Posted by: Jessie Kwak | February 4, 2010

We’ve moved!

Come check us out at our new website: Unpaved South America: Exploring culture, places and people.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | February 3, 2010

Peru: beyond Machu Picchu

If you’re planning travel to Machu Picchu, it will likely be closed through March. In Cusco city and the Sacred Valley, a myriad of other historical sites (Inca and pre-Inca) will still be available to visit, as will the entire rest of this amazingly diverse and beautiful country. Between the coast, the mountainous sierra and the jungle, a wealth of adventures awaits. (Video from PromPeru).

Traveling Peru’s Southern Circuit

While Machu Picchu has long been considered Peru’s main attraction (sometimes the only attraction), most travelers visit the ruins as part of a larger circuit. Machu Picchu may be taking a long-needed break from visitors, but that just leaves time to more fully explore the rest of Peru’s Southern Circuit. If you had your heart set on hiking to an undiscovered Inca citadel, try the equally majestic and less-touristy Choquequirao.

(Too many words? If you prefer to be inspired by photos, check out Robert’s Flickr page.)

Paracas Reserve and the Islas Ballestas (Ica Department): A wildlife-rich reserve several hours south of Lima where visitors have a chance to see colonies of sea lions, Humboldt penguins, flamingoes, and dolphins, as well as dozens of migrating bird species.

Ica and Huacachina (Ica Department): Set in the middle of Peru’s southern coastal desert, Ica is a major center of Peru’s wine and pisco production. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adrenaline, you’ll find it here. Spend the day wine tasting, or hit the dunes to try the unique sport of sand boarding.

Nazca lines (Ica Department): These mysterious lines etched in the desert have attracted almost as many theories as they have visitors. Take a flight over them and catch a glimpse of the Hummingbird, the Monkey, the Astronaut, and dozens of others.

Arequipa and Colca Canyon (Arequipa Department): Beautiful Arequipa is known as “the white city” for the volcanic sillar that many of its colonial buildings are constructed of. The nearby area, including Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US) is known for its scenery, trekking, and white-water rafting.

Puno and Lake Titicaca (Puno Department): Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake, and home to the fascinating floating islands of Uros, the stationary islands of Taquile and Amantani, as well as the ruins of Inca and pre-Inca cultures.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley (Cusco Department): Cusco was the capitol of the Inca Empire, and so is surrounded by literally hundreds of Inca ruins. The Sacred Valley is full of of places to visit, the most traveled-through being Ollantaytambo, a city worth exploring on its own merits.

Travel to Northern Peru

If you’re interested in archaeology, check out this article I wrote on pre-Inca sites in Northern Peru

Caral (Lima Department): Ruins from the oldest civilization in South America (from 2500 BC), this site is only a few hours north of Lima.

Huaraz (Huaraz Department): The best place for hiking and trekking in Peru, Huaraz is bursting with adventures. Visit Peru’s receding glaciers, go mountain climbing, or take a hike like the Santa Cruz trek through the Cordillera Blanca.

Cajamarca (Cajamarca Department): A pretty Spanish colonial town set amid gorgeous mountains, ingenious ancient aqueducts, and Inca hot springs, Cajamarca is renowned for its carnival celebrations.

Chachapoyas (Amazonas Department): I can’t say enough about how great this under-explored region is. The grand fortress of Kuelap. Towering hidden waterfalls. Ancient mausoleums. Spectacular roads. Mummies! Fantastically beautiful trekking.

Northern Peru’s beaches (La Libertad Department): Home to the sprawling adobe city Chan Chan, as well as some of Peru’s best surfing in Huanchaco. Nearby Chicama is home to the longest left-hand wave in the world. Need some more surfing (or just want to work on your tan)? Head up to Mancora.

What we missed

Obviously an article this short will miss plenty of things.

Looking for more ideas? Take the world’s second-highest passenger train up into the Andes to visit the quaint towns such as Huancavelica. Go spelunking in one of South America’s deepest caves. Head down the river to Iquitos or visit the Manu Reserve to experience untouched jungle.

Welcome to Peru!

Resources to get you on your way:

Prom Peru has some fascinating and informative Virtual Tours of Peru (in English and Spanish), panoramic videos of nine different major sites. They also have brochures available for download, and a wealth of information on the activities, sites and culture of Peru.

Check out their YouTube channel of promotional videos, as well.

Rumbos Online: The Travel Magazine of Peru. A listing of various travel articles published in Rumbos del Peru, organized by theme and destination, and searchable by keywords. In English.

[Update (Feb 4): Stuart Stars has reposted this article with some great extra information on his En Peru Blog: Without Machu Picchu you’ll enjoy the trip of a lifetime.]

