This video shows the bus journey between Arequipa in Peru and Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
In the video we quickly tour some of the streets of Puno before taking a boat to the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, and Taquile island. Back on dry land, we drive along the shores of the lake to the ancient ruins of Sillustani.
It begins in Colca Canyon, where I go Condor spotting before heading up to Puno (3,800m) on Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world. At Lake Titicaca I visit the floating islands and Taquile island. Following this I get the bus to Cusco, ancient capital of the Inca empire, where I visit some of the Inca ruins around Cusco and within the Sacred Valley of the Incas – including Pisac and Ollantaytambo. I finish the podcast at Machu Picchu, perched precariously on top of Huayna Picchu and feeling highly emotional whilst looking down on the most famous of all ancient Incan ruins.
Cusco is the historical capital of the Inca empire, and for that reason – along with its proximity to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas – it is without doubt the main city on any tourist’s itinerary of Peru.
Also spelled ‘Cuzco’, ‘Qusqu’ and ‘Qosqo’ (in the local Quechua language), Cusco is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has grown into a thriving tourist destination with about a million tourists a year.
Many people believe the city was planned by the Incas to be the shape of a Puma, with the teeth the battlements at the Sacsayhuaman fortress high above the city.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, they looted all the gold and silver from the impressive temples in Cusco, and used the stones to build Catholic churches on top of the original Inca structures – including the temple of the sun (Qoricancha).
As Cusco lies at an altitude of about 3,300 metres, it can prove tricky to fly straight into Lima and then up to Cusco. Despite this, lots of people do it, and then head out on their 5 day Inca trail trek to Machu Picchu. Not surprisingly there are casualties! If you’re coming to Cusco, I would suggest you give yourself five days to a week in Cusco before starting your trek, or come by bus from Lima stopping somewhere like Arequipa – which is what we did.
So what’s Cusco really like now? Well, it’s undoubtedly Peru’s biggest tourist trap. The moment you step out of your hotel/hostel you become the target of the Commerciantes in the street – the street sellers – trying to sell you everything from postcards, to ‘indigenous trinkets’, shoe shining sessions, meals in restaurants and tours to Machu Picchu. Your most frequently used Spanish here will be “No gracias”.
There is a slightly more alternative side to Cusco (centred more around the artisans’ neighbourhood of San Blas), which feels more like the scene in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with yoga studios, healing sessions (some involving the San Pedro Cactus and Ayahuasca) and everything else that goes with it. But my honest assessment of Cusco (and this is bound to cause some controversy) would be a very beautiful, historic, but expensive Peruvian version of the Khaosan Road in Bangkok – with the same traveller/tourist colonists. It’s a great to place to meet fellow travellers, but how authentically Peruvian is it?
Where Cusco really comes into its own, rather than hanging out with fellow travellers getting drunk in the Irish pubs, is when one leaves Cusco using it as a base and heads into the Sacred Valley to visit the many Inca ruins and historic sites situated there. The Sacred Valley itself is absolutely breathtaking, and I am sure unequalled in the world.
As the heart of the Inca empire, the magnetic city of Cuzco heads the list of many a traveler’s itinerary and with a very good reason. The city’s unique combination of colonial and religious splendours combined with hundreds of activities offered to travellers makes it a fantastic place to hang around for quite a while. I spent 1.5 months there myself.
The city’s biggest drawcard of all is being the set-off point to the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel perched high on an isolated mountaintop.
In Cuzco you can spend your days in colourful markets, doing yoga, meditation, massage, trying out all kinds of amazing restaurants, water rafting trips, museums, excursions to Inca sites, bars, parties, and many other things.
The small town of Chivay, gateway to the Colca Canyon, lies four hours to the north of Arequipa at an altitude of 3,600 metres. The Colca canyon is deep – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and the second deepest canyon in the world at a depth of 3,191 metres, or about two miles!
We arrived in Chivay, and immediately found ourselves short of breath due to the altitude – 300 or so metres higher than Cusco. I developed a throbbing headache and my mother (whom I am travelling with for a few weeks) briefly needed bottled Oxygen. It was worth the pain as the Colca Canyon is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen – surrounded by snow capped 6,000 metres Andean peaks, it is surely one of the natural wonders of the world. The sight of Condors soaring over the Canyon from Cruz del Condor is something I will never forget.
This podcast is part one of a series of two podcasts I’ll be making in Southern Peru, and it begins in Lima in the Plaza de Armas. I then head down underground into the catacombs of Monasterio de San Francisco – the old cemetery of Lima – and resting place of an awful lot of bones. I then head to the coast at Miraflores, and to the super cool Larco Mar bar complex.
The following day is museum day, with trips to Museo Larco Rafael Herrera – home to 50,000 pre-Colombian pots, and a fabulous and famous collection of erotic ceramics, and later on to the ‘main’ museum in Lima – Museo de la Nacion.
Following Lima, I get a bus 9 hours south to Nazca and take a rollercoaster flight over the Nazca lines, then head on another 10 hours South to the beautiful Colonial town (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Arequipa 2300m up in the Andes where I visit some frozen 500 year old Incan ice mummies in Museo Santuarios Andinos, and finish the podcast in the incredible 16th century ‘citadel’ Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
This podcast will be followed by another podcast from Southern Peru in the next couple of weeks covering the Colca Canyon, Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Cusco, followed by a long stay helping to develop an Eco-yoga community in the Sacred Valley outside Cusco, where I hope to finally get a chance to learn and practice yoga, and also learn about eco-building and organic cultivation.