Images of Peru

Travel Journal


All photos ?1999 by David G. Young

The spectacular setting is the real reason to visit the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. Its mountaintop location is surrounded on three sides by a dramatic whitewater river gorge. Beyond this are mountains so steep that they defy life's attempts at colonization -- only a small dusiting of green shrubs dare to inhabit the sheer grey cliffs. The altitude is so high that visitors here will literally find their heads in the clouds. Constatly shifting fog gives the ancient ruins an even more surreal look.

But archaelology buffs should note that little is known about these ruins. When Western explorers first stumbled upon the isolated location in 1911, the city had been abandoned for centuries. The lack of a written Incan language means that there is no historical record. Thus, guides who take you through the ruins are recounting inspired guesswork at best. For this reason, I believe the site is best leisurely explored on your own.

All photos ?1999 by David G. Young
The Desert Oasis of Huacachina

Tourists are now returning to Machu Picchu in large numbers, reassured by the defeat of the ruthless Shining Path guerillas that terrorized the surrounding areas throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. The ruins and the nearby city of Cuzco are unique gems. The Incan capital when the Spaniards arrived, Cuzco soon became an isolated backwater, helping to preserve its beautiful colonial churches and remnants of Incan stonework. The city today is a friendly, clean, beautiful base from which to absorb Peruvian culture.

Below the central mountains, is the modern capital of Lima and the coastal desert. This desert is so arid that nothing grows here. Huge sand dunes, miles long and hundreds of feet high, dominate the coastline. In this region four hours south of Lima is the desert oasis of Huacachina. A natural spring here nurtures a ring of fruit trees and delights swimmers who come to relax by the surrounding restaurants and hotels.

From here, it is easy to visit the Nazca Lines -- the gigantic and ancient patterns carved in the sand in the area. Also worth visiting are the Ballestas Islands in the Paracas Nature Preserve, where abundant sea lions live alongside Peruvian boobies, humboldt penguins, and numerous other sea birds.

If you plan to visit Peru, you may find the following tips helpful:

  • Unless you are an avid trekker and have plenty of vacation time, avoid hiking the Inca trail. The mountain views may be beautiful, but the required time takes away from more substantial offerings. When you finally arrive at Machu Picchu, you may miss out on some of the impact of the setting.
  • Spend at most one day in Lima. Hotels are much more expensive than in other parts of the country, and colonial buildings are not in the best condition. The historic center is still worth exploring, as is the beautiful seascape in the wealthy suburb of Miraflores.
  • When touring Lima, don't wear any jewelry, watches, or other easily snatched items. Petty crime is everywhere. Beware of people who approach you on the street and just want to be your "friend."
  • If you are seeking beaches, don't think Peru. The coastal desert is so harsh and inhospitable that world class beach developments simply don't exist. It is hard to explain how a place where sun, sand, and sea meet can be so uninviting.
  • Unless continuing to Bolivia, avoid Lake Titicaca. Numerous travellers ahve reported that there is little to do, and it has become a touirist trap.
  • Bring an extra suitcase to buy cheap souvenirs. Luxurious alpaca sweaters are available at less than $8 apiece are a true bargain.