A wonderful way to see Peru's highlights
We went on this trip in July which is the Peruvian winter.
This tour lasts for around 3 weeks and for the majority is packed with a full itinerary. You start at Lima, known locally as 'Donkey Belly' because it is always cloudy due to the local topography and weather systems. To be honest Lima is OK but a typical capital city with usual buildings of interest and you really don't need to spend much time there. We did however get our first sample of the local Peruvian alcoholic drink - Pisco Sour. A brandy based drink made from the skin of grapes. It is one of Peru's best kept secrets. You must try it! Hotel clean and functional.
From Lima we were driven in a coach that had more room than needed for our party of 14 which would see us all the way through to Cuzco. We needed space as the trips can be long and some folks felt a bit nauseous. The two drivers were lovely chaps and couldn't do enough for us. Exodus always provide large boxes of water for each leg of the journey and is always needed. From Lima you then head off down the coast on day 3 to visit Pachacamac Fortress an Inca coastal settlement. . Interesting enough and a good place to take photos of the settlement which is dry and dusty. This a good taste of the first of many Inca sites throughout the trip. Afterwards on to the coastal resort of Pucusana where we had lunch and a boat trip around the bay photographing the numerous pelicans. The food at the restaurants here and throughout the trip was of a high standard and most enjoyable. The hotel here was pretty basic and the rooms small.
The following day we headed for another harbour for a high speed boat ride to the Ballestas Islands, which we understand has more sea birds per square metre than anywhere else in the world. If you have a telephoto lens then take it as the variety of birds is fantastic, including penguins. You can't get too close due to the rough sea and rocks but this excursion is truly spectacular. Can imagine folks could feel a bit nauseous if the sea is too rough, so keep looking at the horizon. Later we visit the Nazca lines from watch towers which is really needed to gauge the perspective of these unusual markings.
The next day is pretty arduous as we travel inland across dry and sometimes windy uneven roads to Arequipa. A number of our party felt or were ill due to travel sickness on this 10 hour drive. We have a few short stops along the way which are greatly needed. The following day we discover this old city and are rewarded with some great photos of the surrounding dormant volcanoes and one live one. The city is very interesting and gives visitors a much better insight in to local Peruvian life and culture. The trip to the convent is very interesting. The hotel was very quaint but lovely with a huge atrium. The city square is well worth a visit for supplies and at night is pretty lively.
On day 7 we visit the Colca Canyon, a spectacular drive along the edge of the valley. The famous Condors are the treat at the end! We leave fairly early after breakfast and are lucky as the thermals are starting just as we arrived. We saw these wonderful graceful birds in all their glory soaring time and time again. Use that telephoto if you have it. They are not the only birds as we also saw lots of other smaller varieties including the South American Large Hummingbird. This spectacular place was surreal, although if the weather is against you (as it was the day after) the Condors won't come out to play. The drive here to Chivay climbs high through the mountains and very bendy but had spectacular views. The hotel at Chivay was more basic but reasonable enough. Wifi here was poor and can be patchy at many of the hotels. Exploring the town here and the local market is relaxing way to spend the evening. Our guide as always will recommend places to eat. We didn't sample the hot springs but many of our party did and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had been put off by previous reports of lack of cleanliness but our group didn't notice anything untoward.
The additional local tour guides that are picked up at each stage along the way add immensely to the enjoyment with them imparting their specialist insight to the region we visit. We rated all of them, all of whom had an excellent command of English.
