Ep.26 – Peru

Hello!

This has to be one of our favourite videos from this year! We took the amazing luxury train from Puno to Cusco, visited the wonder of the world: Machu Picchu, explored the volcanic white city of Arequipa, nearly died riding a crazy sand buggy on the dunes of Huacachina, admired the incredible wildlife of Paracas and watched the sun set on our Peruvian adventure in Lima.

Don’t forget to watch in 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

Paracas, Islas Ballestas & Lima – Peru

Hello

We left Huacachina in the early evening and after a short hour and a half bus ride, we arrived in Paracas: a lovely, small, seaside town.

Paracas is the departing point to visit las Ilas Ballestas. They are a cluster of islands 20km from the shore that have an abundance of wildlife and so are nicknamed ‘The Poor Man’s Galapagos’. The Eastern South Pacific Ocean is one of the most rich, bio-diverse areas in the world. The tours last around two hours and we booked through Peru Hop for $15 (a lot cheaper than a cruise to the Galapagos). The islands are all protected, meaning you cannot walk on them or swim with the wildlife, so all viewing is done by boat. On the way to the islands, we passed another drawing in the rock similar to the Nazca lines with speculation ongoing regarding its origin. This one is called the Candelabra, stretching 150 metres. The key difference from the Nazca lines is that you don’t need altitude to see the drawing as it is visible from sea.

When we actually arrived at the islands, it was absolutely incredible. Never have I ever felt more like I was in an episode of Blue planet or in one of Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries. We saw more birds in that hour than in our entire lives combined! We managed to see a couple of Humbolt Penguins hidden within the thousands of other birds. We saw lots of Booby birds which actually migrate from the Galapagos islands; though they are not the iconic Blue-footed specie. We saw Peruvian pelicans which I must say, were my favourite! I don’t think I’ve ever seen massive pelicans like that; their beaks are so colourful and they are such majestic birds. We saw Inca Tern birds who perch along the steep rocky formations and also red-headed vultures. We saw loads of sea lions napping on the jagged rocks and red crabs loitering where the sea meets the rock. The most spectacular part was that one of the islands was literally covered with thousands and thousands of Cormorant birds. It was the most surreal sight, almost like the island was covered in a black carpet that was alive.

We joined in on the free tour offered by Peru Hop which takes you to the National Paracas Reserve. The local Quechua translation of the word ‘Paracas’ means Sandstorm, so as you can image, it was quite windy. We did three main stops on the tour, mostly just to admire the beautiful landscapes. The first stop was to see a Cathedral rock formation in the sea, though unfortunately, it was severely damaged by an earthquake causing the archway to collapse. So really, it was more just a stop to admire the Pacific Ocean. The second stop was to a view point where you could see the ocean on both sides of the reserve. Finally, we stopped at the red beach. The sand is sort of a rusted red colour and the contrast with the turquoise of the water is very striking. The colour is apparently due to fragments of rock brought by the waves from the Santa Maria headland which is made out of the igneous rock, Pink Granodiorite.

Our onwards bus to Lima was not until late in the afternoon so we just had a relaxing last day in Paracas, mostly revolving around food. We went for lunch on the outskirts of the little town where all the fancy five star hotels are. We had a little snoop of one of the hotels as the restaurant we were headed for was part of it. The restaurant, Chalana, was in the most beautiful setting, alone out on a pier! The restaurant only has a couple of food options because they only deal with the best, fresh catch of the day. We both had the ceviche which was pretty amazing. Ceviche is a really popular raw fish dish in South America though we have often been skeptical of trying it for fear of food poisoning with the raw element, but we figured we were safe at Chalana! After being so taken with the pelicans the day before, we spent our last afternoon pelican spotting. We saw a man with a sort of pet pelican (though he wasn’t trapped), the man was tossing food so that tourists could take photos with it. Though I really wanted a photograph of a pelican with it’s mouth open, I wasn’t going to let that be the photo I took. Fortunately, near the restaurant we found some sitting on the pier and though I didn’t get the mouth open shot, I did get some of them sleeping with turquoise waters and boats in the background that I was happy with.

We left Paracas around 5pm and headed for Lima, a 6 hour drive away. Peru Hop did a little detour to give a free tour of the former slave tunnels in Chincha on the way. It was a giant Manor House dating back to the 17th century, called Casa Hacienda San Jose, situated 17km’s from the coastline. Following first the taxation on slaves and then the abolition of slavery in Peru, the tunnels were created as a method to avoid tax and smuggle mostly African slaves into the estate to work on the farmland. There are storage rooms underneath the house where the slaves would often have to wait weeks, sometimes up to a month, in the pitch black with little air circulation before the doctor had assessed them for medical diseases.

