After our six weeks in the jungle, a quick border hop for a new visa and a revisit to the lovely Arequipa, we arrived in Cusco, one of the most visited cities in Peru.
When you arrive in Cusco it will quickly become apparent that everyone is trying to get you to go to Machu Picchu. Why else would you be in Cusco after all? Whilst Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were definitely a highlight of our trip, you might be wondering how you can occupy the rest of your time in the city. If like us you plan on spending more than a few days in the Cusco, the city has plenty of charms to offer.
Hike between the Inca Sights in the Cusco Hills
Next to the Inca Trail this in our opinion is the next best thing to do in Cusco. If you like hiking and want an easy trail to break you into the altitude then this is definitely a good way to spend a morning. So here are a few directions to help you out.
We started by taking a taxi to Tambomachay, the furthest Inca ruin. Admittedly it is probably the least impressive sight of the day but still worth a look.
Across the road is Pukapukara. You really can’t miss this Inca ruin if you stand with your back to the Tambomachay car park. Cue a few more touristy poses…
Now with your back to thePukapukararuins, turn left and walk along the road. You will pass a row of eucalyptus trees and just beyond these is the start of the trail back to Cusco. Looks a bit like this…
The turning for the trail is just before this lake…
With the lake on your right hand side, follow the trail and after 15 minutes or so you will reach a field in a little valley. Follow the field to the furthest corner (it slopes downwards slightly) and on the right hand side you will see a little trail alongside a small forest. Within a few minutes of walking along the hillside you’ll see these ruins…
Either view from above or descend to take a closer look like we did.
Then simply follow the valley down to the Moon Temple.
And from here it’s a fairly straightforward walk to Q’enqo. If in any doubt ask a few locals to point you in the right direction. The path is sign posted but can be missed if you, like us, decide to follow the mountain bike track instead. Whoops.
Once you’ve explored Q’enqo it’s a further short stroll along the road to the impressive Sacsaywaman. By far the highlight of the day.
All these sights are included in the BoletoTuristico. It’s definitely worth buying this combined ticket if you plan to stay a few days and see all the ruins around Cusco. It should be purchased in advance from the COSITUC office on Avenida Sol 103, in the centre of Cusco just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.
Take a Tour of the Sacred Valley
Some choose to take a few days to explore, perhaps spending a night in Ollantaytambo, but we chose to do a day tour of the Sacred Valley. The ruins were busy, as being on a tour we arrived at the same time as every other tour group, but the sights were impressive nonetheless. Our tour visited Ollantaytambo and Pisac, but be sure to check which sites your tour visits as each tour is slightly different.
And at the end of our tour we were treated to a demonstration of wool dying, spinning and weaving, which despite the expected pressure to buy something this was a nice way to end the day.
Again the BoletoTuristico is a worthwhile purchase for any of the Sacred Valley tours.
Admire the Architecture and Visit Q’orikancha
Maybe we are just easily pleased but with a few sunny days during our visit to Cusco we were quite happy strolling around the city’s streets and admiring the people and the architecture.
We also stumbled across Q’orikancha. Certainly worth a few hours of your time thisseventeenth century church is impressive andguidebook recommended.
With the huge numbers of international tourists that visit Cusco everyday it is not surprising that the city has an equally impressive supply of international cuisine. Glossing over the McDonalds, the Starbucks and the KFH some of our favourites were Jack’s Café, a “gringo” restaurant with fantastic food, and Papachos, a gourmet burger restaurant with 5 or 6 veggie options to keep us happy.
Unfortunately you wont be able to explore the streets of Cusco long without being offered about a million massages. In fact “Massage, Lady?” pretty much followed me around the streets. Having ignored the offers for the best part of a week and after our 4 day Inca Trail, I couldn’t resist trying one. On the recommendation of a fellow backpacker I treated myself to a massage and pedicure at Andina Spa. I second the recommendation, especially after a hike.
