The Galapagos Islands – Holiday Destination of a Lifetime

Ecuador is both a fabulous country, and wonderful holiday destination, offering a wide range of holiday types, including traditional haciendas, mountain climbing and trekking in the Cotopaxi region, a visit to the equator near the capital of Quito, and a visit deep within the heart of the South American Amazon Jungle.

Of course, the jewel in the crown of all holiday destinations in Ecuador, and some might argue the world, is the Galapagos Islands, and cruise holidays in the Galapagos Islands rank among the finest travel experiences in the world. The Galapagos Islands are world famous for their environmental and ecological importance, their unique wildlife, and, of course, as a consequence of Charles Darwin’s visit to the islands on the Voyage of the HMS Beagle. The famous vessel first arrived at the islands in September 1835, a few days after leaving the port at Lima, the capital of Peru.

Today the islands are very well preserved, and protected by the Ecuadorian government, but can be visited in 2 main ways:

On a Galapagos Cruise Ship

A cruise through the Galapagos archipelago is a traditional and wonderful way to experience a visit to these islands. Boats operate fixed itineraries (set by the Ecuadorian government) but nevertheless it is possible to go on a cruise of varying length – anything from 5 days, 8 days or ever longer depending on which itinerary and vessel you choose for your holiday.

The advantage of a Galapagos cruise is that you get to sleep on a boat, close to the islands, and therefore have easy access to many places throughout the archipelago. Many of the cruise ships also use smaller landing-vessels to make landing trips on some of the islands for walks and treks, and also will provide free snorkeling gear to help people spot for sea turtles, rays, beautiful fish and other creatures in and around the islands.

Although the boats follow fixed itineraries, the most popular islands to visit include Baltra Island, Bartholomew Island, Espanola Island, Fernandina Island, Isabela Island, San Cristobal Island and Santa Cruz Island.

Each island has its own unique geology, geography, and wildlife, with many of the islands having unique species.

A cruise through the islands is certainly a wonderful Ecuador holiday experience.

Galapagos Land-Based Tour

Land-based holidays in the Galapagos Islands mean that you will sleep in a hotel in one of the islands small towns (e.g. the town of Puerto Ayoro) rather than on a cruise vessel, and will set off each day on tours to visit the various destinations across the islands.

These types of Galapagos Holidays tend to visit many of the same places as cruises (although might require further daily travelling by boat) and are often better for people who are on a budget, or who maybe don’t have the stomach for spending a few nights on a cruise vessel on the open ocean.

Galapagos Island Cruises and Holidays

The wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.

The Amazon Jungle of Peru – Where to Visit

Peru is a wonderful place to visit the Amazon Jungle – access is relatively easy (compared to some of the more isolated places in Brazil for example) and the wildlife is abundant and varied.

The Amazon Jungle is the largest and most famous jungle in the world, and for many visitors to Peru it can be a key part of their holiday. Trips to the jungle can vary: there are different locations to visit across the Amazon which can vary in the wildlife and environment, accommodation can be anything from a rustic wood shack to a high-class luxury resort lodge, and lengths of trip can vary from swift 3-day trips to weeks-long treks deep into the heart of the jungle. So, how does the discerning tourist choose the best Amazon trip for them, and the best destination in the Amazon to visit?

Well, that really depends on a number of key factors – how much are you willing to spend, what do you want to see, and what type of holiday do you want…?

There are three main jungle regions within Peru that can be visited, and below gives an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Puerto Maldonado / Tambopata

The Tambopata National Reserve is a Peruvian national reserve in the Peruvian amazon basin. The reserve was created in 1990 to protect the outstanding biodiversity found int he region, which encompasses 165 species and 41 families of trees, 103 species of mammals, 1300 species of butterflies and 90 species of amphibians.

The Tambopata region of Peru is probably the most popular jungle region for tourists, mainly as it offers the best all-round experience – the area is reasonably easy to access (via a short return flight from Cuzco airport to Puerto Maldonado airport, then by boat from Puerto Maldonado into the jungle), the wildlife opportunities are excellent (although not quite as good as in Manu – see below), and the lodge accommodation is also of a good all-round standard.