We arrived around midnight in Lima and we stayed in the district of Miraflores situated on the coast. We only had two nights in Lima before our flight to Ecuador so we didn’t really venture outside of Miraflores, the main tourist district. We felt really safe walking around Miraflores and it reminded us quite a lot of Vila Madalena, where we stayed in Sao Paolo. We spent the day walking along the boardwalk towards El Parque del Amor (love park) which is situated on the cliff edge overlooking the sea. Paragliders jump off from there and though we watched for ages, the gliders couldn’t get the parachutes to stay up so they didn’t jump. We did see beautiful sunsets by the water though and we even found a statue of Paddington Bear (in darkest Peru)!

Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Guayaquil in Ecuador.

Sophie & Dave

Huacachina, Peru

Arequipa, Nazca & Huacachina – Peru

Hello!

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

 

Cusco & Machu Picchu – Peru

Hello

We weren’t sure what to expect of Cusco as a city, we assumed it would just be a huge tourist trap. To an extent, it was, but we were also pleasantly surprised by what a beautiful city it was. Cobbled streets carpeted the old historic centre and mountains dotted with tiny houses surrounded the main centre of the Plaza de Armas. We went to Cusco with very low expectations and we had sort of already told ourselves we probably wouldn’t get the chance to go and see Machu Picchu. We’d been continuously told that everything must be booked extremely far in advance. If you want to do the Inca trail trek, you should book 6 months in advance as there are only 500 permits available per day on the trek. If you want to visit by train, even then, we’d been told to book in advance as there are only 2500 entrants permitted per day to the citadel; let alone the limited and expensive seats on Peru Rail. To top off the seemingly unattainable attraction, from the 1st of July 2017, further restrictions were implemented to try and reduce the human impact on the ancient wonder: so you can only visit during the morning (6am-12pm) or afternoon (12pm-5.30pm) slots!

That being said, booking the train and entrance to the citadel for the following day was a breeze for us – albeit an expensive breeze! We rocked up to the cultural ministry, and opted for the afternoon slot costing us S$150 or £36pp. We then went to the Peru Rail ticket office and booked an early morning train from Poroy (near Cusco) to Machu Picchu that would arrive at 11am giving us time to catch the bus up to the actual citadel before our afternoon entrance. The return got back to Cusco around 9pm at night. Fortunately, there was even a 25% discount on Peru Rail trains for this time, we were lucky not to be in peak season. Still, the train cost us a staggering $163pp or £117 for just a 3 hour journey each way! While the train was comfortable, it was hardly luxurious like the Puno to Cusco train we took.

We awoke early and unfortunately I had a relapse of my illness from Bolivia. It was touch and go as to whether I would actually be able to make it out (on one of our most expensive outings this year). In the end, I decided I could not miss it so I battled through the day extremely weak having only eaten a banana. We knew before going that Machu Picchu is located amidst a tropical mountain forest, but the train journey and the bus up the mountain were just absolute madness and we were in such awe. Never would you expect something of that delicate craftsmanship to be somewhere so remote on an Andean mountaintop. Peru’s national treasure, Machu Picchu, is located 2400 metres above sea level. To this day, the exact origins and purpose of Machu Picchu are unknown, they say it was built in 1450 for the Inca emperor called Pachacuti. When the Spaniards invaded Inca lands, Machu Picchu was abandoned around the year 1572. However, the Spanish never found the citadel. It lay forgotten until its re-discovery by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer in 1911.

The 20 minute winding bus ride up the mountain was horrific and nausea inducing. But as soon as we disembarked and actually entered in, our jaws dropped at the site of Machu Picchu. We must have seen thousands of photographs of Machu Picchu (every billboard or company seems to use the iconic image in their advertising), yet we were still unprepared for the beauty of the world heritage site. We had an amazing time wandering through the pinnacle of the legacy of the Incas and even met some wild llamas, seemingly all with babies, on our way round! We were also extra lucky because we had glorious sunshine! The day before, there had been torrential downpour in Cusco and even hailstones in the night! We went to Machu Picchu armed with a waterproof bag for the valuables, coats and even waterproof trousers! Turns out we actually just needed sunglasses, a happy error for once!

Join us next time as we head to Peru’s second biggest city; Arequipa!

Sophie & Dave

Puno & Peru Rail to Cusco – Peru

Hello!

