The route we followed through central Peru, became our first round trip on this journey. That is to say, we left Lima, only to come back to it in a few weeks. We had decided to take a summer break in Turkey to meet our families, and flying out of the capital was our best option. The preparation for this interruption turned out to be a lot of paperwork. It required the suspension of the temporary import permit for our truck, and travel papers for our dog Tara. Both took a lot of research and patience, and weeks of nerve-wracking preparation. But it was all worth it. If you ever need help suspending a car permit in Peru and flying a dog out of the country, drop us a line and we’ll tell you all about it. But we’ll spare the misery for the rest of the readers.
Now, after a summer of wonderful time spent with family, we’re about to head back to the South American continent and continue where we have left. But more about that later…
After a year on the road, city life feels strange to us. Modern amenities in trade off for sensory overload. Losing your focus and peace of mind is barely worth the noise. There’s something so natural about the solitude on the road, after a year, we almost started to feel like outsiders in big cities.
Lima is famous for food and is home to some of the world’s best restaurants. There is also an interesting Chinese influence called Chifa. Other interesting blends of Sushi and Ceviche or experiments in molecular Gastronomy are out there for those looking to sharpen their sense of taste.
Lima was Tara’s first big city experience. We could see in her eyes the excitement of a teenager entering a club for the first time when we took her to a dog park downtown. Seeing dogs on leashes for the first time, she decided to take some of them for a walk. This became her favourite game and entertainment for everyone around.
We met Jeff and Barley, parked at the courtyard of the Hitchhikers and Backpackers Hostel. Note the look of frightful amazement in Tara’s face looking at Barley.
The hostel was full of Machu Picchu bound excited teenagers. This made all of us overlanders bond stronger than ever. Megan, Matthew and Martin here were incredible to be with. Miss you Great American Trek and Martin the third wheel!
We heard so many bad things about Lima: it’s huge, it’s ugly, it isn’t safe, better avoid it. But what we found was a world-class cuisine, tons of travellers, and an uncanny familiarity to Los Angeles. Strolling along the Malecon of Miraflores and Barranco during the Pacific scented sunsets made us feel like we were back in Los Angeles. So much so that it’s possible to match the neighbourhoods of the cities. Miraflores is Santa Monica, Barranco is West Hollywood, the area below Puente de Suspiros is like Venice Beach and PCH is, well, PCH… There’s even an island that looks just like Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles.
Driving out of Lima we encountered tons of elaborate advertisement signeage. The desert is and always has been a blank canvas for humans. Be it the Nasca lines or Coke ads…
Below is a map of our roundtrip through central Peru.
Our first goal South of Lima was Paracas National Reserve. There is something really special about the vast emptiness one finds in this barren landscape. Especially when coming from the big metropole, the stillness of the desert gives great relief. We drove through sand dunes for two days. Stunning landscapes, and incredible coast lines made us almost forget about the harsh climate with the burning sun, and the relentless wind.
Sometimes the desert landscapes look like abstract new-age paintings.
We all have different ways of appreciating beauty.
It’s uncanny how silent desert nights can be… how awe-inspiring it is to look at the millions of stars, making us feel so tiny on this floating spherical rock in the universe.
It’s easy to get lost in the desert. Especially since many analog road markers have become decorative memes rather than lifesaving symbols.
Luckily we didn’t get stuck in sand this time, but we did almost get lost. After driving over a gigantic! sand dune following tire tracks (luckily we were slow this time) the road suddenly ended in an undriveably steep descend.
Tara and Sarah went to check out the end of the dune by foot to make sure there’s really no way to continue the road. It was so steep, we couldn’t even walk it. Still we saw tire tracks going down in wild squiggly lines, possibly of sand buggies. Tempting, considering that we hadn’t seen any other tracks we could follow. But probably not a good idea with whole ‘house’ in the back of your truck.
We decided to back-track and find another way out. Sounds easy. It’s not. Not, when there’s nothing but desert on the horizon.
Finally we found some tracks that lead us down the other side of the dune, so we could continue the journey on lower grounds.
