And now for the top 10 things to SEE in Peru…
Lima is the capital of Peru and also the largest city, with a population of almost ten million. Although there is so much to see and do in this city, we used it mainly as a starting and finishing point in our travels. Most, if not all, flights in and out of the country go through Lima so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to avoid it. There are plenty of good restaurants and bars here so make sure you start trying the delicious meals and cocktails that Lima has to offer. It’s also a coastal city, so you can catch some great waves and surf if it pleases you.
So Arequipa is the second largest city (or so we were told) and it was the first place we went where you could noticeably feel the difference in oxygen levels. Arequipa sits at about 2,300 meters above sea level, nowhere near the highest regions of Peru, but high enough that going for a jog was more exhausting than usual. Not an overly developed city based on its population but like most of Peru, it had beautiful cathedrals and architecture. Another beautiful feature of this city is the surrounding mountains: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu, which can be seen throughout the city.
Ollantaytambo is an ancient Incan town and archaeological site. It used to be a stronghold for the Incan resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru, but now it’s basically just a tourist attraction due to its badass ruins and walls. It’s also the most common starting point of the infamous Inca trail, which is a three or four day hike. I wish we could tell you about the hike itself, but we only had a limited time here and we were with a large group. Luckily there aren’t any security guards or anything there, so we were able to run around and play to our hearts’ content, pretending we were parkour experts jumping off cool stone structures. Heheheh.
Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) is one of our favourite cities in Peru. It’s about 3.5 kilometers in altitude so the oxygen levels are significantly lower here. Another place full of churches, cathedrals and bumpy cobblestone streets. The nightlife here is pretty good though, we learned how to make pisco sours at one of the bars, and the food is top notch. There’s also a ton of amazing activities to do around here. We went bungee jumping just outside the downtown core; it has the highest platform in all of South America. Damn scary! But they have a sweet ATV tour through the mountains here as well, that is a must-do. Cusco is one of those cities that you just can’t avoid if you’re traveling through Peru.
Yes, it sounds like ‘sexy woman’. The Saqsaywaman archaeological complex is yet another feat of ancient Incan architecture now left in ruin. Only about two kilometers from Cusco, these grounds once served as an army base for thousands of Incan soldiers. One of the cooler things about it, was that the large compound reverberated sound extremely well, and it is said that the army general would give speeches from the top, and his voice could be heard clearly from everywhere below. Naturally, we tested it out by yelling and screaming obscenities across the way. In good taste of course, this is a sacred land after all. Again, the massive stones that made up the walls were fitted together without the use of mortar. Ancient architectural genius.
Ahhh Lake Titicaca. A wonderfully cold lake on the Eastern side of Peru. Also gets its reputation for being the highest navigable lake in the world. Also the largest lake in South America. It’s got quite the reputation! It borders Peru and Bolivia so it would have been cool to step foot on Bolivian soil, since we were so close, but alas, we never made it. We did, however, get to swim in it, which was really cold, but being from Canada, it wasn’t all that bad. Lake Titicaca is home to many smaller islands: some made of dirt and rock, others made almost entirely out of reeds.
So while we were exploring Lake Titicaca, we stopped off at some of the lake’s famous “Reed Islands”. These islands have natives that live solely on their respective islands, segregated from civilization. They make trips often to the mainland, but their basic food supply consists of fish and reeds.* They allow tour groups to come and visit them, they sing songs and explain how their lives are, and then they start pressuring you to buy their paintings and “hand-woven” tapestries. The island of Taquile is another place we visited where we sang and danced with the locals, had lunch and then played a game of soccer. The men spend their days knitting fine textiles while the women usually make yarn, and weave. *The reeds peel back and offer a white, crunchy inside that tastes a whole lot like nothing.
The Amazon is the worlds largest rainforest, covering about 40% of South American land. It tocuhes eight different countries across the continent. It is an incredible sight to see. There is so much different kinds of vegetation and plants and fruit and animals, it’s mind blowing. At night, you are just surrounded by all sorts of wildlife sounds, it’s almost hard to sleep. Also, you better have a bug net for your bed or you’ll get eaten alive. Most bungalows are obviously aware of this and will have them anyways. The Amazon also has the second longest river in the world, after the Nile. Boat rides and fishing are super popular here, so get into it! But be wary, the river has crocodiles and dick fish (the fish that swim up your urethra). Oh, and the stars at night are unlike anything you’ve ever seen!
Colca Canyon is a massive expanse of mountains and valleys. It’s kind of like the Grand Canyon of Peru. When we visited it, we were told to go at a specific time in the morning because that’s the prime time to see condors. Condors are huge vultures and they leave their homes in the morning and fly up and down the canyon looking for little rodents to munch on. We must have gotten lucky because when we were there, we saw about 40 of them. Everywhere in Peru you can find people with different Peruvian products for sale, but this place had some of the best selection. We all left with alpaca-wool scarves and mittens, which are extremely handy (no pun intended) because it’s so freaking cold here!
The famous and glorious mountain: Machu Picchu. A must-see in Peru! Standing 2,430 meters above sea level, it is one of the most awesome sights we’ve ever laid eyes on. On top of the mountain lie ancient Incan ruins that are suspected to have been built as a ceremonial structure, or even a military fort. The thing that puzzles experts is how the Incans were able to: A) get the monolithic stones there in the first place, with the stone quarry so far from the top, and B) build and fit the stones together so precisely that not even a knife blade can fit in the cracks between the stones. Another incredible feature is how the landmarks appear to align with astronomical events like the sunset during the solstice. Every day hundreds of visitors from around the world come to revel in its beauty and magnificence. I repeat, this is a must-see!
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