Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands

Puno & the Uros Islands

Located on the boarder of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is also considered the world’s highest navigable lake at 3,812 meters above sea level. Puno, the city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, was supposed to be a 7 hour bus ride from Cusco. However, for us, it took closer to 10 hours because the bus we took broke down and we were stranded on the side of the road for two hours until another bus was able to pick us up. Ironically, the name of our bus was called (no) Power Bus.
When we finally arrived in Puno, we found an excellent hostel called Quechuas Backpackers that we made our home for the next few days. Our room was on the fifth floor which often felt like a struggle to get to because we were already at a high altitude. Our floor had its own little common area that we shared with a group of traveling Irish teachers and two girls from Switzerland during our stay there.

DSC01867As we walked down towards the lake, we saw a huge market that filled an entire street for about 8 blocks. The vendors sold everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to soap and shampoo. It was here that I personally experienced one of the techniques the thieves in South America use: the spit and grab. Someone spit on the back of my neck and a “good samaritan” helped me wipe it off and tried to search my pockets. Luckily, knowledge is power and since I read about this happening so I knew it was best to just keep walking and wipe it off later. Thankfully nothing was stolen and all my valuables were still safely hidden away in my shorts underneath my pants. The robber did manage to practically unzip one of my jacket pockets and examine my glove that was in there. It turns out that my skin color is a bigger attracter than my height is a deterrent. After I cleaned my neck, we continued through the market and made our way to the lake so that we could find out about tours to the infamous floating islands.

DSC01894As a lake by itself, Lake Titicaca is not all that impressive. I think the fact that I was born so close to the Great Lakes skewed my perspective since Lake Michigan has over 6 times the surface area and 5.5 times the volume of water of Lago Titicaca. However, what made our visit to the world’s highest lake worth it was the cultural experiences we had.
The main draw to the lake is the floating Uros islands which we were able to book a tour to through our hostel. On the day of our tour, a bus shuttled us down to the dock, and we took a boat ride for 2 hours to the islands. Although the distance is not that far to the islands, the boat was not able to go fast because the lake was petty shallow in some parts. Along the way, our tour guide told us many facts about the history and culture of the lake. We passed many areas of reeds and our guide said that the reeds are protected because the local people use them for everything from food to material to make boats, houses, and even the islands themselves. One of the most interesting facts the guide told us was about how the Uros Islands got their name. He said that there was a group of people of the same name that were trying to escape the Incans who were trying to kill them. At first, this fleeing group of people lived on boats on the lake, but then eventually learned how to make the floating islands.
The Uros Islands are actually made up of dozens of small islands scattered amongst the reeds. Only about 5 or 6 families live on each one and there is a “mayor” that presides over a couple of them. When our boat finally arrived at the islands, we stepped off onto what felt like an overly inflated waterbed. Even though we booked a tour, we were still required to pay an additional 10 soles to take a ride in one of the reed boats on the island, but this money went directly to the families living on the island. After we met the leader, he gave us some reeds to eat. This was a weird experience since you peel the bottom of the reeds like a banana and bite into what tastes like a grass flavored packing peanut. We learned that the people living on the islands sometimes get stomach problems from drinking the lake water so they eat the reeds as medicine.

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Once we were finished feasting, the island leader took us on a little reed boat ride using only a stick to push us through the water. He was really honest and told us about their culture and about the poverty they live in. Most families that live on the islands only have enough money to send their kids to primary school. It was not until recently that they had electricity on the islands because a few French tourists donated one solar panel to every family that the government had not already helped to get one. Finally, our leader gave us a very interesting demonstration of how they make and maintain their floating islands before allowing us to explore the small island by ourselves. There were also handicrafts that you could buy to help support the families.
Next, we hopped back on the boat and made our way to Taquile Island where we hiked around, had lunch, and saw the UNESCO protected handicrafts made only by the men of the island. All in all though, unless you are really interested in Taquile Island handicrafts, I would recommend doing the half day tour of only the Uros Islands instead of the full day tour of Uros and Taquile.

