I spent ten days travelling around Peru with Eclipse Travel in September 2016. During the trip, I experienced much of what Peru has to offer, and also inspected a number of high quality hotels. #TIP My first bit of advice would be to stay longer than ten days if you can! Travel around Peru can be complicated and time-consuming, plus there's just so many amazing things to see and do!
I flew from Auckland to Santiago with LATAM, and then onto Lima. LATAM operates a Dreamliner out of Auckland, which felt spacious and comfortable, and our luggage was transferred all the way through to Lima.
Lima acts as the gateway to Peru and depending on your interests, will mean you'll either consider it a fantastic place to spend a few nights, OR a place to leave as quickly as possible. It's a rather modern city surrounded by a historic centre that's full of beautiful buildings, cathedrals and statues. It's definitely a paradise for wine and art lovers and foodies, but if you're more interested in exploring the ancient history or natural landscapes of Peru, Lima may be a disappointment. #TIP The best place to start getting a feel for the original Peruvian culture is the Museo Larco; a private museum that boasts an impressive collection of Pre-Columbian art and artifacts spanning 10,000 years.
From Lima we flew to Arequipa, also known as the “White City” due to its many historic buildings being constructed from the white rock of surrounding volcanoes. It's a lovely city and I had to remind myself often that I was actually in South America and not Europe. There's a great deal of history in Arequipa, much of it having to do with the colonialism and Catholic practices brought to Peru from Spain long ago. #TIP Do spend a night or two here to enjoy the historic centre, Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa and the Convent of Santa Catalina. And although Arequipa (much like Lima) lends itself more towards post-colonial tourism, its very slightly higher elevation makes it a worthwhile stepping stone before progressing onto higher destinations like the Colca Valley.
After a night in Arequipa, we drove to the Colca Valley. The drive took us around four hours and can vary depending on road conditions and the number of stops you make along the way. The sprawling desert that we drove through was a great place to see herds of Vicuñas, a wild cousin to the domesticated alpaca and llama. I also found the increase in altitude very noticeable as at one point, we reached nearly 5000 metres!
SIDE NOTE: Altitude sickness is very real and there's no way of telling who will or won’t fall victim as weight, level of fitness or previous experience is not a guarantee of smooth sailing. The best advice for higher altitudes is to move very slowly, drink double the amount of water you would normally and avoid alcohol. If symptoms persist, oxygen does help a lot and most hotels at high altitudes will have this available for guests.
The Colca Valley is often overlooked as a destination as a lot of visitors drive in to see the canyon and then drive straight back out again. It's actually a great place for hiking, relaxing and being out in nature and is a very easy place to spend more than a night or two.
We visited the canyon to see the condors soaring along the thermals but unfortunately, we didn’t see any close up while we were there. #TIP I recommend arriving as early as possible in the morning to allow yourself the best opportunity to see the condors, as they do tend to disperse later in the mornings. I wish we'd had more time in this area as it was so beautiful and remote...although I was lucky to later get a taste of even more remoteness when we visited the Sacred Valley... but more on that in part 2, that also includes Cuzco and Machu PIcchu.