A rather unusual mummy to find in the desert. This seal carcass was either carried inland by someone, or it lost its way and crawled a few hundred meters into the desert before it died.
Paracas may easily be the most stunning landscape we’ve seen so far… Somehow, when nature is given only one ingredient to work with —in this case sand, its mastery becomes more pronounced.
These simple straw shacks are a common sight along the coast of Peru and can be found right outside Paracas. It is incredible how many people live in the harshest conditions in this country. We were told that this is a way to claim and eventually legalise the acquired land. How to survive on a piece of sand is the other question.
In contrast to this wide-spread poverty, there is the oasis Huachachina nearby, full of tourists on dune buggies…
Peru has an incredible amount of interesting landscapes and cultural treasures to offer. The world famous Nasca lines are just one of them.
Above is a small sample of the Nasca Lines seen from a view point along the road. These huge shapes are believed to have been created between 400 and 650 AD by removing rocks and exposing the whitish sub-terrain. Many of them show animals, or geometric shapes facing the sky. Some are over 200m large.
There are many interesting places to be found in the Peruvian desert. Just a few kilometres outside the town of Nasca, the Chauchilla Cemetery is home to a large number of mummies and grave offerings, now exposed and open to visitors.
The first thing we noticed when we entered the cemetery was the absence of life. Not because of the lifeless bodies, but because of the lack of tourists. The Chauchilla Cemetery was by far one of the most interesting sites we visited in Peru, but we were completely alone except a few guards and vendors resting under the shade. There were a dozen trenches occupied by a few mummies each. All of them were carefully and stylishly wrapped in garments and surrounded by valuable objects such as pottery. The skulls, intact with decorated hair, skin and bandages, were placed on top of the wrapped bodies. They somehow still seemed to possess characters with distinct features and almost gestures. They were all unified in the way they were buried facing east, leaning west, looking up towards the sky. Having lasted more than 2000 years, time seems to have lost its effect on these few remaining people of the Nasca.
One thing we’re learning since we entered the Andes is that we really need to think about altitude when planning a day’s route. Driving inland from the coast, means climbing up to 4000m almost immediately, which for us, is pretty much a guarantee for nasty altitude sickness. We had our first experience with such high altitude in Ecuador. Despite acclimatisation, Erdem felt sick for three days, after one night on 4000m.
Driving from Nasca to Cusco we luckily ended up in a valley, somewhere half way, and were able to sleep on ‘only’ 2500m above sea level.
It helps to stop in one of the villages and get a bag of coca leafs to chew on, like the locals do.
These kids high up in a mountain village, thought a traveling dog is worthy of documentation.
It took us two days of driving windy mountain roads to arrive at Cusco. It’s a lovely historical town, but we didn’t think about just how cold it would be on nearly 3400m.
We work quite a lot on the road, enjoying our ever changing offices. Sometimes we also get interesting visitors…
…and lovely commenters.
What’s a Peru visit without Machu Picchu? Well. It actually wasn’t such a “no-brainer” for us to go. The way we travel makes us accustomed to local costs and we feel a greater satisfaction in finding less crowded places off the beaten path. Machu Picchu is one of those tourist hubs, where prices are all of a sudden through the roof, and herds or foreign tourists fly in for a quick visit. Often these kinds of places don’t live up to their fame. After some back and forth we did decide to go after all. Bite the bullet. Pay ~$115pP for the train (can be more expensive depending on the time and type of train you choose), and a steep entrance fee.
“First in line!” The lines for the bus to Machu Picchu start incredibly early in the morning. By 4:20am there was no one, and ten minutes later the sidewalk was full. Shops along the road are open early and provide sandwiches with coffee. In our opinion it was worth getting up early and enjoying the full day at the site. Watch out though that they only allow small backpacks (20L or less) and technically no food or drinks. In fact, even the restrooms are off the site. Everything is regulated in a way to reduce the time spent at the ruins. This is the Mona Lisa of archeology! Get in line, see it as fast as you can, take your photo, and exit thru the gift shop!
But don’t get intimidated. As long as you get there early, take your time to go beyond the postcard facade, ignore the crowds, time your food and restroom visit, it’s possible to have a great time. Despite our fear of disappointment, we actually had a great time and enjoyed a lot of nice details.
