Peru travel is varied, unique and exhilarating.
I had come to Peru to trek the Inca trail to Machupicchu for my fortieth birthday. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip. And it was spectacular. In the early morning, with the sun barely up, clouds slowly drifted up the steep mountain side to the top where we stood looking down at the ruins. The clouds gently embraced the landscape, momentarily parting to reveal the mystery and majesty that is Machupicchu. The tune from a lone pan pipe beckoned us on inspiring dreams and a sense of adventure.
I thought that the remainder of my trip would be anticlimactic after experiencing Machupicchu. But the jungle stole the show and my heart. The pristine wilderness found deep in the Amazon basin is so full of life that it resonates with a power and vitality.
Soon after landing in the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, we boarded a 40 foot long, 5 foot wide motorized canoe and headed up the Tambopata River. Our ultimate destination was the Tambopata Lodge and Research Centre. The further upriver that we traveled, the more wildlife we saw and the less evidence of “civilization”. We were soon surrounded by lush untouched rain forest. Macaw, parrots, caiman, capivara and turtles were the only witnesses to our leisurely progress into the jungle. Having watched a glorious sunset, we were still on the river long after darkness had settled. Guided by the stars and a crescent moon our driver maneuvered the canoe around rocks and trees bringing us safely to our comfortable but rustic lodge.
Our machete wielding guide, Jorge, took us on an evening walk in the jungle and introduced us to his world. He pointed out local vegetation and various creatures of the night, including several tarantulas. One of the most memorable moments occurred when Jorge had us all turn off our flashlights. In complete darkness under a canopy of towering vine covered trees, Jorge told us a story of his childhood. A family of monkeys chatted in the tree above us, enticed by Jorge’s melodic voice. It was a fabulous glimpse into an extremely different way of life.
The following morning, prior to sunrise, we followed the river further into the rain forest to a macaw clay lick. We watched a spectacular sunrise turn the world around us from black through various shades of purple and finally the rich colors of day. The sky was filled with hundreds of brightly colored birds as macaw and parrots came to feed. In some strange dance known only to them, the birds would settled in the trees together, then take flight in unison, returning shortly after. It was a thrilling and mesmerizing spectacle.
I had some concerns when researching and planning my trip to Peru. Fostering my fears were numerous government warnings about health and safety issues. I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful country, populated by warm and friendly people.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t heed the warnings and take safety precautions. Taxis are not regulated in Peru and anyone with a car can operate a “taxi”. Unfortunately, many tourists have been duped at the Lima airport by people posing as guides and taxi drivers. We prearranged with a Peruvian travel company to have a guide meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel. Any reputable travel agent will have identification and should not take offense if requested to produce it. As recommended, once in a vehicle, we always locked our doors, left the windows rolled up and put our handbags out of sight rather than carrying them on our laps. We also left all of our jewelry at home, except for a very inexpensive and old wrist watch with an alarm.
Fortunately, the dramatic and varied landscape and the fabulous people make Peru well worth the effort. Traveling within three distinct ecological zones, we went from cosmopolitan Lima on the coast over knife edged mountains into the Andes and finally into the wild and largely unexplored jungle. I had come to Peru looking for thrills and adventure and the country had not let me down, but I had also found unexpected warmth, friendliness and unrivalled beauty.
Before you go
The US Department of State maintains a website with country specific information sheets. The site reports on entry requirements and health and safety issues.
Health preparations for travel to Peru began months before our departure date. Because we were going to the jungle, we needed yellow fever vaccinations from a travel health clinic, which supplied us with an official certificate that we had to attach to our passports. We also received the following inoculations as advised by our family physician: hepatitis A and B; typhoid; polio booster and tetanus-diphtheria booster. Finally, we took the following medicine with us: malarone to help prevent malaria; diamox for altitude sickness in the Andes; and cipro, a prescription antibiotic for use against illnesses caused by bacteria. The Centre for Disease Control maintains a website that prepared us for our meetings with our family physician and the travel health clinic.
Lodging in Peru
We booked through local travel agent, Peru Gateway Travel (they also go by Orquidea). They worked with me, via email, to create a custom tour, that went to locations and stayed in hotels of my choice, but used their local guides and transfer agents.
Lima: Hotel Carmel is a basic but clean and very friendly hotel in Miraflores. There are many restaurants, shops and clubs within walking distance. The ruins, Huaca Pucllana, are about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and the beach is a 20 minute walk in the opposite direction. The beach has a very nice complex called Larco Mar, which has upscale stores, restaurants, movie theatre and clubs. This is where I tried my first Cusquena beer, which is a tasty local beer with a picture of Machupicchu etched on the bottle. Downtown Lima is a half hour taxi ride from Miraflores.
Cusco: For a city that lays claim to being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas, Cusco has a very youthful and vibrant feel to it. We stayed in the heart of all the action, right on the main square, at the aptly named Plaza de Armas Hostal. It can’t be more than a three star, but the location is perfect, the price is right and the staff is very friendly.
Machupicchu: Inti Inn is in Aguas Calientes, which is the little back packer town at the bottom of Machupicchu. The beds are fantastic and the hotel is clean and centrally located.
Jungle: To really experience and learn about the jungle, it’s important to have a good guide. Jorge, our jungle guide, works out of the Wasai Lodge in Puerto Maldonado. Jorge has enchanting stories, is very knowledgeable and is adapt at locating and spotting jungle wildlife.