Peru will steal your heart!

Lima

A rich pre-Columbian heritage, ethnic diversity and thriving gastronomic scene are what makes Lima one of Latin America's most vibrant cities.  The timing’s never been better to visit Lima!  Home to around 10 million people, the Peruvian capital is a sprawling metropolis whose boundaries encompass everything from run-down shanty towns to luxury sea-view apartments; from bland traffic-choked districts to historic areas with beautiful plazas and parks.

There are just two seasons in Lima—summer and winter—with the warmest time between December and April. Down below the cliffs are Lima’s beaches, which attract surfers year-round and hundreds of sunbathers during the city’s all-too-brief sunny spells.

The historic center of Lima is packed with important old buildings from the colonial period and the Republican Era. Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas) is the historic center of Lima and the most important and impressive square in the capital. On it you’ll find the Government Palace with a daily changing of the guard.

Lying at the heart of the Peruvian capital's historic center, the Cathedral and Archbishop's Palace offer a quick throwback journey into vice-royal and republican Lima's religious history. The two major must-see landmarks are home to museums that display impressive art pieces, fine furniture and life-size Catholic sculptures.

Pay a visit to Choco Museo if you're interested in chocolate-making process and taste / buy some.

Lima_Chocolate Museum (1)

Lima_Chocolate Museum (1)

You can't walk more than a few blocks in downtown Lima without stumbling upon another colonial church. Catholic religious congregations were each allotted a piece of land in the early days of the city, and most of them erected monasteries, convents or churches in honor of patron saints. The Church of San Francisco is one of the best preserved (you'll recognize it by the swarm of pigeons on the patio out front; vendors sell bags of seed to passersby to keep the birds coming).

Lima_Church of San Francisco

Lima_Church of San Francisco

Built in the baroque-style of the late 1600s, San Francisco has an adjoining monastery and also bone-filled catacombs. Other notable religious buildings are the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (home to the skull of Saint Rose of Lima) and the extravagant Iglesia de San Agustín.

Located on the Jirón de la Union, the church of La Merced is my favorite church in Lima. The façade made of engraved stone and Solomonic columns is incredible! The highlight is the image of the Virgin of Mercy raising her two arms in its main niche, as if wanting to welcome us to her enclosure.

Lima_La _Merced Church

Lima_La _Merced Church

The stunning six mile stretch of cliff-top walk in Miraflores' Malecón offers fabulous views of the Pacific Coast. The famous Parque del Amor or Love Park which is a favourite spot for lovers to meet. It houses the famous ‘El Beso’ statue of lovers embracing by Peruvian artist Victor Delfín.

Lima_Miraflores

Lima_Miraflores

The capital is one of the best places in Peru to eat ceviche, whether it’s at the fish market in Chorrillos or one of many cevicherias serving a range of different types of ceviche. When it comes to alcohol, Lima is home to Peru’s best pisco sours.

Native to Peru, alpacas are animals of great importance to locals. They use alpaca fleece to produce clothes, textiles, tapestries, and more. According to Threads of Peru, the use of alpaca-derived textiles for backstrap weaving is a 5,000-year-old tradition, stretching far back into Peruvian history. Many of the products created from this wool also employ dyes made from plants indigenous to the Andes Mountains. Visitors to Peruvian folk markets can find scarves, serapes, and hats, all made with alpaca wool, which is typically softer, stronger and warmer than sheep's wool.

Lima_Bobble caps

Lima_Bobble caps

Districts like Miraflores and San Isidro have plenty of shopping options but for more affordable prices, check out Gamarra, covering about 20 blocks in the La Victoria district. For prime souvenir shopping, go to the Mercado Indio (Indian Market) along Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores.

Lima_Traditional Clothes (2)

Lima_Traditional Clothes (2)

You can even come across amazing graffiti in Lima.

Lima_Graffiti (2)

Lima_Graffiti (2)

On the Surco district of Lima lies the Gold of Peru Museum holding over 8,000 pre-hispanic gold and silver pieces which belong to Moche, Lambayeque, Vicus, Chimú,Chancay, Nazca and Inca Cultures. The showrooms have a wide range of main objects among which can find a variety of vessels that Incas used in rituals and religious activities, a variety of mummies from the central coast of Peru; likewise, metal pieces from the Lambayeque Culture and prehispanic textiles and pottery. This feather crown is from Chimús.

Next door is the Arms of the World Museum with exhibits over 20,000 weapons from all over the world and from different periods, making it one of the most complete collection of its type in South America.

Concluding Lima with my favourite architecture.

Lima_Architectural Beauty

Lima_Architectural Beauty

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2430 meters above sea level. It is located in the Cuzco Region, Urubamba Province, above the Sacred Valley, which is 80 kilometres northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows.