Bolivian Boarder Crossing

DSC01957So long Peru! The next day after our tour of the floating islands, we took a 3 hour bus ride to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake. Even though we had read the entrance requirements to Bolivia several times and had all the paperwork it said we needed, we were still a bit anxious to cross the Bolivian boarder in light of the recent events concerning Bolivia and the States. During our travels, we talked with several people who had trouble getting into Bolivia because they needed unlisted things (like a passport photo with a red background or a police report showing they had no criminal charges) that were not on the Bolivian entry requirements site. For us though, we filled out the visa form at the boarder, gave them a copy of our passport, and paid $135 in US dollars and were on our way. We later found out that we were the only Americans on the bus because the entire bus was waiting for us to finish the visa process since many other countries do not need a visa to enter Bolivia. Oops!

Copacabana & the Isla Del Sol

Forty minutes from the Peruvian-Bolivian boarder is the small beach town of Copacabana. It is really cheap and really touristy. On the main street down to the lake, there a a bunch of restaurants and souvenir shops filled with other travelers. The most popular ones were the ones closest to the lake, but they are also the most pricey. At this point in our travels, we have learned to look for hostels that are not right by the main area or plaza. In Copacabana, we only needed to walk 2.5 blocks from the lake and we found Hostal Gabriel, a very basic hostel that only cost 15 Bolivianos (just over $2) per person per night. We put our bags down, then went to find an ATM so we could withdraw some Bolivianos since Copacabana was our first stop in Bolivia. Our travel book and several other websites said that there was no ATMs in Copacabana, but we were able to find a few close the the main tourist area.
The next day we packed up all of our belongings and walked down to the lake to catch the ferry so we could sleep on the Island of the Sun. We wanted to go to this island because it is the site of the Incan creation story and we felt it was appropriate since we had seen plenty of Incan ruins during our travels. Again, the ferry we took was a similarly slow moving boat to the one we took to the Uros islands. However, since this trip was a straight shot, the boat driver told us where we should go while on the Island of the Sun. When we safely arrived to the north side of the island, we went with our guide to two small museums and also bought our tickets to the ruins. As we walked along the path, listening to our guide rattle off facts, we snapped some cool pictures of the surrounding environment made up of mostly hills. The first part of our guided tour was pretty uneventful and once we got to where the main ruins were located, our guide forced us to tip (read: pay) him and we were left to explore the ruins by ourselves. It was weird to think that we were essentially in the Incan’s Jerusalem as we wandered about the first Incan’s house. It would have been nice if there were signs that told us the Incan creation story or a little more about the house.
With our full backpacks still on, we prepared ourselves for a 3 hour hike across the Isla Del Sol towards the south end of the island. I tightened up my tattered shoes and started along the rocky path. Along the way we were stopped to pay a “toll” several times, and we were told that it was to enter the towns. The whole path though was on top of the hills the whole way and we never enter any village until the very end. If you are planning on hiking, use the restrooms before you start the hike because we only saw one along the way and it was closed.
When we arrived in Yumani on the southern tip of the island, we looked for a hostel, but reevaluated our plans and eventually decided to take the ferry back to Copacabana. Supposedly, there is some magnificent stargazing from the island, but since the hostels were twice the price and we were leaving for La Paz the next day, we thought it was best to sleep in Copacabana. So much for bringing all of our stuff along….
When we got back to town, we went back to Hostal Gabriel and then out to eat. We had an interesting experience at dinner because we tried to order a local dish called Pique Macho that was recommended by our book, but the lady at the restaurant said they did not have it even though it was on the menu. Since we were on the hunt for this specific dish, when we started to leave, the lady magically said that they did have it, but it would take a little time to prepare. When she finally brought out, it was well worth the wait and the hassle. Good food makes me happy!
The morning of the following day, we bought our ticket to La Paz. All the bus companies charged the same price, but we were lucky enough to find one with WiFi. As we waited for our departure time, we found out that we did not need to be in Brazil by the date we originally planned. This was both good news and bad news, but part of the fun of travel is being ready for anything.
When we originally set off on our adventure, we were set to be in Brazil the second week of August, but since our plans changed, we now have more time to go to other places we did not have time to visit before. Anna and I started reading and hashing out a plan for our new route on our way to La Paz

Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

Voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2007 and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983, Machu Picchu is perhaps one of the the most famous sites in South America. It is a place of history and mystery. Originally unbeknownst to the outside world, Machu Picchu was made famous in 1911 when Hiram Bingham, a professor at Yale University, stumbled upon the Lost City of the Incas while trekking in the area. Bingham and his group encountered two families hiding in the ruins to avoid paying taxes on their agricultural products. It was actually one of the children of these two familes who guided Bingham to the main temple. It is strange to me to think that this amazing place could simply be abandoned and largely forgotten. Even the Spanish conquistadors had no idea that Machu Picchu existed. Despite being such a popular tourist site, remarkably little is known about what Machu Picchu was used for or why the Incas abandoned it.

Before You Go

Cusco is the main jumping off point to Machu Picchu and many other ruins in the Sacred Valley. It also has an international airport, many travel agencies, and even more tourists. Read more about what we did in Cusco in Anna´s last post.
The first thing you need to decide while in Cusco is if you want to visit Machu Picchu with a tour or go independently. We chose to do it independently because it allowed for more freedom and was more budget friendly. To find out how to visit Machu Picchu on our own, a gentleman in the tourist information office suggested that we go to several travel agencies to hear what they offer and then do it ourselves. In my opinion, this was one of the best travel tips we have received on our trip.
The second thing you need to decide is if you want to take the short (and expensive) route or the long (and cheaper) route. Either way, ask your hostel or hotel in Cusco if you can leave most of your stuff in their luggage storage and only take what you need for two or three days. Note: The third way to visit Machu Picchu is by hiking the Incan trail, but this requires planning several months ahead of time, and you must be in good phyiscal condition.
The third thing you need to decide is if you want to climb either Huyana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. These two mountains are adjacent to the ruins and provide great views of the entire city. If you are doing Machu Picchu independently, make sure to buy your tickets for the city and the mountain(s) before leaving Cusco.

Getting There

From Cusco, there are two routes: train & bus. The train takes approximately 3 hours, costs about $100 each way, and is supposed to be one of the most spectacular train rides in the world. There are two train companies, Peru Rail and Inca Rail, both offer regular service or cars with panoramic views. We heard that while choosing a seat, pick one on the left side for better views.
The bus option is a bit more complicated and less comfortable. It takes about 10 hours, but since it is less expensive and we were not pressed for time, we chose this route.
The first phase of the journey is the longest. Try to catch a bus to Santa Maria before 9am because the next bus does not leave until 1pm. Since we got there after the first buses left and did not want to wait, we took a micro (or minivan) from right outside the bus station. It takes 5 hours and cost 50 soles for the two of us. The actual bus is a little slower and a little cheaper. Bring layers since you go through some snowy areas as you climb to higher altitudes before descending into the warmer weather again.
After arriving in Santa Maria, take another 1-2 hour car ride past Santa Teresea to Hidroelectrica. This cost 30 soles for two people and was kind of thrilling since you drive along a cliff side on an unpaved, one lane road with vehicles going both ways in a station wagon packed with 4 people in the back seat and 2 in the trunk.
The final step is a 3 hour hike along the train tracks from Hidroelectrica to Machu Picchu pueblo or what is more commonly referred to as Aguas Calientes. Be careful of trains, but stay close to the railroad tracks the whole way into town. Once you go through two tunnels, you are almost there. If it is not to dark, look up and to the right while walking and you might be able to get a glimpse of Machu Pichu on top of the ridge. Bring a flashlight for the walk just in case.

