Last time I posted something on my blog I was residing in Cusco (sometimes spelled as Cuzco). It is a nice place to explore for a couple of days. Cusco has a great vibe with its atmospheric lights and its little streets and markets and its tranquility makes it the perfect place to mentally prepare your trek to Machu Picchu.
Cusco, however, can be seen as a hub as its location provides the perfect opportunity to reach other interesting places. In the area around the city there are plenty of things to do. One could, for instance, visit a plethora of Inca ruins or the famous Sacred Valley (Valle Sagrado). Oftentimes it is referred to as the Urubamba Valley. This area has been extremely important to the Incas and some would even call this the heartland of the Inca Empire, because of its special geographical and climatic qualities which allowed the Inca civilization to produce maize.
Apart from being "just a hub" one should not forget its historic importance. It has been the capital of the Inca Empire and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO. Up until now it still remains unclear how the city has exactly been built.
In 1911 the famous Inca city Machu Picchu was discovered by the American historian Hiram Bingham and this resulted in becoming the most visited attraction in Peru. It's been assumed that there were others who had discovered this "Lost City" before but heedless of what happened, it is clear that it was Bingham who revealed it to the world. Nowadays, it can undoubtedly be labeled as the most famous icon of the Inca civilization. The Machu Picchu we visit today is not that Machu Picchu in its original state. Many buildings have been reconstructed and they are still restoring them as we speak.
The city got abandoned during the Spanish Conquest. Luckily, it hadn't been discovered by the Spanish. Up until now it is not fully clear why the Incas would build such a city in an area so hard to reach. As one could expect many researchers are speculating about its purpose. Many theories arose; Machu Picchu could be a sacred religious site, a settlement to control the economy of the conquered areas, a prison for the ones who had committed crimes against the Inca society, an agricultural testing station, an abode for the deities or a place for the coronation of kings. Whatever the purpose of this city, not knowing why contributes to the mysterious charm of it.
Machu Picchu is located at an altitude level of approximately 2.430 meters. It's not that high up, which makes it relatively easy to reach, even for the non-experienced hikers. Being such a major touristic attraction there are many different treks that are being offered including pretty tough treks, such as the Salkantay Trek. For the ones with time restraints (or for the "lazy" ones) one can take a train up to Aguas Calientes - the last city before Machu Picchu - and depart to Machu Picchu from there. The easiest way to reach Machu Picchu is by taking a bus from this city to the entrance of the city, but many chose to walk all the way up. It's not a long hike, but it's tougher than one would expect; imagine endless stairs steeply going up for 1 hour to 1.5 hours. But no worries, everyone makes it! Whatever trek you will do, I'm sure there will be something suitable for anyone. Easy treks, average treks and tough treks, they have it all. The most famous one is the Inca Trail, but this one gets booked up easily. If you want to do this one I recommend booking this in advance (6 to 8 months before).
The majority of the people depart from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This is actually a good strategy as Cusco (approximately 3.600 meters) is higher up than Machu Picchu. If it's your first time at high altitude, then I suggest you to stay in Cusco for at least a couple of days before heading to Machu Picchu. As mentioned before, there's plenty of stuff to do in and around Cusco. Once you're used to the altitude in Cusco, then Machu Picchu shouldn't be a problem...
Machu Picchu has been built between two mountains: the Machu Picchu Mountain and the Wayna Picchu Mountain (also known as Huayna Picchu). Both mountains are higher up and it is allowed the climb up both mountains. Once you reach the top you will witness an amazing view. Climbing these mountains is not easy, especially during the day when the sun is burning your skin, but if you're there already you might as well climb it. It's easy to access the Machu Picchu Mountain, but if you want to climb the Wayna Picchu Mountain I recommend you to book it a bit in advance. There's only a small amount of people allowed on this mountain each day.
The Inca Jungle Trek-
I picked the Inca Jungle Trek. Initially, I wanted to do the Salkantay Trek because it's more challenging, but given my physical condition after Bolivia I thought it'd be better to take it easy. The Inca Jungle Trek is still quite adventurous though. On the first day we got on our mountain bikes and biked down for a long time (I don't remember how many meters we descended). Nothing compared to Death Road in Bolivia of course, but it was still fun.
