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Posts tagged ‘Peru’

Hasta La Vista South America

Tick (√) off the list a tiny portion of Central/South America.

93 days spent exploring a little bit of: Costa Rica, Panama, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

Which required a total of 11 flights – way too many!

The Highlights:

  • We’ve woken to Howler Monkeys and the crashing surf in Costa Rica.

    Bocas del Torro

    Bocas del Torro

  • Been serenaded to sleep by nature in cloud forests.
  • Soaked up the sun on the islands of Bocas del Torro.
  • Watched huge tankers navigate the Panama Canal.
  • Been charmed by the bowler-hat wearing Bolivians and the brightly dressed Peruvians.
  • Explored the ancient trails of the Incas and the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu.
  • Uros Village Lake Titicaca

    Uros Village Lake Titicaca

    Visited the Amyara people of Lake Titicaca and trekked the Island of the Sun.

  • Soared over the mysterious Nazca Lines.
  • Immersed ourselves in the wild beauty of the Amazon Jungle.
  • Ridden horseback to the Quilotoa Crater.
  • Swam with sea lions and turtles. Marveled at the marine life in the Galápagos.
  • Visited remote villages and islands of just a few hundred to major cities of millions.
  • Had the privilege to catch a brief glimpse into the culture and lives of the people.

You know you’ve spent too much time in South America when you:

  • wpid-zoom.jpgautomatically look for the bin to put the toilet paper in.
  • alway have spare toilet paper on you and use it regularly.
  • turn the shower on and wait 5 minutes before you even consider checking to see if it’s hot yet.
  • stop noticing the foul taste UHT milk has in coffee.
  • don’t expect the hotel to have a lift.
  • expect your room in the hotel to be on the top floor.
  • anything below 3,000 meters doesn’t count as ‘altitude’.
  • start to realise you understand the person rattling off in Spanish.
  • think Casillero del Diablo is a reasonable red wine!


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Lima – the overland journey ends

May 21, Ballestas Islands
The Ballestas Islands are in the Paracas National Reserve and are often referred to as ‘the Galapagos of Peru’ or, ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’.

The islands are a haven for wildlife and hundreds of pelicans, boobies, flamingos, sea lions and even penguins.

As we leave the port we are lucky to see a pod of dolphins feeding near the boat.

The only way to get out to the islands is a 2 hour boat tour, you can’t actually land on them.

The boat navigates around the craggy rock formations, coated in guano; which looks like dripping icing on a cake.

Sea lions bask in the sun, a colony of pelicans perch in a line along a clifftop.

Cormorants in their thousands nest on the islands and there are a few Humboldt Penguins, as well as Peruvian Booby’s – these have white feet not blue.

And just in case you’re interested – the collective name for a group of Cormorants is a gulp

Now protected, the islands were pillaged over decades for guano, bird-droppings used as a mineral rich natural fertilizer. It was one of Peru’s biggest exports up to the late 1900’s.

Today the collection of guano is controlled and limited to three months per year.

It was well worth the trip, I’ll let you know if it’s any substitute for the Galapagos!

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May 21-22, Lima
After our visit to Ballestas we have 270 km to Lima and arrive late in the afternoon.

While Peru’s capital officially began life in 1535, when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city on the Day of the Three Kings, settlements had been scattered through the valley since before the Incas.

The city was built on top of an existing palace and temples that belonged to the local chief who had little choice but to move on.

Today, Lima is a chaotic city with over 8.8 million people residing here. The traffic is horrendous; it’s a slow crawl through the city to our hotel.

We decided early-on in our travels that we are not really big city people and this wasn’t appealing to us.

Lima has a reputation for food, with several restaurants rating amongst the best in the world.

The districts of Miraflores and Barranco are where most are located.  We didn’t make it out there, as we couldn’t face the thought of an hour, or so, in traffic.

We spent our two days in Lima exploring the historic centre and enjoying its Spanish colonial charm.


The Government Palace occupies the north side of the Plaza de Armas (or Plaza Mayor), Lima’s central square.

Back in the time of the Incas, the site had strategic and spiritual meaning, which is why the last Inca chief in Lima also lived here. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, so liked the site that he kept it for the first Spanish palace, whose construction began in 1535.

Since then, Government Palace has been rebuilt numerous times; the current French-inspired mansion was constructed in the 1930s.