Climbing To Machu Picchu

From Aguas Calientes, you can either take the bus to the entrance or hike. The bus is far more popular and costs 18.50 soles round trip. The first bus leaves at 5:30 AM, but you will need to stand in line earlier if you want to be on the first bus. Nearly everyone we talked to advised us to wake up early and get on the first bus so that you can be one of the first people in the ruins. The other option, the one we chose, is to hike.
The night before we went to Machu Picchu, we packed daypacks with snacks, a flashlight, and lots of water. We woke up at 4:00 AM and walked down past the bus station to Puente Ruinas where there was already a line forming. In my opinion, if there is ever a bridge that deserves the name Ruins Bridge (translated from Spanish), it is the one before Machu Picchu.
The bridge guard checked passports and tickets of everyone waiting to hike and opened the gate slightly after 5:00 AM. The hike is dark in the wee hours of the morning so use the flashlight you packed the night before and wear layers. It is cold in the beginning, but we got really warm while climbing the steep stone stairs. We crossed the road that the buses take 9 times, and it took us 50 minutes. Everyone was anxious to get to the top and started quickly, but if you start off too quickly, getting to the top will be extra hard. My recommendation is to go slow and steady. Be the tortuous, not the hare. Since we arrived literally right before the first bus we were fortunate enough to be two of the first five people to be let in and were able take some pictures of the magnificant ruins without any people.

Inside The Ruins

After snapping our people-free pictures, the first place we went was Inti Punku (or the sun gate). When we arrived, we came across several groups that were hiking the Incan trail for 4 days and learned that Inti Punku is where they catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu. For our first time visiting Machu Picchu though, we were glad we were not hiking for that long beforehand because we felt we would be too tired to explore the Lost City of the Incas to the fullest. From Inti Punku, you can take cool overview pictures of the ruins with the snow capped mountains in the background.
Around 8 AM, we decided to get a guided tour of the city. As we approached the main section of the city we saw that there were many more people than earlier. Seeing this made us very greatful that we were some of the first few people inside and were able to get pictures without other tourists. If you want a guide, you should get one outside the entrance. However, since we entered so early, there were no guides waiting yet, and we needed to exit the park to find one. A private tour should cost 150 soles or you can do it with a group in Spanish or English for 20-30 soles a person. You are able to exit and enter the ruins as many times as needed during the day. This is nice since there are no bathrooms inside the ruins, but some outside the entrance (1 sole). There is also an expensive restaurant (16 soles for a frappicino – we fed two of us at our favorite restaurant in Cusco for that much), and baggage check for big bags (the one by restaurant costs 5 soles and the one inside costs 3 soles).
Because the guided tour of the main section of the city takes roughly two hours, this meant that we had to find a guide before 9 AM in order to climb Machu Picchu Montana. Our tour guide was informative, but it was also interesting to hear what the other guides had to say as we passed other groups. It was very easy for us to imagine people living on top of this mountian as we walked through the city (which is bigger than the pictures make it look). The Lost City is divided into three sections: agriculture, religious, and living. One of the most prominent features of Machu Picchu was the incredible stone work (part rebuilt) and the terraces that were used for growing food.
In the religious sector, we saw several temples and learned about the beliefs of the Incans. It was intriguing to learn that the three levels of the Temple of the Sun (the temple, the stone, and the cave) represented the three main gods (condor, puma, snake) and the three worldly levels (the sky, the earth, the underworld) respectively in the Incan belief system. Other points of interest include the slightly more creepy Temple of the Condor which was used for torture and sacrificial offerings, and the Temple of the Three Windows, which has a statue of the Andean cross that is placed perfectly so that its shadow would create a complete cross on the summer solstice. As we explored the rest of the city, the guide pointed out key places with the best views of the ruins, and we stopped to take pictures from where the classic picture of Machu Picchu was taken from.
At end of tour, our wonderfully helpful guide directed us to Machu Picchu mountain so we could get to the guardhouse before 11 AM. Our tour guide said that the mountain provides a better view than Huayna Picchu (the green sugar loaf mountain looming in the background of every picture of Machu Picchu) even though Huayna Picchu is much more popular. To give you an idea of how popular it is, when we visited Machu Picchu in July, Huayna Picchu was sold out until September, but some travel agencies in Cusco supposedly “know a guy” who can get you tickets (for a heavily inflated price of coarse).

