Family adventures in Peru
On a recent trip to Latin America with Veloso Tours, Bridget Green had an unforgettable family adventure in Peru. They travelled to the heart of the ancient Inca empire, visiting Lake Titicaca and the Sacred Valley, before undertaking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and then exploring the historic city of Cusco.
The Greens took advantage of the new direct British Airways flights between London Gatwick and Lima, staying close to the airport for one night, before a short flight to Juliaca. Here, they were met by their local guide and taken to their hotel in the lakeside town of Puno. Whilst perhaps not the prettiest in Peru, it is nonetheless a wonderful base from which to explore Lake Titicaca and, according to Bridget, is a good way to acclimatise ahead of the Inca Trail.
At 3,800 metres above the sea level, Lake Titicaca is a high altitude destination, something which can affect different people in different ways. Bridget’s daughter suffered a little upon arrival and was given some oxygen by the helpful staff at Casa Andina. “It’s also a good idea to bring Diamox with you from the UK, so that if you feel altitude sickness you can take it.”
The Greens began their Lake Titicaca adventure with a trip to the unique Uros floating reed islands. For centuries now, the colourfully dressed descendants of the Uros people have been living on small islands and in tiny huts, made entirely out of tortora reeds, usually shared by multiple families.They still live in a largely traditional way, though the presence of mobile phones and CD players suggest a degree of integration with modern life, and most rely on tourism as a way of earning a living these days. Like everyone who visits the Uros Islands, Bridget was immediately awed by the astonishing surroundings, but had some reservations about the experience; “their houses are beautiful and the colour of the straw and the water is incredible, but it’s very difficult to get any natural photos, as it is all staged for the tourists - it perhaps feels a bit like a zoo”.
The authenticity of the islands can divide opinion between travellers, but most would agree that visiting them is a surreal, highly visual and memorable experience, making for a great talking point, both during and long after your visit. It is also worth remembering that behind the show, there lies a traditional and frankly astonishing way of life, so far removed from our own, that it is difficult to comprehend. Thanks to their guide, the Greens also got to see a traditional Uros wedding.
The traditional island of Taquille is a total contrast to the Uros Islands. Famed for its sweeping views and the textiles produced by hand here, the island is perhaps where the lake is at its most authentic and traditional. “The trip to Taquile was amazing. It was lovely to eat in someone’s garden and to see the handicraft for sale. This is the real Peruvian knitting and sewing and I wish I had appreciated this more and bought more things, as nowhere else are the crafts so natural. It’s a long trip, but so well worth while.”
The next morning, the Greens took the Andean Explorer train from Puno to Cusco, the former capital of the Inca empire. Bridget describes this as a “must” for anyone going to Peru (though the bus journey is equally spectacular), largely because of the wonderful scenery through which the train passes, best appreciated from the observation carriage.
“We all loved every minute, from the initial greeting and seeing the inside of the carriage for the first time, to the friendly staff, the delicious food, the music show and the Pisco Sour demonstration. Going through the middle of Juliaca market was also a real highlight. I never read once and it was magical!”
Upon arrival, the Greens were met by their “professional and friendly” guide Oswaldo and then driven to their hotel in the small town of Ollantaytambo, at one end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. According to Bridget “El Auberge is a special little hotel - all round a great place to stay.” After a freshly cooked breakfast, the family headed out with the second guide Fernando for their day in the Sacred Valley - “We thoroughly enjoyed the day and walked from Maras (with its wonderful salt ponds) to lunch in the Spanish Hacienda. Unfortunately we were tired and so asked Fernando to shorten the tour and so missed out on Pisac.”
Next up on the agenda for the Greens was the Inca Trail, and Fernando helped them buy some last-minute supplies for the walk, such as waterproof inners for their bags and a down jacket for their son. Back at the hotel, the family enjoyed a great supper and some traditional Pisco Sours, the national drink of Peru, before packing up their kit for the Inca Trail. Bridget has some practical advice for those undertaking the trek; “we were given a bag for 5 kilos worth of belongings for our porters to carry - and this is weighed to check. Also, make sure you have the right currency and number of notes to pay a tip to the porters, the chef and the guide, as there is no way to change money on the trail.”
