Our taxi swiftly, but confidently, weaved its way through the narrow streets clogged with buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and donkey carts as we glided through the heart of Cusco.

As I rolled down my window, we were immediately enveloped in the smells, sights, and sounds of the developing world. The ubiquitous fumes of car exhaust and burning garbage, the frequent, but courteous, honks of passing vehicles, the bustle and chatter of people buying and selling goods at local markets, and the strangely enticing sight of raw meat dangling from storefront windows – these were the aspects I appreciated most about my long-awaited return to a world less developed than my own.

It was great to be back.

We had arrived in Cusco after a brief night in Lima, most of which seemed to be spent waiting for our luggage to surface at Jorge Chavez International Airport.

Baggage claim at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru

 Our quick one-hour flight to Cusco lifted us over the beautiful, but desolate, Andes mountains; navigated us through dense clouds harboring some of the most violent air-pockets I had ever encountered, rocking the plane and our stomachs in unpleasant directions; and finally, squeezed us through an opening in the jagged Andean peaks giving way to the red and brown hues of Cusco city.

Flying over the Andes Mountains, shortly before arriving in Cusco

Flying over the Andes Mountains, shortly before arriving in Cusco

I had been waiting to visit Peru for more than fifteen years. I first entertained the idea of one day traveling to Peru while studying Inca history in Mr. McCullough’s sixth grade Social Studies class at Oak Hill Middle School. Our textbook included a vibrant picture of the ruins at Machu Picchu with the majestic Huayna Picchu peak in the background. My desire to visit the lush landscape and explore the ancient ruins of this intriguing nation only intensified six years ago when I first learned of the Inca Trail, a four day trek through the Andes Mountains ending at Machu Picchu. My ambitions were validated and my plans were set just a few years later when I met and married someone who shared my lofty aspirations and love for travel.

We started planning our trip to Peru to hike the famed Inca Trail. As far as I was concerned, there was no other acceptable way for me to reach Machu Picchu than to hike the Trail. Unfortunately, after years of dreaming of the Inca Trail, a chronic injury to my foot necessitated a last-minute change in our plans. We faced a difficult choice: we could either postpone the Peru trip to another year, or we could proceed with our plans, sans the Inca Trail trek. Eventually, we decided visiting the country, discovering its rich history, and experiencing its fascinating culture was definitely still worth it.

Although I was originally quite disappointed about not hiking the Inca Trail, I was able to see a silver lining once my tears dried: we would now have the opportunity to explore so much more of the country than we would have had we hiked the trail.

We devised a two-week adventure that included:

  • Several days in the historic city of Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capitol of the Inca Empire
  • Exploration of several lesser-known, but nonetheless noteworthy Inca ruins
  • Tours of Spanish colonial-style cathedrals, some built on top of former Inca temples
  • A full day exploring nearly every room at the famed ruins of Machu Picchu
  • Time to explore local produce and handicraft markets
  • A beautiful ride through Peru’s Alti Plano, or high plains, as the sun began to set
  • Several days on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake
  • An overnight home-stay with a family on one of Lake Titicaca’s rural islands
  • A visit to the “white city” of Arequipa, with buildings made of the volcanic rock sillar
  • An adventure through the Colca Canyon– twice as deep as the Grand Canyon– for an up-close-and-personal encounter with majestic Andean Condors
  • A tour of the colonial region of Central Lima, including visits to several monasteries
  • An opportunity to learn more Spanish and make connections with the friendly and hospitable residents of this beautiful country

Over the next several weeks, we’ll explore each of the experiences in greater detail, reflecting on Peru’s culture, traditions, history, landscape, cuisine, and beliefs. I hope you will find Peru’s land as breathtaking, culture as fascinating, and people as welcoming as we did during our two-week adventure. Perhaps you will even find the inspiration to start planning your own Peruvian adventure!