My first stop in Peru was Arequipa. I went to Arequipa directly from the border city Tacna, and the white city of Arequipa mesmerized me on the first day itself. I admired the baroque cathedral standing tall at the plaza, relished curries at the tiny Indian restaurant just a few lanes away from the main square, roamed around the Arequipa streets tempted by the colorful souvenirs I could take home, and visited the Santa Catalina Monastery to understand how nuns have been living for hundreds of years.
The cathedral in Arequipa
Santa Catalina Monastery
The main cathedral lit in the evening time
If you are in Arequipa you cannot miss the Colca Canyon, the canyon which is twice as deep as the grand canyon. So I booked a tour, and off I went hiking the canyon which is still inhabited by indigenous farmers whose houses make for good night stays if you decide to do the trek on your own.
After completing the hike and feeling proud that I could do the strenuous hike up the canyon on my feet, I took a bus to Puno, the most underrated city in Peru and the gateway to the popular Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the largest and the deepest lake in Latin America. Though the lake is shared by Bolivia and Peru, I spent most of my time on Titicaca from Puno.
I spent a few days in Puno eating the famous chifa, a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine, walking around the tiny streets of the lakeside city, and eating trout at the bank of the lake. Then I sailed on small boats driven by the locals and visited the islands of Uros, Taquile, Amantani, and one more remote island whose name I would keep a secret.
The azure water of the ocean-like lake, the high Andes standing at a distance, the lush potato fields on the hills rising from the lake, and the tiny villages on the islands all kept me hooked to Puno and the area for 10 days.
A beautiful girl at whose house we were staying in the remote island
Even though I didn’t have enough of Puno, I boarded a 15-hour long bus to Cusco. Cusco is a city like none other. At every corner of Cusco you will see the historical ruins of the Incas, the civilization that once ruled a large area of South America, glorious colonial cathedrals and museums, vibrant markets selling a rainbow of fruits, potatoes, and quinoa, and crowds of tourists trying to understand how the past and the present are thriving together in the high city surrounded by the Andes.
Even though I loved strolling around Cusco, I enjoyed being able to get out of the city and finding myself walking in the Andes in less than fifteen minutes. Tall mountain peaks, free water streams, open pastures, and farmer ladies working along with their dogs in their remote fields make the surrounding area of Cusco worth adventuring into a few times, at least.
Moray ruins near Cusco
Carnival at Cusco square
Though a lot of people think that Cusco is not the gateway to the Amazons, Cusco is the city to embark onto a journey into the Manu National Park, one of the densest part of the Amazon rainforest. I took a tour from Cusco into the park for 4 days and 3 nights. Soon I was driving into the heart of the forest with a guide, a chef, a few helpers, and 3 other tourists.
The next few days were all about spotting colorful macaws, deceptive owls, poisonous snakes and frogs, numerous birds with their melodious songs, and dancing around in the monsoon rain for I was visiting Peru when it is the wettest.
The Manu river
Macaw in the Manu National park
From the Amazon, I traveled back to Cusco and then the next day I was making my way to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world and the reason why most people visit Peru. But arriving at Machu Picchu wasn’t easy. I took a bus to Hidroeléctrica, then I walked along the railway tracks to reach Aguas Calientes, the closest inhabited city near Machu Picchu, slept for the night, and then I walked the more than 3000 stairs to the top of the Inca citadel, the royal city of the Incas.
If you happen to visit Machu Picchu, make sure that you go early and see the beautiful sun rise behind the magnificent royal city sitting at the top of the even more glorious and unconquerable Andes.
Train to Aguas Calientes
The other side of Machu Picchu
I was in Peru for more than a month but when it was time to leave the country and cross over into Bolivia, I felt that I want to see more of Peru. A place where I made friends, saw centuries old relics and remains of civilizations, wandered into the deep Amazonas, climbed the high Andes and ventured deep into the canyons, devoured delicious Peruvian cuisine, shopped llama sweaters and amethyst stones, and relaxed in the sun at the plaza when I didn’t feel like doing anything.
Peru will be what you want it to be. Enjoy.