Peru - May 2005


Round Peru with our rucksacks


See also:

Vietnam 2007

 Tuesday 3rd May 2005

We flew from Birmingham to Bonaire (via Amsterdam) then on to Lima.  A very quick check-in at Birmingham but we were delayed at Amsterdam for an hour and a half because of fog delaying other passengers.  Very annoying as we were already on the plane when they announced the delay.  Why do they do this? They must have know about the delay before we took our seats.  However it was a nice flight with good food.  We stopped at Bonaire for refuelling – very hot.  A strange place, very little there – sand, palm trees, a few houses and a blue sea.  Lots of people got off there.  Why?  They must know something we don’t.


Wednesday 4th May 2005

In Lima we stayed at the Inka Hostel, Miraflores.  A nice room with its own (small) terrace.  Warm and sultry.  We found a local travel agency where we booked our flight to Cusco and our train tickets to Aguas Caliente.  Went down to Larco Mar which is near our hostal.  Sat in the sunshine with beers.  We were joined by a young man, Jim, who was on his gap year doing work with a medical team in Iquitos.  Later we returned to the tourist agency to pick up our tickets.  Miraflores is a very lively area with good bars and restaurants.  The traffic is very busy with buses and taxis squeezing into impossibly small gaps.  Lots of hooting and pedestrians scampering for their lives!

 Thursday 5th May 2005

Up early and off before nine.  Took a local bus to near the Plaza de Armas.  On the way someone tried to pick Bill’s pocket.  Not very subtle – grabbed at his shirt breast pocket and then ran off into the traffic.  We had actually missed the turning for the Plaza and were heading into non-tourist territory.  Plaza de Armas very fine.  Took taxi to Museo de la Nacion which is a super place with lots of pottery and reconstructions.  As exhaustion set in we took another taxi back to Miraflores


Friday 6th May 2005

Up at 4 am and took taxi to airport.  Short scenic flight to Cusco.  We flew over some spectacular wild mountainous country.  Now and again you can see tiny settlements below – wonder how people make a living in such inhospitable terrain.  We were alert to the fact that we may have been affected by the altitude.  As soon as we were off the plane I was convinced that my rucksack was heavier – but not sure if I was just imagining it. We chose to stay at Hostel Qorichaska.  We had a large upstairs room overlooking the courtyard.  There was also a loft are with two more beds.  Bare wood floors and table and chairs, wardrobe and bedside tables.   Friendly and helpful staff on reception whosent us up maté tea when we arrived. We rested for a while but both felt quite light-headed.  Walked (slowly!) into town.  A very hot day with a blazing sun.  We tried to find the office that was supposed to be bringing our train tickets – closed!  Went back later – still closed.  We tried to telephone but the number was wrong.  Not very pleased with the Inca Wasi travel agency.


Cusco is very pretty with houses stretching up the surrounding hills.  The Plaza de Armas is lovely – colonial buildings all round.  Some buildings are based on Inca foundations.


Collected our laundry from two very stoned Indians!  Feel we were lucky to get the right stuff back…….


I felt too ill to go into a restaurant and began heaving up on the way back to the hostel.  Felt really nauseous.  Drank more maté and slept fairly well. Highly recommend maté – coca leaves in hot water.  Very soothing and effective against altitude sickness.

 Local vendors in the main square, Cusco

Saturday 7th May 2005

Bill woke up feeling pretty rough.  I still felt ropey but improved as the morning went on.  I went to local restaurant run by an English woman, Jane Evans, for breakfast.  She has started a really interesting business and has a restaurant and rents rooms in Cusco and has started organising trips to a lodge in the jungle which is being set up as a healing centre.  Her business is called Spiritually Peru.


We bought our Boletos Turisticos but were disappointed to find they did not allow entry to the Cathedral.  Bill had his shoes cleaned – the price was agreed beforehand but went up as the job proceeded.  We were told how his mother was ill and needed medicines and he needed money to go to college, etc, etc.  And all the time vendors tried to sell us postcards, jewellery, clothes, dolls, pictures and decorated gourds.  That evening we went out early to Jane’s restaurant – our first proper meal in several days!


Sunday 8th May 2005


We woke very early as we had gone to bed early.  Had buffet breakfast at Jane’s which was excellent.  The took a taxi to the Inca ruins of Tambo Machay, Puka Pukara, Qenko and Sacsayhuaman.   All very impressive but Sacsayhuaman obviously the highlight.  Huge stones and many large walls still in good conditions.  Some great views of Cusco and surrounding area.  I felt quite lightheaded at the higher altitude and we cut short our visit to Sacsayhuaman.  We also visited the statue of Cristo Blanco.  There were lots of local families out picnicking, playing football or just sitting in the sun.



