We decided to buy passes with the Peru Hop bus service to visit a few places in Southern Peru on our way to Lima. It’s similar to the greyhound bus that we took in Australia – set route, pre-arranged daily pick up times but with flexibility on dates. We were struggling for time so, even though it was more expensive than getting local buses, we thought it would be a great way to quickly see lots of places, especially as Peru Hop offered both free and paid tours in each destination.
Given altitude and I had not been the best of friends, I was quite excited to descend to lower altitude (Arequipa is at 2,300 metres) as we had been at over 3,000 metres for nearly a month! We left Cusco in the early evening on an overnight bus arriving in Arequipa around 5am. Thankfully the hotel we were staying at had the option of an early check in, as neither of us had got much sleep on the bus. We stayed at Casa de Arenas which was one of the discounted accommodation deals offered through Peru Hop. The rooms were situated around a beautiful square courtyard/garden. They had a Spanish school within the grounds and you’d often see one to one lessons being conducted in the garden – it would have been a beautiful place to learn the language.
Arequipa is the second most populated city in Peru (but definitely didn’t feel like it) and is often proclaimed to be the most picturesque city in the country. It is called the White City as it is practically all constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone. Arequipa is surrounded by three volcanoes, with the tallest just shy of 6,000 metres. During the day it was quite smoggy so they were barely visible. However, as the sun was setting, the sky seemed to clear and the peaks were Illuminated with a soft, pink hue. We didn’t do too much in Arequipa other than explore the old town and nearby market as I was still recovering. Dave got a hair cut at a really fancy spa recommended by the receptionist but it only cost £6, so a bit of a bargain. It was located across the river and gave us a chance to wander round a different area of Arequipa with the best views of the volcanos we’d seen yet. Later that afternoon we went to Mundo Alpaca, a free museum demonstrating the various processes of the traditional alpaca and llama wool weaving. They had animals there though we much preferred the wild llamas we saw roaming Machu Picchu.
After a couple of days relaxing in the beautiful city of Arequipa we caught the 5.45am bus to Huacachina, a brutal 10 hour day bus journey with a brief pit stop in Nazca along the way. The Nazca lines, like Machu Picchu, are another one of Peru’s mysteries. Some say aliens made them although it is widely accepted to be Inca tributes to the Gods as they hoped for more fertile lands for their crops. Some of them are as big as 12km which is insane to think how they knew what they were drawing. When the Spanish first invaded, they thought they were pathways leading to far away villages and they weren’t properly discovered until commercial aircrafts started flying over them. Unfortunately, the highway was built right through the middle of one. We climbed the rickety three storey high observation tower (though it felt more like scaffolding than a legitimate viewing tower) single file. We could only see two of the drawings, the tree and the bird, out of over a 1,000. We were a little disappointed by the limited views though still glad we had the free stop included with Peru Hop. You can get a 30 minute flight over the lines for only $80; however, while I was looking on the UK Gov website for medical recommendations, I noticed that they do not advise flights on safety grounds. A little online research highlighted quite a few fatal accidents. After one in 2010, the Peru government finally decided to enforce a higher standards of aircraft, resulting in only 7 out of 48 aircrafts being cleared after inspections! Although, only a month later, accidents started happening again. We met a lady on the bus who showed us the photos she’d taken on the flight. Some looked more distinct and clear than others but definitely not worth risking your life over.
After a long day travelling, thankfully we arrived in Huacachina an hour early meaning we were able to catch the gorgeous sunset over the gigantic sand dunes. We’ve been so lucky to have seen such a variety of landscapes this year, yet this place still made us gasp as we looked out the windows on arrival. The dunes were up to 250 metres high, which in real life, is just jaw dropping. Huacachina is the only desert oasis in South America and is a tiny village with just 100 locals, though accommodates many more tourists flocking for an adrenaline rush. Water stopped seeping into the lake in the 1980s due to locals reducing the water level through over welling. In order to preserve the unique environment, local businessmen set up a scheme to artificially pump water in from a local farm in 2015, raising the height as much as 3 metres and now they are looking for a more sustainable method.
We had booked a sandboarding tour through Peru Hop and paid $15 for a two hour tour heading out late afternoon so we could catch the sunset before jumping back on the bus towards our next destination. Unfortunately the sand boards weren’t of a high enough quality to physically stand up on so you could only go down on your belly. You could pay more to hire private boots and skis/ snowboard although we weren’t aware of this until it was too late. We were grouped into buggies, with each one sitting 9 plus the driver. From Huacachina you set out up the sand dunes at an electrifying pace and my god it was truly terrifying! It was basically a rollercoaster ride without the safety of tracks, with our driver flying down these 200 metre sand dunes like a mad man. While we yelled and screamed expletives I won’t repeat, our driver pushed the battered buggy to its limits. In hindsight it was easily one of the most stupid, wreckless and dangerous things we have done this year/ever!
That being said, once at the top, the landscape was truly stunning and something so unique even though we’ve been to three desert landscapes; most of Egypt, Florianopolis and San Pedro this year. We all jumped out, waxed our boards and started descending head first down some reasonably large dunes. We did 3 at a time, with the driver meeting us at the bottom and then heading onto the next set. The dunes kept getting bigger and bigger, and after watching one of the guys fly off I decided I was content for one day and sat out the last huge dunes. Check out our video of Peru for some POV action! The tour finished with the sun setting over the dunes before flying back to town in order to catch our 6.30pm bus.
Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to the sea side town of Paracas!
Sophie & Dave