I arrived into Peru at the beginning of May overland via two buses and a ‘collectivo’ (taxi) from San Pedro, Chile arriving into the city Arequipa. I was a bit worried about this journey, I think because it would take so long (almost 24 hours) and also being on my own with no spanish was proving a little harder than I thought. I took an overnight bus from San Pedro to Arica (just on the Chilean border) which took about 19 hours, then from Arica I took a ‘collectivo’ or taxi across the border into Tacna in Peru.
Luckily I had met two lovely American girls on the night bus from San Pedro, who also spoke some spanish, so we did the crossing into Peru together, it took about 45 minutes to cross the border by effectively paying a ‘collectivo’ to take us across the border. One of the American girls had lost an entry form you get when going into Chile which you need to leave the country and the passport control guy took great delight in pretending he wouldn’t let her into Peru, apart from this is was all pretty easy. From Tacna we then all took another 8 or so hour bus to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, this journey was beautiful arriving into Peru and seeing some spectacular mountainous terrain and the andean mountains.
I sadly was still having a few issues with my back which had started in Chile. At the time I put it down to doing so many uncomfortable night buses, lugging around my backpack and generally jumping around countries! So due to this I ended up spending nearly 2 weeks in Arequipa, which is a beautiful city to just chill out in, I took some spanish lessons and met some lovely friends to hang out with in cafes and restaurants! I even ended up at a beer festival one weekend, which felt a bit like being in London and also managed to see a ‘famous’ Peruvian rock band one night.
The historical center of Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it really is a charming city with beautiful white washed buildings similar to European styles. I did a great walking tour here which took us to some beautiful spots in the city.
There are lovely views of three volcanoes around the city as well making for some stunning scenery. I also visited the amazing ‘Mummy Juanita’ in Museo Santuarios Andinos. She is a well preserved frozen Inca girl who was killed as an offering to the Inca Gods between 1450 and 1480. She was found on Mount Ampato part of the Andes Cordillera in southern Peru. Pretty amazing (and kind of spooky) to see, as her body is very well preserved.
I ended up spending a month in Peru, it was finally time for me to ‘slow’ down my travels a bit! I feel like I left out a lot in Peru, but at the same time my travelling needed to slow down a bit, I had been moving around on average every 3 days in the last 7 months, so it was not surprising I was craving sometime in one place! For the first time in a while, I decided to get a nice hotel in Arequipa and treat myself to my own room and bathroom (it was heaven!!) and looking back on it now, the hotel cost about £15 a night which doesn’t seem so much now.
Here are the rest of my Peru highlights –
Machu Picchu and Cusco –
After spending 2 weeks in Arequipa I finally left and got the night bus to Cusco, I made a lovely friend on the bus and we ended up spending some time together in Cusco and went to Machu Picchu together. Cusco is a really cool city, so pretty and lively! Amazing restaurants, cafes, markets and the scenery is beautiful! I also ended up staying with a Pervuian couple through Airbnb whilst in Cusco and it was lovely to stay with them and absorb myself more into Peru and the language. Interestingly the couple I stayed with were related to a famous photographer the late Martin Chambi who was one of the first major indigenous Latin America photographers. His work has been showcased all over the world and portrays beautiful images of Peru and local indigenous people from the 1920’s onwards.
From Cusco I made my way to Machu Picchu, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited! I went with my friend and it was hard work but obviously worth the effort (we did one of the more cheaper ways to get there). First we took a 6 hour ‘hair raising’ bus ride which went up to 5,000 meters in altitude at one point and we were dropped of at Hydroelectrica train station.
From here we walked 2-3 hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, which is the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a bit of a strange town, obviously built for the tourism of Machu Picchu, it’s a busy, ‘messy’ town in terms of it being all built up with hotels and restaurants everywhere We stayed the night and woke up at 4am the next day to walk up to Machu Picchu, it’s only about a 4km walk but the hiking was so hard as it’s mostly up steps. It took me nearly 2 hours to walk up, I felt so out of breath from the altitude, at first I thought I was super unfit and then met some very young hikers (18 and 19) who found it harder than me….so at least it wasn’t just me! We arrived at 7am when it opened which was great for photos and meant it wasn’t so crowded until later on, apparently around 5,000 people visit the site daily.