But if all this isn’t enough to convince you to visit Cusco then look out for our next blog on the long awaited Inca Trail. Booked six months in advance we were naturally anxious to see if this experience would live up to the hype…
Life wouldn’t be life at Esperanza Verde without its resident monkeys. And not a day goes by when one of them doesn’t get up to some sort of mischief.
Within a few days of arrival we got used to the feeling of being watched. Whilst the monkeys enjoy the freedom of the jungle their favourite past time is watching us.
They stare in fascination as you go about your daily activities and watch in wonder through the wire mesh as you work with the animals in cages.
Every morning we woke up to Nakoya, a baby woolley monkey, hanging above our heads peering through the wire mesh window. She liked to watch us sleep and made little “oh, oh” noises when we’d stir and look up at her…
Watching us prepare the twice-daily food rounds was the best viewing…
But even just watching us read in a hammock was worth hanging around for…
Though when our jobs cause us to venture outside the monkeys will often be found “helping”. As we sweat in the midday sun, digging, raking or swinging an axe, Willow particularly likes to be involved. It’s a tough life being a monkey.
A quick task of cleaning the drinking bowl attracts Willow’s help yet again…
And a simple photography session turns into me gaining a student; Nakoya just couldn’t resist seeing what my fascination was with this strange black box…
If the monkeys aren’t “helping” then it’s fair to say they probably entertaining us all. Mica wearing a discarded t-shirt and walking on her hind legs was unforgettable. Just like when she stole as many of the oatballs she could get her hands on…cue a bit of face stuffing…
One evening at dinner the subject of the monkey drinking bowl came up in conversation. After a few minutes it transpired between us we had refilled the bowl an astonishing 15 times in one day. Fearing there may be a leak we kept an eye out the next day and found the culprit…
Turns out Geordie, one of the capuchin monkeys, had found the sink plug and was proudly showing off his work to Mica.
But even with the sink plug firmly jammed in, Mica was splashing out the water to empty it…I like to think she was giggling at our stupidity every time…
So at times the monkeys ran rings around us, but life just wouldn’t be the same without them…even when they steal your shoes and eat them. They’re charming, annoying, adorable all at once and sometimes you’d be convinced they were plotting their next mischief…
More monkey mischief soon…
In the last few months we had considered many times taking a break from life on the road and volunteering, preferably with animals. Finding ourselves in the South American city of Lima and asking ourselves the question “what shall we do next?” it seemed like the prefect time.
We found Esperanza Verde online, loved the sound of the project and pretty much jumped on the first plane to the jungle. When we arrived we fell in love immediately.
Esperanza Verde is a Wildlife Protection Centre based in the Amazon Basin. It is currently home to an array of rescued native animals and the numbers are ever increasing. It was started 5 years ago by Olivia and Douwe, and with the help of their 2 children and an army of volunteers over the years, they have created something pretty special in their little patch of jungle.
Day-to-day life varies and there is never a dull moment. The jobs range from feeding the animals, helping with the construction of new cages, carrying sandbags to assisting with veterinary work. It was rare that 2 days of the week would ever be the same as there is always a new job that crops up to keep you on your toes. Like bathing some baby squirrel monkeys for example…
But of course a day doesn’t go by at Esperanza Verde without spending a good part of it with all the adorable animals. We hope to introduce you to a few more of the residents over the next few weeks but here’s just a handful that stole our hearts.
Here is the resident sloth, Elmo. Raised from a baby and free to come and go as he pleases, the lure of a few carrot sticks and sliced sweet potato keeps him hanging around in the nearby trees.
This is Nakoya the resident baby female Woolley Monkey. Along with Willow and Kamari the two male Woolleys, she enjoys the freedom of the jungle but is always hanging around ready to enjoy her milk three times a day.
And this is the lovely Rincay, a tapir with rare blue eyes. He used to have the freedom to roam but unfortunately kept roaming as far the local village and eating peoples clothes off the washing line. Fearing for his safety he now shares a large enclosure with Pepito, a tortoise, but still enjoys eating the volunteers t-shirts when they are not paying attention…
The aim is with most of the animals to release them back into their natural environments but for a few this isn’t a reality. Many of the monkeys enjoy the safety of the nearby jungle but never roam far from the feeding table. Whereas some, like the Macaws, whose wings are broken and therefore cant fly, must instead enjoy life in the large aviary. But with ample food they happily shout “Hola” as we go about our daily work.
