Southern Perú

Return to Central & South America

Since we planned on visiting the Colca Valley 11,483 ft (3,500 m) and Lake Titicaca 12,500 ft (3810 m), Arequipa, at 7,661ft (2,335 m) was a good place to start and partially acclimate to the altitude. It is a dusty desert city, but had a very charming downtown. Thanks to Spanish influence every city and town in Perú has a Plaza de Armas and catholic church. Arequipa is no exception, but it makes for a very nice gathering place. We also visited the Santa Catalina Monastery, a beautiful little walled city within the city.

Our first excursion was by bus to Chivay at the northern edge of the Colca Valley. The deepest part of the Colca Canyon is 2x deeper than the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately we did not get to see that part of it as it is a 2-day trip down bad dirt roads. But we did venture quite a ways down along the rim of the canyon to Cruz del Cóndor or the Cross of the Condor viewing site. We were lucky to see several condors, and even got a few OK pictures. The northern part of the valley, up until this point is lined with Inca and Pre Inca terracing and beautiful Quechua villages. Most people still dress in traditional indigenous clothing and still farm the ancient terraces. After the dusty brown desert, the valley was a beautiful lush green paradise.

Along the way we saw many vicuña, the wild cousin to the alpaca. They have very fine wool, much more prized than llama or alpaca, and are protected in Peru. There is a natural preserve for them, and they can be seen grazing along the road in the Altiplano or high plains of the Andes.

From Chivay we went by bus to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our third day at this high altitude and we were beginning to feel OK. Thank you Diamox!! We’re sure it helped with the altitude sickness, although we still had headaches and little appetite the first few days. The next morning we took a boat to the Uros Floating Reed Islands. They are actually manufactured islands from root balls and reeds, and the indigenous people live on them with houses and boats also made of reeds. The islands are anchored so they don’t’ move, and as the locals say “we don’t have Bolivian passports so we need to be sure our islands don’t float into Bolivian Lake Titicaca!” It was really very interesting, but it’s turned into quite a tourist trap and the hard sell to buy handicrafts while you’re trapped on their island was a bit off putting.

From there we went to Amantani Island, where we spent the night in the home of a local Quechua family. We stayed with Olga and Fernando and their 4 little children. They were wonderful hosts and reminded us of staying with Olga and Victor in Ukraine. They fed us well and shared stories of traditional island life. There were six of us in the group plus a guide. The two of us, a couple from France, Jane and Jacques Crayol, and a couple from Korea Soon Kyung Hong and his wife Su Ryun Kwon. Great people and we had a wonderful time with them. The only direction in the Andes is up, and that is the way we went to visit the ruins of the Inca temple Pacha Tata. Like most Inca temples it is at the top of the mountain. Not only were we at 12,500 ft (3810 m) but the way was up a very steep hillside. There were beautiful stone paths and steps and we took it very slowly and the whole group made it.

The next day we visited Taquile Island, just as steep, and just as beautiful. On Taquile both men and women knit. Youngsters are tested and when their knitted hats hold water they are considered adept at their craft. The island handiwork is beautiful, and of extremely high quality. UNESCO has honored the island and their handiwork with a designation of master knitters. Our group decided half way up the mountain this day was more than enough, so instead of going all the way to the top we went up halfway, as far as the village for lunch, and then circumnavigated the island. The way up was by stone pathway, and the way down was the longest steepest steps we had ever seen. We were glad we didn’t go up that way, but going down was no picnic either.

On all three islands people wore traditional dress and lived traditional lives. Each island is distinct and different in clothing and wears. There are no automobiles, very little electricity and minimal water and plumbing. Every single item on each island is brought by boat and then carried up to the towns and houses on the backs of the inhabitants. It was a beautiful, peaceful, and extremely calm place to visit.