Cantuta – Peru’s National Flower
Dramatic skies and clear blue water describe yesterday’s outing on Lake Titicaca’s Uros and Taquile Islands. The tourists in our group included Peruvians and a smorgasbord of Europeans of all ages – Irish, Italian, German, Russian, and Norwegian.
Our indigenous guides were gracious and organized. They did a fantastic job of educating us about the islands.
When the tour began at 6:00 a.m., the skies were black and ominous and it was raining. On the way to the islands the rain stopped, and by the end of the day it was sunny.
First we visited two of the Uros – small floating islands manmade with totoro reeds. We were given an interesting demonstration of how the reeds were used to build the islands. After a 1.5 hour boat ride, we arrived at Taquile Island. Taquile is a larger natural island which we explored and hiked for several hours followed by lunch high in the hills overlooking Lake Titicaca. Once again the altitude (12,500 ft.) made itself known and what should have been an easy hike was a bit tiring. Many in the group napped and yawned on the two-hour boat ride back to Puno.
Las islas son muy hermosa! Below are photos taken during the day. I leave Peru on March 2nd and the next stop is Bolivia.
Yesterday I spent time exploring Puno but found the altitude (12,556 ft.) a hindrance to doing much walking and ran out of steam early. Tomorrow I take an all-day tour of the lake and visit the Uros and Taquile islands. Looking forward to being on the water! The sky and colors here are phenomenal.
Lake Titicaca is near the city of Puno on the border between northern Bolivia and southern Peru. It has several distinctions:
- At 12,500 ft., it’s the highest commercially navigable lake in the world.
- Covering some 3,200 sq. miles, it’s the largest lake in South America.
- It’s the birthplace of the Inca civilization and the ancestral land of many indigenous people, including the Quechuas, Uros, Pacajes, and Puquinas.
Giant Frog of Titicaca
Approximately 60% of the lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia. The area is known for its agricultural traditions and ancestral rituals such as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). In addition to Spanish, inhabitants speak several indigenous languages.
Created in 1978, the Lake Titicaca Reserve preserves native flora and fauna and unique species of birds, fish, and amphibians. One of the lake’s most famous inhabitants is the giant frog of Titicaca, which can weigh up to 7 pounds.
Lake Titicaca’s islands include:
The Uros are a group of 44 small inhabited artificial islands made of floating reeds called totoro that grow in the shallows of the lake. The original purpose of the islands was for defense, and they could be moved in case of a threat.
Amantaní is another small island where about 4,000 Quechua live. Two mountain peaks are visible, Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) with ancient ruins at the top. Terraced hillsides are planted with wheat, potatoes, and vegetables. The Quechua do most agricultural work by hand. Stone fences divide the fields, and cattle and sheep graze on the hillsides.
Some of the families on Amantaní open their homes to tourists for overnight stays. There are no cars or hotels on the island and most families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries or hand-cranks. Small solar panels were recently installed on some homes.
Taquile is a long, narrow hilly island that was used as a prison during the Spanish Colonization. In 1970 it became the property of the Taquile people. About 2,000 people live there. The island has Pre-Inca ruins and agricultural terraces with views of the surrounding Bolivian mountains. Like Amantaní there are no cars on the island and no hotels. A few small stores sell basic goods.
Taquile is known for its handicraft tradition which is regarded as among the highest quality handicrafts in the world. “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honored by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. Knitting is exclusively performed by men, starting at age eight. The women exclusively make yarn and weave.
Taquileans offer home stays, transportation, and restaurants to tourists. “The Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, and ama qhilla, (do not steal, do not lie, and do not be lazy).”
Isla del Sol
Mirador de Kuntur Wasi Puno
Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is one of Lake Titicaca’s largest islands. It’s on the Bolivian side with boat links to the town of Copacabana. The terrain is harsh, rocky, and hilly and there are no motor vehicles or paved roads. Farming is the main economic activity of the 800 families living on the island.
There are Inca ruins on Isla del Sol dating back to 15th century AD and many hills contain terraces, which adapt steep and rocky terrain to agriculture. “Among the ruins on the island are the Sacred Rock, a labyrinth-like building called Chicana, Kasa Pata, and Pilco Kaima. The Incas believe that the sun god was born here.”
