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

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A to Z of Adventure Travel: A is for Amazon

12 01 2009

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“Garden looks a bit over-grown, luv.”                               (Suriname)

 

The Amazon is the largest river in the world. Starting high in the Andes and continuing for more than 6,000 kilometres, it eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean having drained almost 40% of South America along the way. In the rainy season it can be almost 45 kilometres wide and has the distinction of being one of the few major rivers in the world not spanned by a single bridge. For most people however, the Amazon is synonymous as much for the dense jungle which sweeps down to its banks as for the body of water itself.

 

The Amazon rainforest is not just the area around the great river, but also that which lines its many tributaries. This vast basin covers not only Brazil and Peru, but also Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Suriname and Guyana and is home to more than one third of all the species on earth and one of the richest eco-systems in the world.

 

For adventure travellers, the Amazon is a wonderland of exploration and discovery that offers something for everyone. Luxurious ships serve as waterborne hotels and cruise its wide expanses with smaller craft employed to explore the narrow tributaries. For the more intrepid, there are classic wooden riverboats that offer mosquito nets, ceiling fans and oodles of character. For those happier on terra firma, there are luxury lodges hidden in the jungle, lit by oil lamps and serenaded by the sounds of the bush. There are camps with minimal facilities but maximum experience and rustic lodges that combine comfort with unforgettable adventure.

 

Regardless of the country in which you choose to explore the magnificence of the rainforest, there are always plenty of people eager to share their verdant paradise. Whether guides, biologists, geologists or enthusiastic locals, you can choose between hiking the thick undergrowth, following easier jungle tracks or strolling wooden walkways with access available for every level of fitness and every appetite.

 

While some people stay for a week or more, most are satisfied with a few days spent watching for monkeys and parrots, dolphins and caimans and learning of the indigenous people and the threats to the environment. A trip to the Amazon can be made by aircraft and boat from most major cities in the area and combined with a beach stay, a week exploring cities, towns and markets, or a trek to Machu Picchu.

 

Regardless of your budget, choice of accommodation or style of travel, the Amazon will reward you with spectacular wilderness, an almost-overwhelming verdancy and magnificent – if sometimes elusive – wildlife.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan