November 2004: Few places pack the adventurous punch of Peru with its Andean Incan and Amazonian indigenous cultures, ancient ruins, soaring 20,000′ peaks, rainforests and endless stretches of desolate coastline. It was because of this I chose Peru as one of my first South American destinations. To take full advantage of all of the diversity that Peru has, I tried to see some of all of its varied landscapes within a two-week period. My friend Sterling and I flew into Lima, the capitol for one night, then onward to Cuzco, where we traveled overland to the Amazonian Rainforest reserve of Manu National Park. After Manu, we flew back to Cuzco and onward to Lake Titicaca, where we stayed with an indigenous family on La Isla Del Sol. Then we trekked into the High Andes visiting Quechua Villages and finally we ended the trip by hiking on the Incan Trail for a few days before arriving at Machu Picchu. Then we ended our trip to Peru by surfing Pico Alta surf break in the desert coastline south of Lima. This is the story of my trip to Peru that I organized through various local fixers in combination with independent travel.

 

 

Locations I visited in Peru

This was the two-week itinerary for our Peru trip:

Day 1
Arrive in Lima
Spend the night in Lima in the night club district.

Day 2
Depart Lima
Arrive in Cuzco in the morning.
Bus departure to the Amazon through Andean mountains of Paucartambo. Visit the funeral towers or chullpas of Ninamarca.
Descend through cloud forest.
Stay in guest house in village of Pilcopata.

Day 3
Bus to port of Atalaya.
Boat down the river Alto Madre de Dios.
Visit Indian village of Boca Manu.
Visit Macaw Clay Lick.
Jungle hiking
Campsite at eco-lodge in the rain forest.

Day 4
Enter the core area of Manu National Park.
Boat down the Manu river and see caimans, capybera, giant otters, and monkeys.
Camp on raised platforms along the river in tents in camp Otorongo.
Raft oxbow lakes looking for caimans and giant otters.
Night walk looking for bird eating tarantula.

Day 5
Explore Manu National Park
Camp in Otorongo camp site.

Day 6
Depart Manu national park by boat upriver.
Visit Boca Manu village and raft lake. Visit indian village and school
Afternoon flight from Boca Manu to Cuzco.
Arrive Cuzco
Depart by bus to Puno on Lake Titicaca. 5 hour bus ride.
Arriving late at Puno guesthouse.

Day 7
Depart by boat to Lake Titicaca.
Accomodation local indian house on La Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca.

Day 8
Depart La Isla Del Sol by boat and return to Puno via bus.
Night in Puno guest house.

Day 9
Depart Puno to Cuzco by bus.
Visit Cuzco.-Night in Cuzco guest house.

Day 10
Depart by car to Lares Valley via Sacred Valley.Begin trek in Lares Village.
Camp in Kuncany village.

Day 11
Trek Kuncany to Kiswarany over 16000-foot pass.
Camp in Kiswarany village.

Day 12
Kiswarany village to Qanchqancha village over the Condor pass then to Waran village.
Hot springs
Bus from Waran village to Cuzco.
Night in Cuzco guest house.

Day 13
Explore Cuzco churches and old town.
Accommodation Cuzco.

Day 14
Depart train from Cuzco to Inca Trail.
Begin Inca trail trek.
Visit Ullurumbu
Visit Machu Picchu
Accommodation Aguas Calientes

Day 15
Machu Picchu
Train back to Cuzco.
Night in Cuzco.

Day 16
Depart Cuzco to Lima.
Taxi to Pico Alto surf break.
Surf
Accommodation guest house at Pico Alto.

Day 17
Taxi to Lima.
Depart to San Diego

 
 
 
 
 

 

Manu National Park

 

 

I was excited to visit Manu National Park, a huge swathe of protected primary rainforest that is so large and wild that much of it is still uncharted and home to uncontacted tribes-Mashco-Piro, who have chosen to remain isolated and have had fatal clashes with the outside world. On one occasion even a group of tourists encountered the Mashco-Piro and were greeted with a volley of arrows. Manu protects both lowland and Andean rainforest and is one of the most ecological diverse places on Earth and provides one of the best opportunities to see rare wildlife, primates, giant river otters, huge caimans, anaconda and jaguar. To get to Manu, we first flew to Cuzco, an ancient Andean town. From there we traveled two days across the Andes and descended into the cloud forests of the Andean foothills before finally arriving to a river in the Amazon rainforest, where we boarded a boat to travel into the roadless jungles of Manu.

 

Ancient Andean Burial Tombs-funeral towers or chullpas of Ninamarca

Quechua Indians in a Incan Village with colorful traditional dresses

Quechua Indians in an Incan Village walking a horse on a rope

An Amazonia village of Pilcopatawe where we stayed at before heading off to Manu on a boat

Sterling and I checking in at the Manu Park Ranger Station

Entering Manu via river boat

Along the river, oxbow lakes, and treetops in Manu we saw too many primates to name, giant river otters fighting off huge black caiman, capybara, and many other types of wildlife. To be immersed in such a vast and wild place was an amazing and awesome experience.

