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16 September 2011


Posted in Peru

Peru,With an area of 1’285,215 square km (496,225 sq mi), Peru is bigger than France, Germany, Italy, Netherland and Switzerland combined. It is the third largest country in South America and bordered to the north by Ecuador and Colombia, to the east by Brazil and Bolivia, to the south by Chile and to the west by the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

We are taught as early as kindergarden that the country is divided in 3 geographic regions: the coast, highlands and the jungle.

Coast (12% of the territory): a warm climate along the coastline that includes superb natural beaches, mysterious deserts, fertile river valleys and exotic dry woods.

Highlands (28% of the territory): a region of varied terrain and temperate climate, dominated by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes rising above 6,000 meters, the highest of which is Mount Huascaran, at 6,768 meters (22,206 feet). It includes deep canyons such as the Colca and Cotahuasi, the two deepest on the planet; and high plains like the plateau of Collao, on the shores of the world's highest navigable lake, Titicaca, at 3,810 masl (12,500 feet).

Jungle or Amazonia (60% of the territory): a region of tropical climate, lush vegetation and abundant fauna that is part of one of the planet's largest natural reserves. Peruvian Amazonia is the source of the Amazon River, the largest in the world.

Climate,Temperatures and atmospheric cycles vary from one region to another.

Coast: There are two clearly-defined seasons on the coast: summer (December-March), when temperatures can reach 27ºC (80ºF); and winter (May-October), which is damp and chilly, with temperatures falling to 12ºC (53ºF). Although it rarely rains on the coast, mist and drizzle are common during the winter. The far north coast enjoys sunshine all year round, with temperatures reaching 35ºC (95ºF) in the summer.

Highlands: The climate is dry and temperate, with two clearly-defined seasons: the dry season (May-October), with sunny days, very cold nights and scant rainfall -the ideal time to visit the Andes; and the rain season (December-March). There is a sharp contrast in temperature between sun and shade, and temperatures can often vary widely during the same day, from 20ºC (68ºF) to 2ºC (35ºF).

Jungle: The area has a tropical and humid climate. There are two well-defined seasons: the summer or dry season (April to October) with sunny days and temperatures above 30ºC (86ºF), and the rain season (November to March), with frequent showers and high river levels.

08 August 2011


Posted in Peru

Abancay, “the Valley of the White Lilies” in the Quechua language, needs no further arguments to entice the traveler. Founded in 1574, this colorful city is the capital of the department of Apurimac and famous for its superb local cuisine, offering mouth-water dishes such as cuy relleno (stuffed guinea pig), kapchi (a hearty soup of beans, milk and eggs) and huatia (meat cooked over hot stones). A good time to visit is during Carnival, held here in April. The city is overshadowed by a towering peak, Mount Ampay 5,235 meters (17,170 feet), a magical mountain which ensures that the region enjoys one of the mildest climates in the Peruvian highlands. This mountain is located within the Ampay National Sanctuary, a protected area that is home to natural forests lakes and snowclad peaks.

Abancay is the starting point to explore the attractions of the region: Curahuasi, which produces Peru’s best aniseed liquor; Saywite, one of the finest examples of Inca sculpture and the imposing Apurimac Canyon, a wild beautiful region considered one of the world`s deepest, ideal for trekking and whitewater river rafting.

Those who have visited the area understand why the Chanca tribe and the Incas fought for dominance of this region filled with lakes, gorges and valleys. The area witnessed epic battles and legendary feats which today are still ritually portrayed by the descendant of those civilizations, most of them now peaceful farmers. Sondor Raimy (the Festival of the Condor), which symbolizes the most bitter battled fought between the Chancas and the Incas, is reenacted every June by the shores of Lake Pacucha, near the city of Andahuaylas, on the northern edge of the department. The majestic lake is the setting for a ritual involving thousands of actors who take part in one of the most impressive rites in Peru, comparable only to the Inti Raymi festival in Cuzco.

Meanwhile, in the province of Cotabamba during July, visitors can witness one of the most exotic and traditional festivals in the area: Yawar Fiesta. This centuries-old rite involves a bull and a condor to symbolize the bitter struggle between natives and Spaniards.

Apurimac is a wild and exciting place and a land where tradition and old memories come together to make your stay an unforgettable one.

AMPAY NATIONAL SANCTUARY Located in the department of Apurimac, covering an area of 3,636 hectares, the national sanctuary protects the largest forest of intimpa trees in the Peruvian highlands. The intimpa is Peru’s only native conifer species, and the dense forests shelter many species of wildlife, largely birds. The sanctuary also features a series of glacial lakes and crystal-clear streams flowing down from the majestic snow-capped peak of Mount Ampay, which dominates the region and lends its name to this protected area.

