Trujillo

Trujillo is our last stop in Peru before crossing the border to Ecuador. Trujillo is famous for two large archeological sites from ancient civilisations.

The first one is called Huace de Moche, which was the capital of the Moche people. An ancient culture that lived from 100-700 A.D on the Peruvian coast. They built Huace de la Luna, a large impressive temple that they kept building bigger in order to please the gods. But after 30 years of drought and famine, despite intense sacrifices and praying, they got fed up and everyone just left.

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A large group of this city’s inhabitants later on formed the Chimú culture which had Chan Chan as their capital. They lived from 850-1470 AD and built huge temples for their kings. The special thing was that they constructed a completely new temple site for every new king, so the area is filled with different sites. We visited one of the temples and after an hour of faking to understand anything of our private tour we went back to the hotel.

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As a farewell present to Peru we accidentally flooded our entire hotel room to the point that there was about 2cm of standing water everywhere. We informed the staff, quickly  got out and made our way to Ecuador.

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Huaraz

My oath to never hike again in my life after Machu Picchu was shortlived. To reach Laguna 69 close to the city of Huaraz, you need to do a 3 hour hike and walk the same route all the way back. Luckily the beautiful landscape eases the pain.

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When we arrived after the exhausting hike at Laguna 69 I was pretty disappointed. With such an alluring name, my imagination about the Laguna 69 area had run wild, but apparently there are 400 lakes in the area and they all received a number based name and this one just happens to be named 69.

After my initial dissapointment wore off I was amazed by the clear blue water. We sat and enjoyed the surroundings for a while before heading back. It was an intense walk, but more then worth it.

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Lima

Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru (with over 7 million inhabitants). It was going to be the most dangerous city on our journey, but in hindsight we did not really notice it. We spent most of our time walking around in the beautiful colonial city center.

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We visited an old monastery, named convento de San Francisco, which had a Harry Potter-esque library and catacombs with thousands of skeletons. We ended the first day in a famous park full of fountains. It had a fountain show in the evening with a high Disneyland feeling: filled with loud music, lasers, projections and annoying tourists.

The second day we started in an area which was famous for it’s street art and graffiti. It was full of amateur photographers photograping even more amateur models. Afterwards we walked along the coastline, on the Miraflores boardwalk, back to the city center (not knowing it was going to be 10 kilometers).

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We were lucky to avoid the tourist bus that crashed and killed 9 tourist, so we were able to go to our next stop: Huaraz!

 

 

Paracas

We visited Paracas because it is known as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’. Which was right up our alley, because actually going to the Galapagos islands for a week easily costs 3000 EUR per person.

So we preferred to visit Paracas, a coastal town in Peru which is known for the Islas Ballestas, a group of islands full of wildlife located just in front of the coast. Small boats take you on a tour around the islands and show you all the special wildlife.

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The islands are, just like the Galapagos islands, full of exotic looking animals that are specific to that area. They are mostly full of different types of birds, but you can also see sea lions, penguins, starfish and other animals. The animals are beautiful to see, but the best part for me was when the huge amount of birds that are flying everywhere started shitting on everyone in the boat. Luckily we read about it on the internet and were prepared and wearing our poncho.

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Besides the island we also visited a nature park which had nice views on the coastline, but really the Islas Ballestas is the real reason to visit Paracas

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Huacachina

Huacachina is a small village with only about 200 inhabitants in the middle of the Peruvian desert. The cool thing about it, is that it’s located around an oasis. It feels like walking in a movie-set, surrounded by enormous dunes that are looming around the village.

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The most popular thing to do is take a tour in a sand buggy. You hop in one of the dozens that are driving around and seem to come right out of a Mad Max movie. They drive you around the desert at a high speed, up and down the dunes, like you are on a rollercoaster.

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They make a few stops at the top of a dune, take out some surfboards, let you slide down the hill and pick you back up at the bottom. Really fun to do.

After a romantic sunset, we shook the sand out of our shoes and were ready to go to Paracas.

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Nazca

After our time in the Sacred Valley we left the mountains and went to the coast of Peru. We visited Nazca, which is famous for the Nazca Lines. These are large lines in the desert (up to 370m) that form so called geoglyphs made by the Nazca people from 500 BC to 500 AD. The lines are drawn in the sand and make up figures. There is a lot of discussion on what the purpose of the lines was, but either way they are nice to see.

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The best way to view these figures is by a small airplane. We booked one of the hundred flights leaving everyday that fly over some of them. We were warned that a lot of people get sick on the flights because of all the sharp turns. They were not kidding. Although taking some anti-motion sickness pills in advance, it did not take long for the nausea to kick in. Trying to take pictures  in the meantime did not help the situation.

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 But we managed not to puke, in contrast to one of the other passengers, and to see some of the figures. The co-pilot was constantly showing us the lines, but with a few of them I had no clue what he was pointing at. After a half hour flight we were glad to be back on the ground.

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Lares trek to Machu Picchu

From Cusco we set out on a four day hike through the Sacred Valley; a trek that is both intense and in tents. We were accompanied by seven mules that carried all the equipment, the food and our stuff. The rest of the expedition team consisted of two guides, two cooks, two helpers and three cowboys for the mules and the ’emergency horse’  (a horse used to transfer injured or ill people, which also has had basic CPR and first aid training I believe) and of course seven other tourists.