The wildlife on display in this region of the amazon, and the types of habitats that can be visited to view the wildlife, includes parrot clay-licks with birds feeding at dawn, and ox-bow lakes which house a plethora of species, including capybara, caiman, monkeys, and various birds, fish and insects. In Tambopata there are easy-to-reach lodges only an hour or so by boat from the city of Puerto Maldonado (one of the reasons which this is a popular choice for tourists), however there are also opportunities to travel deep into the jungle (up to 8 hours by boat) to visit and stay at science research stations, although this is a more expensive option and normally reserved for avid bird-watchers. The main disadvantages of Tambopata compared to Iquitos is that you can’t visit an indigenous tribe (see below), and compared to Manu the wildlife opportunities aren’t quite as good due to the proximity of Puerto Maldonado (unless you go deep into the jungle).

Tambopata River, Peru

Sunset over the Tambopata River, Peru

The Iquitos Amazon Jungle Region

This is the region around the city of Iquitos, the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. To access the jungle here requires either return flights from Lima to Iquitos (so this can be a relatively more expensive option), or a lengthy boat ride through the jungle. Upon arrival at Iquitos city boat travel will take tourists or travellers along the Amazon river to reach a jungle lodge. The advantages of this option is that this is the true “Amazon River”… i.e. many kilometres wide, slowly winding its way through the jungle. This is also the only region of Peru where you could meet with a local indigenous tribe (although the tribes are now involved in the tourist trade, so are not isolated or uncontacted), and you also can meet shaman who will be willing to educate you about the many hundreds of plant species they use as medicine. There are some excellent canopy walkways in this region that travel through the tree-tops, and wildlife opportunities include pink river dolphins, caiman, piranha, and various types of birds. At night the jungle comes alive, and wildlife includes sloths, snakes, various frogs and toads, tapirs etc.

Another advantage of this region is it means you get to travel to, and experience (albeit briefly) the city of Iquitos – a true jungle city. The disadvantage of travelling to this region is that it can be relatively costly compared to some of the other regions for similar standards of accommodation (due to the travel costs required to reach Iquitos due to the return flights from Lima), and as Iquitos is a large city, wildlife spotting is not quite as good as in some of the other places in Peru – unless you travel very deep into the jungle to get away from the city, which is possible but adds time and cost to your itinerary.

Amazon River, Peru

Amazon River, Peru

Manu

The Manu region of Peru is accessible by road from Cusco, although it is a day-long drive followed by a boat trip. The Manu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to the amazing biodiversity found in this region of Peru. This is a fabulous jungle option to choose due to the fabulous wildlife opportunities. Tourists can not enter the park itself (which is a protected area), but can visit either the Manu Reserved Zone (although this is very expensive, again due to travel costs as it is deep within the jungle) or the Manu Cultural Zone. The main advantage of this region is the excellent wildlife opportunities – parrot clay-licks, ox-bow lakes (possibly with caiman, capybara, various birds, various types of monkeys), the Peruvian national bird: the Peruvian cock-of-the-rock. Another advantage is the journey by road from the city of Cuzco – from an early morning start you would climb further up and up into the Andes until you reach a high mountain pass, then would journey right down the other side starting at high altitude and slowly travelling down through shrubbery, into cloud forest, then finally into jungle as the landscape changes around you throughout the journey. However for some tourists this lengthy journey by road up and over the mountains and down into the jungle can be considered a disadvantage due to the length of the journey (all day) even if the scenery is fabulous. The two options to visit, the cultural zone and the reserved zone, differ in that the reserved zone is much deeper within the jungle so has better wildlife opportunities but is consequently much more expensive and is visited more frequently by keen birdwatchers. However even in the cultural zone the wildlife opportunities are exceptional, so this region shouldn’t be ruled out.

Cock of the Rock, Bird of Paradise, Manu, Peru

Peruvian Cock of the Rock bird, Manu

Fiestas Patrias Perú

Today, the 28th July, is “Fiestas Patrias” in Peru, which is one of the most important annual celebrations in the Peruvian calendar.

The annual celebration is in commemoration of Peru’s independence, by San Martín, on the 28th July 1821, 13 days after the signing of the formal Act of Independence of Peru on the 15th July 1821.

