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Peru: so much more than just Machu Picchu (September 2013)
What comes to your mind when you think of Peru? Probably Machu Picchu (which is indeed beautiful). But Peru is so much more than that.
You will find very high mountains (Peru has the highest mountain range after the Himallaya), deep canyons, areas of lush green, sand deserts and an ocean with lots of animals.
Throw in diverse, delicious food, great architecture in colonial cities and (relatively) cheap traveling - then you talk about the country called Peru.
Our first stop in Peru was the mighty and beautiful Colca Canyon. We took a bus from Arequipa to the town of Cabanaconde from where we started on a 3 day hike. The hike started a bit unusual for us - back in Tyrol (Austria) we would always start hiking upwards where as in this case the first day we descended 1200m / 3600ft down into the Canyon.
We spent our first night in the beautifully located Llahuar Lodge. This Lodge has it's own 39°C natural-hot-water-pool which was a wonderful relaxation after the hiking. Additional this pool was right next to the river so every time it would get to hot in the pool we would just jump into the river. The night we went into the hot pool again to watch the majestic stars - a truly wonderful experience gazing at the milky way while sitting in the hot water.
The next morning we started early on our 7 hour hike up and down along the Canyon which would take us to Sangalle - also called Oasis (for a very good reason!). A relaxing place down in the valley - lots of colorful flowers under beautiful palm trees and most importantly a pool for refreshing.
The last day we got up at 5 AM - a decision we did not regret for one second as we were able to hike up 80% of the 1000 height meters back to Cabanaconde in the shadow.
1200m above the Colca river
1200m above the Colca river
After the Colca Canyon we went to Arequipa which is also called "la ciuadad blanca" (the white city). This name comes from the fact that most of the buildings in the city centre are made out of white stones. Once again we were fascinated by all the beautiful buildings and the inner courtyards. Looking back Arequipa was definitely the city we liked best in Peru - or maybe even on our entire South America trip...
From Arequipa we took a bus to Cusco where we had a reunion with Maddie and Paul - the lovely english couple (view their Travelblog) we first met on the Salar de Uyuni Tour in Bolivia and who we had already met a second time later on in Bolivia. As you can imagine we had a lot of wonderful stories to share and so much to talk about. Besides all the wonderful conversations we had incredibly delicious food and we even got to see a little bit of the city ;-)
We also made a trip to Tipon together - an ancient Inca site where their intelligent irrigation system is still working. It was very impressive to see how the incas perfected farming through irrigation hundreds of years ago.
After spending two wonderful days with Maddie and Paul it was sadly time to say goodbye - we were both heading in different directions (not knowing we would surprisingly meet them once again)
To get to Machu Picchu most people take the train. As the Peruvian state charges ridiculous 45 to 90 US Dollars for a one-way 90 minutes train-ride to Machu Picchu we decided we would rather walk 28km along the railroad to Aguas Calientes (the gateway to Machu Picchu) at least one way.
So we took 2 collectivos in the morning to get to railroad km 82 - our starting point for the hike. The hike was very beautiful - we walked in a deep valley next to the river, saw some Inca ruins and the first third of the way was even a separate hiking trail away from the railroad.
During our 8 hours hike 18 trains came across us - this railroad is most likely the busiest of all South America...
After our one-day-hike we had a rest day in Aguas Calientes and the next day we took the first bus up to Machu Picchu at 5:30 AM.
No matter how many pictures you have seen of Machu Picchu - seeing it with your own eyes is a completely different experience and was so beautiful!
us at Machu Picchu
us at Machu Picchu
As Machu Picchu is a major tourist attraction it is natural that there are many people. There were some hotspots where it was crowded but as the site is so big we also had areas where we were almost alone. After 7 hours of walking around we had the feeling we had seen most of Machu Picchu. As we had the feeling we might get some nice photo-light at sunset we decided to wait for 3 hours in the grass just enjoying the view and napping :-) A decision we did not regret... at 4PM we almost had Machu Picchu for ourselves :-)
And 10 minutes before the staff chased us away the sun glimpsed through the clouds and gave us a very nice moody atmosphere - the perfect end to a very nice and impressive day...
Machu Picchu at Sunset
Machu Picchu at Sunset
After getting back from Machu Picchu we took a nightbus from Cusco to Nasca. This nightbus was one of the fewer ones where we did not sleep very well - the road had lots of bends and the ride was rather rough.
Nasca is famous for the Nasca-Lines. Approximately 2500 years ago the people carved symbols and figures in the desert ground. These lines are still visible today and we went to an observation tower to see some of the figures.
Our next destination Huacachina turned out to be a surreal place which you would not exactly expect in Peru. It's an Oasis embedded in huge sand dunes and though it is only 5km away from the next city you actually feel very far away from the rest of the world. We did the obvious thing and went for a buggy / sandboarding tour which was soooo much fun! Driving through the dunes with the sandbuggy felt like riding the roller-coaster in the desert - the screams were actually the same as in an amusement park ;-) And then we got to try out Sandboarding. We started going down the dunes with our feet on the board (like on a snowboard) but that was harder than expected. At the bigger dunes we just laid on the board on our stomach and sledded down using our feet for occasional braking - you get pretty fast sliding down the dunes but you also get to eat some sand ;-)
The next day we mostly spent relaxing in the hostel and the pool :-) In the afternoon we rented boards and walked up the biggest sand dune to watch the sunset and slide down afterwards.
view over Huacachina from the big sand dune
The next day we continued to Paracas and for the first time after two months we were at the ocean again. From there we did a boat tour do the "Islas Ballestas" where we saw millions of birds, crabs, sea-lions and even Humboldt Penguins :-)
Our last stop in Peru was Huaraz - an "el dorado" for hiking and climbing. Huaraz lies next to the Cordillera Blanca - the highest mountain range on the american continent.
From Huaraz we started on a day-hike to the Laguna 69 - a surreal intense blue-cyan lake next to 6100m (20000ft) high peaks. When hiking in South America your starting-point of the hike is often higher than the highest peaks in Europe - in this case we hiked from 3900 to 4600m. It was one of the most beautiful hikes we did and very rewarding.
Laguna 69
Laguna 69
The next day we went to the Hatun Machay rock forest. We had rented some climbing shoes and were looking forward to do some Bouldering. This time was one of the very very few times where we had bad luck with the weather - we actually started bouldering while it was hailing... But the rocks were so razor-sharp anyway that even with good weather we could not have climbed for a long time. So afterwards we just enjoyed the very scenic landscape and walked around / through the big rock forest.
And just like that our two and half months in South-America where over and we had to say good-bye to this wonderful continent.

people never seem to have change / coins (that was the same in Bolivia). Even if you take a Taxi for 5 Soles the driver will not have proper change if you give him a 10 Soles note...
traveling in Peru was sometimes a bit more annoying than in the other South-American countries - many times when we got off the bus people would be running towards us and try to sell us a hostel or a taxi. And when walking in the street they would always try to get you into a Restaurant
whereas the Europeans always try to make everything as efficient as possible / cut as many jobs as possible the South-Americans try to create as many (senseless) jobs as possible...
2 persons in Bus (one driver, one person for Tickets), 2 persons in not very often frequented ticket office (at least they have somebody to talk to...)
every time a taxi driver sees a Gringo in the street he will start honking if you want to be picked up / take a taxi
in Peru we switched to an "early-morning-rhythm" - we got up between 5 and 7 AM and went to bed quite early
a note on the train ticket back from Machu Picchu: "the carriage and seat number are subject to change due to an act of God or force majeure"
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