The changing of the guard takes place everyday at noon and is a spectacle worth watching. A marching bands belts out theatrical tunes including the theme from Rocky.

On the other three sides of the square are the Cathedral of Lima and the adjoining Archbishop’s Palace, which were originally built during the 1600s. All the structures display intricately carved wooden balconies that make the downtown cityscape so unique.

A trip underneath the Church of San Francisco to the finely preserved catacombs, is rather gruesome.  It’s estimated that this is the final resting place of somewhere between 50,000 – 70,000 individuals.

We have our last tour dinner with our overland compadres at a not-so-typical Beer Hall in central Lima (not worth mentioning the place).

To our fellow Dragoman/Intrepid companions; it’s been a fun and enjoyable 21 days with you all. No doubt we will see some of you somewhere, sometime, someplace!

Our Journey has taken us from the breathtaking highs of La Paz to the colonial sights of Lima. We’ve discovered some of the most amazing and beautiful parts of Bolivia and Peru, two South American gems.

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Note: Intrepid & Dragoman material has been used in posts related to the 21 day overland journey La Paz to Lima.

A Night in the Desert

May 20, Huacachina Sand Dunes

The village of Huacachina has a population of about 115 people, not counting the mermaid that supposedly lives in the Oasis lagoon.

Huacachina is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and the main reason to visit is for sandboarding and sand buggying.

Which is exactly why we are here, with the added bonus of sleeping out under the stars.

Sandboarding is better done laying down, not standing up – you go much faster. After a rollercoaster drive out to the crest of a steep dune, we are handed our sandboards, instructed to lie down headfirst and pushed off.

The first ride is the scary one, traveling at up to 60km/hour, you just have to hold on and hope.  I envisage going head first over my board and being buried under sand.  Once you survived the first run, you just go for it.

We have 4-5 runs down increasingly steeper dunes.  Don seems to have the nack and manages to achieve the best distance in the group most times.  Of course I try with all my will to beat him, but without success.

Don also managed to kill our small camera (second edition, the first we left on a bus in Mexico), sand and cameras do not mix, especially kept in your jeans pocket sandboarding!

Sundowners are atop a wind sculptured sand dune, watching the sun turn the sky red and orange as it dips behind the endless sand.

The sand buggies race us off deeper into the desert, arriving at a large sand bowl where a fire is lit for our BBQ dinner and a-port-a-loo stands at a comfortable distance.

This is our accommodation for the night, simply pick a spot and roll-out your sleeping bag.  No tents required, drink plenty (of alcohol) and you won’t even notice where you are!

It was a surprisingly comfortable, if not short, night.  Everyone is awake at sunrise, packed-up and back in our buggies heading towards the Oasis for breakfast.

The drivers are much more subdued on the return journey, possibly nursing their own sore heads.

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The Nazca Lines

May 18, Puerto Inca
From Arequipa we are heading to Nazca; it’s a two day journey.

Once we hit the coast it’s endless kilometers of sand dunes and wild coast line dotted with sketchy towns, often nothing more than a service station and a few crumbling houses.
We cover 380 km before arriving at Puerto Inca, where we overnight at a beach side campsite.

Camping……let me just clarify; the campsite had cabins available as an ‘upgrade’.  Only two or three hardcore campers end-up pitching tents.

Situated in a beautiful bay on the Peruvian coast, Puerto Inca was once the Inca port that supplied the city of Cusco with fish.

There are a number of Inca ruins here including a cemetery and a temple of reincarnation. Part of the road that set out from the coast to Cusco is also still clearly visible.

May 19, Nazca
The entire desert in the Nazca area was once home to the ancient Nazca and Paracas cultures which preceded the Incas by over 500 years.

On the way to Nazca we stop at the Chauchilla Indian Cemetery.  Located in an isolated part of the Nazca Desert, the cemetery is believed to have been established around 200 AD and was in use up to the 9th Century.

It is something of an eerie sight to see the skulls, bones and even hair of the dead, preserved in a remarkable state.  The bodies are so remarkably preserved that I was a little skeptical during our visit (and still a little so).  It’s only through my post-visit, blog-post research, that I have discovered the facts.

A pity that our guide on the day was more interested in playing “can you guess why….” and when I ask “why don’t you just tell us”, I was told I was being impatient! That might also be true – standing out in the hot sun was not my idea of a pleasant day, but he clearly left out some important facts!

