Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Amazon, Lima - the classical Peru itinerary that Erika Linares has become weary of. So when our South America Expert decided to check out Peru for herself, she was determined to dig deeper and explore more places and experiences.
Erika’s first exposure to anything Peruvian was of the culinary variety. After her first bite of Papa a la Huancaina (potato salad in a creamy sauce) she was driven to further discover the offerings of a traditional Peruvian menu. Impelled to go straight to the source and willing to try anything, Erika’s plan to experience the real Peruvian food scene was deliciously simple.
Machu Picchu has always been on Erika’s must-see list. Like any serious traveler, she was determined to get on the Inca Trail but accepted that the full, 4 day hike would be beyond her capabilities. Starting in Ollantaytambo, a day’s walk ending at the epic Sun Gate would fulfill her desire to reach the extraordinary citadel.
Erika looked forward to traveling with her son Yair, a curious and adventurous 16 year old who appreciated her plan to uncover the authentic Peru. Weaving an ideal amount of culture and adventure into the tour, she was confident that Yair could broaden his experience by learning and still having fun. “Traveling with teenagers can be challenging. I think by seeing and doing things that will stimulate his interest and also enjoying some downtime will make it easier.” Keeping all this in mind, Erika customized the perfect itinerary that was testament to her ambitious plan to see and do it all – well, almost all.
From the looming Andean range to steamy Amazonian lowlands, mouthwatering cuisine to fascinating culture, Erika returned having satisfied her appetite for Peru. But she’s determined to go back for another serving of the landscapes, delicacies and smiling faces that continue to occupy her thoughts and dreams. It’s no surprise that Erika is currently planning her next Peru tour. This time she wants to head north to destinations like Chiclayo and Trujillo to experience the regions' unique history, gastronomy and landscape.
From her adventure, Erika shares us with us her 9-course feast of Peru:
COURSE 1: AERIAL TOUR OVER THE NAZCA LINES
First on the itinerary, the Nazca Lines offered a fantastic start to our Peruvian feast. The 45min flight from the newly opened Pisco Airport to Nazca is a convenient and easy way of accessing the Nazca lines. A series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru, the lines resemble motifs varying from lizards and spiders, to monkeys and more. The hummingbird was the most outstanding for me; the lines that form the shape of the bird are so clear that it almost looked like it would take flight! Many theories try to explain the remarkable drawings but beyond the reasoning, the substantial effort put into its creation makes the Nazca Lines a fascinating mystery well worth seeing.
COURSE 2: DUNE BUGGY RIDE IN PARACAS
The diverse beauty of Paracas National Reserve consists of miles of coastal areas and desert. Yair was ecstatic by the option of a dune buggy tour to experience the amazing dunes. With a professional driver at the wheel, we barreled through the desert while enjoying magnificent views. The white-knuckle ride was exhilarating and a novel way to enjoy the limiteless surroundings. I recommend bringing sun block, a windbreaker and plenty of water on this tour.
COURSE 3: BOAT RIDE TO BALLESTAS ISLANDS
Known as Little Galapagos, the Ballestas Islands offers a glimpse in to a prolific marine life. Humboldt penguins, sea lions, seals, condors and red-footed boobies were the notable wildlife we saw on our boat tour of the islands. Leaving from the resort town of Paracas, the tour typically lasts two hours and is a wonderful opportunity to be amazed by the richness and variety of this protected ecosystem.
COURSE 4: THE WHITE CITY OF AREQUIPA
Arequipa is nicknamed the “White City” because many of the buildings are built of sillar (white stone), quarried from the volcanoes surrounding the city. A prevalent fusion of indigenous and Spanish colonial cultures gives Arequipa a distinctive style that I’ve never seen in my Latin American travels. At 2,380 m above sea level, it’s also an invaluable stop for acclimatization to high altitudes. I couldn’t resist the allure of Arequipa’s hidden passageways, charming houses and churches; all nestled within a looming range of volcanic mountains. The highlight for me was our visit to Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It is a city within a city consisting of decorative rooms, plazas, markets and streets named after Spanish cities.
COURSE 5: CRUZ DEL CÓNDOR IN COLCA CANYON
I experienced the most precarious driving en route to Flight of the Condors. Hugging narrow roads cut out of steep mountains with very little room to maneuver, I tried my best to not look directly down beyond the road’s edge. However, the 2 hour morning drive also offered the most picturesque scenery of Colca Canyon. The condor lookout commands a magnificent view of the canyon and offers one of the best spots to see the Andean condor. With a wingspan of up to 3m, I was not prepared for how enormous this vulture is. Gliding effortlessly through the canyon, far above the river below, the condors hardly flap their wings. A few were perched on a ledge very close to us and would take off and return frequently providing us ample opportunities to take pictures and videos.
