Think, ‘Peru’, and images of Machu Picchu instantly spring to mind. And that, for most people, is pretty much it. As Stubborn Mulette Kelly Perks discovered on her recent recce there, there’s SO much more than Inca ruins to discover when touring Peru for the adventurous family. The Amazon Rainforest! Condors soaring on the thermals! Colourful markets in one of the world’s highest capital cities!
Want to know more? Here’s her photo diary to show you exactly what to expect from this amazing, vibrant and incredibly diverse country. We challenge you not to be inspired.
1. The Peruvian Amazon, wild, lush and biodiverse
When you think of the Amazon, many of us think Brazil, but the Peruvian Amazon is wild, lush and full of creatures. All lodges we use offer boat trips, jungle walks, village tours and nightwalks to see the best of it, but we loved taking a cruise along the Tambopata River, where we spotted parrots, caiman, macaws screeching overhead, tarantulas, monkeys and this wonderful family of capybaras, chilling out.
In the evening, we took a night walk where creepy crawlies were stars of the show. Look out for stick insects, huge flying beetles, colourful spiders and roosting birds… my kids would love this! If you’re feeling brave enough, turn off the torch and be amazed at what you can hear.
2. Wildlife galore in the canopy and on the forest floor
A top tip on a trip like this is to take binoculars. We saw capuchins and tamarind monkeys more than once during our morning of walking, as well as brightly coloured macaws, spiders, agouti, aggressive ants, tarantula, sun-loving lizards, stinky-birds, piranhas… no snakes this time, though. What will your family highlights be?
3. Expert guides bring the rainforest to life
Being accompanied by an expert guide makes all the difference, whether you’re cruising around on the lake, stopping for freshly picked passion fruit or pointing out butterflies, or trekking deep into the forest where they’ll point out termite nests and the type of wood the shamans use for hallucinogenic ayahuasca ceremonies.
Taking a night time boat cruise is equally thrilling; your guide is expert at picking out the caiman eyes peeping out of the water and will make sure everyone has time at the front of the boat to get their photo. Don’t forget to look up and admire the incredible night sky!
4. The highest potatoes in the world?
One of the more random experiences during our trip was seeing potatoes being ‘freeze-dried’ on top of a hill at Chinchero, at 3,800 metres, a place to acclimatise before heading to Cusco. Did you know that Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes? Us neither, but rest assured, you’ll definitely sample some of the creative and delicious ways the Peruvians cook them during your trip.
5. Inca circles and salt pans
Two other Sacred Valley must-sees are the Inca Circles at Moray and the salt pans at Maras. No-one knows the exact purpose of the perfect, irrigated Inca circles but, depending on wind, sun and orientation, there can be a 15 degree Celsius difference between top and bottom.
The salt pans at Maras, aka Salineras de Maras, are equally fascinating. Strategically dug into the mountainside, thousands of shallow pools filled with salt water eventually evaporate and leave behind the crystallized salt, a process that has been practiced for more than 500 years.
6. Hike, ride, climb, walk and zip…
Hiking, horse riding, climbing and walking are part and parcel of being in the Sacred Valley, but there are more adrenaline-fuelled options too, like zip lining and white water rafting, perfect for older kids. The guides watch you like a hawk, you’re given a full safety briefing and are suitably helmeted, gloved and well-harnessed. Once you’ve climbed to the top of the valley, the longest ‘zip’ is some 700 metres, so long you can barely see the other side. Utterly thrilling!
7. Follow in the footsteps of the Incas
There are many options to get to Machu Picchu, without doubt, Peru’s greatest draw. Whilst the majority choose to catch the train or bus, ideal if you have very young children, hiking the entire ‘classic Inca Trail’ (4 days) or like we did, part of the way, a 1-day “Inca Trail Express” a.k.a the Chachabamba Sacred Trail feels more authentic, somehow, knowing you’re literally following in the footsteps of this ancient civilisation.
