My trip to Peru: colours, smiles and a thousand landscapes
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Before setting off, the only few things I knew about Peru were that the Inca civilization lived here over 5 centuries ago and that the Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. I definitely had to add quite a few more interesting facts on my short Peru knowledge list and now I would like to share them with you!
LIMA- The capital
Lima not only is the capital city of Peru but it also is the second largest capital city after Cairo in Egypt. For this reason, it rarely rains in the city and the temperature never goes under 15 degrees Celsius. And that is during the winter. I will let you imagine what summer feels like!
If you want to reinvigorate your spirits and sit in the shade sipping something to quench your thirst, then you will have to try the most famous Peruvian drink: Pisco Sour.
Pisco Sour is made of the liquor Pisco, lime, bitters and raw foamy egg white on top. It sounds bizarre, I give you that. But it is deliciously refreshing!
Pisco Sour was allegedly first invented in Lima and it is so appreciated (like mums and women) that it has got its own celebration day: Pisco sour day is celebrated on the first Saturday of February each year. I think it should be celebrated every day!
PARACAS- Sea Lions and Humboldt penguins
Paracas is a beautiful small village 160 miles south of Lima, on the coast. It has become very famous for the Ballestas Islands, home to sea lions, pelicans and Humboldt penguins! You can reach the islands only through organized tours that will bring you as close as you could only wish for to the majestic sunbathing sea lions.
The Ballestas islands are part of Paracas National Reserve and they have been named “Poor’s man Galapagos”. The reserve is a protected area that spans not only the islands but also desert, ocean and the peninsula. Here, you can find what is called the Candelabra (chandelier in English) which is a massive prehistoric geoglyph etched into a hillside that has been dated back to 200 BC. The mysterious purpose and meaning of the Candelabra still remain unknown. You will have to go and speculate for yourself. Have I mentioned it is 700 ft tall and can be seen from as far as 14 miles out at sea? Yes, pretty impressive for a chandelier!
Before the invention of synthetic fertilizer, the guano extracted from bird droppings on the Ballestas islands was widely exported to Europe and North America making Peru the biggest producer in the world!
HUACACHINA- The Oasis in the middle of the dunes
When we first reached this stunning, unreal, small agglomerate of buildings and palm trees, I could not believe my eyes. Huacachina is a small village which was built around a natural lake and it is surrounded by sand dunes. It used to be a resort to the local people coming from the nearby city of Ica, but it has now become more and more popular, attracting tourists from all over the world.
In Huacachina you will find some lovely, tiny restaurants that serve a very reasonably priced ceviche. This mouth-watering plate is made with white fish (usually cod) marinated in lime, garlic, onion and coriander. This is another must try on your trip to Peru.
If you feel adventurous and strong hearted, you can spend the afternoon speeding on dune buggies through the desert and sand-boarding from 150 feet tall dunes. This was my favourite part of the trip. As fun as a completely unexpected one! At the end of the “dune adventure”, you will get to stop not far from the oasis and watch the sunset from the top of your buggy with other travellers.
Both Paracas and Huacachina were part of a tour organised by Peru hop. It is a very flexible way of travelling. The bus follows some predefined destinations, and you can hop on and hop off as many times as you want and decide for yourself how long you are going to spend in each place based on your preferences. The tour was very well organized and I recommend having a look at their website for more information!
Huacachina means literally “young woman crying” and the name takes after the legend of a young Inca princess who suddenly lost her beloved prince. She grieved and cried incessantly until her tears formed what is now the lagoon in the middle of the small village.
CUZCO- 11000 feet up in the sky
Oh, Cuzco! A stunningly breathtaking city near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. In the 13th century, Cuzco was the capital of the Inca empire. Nowadays it remains an exceptionally important city in Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cuzco can be easily explored on foot and many free guided tours start every morning and early afternoon in Plaza de Armas. If you are not spending many days in Cuzco, that is definitely the best way to get the most out of this incredible, ancient city.
Altitude may not be your best friend at the beginning. Especially if you do not give yourself a couple of days to get acclimatize. After that, you will be fine and the headaches and hangover feelings will only be a far memory. My suggestion for you would be to take it easy if you can. And if you ask locals, you will find out that Peruvian people have their own ways to cope with altitude and that is the Coca plant.
Unlike many people may think, the Coca leaves become effective against the attitude only after chewing them for a few minutes. In fact, enzymes contained in the saliva will activate the main coca compounds which are responsible for suppressing pain, hunger, thirst and, of course, alleviating altitude sickness. So, get your jaws a good workout! If you are not a big fan of Coca leaves (as the taste is pretty bitter), try some Ginkgo Biloba or some local Maca, good for enhancing stamina.
The Inca were the first to cultivate potatoes, which were essential to the Peruvian diet. Peru has over 4000 varieties of potatoes but this diversity is rarely seen in markets nowadays. In fact, they are traded among highland and lowland communities and used as gifts at weddings and other ceremonies.
MACHU PICCHU- The old mountain
The entrance tickets to the Machu Picchu have to be booked in advance and my recommendation is to also to book your train to Aguas Calientes (closest village to the Machu Picchu) early before your visit as it gets fully booked months in advance. Two main train operators are available to reach Aguas Calientes from Cuzco: Incarail and Perurail. You can book your journey directly from their websites.
From Aguas Calientes, shuttle buses will bring you to the Machu Picchu entrance and they run frequently throughout the day.
And so, approaching the end of my story, I finally got to see it. The old mountain. The Inca city. It is a magical experience. Impossible to describe with words. For this reason, I have decided I will leave you with some suspense and with some first hand whoa moments too. It will be worth the wait!
You will meet several guides right at the entrance to the site and you will get to choose whether to join a bigger group or to have a more exclusive guided tour. Either way, the guide will bring you around the site for a couple of hours explaining in great details the history behind every single stone, terrace and water system. After the two hours, you will be given some options to continue exploring on your own. Without rushing, you should be able to walk around, enjoy the views and even reach the Sun gate (which is short of an hour climbing from the bottom) in less than 4 hours.
Machu Picchu is commonly pronounced wrongly by tourists. The correct pronunciation is “ MATCH-oo PEEK-choo” which in the old Quechua language means OLD MOUNTAIN. When you pronounce it “MATCH-oo PEE-choo” you are actually saying OLD PENIS. So, well, depending on the context and what you want to refer to, either way, choose wisely! It is all in your hands!