Peru’s white city Arequipa

By Erin Hancock

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Arequipa is a natural stop when traveling by ground between Lima and Cusco in Peru. It’s a gorgeous, historical city with close access to the Colca Canyon (a popular hiking, rafting and touring destination).

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Arequipa is lovingly called the “white city” (la ciudad blanca) which some claim is because of the material used to build many of the buildings (ashlar, volcanic stone) while others claim it is because of the white Spanish who were concentrated in the area during colonial times.

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The city is surrounded by three volcanoes which tend to sneak into the backdrop of any photos caught outside in the area.

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Don’t miss the Downtown Arequipa Walking Tour that meets daily in the main square by the iPeru office. You’ll see a smattering of the city’s nicest areas, learn about the history, and see lots of places to return back to during your stay.

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Corn and papas (potatoes) are ever-present in Peruvian food. There are over 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru. Now there’s a national taste-test I’d like to witness. The large clay vessel in the right image above was traditionally used to make chicha de jora, a fermented (alcoholic) drink made of purple corn. The story is, when guests came over for a party, the woman of the house would toss the car keys into the chicha vessel which meant the group had to drink the whole thing before being able to retrieve the keys and heading home. Now that’s a big commitment! Throughout Peru, people enjoy chicha morada, the non fermented version of the purple corn drink.

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The market is downtown not far from the Place de Armas (main square) and is a great stop for any of your needs.

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Make a furry friend and feel the difference between llama, alpaca, baby alpaca (the first shave of an adult alpaca – deceiving name, right?) and vicuna wool at Mundo Alpaca. Watch for spitting! We made it out unscathed.

 

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Also see how the wool in transformed into gorgeous colours using natural dyes. The textiles of Peru and throughout the Andes are remarkable.

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When steeping into the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, note the unique depiction of the “Last Supper”. We learned during the walking tour that when the Spanish colonized the city, they incorporated some of the traditional customs of the Inca. For example, a circular table meant those sitting around it ate as equals.

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Don’t be chicken (foot), visit Arequipa!

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Highest sand dunes in South America

By Erin Hancock

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Just gazing from a hostel window in the small town of Huacachina (outside of Ica, Peru) is a magnificent view of the highest sand dunes in South America. But don’t just look at them, get out there!

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Adventure seekers, look no further than Huacachina. This magical desert oasis (oasis is the perfect and only way to describe it) is great for anyone who wants their adrenaline to pump. Sand, heights, scorching sun and sand boarding. That basically sums it up. Get out on a sand buggy (called “boogy” in Peru) and get your heart pumping. The best (worst) is heading strait up the highest dune in sight at high speeds (insert blood-curdling scream here) and not having any idea what’s on the other side. It’s also sometimes uncertain whether the driver knows what’s on the other side as he struggles to steer as the buggy shoots over the crest of the dune!

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For a fast, but more grounded experience, try sand boarding on your belly (or standing up if you’re a pro). Using snow boards, lay right down and speed down a dune. You can use your feet to choose your speed.

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Tips:

  • Bring something to cover your face from the sand and dust
  • Pack a large bottle of water
  • Don’t eat much before you go
  • Wear long sleeves for sand boarding on your belly (protect your forearms from getting scratched up)

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After what feels like hours of screaming and catching your breath, the dunes are a perfect place to witness a truly epic sunset.

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You’ll have the best shower after your excursion in the dunes. Then you can head into the tiny “downtown” of this miniature mirage in the sand dunes. We chose “Huacafuckingchina” as our restaurant of choice. Enjoy a couple refreshing pisco sours (Peru’s sweet spirit drink) and some grub. Cheers again to our guide Walter from Peru Hop (Peru’s best, safest, most fun and thorough bus service) and Laszlo (our fellow adventurer)!

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Love and light to all! From Erin and Julia

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Aliens and the Nazca Lines, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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One of Peru’s top attractions are the Nazca Lines. These geoglyphs (basically designs in the sand) are known around the world for their sheer size and uncertain history. A mere 20 years ago, they were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nazca desert showcases 70 of these images depicting natural objects – mainly animals and humans. Although some mention of the lines were made over 400 years ago, the credit for the first to really discover and explore the lines is given to an American researcher Paul Kosok in 1940. Many theorize that the lines were either created by aliens or otherwise created by Incas or a pre-Inca civilization as a gift to the gods (or to represent the celestial constellations), but many other theories get tossed around. The mystery is part of the charm.

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We cheated! We only saw two of them from the mirador (look off). If you’re covering a lot of territory and/or on a budget (or uneasy about the flight over the desert), this is a great way to get a glimpse into the hype without committing. For less than $1USD, you can climb up the mirador and let your own mind run wild on theories as to how and why these images were created. For less than $100USD (booked ahead of time), one can take a plane ride over the lines and any tourists we spoke with highly recommended that option over the mirador.

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You’ll see a bird and a tree. The monkey is one of the most famous ones so you’ll miss that one on this mini excursion (see the image of the monkey on wikipedia here). The Peru sign (seen darn-near everywhere in Peru) shown below is said to be inspired by the monkey’s tail in the Nazca Lines image.

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Paracas National Reserve, Ica, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Tan and blue as far as the eye can see. A dusty drive over land for a short ride from Paracas, Peru, one will find the Paracas National Reserve (sometimes called the Natural Reserve).

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This gorgeous landscape is simple and tranquil, yet something beautiful to behold with its consistency and smooth hills.

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As you continue down to the shoreline, the ocean breeze picks up, dulling any sound in the surrounding areas.

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The jagged cliffs emerge from the water and many birds coasting in the wind can be observed from a perch on the dark sand beach.

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Poor Man’s Galapagos and Paracas, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Although the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador are known around the world for gorgeous images of penguins, seals, tortoises and the like, Peru has its own relative facsimile. It’s called the Ballestas Islands and it’s off the coast of Paracas, a small town about a 3 hour drive south of Lima. It’s a smaller, perhaps less awe-inspiring visit than the Ecuadorian experience, but definitely still worth the boat ride.

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In a 2-hour round trip boat ride, any tourist with a penchant for adorable penguinos, swarms of birds and fantastical sea life will truly enjoy themself.

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The penguins are perhaps smaller than one would imagine, and so adorable as they waddle in lines (colonies) around the island.

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Watch the water as you ride to and fro the mainland as you’ll see the not-so-lazy sea lions playing in the wake (probably fishing).

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The white colour of the island is guano. That’s right, coveted bird poop. Each year a team of very ‘fortunate’ workers head to the island and scrape off meters of the white debris to be used as agricultural fertilizer. If you like this line of discussion, click here for more guano info. The birds that produce this white gold here on these islands are predominantly Peruvian pelicans, Peruvian booby birds and Inca terns.

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On the way one can also see a large candelabra in the sand. The history is uncertain, but the locals treat it similar to Peru’s Nazca Lines….aliens, an Inca contribution to the gods, bored locals with too much time on their hands…no one can be certain.

 

Back to the mainland in the town of Paracas

The sun seems to be always out in this little piece of coastal quiet.

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Paracas is a bit of a romantic paradise by the ocean with many hostels/hotels to choose from at a fair cost, lovely restaurants with your choice of great seafood (ceviche of course) and a quaint market with super relaxed vendors.

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Take a load off. Steps from the beach you’ll find all the vendors you’ll need to stay all day on the beach. Enjoy a beer, some street food, buy a wide-brimmed hat and take in the fishy sea air.

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Happy travels or happy armchair travels!