Fun Fact: The actual name of the abandoned city is unknown, but people began to call it Machu Picchu because it rests under the “old mountain” of the same name. Machu Picchu means old mountain and Huayna Picchu means young mountain.

The hike up Machu Picchu mountain was quite difficult at times especially after hiking up to the entrance, then to the sun gate, and all around the city. Despite the difficulty of the climb, the view from the top was quite revitalizing and made the ascent totally worth it. I do not regret not being able to climb Huayna Picchu. It took us about 1.25 hours to reach the summit, but they say it is roughly a 2 hour hike up and 1 hour coming down. That estimate does not include the rest/picture time at the top. The trek down was quicker, but some of the steps were small for our large, American-sized feet. If we could do it again, we would climb the mountain first, then take the tour of the ruins.
Since most people who come to the Lost City of the Incas are there on pre-arranged tours, by the time we came down from the mountain, most people were gone. After making our way back to the main section of the city, we did a quick 20 minute trek to see the Inca bridge. The bridge itself was not all that impressive, but seeing the sheer rock cliff of Machu Picchu Montana added to the view. Then, we walked around the part of the city we did not see on the tour and saw another temple, the Seat of the Inca, some llamas, and the astrological observatory. By the end of all this we were so thirsty that we did not stay much longer and started the hike back down.

Other Thoughts

  • It was a full day in the ruins: 5 AM – 4:15 PM
  • Make sure to bring enough water – 3 water bottles was not enough for us and there is no place to get water while in the ruins
  • Make sure you have hiking good shoes with grip on the bottom
  • For more information about Machu Picchu and its discovery, read Hiram Bingam´s book entitled “The Lost City of the Incas
  • Take your time hiking and looking around. Our guided tour did not show us everything.
  • Bring extra memory cards and batteries. We ran out of batteries on two cameras, and almost out of battery on my iPhone. You will want to be able to take as many pictures as you can.
  • Final Thought: Isn´t it ironic that the only thing that is saved is what we call ruins?
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Train tracks to Aguas Calientes

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The reason we woke up so early: Machu Picchu without people

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Inti Punku (or Sun Gate)

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View from Inti Punku

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Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu

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Huayna Picchu

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On the summer solctice, the Temple of the Three Windows creates a shadow of the Andean cross

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Agricultural terraces of Machu Picchu

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Houses in the Living section of Machu Picchu

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Houses in Machu Picchu

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Picture of Anna & Adam from where the classic picture of Machu Picchu was taken

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View while climbing Machu Picchu Mountain

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Stairs on Machu Picchu Mountain

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View from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain

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Adam in Machu Picchu Mountain

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Anna on Machu Picchu Mountain

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Inca Bridge and the face of Machu Picchu Montaña

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Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background

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View when coming back from the Inca Bridge

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The Seat of the Inca

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Llamas!!!

Cusco & the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Cusco, Peru was our next destination, which gave our trip a historically chronological order, going from pre-Incan civilizations in Nazca to the ancient Incan capitol. We really were not prepared for all of the site-seeing opportunities in Cusco, but a quick trip to the tourist information office around the corner from our hostel gave us much needed information on how to spend our time in the city.

Our first task was to buy the Boleto Turistico de Cusco (BTC), which would be our entrance ticket to 16 different attractions in Cusco and the surrounding area. If you use a student card, you will be able to save 50% on your BTC and your ticket to Machu Picchu.