Our train tickets to Aguas Calientes were supposed to be delivered about 2.30 and we waited all afternoon.  Gave up in the end and went to Jane’s to eat.  On our way back a guy from the hostal stopped to tell us the tickets had arrived.  Quite a relief!  An early night as the train leaves at 7 am.





 Plaza de Armas, Cusco


Monday 9th May 2005

We were in a taxi by 6.15 en route for the station which was surrounded by hawkers all desperate to sell things.  Once inside all was calm and we had a nice cup of coffee while we waited.  The train looked a bit like an old tram but was very comfortable.  It took a long time to get out of Cusco as the train has to go through a long series of  switchbacks in order to gain height.  We sat opposite a couple from Houston, Texas who were on a five day trip to Peru.  (A night in Lima, a night in Cusco, train to Aguas Calientes, bus to Machu Picchu, back to Cusco for the night, then back to Lima for one night and then back to states)


The scenery was fabulous.  We had great views of Cusco, then we went through a canyon with swift flowing white water.  Saw some of the Inca trail porfters bent double as they trudged along loaded down with three or so backpacks.  After four hours we arrived at Aguas Calientes.. Again we had to run the gauntlet of hawkers as we got off the train.  We were only 200 metres from Gringo Bill’s which looked really nice.  We had booked over the internet and had an email confirmation but despite this we were told that they could only take up for one night “as they had a large group of Americans coming”.  We were furious and refused to leave.  In the end it was agreed that we go to another hostal and they would pay the difference as our agreement was $25 a night.  La Pequena Casita is new and very nice.  It was very clean and our room was a good size and had (for a change) excellent reading lights. It is right by the river and has lovely reception staff.  We soon felt much better.  Walked around the village – all the restaurants were begging us to go in!  Another early night as we had to get up for the 6.30 bus.




 Tuesday 10th May 2005

Had a really good sleep and were up at 5 am and after breakfast headed to the bus stop.  We were on a bus a few minutes after 6am.  It was an amazing drive up to Machu Picchu through a canyon and past a swirling river and towering forest.  Machu Picchu was all we could have hoped for – probably the most wonderful place we have ever visited.  Great vistas in every direction.  The views change constantly as you move through the site and as the sun rises higher. 


We were there at sunrise and sat quietly by ourselves listening to an Inca soprano whose voice echoed round.  Although there were plenty of other visitors there was no obvious crowds and the atmosphere was calm and unhurried. We wandered round for hours and only left when hunger and tired legs forced us back to Aguas Calientes.  Once back we could hardly believe that we had actually visited Machu Picchu after wanting to see it for so long. 


Wednesday 11th May 2005

We left the hostal by 9 am (checkout time) and sat in the square in the sun reading until we had to retreat to the shade.  It was interesting to watch the local trains coming in and hundreds of Peruvians pouring off. Most were carrying large bundles of supplies – vegetables, fruit, toilet paper, bottled drinks etc.  There is no road access to the village so everything has to come by train.  Foreigners are not allowed on these local trains – probably this rule exists to force us onto the expensive tourist trains.  We booked on the Vistadome train which was quite fun – comfortable seats, a nondescript snack and on the return trip a fashion show!


On the return trip you can if you want alight Poroy and get a bus into Cusco.  We chose the slower journey by train as Cusco looked so pretty at night.  We went again to Hostal Qorichaska again and managed to stay awake until after 9 pm! 


Thursday 12th May 2005

Bought our bus tickets for Puno and then set out to get Bill’s glasses repaired.  Found a shop in Matará that did it for 1 sol.  This street seems to have dozens of opticians.  The next street had loads of shoe shops, and another seemed only to have clothes shops.  We had coffee at Café Bagdad overlooking the Plaza de Armas.  Later we had lunch at Tertulo and came out very bloated.  Bill had negotiated wine instead of a soft drink and the girl brought us half pint glasses of wine!  Visited the Museo de Arte Religioso – lovely building but religious paintings not particularly good – did they only send second-rate artists out to the colonies?


Friday 13th May 2005

Heading to Lake Titicaca!  Our bus left at 7.30 am.  Lovely scenery as we headed for Puno.  We stopped at various tourist spots. First  there was the pretty (but poor) village of Andahuayillas, 40 km south east of Cusco.  Its Jesuit church is lavishly decorated and dates from 17th century.