There are some original Inca sections, some with steep stone steps, but more often the route meanders up and down, with short, sharp steep ups and downs from time to time. The altitude is very manageable, and much of the trail takes you through lush, mossy cloud forest. Lunch will be at the site of Winay Wayna (2,600m) – see photo above – by which time you are then only about 1.5hrs from the Sun Gate, from where you get your first thrilling glimpse of Machu Picchu.
8. Machu Picchu – the ultimate selfie!
From the Sun Gate (Intipunku) it’s downhill all the way to Machu Picchu. By late afternoon, you take your first steps into the site and try to get a good selfie without looking too sweaty! Don’t worry – you will return the next day for a proper guided tour and time to explore on your own and get all the best shots.
9. Characterful Cusco
After climbing Machu Picchu, you’ll enjoy a couple of days’ free time in Cusco, one of South America’s most characterful cities. Formerly the Inca capital and with crumbling colonial architecture similar to that you find in Havana, Cuba, it’s not hard to lose yourself in the alleyways all around the town centre. Soak up the atmosphere as you make your way around, checking out pastel balconies, decorative signs and uneven cobbles fuelled by ceviche, Pisco Sours and local chocolate. Don’t forget to see the enormous cathedral and bargain for souvenirs in the markets here – it’s terrific value and you’ll be spoilt for choice and dazzled by all the textiles, alpaca wool clothes, weaving, key rings, pens and bags.
10. Lake Titicaca, the Uros Islands and a well kept secret
Straddling the border between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, the highest navigable lake in the world and, according to Andean belief, the birthplace of the sun. Whilst there, most visitors visit the floating Uros islands where whole communities live amongst the reeds. Touristy? Yes… you can even get a novelty passport stamp here, but still well worth it, albeit a little contrived.
Much less known and contrasting nicely with the Uros Islands, Taquile Island is completely different: wow! Sparsely inhabited, no cars, no dogs, no police, stunning natural beaches, glistening water and a friendly, small community. Spectacular views across to Bolivia, coupled with a much more authentic feel and no sales pressure, this was a real highlight. The men learn to knit when they are just 6 years old and produce some beautiful pieces.
11. Best homestay ever!
One of our favourite activities in Peru is to spend a night with a local family on the shores of Lake Titicaca – a place far removed from the overly touristed Amantani island. I’ve stayed in a lot of homestays and this was my favourite. My host, Gladys, met me at the jetty with her two small boys, and we walked to her house. The guide was a huge help with chatting to the host family, finding out about their life, their farming and the children. We played with the kids, put away the sheep, took out the sheep the next morning (complete with new born lamb!) and dug potatoes.
12. Condors soaring the thermals at Colca Canyon
At 4,000 metres, Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world and the scenery around it simply jaw-dropping. It takes a while for the condors to show themselves, as they have to wait for the temperatures to rise before they can soar the thermals, but whilst doing so, you can look out for giant hummingbirds and enjoy the atmosphere. Once they start soaring though – wow. It’s worth the wait, as with wingspans up to 3m wide, condors are the world’s biggest (flying) land bird. Unforgettable.
13. Volcanoes and the highest road in Peru
Journeying to Arequipa along a road where there’s still ash from recent volcanic eruptions, you’ll stop at the highest road point in Peru, just under 5,000m above sea-level with massive volcanoes in every direction. Don’t forget your down jacket, although our guide told us snow was unusual.
14. Coca leaf tea
If the altitude gets to you, do as the locals do and try the coca leaf tea – or if you’re feeling intrepid, try chewing the bitter leaves. Not to everyone’s taste but it works for me…
Interested in touring Peru?
Talk to us…. We can put together and make recommendations for a trip for you that will allow you time to acclimatise and get the most out of your time in Peru. No prob-llama!
To begin planning a family trip touring Peru, ring us on 01728 752751 or e-mail via our website contact page. Meantime, take a look out our Peru family holidays section and suggested Peru itineraries. Also don’t miss our Peru with kids – Top 10 activities blog.
MD Stubborn Mule Travel