Discovering the highlights… of Peru
My primary school knowledge of Peru went as far as knowing that guinea pigs were on the menu and the Incas made many sacrifices! A later addition was how a handful of Spanish had conquered the Incan Empire – a subject far more complex than apparent. Then the world heritage site of Machu Picchu was uncovered, and of course, Paddington Bear and Aunt Lucy – those Peruvian cultural icons.
We chose Cox & Kings as the itinerary incorporated all of the places we wanted to visit, as well as having a gentle acclimatisation to the high altitude. We were impressed with the Latin America specialist’s knowledge of Peru, providing us with excellent advice, tailor-making our holiday and always being available to sort out any queries and arrangements.
A herd of llamas
The previous year when we joined a cruise in Lima, those who had taken a short trip to Machu Picchu had told us about their adverse side effects to the altitude. Due to the gradual acclimatisation, we only noticed minor effects. The tour was a progression of highlight to highlight, beginning and ending in Lima, a sprawling and busy capital city with a log jam of traffic to rival the M62!
Flying from Lima to Arequipa, we headed to Colca Canyon. The rural Andean roads were quieter than Lima’s, with hair-raising bends and roadsides at lofty heights. There were occasional sights of llamas and their cousins, the vicuñas, often close to or crossing the road. We set off early for the Colca Canyon and spotted soaring condors floating effortlessly through the air. It was a magnificent sight!
A soaring Andean condor
We continued on to Lake Titicaca, which was a fascinating experience. It is amazing that the lake is 3,810 metres above sea level. We visited one of the communities that live on a small floating reed island, as they have done for generations. The ladies welcomed us ‘aboard’ the island and were wonderfully hospitable with a great sense of humour.
A warm welcome to the floating reed islands
The ladies were very appreciative when we purchased a pair of handmade cushion covers, which led to more hugs. They then waved us goodbye, as enthusiastically as they had greeted us. There was a cafe and the ubiquitous shop on a larger floating island; I wondered how long before the community would be lost to modernity. We travelled by boat to Taquile Island, where we enjoyed lunch accompanied by local songs and dances. We found it interesting how the marital status of the islanders is indicated by their dress.
Embroidery on Lake Titicaca
The next part of the adventure was the Belmond Andean Explorer sleeper train, which was another highlight. The train connects Lake Titicaca to Cuzco and has elegant coaches, attentive staff and gourmet food. There was a piano lounge with a pianist and an observation car to view the scenery. The journey began, passing through a local market with stalls each side of the track. The train rolled gently across the plains and we were treated to a wide selection of drinks, including the famous ‘pisco sour’, as well as a wonderful dinner and breakfast.
In the Sacred Valley we visited many places, including the impressive Incan fortress at Ollantaytambo. This involved a challenging climb that was well worth the effort for the view and to admire the impressive structure. We also visited a textile cooperative, where we observed local weavers working together as a community and an Inca-styled house with free-range guinea pigs.
We took the Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, again with spectacular views. The alternative route was a trek, which sounded interesting but for the more energetic. The arrangements were well organised, and we took a bus up a zig-zag road to the entrance. Machu Picchu was certainly not a disappointment. The weather was kind as it was not too hot, nor wet; we visited in the afternoon and the site wasn’t too busy. Our guide was interesting and knowledgeable offering an in-depth history. At an altitude of 2,430 metres, Machu Picchu has a spectacular backdrop of the Andes. Featured as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, it is not a surprise that it is on so many people’s bucket lists.
On our return to Lima, the others in our group either flew back to the UK or joined another tour. From here, we visited the Nazca Lines. The pre-Columbian geoglyphs have enigmatic features etched into the rock of the Nazca desert. We decided to take the flying option to see the lines, as the road option involved a long drive and a tower climb to view just a couple of the figures. Despite the dire warnings about the flight and air sickness, we were very impressed with the airport and the professionalism of the pilots. The plane’s banking and circling when viewing the Nazca Lines was well within our acceptable limits. We left as puzzled as ever as to the purpose of the Lines.
Flying over the Nazca Lines
It was a few hours’ drive from Nazca to Paracas along the trans-American highway, a fast motorway that takes a direct line along the coast. We took a cruise around the Paracas National Reserve, an ocean reserve with interesting marine life, including sea birds, and sea lions.
Sea lions on the beach, Paracas
The standard of the hotels were excellent on the tour. We were impressed with the Peruvian cuisine as well, with excellent food choices, although we avoided the guinea pig!
Free-range guinea pigs
John travelled on Cox & Kings’ Train to Machu Picchu group tour with an extension to Nazca and Paracas. Alternative options include our A Taste of South America group tour, or the Treasures of Peru. Find out more about all our holidays to Peru here.