Then we drove to the village of San Pedro to see the archaeological site of Raqchi – very impressive ruins of an Inca temple and surrounding houses and circular storage buildings. The remains of the Temple of Viracocha once supported the largest known Inca roof.  Much of the site was destroyed by the Spanish but the foundations are still there and you can get a feel of what an impressive place it once must have been.


We were then taken to a (pretty) “tourist trap” which was a sort of reconstructed farm with llamas, vicuna and cuy.  We had an excellent lunch at Secuina – a buffet which was eaten out of doors in a nice garden.



A further stop was at a pre-Inca site/museum at Pukara (where I bought some clay bulls, smaller versions of those we saw on the roofs of many Peruvian houses in this area).  The scenery was lovely all the way.  However campesinos live in terrible poverty – small shacks with no electricity.  It looks like a very hard life.  Juliaca looked horrendous – all brown dust and half completed buildings.  Many of the roads were in an appalling condition.  Saw some very incongruous sights – such as a snooker table on a piece of waste land – obviously the social centre for some of the locals.


Puno is very scruffy on the outskirts.  In fact my heart sank when I saw it.  Bill was beginning to question why we had come.  I’m glad to say the centre of the town was quite different – very lively with pedestrianised area and lots going on.  We found a good hostal – Los Piños – which had a nice big clean room.  Unfortunately we were on the third floor and even Bill puffed a bit when we went up!  It was at 3830 metres so we had good reason to feel breathless!


Saturday 14th May 2005

Explored centre of Puno after breakfast.  Had coffees at Ricos Pan which also has free internet.  We visited the cathedral which is a large airy building.  Then we headed to the bus station to get our tickets to Arequipa.  There were some shady characters hanging around and Bill got very annoyed.  Felt we had to keep a very firm eye and hand on our possessions!


We went on a tour to Sillustani to see the Inca and Colla funeral towers.  This was very interesting and there were lots of things to see.  The Colla people buried their nobility in funerary towers called chullpas.  These housed whole families, along with plenty of food and belongings for their journey to the world beyond.  Our guide was excellent and talked about the lives of the local people.  They have plots of land pointing like fingers into the lake – thereby creating a micro-climate suitable for potatoes.












Fingers of land stretching into the water creating a microclimate for growing potatoes


Sunday 15th May 2005

We took a morning trip to Las Islas Flotantes.  These floating islands are unique and although now very much geared up for tourism we found the whole experience very interesting – all much better than I thought it would be.  The Uros people here have beautifully constructed boats and houses.  It felt really strange walking on the islands as you can feel the reeds move beneath your feet – and in places you have to walk carefully or your foot would go straight through.  The people there were all very friendly – we wondered if they ever get tired of all the visitors.  Perhaps they are rude about us once we have gone!  We weakened and bought some souvenirs – more stuff I don’t really need.  We saw potatoes, beans and onions growing in small patches of soil on the water’s edge.  Solar panels give the islanders power but cooking is still done on outdoor fires and clay ovens.  A siren went off and several of the young men got into boats and paddled off to another island to join in a volleyball match.

Ominous clouds over Lake Titicaca

Reed boats still in use on the lake

"Oh God, not more visitors!"

A game of volleyball on the floating islands



In the evening we went to eat at the Casa de Corregidor – a lovely old house with a pretty patio.  Bill had alpaca burger!  A great place to relax.  The evening was cold but our hostal has heating.


Monday 16th May 2005

We had breakfast at Ricos Pan which became a bit of a favourite with us.  A bright sunny day but quite cold when out of the sun.  The town centre was very busy and a march was taking place – but the demonstrators passed us too quickly for us to find out what it was all about.  The five hour bus trip to Arequipa was not as bad as we feared – comfortable seats and videos and snacks included.  In Arequipa we chose to stay at La Casa de mi Abuela – really great hostal with gardens, pool, hammocks, deck chairs etc.  A great place to relax.  We had been warned that Arequipa had a lot of petty criminals, pickpockets etc so made sure we were on our guard when we went out.  Arequipa is a lovely town with the volcano El Misti looming in the background.


