Peru – Notes from the Andes

These are my thoughts following an early spring trip to the Andes.  The adventure included jaunts to Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Puno.

The trip originated as an adventure to see Peru’s most famous landmark, The Inca Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.  Photographers worldwide display pictures of this incredible city’s ruins from the 16th Century in their portfolio.  I am sure that I will do the same. But, there was so much more to this beautiful, historic country.  Many of the local people that live here today have not moved toward Western ways.  The Spanish people and the Peruvians continue to live in mud brick buildings with thatched roofs the way that they lived centuries ago.  Many still speak the ancient Chechua and Aymara Indian languages.

Peru celebrates two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season.  Our trip took place in late October (spring) at the beginning of the rainy season.  The nine days that we spent in Peru were warm.  Even while we were in the Lake Titicaca area where the base elevation is more than 11,000 feet the temperature hovered near a mostly sunny 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Our clothing selection included long sleeve shirts, slacks and tennis shoes.  Tennis shoes or hiking boots are a must.  You will be climbing uneven rocky surfaces or walking on cobblestone streets.  Also a sweater and rain wear is a must as well as hats, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.  We found Off Wipes (mosquito repellent) which are available in the supermarket in single use packs to be very handy.  Also, altitude medications should be included since the majority of time that you are in Peru you will be at altitudes over 9,000 feet.

My photography kit included two Nikon digital cameras, a Nikon D-100 and a D-70s.  I attached a wide angle 12-24mm lens to one camera.  The second camera was fitted with a 24-120mm image stabilized lens.  Research prior to the trip indicated that there would be very little opportunity to take photos of wildlife on this trip with the exception of llamas, sheep, cattle and dogs.  I decided to leave my heavy Nikon 80-400mm image stabilized lens at home.  I took a much lighter Tamron 28-300mm lens along instead, but I seldom needed it.  I also took a Slik carbon fiber tripod fitted with an Acratech ballhead.  All camera equipment was packed in a Lowepro Mini Trekker AW backpack which served as my personal carry-on item.  Photos were copied daily to both my Flash Trax portable hard drive and to a recently purchased Dell laptop.

Our trip originated from Miami with a non-stop flight to Lima, which was a 6 hour flight. Most flights leave Miami in mid afternoon and arrive in Peru at night.  Interestingly, the only time difference was a one-hour difference from the US East coast due to the fact that Peru does not go on daylight savings time.  We spent our arrival night at a Lima hotel, The Best Western La Hacienda, which was in the trendy Miraflores area of Lima.  We took an early morning one hour flight to Cusco the following day. 

We spent three nights in Cusco.  We did a one-half day city tour of the city as well as day trips to Ollantanbo ruins and the Pisac Market, a large native craft market which is about 30 minutes outside of Cusco.  In Cusco visitors are frequently hustled by street sellers trying to sell artwork and Peruvian trinkets.  These people are harmless, actually very friendly, but after a full day of being hustled by the vendors it becomes a little bit stressful.  We had one young 11 year old fellow, Javiera, who latched on to us and did a better job of showing us around the city than our assigned tour guide.  Your new friends will try to convince you that you won’t owe them anything for their time, but they won’t leave you until you slip them a few US dollars.  

There were several optional extensions.  We opted for the 3 day add-on trip to the World’s highest lake, Lake Titicaca (12,500 feet!).  This is the home of the floating Uros Islands.  Hundreds of Indians live on these reed islands.  A highlight is a trip in a reed boat.  We also stayed at the best hotel of the trip here, The Hotel Libertador.  Everything about this lodging was exceptional including the location, food and service.  We also were able to board our boat to the floating islands just out the back door or the hotel.  We were thrilled with this extension.

For food fanciers, we were quite pleased with the selections available in Peru.  I tried the alpaca more than once.  It was quite tasty.  Also the ceviche was excellent. The local fish is trout.  I had it almondine style one evening in Puno and was quite pleased.  Lynn tasted it and ordered it the following night.  That signals a victory.  We received the normal warnings about not drinking the water and not eating raw vegetables in salads.  We heeded the warnings.  We drank plenty of bottled water, wine and beer.  The local beer is Cusquenos and is quite good. The local drink is a piso sour.  A small complimentary sample is usually served when arriving at a hotel or a restaurant.  It is usually followed by a larger one that you purchase!

Only passports are necessary for US travelers to Peru. A modest duty is usually charged when traveling from point to point within the country. We found the Lima Airport to be exceptional.  It actually rivals many of our nicer US airports in cleanliness and services.

This is a strenuous trip which involves a lot of climbing over uneven stones to visit the ancient Inca villages.  Also, there is the extremely high altitude to deal with.  Many of these villages are at 9,000 feet or more.  The highest point on the drive between Cusco and Puno is more than 12,000 feet.  Of course, Lima which is on the Pacific coast is just above sea level.  A night spent there prior to a return to one’s home might be just the therapy needed.  On the trip that we took, mosquito repellant was only needed at Machu Picchu which is at the beginning of the rain forest.