A five hours flight along the Andes takes us from Panama City to Lima, the capital of Peru. Lima is a huge city and we stay in Miraflores which is quite nice and - even more important - safe. Two days later we start our tour by taking a bus to Paracas. Travelling by bus is the easiest and most common way to travel in Peru. We highly recommend the company 'Cruz del Sur' as the buses are more or less on time, clean and very comfortable. We also appreciate the saftey measures which are taken; photos and videos are taken of every passenger and the drivers swap every four hours.
We reach Paracas after a four hour drive. Paracas and its islands 'Islas Ballestas' - also known as the poor man's Galapagos - is very dry but beautiful. The scenery reminds of the Red Sea. On our boat trip to the Islands we see our first geolyph - the Paracas Candelabra. The Islas Ballestas are home to sealions, pinguins and one million(!) cormorans. We are even lucky enough to see some dolphins on our way in. It is the first time that our girls see a living dolphin. What a day!
It's only a short drive by taxi or bus to Ica and the Oasis Huacachina. Sandboarding in the sanddunes and the buggyride are fantastic and a thrilling experience. Don't miss it!
Another 'Cruz del Sur' busride and we arrive in Nazca - world famous for its lines in the desert. We don't take a plane to see the lines from up in the air, we take a taxi. The driver takes us to two 'miradores' and we are able to see 'the hand', 'the tree' and a few more even without being up in the sky. The lines were first rediscovered after commercialized flights have flown over the plateau. Maria Reiche (1903 - 1998), a German mathematician did a lot of research on these lines and had success in gaining recognition and preservation of the property. In 1995 the Nazca Lines were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit Maria Reiche's home which is a museum these days. Maria Reiche was really taken in by the Nazca lines - her whole life was dedicated to study them.
Our first - and only - overnight busride takes us to Arequipa at 2400 metres above sealevel. We stay in Arequipa five nights in oder to get acclimatized. It's a nice city and is Peru's second most populous city with almost 900,000 inhabitants.
The Santa Catalina Monastery is a city within the city of Arequipa and well worth to visit. The tradition of the time during colonization indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the church. The monastery accepted only women from upper class Spanish families and each family paid about USD 150,000 dowry. The wealthiest nuns were even allowed to have their own maids. In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving.
One of our best tours in Peru starts at 3 a.m. in Arequipa; quite an early wake up call. It takes us more than four hours to get to the Colca Canyon by bus in order to see Condors flying above one of the deepest canyons (depth: 3,270 m) in the world. On our way, we almost reach the 5,000 metres above sealevel mark and we feel it; air has become thin and thinner. But the scenery is breathtaking and we fall in love with the Peruvian pampa and the hundreds of Alpakas. In the evening we return to Arequipa, it has been a long day and worth every minute.
After spending five days in Arequipa we fly to Cuzco - we are even able to locate the Cañon de Colca from up in the air. Cuzco is a very picturesque and currently the most important tourist destination in Peru. The site of Cuzco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th into the 16th century until the Spanish conquest. We feel the additional 1000 metres and get some headache for the first twenty-four hours; but after one day we are all fine.
Leaving Cuzco after three days we reach Aguas Calientes by taxi and the famous Peru Rail. Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu which is situated only 6 kilometres up the hill. Aguas Calientes is a very busy location with loads of tourists and many restaurants and hotels. Machu Picchu is said to be the nicest at sunrise. Therefore, we get up at four o'clock in the morning in order to queue up for the bus which takes us up to the ruins. We are not the only people who got up in the middle of the night but it is all very well organized and somehow we manage to be at Machu Picchu by sunrise. Machu Picchu is an extraordinary and mystic place. We are totally captivated by its beauty. We sit - 'at our site' - for hours just enjoying the magnificent views. At 5 p.m. the park closes and we return to Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu is the highlight of our journey so far.
After another overnight stay in Cuzco we continue our travel to Puno on Lake Titicaca. Our hotel is on a hill just outside of Puno with an outstanding view on the lake and its surroundings. Lake Titicaca is often called the highest commercial navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres.
We visit the Uros which are pre-Incan people who live on forty-two self-fashioned floating islands only about 5 km from the shore of Puno, the largest city on Lake Titicaca. The Uros tell us how they build their houses, boats and islands out of reed. It takes 15 months to build a new island. It's very interesting but also very touristic and commercialized. After two hours we return to Puno and on our way back we can see why Lake Titicaca is said to be very polluted.
We take the bus from Puno to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, which is a beautiful busride along Lake Titicaca. The border crossing is very convenient, fast and relaxed. We've expected it to be more stressful.
We've spent three weeks in the southern part of Peru and are very much impressed by the scenery, culture and its people. This is certainly a country we would like to visit again in the future.