Isla de la Luna
Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) is east of Isla del Sol. Both islands belong to the La Paz Department of Bolivia. According to legends that refer to Inca mythology, Isla de la Luna is where Viracocha commanded the rising of the moon.
Archaeological excavations show that the original Pre-Inca Tiwanaku peoples built a major temple on the Island of the Moon. The Inca built the structures seen on the island today directly over the earlier Tiwanaku ones. Archeologists found ruins of an Inca nunnery (Mamakuna) on the shore.
Suriqui is on the Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca and is the last place where the art of reed boat construction survives.
Colca Canyon Peru
My trek into Peru’s Colca Canyon exceeded expectations! The canyon’s beauty is indescribable and experiencing its magic so far away from the beaten path is the best. February is off-season for trekking in the canyon but a great time since the weather is cooler and the vegetation is green and flourishing.
Chivay Mother & Daughter
Colca Canyon Cactus Flower
I shared the trip from Arequipa with a fun Australian couple – Tasha and Aaron. Our adventure began at 6:00 a.m. driving with the guides through high patapampa plateaus surrounded by the magnificent Cordillera de Chila. We passed rivers, volcanoes, mountains, and national reserves with grazing “camelids”. Still have trouble distinguishing between llamas, alpacas, and guanacos, but now recognize vicuñas.
As we passed through Chivay the terrain changed and became more like Cusco and Machu Picchu. We stopped in Yanque, a small village outside Chivay. For our first outing my Peruvian guide, Patty, and I hiked the surrounding area, including the Uyu Uyu pre-Incan ruins. Tasha and Aaron explored on horseback. We met for a lunch of Peruvian cuisine, enjoyed the hot springs, and stayed overnight in Chivay.
On the Trail
Another Terrible View
Cordillera de Chila
Down the Canyon
The Yanque hike lasted about 4 hours through varying terrain. The altitude (11,000 ft.+) was apparent and I had some shortness of breath. Patty shared interesting details and stories about the history of the area and Quechua people, who were conquered and oppressed by the Spaniards in the 16th century.
The first part of the hike was sunny and hot. During the last few hours we suddenly got strong wind and the temperature dropped drastically. I had stripped down to my base layer and thought the breeze felt wonderful until I realized my body temperature was dropping rapidly and I was beginning to chill. It took a soak in the hot springs, hot soup and tea, and two wool blankets that night to warm up.
Quechua Woman & Child
The local people in Chivay were celebrating Carnival and their merriment lasted all day and into the early hours of the morning – loud music and dancing in the streets and square. Tasha and Aaron danced and partied with the locals who showed no signs of stopping any time soon. It was a special experience being in Chivay during Carnival but I retired earlier than the others knowing there was a long challenging day of hiking ahead.
At 6:00 a.m. the next morning we drove to Cruz del Condor, a condor viewing point between the small towns of Pinchollo and Cabanaconde. The morning sunrise creates warm thermals from the canyon enabling the condors to fly from their nests and search for food. It was disappointing to find the area fogged in with almost zero visibility. We finally gave it up. Aaron and Tasha left for Puno and Patty and I continued on what ended up being a 10+ hour trek in the deep Colca Canyon.
Peruvian Guide Patty
Woman with Llama
Our trek was on terrain only passable by two- and four-legged animals. There are no roads for vehicles. The first four hours were zigzagging downhill and it was absolutely gorgeous. Miraculously when the fog cleared we saw several condors! They are huge birds! One group of several flying together must have found food. Condors and eagles are the main birds in the canyon and both are scavengers. There are also foxes and puma.
We ran into a few other hikers and locals who were carrying supplies back and forth to a series of tiny inhabited villages deep in the canyon. Life for the villagers is hard but they are surrounded by such incredible natural beauty. They grow their own food using irrigated, terraced fields and raise sheep, llamas, and chickens. The only way to get supplies in and out of these remote villages is by donkey. Loaded to the hilt, the somber-faced donkeys seem to fly up and down the trails with little difficulty. It’s amazing!
