Simon Armstrong on 08 September 2016

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My first trip after starting my career in travel was to Peru. Somewhere I’d always wanted to go so I booked as part of a group, which I found was a great way to see as much as I could of a country in a relatively short space of time. As an independent traveller it is also a great way to meet new people.

I arrived, as most people do, in Lima and my hotel close to the Plaza De Armas, which houses the Cathedral, Municipal Palace and Presidential Palace, where the changing of the guard can be seen at noon daily. Some people skip on to their next destination but I think Lima is worth a couple of days exploring on its own, especially if museums are your thing as it has some of the best in South America, including the Gold Museum and Museum of the Inquisition. The Catacombs below the San Francisco Church are worth a visit too. If you get a chance, head to Miraflores for restaurants and nightlife.

We took an early flight to the city of Cuzco the following day for a bit of acclimatisation before doing the Inca Trail. It’s a city that’s easy to walk around with every modern amenity and geared to tourism. It takes a while to get used to the lack of oxygen in the air as you’re over three kilometres above sea-level! There are various ‘Boletos’ that you can buy that will include entrance to all of the sights in the area.

The Sacred Valley is another step up altitude-wise at 3800 metres above sea-level, the centre of the old Inca civilisation and the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. It was built by an old Inca emperor back in the 15th Century and it’s pretty impressive in its scale so we spent most of the day exploring the region.

You’ve three options if you want to see Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail which starts at KM82 (82 kilometres along the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes) and treks high up into the mountains passing the Inca ruins before finally arriving at Machu Picchu for sunrise on the 4th day of the trek. This is the one I did and believe me the 4 days trekking is worth it for the sunrise at the end, it’s such a spectacular sight. Just the names of the ruins alone are exotic Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca to name a few.

Other options are the Lares Trek which is about a quarter shorter than the Inca Trail but the advantage is that there isn’t a permit system, so if you’ve missed out on the Inca Trail for that very reason it’s a good alternative and you’ll get to see some gorgeous little traditional villages as you trek through the Lares Valley.

The third way to visit Machu Picchu is by train to the town of Aguas Calientes, then a bus to the top. The most luxurious train is the Hiram Bingham which is operated by the Belmond Group (formerly Orient Express) which harks back to an earlier era. Oh, and don’t forget your Dinner Jacket for the dining carriage!

Next stop…the Amazon. Which I think was the place I was most looking forward to. It always conjured up the unfamiliar to me. Unusual plants, weird looking creatures, colourful birds and it didn’t fail to impress. We arrived by plane into a rather sultry Puerto Maldonado for our speedboat ride to the conservation lodge in the middle of the jungle, where we learnt about the projects that they were involved in. It’s one of the richest places in the world for biodiversity and that’s why it’s of such importance. We embarked on our tour of the jungle very early the next morning due to the midday sun being so intense. In the space of 5 or 6 hours we saw a huge amount of wildlife, from hand-sized spiders to caimans floating in the river. Multi-coloured parrots and lots of different types of monkey, most of which I didn’t know existed. The Squirrel monkey is just one example.

After leaving the Jungle behind we headed towards Arequipa, otherwise known as the ‘White City’ due to the huge amount of marble used in its construction. The Old Town is one of many UNESCO World Heritage sites in Peru and has some beautiful colonial-style buildings. It’s also home to the ornate Church of the Company. The local market is full of places to eat lunch and I had some of the best Ceviche (raw fish cured in citrus juice and spices) there. Also fruit and vegetables that I’ve never seen before and haven’t since!

In a land full of superlatives, next stop was Lake Titicaca, at 3812 metres above sea-level, it’s the highest navigable lake in the world and home to the Uru people who have made the lake their home with the construction of islands made of reeds. We were lucky and they staged one of their famous dragon boat races when we there. Puno is the main city where you reach the islands by boat so you’ll probably be staying there before and after a trip to the lake. It’s a small enough city. Be sure though to visit Kuntur Wasi viewpoint. Believe me when I say it’s worth the 700 steps to the top!

Our group headed back to Lima for one final night together before going our separate ways. You really do meet some great people on these tours and when you spend almost three weeks together through thick and thin it’s all part of the experience and you’re sad to see them go.

For more information on Peru, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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