Lago Titicaca

We had mixed feelings after visiting famous floating islands of indigenous Uros people. Undoubtedly, they are unique and peculiar sight, nowhere else to be seen. However, the prevalent commercial atmosphere made the whole experience so touristy that we felt guilty for not buying enough of handicrafts during the visit. The market like tactics employed to encourage us to spend more money included using frail elderly female members of the community who were constantly calling ‘buy from me’. The only available option to escape from the noisy vendors was to pay extra and go on an optional boat ride. Watching Uros women eating the soft edible parts of the reeds only for the tourists’ sake made us really uncomfortable. The entire stay felt like a visit in the funfair park. We felt sorry for the Uros people as tourism is their main source of income and it seems very unlikely that their situation will change in the near future.

Staying overnight on a tranquil Isla Taquile, located on the Peruvian side of Lago Titicaca, with Celso, Juana and Wilfredo has been a memory we’ll cherish forever. We are full of admiration for this family who like the rest of the inhabitants are living with no running water, no heating, no internet, limited electricity generated only by small solar panels and not a single car on the entire island. Despite these so called inconveniences, harsh climate that allows to cultivate only few types of grains, restricted vegetarian diet and limited source of income the people here seem to be one of the happiest we’ve met so far. Surprisingly, almost none of them chooses to move to the mainland Peru to live a different, more affluent lifestyle. We would encourage you to support this community and spend a night on the island. You’ll pay the money directly to the locals and enjoy unforgettable experience.

 

Cruz del Cóndor & Cañón del Colca

Cruz del Cóndor certainly is the place to see the big birds. However, if you want to have undisturbed, tranquil and on the budget experience you need to be prepared to get up very early. We took 3:30am bus from Chivay , which cost less than one tenth of a touristic bus, and arrived at our bitterly cold and windy destination before 6am. Luckily, we took winter clothes and flasks with hot tea. Although the organised tour had the advantage of a departure at a normal time allowing you to sleep a bit longer, we felt that the early wake up was worth it. For over two hours we had the entire place with amazing views of the canyon almost exclusively for ourselves. Apart from four other backpackers and two park rangers there was nobody else. Shortly after 8am more tourists started to arrive in hundreds! Literally! Half an hour later the first condor appeared. Before 10am, with close to 300 other tourists and just under 10 spotted condors in total, we decided it was time to call it a day. We were disappointed with the crowds and the small amount of birds but it was not enough to cloud the overall positive experience.

Apart from huge birds, Colca Canyon also offers spectacular hikes and thermal springs. Being rather inexperienced walkers, we decided to do one day trek, taking minibus from Chivay to Coporaque, and then walking to hot springs where we soaked our tired bodies for a few hours. Refreshed and full of energy we had to walk to Yanque from where we took colectivo back to Chivay. Oh, we almost forgot! Greetings from the donkey :-)

Meeting New Friends in Arequipa

Thanks to Fernando from Arequipa who invited us to stay in his house we met with another travelling family. Anne, Noah, Alex and Leah are from USA and we spent entire evening chatting, cooking together and sharing stories and experiences. Once again, big thanks to Fernando for his hospitality!

Surrounded by three volcanoes, Arequipa is a beautifully preserved city full of colonial buildings and churches where most of the attractions are within walking distance. There is no need to take that pricey touristic hop-on hop-off bus as we did most of the sights on foot within one day.

 

Arequipa, famous for its pure alpaca products, is also full of llamas that are in desperate need of being stroked and fed by tourists. We dutifully performed this random act of kindness only to find the outstretched hand of their carer who took so many photos of us. The only way out of the animals enclosure was to place a coin in his hand :-)

 

Nazca Lines

Turbulent flight in the tiny plane that lasted under an hour. It was very overpriced so we had to dig deep in our pockets but it was well worth it! Passing through the city of Nazca we decided it would be a shame to miss the famous geoglyphs, scratched on the surface milleniums ago. We shared the plane with a friendly couple of retired teachers from England.

The lines are an amazing sight from the air. Some of them difficult to notice at first but with the help of our pilot, who was also the tour guide during the flight, we could admire and appreciate all the figures. You can recognize two most famous of them, monkey and humming bird, in our post. We hope happy Mateusz is easy to recognize as well :-)

Surfing the sand dunes

One of the best experiences for Mateusz so far :-) He absolutely loved crazy sand buggy ride with almost vertical drops down the hills, sand boarding on the dunes in the afternoon and watching the sunset! He wasn’t pleased with the amount of sand he got in his shoes and hair, however! Luckily, he accepted our reasoning that this is what you get when you play on the desert :-)

Huacachina is a small oasis in the middle of the desert with a population of a few hundred people. We spent there only one night. We wished we could have arrived earlier and stayed longer but had to carry on with our journey. A piece of advice for all travellers: if you’re stuck in Pisco and think you’re relaxing pack your backpacks and go to Huacachina! You won’t regret it!

Poo Islands

The only option to explore Islas Ballestas is from the boat. Aka ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’, the islands are thickly covered with their main export commodity i.e. birds’ guano. Although the natural fertilizer resources have been severely depleted in the last few decades there are still professional poop-scoopers living on the islands and making a living out of it. Most of the rock formations are white and the odour gives the hint that it is not chalk. Not that we were safe on the boat. Hundreds of cormorants, boobies and pelicans were hovering above our heads and some of the passengers took direct hits. We were more lucky, being only splattered with a ricochet. Apart from the birds, we could admire hundreds of sea lions sunbathing on the rocks and swimming near the boats.

 

After living under a constant threat, if only for a few hours, of being covered with birds’ poop, the vast, barren desert of national reserve Paracas was a much appreciated change. Although the famous rock formation known as the cathedral was destroyed during 2007 earthquake, we still enjoyed what was left of it and the surrounding scenery.

North of Peru

After a month in Ecuador we crossed our first border and arrived in Peru. It was also our virgin journey with semi-cama overnight bus. Before falling asleep Mateusz could enjoy his first 18 year old rated sci-fi horror as the woman in charge of the on-board entertainment had no regard for travelling children.

Less visited part of Peru is full of attractions, although some of them are geared solely towards tourists. Traditional reed boats in Huanchaco are unique and beautiful sight and you would be forgiven for thinking that they look exactly the same as centuries ago but closer inspection reveals they are filled with styrofoam to facilitate floating.

Ruinas de Chan-Chan impressed us with their size but apart from it they lacked description of any kind. The only option was to hire an overpriced bilingual guide, a luxury we could not afford. Having said that, at the time of our visit there was almost no other tourist in the complex and we could explore it completely undisturbed.

Laguna Parón, the biggest lake of Cordillera Blanca, was a breathtaking sight. Located at 4190 metres above sea level, it was not easy to trek and Mateusz started to suffer from altitude sickness after few hours of walking around it. Unfortunately, we had to return to the meeting point before reaching the beach at the other side of the lake.

Chavín de Huántar, with its 3000-year-old underground tunnels, made a huge impression on us. Although the first part of the complex comprised a pile of randomly scattered stones and ruins, the underground part of the temple was awe inspiring and fun for Mateusz to play hide and seek. We will also remember it for our first trout fried and served the Peruvian way i.e. with the head and the eyes.