The day is an annual holiday in Peru, and is celebrated across the country by all manner of street parties, festivals and events.

For all our customers currently in Peru, all holidaymakers in Peru, and all Peruvians across the world – we wish you the best in your celebrations.
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Peruvian Cinema – The 5 Best Peruvian Movies

Many holiday websites focus entirely on travel – what to see, what to do, which hotel to stay in, good photo opportunities, etc.

At Go Andes we like to think we are a little different – our business was founded on the love for travel, the sharing of experiences, and on the desire to continue to travel. Part of travel is that essence of inspiration – what made you want to choose a holiday to Peru in the first place. It may have been a trip to your local Peruvian restaurant, a photo of Machu Picchu in the magazine you read in the waiting room at the dentists, or it could have been a movie you saw on TV.

Movies are a great way to inspire travel – whereas magazines, guidebooks and websites only show the glossy side of travel, movies can show it all – you can experience the language, culture, landscape, food, travel, romance, tragedy and more… simply from sitting back and enjoying a good movie.

Here are our selection of the best movies that Peruvian cinema has on offer, that we hope will inspire you to want to visit Peru:

1. La Teta Asustada / The Milk of Sorrow

Directed by Claudia Llosa and starring Magaly Solier, the Milk of Sorrow was nominated for the 82nd Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Picture category, and is a dramatic and heart felt story of a daughter who is fearful of the “Milk of Sorrow” disease, which is transmitted through breast milk from mothers who were abused. She moves from a poor rural district into Lima to find work, and takes drastic measures to avoid succumbing to the disease.

The movie was filmed in very poor areas around the Pachacamac district of, near the ruin of Pachacamac. This gives an honest picture of how many millions of Peruvians live.

2. Madeinusa

Also directed by Claudia Llosa and also starring Magaly Solier, this 2006 film charts the lives of village people and a stranger from Lima during religious celebrations in an Andean village.

As would be expected with any movie set in an Andean village the landscape is particularly outstanding.

3. Contracorriente / Undertow

This exceptionally well-received and very popular 2009 movie was filmed in the sea-side town of Cabo Blanco, in Peru. The movie follows the lives of a husband and his pregnant wife. The husband is secretly having an affair with a male artist who has recently moved to the village, but unfortunately the artist drowns in the sea. His spirit returns as a ghost, and the husband has to remain honest to his wife and baby, while also mourning the loss of his male friend.

Cabo Blanco is a small fishing village near Piura in Peru, and this movie is excellent at giving a true and honest snapshot of life in a poor Peruvian fishing village – what the houses look like, what food the people eat, what kind of things they talk about, and what the beaches and fishing look like. Recommended.

4. Altiplano

The 3rd movie in this list to feature to outstanding acting talents of Peru’s own Magaly Solier, this film from 2009, technically a joint Peruvian and Belgium film, is a tragedy that follows the lives of a group of Andean villagers that are suffering with health issues due to a local mine and the ignorance of the local authorities, and a group of doctors that have travelled to Peru to operate on the cataracts of indigenous people.

The film is relatively unique in that it combines Spanish, English, Frence, Arabic and Quechua languages, and dramatically shows how large mining corporations can affect local populations in sparsely populated regions of South America.

Altiplano was filmed around Arequipa and near Chivay, so the landscape on display is simply stunning, and this is the best movie we know of to show the granduer and stunning landscapes in and around Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.

5. The Motorcycle Diaries

Okay, not technically a Peruvian movie, but vast sections of this movie that stars Gael Garcia Bernal and follows the early journeys of Che Guevara were both set and filmed in Peru.

During his pre-revolution years Che Guevara spent time travelling through South America, and this movie follows that journey as he travels through Argentina, and eventually northwards into Peru, visiting Machu Picchu, central Lima, and the Peruvian amazin jungle.

If this movie doesn’t inspire you to want to travel to Peru… then nothing will!

Top Treks in Peru

What are the top treks in Peru?

With so many to choose from it is impossible to list them all, and even more impossible to rank them in any kind of order of preference! Although trekking isn’t everyones cup of tea, what is certain for those that enjoy it is that a trek through the mountains of Peru can be the highlight of a Peru holiday.