Then we took advantage of a free walking tour, which gave us a brief history of the city, a tour of a few of the more modern neighborhoods, an introduction to the architecture, and a great sampling of Peruvian food from a few of the city´s restaurants. (Tip: Stop by the Choco Musuem for a free sample of chocolate tea, and don´t forget to try chicha morada and a pisco sour before you leave.) On the tour, one of the most interesting facts we learned was that Cusco is actually higher than Machu Picchu.

After the tour we hit up a free cultrual arts show being put on by the local university. Here we experienced a few traditional dances, a classical flautist performance, and several local bands staring panflutes and other native instruments. Later, we made our way to the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo for the cultural show that was included on our BTC – this one featuring only traditional dances of several indigenous groups in the Cusco region.

While in Cusco we were also able to visit several museums and further immerse ourselves in the Andean and Incan cultures. If we had to reccommend just one museum it would be the Monumento Pachacuteq which is included on the BTC. This tower, dedicated to the Incan ruler Pachakuteq, provides a great overview of the importance and modern influence of this historical figure. It also explains why he has come to symbolize revolution for many Peruvians to this day, and you can read what it means to be related to Pachakuteq from some of his descendants. The top of the monument also offers nice views of Cusco.

Other recommended options, if you have time in the city, include the nearby ruins of Saqsahuaman, Moray, Qenqo, along with the many art museums. There is also a museum in the church which was built over the Incan temple of the sun by the Spaniards (called Qoricancha, not to be confused the Museo de Sitio de Qoricancha that is on the BTC) which we heard a lot about, and the Museo de Inca. Both of which are unfortunately not included in the tourist ticket. Several churches can also be visited, or simply walking around the city admiring the colonial buildings built on top of original Incan stonework are great options as well.
For shoppers, Cusco has several busy artisan markets, many alpaca wool clothing stores, and, for the trekkers, a myriad of establishments selling any last minute gear that may be necessary.

All in all after visiting Cusco, we would recommend that any traveler schedule at least a few days to spend in Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley (the valley in between Cusco and Machu Picchu). We also recommend visiting all the other ruins before going to the main event of Machu Picchu in order to fully appreciate the other sites. Regretably, we only had 2 days to spend in Cusco before our journey to Machu Picchu and even less time to explore the sites and take in the culture in the Sacred Valley. On the way back, we did manage to stop in Ollantaytambo on our way back to Cusco (where we needed to catch our next bus).

Ollantaytambo is a town in the Sacred Valley next to a large set of Incan ruins of the same name. The town itself is quite small, but it also contains Incan-Spanish architecture similar to that in Cusco as well as plenty of places to eat and a range of accomodations catering to the gringo market.

The highlight of our time in Ollantaytambo was probably the hostel we stayed at: Chaska Wasi. There, we had a great time chatting with the awesome owner, her friend and the British volunteer that was working there. The owner was also able give us directions to a great restaurant on our route back to Cusco, where we could find authentic rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), which was one of our favorite Peruvian dishes. So, after a quick trip to the ruins (these were part of an Incan military outpost), and delicious stuffed peppers we were back on the bus to Cusco and ready to hop on another bus the next day to our next destination.

Another note, there are many more ruins in the Sacred Valley besides Ollantaytambo (some included on the tourist ticket), as well as plenty of hiking, hot springs, mountain biking, and other adventure sports. Since we didn´t have time to explore it all, we will definitely be back to the Cusco area in the future.

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Incan stonework on Seven Snakes Street (calle siete serpientes)

 

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The San Blas neighborhood of Cusco

 

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Traditionally dressed girl with her llama

 

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One of the churches in the main square

 

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Traditional dance at Centro Qosqo de Arte

 

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Qoricancha at night

 

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Pisco sour shot (left) & chiclano cocktail (right)

 

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Typical street in Cusco

 

Nazca: Mummies & Mystery

When we rolled into Nazca after an overnight bus ride from Lima, we thought we were going to see some alien lines in the desert and possibly test out sandboarding on the world’s largest sand dune. Our plans quickly changed, and while we took pictures of the sand dune instead of boarding on it, we were still fascinated by the lines and intrigued, if not a little bit creeped out, by the ancient mummies we encountered.

