot and sticky, teeming with biting insects and crazy jungle noises from the abundant wildlife. The air feels very “thick” in comparison to the cold, high-altitude mountain air, and the humidity adds extra weight to the air.Pedro – the resident of Heliconia Lodge in the Amazon. This guy is free-roaming and is not chained or clipped at all. He was very friendly and social with visitors and would say hello and talk to you – in Spanish of course! “Ola!”We set out on the Amazon River in a small boat during sunset, armed with insect repellants because this is the time when the biting insect come out in full force. We were out to go dolphin spotting and we saw several pink Amazonian dolphins but unfortunately I only had my wide angle lens with me so didn’t get a single photo!There are a LOT of moths, mosquitos and various other squadrons of flying, biting midges. The best thing to do is turn off all the lights before entering or leaving a room so that none will fly inside. Personally I hate insects and all forms of scary wildlife in general. Lying in bed at night in a wooden hut in the depths of the Amazon jungle was an amazing but terrifying experience! The hut is basically a wooden box with net windows that were build on stilts over the jungle floor. So if you heard a sudden loud squarking sound, it’s impossible to know if it’s just outisde the net, underneath your floorboards or maybe INSIDE your room. Argh!! The huge array of noises come from flying insects, bats, snakes, birds, toads, crickets, cockroaches and even monkeys.
This guy was on the floor of the lodge. Several cockroaches too, but we don’t need pictures of that!Even in the daytime, plenty of wildlife is out to get you in the Amazon. This poison frog is less than half an inch long, but deadly to touch.Our guide, machete in hand, leading the way through the Amazon on a mini-trek.An enormous millipedeAn interesting tree which strips bark layers to reveal different colours. Here it is stripping purple and going green! There are an amazing amount of species of plants here and some of them have fascinating symbiotic or competitive relationships with the local wildlife. There is one tree (not pictured) which is the permanent home of poisonous biting ants, and all around the tree nothing grows, no predators eat the leaves and no parasitic vines or weeds grow on the surface of the tree. The ants devour them all. In fact, as a punishment, some Amazonian tribes would tie their criminals to the tree for a while and let the ants do their thing. A patch of sun comes through the jungle canopy, lighting the Tarzan vines which are more than capable of holding my weight. The jungle floor is surprisingly dark in some areas, although this varies depending on the type of plants growing in that area. Tall trees grow towards the sun and their leaves spread out at the top for maximum absorption of sunlight. This blocks light to the forest floor, making it difficult for new trees to take hold and grow. Many plants have adapted to be able to latch onto taller trees and climb their way to the top, or they have evolved other clever ways of coping without sunlight and obtaining their energy needs. Exploring the jungle floor. Thick layers of wet leaves and mud with small sapling trees breaking through. We have now left the Amazon and Iquitos and head back to Cusco – an attractive and modern Spanish-influenced city in Peru. This is the main plaza de armas square with cars, cable cars and of course another huge cathedral!Cusco set against the mountains. Many Peruvian cities have fantastic backdrops like this, as you saw earlier with Arequipa.This final image of my Peru journey shows Incan remains at Sacsayhuaman, the former Incan capital at Cusco. These enormous terraces walls protected the city (unsuccessfully) against the invading Spanish. Just like the pyramids at Egypt, the rocks are not glued together – they are precisely cut and placed there. I had always heard the stories about not being able to fit a knife blade between the rocks, so I decided to test for myself. I didn’t have a knife handy, but I can report that my credit card would certainly not fit into the gaps between any of the rocks which I tested.
I hope that you enjoyed my photographic tour of Peru. If you did, please consider liking this post on Facebook, tweeting about it or posting to Stumbleupon. Thanks! 🙂