The second day we pretty much hiked the whole day and the scenery is just amazing. The positive thing about this trek is that it's not that cold. In fact, it gets quite hot as there is no way to escape from the sun. The climate in this area is quite stable and therefore it's quite hot the entire year.
The third day involved a bit of ziplining and hiking to Aguas Calientes. This day was easier, because most of it was pretty flat. The scenery was amazing again!
On the last day, we woke up at 4 in the morning to hike to Machu Picchu. I lost my entrance ticket, so I had to go back to Aguas Calientes to get a new one. I needed to meet up with the rest of my group again at the Machu Picchu, so I took the bus up to make sure I wouldn't be late.
Arriving at Machu Picchu after 4 days of hiking gave me a lot of gratification. It was a lovely and a sunny day and the city looked beautiful (apart from all tourists walking around). I climbed the Machu Picchu Mountain after that, and the view from up there was simply stunning.
And it's not over yet… After an ascent there's always a descent. Walking down for a couple of hours is not really a good treatment for your legs, knees and ankles. At Machu Picchu we had the option to go back down by bus... nahhh… we're not going to do that! It was a long day and we were quite tired when we reached Aguas Calientes again. We had a couple of hours to rest, before we would take the train (and a bus after that) back to Cusco. We went to the wrong train station, so we always missed our train. But we had been walking for the past 4 days, why not walk a bit extra to end this great journey?
Arequipa & the Colca Canyon (and the Earthquake)-
I travelled with two Danes (Samson & Benjamin) I had met during the Inca Jungle Trek and the next stop would be in Arequipa. It's better known as the white city, because of the white buildings. Arequipa is a bit bigger than Cusco and likewise, it's a nice place to hang out for a couple of days. Many people go to Arequipa to prepare their trek through the Colca Canyon though; the deepest canyon in the world (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States).
It would just be another ordinary three-day hike, but it turned out to be ridiculously more adventurous and exciting in the end. At the end of the first day we stayed in a small village where we would stay the night. Many people went to bed early, because there's not much to do in the evening there. The Danes and me were just playing a game in a small, open wooden house. Everything was all good… until the whole house and the ground underneath us started shaking like crazy. It took me several seconds to realize what was going on. At first, I thought it was a landslide and I didn't know what to do. All I knew was that I had to get out of that house as quickly as possible. I didn't know where to run to, so I followed a few Peruvians who were looking for a secure spot as well. Once we found a good spot the shaking stopped. According to the Peruvians we just survived an earthquake. It was my first earthquake, so I guess I can tick that off my bucket list now.
Some people were sleeping when it happened and tiny bits of rocks fell down. The houses were damaged, but luckily the houses hadn't collapsed. After this once in a lifetime experience we sat outside for a long time, talking about the earthquake and trying to conceive what just happened.
There were some aftershocks and each time we felt one we would stand up and be ready to run again. It really messes with your mind and therefore it was extremely hard to sleep. On top of that, there was a lot of dust in the air; so much that that we couldn't see the canyon anymore… nor the stars.
The houses were too unstable so it'd be too dangerous to sleep in there, so we took out the mattresses and slept outside. And actually, it wasn't that bad. It wasn't that cold and it was quite cosy… everyone sleeping outside in the same place. Now, that's how you bond with one another!
The next day we changed our schedule. We would hike the whole day today as we wanted to reach the top of the canyon as soon as possible. It would be better to be up there if another earthquake would come. We didn't have a choice anyways; a lot of trails were wiped out and there was no drinking water. We needed to find alternative ways to get up. It was extremely hot and we hiked a lot during this day. I believe we had walked approximately 23 km and had ascended more than 1000 meters. I had done some hiking before so I was used to climbing up all the time, but it got quite hard at the end as I didn't have any water anymore.