The preservation is obviously due to the dry desert climate – it rains 2 hours a year, but our guide failed to mention anything about the funeral rites conducted.  The bodies were dressed in embroidered cotton, painted with a resin and then entombed in dugouts made from mud bricks.

The resin is the all-important missing fact; it kept out insects and slowed bacterial decay. It is this process that is believed to account for the high degree of preservation seen in these thousand-year-old bodies which still have hair and the remains of soft tissue.

I’m still a little suspicious that they leave these remains exposed rather than preserved in a museum.

Next we stop at the Cahuachi Pyramid, a major ceremonial centre between 100 BC – 400 AD.  There is evidence that the pyramid was related to the Nazca lines.

The Nazca Lines are located on the arid Preuvian plain in the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain), covering over 450 sq km, it is one of the greatest archeological enigmas of the world.

Over 700 depictions of living creatures, plants and geometric shapes, measuring kilometres in dimensions are scratched into the earth.

Created in three phases from around 500 BC through to 500 AD, the dimensions, diversity and quantity of the Nazca lines are unrivalled by any other ‘geoglyphs’ in the world.

They were etched into the ground by scraping away the top darker layer of gravel which then contrasts with the paler one underneath.

It is only from the air that you can really appreciate the scale and magnificence of the elaborate designs

I was expecting some stylised scribble that took some stretching of the imagination to visualise the images, but clear as day the outline of a whale appears and an enormous monkey appears with its spiraling tail.

The hummingbird, condor and the astronaut on the hillside, are among the many we fly over – nothing but spectacular.

Who drew them and why, remains one of the great mysteries of ancient times.

Just outside the town of Nazca is a complex system of aquaducts with over 30 channels. Built around the 5th century, they provide year round access to water and are still in use today.

The engineering is unique and includes a series of spiralling wells designed to oxygenate the water and provide access for cleaning.

Back on the bus truck, Lima bound.


May 16-17, Arequipa
Today’s 160km drive should have been a relatively quick one.

However, it turned into a rather long day when we ran into a road blockade – a protest about mining in the area. The traffic into Arequipe was at a standstill and we were about 15km away from our hotel.

After spending a couple of hours stationary, occupying ourselves with card games and beers on the side of the road, the traffic finally beings to move.

Arequipa stands at the foot of El Misti Volcano and oozes with Spanish colonial charm. It’s a close competition with Cuzco for the title of Peru’s most attractive city.

Built out of a pale volcanic rock called sillar, the old buildings dazzle in the sun, giving the city its nickname – the ‘White City’.

Arequipa is also home to one of the most significant historical discoveries in recent times.

In 1995 on the summit of Mt Ampato (6,300 meters), Anthropologist Johan Reinhard discovered the well preserved body of a young Inca girl.

Named Juanita, or the Ice Maiden, her sacrifice on the summit of the volcano is dated somewhere between 1450-1480 AD.  Her death at such a high altitude froze her body quickly, naturally mummifying her remains.

This natural mummification preserved her skin, organs, hair and even her stomach contents; providing scientists a rare opportunity to gain significant insights into the Inca civilisation.

Juanita’s home is now the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries where she is kept in a pressurized case that contains a special gas and maintains a temperature of -20C to prevent decay.

We also paid a visit to the Santa Catalina Convent.  Covering over 2 hectares in the centre of town; its like a city within a city. The brightly painted buildings and shady courtyards was started by a rich widow in 1579.

The monastery originally only accepted women from rich Spanish families who had to pay an admission dowry. Later the convent become a domicile for Dominican nuns. It has been home to nuns for over three centuries and about 20 nuns still live here today.

Our local tour guide who accompanied us to the Colac Valley lived in Arequipa and recommended a few restaurants, one of them being Zig Zag.

It’s signature dish is a trio of meats cooked on a volcanic stone grill; Don choose alpaca, pork and beef. I opted for the highly recommended quinoa gnocchi (I was sure Don would share – wouldn’t he?).

The meal was superb. The alpaca (sorry vegetarians) was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The gnocchi was also delicious, served with a fresh pesto sauce. We also couldn’t go past sharing a chocolate mousse for desert.

Our hotel in Arequipa is also worth mentioning if you are ever looking for a place to stay: La Casa de Melgar  is a gorgeous 18th century Spanish design with lovely gardens.