Machu Picchu (5)

Machu Picchu (5)

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472) and occupied for at least three generations of Incas. The site’s multiple observation points suggest that the Incas worshipped the sun and some researchers believe Machu Picchu was built as an astronomical observatory. The citadel was abandoned in a sudden decision at the time of the Spanish Conquest that still remains a mystery. It was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

Machu Picchu (1)

Machu Picchu (1)

However, the story behind Peru's conquest is a sad one. Francisco Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca (Perú) with only 168 Spanish soldiers whose only interest was treasure after failed attempts in Colombia and Ecuador. The Inca emperor Atahualpa agreed to meet with the Spanish but his 7000 unarmed men were ambushed and massacred and Atahualpa was captured. Atahualpa soon realized that the Spanish wanted gold and silver and arranged for a kingly ransom (a room full of gold and another two of silver) to be paid. Meanwhile, he was allowed to run his empire from captivity but eventually charged of treason and executed. With superior weapons and tactics, combined with a civil war to claim the Inca throne and a devastating epidemic of European-brought diseases, the Spanish easily advanced south conquering the rest of the Inca territory, wiping its culture and spreading their religion and governance along the way.

Machu Picchu (3)

Machu Picchu (3)

The Incas were a civilization in South America formed by ethnic Quechua people. From a small highland tribe in 1400AD, the Incas conquered a vast territory through war and watchful diplomacy in less than a century, reaching more than 10 million people.

The ancestors of the Incas were hunters who came from Asia crossing the Bering Strait. Over 20,000 years ago the Bering Strait connected Siberia and Alaska, it took several thousand years before they reached the Pacific coast of South America and the Andes Mountains to create civilizations. Pre-Inca cultures include Caral, Kotosh, Chavin, Paracas, Nazca, Moche, Tiawanaku, Wari and Chimu.

Machu Picchu (2)

Machu Picchu (2)

The Inca queen was representative of the moon and the emperor represented the sun. She could take over for her husband if he was indisposed. They domesticated llamas and alpacas which were useful in many ways, they served as pack animals, source of food and clothing.

Machu Picchu_Handicrafts (2)

Machu Picchu_Handicrafts (2)

The Incas used a system of knotted strings known as quipu to record data like inventories, tax and labor records and census counts. In late 16th century, the Roman Catholic church decreed they were "the devil's work" and had most of them destroyed. Today only 850 complete quipus remain, preserved in museums and universities. We know The Incas lacked a written language but Dome researchers are certain that quipu was more than just a numeric system, believed to be an alphabet formed of string.

Lima_Gold of Peru Museum (3)

Lima_Gold of Peru Museum (3)

The success of Inca Empire was partly due to being able to reach and control each corner of their territory. They were magnificent engineers, they built Qhapaq Ñan - the most elaborate network of roads and bridges, linking a total of six countries in Latin America, without the benefit of the wheel. Most of the transportation was done by foot using llamas to carry goods; horses were inexistent until Spanish arrived. Roads & bridges were used by chasquis (messengers) carrying messages across the empire. A message could travel over 250 miles a day, transferred from one chasqui to another, among groups of 4 or 6. That’s 60+ miles per head! If the Inca emperor felt a desire for some fresh fish from the sea, chasquis could deliver it in less than two days. What a postal system!

Machu Picchu (6)

Machu Picchu (6)

Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. Despite withstanding earthquakes, the site is currently in danger of being destroyed by a landslide according to the Japanese geologists studying land movement in the area.

At Machu Picchu, the subtropical climate means generally mild weather; the average year-round temperature during the day is 13ºC. There are two distinct seasons - the rainy season is from November to March and brings heavy rains; the dry season from April to October brings higher temperatures.

Aguas Calientes is the city at the bottom of the valley below Machu Picchu, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, but the name of Aguas Calientes, receives it because at the back of the town, in a small nook of the mountain, you can find “hot springs”, or rather, thermo-medicinal waters.

Machu Picchu_Aguas Calientes (4)

Machu Picchu_Aguas Calientes (4)

Peru Rail offers the high quality luxury train taking you from Ollantaytambo, through the sacred valley of the Incas to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Passing through the stunning Andean scenery by glasses ceilings was definitely a highlight and surely a wonderful way to travel to the amazing citadel. Vistadome is worth the extra price for this. This has been by far my favourite train ride, topping the famous Flamsbana in Bergen. The journey time is 1 hour and 30 minutes each way. You then take a 20-minute bus ride up the mountain.

Machu Picchu_Peru Rail

Machu Picchu_Peru Rail

Don't forget to reserve in advance; not just the train, the site entrance as well! Until recently, as many as 5,000 visitors a day visited Machu Picchu during high season, but the number of visitors permitted on a daily basis has now been capped at 2,500—making reservations in advance of your visit pivotal. You have only three hours to visit the three emblematic areas.

Cuzco

The Andean city of Cuzco lies around 100 kilometers from the old Inca ruins. Every year over a million visitors begin their pilgrimage to Machu Picchu from here. The altitude, history and the landscape are just a couple of the reasons why you’ll never forget your Cuzco adventures.