The trekking trail led down the canyon to the Colca River which begins high in the Andes and drops to the Pacific Ocean in stages. The name of the river changes from Majes to Camana to Colca where it flows between the tiny mountain villages where we hiked. It’s a tough hike but experiencing it with one guide was perfect. Patty is 22 years old and has hiked the canyon for about 4 years. She was an endless source of information about the indigenous culture, vegetation, birds, animals, and terrain.
Puya Ramondi Bromeliad
We made our way deep into the canyon and crossed a small swing bridge over the Colca River. On the other side we climbed up to our lunch stop, a tiny village at 16,000 ft. called Malata. When we arrived I was tired and famished.
One option was staying at a small hostel in Malata for the night and continuing to Cabanaconde the next day or keeping to our scheduled stop – Oasis Sangalle. Because of the terrain and altitude, some trekkers find the distance to the oasis in one day too much. After lunch and a few cups of coca tea I felt energized and opted to continue. I was slow and at that altitude had to stop often to catch my breath and rest. Knowing my age (probably beyond ancient to her) Patty was patient. In addition to the downhill, the second half of the day included some steep climbing and took us another 5+ hours. The scenery was worth the pain but we were about 2 hours behind schedule.
Church Near Chivay
Uyu Uyu Pre-Incan Ruins
Tasha and Aaron
The scariest part of the trek was the last hour of hiking to our overnight stop at Oasis Sangalle. The trail switched again from uphill to downhill and we used headlamps to see where we were hiking. The area is extremely isolated and there are no roads for vehicles, so if anything happens, you’re on your own…. Several village dogs accompanied us along part of the trail. As we approached the oasis they started howling back and forth with other dogs already deeper in the canyon below – very primitive. Apparently the stray dogs live in the area and like to follow trekkers and hang out with them until they get bored and return to their villages.
We finally made it to Oasis Sangalle by around 7:30 p.m., checked into our rustic cabins, and ate dinner. The cabins and food were basic – no heat, no hot water – but the bed was actually comfortable. I was so exhausted a bed of nails would have seemed cozy! A hot shower would have been nice.
The next morning we had to hike back up to the top of the canyon and the small town of Cabanaconde by 9:00 a.m. to catch a bus to Chivay. The uphill stretch of trail was similar to the downhill we did that morning and I knew I could not hike it in three hours. I decided to hire a donkey instead – a two-hour ride.
It will take time to absorb the donkey ride and experiencing first-hand donkey etiquette, chain of command, and poo. Basically, I was at the mercy of the donkey. My donkey’s name was Pepe.The owner runs his donkeys up and down the canyon – supplies for the village, trekker backpacks, etc. so he must make that trip almost every day.
There were four donkeys in our caravan and we started the climb at 6:00 a.m. I was half asleep and stiff from the long day before. The donkeys go straight up the steep trail and often come perilously close to the rim. I hung on and hoped for the best. At certain points of the trail they seem to get a rush of energy and all of a sudden take off with a spurt of speed – not fun if it catches you by surprise. We passed some young German tourists on donkeys with their mini camcorders videotaping the whole thing. I needed both hands to hold on and keep from falling off into the canyon.
An hour or so into the trip the donkey owner – a handsome Peruvian named Raphael – talked to me a little. He seemed to enjoy his life, and with all the tourists must be doing well. He had a great sense of humor and was constantly scolding one of the stubborn young donkeys who was naughty. The last hour or so I felt relaxed and really enjoyed the beautiful vistas. It’s one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had – loved it. Unfortunately no pictures except for the sweet ones in my memory….
Patty and I met at the top, had breakfast in Cabanaconde, and then caught a bus to Chivay. I had 30 minutes to shower, change clothes, and get aboard the bus for Puno – a six-hour ride. Am taking a few days to relax and will begin exploring Lake Titicaca soon. It was raining when we arrived last night but in the morning it cleared and it’s beautiful outside now.
Colca Canyon Peru
Feeling MUCH improved today, so early tomorrow I leave for several days hiking in Colca Canyon. Luckily I’m able to share the outfitter – Peru Adventure Tours, transportation, and guides with an Australian couple, making the trip much more affordable for everyone.