 

The first day started with a bus ride to Pisac, where we visited the ruins of an Inca citadel. After another small bus ride we got out to load the mules and the walking started. We walked about twelve kilometers through the valley and ended in Cancha Cancha, an isolated community in the Andes mountains. This village is very traditional and is self sustaining without any electricity. We could visit a hut of the locals where the guinea pigs run around freely indoors. We set up camp between the llamas and slept in tents under the beautiful starlit sky. The guide explained us some constellations, but I don’t remember the ‘Llama-constellation’ from my astronomy classes in the Maritime Academy.

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The second day consisted of more walking through the valley (fourteen kilometers this time), climbing all the way up to about 4700m meters height for a beautiful view of a gletsjer and the valley, followed by a descent back down to another village where we spent the second night.

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The third day we could choose another hike or take a shortcut and spent more time in the volcanic hot springs that was programmed later on. Of course we chose the short cut and spent a few hours relaxing, followed by a bus ride to Ollantaytambo, another Inca city but which is still inhabited. The Incan history can be seen and felt throughout the city and it has some original ruins just outside the centre. After dinner we took the train to Aguas Calientes, where all the tourists stay the night to visit Machu Picchu in the morning.

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We left the hotel at 4:30 in the morning to go to the bus stop that would take us to Machu Picchu. There was already a long line of a hundred people or so waiting and thirty minutes later the line stretched as far as the eye could see (even though the first bus only leaves at 5:30). It’s really crazy: about 5000 people visit the site every day and they all want to be first to take pictures. Machu Picchu itself was an amazing sight: a city high up in a beautiful location surrounded by the mountains. Because it was never found by the Spaniards and just abandoned, it’s still quite intact. We got a whole tour around the ruins and then walked a long road to the ‘Sun Gate’ to get a nice distant view from the whole site.

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We walked down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (where I saw the coolest statue ever) and later on took the train and bus back to our hostel where we fell asleep exhausted.

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Cusco

Cusco in the Sacred Valley was the capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th century until the Spaniards came to visit. They saw all the riches the city had to offer and went on to destroy and loot everything in the city. This is the story that will be coming back pretty much everywhere in Peru.

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They Spaniards stayed in Cusco so there is a lot of history in this city, which can be seen in the buildings that are a mix of Incan foundations with colonist buildings on top. It’s also the base to go out on a trekking trip to Machu Picchu.

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As an added bonus there was a large festival taking place when we were there (Inti Raymi). This is a festival for the sun held on the shortest day of the year. It spreads over a week and is filled with parades, the occasional firework, more parades and drinking in the evening.

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Highlight of the festival is in one of the Inca ruins just outside of the city, where a historical reconstruction is made of the Inti Raymi ceremonies that were held five centuries ago. In those days dances and parades were performed and animals were sacrificed to thank Pachamama and to ensure a good cropping season. Nowadays the ceremony consists of thousands of people standing in front of each other makings sure to block each other’s view of the ceremony, preferably with the use of umbrellas and selfie-sticks into the mix. Just like Incan times.

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After a few days we were ready to leave for the real highlight of Peru, Machu Picchu.

Arequipa

Our first real stop in Peru is Arequipa, the third largest city in Peru. It literally means ‘behind mountain’ in Quechua language, by which the nearby volcano Misti is meant.

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It’s a modern and western city, but the historic centre is UNESCO heritage, meaning that the buildings have to maintain their design. They are made out large stone bricks, with thick walls and vaulted arches,  giving the city a cool colonial look. Most of the buildings were then covered with colorful paints.

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Highlight of this building style is the Convent of Santa Catalina from the 16th century. It stretches an entire city block and at its peak housed around 450 nuns. But most of all it is very beautiful because of the walls that are painted in bright colors and that are begging for photo shoots.

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We also visited an interesting museum that had the famous Juanita, an Inca girl that was sacrificed in the Andes mountains, buried in a grave and discovered five centuries later after an earthquake. Because of the cold climate, the body has remained quite intact. She is kept in a high-tech box that keeps her body well preserved. We came at the right time because one day earlier they had a power blackout which had everyone  freaking out because of the melting mummy.

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Lastly we visited Mundo Alpaca, a Alpaca wool clothing shop which had a whole museum attached full of information about alpacas , llamas and vicuñas, and how clothing is made. The one thing I learned quickly by looking at the prices of the clothes in the shop that alpaca wool is fucking expensive. Luckily the small petting zoo with all the mentioned animals was free and awesome!

Copacabana (Lake Titicaca)

Our last stop in Bolivia is in Copacabana near Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. To reach it our bus had to cross the water on a dodgy looking ‘ferry’, luckily we had to get out and cross the water in a separate boat.

 In Copacabana there’s not much to see besides a basilica and the view of the bay from on top of a mountain. Everyone just mainly comes here to make a day trip to Isla del Sol and cross the border to Peru.

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Isla del Sol is a cozy little island in Lake Titicaca about two hours sailing on the slowest boat ever. There are no roads  or motorized vehicles on the island so it’s nice and quiet. It’s home to some Inca ruins who inhabited the area in the 15th century and has some beautiful views. Just a fun daytrip.

Not much more to say about this place!  Sorry!