A to Z of Adventure Travel: P is for Peru

1 05 2009


Whether your personal choice is culture, history, wildlife or simply pushing yourself to your limit, Peru is one of the greatest adventure destinations on the planet.


Peru is synonymous with Machu Picchu and hiking the Inca Trail to the former royal city is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for many travellers. The Trail itself is most easily accessed from Cusco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire and an ancient colonial city high in the Andes. At over 10,000 feet altitude, Cusco is also the place that most people acclimatise before tackling the trail or travelling the 80 kilometres to the ruins by train. Served by an international airport, the city is home to both Inca ruins and colonial architecture and hosts a number of spectacular festivals.


Most people who opt to hike to Machu Picchu start their trek at kilometer 88 or 82. Due to limits imposed on the trail to protect the environment, all hikers now require permits which are strictly limited and must be obtained from the authorities many months in advance. Most operators not only provide these permits in their tours, but also include local porters and guides thereby allowing trekkers to gain better enjoyment of their experience. The trek generally takes 3-4 days and although it requires no technical skills, it does demand a good degree of physical fitness due to the distances covered and the high altitude.


The final morning of any trek emerges at at the Sun Gate and provides the classic sunrise view of Machu Picchu below. Trekkers also have the advantage of being able to explore the legendary site before the crowds arrive by bus.


For those with less time, Machu Picchu can also be reached by train from Cusco through the Urubamba Valley with a stop in the small town of Aguas Calientes and its eponymous natural mountain hot baths.


Machu Picchu was started in AD 1430 on a mountain ridge more than 8,000 feet above sea level and overlooking the Urumbamba River almost 2,000 feet below. Built for the Inca rulers but abandoned a century later, it became known as the “The Lost City of the Incas” until  ‘rediscovered’ in the late 19th century by the outside world and then popularised by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.machu-picchu


Further south in Peru lies the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. At more than 12,000 feet altitude, the lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world. Although boasting many colonial buildings, most people use Puno as their staging point to visit Taquile and Amantani islands and the floating islands of the Uros people. For centuries, the Uros have built their floating island homes from bundles of totora reeds as protection from more aggressive neighbours. They are most hospitable to visitors and it’s also possible to arrange a homestay in the area.


For a complete change of scene from the Andes and ancient cultures, head west into the Amazon jungle. Starting in Puerto Maldonado, travel by motorised canoe and on foot to a remote lodge deep in the jungle. From there, spend your days exploring the thick forest and winding waterways or the evenings looking for caiman. At night, lie in your bed listening to the distant roll of thunder, the rain pounding your thatched roof and all the wild sounds of the jungle.


And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s always cosmopolitan Lima, local markets, Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon and the rugged Pacific coast.



Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009

Room With A View

26 06 2008


Who put that there?

Sometimes, the anticipation of the unknown is better than the actual discovery itself. A carefully wrapped birthday present bound with ribbon and topped with a bow is a prime example. You hold it, shake it, listen to it and feel it. Your mind spins faster than a supercomputer with every possible gift or surprise that someone could imagine. When you open the box and wade through the mountain of Styrofoam nuggets and find… a porcelain ice hockey player with a bobblehead and no teeth…you deftly hide your rampant disappointment and smile appreciatively. You then take the bubblewrap to a corner and pop each bubble to your heart’s content in a form of therapy.


But sometimes, the contents exceed your wildest expectation, the grin is genuine and your head bobs like a bobblehead for days afterward.


Arriving anywhere after dark is much like receiving a wrapped present and it’s not until the following morning when you draw back the curtains of your room that you find out what it’s like outside. Sometimes it’s a litter-strewn graffiti-decorated brick wall. But sometimes it’s like Santiago, Chile and you become the bobblehead.


The drive from the airport had been long and arduous. Construction had closed the main highway and left the detour restricted to one lane. It had been dark when we landed and although usually possessing a decent sense of direction, I didn’t have a clue where I was or where we were heading. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper and there was nothing much to see except for red taillights. After an hour we arrived at our hotel. As we were only in Santiago for a brief stopover and had booked a city tour for the following morning before returning to the airport, I must confess that for once I hadn’t done much research and really didn’t know what to expect.


We went to our room and I immediately headed for the windows. I drew back the curtains and gazed out at a vast inky darkness with a vague grid of streetlights and a scattering of home or office lights. Exhausted, we went to bed.


The next morning light shined around the curtains. I glanced at the clock and rolled out of bed. Habit propelled me to the window, although I wasn’t expecting much after the previous evening’s disappointment. I pulled back the drapes and stood there, the proverbial grinning bobblehead myself.


The entire window was filled with the Andes Mountains, close enough to touch. They were snowcapped, rugged, their base shrouded in cloud and seemed to be violently shouldering each other as if the tectonic plates were still driving and grinding them upwards. The light had a muted early morning glow that dabbed delicately at the snow line. As it was Sunday, the streets were quiet and nothing competed for attention with the natural skyline.


I stood and gazed in wonder. The Andes would be spectacular under any circumstances and serving as a backdrop to a city like Santiago would always make them special, but to draw back the curtains and see such a vista moments after rolling out of bed was completely unforgettable.


What a way to start the day!





Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008