Annika's journey to Peru
I’ve travelled solo in the past so was filled with the anticipation of seeing Peru and was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know some new people on tour.
I settled on visiting Peru as I’ve never been to South America before, and of course Machu Pichu carried the biggest appeal for me!
LOVELY LIMA TO MIGHTY MACHU
On our first evening in Lima, we enjoyed dinner at the Incan Museum. It was wonderful, and quite an unusual setting to dine in. After a long flight it was nice to relax outside on the terrace and enjoy the twinkling lights and ambience of our surroundings.
We started with an overnight stay in the Miraflores district of Lima – and I really liked it there, it was a beautiful area, very clean and easy to explore with places to buy local crafts. I particularly liked the park; it was a quaint space with stray cats basking in the sun which felt very charming. The cats are cared for by a local charity and you can make donations or sponsor a feline – it was just nice to see animal welfare live and in action.
I was super excited for our trip to the Lost City of Machu Picchu. From the moment I woke up in the morning, I was already completely in awe of the mountain views from my hotel room – and this was just a taster of things to come.
You catch a train to get there, and on our way to the station we were treated to a performance from a band who marched us down to the train, serenading us with local songs. It was completely unexpected and a real treat to experience. And there is more entertainment in store, but I don’t want to ruin it for other Just You travellers!
When we arrived in the town of Aguas Calientes – the gateway to the Lost City, I felt like I was being drawn into an enchanting fairytale. The mountains were like giants towering over us – it was completely surreal. From there, we boarded a bus for the last part of the journey, and I must admit it is a little bit nerve-wracking as the roads get higher and windier, but the driver makes this journey every day and he was superb, we were in safe hands!
Our group took the shorter journey up to the viewing point - it still took us a while as the weather was quite warm and of course the altitude does affect you when you’re working your way up there.
But it’s worth it, you may have seen it on TV or on the internet but it’s like you’re seeing it with new eyes, it was magnificent and looking at the ruins today, it really makes you wonder as to how they built the city.
Our local guide Lizette was very passionate about Machu Picchu and regaled us with fascinating facts as part of our two-hour tour.
It’s thought that Sun Gate (Intipunku) which rests on the ridge of a mountain on the Inca Trail, is one of the most important parts of Machu Picchu as the main entrance to the ruins. It also offers some of the best views of the Urubamba River, Huayna Picchu mountain and Aguas Calientes – so it’s worth the hike!
We also got to view stone carvings which formed a map of the valleys and the villages here which was an exact replica of today’s site. Google maps certainly isn’t a patch on the Inca people who were fortunate to call this area home.
You’ll hear more from your local guide about the stories and theories of the Lost City, but what you will get a sense of is just how mysterious it all is. I guess we will never have a completely accurate reflection on life and times here, but there’s a degree of beauty in that.
I for one became obsessed with the terraces and how the Incan people determined how to farm properly here, as everything worked perfectly and even today, this system is still used for farming production, it’s incredible.
ALL THE C'S
In Cuzco, the former Inca capital, there was a religious festival going on complete with a brass band to celebrate the feast of a saint. The square was quite a charming place to be surrounded by, and we were all quite fortunate to be able to get a glimpse of local culture.
We enjoyed the area as part of a walking tour, and the blend of different architectural styles made up by the churches, mansions and cobbled streets was quite a vision to behold, and we were in complete awe.
We took part in a cookery class to make Ceviche and Pisco Sours which was fun to get involved in. It was a nice contrast to our historical adventures and a chance to learn more about the culture through its gastronomy in more recent times.
I think out of all our adventures in Cuzco, the visit to the Ccaccaccollo Weaving Cooperative was one of the most culturally significant experiences for me. I’ve always believed that there’s a lot we can learn about a place through the people that live there, and the weaving cooperative is a living testament to that.
The women in the community were so welcoming and looked genuinely happy to be there, inviting us to discover how they create wool textiles and garments, from how the wool is dyed using natural resources such as eucalyptus and potato, to the final product.
There really was a fine art to it all and it was incredible to see the beautiful handicrafts that they make. I left there feeling more enriched by the experience, knowing that our visit would play such a positive part in supporting families here.
They’ve built such a thriving business that has enabled them not only to retain their heritage, but also send their children into further education, who are then able to return home and support the community with their new skills and knowledge.
The Reed Islands were quite a curious encounter, with a mixture of traditions fused with more modern conveniences.
There are more than 80 reed islands here with houses built from reed mats, and our guide told us that when people get tired of living with people on their island, they can literally break off and separate their living space which we thought was quite amusing but smart at the same time. I guess you can’t choose your family after all, so they have a good solution for any disagreements!
We sailed on to Taquile, a friendly community of people who dress in traditional Peruvian style clothes typically made from alpaca wool. It was so lucky to feel like we’re visiting an untouched part of the world as the government has stipulated that no-one is allowed to develop here, so it keeps the heritage, and you get that sense of a nice quiet life here. This was probably the biggest hidden gem for me on the whole tour.
TOP TIPS FOR AN AMAZING ADVENTURE
The scenery of the journey from Cuzco to Puno was so spectacular, witnessing all the undulating mountainsides and valleys passing us by, it was very empowering and good for the soul. It just makes you feel so small in comparison. I’d recommend planning a playlist and bringing your headphones. While the views alone had us all reveling in some of the silence, a chill out or classical playlist adds a little bit extra to the moment!
There is a lot of walking involved so you do need to be prepared with a good hat and clothing for all weathers, sun cream and hiking boots. You’re closer to the sun here and naturally it gets quite hot here, but also extremes of cold too.
It’s worth practising walking at an incline, just to help prepare yourself. That said, it’s not always about your level of fitness as the altitude can have different effects on different people. You need to get yourself into the mindset of taking things at a much slower pace to what you’re used to.
The layout of the itinerary does help with acclimatising you to the altitude and many of the hotels have local tea available, while it is an acquired taste, once you break through the barrier of your first cup it does help to keep altitude sickness at bay.
One of our local guides also recommended applying Agua De Florida Oil to the skin too, it features citrus scents which help soothe and clear the mind, and makes you feel a little more revitalised.
Our Holiday Director, Gianni was unbelievably helpful, we spent some time getting to know him and a few of us have kept in touch. We have insisted on sharing the story and movies of the famous Paddington Bear with him – while it’s popular in drawing people to Peru, interestingly not many Peruvians have heard of him!
Visiting Peru was so special, and I still cannot believe I was there. You really feel like you are in a sacred place. I would return there in a heartbeat and would add the Rainbow Mountains and more time in Lima if I was to do it all again.