08 August 2011


Posted in Peru

Cusco offers the traveller an incredible array of attractions and activities, and it is very worthy of being the main tourist destination in Peru. The city is located in beautiful mountain scenery, and offers a wonderful combination of colonial Peru and the Inca heritage of the country. The nearby archaeological sites of Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Ollantaytambo are some of the most interesting in the country, and the fabled lost city of Machu Picchu is every bit as beautiful and mystical as the famed images suggests. The Cusco area is also home to one of the most famous hikes in the world: the Inca Trail. This walk through Inca settlements offers some stunning scenery, rising through the Andes before descending into the cloud forest and arriving, magically, at Machu Picchu.

For visitors wishing to get away from the tourist crowds, there are many nearby areas of outstanding interest, which are far less visited. The major Inca ruins of Choquequirau, in a setting every bit as impressive as Machu Picchu’s, are rarely seen by visitors, and the last Inca city of Vilcabamba, from where Manco Inca launched guerrilla attacks on the Spanish conquistadors, is a fascinating site set in verdant jungle. Both of these sites are reached by hikes through beautiful mountain scenery, and present wonderful alternatives for travellers wishing to escape the crowds on the Inca Trail.

Cusco is one of the best bases in South America for adventure sports, and there are some fine mountain biking routes near the city, and it is possible to go paragliding in the Sacred Valley. The Apurímac River, a couple of hours from the city of Cusco, offers excellent white-water rafting, with rapids of up to class V, and the Urubamba River also offers good, although gentler, rafting. For hikers, in addition to the routes mentioned above, there are some spectacular treks around the 6,400m Ausangate, and other snow-capped peaks.

The Cusco area is home to some sites of outstanding natural beauty. The Pongo de Mainique, a long, but beautiful, bus ride from Cusco, is a narrow gorge, with 300m-high cliffs on either side of the Urubamba River, with waterfalls pouring down into the river. Tres Cruces, only four hours from the city, offers one of the world’s most spectacular sunrises, with optical illusions giving the impression of the sun dancing, splitting in two and changing shape.

Despite the high level of tourism in Cusco, most of the surrounding towns and villages have remained unaffected and still cling to ancient ways of life and traditions. There are many colourful and noisy festivals throughout the year that are very interesting to visit. Ccoylloritti, near the base of the Ausangate Mountain, has a very interesting festival every June to which thousands flock to from all over the Andes. Paucartambo has a very lively celebration in mid-July, involving lots of music, dancing and drinking, and some very colourful masks. Inti Raymi, celebrated in June in the city of Cusco, is a recreation the ancient Inca festival of the winter solstice.

Cusco is also one of the best entry points into the jungle. The Tambopata-Candamo Reserve near Puerto Maldonado, which includes the world’s largest macaw lick, is easily accessible via Cusco, and the Manu National Reserve, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site that offers some of the most pristine rainforest in the Amazon, is only accessible through Cusco.

Most visitors to Cusco spend less than a week in the area because of time limitations. However, many travellers on less tight time budgets find it a captivating place and end up extending their stays in the area substantially. Cusco is a wonderful, fascinating place, and could easily keep one interested for many months.

Tourist Ticket

If visiting the attractions in the city of Cusco and the nearby ruins, the Tourist Ticket is essential. This allows entrance to 16 different sites in and around Cusco for a single payment of $10, and is valid for 10 days, although it is possible to get a one-day extension. This is good value as long as you visit a few of the sites, but if you only want to visit one or two it is rather expensive. The 16 sites are: Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, the Cathedral, the museum of religious art, San Blas, the museum of Santa Catalina, the museum of the municipal palace, the site museum at Qorikancha, the museum of regional history, Chincheros, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Tipón and Pikillaqta. The ticket can be bought at any of the sites.

Alternately, if only visiting the sites in the Sacred Valley, there is another ticket allowing entry to Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chincheros for $6.

The Quechua language, from which many of the names in the Cusco area are derived, did not have a written form in the Inca period. It was only with the arrival of the Spanish that a written form of the language was developed, and this, not surprisingly, adopted Spanish pronunciations and spellings where possible. For example, the ‘W’ sound has generally been representing by ‘HU’, e.g. SacsayHUaman, and ‘C’ has often been used instead of ‘Q’, e.g. CusCo instead of QosQo. The written form of a phonetic language will often have different ways of being represented, and therefore there are often different ways of writing the same name. For example, there are a number of different ways of writing Sacsayhuaman. The INC currently prefers Saqsaywaman. Peter Frost, in Exploring Cusco, chooses Sacsaywaman. No particular rule is followed in this guide, with ‘W’ and ‘HU’ both being employed, as well as ‘C’ and ‘Q’. Generally, the spelling most commonly employed is followed.