When we weren’t doing all of the above you’d often find us on the construction site for Olivia and Douwe’s house. (They have spent 5 years camping in the volunteer house, poor things!) In just six weeks it was amazing to see the house begin to take shape, going from mere foundations to a structure with floors, a few walls, a roof and a working sink! Before we arrived an Ikea wardrobe was about as far as my construction skills went…but now sawing wood, sanding and (badly!) hammering in nails is all part of day-to-day life.
Life is basic but in our eyes bliss. You’re kept fit and healthy running around after all the animals, the food is local, fresh and plentiful and there’s often a campfire and a few cocktails in the evening. So if you’re thinking of volunteering but not sold on the animals alone, you’ll be sold on the people and the lifestyle.
We hope to keep you entertained with a few more tales from our time in the jungle soon but in the meantime if you’d like to volunteer or simply make a donation then get in contact with Olivia at email@example.com or via the website at http://www.esperanzaverdeperu.com/
When we last wrote we had just left the Ballestas Islands and were making our way to Peru’s capital city, Lima. Once arrived and before we knew it we were saying goodbye to all our good friends. Sam, our dearest friend from London was heading home. With a new job to return to, our pleas for him to stay and carry on living the dream were outdone. The last two months together had flown by so quickly and we miss him. “Team Blue” a name coined by this picture is no more…
At the same time we said goodbye to the rest of the group of friends we had acquired over the last few months. We were all heading off in different directions but we do hope all our paths will cross again in the future.
So after a few days of fun and a farewells in lovely Miraflores we set out on a completely new adventure, just the two of us…oh and the ducks of course. When we first started planning this trip we had both agreed we would like to volunteer with a project somewhere on our travels and after 5 months of being on the road what better time. Being the disorganised people we are and far too much enjoying planning life a day ahead, we did a few days of research, approached a few organisations and pretty much jumped on the first plane to the jungle.
Just 1 plane, 1 taxi, 1 mini bus, 2 river crossings, and a 5-seater car with half a village in it, we arrived to our new home for the next 6 weeks. And so begins our story of life at Esperanza Verde, working with all their beautiful animals…
I hope over the next few posts you will see just why we fell in love with this organisation and life living in the jungle. At the very least I defy you not to be charmed by the adorable creatures we had the pleasure of caring for. Look out for more soon.
Known to most as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” the Ballestas Islands in Peru are famed for their wildlife. With this reputation we had high hopes for our day trip from the little town of Paracas.
Like us, many opt for the combined tour – in the morning a boat trip to the islands and in the afternoon a trip to the National Reserve.
It’s an early start of 8am when you head out on the boat and with just about as many tourists crammed in as birds flying above, it gets a bit crowded…
In just under 2 hours we where whizzed round the islands, spotting hundreds of different variations of birds, a few penguins, sea lions lazing on the rocks and dolphins. It’s fair to say on the wildlife front the Ballestas had lived up to their reputation. Although it was a fairly grey and miserable day this somehow intensified the colours and didn’t stop the wildlife from making an appearance…
However before we knew it we were back on dry land, having luckily escaped without a drop of bird poop. Apparently this is rare.
During our afternoon in the reserve we admired various viewpoints along the coast and some more of the various birds…
And a man with a motorbike…
But the reserve seemed to lack the wow factor we’d become accustomed too. The fossils sign posted left everything to imagination and the flamingos though pink were mere specs in the distance. Perhaps the grey weather didn’t help.
The Cathedral Arch, once a great attraction, had unfortunately collapsed in an earthquake…
The lunch stop naturally provided some overpriced restaurants in the middle of nowhere, and a free pisco sour the size of a thimble. But it did mean we got hassled by and up close to some of these feathered friends…
Who artfully backed Sam into a corner…
However for under £10 for the day we couldn’t really complain. And although the boat trip was brief, it’s worth it just to get a look at some of the wildlife on show.