 

12’Black Caiman

Capybera 

We camped in tents in a very primitive campsite at the mercy of the insects and jungle. The bathroom with a toilet and shower inside a hut was a house of horrors where you would quickly shower while trying to avoid deadly centipedes and bird eating tarantulas.

Sleeping in the forest was an experience I loved. Once darkness sets in the forest erupts in a chatter of trillions of insects and night creatures all competing to be heard over one another. Then there are the larger animals like the peccary’s that came close to the tents at night and sounded like a gaggle of drunk goblins. Where there are peccary’s, a jaguar is sure to follow, and we saw some jaguar prints in the mud nearby.

 

Otorongo camp site-Our campsites for a few nights 

Scarlet Macaws at a clay lick 

Giant river otters in an oxbow lake swimming side by side with huge caiman crocodiles. the river otter is resting on the brach to the right of the submerged tree

View of the dark river from our campsite. We were advised against swimming. Seeing the 12′ menacing Caiman earlier in the day was reason enough to convince me. 

My favorite activity in the forest was to hike at night without a flashlight under the full moon. The forest canopy was thick and most of the moonlight was blocked out but just enough of it would get through to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness to see the jungle path. Then there were the lightning bugs that also lit up the forest with different colors like Christmas lights. Walking among giant trees amid a sparkling colorful lightning bugs around me was one of those magical experiences in travel where you feel removed from reality and floating in some sort of dreamlike state.

 

Massive bird eating tarntula named after the birds it hunts. There were two of these massive spiders on the exterior wall of the bathroom at they were very aggresive and one launched itself at my camera trying to attack it as I took this photo. 

This kind of forest is guaranteed to have lots of poisonous snakes, but snakes keep to themselves and I despite trying to find one never did see one. I was amazed by the sheer hugeness of the trees in Manu that have never been logged and have been growing for hundreds of years.

 

Me in front of the enormous trees of Manu that have never been logged

Sterling and I at our campsite in Manu

Once outside of Manu, we visited some of the outlying indigenous villages where the tribal people still live somewhat traditional lives and hunt wildlife often raising the baby animals in their villages of the parents they eat, like this young anteater that one family is raising because they hunted the anteater’s parents.

 

Anteater pet in an indigenious village-Boca Manu

To avoid the long two-day drive back to Cuzco, we paid extra to have a military plane pick us up to fly us on the couple hour flight to Cuzco. The plane landed in a grass field where indigenous kids played soccer and we quickly loaded up for a scenic flight over the endless rainforest and Andes to Cuzco. Once in Cuzco, our landing was one of the roughest I have experienced in my travelers, and we seemed to have stalled ten feet above the ground coming to a stop with a powerful crashing thud.

 

Our military plane picking is up in an indigenious village-Boca Manu

Flight to Cuzco over the Amazon rainforest

A younger me on the flight over the Amazon 

Lake Titicaca

 

 

With no time to spare, once we landed in Cuzco, we quickly headed off to Puno on a chicken bus jam packed with Quechua people and screaming babies. To make matters worse for the long bus ride, rain, lighting and thunder crackled outside so we had to roll the windows up creating a hellish like sauna like atmosphere during the bus ride. Once in Puno, a city on the banks of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest largest freshwater lake, at a cheap hotel. The next morning, we took a public ferry being operated by a 12-year-old boy to La Isla Del Sol with a stopover in one of the floating Uros islands. The Uros islands are manmade islands of reed built by the Uros Indians to escape their traditional Incan enemies. Many of the Uros still live on the islands today, however due to the uniqueness of their islands, they have become a tourist attraction and visiting the islands has become commercialized. They now built all kinds of reed structures and botas in the shape of dragons and other objects that are not traditional to create photo opportunities for tourists. After the Uros Islands, we continued on to la Isla Del Sol, where we stayed with a local indigenous Aymara Indian family in their traditional home with reed walls. I chose an island off the main tourist circuit that only received some intrepid backpackers. The Aymara have no hotels on the island and traditional homestays are the only option and were the main reason for our visit. I love homestays that not only help to provide income for local families but also an opportunity for foreigners to build relationships. The Aymara are good about rotating the available homestays to allow every family to have a chance to earn income and this also prevents over commercialism. The family we stayed with was friendly and cooked our meals and we played with their kids, and we shared our snacks. We also borrowed traditional clothes from them to wear and they took us to a dance hall to dance to traditional pan flute music which was a highlight of the trip.

 

lake Titicaca

Floating reed Uros island

Floating reed island-Uros Islands

Church Service on a Floating reed island-Uros Islands

At an Incan temple at the highest point of La Isla Del Sol

Local dress of indigenious ladies-Aymara Indians

Our homestay

We loved our time with on the island and the highlight was going to a local dance hall and dancing to the indigenous pan flute music and drums while dancing with the indigenous women. To do this Sterling and I borrowed some local clothing that the men wear so better fit in. I’ll never forget the elderly squat Aymara woman who danced with me. Even though she was half my size, she dominated me. It was clear to me right away that she was intent on showing me the proper dance steps and I danced through multiple songs with her mostly because I was too afraid to try and walk away.