Tuesday 17th May 2005

After a splendid breakfast in the garden of the hostal we walked to the city square and visited the cathedral.  This is a very impressive building – it stretches the whole length of the Plaza.  Light and airy inside, it was rebuilt in 1868 following an earthquake.  Then we went to the Museo Santuarios Andinos to see “Juanita, the ice princess”.  This is the frozen body of a young girl sacrificed on the summit of Ampato more than 500 years ago.  I was a bit dubious about this exhibition but it was all done with great dignity – even reverence.  It was quite moving to see the body which has been so well preserved.  You can also clearly make out the threads on the woven clothing she is wearing.  Impressive, but sad.


As we were strolling along the Plaza deciding where to go for coffee I felt someone pushing on my back.  Convinced that it was a potential mugger I turned round quickly and shouted: Que pasa? Que pasa?  But it was a blind Indian lady who had bumped into me.  How easily one can jump to the wrong conclusion.


The Plaza at Arequipa is delightful – but ruined by all the traffic, especially taxis!  These just seem to drive round and round.  Then we saw about a dozen policeman in riot gear and shields in the Plaza.  Later we saw a protest march but too far away for us to see their banners. 


We later found a great vegetarian restaurant called the Mandala where we had a delicious meal.  


Wednesday 18th May 2005

After a super breakfast we walked into town centre and booked our flight to Lima.  Then we visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina.   This was a fascinating visit – like a mini city with streets, dead ends, staircases leading nowhere.  All beautifully presented with walls painted Mediterranean blue and terracotta.  And everywhere there were pots of bright geraniums.  The building was originally a convent founded in 1580.  Most of the nuns came from prosperous Spanish families.  Rather than living chaste lives the nuns had servants and slaves and led very pleasant lives with parties, music and contact with the outside world.  Three hundred years later this changed when the pope (killjoy!) sent a strict Dominican nun to sort things out.   It then became a closed convent until 1970 when it was forced to modernize. 

 Inside the Monesterio de Santa Catalina

Thursday 19th May

At 9.15 we set out to get a taxi to Yanahuara.  Our plan was to visit this suburb’s church and mirador.  Our taxi driver asked us how much time we had and offered to take us to some other places as well.


Yanahuara has lovely views of El Misti and the mirador (viewing point) had interesting quotations from writers engraved into it.  The Iglesia de Yanahuara and houses the Virgen de Chapi which was taken there in 2001 after the church she was in collapsed in an earthquake.  We then went on to Cayma to another viewpoint over the river.  In the church there were two women singing a litany to the Virgin – very moving.




The view from the mirador at Yanahuara

El Misti at sunset

Our flight was delayed for an hour but when we got to Lima a taxi was waiting for us to take us to Hostel Olimpus.  A really hairy drive to the hostal as there was no windscreen wiper working on the taxi so he had to make stops to clear the screen.  Mist and drizzle. 


Friday 20th May 2005

A fairly relaxed day.  We walked down to Larco Mar then up to a supermarket for a few supplies.  Took a taxi to Ormeño bus station to buy our tickets for Pisco.  We bought the Guardian International from a street vendor near Parque Kennedy – hooray!  The Hostal Olimpus is fine –fairly basic but clean and comfortable with lashings of hot water.  A miserable day – more cloud and drizzle.  Will Bill’s socks ever dry?


Sunday 22nd May 2005

We rose at 6 am in order to get the 7.30 bus.  The taxi arrived at 6.30 – the guy we had arranged to come had sent his cousin – and we arrived in plenty of time. Guide books warn against problems at bus stations but on the whole security is pretty good.  We were really pleased in Lima at the Ormeño bus station.  We had deposited our luggage early and went into the café for a coffee.  This came beautifully presented with white china pottery and very good coffee!  How different from some bus stations we have been to in the UK. 


The route to Pisco is very strange – miles of dark sand dunes with shanty towns along the way and some very poor housing.  We arrived at Pisco at 10.45 and found a nice hostal.  Pisco itself is better than I had expected.  Its has lots of rough, half-finished buildings interspersed with some pretty smart hostals.  Our hostal had an airy roof terrace with views of some really tatty roofs!   


At the local church just off the Plaza de Armas a “Hermanidad” – all of African origin were beginning a fiesta.  They were all in dark robes and were carrying a statue of a black saint on a plinth.  We checked later and found that this was Saint Martin de Porres.


We had a good meal in the hostal in the evening.  Some Peruvian musicians serenaded us and sang Happy Birthday to me!  We were given free cocktails – on top of three huge glasses of wine. 