08 August 2011

Inca Trail

Posted in Peru

The Incas built an enormous set of trails that spanned their empire, enabling them to cross great distances relatively rapidly. These trails were well maintained, and by using chasquis (messengers), messages or goods could be sent all over the empire very quickly. Each chasqui would run a leg of approximately 10km before passing on the message to the next chasqui. For example, it was said that fish from the port of Puerto Inca, south of Nazca, could get to Cusco, 250km and many mountain passes away, in under 24 hours. Even today, a bus to from Cusco to Nazca, about the same distance, takes approximately 18 hours!

What is known as the Inca Trail is in fact only one of many Inca trails in the Cusco area, a number of which are still in use today by locals. However, this trail has become famous due to its final destination: Machu Picchu. Undoubtedly the best way to arrive at Machu Picchu is on foot, catching your first glimpse of this beautiful site from the Inti Punku, the sun gate. In addition to the incredible final destination, the trail itself is superb. The change in scenery and vegetation, as the walk first rises to 4,200m before descending into the cloud forest, is fantastic. The trail also helps give some important background information to Machu Picchu. Rather than being a lost city, completely isolated, the many ruins on the route help to place Machu Picchu in context. The Inca Trail is enclosed in the area known as the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, and is a very important natural, as well as archaeological, reserve. It is, in fact, one of only 23 UNESCO Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites, with all the others only in one or the other category. The flora that is seen, including many varieties of orchids, is fabulous, and there is also the chance to see some interesting wildlife, including condors if you are lucky. The whole walk is very beautiful, and it is easy to understand how it has become one of the most popular treks in the world.

The trek has become so popular, in fact, that it could hardly be called a walk in the wilderness. In addition to people on your group, hundreds of people start the trail each day. It is impossible to walk the trail without seeing other people, so walk the trail prepared: expect beautiful ruins and stunning scenery, but do not expect an escape from the hordes of tourists in Cusco. Fewer groups begin the trail on Sundays, so start on this day if you want the trail a bit more to yourself.

The trail had been getting so crowded that it was virtually being destroyed. People were camping in many places, including those that were supposedly forbidden. Open campfires were being lit, destroying the environment, and litter was becoming a real problem. To counter this, the INC (Peru’s National Institute of Culture) introduced some very strict regulations in 2000. It is now only possible to walk the trail as part of an official group through an agency with authorisation. Camping is in specific sites only. No open fires are allowed all agencies carry natural gas cylinders for cooking. The entrance fee for walking the trail is now $50, and there are checkpoints throughout the trail ensuring that regulations are being followed. The situation is now improving, although there is still some way to go.

The full Inca Trail is approximately 40km long, and spread over 4 days, this amounts to relatively little walking per day. Generally, there is no more than about five hours walking per day, although you can walk at your own pace – you are not forced to walk with your group the whole time. It is not a very difficult walk, although there are a couple of high passes, and a steep climb on the second day, so a basic level of fitness is required. It can be walked in trainers, although walking boots are preferable.

For those who do not have the time or inclination for the four-day trail, a shorter walk, The Sacred Trail, has been introduced. This is much shorter than the full Inca Trail, being only about 14km in total, and is generally walked in two days. As with the Inca Trail, the Sacred Walk must be done on an accompanied tour.

If you fancy doing a trek through beautiful Andean scenery to some important Inca ruins, but do not like the idea of having to go on an organised tour or being with so many other tourists, there are a couple of alternatives. The walk to the impressive ruins of Choquequirau is very beautiful, perhaps even more so than the Inca Trail, and is walked by few tourists at the moment. The walk to Vilcabamba La Vieja (also known as Espiritu Pampa) is also very beautiful and ends up at the last bastion of the Inca Empire.

08 August 2011


Posted in Peru

Centuries before it was founded as the City of Kings, the territory of Lima, capital of Peru and of the department of Lima, was inhabited by civilizations that had gauged its wealth and strategic location. Proof of that can be seen in the countless huacas or temples that dotted the valley, particularly the Pachacamac shrine, a major pilgrimage center during the Inca empire. This spurred Spanish Conqueror Francisco Pizarro in 1535 to choose the Rímac River Valley to found the capital, as its location by the sea provided a link with sailing routes.