Here are the best of the most famous and well-known treks in Peru, with a few surprises or lesser known treks thrown in for good measure.

1. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

City of Departure: Cusco

Length: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Medium

Maximum Altitude: 4100m

The Inca Trail is one of the greatest and most famous hikes in the world. A life-changing journey in all senses of the word – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The highlight of the Inca Trail is the morning of day 4, when an early start leads you to the sun gate to watch the wonderful sight of the sun rising over Machu Picchu ahead of you.

However what many people don’t realise is that there are many other Inca ruins that the route passes, many of which are only reachable on the trek itself.

The trek is completely closed each February for repairs.

2. Santa Cruz Trek

TREK SANTA CRUZ FOTO 3

City of Departure: Huaraz

Length: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Medium / Advanced

Maximum Altitude: 4750m

One of the harder treks in this list, mainly due to the altitude, this well-known trek near the Huaraz region passes stunning mountain vistas, endless glacial mountain landscapes, and the famous lakes of Jatuncocha and Ichiccocha.

The beauty of this trek, certainly compared to some of the treks near Cusco, is that your group will probably have the route all to themselves so you can soak up the views in peace and quiet.

3. Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

LARES TREK, FOTO 5

City of Departure: Cusco

Length: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Medium

Maximum Altitude: 4700m

This alternate trek to Machu Picchu is becoming more and more popular each year as people look for alternatives to the more famous Inca Trail.

The main difference to this trek and the rest listed here is that the final night is actually spent in a hotel rather than camping! The evening is normally spent in Aguas Calientes with the trip to Machu Picchu by bus the following morning.

However, aside for this “detour” to standard trekking formalities on the final night, days 1, 2 and 3 of this trek through the Andean valleys near Cusco are actually very interesting, as it passes some very traditional Andean villages where there are opportunities to meet the locals, and it is also occasionally difficult due to the high altitude.

The high point of the trek, Condor Pass, is reached on day 2, and at 4700m offers breath-taking views of Andean vistas.

4. Trek to Choquequirao

CHOQUEQUIRAO TREK, FOTO 6

City of Departure: Cusco

Length: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Medium

A good alternative to the Inca Trail, many actually find this trek to Choquequirao much more enjoyable than the Machu Picchu alternative. This is for a number of reasons: some find the Choquequirao ruin more visually impressive than Machu Picchu (hard to believe, but it certainly gives Machu Picchu a run for its money!), there are far less people walking along the trail so it is less “touristy”, and the trek itself follows a route with stunning views of many of the famous mountains in Peru and in the Cusco region, including Mount Salkantay.

5. Cedros Alpamayo Trek

CEDROS TREK, Portachuelo pass view FOTO 2

City of Departure: Huaraz

Length: 9 days / 8 nights

Difficulty: Advanced

Maximum Altitude: 4860m

By far the most difficult Peru trek option listed here, this lengthy trek through the Huascaran National Park is also probably the most stunning and through the best landscapes. Certainly don’t expect luxury if this is a trek you choose to complete, however the rewards are worth the pain, as you find yourself surrounded by endless mountains, glaciers, turquoise lakes, and astounding Andean scenery.

The journey passes uncountable mountain passes, rural traditional farming communities, ancient Inca terraces, and is, quite simply, stunning.

Top 5 Things to do in Peru

The Lonely Planet has recently announced its list of the “Top 5 Things to see and do in Peru”.

Here is their list (in no particular order), along with our comments on their choices:

1. Machu Picchu

machu-picchu

Machu Picchu inevitably had to feature on this list of the top things to see and do in Peru… how could Lonely Planet not include it?! If you’ve never been to Peru before, or are a “list-ticker” and want to tick this ruin off your world-wide list, then absolutely this is a must-visit site.

By far the best way to visit the site is after the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – the arrival at the sun gate after 4 days of hiking makes the site even more impressive, and you arrive early before the bus-loads of tourists.

For alternative ruins of equal splendour, try the trek to Choquequirao, or if you are feeling even more adventurous then visit the ruin of Kuelap near Chachapoyas in the north of Peru.