It was scary in some way, because we knew that if another earthquake would come again we just might get wiped out. Actually, the scariest part is that the path we had walked the day before had completely been wiped out. If the earthquake had happened a bit earlier we would not have been here right now and that is quite a scary.
After this adrenaline filled adventure you start to reflect on life again and realize you've just escaped death. I appreciate life a lot more right now! Life could be over before you know it, so you should do the things you love and live life to the max! Go for it now! The future is promised to no one!
The Mysterious Lines of Nasca-
Not letting the earthquake take over our lives, the Danes and I kept on travelling and we went to Nasca (or Nazca). People come here to see the mysterious Nasca lines; these are geoglyphs created by the Nasca civilization between 400 and 650 AD. Geoglyphs are patterns, designs or motifs produced on the ground. Hundreds of different motifs have been created in different designs and sizes. It is possible, for instance, to spot designs in the shapes of hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, lizards and many more.
I took a 30 minute flight to see these shapes, but it wasn't a pleasant flight. It's a tiny airplane, so it keeps on moving a lot. Also, in order to be able to see the shapes the planes has to make a lot of turns, exposing the body to the G-forces. I felt really miserable during this trip - and the other three people in the plane too - and I almost threw up. In the end nothing happened I made it back safely without losing any of my food.
The Nasca lines were hard to spot. They were not as exposed as I thought they would be. It's a common misconception that the Nasca lines can only be seen by flight. There are some lines you can spot when you climb up a certain hills, but you won't see all of them.
The Nasca lines are definitely interesting, but I don't think it was worth the money. I spent 250 soles (70 euros) on a 30 minute flight, which almost made me puke and it was hard to spot the lines. If you don't have the time or the money, then I would skip this part of Peru; there are better places to discover. The place is really touristy and apparently the Nasca lines are a big thing there. I believe the Peruvians marketed it well and hyped it up a lot. That's one way to earn money I guess…
And the Danes and me went on to Huacahina, a tiny town which has basically nothing to offer. But the great things they have here are the dunes. The dunes are massive and they are perfect for doing some sand boarding. I did the same in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, but it's significantly better here. The dunes are many times bigger and they have buggies to take you from one dune to another. The buggy ride itself is quite an awesome experience. The only con here are the boards. The boards they provide you with aren't really high quality boards. But it was still good fun though. In Huacachina you're able to get good boards, but they will charge you more for that.
Paracas & Ballestas Islands-
The Danes and I had parted ways now. They went to Venezuela and I went to another place called Paracas. The place is well known for its national park and the Ballestas Islands located close to Paracas. Several species of birds, penguins and seals reside on these islands. It will take you about 30 minutes to get there and you will probably spend less than an hour there before you head back again. It's not that expensive, but you don't see that much. Perhaps it's less interesting for me now as I had already seen many of these animals in Argentina, but I wasn't really enthusiastic about this little trip. Ballestas Islands or Argentina? I'd say Argentina…
I've had the same feeling with the Paracas National Park. They drive you around and there are some nice areas you get to see, but generally it's quite boring and you don't get see anything flabbergasting.
Before I went to Lima my fellow travellers shared their negative experiences with me. Lima is apparently an ugly and depressive city with nothing much to do. Given the size of the city I found it hard to believe that there are hardly any activities.
When I got to Lima it wasn't that bad. I liked the city, there's a lot of stuff to do and it really has this city vibe. I must say that I love huge cities, so for me it's perfect. I do understand why some people would call it a bit depressing as the city is covered by a thick, gray fog (better known as "garua") from June to December. It's a natural phenomenon and there's not much one can do about it. For me, Lima was the perfect place for me to recover as I had been travelling quite quickly again lately. I stayed in the Miraflores area and it's quite nice. Most tourists stay here, because they say it's one of the safest areas in Lima. I haven't been to many other regions in Lima, but they say it's too dangerous to go there…
I just arrived in Huaraz and I'm preparing myself for a few treks. Many people would consider these the best treks in South America. Huaraz is situated right next to the Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world after the Himalayas! And it's supposed to be gorgeous…