 

Sterling and I wearing traditional mens clothes at the local dance

Lares Valley Trek

 

 

From Lake Titicaca we traveled to Puno and onwards to Cuzco where we spent one night. Then from Cuzco we continue on to do 3 days/2-night Lares Valley trek. Lares Valley combined high altitude mountain scenery with traditional Quechua villages of people wearing hand knit alpaca wool clothing and head shawls with bright beautiful colors. The best part of Lares was it didn’t have all of the tourists and commercialism of the Incan trail. Most of the time, we were alone, and it seemed Lares with a hidden secret that wouldn’t remain so for long.

 

Sterling on a high pass 16,000′

The trekking was amazing, and we slowly adapted to the high altitude with the help of coca tea, the traditional tea the Incans drink that is made of coca leaves that are used in the production of cocaine. Sterling ended up getting severe diarrhea maybe because of a combination of high altitude and food sickness and he at some point in the trek was too weak to walk. One night while camping in the freezing rain outside, he had a boat of diarrhea and while wandering outside of his tent in a delirious state at night he accidentally fell into a lake and added hyperthermia to his already terrible condition. Our guide and village horsemen carrying our food decided to put him on one of the horses. The horseman’s 12-year-old son then single handedly escorted an ailing Sterling, who was strapped to the horse over one of the lower passes to our destination village, where he could recuperate until I arrived. So, Sterling and I parted ways for part of the trip while he traveled back on horseback, I continued climbing on foot over a 16,000′ section of the Condor pass.

High alpine lakes

Glaciers

Horse caravan

Local Quechua people

We stayed in traditional stone villages where people grew potatoes and raised lamas and alpacas. The stone houses reminded me of the villages in the movie Braveheart. 

 

Where we camped

We were presented with cuy meat, a traditional dish of guinea pig that the Incan people eat. One woman invited us into their home and guinea pigs living in the bedroom floor scurried about under the bed and the one woman stepped on one stomping it so that it was dead. She picked it up and butchered it and prepared it for food. I tried one small bite but that was enough for me. I felt like eating a guinea pig would be a betrayal to my childhood guinea pig pet, Chirples Chub Chubbles.

 

Guinea pig meal

Local house

Guinea pigs on the bedroom floor

Quechua village 

Quechua village 

Alpaca round up

Woman knitting clothes

Indigenious man in traditional shawl 

After the Lares Valley trek, we soaked in a hot spring of a small village and then returned to Cusco via a hellish local bus on some pretty scary dirt mountain roads that at times looked like they were going to slide right off of the mountain. 

 

2 Day Incan Trail and Macchu Picchu

 

 

The last few days of our trip was dedicated to Peru’s most famous destination, the 15th century mysterious Incan abandoned city perched high in the Andean foothills at 9,000.’   We spent one night in Cuzco before taking a train stop where the 2-day Incan trail began. We hiked along the same giant stone steps that the Incas have walked for centuries between villages. We crossed the lesser-known temple ruins of Ullurumbu before one last very steep ascent to an overlook of Machu Picchu. Along the train we encountered a cluster of rattle snakes and saw condors high above.  We descended into Machu Picchu at sunset but weren’t allowed to stay long since it was officially closed. We spent the night in Aguas Calientes the small tourist town located at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located and at the end of the train line. Then the next morning we returned to Machu Picchu at sunrise to have a more comprehensive visit.

 

Train to Aguas Caliented-only way besides hiking to reach Machhu Picchu

Mountains

Ullurumbu-another Incan ruined city that we visited on the 2 day Incan Trail

Macchu Picchu

Rattle snakes on the trail

Wandering lama at macchu Picchu

While at Machu Picchu early in the morning we walked the ancient city, only discovered in the last century and found ourselves overwhelmed by its beauty and sense of mystery. Not much is known about its purpose, but it is believed to have been a center of religious worship where only priests lived or a kind of monastery for Incan shamanistic priests. It was easy to understand it might had been a place of religious worship. What makes it special is not the ruins but the dramatic mountain scenery. The ruined city clings to steep slopes and at times you almost feel vertigo climbing down the stairs looking down into the valley floor thousands of feet below. We watched as condors, the world’s largest birds, soared high above us and lamas wander freely among the ruins grazing on the grass. The jungles in the area are also home to other wildlife like South American bears and puma. We didn’t see any unfortunately, but I did spot a cluster of rattlesnakes on the trail.

 

Macchu Pichu 

After Machu Picchu we returned to Cuzco by train and flew to Lima where we hired a taxi for a surf day trip to Pico Alta where we rented surf boards and paddled out into one of Peru’s largest waves. The waves were mellow but still big when we were there. After spending one night in a beachside surfing hostel, we returned to Lima and departed back to San Diego.

 

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