From the spectacular Inca ruins of Machu Picchu and the shimmering waters of Lake Titicaca to the lush rainforest of the Amazon basin, the huge diversity of Peru’s attractions will never cease to enchant and enthuse the visitor.
Reluctant to depart the wonderful Peruvian cuisine and magnificent colonial architecture of Lima with its Spanish plazas, churches, cloisters and monasteries, I was soon buzzing excitedly south aboard a light aircraft. As we traversed the glorious isolation of the Nazca Desert, suddenly the Nazca Lines were below us, a series of ancient geoglyphs carved into the plateau. The remaining short flight to Arequipa was a dream going back in time, theorising the Nazca Lines as extra-terrestrial runways or as an early settler’s water-sourcing religious symbol. I snapped out of my day dream as a stupendous scene emerged from the plane’s window with snow-capped volcano El Misti appearing within a backdrop of Pichu-Pichu and Chachani mountains with Arequipa nestled below.
Arequipa is a shining ‘White City’, of exquisite Spanish-inspired architectural treasures created from the chalk coloured volcanic stone of the area. One could spend many sunny days ambling the plazas, gardens, churches and the enchanting Santa Catalina Convent, but once again I had to drag myself away from Arequipa’s beauty and fascinating history. Adventure beckoned as the bus climbed past cattle, llamas and traditionally dressed Andean women travelling beside the road into the spectacularly dramatic volcanic panorama of Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and its steep jutting walls are home to the mighty Andean condor. My heart pounded in my rib-cage as I perched on the rugged cliff edge, watching condors nesting, scavenging and gliding on the thermals below. The Rio Colca snakes its way through the heart of the gorge, with sunshine glancing off the terraced slopes and within the majesty of being in the upper world of the gods, I was lost once again – soaring with the condors in a wingsuit and imagining the thrill of human flight!Add pic of Colca Canyon.
After the road journey through continuously magical landscapes, we arrived at Lake Titicaca. A calmness descended upon me and I felt I’d reached the top of the world with the lake’s majestic deep blue waters reflecting the vast sky back on itself. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and pretty soon a motor boat zipped me across its glassy surface to the man-made floating Uros Islands where the Quechua speaking inhabitants still live as they did centuries ago when they retreated here from the Incas. The islands are made from layers of totora reeds that grow in the shallows of Titicaca. I revelled in my glimpse of this very unusual way of life marvelling at the ingenuity of this community as they continuously weave the totora into roofs, walls, mats and fishing rafts. Taquile Island is non-floating but an equally fascinating place in the middle of the lake with a wide variety of pre-Incan and Incan ruins, whilst the private Suasi Island is perfect for those wishing to explore the quieter, less travelled side of the lake.
Once again reluctant to leave but thrilled to arrive in mythical Cusco, ‘Navel of the world,’ the important Inca religious and military stronghold. Cusco is absolutely stunning with an extraordinary mixture of pre-Columbian ruins, elaborate Incan stonework and citadels with beautiful colonial Spanish architecture. To make the treat complete I had arrived in time for one of the many hundreds of festivals held in Cusco to pay homage to various patron saints or important attributes of Mother Earth. Peruvians are joyous people, sociable and welcoming and never more so than during a fiesta! This festival is a re-enactment of Inca traditions to thank the Sun God for healthy crops. The spectacle involves much rejoicing, pan-pipes blasting, elaborately costumed street dancers whirling to live music, high priests praying while processing along flower festooned streets with the first born Son of the Sun carried on a golden throne. Cusco is a rare treat in itself but combined with the festival, a most enlightening experience!
The highlight of my journey was experiencing the famous Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu in its awe-inspiring and very inaccessible location high in the Andes. The adventure commenced aboard the enchanting Machu Picchu train and culminated in a fascinating journey of helter skelter as the train traversed the steep mountain slopes, with the climax being a series of switch backs where the train crawled back and forth on its journey up the mountain. From here the route continues along original stone Inca Highways traversing a mountain range, crossing rivers and valleys through dry scrub, lush cloud forest and high-altitude grassland. After hours of uphill labour I was rewarded with a most spectacular site of exquisite ruins and curved agricultural terraces clinging to the steep ridge high above the valley below – I had arrived at Winay Wayna. Blown away amidst these distinctive ruins my imagination soared with the magnitude of my surroundings and an otherworldly spiritual surge pulsed through every nerve in my body. I sat still for a very long time taking it all in.
My first glimpses of Machu Picchu were no less epic. I made the dramatic entrance to the lost city at dawn through lush jungle flora to the elevated Sun Gate. The jagged peaks and terracing, shrouded in mist, added to the magic. Tantalising hints of the ruins emerged as the sun rapidly rose until the ruins glowed like an emerald jewel to salute a new day. My day at Machu Picchu was spent in stratospheric levels of awe as I explored the site with its polished dry-stone walls which were once palaces of the finest Inca stonework, and inlaid steps, baths, water channels, temples, fountains, tombs and sacred squares. This high altitude site was the antithesis of anything I have ever seen before and the hours melted away while marvelling at its beauty, mystery and purpose. It was a bonus to climb the lushly forested Huayna Picchu for a view back across the famous saddle – straddled with ruins spilling down the terraced slopes, framed with dramatic views of the Urubamba Canyon and its roaring river far below.
World Odyssey specialises in tailor made journey worldwide, but for something a little bit different World Odyssey has teamed up with Shaman Jon Rasmussen to offer a unique, life-changing journey of empowerment to Peru. This June 2014, The Shaman Odyssey embarks on a journey of self-discovery following in the footsteps of Bruce Parry, partaking in ancient brews and making intense new connections with nature. If you feel a need for a ‘what-am-I-doing-with-my-life sabbatical’, or decide its time to ‘meet your soul’ then a spiritual journey to Peru with Shaman Jon as your guide might be the answer – for more information on anything to do with Peru, South America or anywhere on the planet, please