Lima is the main gateway to Peru, a major city bustling with living history and movement. It is an ethnic melting pot, featuring pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern elements. The metropolis is also surrounded by every aspect of Nature: the sea, islands, mountains, desert and plantlife. Its various quarters feature an active nightlife and well-endowed cultural scene, as well as plentiful public transport and non-stop activities, a city of more than 8 million souls.

Before exploring Lima, the visitor should map out a route. The old city center harbors churches and mansions brimming with colonial and religious art, including such superb architectural examples as the Casa Aliaga or Palacio de Torre Tagle mansions. Colonial Lima also features many fine churches and convents such as Santo Domingo, San Agustín, San Francisco and La Merced.

Further south lie the Pantanos de Villa, a natural wetlands area which has been declared a reserved zone and which is a haven for more than 150 bird species, while the Pachacamac complex is to be found further south. In the Cañete highlands, 180 km from Lima, lies the Lunahuaná Valley, a hotspot for adventure sports.

To the north, 105 km from Lima are the Lomas de Lachay, a national reserve in the foothills which features a unique mist-fed eco-system of wild plant and animal species. A little further north, meanwhile, is Paramonga, which features pre-Hispanic archaeological sites.

The climate is dryer and sunnier east up the Central Highway, in the Andean foothills. The road heads up through the province of Huarochirí, until it reaches the town of San Pedro de Casta, from where one can see the Marcahuasi plateau. The area is the site of huge natural formations eroded by the climate into the shape of animals and people.


08 August 2011

Machu Picchu

Posted in Peru

The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the star attraction of Cuzco. Discovered in 1911 by US explorer Hiram Bingham, the citadel is deemed one of the world's finest examples of landscape architecture.

Machu Picchu ("old mountain" in Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas) nestles on top of a mountain saddle high above the Urubamba River in the middle of the cloud forest. It was both a center of worship and astronomic observatory as well as the private retreat of the family of Inca ruler Pachacútec. It is split into two major areas: the agricultural zone, made up of terracing and food storehouses; and the urban zone, featuring the sacred sector, with temples, squares and royal tombs which have been carved to an extraordinary degree of perfection. The stone staircases and canals are found throughout this unique archaeological site. Over the citadel looms Huayna Picchu ("young mountain" in Quechua), which can be climbed up a steep stone-paved trail.

08 August 2011


Posted in Peru

Puno is one of Peru's foremost tourist destinations and one of the most interesting spots on the continent. Few cities lie by the shores of such a extraordinary body of water as Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake.

Legend has it that from the waters of Lake Titicaca emerged Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, the mythical founders of the Inca empire. The area also gave rise to one of the greatest pre-Inca civilizations, that of Tiahuanaco, the maximum expression of the ancient Aymara people.

The Spaniards founded the city of Puno in 1668. It is a city rich in local mestizo art, the fusion of native and Spanish styles in its colonial balconies, weavings and pottery. However, a greater attraction lies a bare 10 blocks from the main square: Lake Titicaca, which covers an area of 8,560 square kilometers and which local fishermen row across on rafts made from totora, a type of reed that grows along the shore. There are also motorboats for hire for visitors.

The lake is also dotted with dozens of islands, each of them with their own characteristics and peculiarities. The floating islands of the Uros, whose inhabitants descend from one of the oldest known tribes in the Americas, feature typical native huts made from reeds. The inhabitants of Taquile island, meanwhile, still use traditional weaving techniques that tourists can learn if they decide to stay the night there and accept the traditional hospitality of the locals. In other cities around the department like Pucará, stand out for their superb pottery, while visitors can explore the chullpa stone burial towers at Sillustani, built by the Tiahuanaco culture. The area is also famous for its traditional festivals such as the Virgen de la Candelaria and dances like the Diablada, celebrated in February, an ideal time to visit the area. An unforgettable experience.

Lake Titicaca National Reserve 

Located in the department of Puno, with a surface area of 36,180 hectares, the national reserve in practically its entirety covers the world's highest navigable lake.

The Titicaca Reserve is split into two separate sectors: the first, which lies in the Bay of Puno itself, protects the totora reed clumps which provide sustenance to the Uros-Chulluni communities; the second, which is located in the Huancané area, features less-visited totora marshes, but which are equally rich in species and just as interesting. In the area there are 60 bird species, including the Titicaca grebe, 14 native fish species and 18 types of amphibians, including the giant Titicaca toad.