We divided up our journey to Arequipa with a stop in Nazca to visit the Lîneas de Nazca. These mysterious geoglyphs were on both our bucket lists for South America so we were excited about the scenic flight we’d booked that glides you over the desert for panoramic views.
Remember when I mentioned that it’s not always good to set the expectations too high?
Just kidding. The lines were really cool. The scale of them is incredible, covering an area of almost 1000 square metres and it’s bizarre to think that they were formed in pre-Columbian times! How did they even see what they’d created? It’s like Big Art Attack but with the epic zoom-out at the end for tourists eyes only.
What we did underestimate was the actual experience of flying in a tiny 8-seater plane, round and round…and round again for what felt like a lot longer than 30 minutes. I felt extremely nauseous about 2 minutes into the flight and spent the next 28 deep breathing and taking hardly any photos for fear of losing focus on the horizon.
Tim got a huge wave of sickness after the plane ride ended, just as we were about to get some lunch. He couldn’t eat his menu del dia!
We spent the rest of the day wandering the small town of Nazca, people watching in the plaza, reading our books and grabbing a big dinner (making up for lunch) before hopping on the overnight bus to Arequipa. We were traveling with Cruz del Sur, the best bus company in South America! It’s better than being on an aeroplane with snacks, movies, USB ports and a toilet on board. Plus, we sat right at the front so we had panoramic views of the mountains and desert as we cruised to our next destination.
La Ciudad Blanca: the White City. The name comes from the city being built from the white rock of the many volcanoes that surround it. On a sunny day, the city shimmers and at the ends of every narrow street or from the tops of the many rooftops you can spot the snow-capped peaks. There’s a distinctly European flavour about Arequipa, apart from the obvious signs that you’re in South America like the constant beeping of taxis and ladies in traditional clothing wandering around with toddles strapped to their backs. It’s said that it’s one of Peru’s prettiest cities.
We based ourselves here for about a week, taking two days in the middle to hike the Valle del Colca, the Colca Canyon. This is why most travelers head to the city in the first place – it’s the gateway to this canyon which is the second deepest in the world.
We opted to walk it ourselves because we’d heard from friends that it’s cheaper and more relaxing; you don’t have to walk in a big group and you can stay in the less touristy villages. Well, we certainly got less touristy. For the first two days, we hardly saw anyone else on the tracks. We were there out of season (June-August is the high season) but we didn’t think we’d be totally alone!
It was a tough hike. Tough enough for us both to say we didn’t want to hike again for a long time. It wasn’t the length (which was only about 24 kilometres over three days) but the heat, combined with altitude and the intense dryness of the air. Not the easiest hiking conditions. The first day was also all downhill, deep into the Canyon, so our knees were already shot after day one.
The highlights were the little villages we stayed in along the way. The first night we arrived at San Juan de Chuccho in search of Posada de Roy, where we hoped for a bed for the night. There’s a lady on the bridge at the bottom of the canyon who’ll tell you that Roy’s is full and to follow her to another spot but we’d been warned about her so said a kind no, gracias and continued up to the village.
When we arrived at Roy’s there was nobody around but an old, old lady who turned out to the be the mother-in-law of Roy. She was adorable and the most able-bodied elderly person we’ve ever encountered! Her Spanish was very difficult to understand (she was also speaking Quechua – the ancient language of the Incas) so we had to try and explain we wanted a room for the night. She said that was ok but went to call her daughter to confirm, who was picking up the kids from school in the next village.
Remember Trigger Happy TV when he answers the giant Nokia 5210? That was her calling the daughter. We were stifling the laughs as we waited.
We were in luck. The daughter was rushing back along the canyon paths to come and make us lunch, much to our protest that she didn’t need to hurry! In the meantime, we sat with the older lady as she nattered away about her farm, the weather and the chickens (we think).
Once we’d been fed and rested we walked back down the river at the bottom of the canyon to watch the sun go down. It was beautifully peaceful and I felt like Pocahontas!
After saying goodbye to Roy’s family the following morning, and lapping up the last delicious meal there, we set off to Llahuar where we had a lodge booked for that night. Roy’s family dog accompanied us much of the way, which is apparently what a lot of the dogs do for hikers on the trail, keeping you on the right path.
Here, Roy’s wife is laughing at me because I asked “puedo tomar una foto?” (can I take a photo?) which in Quechua language sounds a lot like “can I touch the bum”…apparently.
It was a welcome sight, arriving at Llahuar Lodge. It sits high up on the rocky canyon side with the cabins set down by the river, where there are natural hot springs to bathe in. Weary hikers spend many hours here, as you can imagine!
We preferred Roy’s for the tranquility and the hospitality but the setting of this lodge is great.
As we were aiming for the 11:30 am bus back to Arequipa that next morning we had to leave early. This was the hardest part of the hike, uphill continuously, climbing 1000 metres. We were worried we would miss the bus so we hooned it up the hills, stopping only for sips of water and to catch our breaths, making it with half an hour to spare. We were pretty proud of ourselves, once we could get enough energy back to even speak to each other. We were like zombies on that bus ride back to the White City.
Two days we relaxed in Arequipa until we headed to Puno, the town on Lake Titicaca, and our last stop in Peru.
We had climbed even higher, to almost 4000 metres, with the Lake Titicaca being the highest navigable lake in the world. As we were driving in the town didn’t look like too much to write home about but it turned out to be quite quaint. It was also very Christmassy with all the lights in the shop windows and the giant tree in the plaza. It was also very cold. We put on our duck down jackets and beanies for the first time in months!
We filled our only afternoon there with a trip to Islas Flotantes de los uros: the Floating Islands of the Uros.
It was super touristy and a money maker if we’ve ever seen one but it was a good tour for a few hours and only cost $7 USD. The islands are built from a reed-like plant found growing on the surface of the lake. Around 2000 people still live on the islands, trading fish and reeds with the mainland for rice, potatoes etc. as they can’t grow fresh produce themselves.
After being greeted by some singing, dancing and brightly dressed Uros, we were given a demonstration on how the islands are made, where they cook (outside to prevent fires) and heavily encouraged to buy some handicrafts. Sadly, we didn’t buy anything but we did take a ride on the “Mercedes Benz” of their reed boats for a dollar or two.
It’s easy to see that the modern world hasn’t totally escaped the islands, with many of them on smartphones. Although, there’s no Wi-Fi off the mainland.
After a hearty Italian dinner and a good nights sleep we were off again early the next morning, headed to the city in the clouds: La Paz.