We left Copacabana in Bolivia and crossed the land border to Puno, Peru. It was a four hour trip including the customs, but distance wise; its only 144km as Puno is still situated next to the massive Lake Titicaca. The main thing people do when in Puno is visit the floating Islands of the Uros people. These are man-made islands from reeds that are supposedly still inhabited today, though there is much debate as to whether the tours just show a facade or real people who live there. However, neither of us actually went. Dave had booked on to a tour the day before but unfortunately got projectile vomiting food poisoning after eating the local delicacy of guinea pig (karma?). I had never intended to go as I was now in my fourth week of being ill. Randomly, my Dad knew someone from Puno that he’d met sailing and she was able to recommend an English speaking doctor. We went again and after a few tests he just said that I was at the tail end of the stomach infection/parasites episode from Bolivia and put me on another strict diet (where I basically only ate bananas, plain bread and occasionally grilled chicken for 4 days). So unfortunately, we didn’t do much in Puno at all, and most upsettingly, don’t even have good food to report back. I did however drink a lot of the Andean tea infusion served in a clay teapot over a candle to keep warm; it has spearmint, coca leaves, eucalyptus and airampo (cactus flower) which gave the tea its vibrant majenta colouring.

Our next destination was Cusco and we decided to look in to taking a Peru Rail train called the Titicaca. We looked up the timetable and found the train that would suit us but every time we came to where you buy the tickets online, an error occurred (this becomes relevant, wait for it). So, we decided to pop down to the rail station and the ticket office. We asked how much (as we hadn’t been able to see the price on the website) and he said 384. We said, ah great, did the 384 Peruvian Soles conversion and said, £45 a ticket, great! We paid by card, and then I said, ‘hang on, I think that said US dollars, Dave?’. Turns out we’d just paid $384 USD (almost £150 each per ticket)! We felt like total muppets and had our first taste of a proper traveller error. With hindsight now, I can happily say that the hefty price tag was indisputably worth it! It’s a 338km journey taking 10.5 hours during the day. The train and service are luxury and the views are spectacular. We were seated at our own private 4 man table with arm-chair style seating, however, we were free to get up and walk around whenever. The adjacent carriage was the Bar carriage with more lovely seating and finally there was the Observatory carriage with not just panoramic windows like the rest of the train, but ceiling windows and even an open back with a railing which was lovely to be able to sit and get some fresh air on the journey. Have you ever been on a train where you can literally hang out the railings on the back?!

The train ride weaves through the Andes mountain range and it was very interesting to see so much of the “real Peru” which is vast farming landscapes with herds of wild llamas. We couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable viewing it from panoramic windows on a luxury train though. Mostly all the farming is done by hand and in the 10 hour journey we only saw 2 tractors, so it is serious back-breaking work. On the other hand, had we not taken the train, we wouldn’t have seen how so many Peruvians live and work at all. We also had a 10 minute stop at La Rays which is at 4319 metres above sea level; the highest point on the train journey (one poor guy had to be given an oxygen mask and tank because of the altitude). There were lots of vendors selling the traditional llama and alpaca wool clothing and trinkets. We were even being sold llama-wear by Peru rail as one of the bits of train entertainment was a fashion show performed by the staff! Although that was… interesting…there was far better entertainment in the form of song and dance. On the first half of the trip, we were treated to Pisco welcome drinks whilst they did a show with music and dance from the Puno region. The guy playing the panflute was particularly impressive. In the afternoon, we had another cultural session, this time with music and dance from the Cusco region. Dave was even given a maraca to join in with, which he valiantly did (predominantly out of tune). The shows really were of amazing quality and felt genuinely enriching, giving us a glimpse of Peruvian culture.

In the afternoon, the bartender explained how to make the traditional Peruvian drink, Pisco sour. We’d also been told various facts about Pisco and apparently grape trivia sticks in my head as I won a free cocktail in the competition for knowing that there are 8 different grapes used for Pisco. Dave was pleased too because I gave it to him to drink. Within the ticket price, aside from all of the entertainment and freebies, was the star of the show; the gourmet food. We had a delicious three course lunch consisting of potato & herb soup, followed by steak wrapped in bacon and finally, chocolate & praline cake. Lunch also came with wine which added to the value, and you could have unlimited water and coca tea throughout the day. We even got mini afternoon high tea with little sandwiches, cakes and lemongrass tea. Overall, an absolutely incredible experience, and in an ideal world, we’d travel everywhere by luxury train!

Join us next time as we explore Cusco and head up to Machu Picchu!

Sophie & Dave