After our flight over the Nazca lines we decided to head for a bit of sun and sand in nearby Huacachina. Laying back on the sand, maybe a quick dip in the water and all over 25 miles from the coast. The oasis of Huacachina is now well established on the backpacker route for those interested in sand boarding and dune buggy rides.
The Ica desert, whilst not enormous benefits from gigantic sand dunes that have attracted tourists seeking the thrill of sand boarding. Having done some in San Pedro, Sam and I couldn’t wait to give it another go. Lauren was more excited about lying back in the sun with the local turtles.
Whilst all the hostels and travel agents in town offer sand boarding expeditions, we quickly noticed that the equipment was a bit rubbish. Most of the “sand-boards” on offer were in fact home made and you were meant to lie down on them like a sledge.
Sand-board Peru is one of the only places to offer proper boards (well maintained) and the focus of the trip is the sand boarding. Most other agencies put their emphasis on the sand buggy rides. The buggy rides are good fun, but be prepared to be thrown about in the custom made vehicles. It’s not uncommon to turn up for a tour and find the police doing spot safety checks on some of the buggies.
After a quick re-introduction, we set off to the big dunes. The size of these monsters made the ones in San Pedro look like a children’s play park. We spent 3 hours moving between increasingly large dunes in the sand buggy as the sun set. Sam and I were soon reacquainted with getting faces full of sand, but at least we had a set of wheels to get us back to the top again. We finally finished with a bit of starlight boarding back into town.
Even if you aren’t interested in sand based activities then Huacachina is still a nice place to stop for a couple of nights. All around the edge of the oasis there are plenty of bars and restaurants. The accommodation options aren’t great, but most places are fine for the short amount of time you’ll be there.
It’s also a good place to go and visit a couple of Peruvian vineyards. Whilst no where near the scale of Concha y Toro in Chile these vineyards have plenty of history and are also all producers of pisco.
After our wine tasting we headed for a pisco tasting, with everything from pisco cream to double strength pisco. In our group we had several Peruvians, two Aussies, three Brits and a Korean and as a result we all exchanged our words for “cheers” in various languages. However when we tried to teach the group the meaning of “bottoms up”, were pretty sure our Spanish translated as “arses in the air”…whoops. Ten glasses of pisco later we left (on unsteady legs) with several samples in hand.
After much deliberation on whether to fork out nearly US$100 for a 30 minute flight over the Nazca lines we conceded. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, these ancient geoglyphs can only really be appreciated fully from the air.
Small fears of my occasional travel sickness surfacing, we prepared to board the 6-seater plane…
With two-pilots up front, one acting as a guide, and two fellow friends, we settled in for the ride.
The Nazca lines themselves are a little hard to see at first but once spotted, these “drawings” are intriguing to say the least.
In all honesty though, we were more impressed by the flight. If you’ve never been in a light aircraft before this is a perfect opportunity to try it. The plane twists and turns with ease to make sure you get the best views and it is an entirely different sensation to that of a passenger jet.
However if a flight isn’t for you then the Nazca lines can be seen from a viewing platform just outside town.
We opted to stay in Nazca for a few nights. There are a few decent restaurants to keep you occupied but not an awful lot else. If you’re short on time, like our friend Claire, you can get an over night bus from Arequipa, do the flight early in the morning and head on in the afternoon to our next destination Ica.
As the mini bus from our Colca Canyon tour approached the outskirts of the city of Arequipa I quickly realised I had grossly underestimated the size of the place. Not having read the guidebook yet, and having become accustomed to the smaller more basic towns in Bolivia I was pleasantly surprised that before I knew it I was driving past a Starbucks.
Arequipa is in fact one of Peru’s largest cities and is the second most industrialised and commercial in the country. The centre of town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and whilst there is plenty to do in the city, like us, it is easy the while away the days enjoying the pleasures of modern city life again. We ate good food, drank coffee and socialised with the friends travelling with us.
