Saturday, August 29, 2009
Over the next couple of weeks I want to write about our trip to Peru and post a lot of pictures. I thought I'd go city by city to write about our adventures and also do some topical posts about food, shopping and the like, but in this one I just want to give some basic information. I have several friends who are seriously interested in going. Unless you are one of them, this might not be the most interesting post, but I'll try to sprinkle it with some photos to make it better.
Terraces near Chivay in the Colca canyon area
Peru is not the easiest or cheapest destination, but it's certainly worth the trip. I've been to the Great Wall of China and to Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu trumps both in my opinion. It was truly incredible and I'm so glad we went. We decided to go for our 20th anniversary this year. We also took our eight year old, Caleb. If we had left him home we would have been thinking "I wish Caleb could see this" the whole time. We didn't see many other children travelers though.
Detail of a facade on a monastary church in Arequipa. Notice the feathered Inca headdress on the figure.
There are a lot of things you need to know before going. I'm not going to try to tell you them all. I suggest a good travel guide. We used The Lonely Planet Guide to Peru. It was pretty good. I wish it had a better index and that it had a small Spanish phrase book in it though.
Woman weaving with alpaca wool on a traditional loom in Arequipa
I did a lot of research before going and decided that hiring a tour company was in order. We've travelled to Europe, China, Turkey, Cambodia, Korea and other places on our own, but things in Peru are spread out and our Spanish isn't that great. Reading the guide made me realize it would become a frustrating trip if we tried to do it on our own in the two weeks we had. Internet searches and reading testimonials of various companies narrowed it down to one company called Peru for Less. The parent company is called Latin America for Less. They have offices in Texas, Cuzco and Lima as well as other places in Latin America. They allow you to travel on your own, but they can take care of all the details such as transportation, hotels, transfers and tours. Their tours are fully customizable or you can just have them book hotels and transport for you and do the rest on your own if you prefer. Where they don't have offices in Peru, they contract out with other tour operators and guides. Everyone we worked with was wonderful. You generally meet up with a group to go on specific tours. We were very satisfied with them and talked to other Peru for Less customers on our various tours and they were all also very pleased. To get started you can look at itineraries and prices on their website, but you can change those around any way you like and also ask for cheaper hotels, buses, etc than they have in their standard itineraries.
View from the mountain of Machu Picchu across part of the citadel to the mountain of Wayna Picchu which they allow 400 people a day to climb if you get up early and get in line for a reservation.
We asked for "tourist" class hotels to keep the prices down. All over Peru, except for at Machu Picchu, they booked us into a chain of hotels called Casa Andina. We were very pleased with them. The hotels had a little charm, the beds were comfortable, the rooms were clean, they were all very centrally located, the breakfast buffets were nice, the staff was amazing, they had free internet and WiFi and all had a global net ATM. They allowed Caleb to stay for free as long as we booked double rooms instead of triple rooms. We brought along a camping mat and sleeping bag for him. He did use it sometimes, but if they had a triple room available they'd just upgrade us to that for free. None of the rooms had a clock, some had TVs, but we didn't turn them on much except to catch a little news. There were no wash cloths and just the minimum number of towels. They did have blow dryers. The rooms were cold in Puno and Colca Canyon because of the high altitude, but they gave us space heaters and extra blankets. They don't have central heat.
Our Casa Andina hotel in Chivay. This was the only "lodge" style one. Caleb and I are in the window.
Using Rosetta Stone, I brushed up a little on my Spanish before the trip. I wish I had more time to do that. Every little bit of Spanish you can learn before you go will be used! You can get along without any, but it would be much more frustrating. Our guides all spoke good English, the desk staff at the hotels spoke good English and Peru for Less took care of us the whole time. However, most people in restaurants, museums, shops and other places don't speak much, if any, English but they will gladly chatter away to you in Spanish. We understood about a quarter of what they were saying and that was very helpful. You'll also run across a few people who only speak Quechua.
Little girl feeding the pigeons in the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa
Peru is near the equator so the temperature doesn't change according to season but only according to elevation. The have a wet season during our winter months in the Northern hemisphere and a dry season during our summer months. How long the wet season lasts depends on where in the country you go. June, July and August are good months to travel in Peru. We experienced temperatures everywhere from below freezing at high altitudes at night to 70 something degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The 70s seem hotter though as the elevation is high enough to give you a good dose of solar radiation. You will burn quickly in the sun, but it's always cool and pleasant in the shade. I think it's best to pack a warm jacket shell that has a removable fleece liner that can be worn separately. Pack light gloves in the pockets and have a hood or hat. Bring a WIDE brim hat. If you don't you'll end up buying a tacky one that has "Peru" or "Machu Picchu" or something embroidered on the front like 80% of the tourist were forced to do. Bring good sunscreen, sunglasses and lotion too. The environment is rough on a person.
My family on Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca
We experienced altitude changes from sea level in Lima up to about 15,000 ft. Altitude sickness is a problem for a lot of tourists. Be careful about your itinerary so you can adjust to it gradually. A lot of the tour itineraries I looked at did not take that into consideration. That's why we planned to go to Arequipa for a few days at 8000 ft before heading up to higher altitudes. We were just fine. The Peruvians will push coca leaves, coca tea and coca candy to help you avoid altitude sickness. I liked the tea. Dan and Caleb avoided it altogether. I think it helped. I'm not a good traveller and usually have a lot of headaches when I travel. I had one briefly at 15,000 feet that I think was due to my ears not popping, but that was all the altitude problems we had except for having to take it slow hiking at high altitudes. Caleb proved to be like a little llama. He never slowed down.
Tea made with leaves of the coca tree and fresh sprigs of muna a native herb that is a mint type plant with tiny leaves and tastes like a cross between thyme and pennyroyal. They'll tell you that both herbs will cure anything that ails you. This was on Taquile Island.
You cannot drink the water in Peru. Bottled water is widely available. It's cheaper to buy it in a little bodega or cart on the street than in your hotel or restaurant. It ran about $.35 per bottle.
Caleb wearing an earflap hat and sweater we bought on the street in Puno. The hat cost about $3 and is a machine made, reversable synthetic/alpaca blend and the sweater is also an acrylic/alpaca blend that is machine made and cost about $7. Handknit 100% alpaca will cost more, but these were fine for him.
The unit of money they now use in Peru is the Nuevo Sol. Soles currently exchange for about 3 per one U.S. dollar. There are money exchanges all over near the central plaza in each city. The farther away you get from the plaza, the better the exchange rate seems to be. Be very careful to only bring crisp new U.S. bills to Peru. If they have the tiniest tear in them they will not take them.
August 15th festival parade in Arequipa we were fortunate enough to be there for
That's all I can think of for starters. Feel free to ask me questions. I'll post a new entry about the beginning of our trip and the city of Arequipa soon.
text and photos copyright 2009 all rights reserved