Having walked the Camino last year, my friend and I decided to make Peru this year’s destination, because of the vast diversity the country has to offer.
On our three-week journey in South America, we started off with a three-day trail through the Colca Canyon, which is the country’s second deepest canyon, followed by a five-day, 70km hike through the Andes Mountains to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world, and finally a one- day walk up the Rainbow Mountains, which is more than 5 000m above sea level, and about the same height as the base camp for Everest.
Before and in between these walks we explored the capital city, Lima, the historical town, Cusco as well as many other villages on our way.
On our way to the Colca Canyon, we say the condor bird riding the morning hot air uplift. These birds are the biggest flying birds, with a wing span of 3m, and a body weight of up to 15kg.
We also were privileged to see a volcanic outburst of one of the active volcanic mountains.
The hike through the Colca Canyon, a rift through the Andes Mountains, started with breathtaking views, which can be expected given that this canyon is six times deeper than the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
From the top we could, far below, see villages nestled on the slopes of the Colca River.
These villages are only reachable by foot or on horse-back, and the people still live a primitive life and produce crops on narrow step-fields in the mountains.
It took us a day to walk down to our first overnight place where, very exhausted, but happy, we welcomed the primitive room with a shower.
The dinner was what can be expected throughout the canyon and other trails: tasty soup, rice with chicken and vegetables, with tea. My friend tried llama meat, which like Guinea pig, is traditional food.
The following day the trail took us up and down the canyon with spectacular views, difficult to put into words. We walked narrow paths against cliffs and saw a variety of plants and flowers.
Our next stop was a remote village with less than 30 residents. We stayed in a lodge on the banks of the river and were surprised by a hot spring bath, fed by a stream from the volcanic mountains.
The last day was the most demanding, as we had to walk the very steep trail back up the canyon.
After two days of acclimatisation in Cusco, we attempted the Salcantay trail that led through the Andes towards our destination, Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.
The Salcantay trail is a very strenuous route, and stretches over four nights and five days. We took a calculated risk by relying on accommodationby locals and carrying our own packs, without tents, but at the end it worked out.
People were surprised to hear this, as very few people walk the trail without guides with horses carrying their packs, and we were the only ones we know of, without tents.
The difficult 70km trail rewarded us with astonishing views, waterfalls, dense Andes forests, a vast variety of flowers and tropical plants, wild bananas, avocado and coffee bean plants, snow-covered mountains, a clear lake high up in the mountains at the foot of a snow mountain, the peak of the trail at a snow mountain, Salcantay (4650m), a glimpse of our destination (still two days ahead), Machu Picchu.
With the scenery, walking this trail was like paging through a coffee table book with best pictures.
The day before we went up to Machu Picchu, we got up early, at 3am, to start the steep walk of more than
2 000 rock steps towards our destination.
We were at the gates at 6.30am, in time to see the mysterious city appearing through the mist. As the mist cleared up, this lost city opened in front of our eyes.
Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438 to 1472).
Often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilisation.
The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest.
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.
We explored the unique and precise stonework of the Inca people. Between the granite building stones, no mortar or any kind of binding media was used. The rocks are so precisely made that you cannot even get a needle in between the rocks.
The construction is amazing considering the Inca’s did not use draft animals, iron tools, or the wheel.
It’s a mystery how these massive blocks of stone were moved up steep terrain and through dense bush, but it is generally believed that hundreds of men were used to push the stones up.
After returning to Cusco, we took a guided trip to the Rainbow Mountains. These colourful mountains are more than 5 000m above sea level, and we saw many people turning back or needing oxygen because of altitude sickness.
The turquoise, lavender, gold and red colours of the mountains are because of mineral sediment.
We were lucky to see the mountain in bright daylight as the weather in this area can change drastically within minutes.
On the 5km trail to the mountains we saw llamas, alpacas and horses. The local community here still live a down-to-earth life, but some are diversifying by renting horses to tourists for the steep ride up the mountain.
We thoroughly enjoyed our adventure-packed three weeks, but the resting times in towns and villages were also most interesting and enjoyable.
We had time to explore the local food, culture, historic buildings, markets and other attractions. Accommodation and public transport are good and affordable.
The traffic in Peru is not for the faint-hearted, and it seems that no rules exist. Travelling by bus add some grey hair as most of the roads are narrow and against deep cliffs, only allowing buses to drive at 40km/* or less.
We chose a more physical challenging holiday ,and got rewarded for that 10-fold. If any reader would like to get more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See our webpage for more of Johan’s beautiful photos in Peru – Ed