This post continues the travelogue of our adventures in Peru. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.
After leaving Colca Canyon, we continued on to Puno, which was HQ for our Lake Titicaca explorations. Our first stop was the floating islands of Uros. These historic islands are made entirely from reeds – it’s tremendously impressive. The Uros originally settled on these islands to better defend themselves from enemies on the mainland – they could move their homes/islands if needed. It’s so interesting to learn the history of these islands, but that’s also almost all that’s left of their culture: their history. It doesn’t make fiscal sense anymore for most Uros people to remain on the islands for fishing or trade – their main income is from tourism. Many of their children are choosing to leave the islands permanently, to not return after they finish attending school on the mainland. The future of the islands and their culture is uncertain.
Nevertheless, the Uros people are warm and welcoming, and it was a pleasure to visit the islands. To learn a bit more about them, here’s a link to the Wiki page. Here are a few photos of our visit:
From there we headed across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island, which is known for its tradition of wonderful knitting and textiles. In their culture, men traditionally do the knitting and the women do the weaving. The skills are taught from a young age, and it’s a very important part of their culture. We had a wonderful lunch, a knitting demonstration, and a visit to the local markets to see the impressive range of knitting and weaving for sale.
The woman weave traditional belts for their husbands, and weave in some of their own hair, resulting in a truly special and original piece:
When our time on Taquile Island ended, we took a nice walk back down to the boat. The island has no cars, and the paths weave between houses and farms. It all feels pleasant and rather Hobbit-y:
Our last Lake Titicaca adventure was the best of all: our homestay with a local family. We arrived in the community a few hours before dinner and were welcomed with a band to greet us and walk us up to the community center. We were then promptly helped into traditional dress and taught a wonderful dance. Here’s the musical procession up to the town center:
Here’s Graham and I in our traditional outfits. The ladies outfit includes no less than four skirts!
Our homestay family had a 4 year old daughter named Evelyn. She had us wrapped around her little finger within minutes. We couldn’t really communicate in words because of the language barrier, but had no trouble bonding with her through miming and play. Our host family was incredibly welcoming, and we enjoyed getting to know them.
We had dinner with our host family, a comfortable night’s sleep, and then breakfast the next morning. We played a very spirited game of “hide the coffee” with Evelyn, and then headed outside to help take the sheep to the hillside to graze. We built cairns with Evelyn while we waited for the sheep to eat. Here’s a video of her being adorable:
After lunch we had to say goodbye to our homestay family, and start the business of heading to Cusco and getting ready for our trek.
Cusco was the first city in Peru that I loved. I very much liked many of the other cities we visited or stayed in, but Cusco took my heart. It’s a beautiful city, and we enjoyed exploring it.
The city reaches up into the mountainside surrounding it, and looks gorgeous at night with the lights twinkling down from the sloping hills. This night photo isn’t great, but it’s the best I have:
It also didn’t hurt that when we sat down for our first dinner in Cusco, we discovered the restaurant was showing the Michigan State final four game. I was quite pleased about that:
Here’s are some photos taken from Saqsaywaman, above Cusco:
From Cusco we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley, starting with a visit to the Ccaccaccollo community centre, a Planeterra supported project. Every gAdventures trip helps to fund Planeterra projects all over the world, which aim to give back to the communities we visit. This project helps support the traditional weaving of the Ccaccaccollo women in the Sacred Valley. We met local women weavers, who taught us how the beautiful (and so soft) alpaca yarn is produced in the traditional methods and provided a weaving demonstration.
We also got to spend time with the Alpacas on the farm, who were friendly and adorable:
We then proceed to have one of the best meals of the trip at a Planeterra supported restaurant in the valley, called Parwa. Here are photos of the delicious meal:
Here are more views of the Sacred Valley and the Pisac Ruins:
We reached Ollantaytambo late that afternoon. After a brief rest at the hotel, we walked a few blocks to tour the Ollantaytambo Inca archaeological site. It’s well preserved, and you can see examples of the incredible Incan stonework:
Here’s an unpublished photo from the Lares Trek that I found while I was collecting photos for this post. It’s the view from just over the mountain pass on our second day, where the trail slopes down into the cloud covered valley. It shows the beauty of hiking in the Andes, and it’s possibly my favorite photo from the Trek:
After the hike and Machu Picchu we flew from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. Leaving the cold, rainy Andes and descending down into the Amazon Rainforest was jarring. It felt very good to leave the high elevation and get closer to sea level, but the heat and humidity were startling. All I had to do though was remember how wet and cold I was on the Lares Trek and I was immediately grateful for the warmth.
I loved our two days in the Amazon, and I wish we could have stayed longer. After we landed in Puerto Maldonado we took a river boat about 2 hours down one of the Amazon river tributaries to our Ecolodge.
Here are a few photos of our cabin. There is no electricity, so the evenings were candlelit and cozy.
During our first evening in the Amazon we went on a night walk, where we saw all manner of spiders, frogs, bats, butterflies, and bugs. It was hard to take photographs in the dark, but here are some of the photos that turned out ok:
The next morning we had a chance to get our boots nice and muddy, spending the entire morning walking through the jungle and observing the incredible plants and animals of the Amazon. The biggest excitement of the morning was a rare sighting of one of the world’s most poisonous frogs: the dart frog. One drop of the poison it carries on its back can kill 17 people.
My favorite part of the morning was getting to see several saddleback monkeys. They noisily made their way across the canopy above us. One fell out of the tree as he swung by – a sight that our guide said he’s never seen!
Here are some photos of what the trails are like in the Amazon, and some of the plants and mushrooms we saw along the way:
Along the trail our Amazon guide stopped and showed us how to make purple paint from the green tree leaves, like the natives used. He decorated our faces and pronounced us all a tribe. Here’s him painting a gAdventures logo on our guide, and turning Graham into Harry Potter:
Towards the end of the trail we took a boat ride across a small lake, and this little butterfly would not leave Graham’s hand the entire ride. (Maybe it wanted to go to Hogwarts?)
During the walk back to the river, we spotted a little turtle stuck in a deep boot print in the mud. Our guide helped move him onto a leaf and we walked him back down to the river.
That evening we went on a night boat ride up the river to spot caymans. We saw about 5 or 6 of them, but the best part was just being out on the river at night. The cool air felt wonderful after a humid day, and the dark night sky looked incredible: thousands of stars and planets twinkling, the milky way, and even a few shooting stars.
The next day we had to leave the Amazon and fly back to Lima, via Cusco. Leaving the Amazon was sad, especially because we knew our trip was almost over. We’d have one night in Lima and then were flying out early the next morning.
Our last night in Peru we had a fantastic dinner with our group. Everything was delicious, but the highlight for me was this stuffed red pepper. It’s a traditional dish called Rocoto Relleno, and I’m going to try my best to recreate it at home.
We had an incredible time in Peru. It’s a beautiful, welcoming country, with so much more to see beyond the Andes and Machu Picchu (although they are amazing too). We had a wonderful, small group tour from gAdventures, and loved our fellow travelers and guide. We had a lot of fun together, and it made the trip to Peru even better. Here’s a group shot of us, inside a tree in the Amazon:
I know I’ve said it before in my travel posts, but I’ll say it again: if you’re considering a group tour, gAdventures is the place to look. This was my 6th trip with them, on four different continents, and each one has been incredible. You get to experience other cultures in a way that’s not usually possible when you travel on your own. It’s also often more affordable, and you’ll meet people who become friends for life.