Cuzco

Cuzco

Cuzco’s location in the Andes and proximity to the jungle make it one of the most ecologically unique spots in the world. Cuzco is located 3400 meters above sea -- and above 2750 meters is where people may start to have some altitude sickness symptoms; shortness of breath, a discomfort in the body, dizziness, headaches, stomachaches, even vomiting. As great connoisseurs of natural medicine, the Incas used coca leaves to counteract high-altitude sickness. If you do not feel like chewing leaves (which can be bitter, apart from numbing your mouth), you can try drinking coca tea, which is most commonly found in the lobby of hotels in Cuzco. It is recommended you drink lots of water before and during your trip to Cuzco. Also, avoid heavy meals since your stomach takes longer to digest food at high altitudes.

Cuzco's Plaza de Armas is narrated by Inca history, Spanish architecture and native Quechua culture that will captivate you. It is a busy and vibrant space that marks the colonial center of the city. The plaza, which features wide stone pathways and well-kept colorful gardens, is home to the iconic buildings of the city.

Cuzco_Plaza de Armas

Cuzco_Plaza de Armas

Also known as the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, the cathedral (on the left in the above picture) is now a UNESCO World Heritage site containing major archeological relics, artifacts, statues, and hundreds of colonial paintings. It was built on the foundations of an ancient Inca temple called Kiswarkancha.

The Convent of Santo Domingo in Cuzco was built on the foundation of the Templo del Sol and Qorikancha. The Qorikancha was built in 2 parts: the first by the Inca Manco Capac and the second part by Pachacuteq who gave him the best finishes and adorned it with the most elegant of his metalwork. All the jewels that adorned this place were looted and given to the Spanish crown, while some of the lithic pieces were used to build the Church of Santo Domingo. It is worth mentioning that the 1650 earthquake destroyed most of the Catholic temple, while the Inca building suffered no major damage, as if it were a message from the gods.

Cuzco_Convent of Santo Domingo

Cuzco_Convent of Santo Domingo

Cuzco's Church of the Society of Jesus was built on the foundations of Amaru Kancha Temple (The House of the Great Snake). The first foundation of the church took place on July 17, 1571, from the order of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo.

Cuzco_Church of the Society of Jesus

Cuzco_Church of the Society of Jesus

From exotic fruit juices to alpaca sweaters and local delicacies; San Pedro Market is a fascinating and colorful experience.

Cuzco_San Pedro Market

Cuzco_San Pedro Market

Enjoy the best combination of Peruvian Novo-andenean dinner and folkloric show at the Tunupa Cuzco Restaurant. Located in the heart of the Plaza de Armas, right across the Cathedral and the Haukaypata, Tunupa will give you an experience that will round off your stay at the Imperial City for sure!

Cuzco_Novoandenean Folkloric Show

Cuzco_Novoandenean Folkloric Show

Cuy (Spanish for guinea pig) is in fact a traditional dish you could try but I hope you wouldn't!

I do wish we had more time here, so my recommendation is that you spare a good 2 days for Cuzco.

Puno

Nestled on the high Andean plateau lies the picturesque Lake Titicaca, one of South America's largest lakes and the world's highest navigable body of water, which the Inca believed to be the birthplace of the sun. Puno is the main hub for exploring the Peruvian side of the lake. It has been named the folkloric capital of Peru due to the wealth of its artistic and cultural expressions, particularly dance.

Puno (2)

Puno (2)

The premier attraction of the region are the fascinating floating Uros islands. Founded by the Uros people hundreds of years ago, the islands have been artificially made from native totora reeds and once served as a refuge from the expansion of the Inca empire. The interweaved reeds are layered on top of each other up to 2 metres thick an then are held in place by several ropes anchored to the bottom of the lake. New layers are added to replace the rotted ones, every other weeks. Not only the islands, but also boats, houses and furniture are all made from reeds. The reeds are also used as curative and food.

Today, the population in 62 artificial islands is around 1200 people. In the shadow of the Andes, they make their living from fishing and from selling their reed handicrafts to tourists. Their boats, which are shaped like canoes, but with animal heads at the prow, are used for fishing. despite the traditional lifestyle, the Uro actually embrace modern technology, relying on solar panels and the main island is home to a radio station that plays music for several hours each day. In the organized tours from Puno, upon landing on an island, the locals typically greet tourists while a guide shows them around and explains some of their history and tradition.

Puno (4)

Puno (4)

For me, the best side of traveling is you learn a lot! You’re exposed to things you never stopped to think before. Take Quechua for instance. Until recently, to me, as to many of you, it was just a hiking & camping brand sold in Decathlon, the french sports equipment retailer. And I never digged the inspiration story behind. The name derives from the official language of the Inca Empire, who used quipu previously. Quechua is in fact a family of 46 languages derived from a common ancestral language and though it is written using the Latin writing system, it remains primarily a spoken language. The Amerind language today has still about 8 million native speakers who live primarily in the Andes mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina.

Puno (3)

Puno (3)

Did you know some of the floating islands of Uros include specially built accommodation to receive foreign guests? Quite an interesting stay that should be!

Puno (1)

Puno (1)

Ready to find out more?

Check out my photo gallery!

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