I write this blog in conjunction with the launch of our new program, designed for those travelling in Peru, which has got the office playing pipe music and ordering Peruvian jumpers by the case load. ‘Who’s going to do the recce/’ is on the forefront of everyone’s mind and Guy’s never had it so good with endless cups of tea and kit kats being delivered to his desk
But recce aside we have researched a travelling in Peru to an inch of its Inca roots and have come up with a list of the top 10 things you must see and do whilst in this humdinger of a country. Some you will have heard of and some are a happy ‘leapie’ finds…
So, in no particular order – 10 country highlights you must include while travelling in Peru.
Cusco is one of those cities where a pair of comfy trainers is essential as you pound the streets to capture the visual fusion of the ancient Inca’s with colonial conquest and the modern day.
Back in the day Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, and is scattered with archaeological sites such as the Sacsayhuaman where thousands of huge stones, some weighing hundreds of tons, have been intricately and painstakingly joined together to form a long series of terraces. Why? We will never know. The Spanish left their mark with their colonial masterpieces - The Plaza de Armas being the stand out piece - think arcades, carved wooden balconies and general magnificence. Which brings us to the modern day where contemporary architecture, sits comfortably beside the ancient offering fantastic food, great music and an overall hippie chic vibe. A great place to start your travelling in Peru.
2. Machu Pichuu and the Sacred Valley
Cusco is the doorway into ‘Scared Valley’ - a world of Andean countryside dotted with villages, high altitude hamlets and ruins linked by trail and railway tracks leading to the continent's biggest draw of them all – Machu Picchu. Just look at the picture…and it really does look like this. Amaze balls. Definitely worth a place on your gap year in Peru, and word has it that they are thinking of closing this off to visitors in the next few years, so make haste.
Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River valley. It’s renowned for its dry-stone walls, buildings inline with astronomical alignments and stunning, I repeat stunning, panoramic views. Its exact former use still remains a mystery making it even more extraordinary.
In our opinion the best way to see this epic sight is to trek – yes that's right, get fit, get busy – no short cuts. A 4-day trek, sleeping in village hostels, along the Inca trail with a local guide. Just make sure you arrive at sunrise. Awesome. Set your alarm and don’t forget your camera. A whole day is required at the top so build in enough time.
3. Choquequirao - The Alternative Inca Trail
This is for the dedicated traveler who is always keen to get off the beaten track while travelling in Peru.
It is one large sparkly gem of a secret.
However not for the faint hearted, a week long trek is involved through gnarled forests and along boulder-strewn paths to reach the perfectly formed Inca walls, a grassy green plaza cut out of the face of a vast mountain spur covered in forest, terraced fields dropping into a steep valley and the serrated edge of snow-covered mountains. Utter magical heaven.
4. Colca Canyon
Three hours north of Arequipa is the famous Colca Canyon, one the worlds deepest river canyons. In fact, at its deepest point, the canyon falls from its rim to its floor for an incredible drop of 13,648 feet (4,160 meters). Vertigo challenged? Go carefully.
The canyon is a sensation of green valleys, white water, remote traditional villages with terraced agriculture (predating the Incas), llama’s, alpacas and of course the famous giant Andean condor.
Best way to explore is by venturing on a trek with a local guide to get you off the beaten track. Time wise, 3 days should do it and well worth slotting into your Peruvian gap year.
5. A Leapie Find: Coporaque Community
The Coporaque are a traditional community, tucked away in the Colca Canyon. They are desperate to keep hold of their traditional values and way of life but realize that they need to educate the younger generation with the modern day world.
To help with this they have agreed to welcome Leap volunteers into their sanctuary where they will work side by side, sharing, respecting and learning from each others cultures. At the same time Leapers will make a positive contribution to the development of this community and will teach conversational English.
A win win situation and well worth considering whilst on your travelling in Peru as this will show you 'Peru uncovered'.
6. The Nazca Lines
The Nazca Lines are found in southern Peru and are a group of pre-Columbian ‘geoglyphs’ etched into the desert sands dating back from 200 BC to 500 AD.
Covering an area of nearly 1,000 sq. kilometers, there are about 300 different figures, including animals, plants and oddly shaped fantastic figures some of which are about 30 meters wide and 9 kilometers long. Massive.
The Nazca people were an ancient prehistoric culture. Cahuachi was one of their largest settlements overlooking some of the lines whose true meaning is still unsolved. Some believe they are linked to the heavens, with the lines representing constellations in the night sky, others that they are all part of a great pilgrimage and others believe they are connected with water. Who knows but they are great spectacle and best seen from the air.
[content_upgrade cu_id="11466"]If you would like these highlights all wrapped up together then have a look at our new Peru Program. The first team heads out in January to volunteer and explore in the Andes, Colca Canyon and Machu Pichuu.[/content_upgrade]
7. The Amazon
Did you know that Peru has the second largest amount of Amazon Rainforest after Brazil, sharing its western edge with Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil? The Peruvian Amazon covers 60% of the country, creating a unique and diverse ecosystem when combined with the mighty Andean Mountain range and Pacific Ocean.
Jaguars, anteaters and tapirs still slink about the greenery, anacondas lurk in the swamps, caimans sunbathe along the riverbanks, and trees rise like giants from the forest floor. Many indigenous tribes still live here scattered throughout the Peruvian section of the Amazon, surviving primarily by hunting and fishing.
Best to fly from Cusco, as the roads are terrible if non existent, to Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado which are the best two entry points.
8. Sandboarding in Huacachina
Ok – so this is a mission to get to but well worth the journey. Huacachina is a desert village built around a small natural lake with towering sand dunes wrapped around. It is just outside the city of Ica which is about 4.5 hours south of Lima or 10 hours from Arequipa (by tourist class bus).
This desert oasis has become increasingly popular for adventurers looking for an adrenaline rush from sand boarding or high speed dune buggy rides. Got to be fun and part of your travels in Peru
9. Lake Titicaca – Uros people
Next up is Lake Titicaca which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia high in the Andean Mountains. It is one of South America's largest lakes and it is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca’s.
Steeped in history the shores are a visual feast of crumbling cathedrals, desolate altiplano and checkerboard fields backed by rolling hills and high Andean peaks.
The Lake has been home to Uros people for generations who have built floating islands, houses and boats out of the native ‘totora’ reeds and live successfully in this way. Their boats are sometimes built in the shape of a dragon to ward off evil spirits – this is an amazing spectacle.
10. A Leapie Find: Karina Community
Karina is a traditional Aymara community found on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Titicaca. They are still close to their indigenous roots but like the Coporaque Community above they are keen to establish a relationship with Leap volunteers who will help with:
The cultivation of quinoa, maize, potatoes, and other vegetables. Teaching English and art in the local primary school and to the host families. Working on community infrastructure and maintenance projects.
In your free time, you’ll have the chance to challenge the school kids to soccer matches, swim in Lake Titicaca and explore the Chucuito Peninsula.
What are you waiting for?
Just so you know British Airways has started a direct flight from Gatwick to Lima - so look out for their flight sales to grab a bargain. On the upside Lima is a super cool city and a great spring board to get around the country and to Peru’s handsome neighbours especially Ecuador.
So, no excuses get booking – to us, at leap Towers, it certainly flicks our switch. Better make another cup of tea for Guy:)
Need help with your gap year planning? The Gap Adventure Blueprint Our comprehensive gap year advice guide, contains several chapters on preparing for your adventure, where to go and what to do.
I'm Interested, Tell Me More!
on 29 / 09 / 2016