Perú, a country that surprised me with its deep rooted history, its strong people, and colorful culture. A country where the dogs romp around freely, where it is easy to spot a Peruvian woman shepherding alpacas. A country where the people live at 11,000+ ft. A country where the people are genuine and generous. Perú, where living simply is vital to life, it’s contagious and I left wanting more of it. My friend Rachel and I started out our trip in a rush – I booked our tickets wrong and we left a whole day earlier than expected. We geared up in a hurry, our passports clutched, and ready for an experience we’ve never had before. I’m thankful for a friend who is willing to dream up an adventure at the drop of a hat. Every person needs a friend like that.
FIRST STOP: LIMA
We didn’t spend much time in Lima due to our packed schedule for the week, but what we did see, left us wanting to explore more. After spending most of our morning walking along the beach, we toured the city; as we drove into the center of Lima (Plaza de Armas), we stumbled onto a Peruvian celebration. There were decorated dancers, dancing through the streets. It lasted for hours. This festival was the epitome of Latin culture: bright, vibrant colors; loud song and dance; it felt as if though the streets were pulsing with life. When visiting Lima, be sure to check out Plaza de Armas and tour the Parque del Amor by bike.
FLIGHT TO CUSCO + A VAN RIDE TO THE SACRED VALLEY
After taking a quick flight from Lima to Cusco, we immediately hopped on a bus with a guide who took us to a little town above 11,000 ft named Chinchero. After learning how the women dye alpaca wool with all-natural dyes, we were guided to the adobe church in Chinchero, Perú. Peru’s historical, yet architecturally stunning buildings can be explored for hours. Another must-see are the ancient mountain ruins, Ollantaytambo. We hiked all over this ancient fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. As we walked among the huge Sun Temple, we marveled at the craftsmanship of the ancient Peruvian people and their care for the earth.
As we went up the final steps before seeing the ancient city, I laid eyes on what I’veseen many many times before in photographs and textbooks, and gasped. I didn’t realize how much I had subconsciously downplayed its significance until that very moment. As we hiked around with our guide, he passionately taught us the history behind this mystery. Peruvian history was inspiring to me. We spent the entire day at Machu Pichu and left with a broader sense of the world and with more questions than when we arrived.
We may have missed a day of our trek, but regardless, any amount of time in the Andes is a worthwhile time. The Andes are some of the most diverse mountain landscapes I’ve seen with my own eyes. One minute, in front of me are mountains brightly colored by their unique sediments, the next I’m staring at a glacier; this mountain range is expanse, breathtaking, and somewhat intimidating. We were guided by our friends at FlashPacker Connect towards Rainbow Mountain. Our first day of hiking at 16k ft, we hiked to a nearby glacier and spent our morning soaking it all in. Mid-day, we began our trek back to our campsite for a snooze, dinner, and some fire time. Spending that night with our trekking group, our guides taught us words in their native language, Quechua. That night we created friendships despite any language/cultural barriers. On our way out of the Andes, one of our guides parked the horse and had us hop on the back of a motorbike. We drove down a small dirt path through a tiny village, honking at alpacas too close to the road, and passing a huge waterfall pouring out of the side of a mountain. One of the best ways to end a trek in the Andes, I’m convinced.
BACK TO CUSCO
Green mountains and hills surround this city as its nestled perfectly in its valley. Our feet may have hurt and we were exhausted, but that didn’t keep us from seeing a small part of Cusco! We stayed in an airbnb near Plaza San Blas. From there, you can find the little nooks that are holding small music performances, or find the hole in the wall dinner spot that’s serving cuy (guinea pig), or check out local art museums, or search for that perfect alpaca hat/shawl and shake the hand of the person who made it. Cusco is fairly big, bigger than I had imagined it was, and there are endless opportunities to see something new.
Our time in Perú was not how I expected and most definitely was not enough time in the country that has such a diverse landscape and a strong, vibrant culture; but I’m glad that I experienced Perú the way I did. We walked away with fuller hearts, a deeper curiosity for it, and a vast amount of respect and love for the Peruvian people and their culture. That’s what travel is for, right? To broaden and deepen our understanding, our minds, and our respect for others around the world.
Words and photos by Abigail Demyanek. See more from Abigail at @abigaildemyanek