Our itineraries are different – they’re exploring the canyon on horseback while I’ll be hiking – but it works out perfectly. We’re off at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning and I’m so excited!
Haven’t met the guide yet – a young Peruvian who knows the Canyon well. The weather may be our biggest challenge as some rain is forecast. The first part of the trek is down into the depths of the Canyon. Then we slowly work our way back up enjoying the scenery and wildlife along the way. After the first night, accommodations will be in rustic cabins along the way – no heat or hot water.
Today was the clearest day so far for photographing the mountains surrounding Arequipa, but these pictures don’t begin to do them justice – simply breathtaking!
More posts after the trek when settled in Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Virgin of Candelaria Celebration Puno
February is Carnival month in Peru. I’ve been in Arequipa since the 12th and each day have noticed more and more fun Carnival activities – parades, public entertainment events, and a fantastic Valentine’s Day celebration. Puno, Lake Titicaca, and the Uros Islands are the next stop. Sadly I missed Puno’s Virgen de la Candelaria festival, one of the most colorful Peruvian Carnival events.
Boats Lake Titicaca
The Virgin of Candelaria celebrates the Virgin Mary on the island of Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of the Canary Islands and each year for 18 days they celebrate her feast on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
At an altitude of 3,870 meters (almost 13,000 feet) above sea level, Puno becomes the Folk Capital of the Americas during Carnival. The festival gathers musicians and dancers to celebrate and perform throughout the city.
Carnival Celebration Arequipa
“The Our Lady of Candelaria festival is linked to the pre-Hispanic agricultural cycles of sowing and harvesting, as well as mining activities in the region. It is the result of a blend of respectful Aymara gaiety and ancestral Quechua seriousness.”
Still recovering from traveler’s GI issues, everything, including the Colca Canyon trek, is on hold. It’s a bummer. Not sure how much longer recovery will take but Arequipa is as good a place as any to be sick, and I’m hoping to get out and about a bit today. Last night Carnival cannons and fireworks went off well into the night and started up again this morning at 6:00 a.m.
Another interesting celebration that made a big impact during my travels was TET (Lunar New Year) in Viet Nam a few years ago. TET celebrations are now in process throughout the world. In Viet Nam everything comes to a standstill for TET and it has a colossal impact on the people. Carnival is South America’s TET!
One special thing about Peru is its cevicherias, picanterias, heladerias, pastelerias, and chocolaterias. The goodies are never-ending! For those wondering about these popular Peruvian establishments, heladerias, pastelerias, and chocolaterias are easy to figure out, but cevicherias and picanterias are a little more complicated, so below is some info learned during this trip.
In the cake and ice cream category, queso helado is another delicious local favorite sold in parks, cafes, and along the street by Inca women dressed in colorful traditional clothing. Capriccio near Arequipa’s Plaza De Las Armas brings a smile to everyone’s face. You enjoy coffee and desert while watching an endless procession of pastry boxes being carried in and out of the front door. THE best is their famous, delicious torta de zanahoria – carrot cake!
Cevicherias or Cebicherias serve ceviche, raw fish marinated in lemon and lime juice. Ceviche is Peru’s national dish and symbol of the country. Preparation varies in different regions of Peru but the acid in the citrus juice coagulates the proteins in the fish and cooks it so it’s served cold or at room temperature.
Picanterias and Chicherias in Arequipa began as local places where people quenched their thirst drinking chicha, a drink made from corn and fermented in ceramic barrels. Chicha comes from the time of the Incas. The drink was adopted by the Spaniards and has survived to the present day. Fermented chicha has a bitter taste but is very refreshing. As a way for the chicherias to sell more chicha, they began offering plain food dishes, with a touch of picante.
Torta de Zanahoria
The restaurants in Arequipa usually offer a main dish called “rocoto”. Rocoto relleno is the Peruvian variety of stuffed peppers, a dish which originated from Spain and became popular in Arequipa. Since the sweet peppers used in Spain weren’t available in Peru they substituted rocoto peppers. Rocotos are spicier than jalapeño when raw and considered one of the most famous dishes of Peru. Peruvians do amazing things with those peppers!