Monday 23th May 2005

Up early (again!) and off at 7.30 on a trip to Islas de Ballestas and Paracas National Park.  Both visits were excellent.  The Islas de Ballestas is known as the poor man’s Galapagos.  From the boat we could see the three-pronged Candelabra, a giant figure cut into the hills.  It is over 150 metres high and its significance is unknown. We saw lots of super birds at the Islas de Ballestas as well as sea lions – Inca terns, red-legged cormorants, Humboldt penguins, Peruvian booby, turkey vulture and pelicans.  There were also thousands of gulls.  The national park was like a desert with a great coastline.  We stopped at a small fishing village for lunch of fresh fish which was really good.  We debated whether to go on to Nazca but time is a bit tight.



















Tuesday 24th May 2005

We woke up in a more decisive mood – yes, we would go to Nazca after all.  To save packing we decided to keep our room.  We got in touch with the guy who arranges things and bought our bus tickets for the Ormeño Royal Class bus at 4.30. 


While we were waiting to leve a young deaf disabled man came into the waiting area.  He was very dirty and badly dressed.  He began making noises and gesticulating wildly.  A dog began barking at him and it all became chaotic.  The staff tried to get him to leave but he refused.  Then they got a big stick out from behind the counter and eventually turned him out – but he came back a few moments later!  The staff seemed to give up and he was still there when our bus left – waving us off and gesticulating that he wanted his photo taken.


The drive to Nazca was about 3 and a half hours.  The road was very tortuous and twisted through the mountains. 


At Nazca our bus had to turn left into the station but the gap in the dual carriageway was blocked off with bollards and, because they hadn’t enough bollards, piles of rocks.  A member of staff came out and moved them all, tossing the rocks to the side, so that we could get through.  When we passed by later all the rocks and bollards had been put back in place.


Our hotel – Oro Vieja – was really good.  Super rooms and pretty gardens. 


Wednesday 25th May 2005

I woke up with a headache – too much wine the previous night!  We had just started breakfast when Freddy, our tour guide, appeared and told us he thought that we could fly early.  Although you book your flight in advance, flying times are very flexible, depending on the weather. Our flight over the Nazca lines started at about 9.15 am.  There were just three passengers in the teeny weeny plane.  I was slightly put out that the pilot look so young.  Could hardly believe he had finished school.  Anyway he got us up in the air and down again so I guess that is all that matters.


The lines were quite amazing – very clear outlines of animals, plants, etc.  An absolutely amazing sight.  No-one has come up with a credible reason for their creation so we decided to opt for the most outlandish – that they are landing sites for extraterrestrials!  Our pilot continually turned and banked the little plane and by the end we were all three feeling pretty queasy.  We were glad we hadn’t had much to eat…..


The combination of the early morning sun and the windows of the plane meant that the photos of the Nazca lines are very poor.  But we have been there and seen them and that is what matters!


We went back to our hotel and had a proper breakfast and sat in the sunshine until it was time to get our bus back to Pisco.


Thursday 26th May 2005

We arranged to take the Soyuz bus back to Lima.  This is the bus that the locals use.  We were taken in a car to the highway outside Pisco to wait for the bus.  The bus was fairly comfortable and it was a fast drive to Lima.  We noticed again how every tiny settlement seemed to have a row of shacks serving as restaurants/snack bars.  Another thing I noticed throughout the trip was the way the flat roofs of single storey buildings are all covered in rubble – building materials, scaffolding poles etc.  A real mess even though the house below is neat and tidy. 


On the bus journey vendors (in bus company livery) got on and off at intervals to sell drinks and snacks.


When we reached Lima we found that Bill’s small day sack had been stolen!  We were really angry – even though there was nothing irreplaceable in it.  We reported it at the Bus Station office and we had to insist that we had a form to fill in reporting our loss.  In the meantime a taxi driver had asked if we needed to go anywhere and we told him we were on our way to the airport and he could take us once we had finished all the form filling.


We (especially Bill) were still furious when we got into the taxi.  Our driver was very calm and rational.  He said that we had to remember that no-one was hurt – and that robberies could always be much worse.  He was an ex-policeman and said that he had been shot and hit twice “by terrorists” and on another occasion stabbed in the thigh.  We began to calm down but were still very annoyed (both with the thief and ourselves!)


Anyway, within minutes of getting into the airport we were able to laugh about the whole experience and decided not to let it ruin our views on a wonderful country.

Peru really is an amazing place to visit.  I feel we only scratched the surface and there are many more places we could have visited.  It’s an easy place to travel around, with good transport systems and lots of places to stay.   And lovely people (not counting those that steal bags on buses!)


See also:

 Vietnam 2007