2. Colonial Arequipa

Colonial Arequipa is a worthy edition to this list – the old plaza with its beautiful arched walls, and the Santa Catalina Monestary is a tranquil “city within a city”, with pastel-coloured walls through majestic little gardens and plazas. A must.

3. Manu

Manu cock of the rocks foto 1 2D

Of the three main regions to visit the Amazon in Peru, Manu, Tambopata and Iquitos, for wildlife lovers this is by far the best. Iquitos has the real “Amazon river”, hundreds of metres wide, and it is true that Tambopata has better accommodation and is more geared for tourists… but that makes a visit to Manu all the more special. The jungle is prime, untouched, and the wildlife and bird-watching opportunities are amongst the best on the planet. A worthy addition to any holiday to Peru.

4. Floating Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca

PUNO titicaca lake 2

The Uros Islands make for great photography – the harsh polarising light creates beautiful shades of turquoise and blue within the waters of Lake Titicaca which constracts with the bright dress of the Uros people. This is certainly one of the “post card” photo opportunities on any trip to Peru. However the area can be a little touristy and a trip to nearby Isla Taquile can be equally rewarding and more representative of traditional life on Lake Titicaca.

5. Cordillera Blanca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For lovers of trekking, mountaineering, mountain sports, down-hill mountain biking and just about anything else you can think to do on a mountain: this region of Ancash in Peru is one of the best locations int he entire world for this kind of thing. Near the city of Huaraz, which is fast-becoming the Andean capital of Adventure sports, the Cordillera Blanca offers incredible views over glacial mountain peaks, deep valleys, gorgeous blue lakes, and some of the finest walks on the planet.

It has to be said that due to the altitude this region of Peru is not for the faint-hearted and there are few “beginner” treks to be found…  but if you are looking for adventure this is the place to be.

Chiclayo: The Best Archeaology in Northern Peru

Northern Peru – Undiscovered Archaeology and Adventure in Chiclayo

 Peru’s Forgotten Northern Wonders

Peru certainly has some of the greatest tourist sites in the entire world: Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca… however although these sites are very certainly worth seeing, they are all situated in the south of the country and many tourists visit no other part of Peru, completely skipping the north of Peru and missing out on some of the greatest sights, excellent archaeology, culture and history that really make a holiday to the Undiscovered north of Peru a very special trip! If there is one city you should try to visit other than Cusco when in Peru, then it is Chiclayo.

The City of Chiclayo

The city of Chiclayo, and the surrounding region in the north of Peru is certainly one destination that any deserving traveller should visit. The area surrounding the city is an archaeological and cultural centre, with many of the ruins equally as important as Machu Picchu in the long and detailed pre-Incan history of the Peru region of South America.

Moche Ruins

The Moche ruins of Sipàn, dating back from around Ad 100 to AD 700, are weathered adobe ruins situated within a valley known as “SugarValley”, so-called today as thousands and thousands of acres of land are used to grow sugar and artichokes. The Moche culture dates back long before the time of the Incas, from around AD 100 to AD 800, and the culture is famous for painted ceramics, gold, and for giant constructions like those at Sipàn. This part of the world really is Indiana Jones inspired – these ruins were only discovered by the archaeological world in 1987, and only then because an archaeologist working in the area called Walter Alva noticed a sudden rush of treasures being sold on the black market in and around Chiclayo and realised that a new ruin must have been discovered by thieves. Teaming up with the local police, and even the FBI at one point, Walter and a team of archaeologists approached the site and found locals digging up graves using shovels and tractors. The police fought with the locals for control over the site, raided their houses to reclaim treasures (one incident even involved a policeman shooting and killing one of the “bandits”) and still to this day retain a presence at the site. Despite the fact that this ruin is far from anywhere, and it is 20 years since the original problems, there is still a Police Station to retain order and ensure the current workers do not walk off with any finds. The site is so big that excavations will continue for many years yet.

Giant adobe pyramid.

Giant adobe pyramid.

