The Volcano, the Maiden, the Cloister and the Crepes

Arequipa's most famous volcano, Misti El Misti volcano rises behind Arequipa

You do have to wonder why anyone would think it’s a good idea to build a city in the shadow of not one, but three massive volcanoes. Hello, doesn’t anyone remember Pompeii? Apparently, the Spanish colonists had forgotten to read that chapter in their history books when they founded Arequipa in 1540.

Peru’s second largest city is strangely monumental considering it has been a magnet for natural disasters for nearly five centuries. Despite the volcanic rocking and rolling that periodically tests the city’s foundations, an impressive amount of the colonial-era sillar architecture remains. In fact, it might actually be that traditional use of the whitish, porous volcanic rock that has allowed the city to survive the quakes. It’s certainly those sillar buildings that have earned Arequipa its nickname, the White City, as well as its place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites Continue…

The Tombs and Treasures of Chiclayo

Tony exploring Túcume

If it seems from our previous posts that all of northern Peru is one vast burial site, that’s because – well – it kind of is. There is literally buried treasure everywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of it is being dug up by grave robbers who sometimes hit the markets to hawk their booty.

So in 1987, when archaeologist Dr. Walter Alva suddenly discovered a surge in black market plunder, he realized that those grave robbers had found something special. His quick thinking and investigative instincts led him to what has been labelled the King Tut’s Continue…

Gocta Lodge Adventures – Kuelap, Revash, Mummies and More

View of Gocta Falls from Gocta Lodge

Stepping out onto the balcony of our room here at Gocta Lodge, it’s hard to believe this view isn’t on the cover of every travel magazine on the planet. We came to Chachapoyas to explore Peru’s rising star Kuelap, which many are calling the Machu Picchu of the north. Yet, the view from our hotel room may eclipse that rising star.

We look out over a jungle-filled canyon framing the spectacular two-tier Gocta Waterfall, which has only recently been named one of the highest in the world. A flock of several dozen parrots swoops by above our heads. Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower below. The scene is our introduction to the incredibly rich Chachapoyas region, an area overwhelmed with natural, historical and cultural attractions. The isolated highland capital of Peru’s Amazonas state and its surrounding treasures are just starting to pop up on the tourist radar. But if the Peruvian government has its way, that’s all about to change Continue…

Trujillo – Pyramids, Plazas and Playas

Huaca Arco Iris

As we mentioned in our last post on Caral, much of northern Peru is gloriously neglected by the country’s mass tourism. It’s a vast area filled with colonial towns, great food and the crumbling remnants of unknown ancient cultures. It’s an adventurer’s paradise waiting to be explored.

As we bused north on the paved Pan-American highway to Trujillo, the number of seductive dirt tracks luring travelers off the road to remote archaeological sites was almost too much to bear. We passed a number of remote ruins which I would have loved to visit including Paramonga, the fortress of Chanquillo, and Sechin. Thank god for visa limitations, or Thomas and I would be here for another six months combing the desert, side valleys and mountains for hidden treasures.

But it’s just a fact of life, there is no way to see everything in Peru because this country is overwhelmed with world-class Continue…

Mysterious Caral – The Most Important City You’ve Never Heard Of

Caral just might be the most fascinating place in the world you’ve never heard of. Located 200 km north of Lima in a desolate desert gorge to the east of Barranca, the mysterious complex of six stone pyramids and huge sunken amphitheaters is considered the oldest major urban center in the Americas… by far.

Aerial view of Caral

Thought to have been at its peak between 2,600 BC and 2,000 BC, the ancient city of Caral would have been thriving at the very moment the ancient Egyptians were constructing the great pyramids at Giza and the Mesopotamians were constructing the great Ziggurat of Ur. Caral is the earliest known pyramid culture in the Americas predating the Olmecs in Mexico by a 1,000 years. In other words, this is where it all began in the New World Continue…

12 Lima Surprises

Spectacular art of the Museo LarcoMochica Headdress in the Museo Larco

Lima is one of those cities which travelers tend to rush through. More than once, we’ve heard tourists count their luck that they only had to spend a few hours here in transit, or were able to bypass the metropolis altogether. So we were quite shocked when we got here and sort of fell in love with this South American capital. Lima has a fun, quirky vibe,  and Limeños are humorous, welcoming and helpful.

Yes, this town definitely has a rough side, and visitors and locals alike hold their breath every time they step into a taxi out of fear of being abducted. But if you pick your neighborhoods, take official taxis, and use your head, you’ll quickly discover that Lima is a unique city with a great deal to offer. Here’s just a sample of what we think makes this city of 8.5 million pretty great Continue…

Merry Christmas from Peru

Isas Uros in Peru

Merry Christmas to all our friends and family from the Islas Uros, the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Time to gather ’round the tribal reed Christmas tree and sing some carols.

Deck the halls with bails of lake reeds,

Fa la la la la, la la la la… 

Outstanding Things to Do in Ollantaytambo

Thomas in the backstreets of Ollantaytambo

It took me a whole week before I could pronounce the name of this little Sacred Valley town without totally embarrassing myself. Luckily, I quickly learned that locals referred to Ollantaytambo as Ollanta which makes talking about this gem to locals much easier.

Most tourists make a quick stop in Ollantaytambo to visit the famous ruins on their way to Machu Picchu, but few people seem to notice the town itself. Big mistake! With its gurgling irrigation channels and narrow cobblestone streets, Ollantaytambo is a surviving example of Incan urban planning and a living work of art. Staying here is an absolute no-brainer for architecture freaks like us.

The town is also the perfect place to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and people-watch. Cobbled paths take you away from the tourist buzz of the central plaza and way back into areas where only few visitors stray. This is authentic Peru just a few feet off the beaten path. Peak over the high stone walls and you will find beautiful gardens with colorful flowers, toddlers playing, drying laundry, chickens, cats, donkeys and cages full of guinea pigs destined for Continue…

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is spectacular… so spectacular that we needed to visit the super-monument twice. The first time was in July during a visit by friends Lisa and Garrett, who pop up on this blog once or twice a year. The second time was the last day of our incredible Salkantay Lodge Trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru.

In some ways, it almost feels ridiculous writing about one of the most photographed and documented places on the planet. Volumes have been written about how beautiful and mysterious the site is. Article after article invokes images of “the lost city of the Incas,”  which was never really all that lost. (Locals living in the area knew it was here.) So what is there to write? Can Thomas and I really add anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times? Perhaps.

One thing we can Continue…

Fallen Angel in Cusco

Fallen Angel restaurant

We love daring adventures: tracking wildlife in the jungle, clinging to sheer rock walls, crossing 17,000 ft passes in the shadow of crumbling glaciers. You wouldn’t think that a boutique hotel could rise to our standards of “epic” experiences. But then again, you’ve probably never seen Cusco’s Fallen Angel.

Bold, ostentatious, humorous, psychedelic, flamboyant and fun, you might expect Fallen Angel in Berlin, Paris or Tokyo. But it comes as a TOTAL shock in the 16th century colonial courtyard of a historical casa in Cusco. The moment you step into the restaurant-bar-hotel, you realize you have entered a parallel universe of art and ideas, a cultural statement meant to challenge assumptions about Cusqueña and Peruvian culture: this country is about Continue…