The city of Nazca is located in the Nazca desert, which is just north of the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. This exceptionally dry climate has allowed ancient artifacts, ruins, and sand drawings to be preserved extremely well for thousands of years. In fact, as we saw in person during our tour of the Chuachilla cementary, mummies from the Nazca civilization are still sitting in open tombs not far from the city. (See pictures below)

As we learned from our guide, this site actually covers a very large expanse of land, half of which has been pillaged by tomb robbers and half of which remains untouched. For touristic purposes, nearly a dozen tombs lay open to the elements with a small roof covering the their contents. Inside the tombs lay mummies of varying social status and family groupings with what is left of the original contents of the tomb. If walking through the desolate area of the cemetery while seeing the bodies of ancient people still with hair and clothing still intact does not sound eerie enough, couple that with pieces of human bone scattered amongst the sand and rock to complete the picture.

Chauchilla is the burial grounds of the Nazca people who lived at the site known as Cahuachi and took part in the making of the famous Nazca lines. The lines themselves were probably not crafted only by the Nazca people, but older civilizations as well. All though it is not known for sure, the lines were also probably an on going and possibly unfinished project.

Many theories exist as to the purpose of the lines. Some of the most popular theories suggest they were an astrological calendar, alien landing strips, routes leading from the villages of the natives to points of fresh water coming from the mountains, religious ritual spots, and signs to the gods. After listening to the explanations, visiting two museums about the lines and seeing them sprawled before us from two different viewpoints, we decided that the lines have multiple purposes depending on when they were constructed or what their shape.

These famous lines are not all just straight lines criss-crossing the desert, but also images of spiritually significant animal figures (condor, monkey, hummingbird), human figures (perhaps constructed by the civilization prior to the Nazca), and trapezoidal shapes (which led to the alien landing strip theory). Most of the lines are still very much intact, but a few have been vandalized by modern day vehicle tracks. One example is the lizard which has been intersected by the Pan-American highway. This occurred before people realized the significance and extent of the lines and since then, the area has been deemed a UNESCO world heritage site and protected area.

While we only had time for a line viewing tour (by land, not air), visiting the bone-chilling Chauchilla cemetary, and hearing a talk about the theories of Maria Reiche (woman who made the lines famous) at the planetarium, there really is much more to do in the midst of this arid desert. If we had had more time we would have tested out the sand boarding on Cerro Blanco, the world’s tallest sand dune, or we would have visited Cahuachi, the excavation site of the Nazca’s religious center where it is estimated that nearly 50 pyramids lay buried in the sand as only 15% of the site has been excavated to date. The surrounding area also houses several aqueducts dating to the Nazca civilization and are still being used by the area’s farmers.

Overall, there is much to do and see in Nazca, Peru Whether you are looking for adventure activities, are interested in developing your own theory of the mysterious lines, or enjoy visiting historic sites, this small desert town has a lot to offer.

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Quito To Lima

Quito

The next stop on our journey was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. In South America, capital cities are usually the largest city in each country because that is where most people can find jobs. This is also the case in Ecuador.

On our way back to Quito from Otavalo, we had a much more civilized bus experience while leaving Otavalo. Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Quito, we took a taxi to the historic center. Ecuador´s capital city has two main tourist sectors: Historic and Modern. In the cab to our hostel in the historic center, we were warned by the driver to be very careful with our money and belongings, especially on public transportation.

With this useful information, we decided that it was best to find a hostel close to our drop off point so that we were not walking around the city with all our belongings. After lightening out load, we were off to explore the old churches, plazas, and streets that make up the historic center of Quito. Luckily, we have found the tourist information centers to be very helpful and knowledgable. They have been able to give us recommendations for hostels, super markets, restaurants, attractions, and how to get to each of those places. They are also usually located near the main plaza in each city. Our travel book was also a vital resource, recommending that we go to the Midad Del Mundo, or in other words, the equator.