The Lord of Sipàn

The ruins at Sipàn are very famous in Peru and in the archaeological world for being the resting place of the “Lord of Sipàn”, and also for being one of the most important discoveries in archaeology in the past 30 years. Luckily the early bandits had only excavated parts of the site, and hadn’t found some of the key treasures buried underneath the desert ground. One such found not discovered by the bandits was unearthed during early excavations by Walter Alva, when a tomb containing thousands of cups was found, which was a sign that the location was of significance to the Moche people. Soon an untouched tomb was discovered which turned out to be one of the richest ever finds in the Americas:  the tomb of The “Lord of Sipàn”. He was buried dressed in very flamboyant clothing, wearing incredibly rich decorations made from gold, silver, copper and turquoise including a giant necklace made of silver and gold that represented the sun and moon. Found alongside his body were the bodies of 7 other people – his wife, the chief of the military, two concubines, a watchman, a child, a banner holder, two llamas and a dog, all ritually sacrificed to protect and serve the Lord in his afterlife. When he was alive, approximately 1500 years ago, this man was a very very important person and ruler. Although the tomb has now been fully excavated and relocated to a museum close by, tourists visiting the site can see the precise location of the tomb, which contains an exact replica of the bodies positioned within the tomb itself.

Final resting place of this once great ruler.

Final resting place of this once great ruler.

The Sipàn ruins themselves are almost unrecognisable as pyramids, and it is obvious why this ruin wasn’t discovered until 1987. Over 1500 years of rain and wind have played havoc on the mud adobe bricks that the Moche people used, making the ruin resemble little more than a muddy hill. There are only very few places dotted around the ruin where bricks are evident, apart from one small segment where excavations have taken place to reveal the base of the structure. For tourists it is possible to walk up one side of one of the pyramids to a lookout point with amazing views of the valley below.

The Valley of Pyramids

Also close by the city of Chiclayo, in the Lambayeque region of Peru, are the fabulous and awe-inspiring ruins of Tucume.

Only a few of the hundreds of pyramids at this majestic site.

Only a few of the hundreds of pyramids at this majestic site.

Only a few of the hundreds of pyramids at this majestic site.

From ground level these ruins appear similar to Sipàn: weathered adobe pyramids, however from ground level it is very hard to get a good perspective of the site. A 10 minute walk up a small hill to a look-out point changes all that, and it will suddenly become clear how amazing, and how large, this site is. Stretched out over a staggering 540 acres are a total of 26 pyramids of varying sizes, with connecting walls and smaller buildings and residential areas between them. In the very distant horizon you can also see additional pyramids in the middle of the green plantations that stretch for miles and miles.

Peru, and the tourist board of Peru, have recognised this area as archaeologically significant, and have taken the sensible decision to house items found in this region in a purpose built museum within the Chiclayo region itself, rather than relocate them to Lima. The “Tumbes Reales” museum is a world-class, high security facility, deserving of a visit from any serious tourist.

The world-class museum show-casing the best in Peruvian archeaology from the region.

The world-class museum show-casing the best in Peruvian archeaology from the region.

Of the hundreds of priceless artefacts on display the main draw are the remains of Senor de Sipàn and the contents of his tomb, not to mention countless incredibly intricate gold and silver decorations, each around 1500 years old.

How to Visit

The region of Chiclayo, and the surround LambayequeValley where the ruins are situated, is truly one of the most important culturally and historically rich areas of Peru, as well as being one of the best Peru travel destinations in the entire country. For travellers that do venture into Northern Peru it is also a method to get away from the crowds of thousands that descend onto Machu Picchu and Cusco every day. If you are lucky, and you travel to Tucume or Sipàn, you will probably find that you are one of only a handful of people lucky enough to be visiting.

The city of Chiclayo can easily be reached via direct bus or flight from Lima. The easiest way to visit the ruins at Sipàn and Tucume is to visit on a tour from the city, and regular “combi” buses (Peruvian local transport buses) also travel around the region and pass close to the sites, although this may involve a small walk – ask locals for directions.

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Blog entry and travel guide written by Jonathan, who has lived in Peru and has travelled extensively throughout the entire country, particularly throughout northern Peru. He currently works for Go Andes, a UK travel and tour company specialising in tours and holidays to Peru, where his expert knowledge of travel in Peru is invaluable.

All photos Copyright, All Rights Reserved.