Oliver visits Peru15.07.15 | Oliver
During my nine-day tour I visited much more than I expected, from exploring Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, to learning about the many different cultures within this fascinating South American country.
After our flight we were met and escorted to our city centre hotel through the bustling city of Lima. Having a guide to such a destination is vital as you learn many stories and local tales about the city that most visitors would miss. Traffic was heavy and slowed our transfer down however this was a great opportunity for us to get an inside glance into the city as the driver took us through back streets to avoid the jams. The city is huge and spread across many different districts. Our hotel was based in the Miraflores area, a middle class suburb, home to an array of beautiful colonial homes.
On day two we flew from Lima up into the Andes Mountains which would be our base for the next two nights in the city of Cuzco. An ancient city full of history, Cuzco is today the transportation hub for tourists on their way to the Inca trail and eventually Machu Picchu. The city centre is quite compact and you can enjoy a relaxing stroll around the old squares which offer a glimpse into a more traditional way of life than that of Lima. As the city is based 3,310 metres above sea level, the air is thin and some suffer from altitude sickness in the first few days. We certainly found ourselves gasping for breath here and there, although we were given instructions on how to avoid the sickness so we followed these and did not suffer.
The people of Peru are very welcoming. Tourism is still a fairly new industry to them and they are grateful that their country has been chosen to be visited. They are very proud of their culture and history and it shows, through the enthusiasm of our tour guide, to the friendly welcomes you receive from the local people. Cuzco was no exception.
On Day three we travelled from Cuzco into the mountains and visited the town if Pisac which was of great importance in Inca times. Today this quaint village features colonial and Inca-influenced architecture and a market where locals travel from afar to sell their handicrafts, food, rugs and other items to locals and tourists. We continued to Ollantaytambo Fortress, the gateway to the Sacred Valley. This was our first encounter with Inca ruins and gave us a ‘warm-up’ to our visit to Machu Picchu later in the week. We could never imagine achieving what the Inca’s did in today’s society. The size of the rocks they used to create their fortresses and settlements were mined from mountains in the far off distance, barely visible to the eye. These rocks were transported from the other side of the mountain all the way to Ollantaytambo, some being abandoned along the tracks. The trail can still be seen today.
When you think of Peru, the Orient Express may not immediately spring to mind. However rail is the only method of transport to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Orient Express run their own service called the Hiram Bingam. It is named after the explorer who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu (local farmers knew it existed, but Bingham revealed it to the world). This train operates services from a town near Cuzco where Orient Express also own a hotel called the Monasterio. This converted monastery offers a beautiful setting for a hotel, with wonderful courtyards decorated with the vibrant colours of Peru’s favourite flowers. The hotel is the only one in the world to offer oxygen pumped straight into your room via the air-conditioning system to help relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. The rooms can vary in size as they are old monks’ quarters, but overall this luxurious hotel is splendid and offers a unique experience – you can even hold events or get married in the ornate, on-site Chapel San Antonio Abad.
Our Journey to Machu Picchu was on the very grand Hiram Bingham Orient Express. All food and drinks are included and the wonderful observation deck at the rear of the train offers superb views as we travelled down the valley. Unlike other Orient Express trains around the world, there was no dress code – quite appropriate as you are about to embark on an expedition of a lifetime and climb Machu Picchu, something you would not want to do in your best tux! There are other train services that operate on this route, however you really must travel in style!
On arrival at Aguas Calientes we wound our way though the market stalls of local traders and onto our hotel for the night, the Sumaq – a family-owned hotel recently opened but in-keeping with Inca designs. The roar of the river can be heard throughout this town which also offers visitors the opportunity to stop at the Inkaterra hotel (described by Conde Nast as the Garden of Eden) which offers villa-style rooms and a wide range of activities and tours such as bird walking, orchid garden tours, yoga and a visit to their bear sanctuary in the mountains. Although the main attraction here is Macchu Picchu (a 30-minute bus ride up the mountain), this town was a great base and well worth a few days to explore. We visited Machu Picchu twice, once in the afternoon after our arrival by train when the weather was beautifully clear, and again the next morning and at 7.30am, when it was raining, which added to the atmosphere. Were climbed through the clouds and a few of us braved the trek up Wayna Picchu (the larger mountain in the picture). Although it was a good two-and-a-half-hour round trip, with steep steps, rocks to climb and sheer drops, this experience was breathtaking and I would urge anyone to experience this for themselves.
There are so many interesting facts and stories to be told about Machu Picchu that a guide is most definitely recommended. Ours was Alex, who was a specialist in this area of Peru and was able to tailor our tour based on the personal interests of the group, which was fantastic. The scenery was truly remarkable and a second visit the following day is highly recommended.
The final part of our tour took us on a 10-hour coach ride, which sounds daunting, but we stopped every few hours for visits to more Inca sites, small villages, churches as well as the highest point of the journey. We watched the terrain change from lush green fields to barren lands where we wouldn’t see a car for miles. Our final destination was Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, which stretches over to Bolivia. We spent a few days here and enjoyed a day’s boat ride around the lake where we visited the amazing floating lakes of Uros and the Greek-like island of Taquile. Both islands offered a very different experience and it was a long day, although totally worth it. Puno is the main town on the edge of the lake, which is where we stayed. There are number of nice hotels based here, however I was also lucky enugh to visit the Titilaka Hotel, which was due to open a few weeks after my visit. This unique modern, minimilist hotel is perched on the edge of the lake and offers spectatcular views, with ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ rooms, named after view they offer. For the ulimate experience there is also a suite which offers both views!
It would be a waste to travel all the way to Peru without exploring the rest of the country. The country offers a wealth of luxurious accommodations to allow a very comfortable journey throughout. I really did not know what to expect from Peru, and I am lucky enough to travel all around the world with my job but this country has most definitely made a lasting impression and is one my favourite all-time destinations.Explore Peru