For many travellers to Peru, Cusco is seen as the quasi-“basecamp” for adventures to Machu Picchu, whether by bus and train or on the famous Inca Trail. Cusco, at an elevation around 3400 m above sea level, is a place to acclimatize to the altitude, especially if hiking in the Andes is imminent. But this historic capital of the Inca empire should be seen as a destination in its own right, and there’s plenty of things to see, do, and learn within the city and in its immediate surrounding area – so much so, that even after spending 5 days there, I still hadn’t seen everything.
The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States, and a must-see for any visitor to Southern Peru. There isn’t a ton of detailed information in the guidebooks about how to get to the Colca Canyon or actually do the hike. Tours can be booked in Arequipa, which is 160 km southeast of the canyon, but if you’re a) On a budget, b) Don’t want to spend your whole tour waking up super early for a bus, or c) Want to do the hike without a guide, I have some tips for you!
Nestled in southern Peru amongst canyons and volcanoes, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and a must-see destination if you’re visiting Peru. It’s best to dedicate one to two days to this often-called “White City” before you embark deeper into canyon country, such as a trek into the Colca Canyon (many of these treks can be booked directly from Arequipa as well). Here are some of the places that make for great exploring in Arequipa.
Most people visit Peru to see the legendary Machu Picchu, either by train or the Inca Trail hike, and you certainly can’t plan a visit to Peru without seeing it. But there is so much to the country than the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s a lot the guidebooks won’t tell you about a visit to Peru. Sure, Lonely Planet will make mention of top sites to see, best hostels for your money, over-touristy things to avoid, and best places to eat. They may advise about the weather and water conditions, and ideal sundries to pack.
“I guess you could say I’m dreaming of summer.” A travel writing professor spoke to us about the idea of a “pseudo-place”, the place that exists only for the tourist, that would have no place in reality if it weren’t for the visitors; a place that operates solely on expected visitation. He named Las Vegas as an example, or Disneyworld – the place itself is based only on the income of tourism. He postulated that even Banff, Alberta is a place that only breathes because of its guests. Huacachina, Peru could be seen as such a place. A random oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert, probably once served as a place of trade or refuge. Now, it’s a place for the people of Ica to escape for the weekend, and for thrill-seeking tourists to sand board through the dunes and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Still, it was a quiet reprieve from the busyness of my Peruvian adventure, walking around the lake and avoiding the calls of tour operators to join them on their …
““I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The buggy drove us through the Peruvian desert like a roller coaster ride, cascading in and out of the dunes. I tried to video the ride with my camera but my body kept shaking from the impacts of the bumps. We’d be driven to the top of a dune and get out of the buggy to ride face-first belly-down the steep slope. There were grains of sand in every one of my orifices that day, but I couldn’t kick the adrenaline of both the buggy ride and the toboggan-like descent from the top. We were given a moment of quiet pause to observe the sun setting over the dunes and the little oasis of Huacachina, often used as a getaway spot for residents of the neighbouring town of Ica. Though the dunes echo daily with the shrieks of excited adrenaline-seekers, this is a place where it …
They said Day One would be the easy day, the warm-up day for the ascents into high altitude and the climbing of old-world stone steps. It was true, the six hour walk that first day was nothing harder than a simple stroll in the woods, one that would not give an adequate picture of the hard days to come, but what was easiest was the views, views certainly not hard on the eyes. For the first time in my life, as I took in the sights and sounds of the Andean jungle, of the clouds forming a blanket over the green mountains, this thought crossed my mind: “If this was the last thing I ever saw, I would be happy.” Check out my Flickr page for more photos from the Inca Trail.
This was originally part of the The Inca Trail: How to Command and Conquer the Famous Hike post, but for the sake of brevity, I decided to turn it into a separate post. I often get asked what I packed when I did the four day Inca Trail. I will premise this by saying I did hire a porter for the trek, and checked the majority of my belongings not necessary for the trek at my hostel in Cusco. So, in terms of what you should have on your person, and what you should bring in your duffel bag that the porter carries for you, the following is my essential packing list for surviving and conquering the Inca Trail.
The truth is, I’ve never been much of an athletic outdoorsman. At the ripe old age of 22, the longest hike I’d ever been on lasted 4 hours, and I had gone camping precisely twice. I’m not sure what part of my mind thought that joining a couple of my friends on the Peruvian portion of their South American adventure, specifically with the goal of doing the famous 4 day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, would be a good idea (Spoiler alert: it was).