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Six unforgettable experiences in Peru

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During this summer I spent two weeks in Peru, and it was easily the most remarkable place I have ever traveled in my life.

From the otherworldly deserts on the coast to the lush tropical rainforests of the Amazon, there are so many incredible places to see in Peru, and such a rich culture present in everything from their beautiful woven tapestries to their delicious food.

After two weeks touring with Condor Travel, I felt like we had just scratched the surface of this country, and I didn’t know how I could possibly consolidate everything we had seen into a single article.

After much deliberation I’ve compiled the six most unforgettable experiences from my adventure in Peru here (with more articles to come):

1. Walking tour of Cusco

Once the capital city of the Incan empire, the mountainous city of Cusco is now a cultural hub where people from around the world come to marvel at Peruvian culture, explore the city’s winding streets and colorful markets, and even try some roast guinea pig.

Our walking tour of the city was one of the highlights of the trip. Over three hours our guide took us from Qorikancha (ancient Incan Temple of the Sun) where we learnt about ancient Incan culture, to the Cathedral where she pointed out hidden clues in religious art (such as the last supper painting a la guinea pig), to the artistic San Blas neighbourhood, and finally to the bustling local San Pedro Market.

Our tour guide was so passionate about sharing her culture and heritage with us and told us many things about Cusco that we never would’ve learned otherwise. It gave me a much deeper appreciation for this incredible city and is a must-do if you visit. Here is a list of different walking tours in Cusco you can take.

 

2. Animal Sanctuary outside Cusco

On one of our last days in Cusco, we were recommended by a local to go visit the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary just outside the city.

The best way to get to the sanctuary is by taxi, but make sure to book through your hotel and agree on the price ahead of time because taxis on the street will often overcharge you by a fortune. You pay a small fee (all proceeds go back to the organisation) to enter and a guide takes you around the sanctuary, showing you all the different animals and explaining their stories.

I say stories because the sanctuary specifically rescues animals from illegal trafficking and ownership and rehabilitates them for the wild, or gives them a home if they cannot be rehabilitated. We got to meet Moses and Luna the spectacle bears, Mina the pregnant llama, condors, wildcats and more. It was so much fun to learn about Peruvian wildlife and meet these beautiful creatures first hand, all while supporting a great organisation.

 

3. Scenic train to Machu Picchu

Unfortunately we didn’t have time on our trip to hike the Inca trail (an ancient Incan path that connected different areas of the empire, now a popular four-day hike) so instead, we took the hour and a half scenic train from the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes (the village below Machu Picchu). The train weaved alongside a river through the mountain valley, and I was awestruck as we passed colossal snowy peaks towering high above us and observed the vegetation change slowly from mountainous desert to rich sub-tropical rainforest. It was an unforgettable way to arrive at an equally unforgettable destination.

 

4. Machu Picchu at sunrise

We spent two days at Machu Picchu and on the first day, after waiting in line for 30 minutes, we took the bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu around noon. I had been dreaming about visiting Machu Picchu my whole life but the feeling of awe was dampened by the overwhelming crowds that clogged the beautiful site. The next morning, we got up at 4 am to wait in line to take the first buses up to Machu Picchu. We waited an hour and a half in line before we finally made it on a bus but it was more than worth it to arrive at the site just after sunrise.

We had the place mostly to ourselves and were able to really take in the wonder and tranquillity of this historic place. I recommend hiking the 30 minutes up to the Sungate half point for the most incredible views of Machu Picchu, golden and peaceful in the early morning sunlight.

 

5. Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

I have never been quite as amazed as when we visited the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, (and this isn’t a romantic nickname, they truly are floating). The Uros people have been living on the lake for hundreds of years, originally forced to set up the floating Islands when the Incans took over their territory.

The islands are made of living reeds that naturally float when disjointed from the land. They are usually four to eight feet thick, and the locals maintain them by continually adding dry reeds to the surface. Because the locals moor the islands with rope to the bottom of the lake, they look stationary and inconspicuous, but when you step onto the islands they are buoyant and the reed ground gives slightly under your feet. The locals on the island we visited were incredibly kind and welcoming, sharing their handicrafts with us, and without a doubt visiting these islands was one of the most memorable experiences of my life so far.

 

6. Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are ancient pre-Columbian geoglyphs (drawings) in the Peruvian desert so big that they can only be seen from the sky.  

We took a two-hour plane ride from the town of Paracas to see these mysterious archeological depictions, which have lasted more than 1,500 years. They can be found across 200 square miles of arid desert, but we only visited nine or ten of the countless drawings, which include giant spiders, hummingbirds, monkeys, people, llamas and more. Most of the drawings are bigger than two football fields, and to this day we still don’t know exactly why or how they were created, as the people who made them never would’ve been able to see them in their totality. Many archeologists believed the geoglyphs were ceremonial sights, signs to the gods to ask for water or a good harvest, and many indeed are near or point to locations of water. Of course, some people are convinced the drawings are proof of aliens who communicated with this ancient people. Whatever you believe, you can’t help being overwhelmed with wonder as you view the Nazca Lines from the air.

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