The family were picked up by Oswaldo in a larger vehicle, stopping to collect the porters, before driving to Cusichaca Bridge, where they would begin their trail. From here, they set off on a “stunning” walk in which they spotted many hummingbirds, before taking a lunch of fresh fish by the river. “After lunch we passed a group of 20-30 year olds, each carrying large rucksacks and this demonstrated just how much not employing porters slows you down and wears you out.” The weary Greens made camp for the night at Piedras Blancas, where frogs “sung the family to sleep”. “The tents were great and the air mattresses were fine, they were not the great big thick ones, but proper camping ones, plus the sleeping bags were clean and good quality. Tea and biscuits were given to us upon arrival at camp, as well as hot water to wash our faces. We ate our supper inside the tent, with the temperature dropping, and we were glad to learn that the organisers use porters from the mountain villages.”
Oswaldo woke up the Greens with tea and mate de coca, perfect fuel for the walk ahead. “We walked up some steps alongside the river, through Llulluchapampa Camp. It was not busy and we could see Warmi Wañusca Pass up ahead, 4,200 metres above sea level. Oswaldo let us set our pace, so I went ahead and just slotted into a rhythm that everyone was happy with. We never had to queue and mainly just saw porters, we presumed the other group had gone off before us. The views were amazing, such varied scenery.” The second night was spent in the PacayMayo campsite, the busiest of the three. After cooling their feet off in a nearby stream, the family settled down to a well deserved hot meal and a few games of cards. “I slept so well I didn’t notice I had rolled off my air mattress!”
On the third day of the trek, the Greens saw the oval-shaped Runkuracay ruins, which cling to the top of a mountain and afford fabulous views. “We learned so much about the Incas from Oswaldo, as he slowly bought their history to life. It was a hard climb up Runkuracay pass, before stopping for lots of photos of the snow-capped Salkantay (and us doing yoga poses!). We then followed what was a steep track going down, passing a lake on the left.” Oswaldo found them a picture-perfect spot for lunch at the remote Laguna Chaki Qocha, before they continued their walk through a tunnel and along a path which passed mountain scenery, orchids and plenty of birds. Having made camp for the night at the breathtaking Phuyupatamarca - known as ‘the place in the clouds’ - the family took photos of the Huayna Picchu mountain, with the citadel of Machu Picchu still out of view, but getting tantalisingly close. Bridget and her family shared the campsite with just one other group of four people, and the occasional wandering llama.
It was an early start the next morning to watch the sunrise, whilst the chef baked them a surprise cake for breakfast. Having said goodbye to their porters, the Greens started their walk to Machu Picchu; “it was a long and hot, though not too difficult walk to Machu Picchu. Our excitement was building with every step as we got closer and we just missed seeing an anteater in Winay Wayna Camp. On arriving at Sun Gate we were not disappointed, as we finally saw Machu Picchu for the first time. We had left it too late to book Huayna Picchu, but in hindsight that would not have been a good idea, given the length of the walk we did on our fourth day. We could also have had lunch at the Sun Gate and then walked up the Machu Picchu mountain, but it was very hot.”
The Greens were guided around the site and then given plenty of free time to explore for themselves, before taking the bus down to the Machu Picchu village. Here, they shared a tasty meal with Osvaldo, before saying a fond farewell and taking the train back to Cusco. The family stayed in the Costa del Sol Picoaga, where Bridget and her husband Mark were lucky enough to be upgraded to a large room with a luxurious bathroom, perfect for soaking their weary limbs after the Inca Trail. They were then reacquainted with Fernando, who they had last seen in the Sacred Valley, who led them around Cusco in a day Bridget describes as “full of culture” and where the “pieces of Inca history really fell into place”. On their last night in Peru, Bridget and her family enjoyed a delicious dinner at Calle de Meio. In the morning, it was a sad scene as they said goodbye to Fernando and to Peru “a beautiful country with wonderful people”.
Inspired by Bridget and her family’s travels? Why not take your own Peruvian adventure on our Chasqui tour? Visit Lake Titicaca, the Sacred Valley and Cusco and follow in the footsteps of the Incas and complete the trail to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu.
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