A flight deep into the Amazon basin, a short river cruise to a tropical lodge situated in a private reserve amidst the Peruvian rainforest, a journey into the Andes Mountains and a thrilling rail journey to the lost city of the Incas – Machu Picchu. These are but a few of the highlights we experienced on our “Peru, Land of the Incas” journey.
Peru is the third largest country in South America, bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, to the east by Brazil and Bolivia, to the south by Chile and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. It has three very distinct and diverse regions, each contributing to its popularity as a tourist destination. The coastal region boasts a warm climate, lovely beaches, mysterious deserts and fertile river valleys. The highlands region has a temperate climate and is dominated by the majestic Andes Mountain range, the two deepest canyons on earth and the world’s highest navigable lake. The third region is the jungle or Amazonia, which makes up 60% of the country’s territory. The climate is tropical with lush vegetation and a huge abundance of wildlife including 1800 species of birds, 500 varieties of mammals and over 300 species of reptiles. This region is also the source of the largest river in the world, the mighty Amazon.
Our journey began with an Air Canada direct, non-stop flight from Toronto to Lima, the capital. Here, we enjoyed two nights at the first class Hotel El Pardo Doubletree, situated in the heart of upscale Miraflores, Lima’s most cosmopolitan area. A wonderful way to start any tour is having a leisurely morning to relax after a long flight, and that’s exactly what we did.
An afternoon city tour introduced us to the highlights of Lima. The city has preserved the venerable beauty of the original colonial architecture on many of its streets. The marvelous architecture of the Presidential Palace and Lima's Cathedral, built in 1625 in a Renaissance-Baroque style, with splendid Churriguerra altars were stunning. Touring through the old quarter of the city, we delved into more than four centuries of living history, discovering gracious manors with their baroque balconies and San Francisco church, whose cloisters and patios are decorated with beautiful Seville mosaic tiles.
eaving Lima behind until our final evening, we flew deep into the heart of the Amazon basin to Puerto Maldonado. Here, we boarded a river boat for a 45 minute journey on the Madre de Dios River until we reached the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Lodge, our tropical, riverbank home for the next three nights. What a thrill it was to experience an authentic rainforest lodge adventure with hammocks, lanterns and being sung to sleep by the gentle sounds of the rainforest. During our lodge stay, there were wonderful opportunities to choose from different excursions including nature walks in the rainforest, a canoe ride on Sandoval Lake, wildlife walks and a sunset cruise on the river.
Next, we flew to Cuzco, a city set in the basin of the Andes and from here we travelled to the Sacred Valley of the Incas for a two-night stay at the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness Spa. This unique property exudes a mystical atmosphere; a magical meeting of ancient Inca culture and colonial luxury in the midst of one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Originally a seventeenth century colonial hacienda, it has been completely restored and is set amidst tropical gardens with stunning mountains as a backdrop. Here, we got a glimpse of the fascinating local culture, visited a ranch for an equestrian demonstration and explored an ancient fortress.
A major highlight of any journey to Peru…a spectacular rail journey to the ruins of Machu Picchu, a city built so high in the clouds that it escaped destruction by the invading Spaniards. We enjoyed a guided visit of the lost city which was discovered in 1911 by US explorer Hiram Bingham and is one of the wonders of the world. It was magical to walk amongst the ruins and imagine what life would have been like for the industrious Incas.
The following day, we departed by rail for a two-night stay in Cuzco, one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Andes and the archaeological capital of the Americas. As we explored this magical city, every turn presented a bevy of new sites…. the main square, which the Incas called Huacaypata, the artisans quarter of San Blas, the Convent of Santo Domingo, built on top of the Temple of the Sun and the palaces of the Inca and his court are all part of a long list of the archaeological wonders.
Continuing by rail and enjoying magnificent sites along the way, we headed to Puno, the folkloric capital of Peru, set on the banks of Lake Titicaca. We journeyed by boat to visit the Uros Indians who live on the floating islands of Uros and Taquile. The “islands” are made by hand from totora reeds that grow in the shallow waters of the lake.
A short flight took us from Puno to Arequipa, a city bathed in white-hued houses and other buildings, due to the white stone quarried in the region. The dormant, Misti volcano lies as a stunning backdrop to the city. From Arequipa, we travelled to the Colca Valley, passing some of the most breathtaking scenes in Peru… superb terracing, snow-capped peaks, dizzying canyons and towns dating back to the sixteenth century. Fourteen villages have been preserved in the valley with fascinating narrow streets and richly decorated churches, rock paintings and natural rock formations.
Journeying back to Arequipa next day, we explored several Inca villages along the way before arriving once again in Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage site where we spend the night. Next day, we flew to Lima to begin our journey along the Panamerica Highway to Paracas.
There were two wonderful highlights during our stay in Paracas. First was a visit by boat to a nature reserve in the Ballestas Islands, where there is a wonderful opportunity to see blue-footed boobies, sea lions and penguins. Second, we had a fabulous opportunity to experience the mysterious site of the Nasca Plains, as we flew on a small aircraft over this site. Viewing this site from above is the best and only way to truly appreciate the scale and scope of this phenomena. Since they became widely known in the 1920’s with the use of commercial aircraft in the area, these mysterious desert drawings have been a mystery to anyone fascinated by ancient cultures. The lines cover almost 400 square miles of desert and are thought to have been drawn between 200BC and 600AD, though these dates vary depending on who is studying them. Our pilot tilted the aircraft this way and that so that everyone could capture photos of these remarkable drawings in the sand.
On our final day in Paracas, we visited a winery and the Oasis of Huacachina, where the desert has been reclaimed and made into a paradise complete with palm trees, huge sand dunes, a collection of resorts and restaurants around a blue-green lagoon. There is a permanent population of around 100 here, all of whom depend entirely on tourism.
Returning to Lima for our final night, it was a joyous farewell evening as the group recounted the many highlights and memories we shared. If given the chance to visit this diverse and fascinating country, by all means, don’t miss the opportunity!