Posted by: robertkittilson | February 3, 2010

Photo: Feb. 3 2010

This guy chatted with us the whole way from Urubamba to Pisac. I felt bad for the rest of the passengers who must be thinking ‘Pay attention to the road you crazy Idiot!’ and ‘stop talking to those damn gringos!’, but we really bonded with this gentleman who makes only 30 or 40 Soles each day. He would ask ‘how much do bus drivers make in los Estados Unitos?’ Well… I had seen ads back in Seattle for Metro bus drivers starting at $15 an hour. ‘Loco’, he said. ‘Loco’, I agreed.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name. I really didn’t understand it when he said it, and when he repeated it, and then when he repeated it again. I feel bad and I hope he is doing ok.
Here is to you man.

Bus driver, whats-his-name.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | February 2, 2010

Traveling to Machu Picchu? Not quite yet….

“Can I still get to Machu Picchu?” is the question on everyone’s lips lately. Some airlines are apparently allowing refunds for canceled flights to Peru if your sole purpose was to see Machu Picchu, and the hostel that Rob and I are staying at has had several cancelations, as well.

Machu Picchu seems to be relatively undamaged by the rains. But is it accessible? Not right now. But wait! Don’t call your airline yet!

Machu Picchi throught the wispy clouds.

While you may not be able to visit Machu Picchu right away, don’t cancel that trip to Peru. We’ll tell you all the other cool stuff you can do here. Today’s post recaps the damage of the last few weeks, and explains the situation today. Come back tomorrow for Peru is Bigger than Machu Picchu. Or just skim through our archives for ideas from our last five months of wandering through Peru.

Flooding in Cusco (oh, and Abancay and Puno and Huancayo and….)

The torrential rains and subsequent flooding of the last weeks has left more than 23,000 people homeless. The people who have been the most affected are those who have the least, whose one-room homes and 2-hectare cornfields are their only assets. Some 16,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in the flooding, and although some farmers have received aid, it’s unlikely to be nearly enough.

While tourists were airlifted out of Aguas Calientes (otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo) Peruvians were stuck on the road between Cusco and Abancay for days without food or shelter, and without the all-important press coverage.

For English-language coverage of the situation, photos, and insight, check out Living in Peru, and En Peru Blog. (The post I linked to for En Peru Blog has a ton of great photos and video.).

Damage and loss of tourism

Of these affected areas, Cusco in particular is reliant on tourist dollars for its revenue, and since the flooding, Peru estimates that it’s losing a million dollars a day in tourism. The railway has been destroyed in eight places (check out those photos), which will take time and money to repair, let alone the bridges that connect the Sacred Valley to Cusco city.

A bridge that I will never see again.

The government appears to be scrambling to fix these problems, and given the enormous amount of money they’re losing for every day’s delay, there’s no doubt access will be fixed asap. But….

Can I still get to Machu Picchu?

Well, not right now. (But don’t call your airline yet!)

Fetransa, the company in charge of the railway, is hoping that the railway will be fixed within two months, and that they will be able to provide access to Machu Picchu within three weeks. The plan is to repair the road between Ollantaytambo and Santa Teresa in order to get tourists into the area (you’ll still have to hike several hours from Santa Teresa to Machu Picchu itself). The journey will be more complicated than ever, but no worries, tour companies will still be falling all over themselves to charge you top dollar for the service.

“Meet Peru Now”

With their major cash cow out of commission for a month or more, Peru’s tourist department is rethinking their strategy of only marketing Machu Picchu. They’ve suddenly realized that Peru has so much more to offer than a single overhyped (albeit impressive) set of Inca ruins. Maybe they read our blog, or Stu’s blog, or Living in Peru’s travel section, or Kojin’s weblog.

I recently read a comment on a news article about Machu Picchu:

We are to arrive in Cuzco on the 16th March this year so it looks like we may have to rethink our situation. I believe there is another significant site somewhere down South, if I recall it is older than Matchu Picchu…would anyone know where this might be?

Kuelap, North not south.

To the woman who left this comment I’d love to say: Welcome to Peru! Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll tell you exactly where else you can go now that Machu Picchu is getting a well-deserved rest.

Helping out

Want to help? Check out this article on Living in Peru for a listing of places to send donations.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 30, 2010

Hopping up Peru’s South Coast

We’ve had a couple things taking up our time lately, which is why we haven’t posted much about what we’re up to. We haven’t had good internet access, and I’ve been using what we can get to hunt down links about what’s been happening in Cusco. Also, we’ll be launching our new website next week, Unpaved South America (, a resource and travel magazine for travelers who want to get off the beaten path. And we’ve been moving towns almost daily. We’ve been busy.

So what have we been up to?

