In September Colin and Katy embarked on a comprehensive three week tour of Peru with Veloso Tours. It was a trip that was to encompass ancient Inca ruins, magnificent colonial cities and majestic condors and which would lead them into the Amazon Rainforest, introduce them to remote Andean communities and unlock the mysteries of the Nazca Lines.
Our travellers are no strangers to a detailed and highlight-packed itinerary, however this was something of a step into the unknown for Colin and Katy, who usually travel as part of a group tour. Our Travel Consultants discussed their personal interests and their hopes for the trip, particularly their love of wildlife and Colin’s desire to photograph wildlife close-up, and together we came up with an extensive and detailed bespoke itinerary that would combine the many places they had on their wishlist in the company of our wonderful guides.
Mysteries, sea birds and condors abound
The adventure began with a direct flight to Lima and an early morning drive down the coast to the deserts of Southern Peru. From here they took to the skies again, but this time for a very different reason; for 40 years Colin had dreamed of soaring over the vast Nazca Lines to get a bird's eye view on these ancient and mysterious creations. The geoglyphs include a hummingbird, monkey, spider and condor, animals each with divine meanings, and were created by the pre-Inca civilisation as long ago as 500BC. The lack of rainfall in the immense high desert plain have maintained these ritual pathways intact and for Colin it had certainly been worth the wait; "the flight didn't disappoint, the lines were clearly visible and the pilot skilled in getting the best angles". Not a bad way to start the trip then.
The journey continued to Paracas, the largest area of protected coastline in Peru, to take a short boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands. Over 160 species of sea birds inhabit this small archipelago, including Humbolt penguins, Inca terns, various types of cormorant and Peruvian pelicans and boobies. It is sometimes possible to spot dolphins in the ocean and the islands are teeming with colonies of sea lions. For Colin, this was a wonderful opportunity to indulge in his passion of wildlife photography. Although you cannot disembark on the islands, the boats get you close enough to observe the birds and sea lions at close quarters and get some wonderful photographs for prosperity.
Clockwise from left: pelicans, sea lion, pelican in flight & Humboldt penguins
Next was the colonial 'White City' of Arequipa, known for its grand baroque buildings finished with a white volcanic material, giving it its moniker. Among the highlights enjoyed here were the 16th century Mudejar-style Santa Catalina Convent, home to around 20 nuns, and the huge volcanic stone Basilica Cathedral on the main square.
Santa Catalina Monastery & Arequipa Cathedral
About 100 miles outside of Arequipa is the town of Chivay, access point for the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest of its kind in the world and a natural habitat for the condor. Following a relaxing dip in the natural hot springs on arrival, our travellers were up early the next day to head into the canyon and reach the Cruz del Condor in time to see the majestic creatures up close; "two hours and several hundred photos later I was pleased with my efforts and confident I'd have some good images".
Life on the sacred lake
The journey continued on to Lake Titicaca, the place from which the sun and the moon rose out of the earth and where the first Incas were created by Inti, on the Bolivian side. The small lakeside town of Puno provided the base for two nights and it was here that Colin and Katy happened upon a colourful parade dedicated to the local university. The next morning took them onto the sacred waters of the lake for a full day trip. One of the highlights of any visit to the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca is the chance to walk around the deeply traditional island of Taquile, which preserves some fascinating customs and ways of life and offers the most sumptuous views across the lake.
Another must-visit part is the group of Uros Floating Reed Islands, where small communities dress in brightly-coloured outfits and live in isolation in much the same way their ancestors have for generations. Colin and Katy had the chance to learn about how one lives on and maintains an island made out of tortura reed, their education, diet and family life.
Exploring the Inca Heartland
A full day journey carried our travellers north to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, visiting remote Andean villages and churches en-route. The colonial era La Casona de Yucay provided a peaceful base in the heart of the Sacred Valley, ideally located for afternoon strolls and a haven for magnificent hummingbirds. Fully rested after a day at leisure enjoying the hotel, the couple were taken on our special in-depth tour of the Sacred Valley, travelling from the former royal retreat and thriving Inca town of Ollantaytambo to the breathtaking hilltop Inca citadel of Pisac, via the rare elliptical crop terracing of Moray and the spectacular pre-Inca salt ponds of Maras.
Clockwise from top: hummingbird, Pisac terracing, Maras Salt Ponds & Moray agricultural terracing
The following morning they boarded the Vistadome train to the world famous lost Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Nestled amid misty cloud forest overlooking a deep gorge, the ruins were once a royal retreat and represent perhaps the pinnacle of Inca engineering. They reveal many aspects of the ancient society, including astronomical observations, ceremonial sacrifices and the devotion with which they worshipped their gods, particularly the sun god Inti. When the Incas were forced to flee from the Spanish following defeat at Ollantaytambo, their decision to head to Vilcabamba and not Machu Picchu meant that the Europeans would never discover and destroy the citadel.
Colin and Katy stayed in the nearby Machu Picchu Pueblo and visited the site twice, taking the opportunity to explore others parts of the sanctuary on the second morning. Walking to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate allowed them to see it from a different perspective, just as the Incas would have done when first entering the citadel. "Machu Picchu was everything we expected; beautiful, spectacular and mysterious."
This second phase of the trip was completed in the former Inca capital Cusco. The city exemplifies how Inca beliefs were suppressed and supplanted with those of the Spanish colonisers, nowhere more so than in the Qoricancha. A few remains of the Temple of Sun can still be observed inside, the most important and richly gilded temple of its kind and a major pilgrimage destination in Inca times. The gold was quickly extracted and melted down and much of the temple destroyed to make way for a new church and convent and today the impressive Santo Domingo remains in its place.
Our travellers also ventured out of the city in a small group tour, taking in the sacred puma-shaped stone of Qenko and the plentiful remains of Sacsayhuaman, the puma at the head of Cusco and once a major sun temple and fortress. Today it is best known for its well-preserved zig-zagging walls, which demonstrate both the engineering abilities of the Incas and the importance of harmony between the structures and the surrounding landscape, evidenced in the ways the walls mimic the natural undulations of the mountains.
Into the Jungle
Colin and Katy completed their Peruvian odyssey by flying to Puerto Maldonado and venturing into the Amazon, the world's biggest rainforest. The adventure began right from the moment they touched down, reaching their base at the Posada Amazonas by motorised canoe as they adjusted to the intense humidity of the jungle.
Given their love of wildlife, it was to their great delight that they were able to spot the likes of capybara, howler monkeys, caiman and a vast array of colourful and exotic birds and insects on early morning and late afternoon excursions. Colin focused on the birds whilst Katy captured close-ups of some of the multitude of insects.
Clockwise from left: red & green macaw courtship, capybara, hoatzin & black caiman
So how was their first experience travelling so far on a private tour? "We were initially concerned about travelling alone on a bespoke itinerary, but our doubts were set aside as we realised that we would have our own regional guide and driver for each section of the trip. In the event this worked incredibly well and we will have no hesitation in repeating this format on future trips with Veloso Tours to Latin America."
Veloso Tours would like to express their thanks to Colin and Katy for sharing their adventures and allowing us to use their wonderful photos to showcase Peru. We hope they have inspired you to take your own holiday to Peru.
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