I spent about an hour walking around Machu Picchu and along some of the original Inca trail, and then climbed Machu Picchu Mountain, another hard and challenging climb. The mountain is 3,061 meters above sea level and to walk up the mountain is 652 meters, so it was steps basically the whole way up for about 1 hour 30 minutes. The views at the top were spectacular though, even when the clouds started to roll in, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Machu Picchu. Apparently it’s also where Inca priests used to perform rituals on special dates, it is a truly magical, spiritual and awe inspiring place.
Lake Titicaca (the Peruvian side) –
From Cusco I got a day bus to Puno which took about 7 to 8 hours, through some lovely landscape. I stayed in Puno for a night, it’s a bit of a small town but is located right on Lake Titicaca so the ideal place to stay before visiting the lake. Lake Titicaca in the Andes is on the border of Bolivia and Peru. So my plan was to go into Boliva from here, which lots of backpackers and travellers do. It’s the largest lake in South America and the ‘highest navigable lake’ in the world with an elevation of 3,812 meters above sea level. This means altitude sickness can still affect you even on the islands in the lake.
There is so much to explore on Lake Titicaca that it was hard to chose and decide where to start, but on recommendation from some friends I had met in Chile, I decided to stay with an Uros family on an artifical floating ‘reed’ island. I had never heard of the Uros people, let alone these floating islands, but it truly was one of the most unique experiences I had on my travels. The lake itself is a very special place, but staying with an Uros family, felt even more special and it was a very peaceful, tranquil place to stay.
My friends had recommended to stay with Ivan and his family at their homestay Uros Titicaca Lodge. I decided to stay two nights which was plenty as you are quite remote and for $60 (USD) a night, you get transfers to and from the island, 3 meals a day and day trips around the other Uros floating islands and some other experiences such as weaving as well. I was picked up at my hotel in Puno and taken to the port where I met Ivan’s brother who took me on one of their boats to the lodge. The Uros islands are about 5 km from Puno so not far at all from the port, it took us about 20 minutes to reach their lodge. Ivan is the oldest of 3 brothers who all live on the same floating island, he mostly runs the homestay but all the family work to. His father and mother are living on the island too, and Ivan himself is married with two children and his wife, who all live their too.
The Uros people are from Peru and Bolivia, with about 2,000 living in Peru on land and on the floating islands. Many have moved to the mainland now, but a few have stayed behind to try to keep up the traditions of the Uros people. The history of the Uros people is very interesting and also hotly debated it seems from articles I have read and travellers I met. Some feel that the islands have become too touristy and feel a bit ‘fake’ as there are stories that the islanders don’t really live on the islands and have houses on the mainland. However on staying with Ivan and talking to him and his brothers (who all spoke some english), they talked a lot about how tourism has actually helped keep their traditions alive and they see it as a good thing as they wish to stay on their islands and keep up their own traditions. I also found a very interesting article in the National Geographic about the Uros people having maintained their own distinctive ancestry which dates back some 3,700 years.
I thought it was a really unique experience, I was taken all around the other islands, and shown the schools, community areas and other floating islands. I was also taken on a trip to see the reeds, which the Uro people use and see as vital in their traditions. All the floating islands are made from these reeds, and to keep them floating properly the families have to re-cover the islands with reeds to ensure they don’t sink. Apparently in big storms or winds some of the islands have broken away and floated away, which was a bit scary to hear of, especially as I was in a huge rains storm one of the nights I stayed.
The reeds are also used as food, tasting quite sweet and tasty. I also visited one of the community areas and watched some of the villagers playing football and netball. Apparently the women on Uros loved netball, and Ivan’s wife and daughter were amongst the best players on the islands, so it was really fun to get to watch a game.
One my second day, I went with an English girl who was staying on the island to, to Taquile Island for the day. This is an island about 45 kms from Puno, with a population of about 2,200 ‘Taquileños’ as the people are know. The island was so beautiful and Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as some of the best quality handicrafts in Peru. They also have kept strong traditions, such as only the men do the knitting and they start this in boyhood. It was amazing to see such beautiful handicrafts and the islanders also use these handwoven textiles in their traditional dress. Whatever your age, the islander men all wear hats to show their relationship statuses and the women wear different coloured clothing to represent theirs. It was quite funny to see this, and compare it to our ‘western’ ways of dating.
I loved my time in Peru, but really want to go back, as I said before I missed a lot out in Peru…however I did enjoy taking the more ‘slow’ approach to travelling and feeling a bit more involved in the culture.
Read about my next stop in Bolivia…
All photographs copyright Jemma Nicholson.