From the capital Lima to dazzling Arequipa built of white volcanic rock. From condors soaring on thermals over Colca canyon to Lake Titicaca with its spectacular reed islands and the brightly dressed inhabitants. Then across to the island of Taquile and lunch at 4,000 metres with a view of Bolivia in the distance. From the beautiful city of Cusco to the Amazon and its pink river dolphins. Each part of the trip was extraordinary.
Machu Picchu – the hype doesn’t overstate – go if you can. The Incas certainly knew how to build in difficult places and one can only wonder what Pizarro and his men saw when they first encountered them. We had a superb, knowledgeable guide who managed to convey the mysteries of the lost Andean civilisations so that it felt as if the people were still present.
What I found most spectacular however were the journeys across the Altiplano. Climbing to just under 5,000 metres, the visual clarity and wide vistas were awesome. And the rarefied air breathtaking in another way.
On our way we saw some fantastical rock formations which could easily have belonged to a giant’s petrified menagerie. We also encountered much of the living Andean wildlife: herds of vicuna, beautifully delicate in their tan and cream coats, more like gazelles than camels. Wild chinchilla darted amongst the rocks and in the lagoons a flock of flamingos sifted the waters for their food.
As we went, the number of boxes we ticked continued to grow: giant hummingbirds, cranes, ibises, caracara, blue billed teal, Andean geese, flicker (a type of ground dwelling woodpecker) eagles and of course the legendary condors. Even in this remote and hostile landscape, bordered by snow capped peaks, women were setting out their colourful knit wares and on the horizon occasional herdsmen with their small caravans of llamas and alpacas appeared.
The lower valleys with their green fields and European type of livestock came both as a relief, for we could begin to breathe properly again, and as a slight disappointment at leaving behind the wonders of the high Andes.