Well, we packed up in Arequipa and headed to the coast. After over a month at altitude (is it weird that I don’t think 2300 meters is very high anymore?) it’s been nice to be at sea level once more.

Sorry there aren’t any pictures in this post—we’re in Lunahuana right now, and the only internet cafe has perhaps the slowest signal we’ve found in Peru. We’ll make it up to you, we promise.

First stop: Paracas

We were searching for somewhere mellow with a good wireless connection, somewhere on a beautiful beach, but with no tourists, with good food and beautiful sunsets, and a good wireless connection.

Paracas was not that place. It’s known for being the jumping off point for tours of the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas Reserve, two wildlife refuges set amid towering sand dunes and bare stone. The main attractions are sea lions, humboldt penguins, and the occasional Chilean flamingoes and dolphins. While you can visit the Paracas Reserve on your own, or with the help of a taxi, it’s impossible to visit the Islas Ballestas without joining a large tour group in a speedboat made for 30.

Paracas, the town, is little more than a portal. It’s stuffed with touristic restaurants and expensive hotels for those who want to sleep in another few minutes before making their 8am tour. Bright, quaint boats bob in its harbor, but the beach is a narrow strip of garbage-strewn sand and the water is polluted with engine oil, washing up brown and cloudy.

As we walk, an old man dumps his trash out by the shore, and a massive flock of seagulls descend on it, squawking. They are contested by a growing flock of pelicans—they all fight, tearing at the plastic bags. Dozens of blue Shell Nautilus engine lube packets have been washed up on the high tide line, tossed aside by the boat owners, who poison the fish that they catch for their children’s dinner.

North to Chincha

Chincha has a higher concentration of internet cafes in its center than anywhere else we’ve been, and yet not a single one of them would let me connect my laptop to their internet cables. Maybe it’s the first time anyone’s ever brought a laptop in?

I was most excited about seeing the Hacienda San Jose, an old slave plantation that’s evocatively described in the Lonely Planet. We caught a cab for the 20-minute ride out, only to be told that the Hacienda has been closed for repairs since the 2007 earthquake. They’re expecting that they have another year’s worth of repair-work to do before they’re ready to reopen.

El Carmen, the “beating heart of Afro-Peruvian culture,” is Chincha’s other main attraction, but generally only on party weekends. Our cab driver took us on a swing around the towns central plaza, pointing out earthquake damage and repairs that have taken place.

Lazy in Lunahuaná

Our next stop (and current location) wis Lunahuaná. We were lured in by promises of wine-tasting, and ensnared by the mellow, laid-back feel of the town. It’s a 30-minute combi ride of the Panamericana, just about 2 hours south of Lima. It’s one of those towns where you can walk down the middle of the street, where everyone has flowering vines growing over their walls, where the biggest party on a Friday night is gathering in the Plaza de Armas eating popcorn while a marching band pays homage to El Señor de los Milagros.

Today we’re going to check out some of what Lunahuaná has to offer, including a haunted house! Rob and I have a bet going as to whether I’ll find a bottle of wine that I find drinkable. I tried a couple yesterday, and although they weren’t too bad, they were teeth-jarringly sweet. Someone here has to make a normal dry red wine. I’m keeping my fingers crossed…..

(That was written before we went out, when I was still in a state of blissful naievety. All the wine in the area is a sickly sweet Borgoña variety that really doesn’t appeal to me. While most of it I can imagine that some Peruvian would like, there was one winery in particular that had the sourest, most terrible thing I’d ever tasted. Maybe a nice dry vino tinto does exist out here, but I gave up looking after the first couple of tries. Rob wins ten soles.)

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 28, 2010

Living in Huanchaco: article on Living in Peru

Wherein we get all nostalgic for Huanchaco….

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 28, 2010

Cusco-Sacred Valley rains update

We’ve been on the road and haven’t had much chance to use the internet, but here’s another quick roundup of the news out of Cusco.

(As time goes by it’s getting increasingly in English…).

And, via florlisie on YouTube:

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 26, 2010

Yet another Cusco rain news roundup

More news about the rains in Cusco. Just a few links this time, and a glance at El Diario’s front page:

El Diario's front page, with images of Pisac flooding

(click to see full size)

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 26, 2010

Cusco news and call for photos

I’ve been following the twitter world on what’s going on in Cusco/Sacred Valley with the rain, sounds like it’ll get worse before it gets better…. Many props go out to @Apu_Rimak for the constant updates. If anyone has any photos they’d like us to post, email me (jessiekwak @ or post links in the comment.

More news:

And a video posted of a bridge over the Urubamba, so you can see just how high the river has gotten. (From Youtube, Daniel24580)

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 26, 2010

More news from Cusco

Another round of links from the news this morning:

More to come….

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