With our valuables hidden away and a small day pack with water strapped to the front of me, we took the bus north to the Midad Del Mundo. If you are unsure what the Midad Del Mundo is, it is a museum, monument, compass, and line representing the location of the equator as determined by French explorer Charles Marie de la Condamine in 1736. It is quite impressive that this gentleman was able to determine the location of the equator to within 150 meters that long ago and without all the technology we have today. This is a pretty cool site and I recommend going.
Another attraction recommended by our book in Quito was the Museo Nacional del Banco Central in the modern sector of the city. In fact, the book said that if you only have time for one museum in Quito (which was us), you should consider going here. Although we did not visit any other museums, I would be willing to second the book’s recommendation. The museum is full of nicely displayed artifacts from many of the preincan civilizations and gives a brief summary about each of these. To read more about Quito museums, reference this page.

We have met a lot of people on our trip and learned that 2 months is a very short amount of time for the distance we are traveling. Most people we have met are doing a similar route (or the reverse) in 5-9 months. In order to be able to get to Brazil when we planned, we decided to stop just once on the way to Lima from Quito.

 

 

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Adam on the Equator in front of the Mitad Del Mundo monument

 

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A look inside the Museo Nacional del Banco Central in Quito, Ecuador

 

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Ingapirca ruins outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. These are the most important Incan ruins in Ecuador.

 

Lima

After our flights from the Galápagos Islands, our main method of transportation has been by bus. Buses are pretty cheap in South America, and you can usually find one that leaves when you want. Since we are on a tight budget, we took the buses from Quito to Cuenca, Cuenca to Loja, Loja to Piura, Peru, and Piura to Lima. We spent two nights in Cuenca because the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site and there were some cool ruins 2 hours north of the city. After Cuenca the next 48 hour stretch we spent 26 hours on a bus. Yuck. We liked the smaller towns of Southern Ecuador better than Quito. I even got to play some soccer with the locals in a sweet park while we were waiting for our next bus in Loja. The park had everything from playgrounds to skate parks to lakes to swimming pool to sports fields to ostriches to cultural buildings representative of many of the world’s cultures. If ever in Loja, Ecuador, go check out Parque Jipiro.

We immediately got a good vibe from Lima, despite being warned of the pickpockets again. With some hostels in mind, we took a taxi to the suburb of Miraflores, an upscale, oceanfront city 30 minutes outside of the Lima city center. We were able to explore this area for a few days and felt at home. It is a pretty and clean area with some big name hotel chains and a mall built in to the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The ocean looked nice, but despite several locals testing the waves on their surfboards, we read that the beaches in Lima are rather dirty. Regardless, Miraflores is a nice area that we would like to return to again. We also found a nice, clean hostel (one of our primary deciding factors deciding on a hostel) by the name of Kokopelli while in this area.

One of the evenings in Lima, we went into the downtown area of Lima to see what the city itself is like. Taxis are a bit more expensive in the evening because there is more traffic. While in downtown Lima, we stopped by the Plaza de Armas which is where the Peruvian Capital building is located and wandered inside the Iglesia de San Francisco. This is a very historic church and there are some highly-rated catacombs and museum under the church (though they were closed by the time we got there). If we ever make it back to Lima, which I hope we do, we will be sure to check these out.

Another highly recommended place to visit in Lima (both by our travel book and the locals) is the Magic Water Circuit. This is similar to the impressive water fountains in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the “magic” only happens from Wednesday to Sunday and we were there on a Tuesday. That night, we took an overnight bus from Lima to Nazca. All in all, Lima left a good first impression of Peru in our heads!

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Larcomar shopping center overlooking ocean in Miraflores, Lima, Peru