To put things in perspective, the ruins of Machu Picchu used to be a royal settlement of retreat. Like a summer vacation town for the Inca elite or a fancy ranch of some sort. And it’s actually not that old. In fact, a lot of the ruins in Rome are much older than Machu Picchu. It was built when Leonardo Da Vinci was painting Mona Lisa. What makes it significant is not how far back in time it was built, but how far its culture and spirituality is to the western mindset.
The location is not exactly the easiest place to build a town on. There are a lot of “high altitude” settlements in Peru, but few are as remote and rugged as this one. Getting there is one thing, but building a whole town up on the mountain is another. It’s certainly a project that requires good reasoning. Possibly something to do with the spiritual significance of the setting itself.
The first thing you see when you get to the site is the famous view. It hits you like a big postcard! We’ve overheard a young Brit say “It’s just like in the pictures!” It takes a while to get over that flat, unreal feeling. We literally sat down for an hour staring at the image, trying to tear our way into it. Once the reality settled in, we took a hike into the mountains away from the site to enjoy the nature around. The path took us to an amazing bridge on the edge of a cliff.
The Inca Bridge connects a narrow path along a steep cliff, and was one of only a few access routes to the site. The Incas left a large gap covered by wooden planks, which could be removed to block entry in case of invasion.
The Llamas were happy that we didn’t follow the “no food” policy all too strictly.
They take their job of photobombing tourist pictures very seriously.
It was almost past noon when we finally decided to enter the actual ruins.
For us, it was certainly the setting amidst the steep majestic mountains, that makes this site worth visiting.
The archeological site combines nature and culture rather seamlessly, including the natural shape of the mountain. Not only the terraces built along the hillside, but also the roofs and window openings are angled to repeat the natural shape of the mountain.
These angles, are likely a proven construction method — courtesy of mother nature.
The famous Inca masonry.
The way the large stones tightly fit together, is reminiscent of…
…the natural cracks found in the rocks all around the site.
A type of chinchilla, native to the high Andes. Humans have endangered these lovely rodents, hunting them for their soft fur.
The terraces, and reconstructed houses.
Machu Picchu. Mini Picchu! Dealing with the “image” of the world famous site, kept us occupied all day.
We traded dog sitting duties for several days, with this lovely traveling Swiss family, so we could all go visit Macchu Picchu. Thanks again!
Meeting inspiring people like them is the real joy of traveling. Visiting Machu Picchu is just a lovely side note. Never say you can’t travel because you have children or a dog or you’re too old or too poor. There’s so much living proof that it’s all happily possible.
The campsite in Cusco was full of wonderful examples: an 80+ (!) year old German couple. A French family with two children and grandparents. An Austrian family with three children, one of them a baby. A Brazilian couple. A Spanish couple. A Swiss family with two kids and a big dog. All traveling in vehicles!
These Saltmines are also in the Sacred Valley and worth a visit. A small warm, salty, volcanic stream feeds these evaporation terraces. An incredible sight!
Near Pisac we visited Sarah’s friends who live in an intentional community called project Taruka focusing on plant medicines and shamanistic healing. Adish had chosen this new home after a solo trip by foot, starting in Patagonia many years ago. One never knows where a journey will lead.
It was interesting for us to join their communal life for a few days. The highlight was participating in an Inipi, a Native American sweat lodge, used for a purification ceremony.
Heading back to Lima we chose the route over Ayacucho. The high altitude landscapes dotted by llamas and vicunas were incredible, but it also meant hours and hours and hours of curvy mountain roads!
After two days of seemingly never ending mountain roads, we made it back to the big city. We found a welcoming AirB&B host who opened his home to us during the preparation for our departure. Cedric was incredibly helpful and made us feel right at home in Lima.
And Tara doesn’t care where she is anyways, as long as she can sneak herself onto a couch and eat all the food she can find.
So, Lima got us back after a roundtrip through central Peru.
And it does have us back again, after our long summer break with our beloved families in Turkey…
Because Peru holds so much more to discover than potatoes…