COURSE 6: FINDING TAQUILLE ISLAND ON LAKE TITICACA
On the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca lays the hilly island of Taquile. The fast held customs and traditional lifestyles practiced here make a visit to the island an authentic and unique experience. The locally manufactured textiles are exquisitely hand-woven and brightly colored. Many visitors cannot resist purchasing them as gifts to take home or even for themselves. I recommend the option to do a homestay in Taquile as it is a marvelous way to spend time in such a special place of friendly faces and a distinctive culture.
COURSE 7: CUSCO AND SACRED VALLEY
Sitting in the historic Plaza de Armas in Cusco, I sipped pisco sour and admired a group of colourfully dressed locals with their llamas standing close by. I wondered if they would have looked any different long ago, when Cusco was once the foremost city of the Inca Empire. Though the city has rapidly developed, it is hard to ignore the signs that boast its historical significance. Large Inca-built walls form the foundations of many modern buildings and Quechua speaking descendants of the Incas can be seen wandering through the cobblestone streets. I could have easily spent more time in Cusco seeking out ancient treasures in colonial churches, buying souvenirs and drinking pisco sours!
While in the Sacred Valley, be sure to visit Chinchero Market. Take your time to stroll around this traditional market, bustling with locals buying and selling local produce and handicrafts.
COURSE 8: INCA TRAIL TO MACHUPICCU
The 1-day hike to Machu Picchu was an ideal option for us. We had a taste of the famous Inca Trail and its climactic ending at the famed ruins without having to endure the strenuous 4-day hike. Starting in Ollantaytambo at 6 a.m., we took the train to km 104 where we jumped off and started our hike. Eric, our private-guide, was a genuine asset to the whole experience. Attentive and knowledgeable, he took care of all our needs; setting the required slow and steady pace and providing a wealth of information on the trail and the history of Machu Picchu. The hike took us roughly 7 hours and was quite physically challenging for me. But I definitely reaped the reward of my efforts when I walked through the Sun Gate and beheld Machu Picchu for the first time. A wave of emotions swelled inside me in that moment. I was elated to finish the arduous walk, fulfilled to realize a lifelong dream and grateful to have Yair by my side through it all. I do believe that such monumental moments are heightened when experienced with the ones you love.
COURSE 9: AMAZON
Accessible, unspoiled, steamy and relaxing – Puerto Maldonado was a fitting introduction to the Amazon. Peeling off the layers and breathing easily we welcomed the warm weather and being at sea level! Inkaterra’s Reserva Amazonica Lodge is situated in a private reserve surrounded by a vast jungle canopy. The private cabana we stayed in was a lovely blend of nature and luxury, all in a serene setting. Inkaterra also offers a huge array of activities to choose from. We stayed active during the day with rainforest walks and canopy tours while learning about the vegetation and wildlife around us. And at night, I would fall asleep to the sounds of the rainforest and be reminded of Peru’s astounding diversity.
INSIDER TIP: I thought the papa a la huancaina set the standard pretty high for my exploration of Peruvian cuisine. But after two weeks of eating my way through different regions, I found that the traditional delicacies just got better and better! Whether you’re a foodie or simply eat for sustenance, make sure to try the ceviche. It was standard fare for us (we ate it every day!) and for good reasons; you can find it everywhere, it’s always fresh and the simple dish of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon never failed to satisfy our appetites. Did I mention that it’s delicious?
FAVOURITE MOMENT: The tears wouldn’t stop flowing as I stood at the Sun Gate and saw Machu Picchu for the first time. To finish a challenging hike which accumulated in finally seeing the lost Incan city was a triumphal moment for me. To top it off, my son was with me every step of the way and to share such an incredible moment with him was a true highlight of this trip.
FAVOURITE DISCOVERY: Casitas del Colca is a luxury property that sits like a gem in the heart of the Colca Canyon. There are 20 individual casitas, each one offering complete privacy. The service was impeccable and as detailed as the beautiful furnishings and decorations. I especially enjoyed the heated floors, Roman bathtub, outdoor shower and Jacuzzi. On the first night, we sat outside in the Jacuzzi and star gazed. I’ve never seen so many stars or a clearer night.
Click here to check out the rest of Erika's pictures from her Peru adventure.
Click here to watch a video compilation of Erika's various and unique experiences mentioned in this blog.
(Lima, Sacred Valley, Aguas Calientes, Cusco)
As you look down onto Machu Picchu, the sun turning its ancient stones a luminous gold, you’ll find it hard to believe such a place exists.
(Lima, Sacred Valley, Aguas Calientes, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado)
They don’t call them “Wonders of the World” for nothing.
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