Beyond Machu Picchu
Peru is right in the heart of the Andean mountains and this setting means nooks and crannies and small villages in out of the way places with hidden treasures. The Incans took advantage of this as did the Spanish. So, as a modern day tourist, here are some of the lesser-known gems you must see when you go there.
It is pronounced Sexy Woman… although the Spanish may have something to say about the phonetics! Historians suggest that Sacsayhuaman may be a fortress built to represent the head of a puma. Imagine that a single piece of paper cannot be wedged between rocks up to 10 tonnes in weight being carved and towed up a ramp in 900 AD to form walls up to 400 meters in length. This pre-Incan structure is located just outside of Cuzco and is an easy day trip from there.
Imagine a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! Incan terraces can still be seen on the slopes of the valley as you descend into one of earth’s holes while these amazing condors soar and circle overhead. The Colca Canyon can be reached by road from Arequipa. You can choose to stay overnight down at the bottom with some of the local people in their village.
Manu National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and - thanks to its inaccessibility – a fantastic Biosphere Reserve. This area of the headwaters of the Amazon is home to over 15,000 plants and over 1000 species of birds. Great for twitchers! There are even a few small communities of the Matsigenga Indians living in the Manu River area.
Is running rapids something that gets your adrenalin going? Rafting some of the Amazonian headwaters through the Andean Mountains has become quite a popular option for visitors. Cascades and reefs contribute to a series of difficult passes peppered by fallen trees and enormous rocks. Do you feel up to the challenge?
Another journey that is highly recommended when visiting Peru is to spend a night on Lake Titicaca. It is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. Strangely, this lake also has the shape of a puma! There are about 42 artificial and floating islands in the lake and they are occupied by the Uros and Amantani peoples. Originally the idea of islands that moved was perfect for defensive purposes. Nowadays, Taquile, Isla del Sol, Amantani and Isla del al Luna islands attract visitors who wish to overnight in a family’s home. There are no vehicles and lighting is provided by flashlights and candles! There are some interesting Incan buildings to visit – even old protective watchtowers.
To get to Lake Titicaca, you can take the fast way – and fly from Cuzco or Lima. Or you can unearth your adventurous spirit (and a lunch box) and take the train! It is anywhere from a 10 hour to 14 hour train journey depending on the weather. It runs almost dily especially in the high season from June until September. The journey from Juliaca to Cuzco is 388 kms. And right across some of the most stunning peaks in the Andes. This section of the rail service was started in 1982 and not completed for 36 years. The highest pass is at La Raya at 14,150 feet above sea level.
So you could say that in Peru you can travel from a low point – sea level at the Gold Museum in Lima – to a high point at La Raya on the train! A good conversation starter when you return from this fascinating country.