Originally chicherias were in Arequipa’s downtown houses. A red flag was hung outside the house to mark the place where you could eat and drink. The chicherias had large tables with benches where customers sat side by side. While the food was served, they passed around the chicha in one big glass to share with friends. Later, the picanterias moved to districts in the outskirts of Arequipa. There’s a picanteria in Yanahuara near my hotel and yes, it’s full of long wooden benches where everyone sits side by side.
Hit by a miserable case of traveler’s gastroenteritis, I’ve been lying low for the past few days. I rarely get sick while traveling but during a long trip it always seems to happens at least a few times no matter how carefully I watch my diet. Today was slow. I spent most of the day sitting in the park trying to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.
The beautiful Plaza de Yanahuara near my hotel is a popular stop for tourist buses, so the merchants in the area are forever busy. The park is full of massive, perfectly formed palm trees, so just sitting there all day looking at them is no problem.
Regulars in the area noticed my extended presence and made me feel welcome. I met the local veterinarian, a restaurateur, several artists selling their crafts at the small open market, the policemen who patrol the park, and even the neighborhood dogs. Two street parades passed by with brass bands and drums, and groups of school children wandered by later. By mid-afternoon I was feeling better or at least well enough to walk back uphill to the hotel to continue the day’s respite.
On Thursday I begin a few days of trekking in Colca Canyon and hope to be recovered from this brief setback by then and able to keep up with the trekking group! Not sure thinking about food is speeding the recovery along.
El Misti behind Andantes de Paucarpata
Iglesia San Francisco
Yesterday’s outing through Arequipa and its surrounding areas was satisfying and fun, but as the day progressed it was misty and not a good day for photos. The group was mostly Peruvian with a few tourists from NYC and California. Different people commented on how difficult and expensive it is to visit nearby Cusco these days. Many of them bypass it for Arequipa. Luckily I visited Cusco and Machu Picchu years ago before Peru began implementing tourist restrictions.
We did some walking and stopped many times during the tour. A few of the most interesting sights are described below.
El Misti from Mirador y Plaza Yanahuara
La Mansion Del Fundador
The Mirador and Plaza of Yanahuara – near my hotel – was built in the nineteenth century and has a series of gorgeous sillar arches. I never tire of walking by the stone pillars. On Valentine’s Day there was a celebration in the adjacent park with wonderful music.
Iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel is a church in the suburb of Cayma. It dates back to 1730.
Fabrica Incalpaca produces exquisite luxury alpaca products. They have four different types of live domesticated alpacas on view in an area outside the textile shop. Depending on the animal, the wool fiber differs in quality. High-quality water-proof alpaca is very expensive and beautiful. There are four types of alpaca fur used, including huacaya, suri, chaccu, and vicuna.
Iglesia San Miguel Arcángel
Mirador De Carmen Alto
Mirador De Carmen Alto is a scenic observation point outside Arequipa. Sadly the hazy day was not good for capturing photos. They had a small shop where you could by coca and Maca products. Maca is a native plant and also known as Peruvian ginseng. It’s a natural protein rich in vitamins and minerals. Coca leaves help prevent altitude sickness.
Balneario de Tingo is a small spa town with thermal water treatments and recreation, including swimming pools and an artificial lake. Tingo is a weekend retreat.
La Mansion Del Fundador has a history dating back to Spain’s occupation of Peru. Spain granted the founder of Arequipa, Don Manuel Garcí de Carbajal, land where he built the mansion. Later, a wealthy, influential Spaniard converted the building into a country estate for ecclesiastical and civil dignitaries. In the 1980s, a group of local architectural enthusiasts purchased and restored the mansion.
Balneario de Tingo
Molino de Sabandia is a wheat mill built in the 18th century with typical sillar stone architecture. The mill is now a recreational area for horseback riding and swimming in the river. On a clear day there are striking views of the three surrounding mountains – El Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu.
Andantes de Paucarpata is where you can view terraced farming while enjoying a gorgeous Andean Mountain backdrop.
After the long day, it was dark as I walked back to the hotel and the city was covered in a foggy mist illuminated by the many colonial streetlights – very beautiful! Arequipa is my favorite city so far.