If you’re in Arequipa, even only briefly, there are two sites we highly recommend seeing.
Firstly we visited the “Ice Princess” or “Juanita” at the Museo Santuarios Andinos. Juanita, like the Children of Llullaillaco, which we visited in Salta, she as an excellent example of an Inca Mummy, a child sacrificed to the gods, buried and frozen on Mount Ampato. No photos but the tours of the museum are well conducted and the artifacts are fascinating.
Secondly a visit to the Santa Catalina Monastery is a must. Built in 1579 it is over 20,000 square meters and still has approximately 20 nuns in residence today. We got up early and arrived for opening. The sign on the door said it opened at 9am, despite the guidebook saying 8.30am, but they let us in at 8.30am anyway!
I urge you to drag yourself out of bed and do the same, as by about 10am the tour groups started to arrive disrupting the tranquillity of the place. Our pictures were people free and the morning sun made the colours and the architecture truly beautiful.
We wandered around undisrupted for a good few hours.
Occasionally one of our group would get in shot…
But most of the time we had the place to ourselves…
Well except for a few creepy nun mannequins and some guinea pigs in the larder…
We were a bit snap happy so here’s a few more shots to inspire you to visit…
After our days at Lake Titicaca we headed to the Colca Canyon, one of Peru’s most visited attractions. With a depth of over 3500m, Colca Canyon is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Yet another high altitude and sheer cliff experience for Lauren!
The bus from Puno direct to Chivay at the end of the canyon is another great scenic drive where there’s a chance to see flamingos, alpacas, volcanoes and high altitude vistas. We must have finally reached our limit, whilst all the other tourists were snapping away on their cameras Lauren and I watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad. Lauren commented that snapping photos of llamas must be as funny to the locals as tourists taking pictures of sheep in Britain is to us.
At the highest point on the journey there’s a chance to get out at an old Inca way station. The Incas used to leave small stone cairns to the gods here to ask for a safe journey. There are hundreds of them spread all over the top of the pass with towering volcanoes (worshiped as gods) in the background.
Sadly they were all knocked over when the road was built and all the ones in the photo have been subsequently built by passing gringos. Go us!
Colca Canyon has two main attractions, hiking and condors. This is one of the few places where you’re all but guaranteed views of Andean condors – you might see one or you might see a hundred. Whilst the hiking opportunities are meant to be great we weren’t all that interested so decided on just the condor trip.
We imagined we were pretty lucky as within 10 minutes of us turning up there were over twenty condors flying directly over our heads on the thermals.
The adults are black and white whilst the juveniles are a brown colour.
With a wingspan of around 10 feet (Almost Iain and a half) it is one of the largest birds in the world. The Incas believed them to be sacred as they were capable of flying above the tallest mountains, which they considered to be gods, so the birds feature heavily in native arts and crafts. A final fact is that they are reported to live for over 70 years.
There was also a hummingbird darting around. I was desperate to try and get a photo with one of the worlds smallest birds and biggest birds in, but alas wildlife just won’t pose properly.
The Colca valley was one of the most important fertile valleys for the Inca empire, but habitation in the valley predates the Incas by thousands of years. Every patch of soil in the valley has been terraced and given over to farming for hundreds if not thousands of years. The word “colca” refers to a type of cylindrical building built into the cliff sides to keep grains and potatoes cold. There used to be hundreds all over the canyon, so Colca Canyon is literally the canyon of colcas.
The town of Chivay is particularly small and most people just use it as a stop off before heading on a canyon tour. If you’re stopping by, make sure you head to the thermal baths. Ask the locals or a taxi driver, as you want to go to their one, not the tourist baths. Even at the local baths there are dedicated tourist pools. We managed to spend a good six hours lazing around, they’ll even serve you alcohol in the pools so you don’t have to get up for your pisco!
If you do a condor tour then you’ll probably get taken to one of the tourist baths for a quick thirty minute dip. It isn’t really long enough to enjoy such a nice experience, so we just went and sat by the river in the sun instead.