The next part of the trip was to travel to Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca. We are climbing it seems all the time but stop regularly at view points and to see the wild Vicuna and Alpacas roaming the high plains. Puno is a thriving bustling City we plenty of sights and local amenities. The hotel and food here was very good with the central plaza a very popular place to spend some time. The next day we visit the Lake and board a boat that takes us to the Reed People who literally spend their lives floating on the lake on the reeds. Full of local tradition and colour you will be invited to spend some time with these people with ample photography opportunities. You finish off by taking a trip around the reed village in their own boats which would look more at home on a pleasure park, but great fun nonetheless. As you travel higher some travellers may start to feel the effects of altitude. We did take the recommended medication for this part of the journey and all the way through to Machu Picchu. We felt more fatigued than normal, so a more relaxed pace and plenty of fluids is the best solution. Another long coach journey but with more stops and less bendy all the way to the Inca capital of Cusco. We spend more time at Cusco than anywhere else but the hotel is ok but fairly basic. Maybe Exodus should look at an upgrade. My friend didn't do the Inca Trail and spent even more time there. If you are on the ground floor then there seems to be a lot of noise from staff and guests. Cusco however is a lovely City full of history and tradition. As always the central plaza is the main focus of the locals and truly worth an evening visit. The restaurants were also very good and you can try local dishes such as Alpaca or Guinea Pig. We visited the spectacular Sacred Valley and the fortress at Ollantaytambo, and a vibrant local market was well worth a visit . Take care not to take photos of the locals unless they are happy for you to do so. Many will ask for a Soles or two. The next part if the trip is the Inca Trail. Everyone will have wonderful memories of this but here is what we experienced. You start off early to get on the trial so the weather is chilly. You climb for most of the first 2 days then descend for the rest. We travelled in winter and at night it does get very cold and you are under canvas. We chose to take our own sleeping bags but I the ones you can get from Exodus are perfectly good with a warm liner. Unfortunately it did also rain for a couple of the days, which can drench you all the way through. Fortunately we had decent quality ponchos bought in the UK (you need them). The paths can get slippery so robust good quality hiking boots or shoes are a must. Walking Poles, I would thoroughly recommend for steadiness on uneven parts. The tents are waterproof enough although the ends did get wet and although the ground for the most part only had a slight incline you did slip down the tent during the night. Wear dry clothes at night (I wore thermals) especially if your day clothes are damp. You climb as high as 16,000 ft across Dead Woman's Pass (another group photo). The walk is a reasonable pace but due to the altitude a slow pace is best and the guides will keep this steady pace. The Porters and they were probably 25 of them just for our group, did an absolutely fabulous job, packing and unpacking each day, cooking really amazing food and just about seeing to everything. All the water is boiled and therefore clean, make sure you drink plenty. We took small bottles of concentrated juice from home as this helped mask the taste of boiled water. Just remember, you will get wet, you will get cold, you will get hot, so you need to pack for everything but the Porters will only carry 7kg of your kit. The rest is up to you and your day bag, so only take stuff absolutely necessary. All of your other luggage and suitcase will be waiting for you at hotel at the end of the trek. You get an enormous sense of achievement doing this walk but you will get out of breath especially on the way up. Along the way you visit some amazing Inca sites and you have regular stops for rest and refreshments. Exodus plan this very carefully. Although the trail is only about 26 miles, don't forget it's up and down all the time. The travel toilets are as you would expect basic, and only at camp. There are some loos along the way but not many. A trip to the bushes maybe called for but you must take you own paper and you cannot leave it in the bushes. Doggy poo bags probably good to take along. The night before the final day you stay very high up overlooking the mountains that lead to Machu Picchu. We had a lot of mist and cloud but when it cleared the spectacular scenery is breathtaking. On the final morning you say goodbye to the Porters who earn every Soles you tip them. They carry around 25kg each on their back and speed past you as they go the next site, sometimes wearing just sandals in the rain. As you cross the Sun Gate Machu Picchu comes into view in the distance. Nothing prepares you for this awe inspiring site. Forget the photos you've seen, this leaves you speechless. The group gather together for the usual group photo then proceed downhill to this famous Inca phenomenon. You spend quite a bit of time at the site taking photos but don't go in to the main part which is the plan for the next day. As you leave the site weary, smelly but elated you go on a switch back coach ride to Machu Picchu town. After being fairly remote walking in the mountains you are faced with a loud and huge swarm of day trippers. You have to queue for the bus which took us about 20 minutes. The hotel in Machu Picchu was fairly good although some in our group complained they had no hot water, which after 4 days under canvas would have been an extreme disappointment. The following day our Exodus guide Renaldi (Renny) took us on amazing historic guide of the Machi Picchu site. You just can't get enough photos of such an extraordinary and magical place. Nothing really prepares you for what you see. In a way everything is sort of an anti-climax after Machu Picchu but you still wonder at the marvelous scenery of this geographically varied country. The train back to Ollantaytambo through the deep valley was an excellent way to leave Machu Picchu. We then catch a minibus back to Cusco, a bit crampt as all the seats were taken up by the group. The next few days we 'come down' with a few more days in Cusco and visiting other Inca sites. The final part of the tour is a short flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon. You stay in lodges built on stilts and sleep under mosquito nets with no hot water (cold shower), but of course you expect this. After the dryness of the west coast and the elevation of the trek, the Amazon seems to be out of place in Peru. Whilst there we enjoyed the high speed river journeys, the late night Cayman spotting, the night trek in search of wild like and the boat trip on the lake catching Piranhas. Great sunsets along the river and the trek to the lake was very enjoyable. Saw some monkeys and plenty of birds but I guess we were hoping to see more wildlife. Just a final point of caution. On our flight back we landed in Cusco to pick up more passengers for onward to Lima. However at Cusco, the airline company Avianca in their wisdom, decide that the air conditions (too hot) would affect lift off and they offloaded some of the suitcases, some of which were from our party. It took some nearly 2 weeks to be reunited with their baggage with Avianca hopelessly not interested. It didn't detract however from a wonderful and memorable holiday.