As I headed off to Peru with my partner John, I was so excited to have a unique opportunity to experience a completely different culture with Intrepid Travel on their Classic Peru trip. Neither of us had been to South America before and we really had no idea what to expect; although we had heard a lot of exciting stories about friendly locals, beautiful sights and unique food. We were of course mostly looking forward to finally seeing Machu Picchu. Since we are both experienced travellers who love to experience a different way of life, I’ve put together my Top 5 Cultural Experiences from the trip:
Something Different in Ollantaytambo
This quaint little town on the outskirts of Machu Picchu is one of the last pit-stops before heading into Aguas Calienetes and making the final approach to the monument itself. There is a lot to see and do here. One of our favourite spots has got to be the Hearts café in the main square. The café is staffed by charming people who are more than happy to help and features some of the best banana pancakes we’ve ever tasted! Best of all, all of the profit the café makes goes to charity to help the local people in Peru. While you are in Ollantaytambo, why not take a look at the local market, which features very reasonably priced local wares such as alpaca mittens, hats and sweaters and a lot of locally sourced souvenirs. We also attempted to climb the “Devil’s Face” mountain and, while we didn’t make it quite to the top, we could still appreciate the truly breath taking and serene views the vantage point afforded. It’s really something to look out and see that much unspoiled, lush green countryside.
Sightseeing in Lima
This was our first stop on our tour of Peru and at first we found the hustle and bustle of such a big city a little overwhelming. However, once we got settled in we began to appreciate how much there is to do in this vibrant city, and this turned out to be one of our fondest memories of the entire trip. Before we met up with the rest of our group we took the highly efficient and well run Lima public transport to Mira Flores just outside the city centre. What a change you notice! Mira Flores has a very relaxed, beachfront resort feel to it, situated right on the sparkling Pacific Ocean. A day in Mira Flores, spent exploring the cliff face trails, sunbathing, and taking in the atmosphere in Lovers’ Park, certainly would not be a day wasted. We were also lucky enough to be in Lima over the Easter Holiday, which is obviously a big deal in South America. It was really interesting to see how they celebrated the occasion and just how full and alive the local churches were over the Easter period; and having the opportunity to interact with local people at a time of celebration is a unique and rewarding opportunity to have.
Markets and food in Cuzco
Having a guided tour with a friendly and knowledgeable local tour guide is really a shopper’s dream come true! You won’t find any of the mass produced western merchandise in these locally owned and run shops that’s for sure. What you will find, however, is delicious fruit, vegetables and treats that you can’t get anywhere in Canada. If you like coffee or chocolate you will be in heaven, as all of the produce is locally sourced and sold, at less than what you would pay in Canada, and is more than delicious. You can also treat yourself to a churro, a local treat – fried dough pastry with delicious fillings like chocolate and crème de leche. If you’re adventurous why not try some coca leaves? The local people chew coca leaves to help alleviate the effects of altitude sickness. One of the highlights in Cuzco also came on the very last day. Our tour guide, Andy, organised one last big meal for the whole group in a truly unique and exceptional restaurant, whose speciality was tenderloin with very unique sauces….I won’t ruin the surprise but they featured ingredients such as banana and whiskey to name but a few.
Spiritual Excursion to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu will be a highlight of any tour of Peru. It is amazing that this monument has survived almost completely intact and so well preserved to this day. The tour guide that we had for this excursion was excellent and the time of day we went was just right – we woke up early and arrived around 10:30am – well in time to complete the tour before the midday heat really hit us. We were extremely lucky to have clear weather and the views of the monument are truly breath taking from any angle and well worth going to Peru for in their own right. You will definitely want a talented tour guide to take you around to explain the meaning of all of the structures and rock formations you will see and to take you to the most sacred part of the monument, the Sun Dial. The Sun Dial certainly had special significance for our tour group as a member of our group actually got proposed to there! All of the stops we had along the way on the tour were building up to climbing Machu Picchu and it certainly was not an anti-climax! The train ride to Machu Picchu alone is an adventure. You will definitely want to make the extra effort to climb to the guardhouse to get the very best, postcard perfect picture of Machu Picchu; and we would definitely recommend also walking along the path to Inca Bridge – but only if you’re not afraid of heights!
Meeting the locals
The thing we enjoyed most about our Intrepid tour and the part that really made it unique and special to us was the opportunity it offered to us to really meet the local people of the country. This is something that is really embedded in the tour and it really tells. We were very honoured and humbled to be able to spend a night in a mud hut, helping local people with daily tasks such as farming and cooking and seeing how they live and how open and friendly they were towards us. We also had the chance to dress is traditional clothes and learn about local culture with a local tour guide who explained the lifestyle of the people we met. The most fascinating part for us was our excursion to the “floating islands” on Lake Titicaca. The islanders have to constantly rebuild their houses and islands from reeds found on the riverbed; and they also make use of solar panels – we could certainly learn a thing or two from their sustainable communities! While you are meeting the local people too you might want to try the local delicacy – Guinea pig! Or, if that’s not you’re thing why not try a game of Frog, buy some locally produced and truly unique knitted products, or have a friendly game of hockey Peru style.
Overall, we definitely learned a lot from our tour of Peru. We truly appreciate what we have in Canada a lot more now and really think back on how friendly, welcoming and how harmonious people are with the environment in Peru. This Classic Peru trip with Intrepid Travel was a perfect blend of relaxation, meeting new and interesting people, and learning and experiencing what a new and different culture has to offer.
Looking for more information on travelling to Peru or with Intrepid Travel? Jane Etheridge is a Future Team Leader at our Fanshawe Park Place location in London, Ontario and can be reached by e-mail or calling 1-866-581-7764