Monday, January 20, 2014

Peru for the Nomadic Retiree

article from August 11, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

For those of you who read yesterday’s installment, please bear in mind that 30 years have passed since then, and I am still kicking, and that today’s Peru is a different place – for one thing, much safer, but the country still has a reputation for petty thievery and robbing tourists, so the usual precautions apply.

Peru is the twentieth-largest country in the world, stretching from 2.6 miles south of the equator in the northern jungles and bordering Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile.

Lima, the capital, is where most international flights arrive. When entering, be sure that you get the 90-day stamp in your passport, as that will give you the option to stay that long without having to get involved in the process of getting an extension, should you decide to stay longer.

Should you be lucky enough to arrive on one of the sunny days, enjoy it; it will not last. This metropolis of almost nine million people is located along the shores of the Pacific Ocean and is subject to the cold Humboldt Current, which is the primary weather maker in this region, creating a cool climate for a city located only 12 degrees south of the equator. The city is actually in a desert, and its lifeblood comes from the Rimac River, which provides drinking water as well as being an important source of hydroelectricity.

To the visitor, Lima offers up a large amount of historical architecture, which varies widely, depending on which phase of its establishment it was in when the construction occurred. As would be expected in a country so deeply imbued with Inca and Quechua influences, the capital city is home to some of the most important museums of indigenous Andean culture and history, one of the not-to-be-missed being the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru. It is well worth a multiple-day visit to absorb all that is on display here. Others on the must-see list are the Museum of Gold, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Nation.

Not very far southeast of Lima is the Pachacamac Archeological Site, a very significant area that is still under intense exploration, with several temples and pyramids having been uncovered so far. The ravages of time have taken their toll on many of the buildings, but one of the nice things about the site is its lack of hordes of tourists, allowing you leisurely exploration.

The majority of travelers are attracted by some of the most spectacular sights to behold, such as Machu Picchu, probably one of the most famous historic treasures in the world, esoterically called the” Lost City of the Incas,” although it was never really lost to the indigenous population. In 1911, Hiram Bingham, an archeologist from the US, “discovered” the city, and this marvel began to be rebuilt and groomed.

The easiest way to get there is to fly from Lima to Cusco, a city with a history that goes back to a civilization that predates the Incas, which unfortunately suffered several devastating earthquakes over the last few centuries. After getting acclimatized to the area, located at an impressive altitude of over 11,000 feet, and exploring the layers of history here, you may want to journey to the majestic ruins perched high above the Urubamba River via the train that takes you in comfort to the base town of Aguas Calientes, just below Machu Picchu. Buses await the arriving guests and will whisk them up the mountain to a splendor that will be remembered forever.

Farther south is the Puno region, with its capital city of the same name bordering Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world, at an altitude of 12,500 feet. It is also the largest inland lake in all of South America, with a surface area of 3,232 square miles.

At the other end of the nation, you will find Peru’s Amazon region. Located near the equator, it has very tropical climate, with high moisture year round but a flora and fauna such as you will rarely encounter on the planet. Did you know that the northernmost part of Peru, deep in the Putumayo region of the jungle, yet only 255 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is at exactly the same latitude as the mouth of the Amazon where it finally pours into the Atlantic Ocean, almost 1,800 miles straight to the east at Ilha de Mexiana?

To me, this is the most interesting region, featuring such a huge array of flora and fauna as to hold 20% of all the species of the world’s birds, 21% of the butterflies and a great variety of amphibians, plants, mammals and reptiles. One of the most amazing animals is the rare white dolphin that can sometimes be spotted migrating up and down the river. There are riverboat tours you may take from here all the way to Manaus, Brazil, and beyond to Belém, on the banks of the estuary – an adventure that will include meeting many people of different cultures (as well as their livestock).

Peru holds wonders for all, and I recommend a lengthy stay, covering not just my recommendations. Keep an open mind and itinerary, with the ability to change your direction of travel without compromise. Make yourself a list of must-sees and must-dos, and go from there. The best resources I have always found along the way are not tourists, but fellow travelers, and you will soon learn how to pick them out of the crowds at the hotels, hostels and inns where you stay.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
Where the Malbec Wine is Always Fine!

[Image of wooden balconies in Lima via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.