Peru is spectacular- a contrast of ancient and modern that blends together from the Amazon Basin to the Andes and the Pacific. Enjoy Peru in the cities and in the adventurous countryside while experiencing its natural beauty and international cuisine. Explore the mighty Incan and pre-Columbian cultures that date back more than 10,000 years.

I recently returned from a remarkable week discovering Peru with a small group. With LAN Peru’s new direct service from San Francisco to Lima, getting to South America has never been easier. Arriving in Lima in winter is just like being in San Francisco in the summer – cold and grey with a damp sea mist hanging over the city. We checked into the plush Miraflores Park Hotel in the wee hours of the morning.
3d74f4770
The view from the Miraflores Park Hotel was endless. Later that day, I saw the coast stretching for miles from my luxe room (laden with Molton Brown amenities) as the Pacific surf pounded the beach below. A hearty breakfast and an even better view awaited at the hotel’s top floor Observatory Restaurant. For two days, I passed up the infinity pool and spa to see the city sights.

Lima is a bit gritty, but vibrant and architecturally rich with South America’s largest historical center. Don’t miss the many colorful plazas, remarkable churches and archaeological museums. Ruins from the 5th century sit in the middle of the city where the Lima Culture once flourished.

Restaurants abound serving Peruvian classics like Pisco sours, causas, lomo saltado and the ubiquitous potato (over 3,000 varieties in the country). One day, we tried Restaurant Huaca Pucllana for a traditional lunch, (overlooking adobe Incan ruins) and La Mar the next.
3d71f4770
Lima’s La Mar serves the most delectable ceviches, tiraditos, sushi and more with a great local vibe just like its counterpart in San Francisco.

Dinner the first night was at Central, a hip place with fish, lamb and beef dishes – all created with a Peruvian “nuevo Andino” fusion flare. The next evening, we ate at the hotel’s hot new Mesa 18. Seafood, quinoa and potatoes shined. For dessert, white chocolate soup with a cup of mate de coca tea helped prepare for the next day’s altitude change. Then it was a quick visit to the Barranco neighborhood for a nightcap – alive with music, dancing, people – and a good time.
3d70f4770
The plane ride from Lima to Cusco is less than an hour and passes between snow capped mountains and arid peaks. By the time you land, you’re at 10,659 feet. Acclimating to the sudden elevation change is easier if you visit Machu Picchu town first (about 7,000 ft.), so we hired a van for the trip to the Ollantaytambo train station. (If you take the train from other Cusco stations, plan on a longer journey due to the switchbacks down the mountain.) Driving into the verdant Sacred Valley, we passed one picturesque town after another. Numerous archaeological sites captured our imagination. Once on the Backpacker train, it’s a scenic two hours along the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu town.
3d73f4770
The luxury Sumaq hotel is a five minute walk from the train station. The hotel’s style and design reflect the vibrant Andean culture as do native ingredients in the cuisine. A sustainable focus helps preserve the fragility of the area. The Qunuq Restaurant, with knockout views of the mountains and rushing river, serves creative dishes from around Peru. For dinner, savor the fresh trout ceviche, corn pies, alpaca tenderloin and decadent desserts. And before the trip up to Machu Picchu itself, fortify yourself with a full breakfast.

Machu Picchu at sunrise is the best way to get the full experience. A bus makes the trip up the mountain (to 8,000 feet) in about 30 minutes. The sight of Machu Picchu in emergent sunlight is breathtaking. The architectural achievements of the Incans are truly extraordinary. This Incan citadel in the jungle is rightfully a world wonder. Spend time wandering and dreaming about the life that existed here. After soaking up the “Lost City,” it was time to soak up the offerings in the hotel’s spa and contemplate our next stop: a stay in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire.

Colorful Cusco features Inca-built walls lining steep cobblestoned streets, historic plazas teeming with natives in beautiful garb and treasures proudly displayed in churches and mansions. Shopping is all about bartering, with stalls and boutiques at every turn.

We checked into the gorgeous Casa Cartagena near the main square. This upscale boutique hotel and spa is situated on a former Incan ceremonial site and is a restored mansion, a mix of Spanish architecture and modern design. Most rooms are oversized with contemporary furniture and surround a lush courtyard. Trout ceviche and local fruits and breads are some of the delicious cuisine you’ll savor at La Chola, the hotel’s restaurant.

Dinner that night was at Cicciolina, a fun tapas bar on the second floor of an old colonial house. We shared Andean-inspired small plates and enjoyed the lively atmosphere. And finally, for lunch our last day, we chose Chicha por Gaston Acurio. The talented chef behind La Mar delivers – quinoa, octopus, empanadas and pork loin – all served with luscious Peruvian flavors.

From Cusco, it was back to Lima and on to San Francisco. Peru is magical – the culture, the people, the food – it’s a country you’ll remember and want to return to.

A Unique Jungle Adventure
There is a place in South America where you can feed wild monkeys by hand, challenge jungle river rapids, see flocks of wild parrots, and zip-line over a tropical rain forest. This special and unspoiled place is Manu National
Park in southeast Peru. Getting there isn’t easy and the activities can be challenging, but the payoff is a unique and memorable jungle adventure.

 

An excursion to Manu National Park can be an outing by itself, or an ideal add-on to a trip to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Buenos Aires, or Rio. Most tours to the park begin in Cuzco or Puerto Maldonado, Peru.
Reputable airlines and comfortable, modern aircraft serve both cities.

 

We signed up for a four-day jungle adventure to Manu in advance, through a travel agent, but tours are available “on the spot,” too. There are several tour companies that organize and lead trips to Manu. To find one, check with your travel agent or search “Manu National Park Peru” on the Internet.

 

 

The Road from Cuzco to Manu
It doesn’t look far on a map from Cuzco to Manu National Park, but it took more than 10 hours, bumping along on a rocky dirt road. We left Cuzco early in the morning in a specialized overland vehicle, which had a cab and
separate passenger unit, similar in size and style to a small school bus. There wasn’t room inside for our luggage, so it went on top along with food, water and supplies. There were 15 of us – two guides, a driver, a cook (all from Peru), and 11 adventure-seekers from Europe, Canada, and the U.S.A.

 

After leaving Cuzco, we ascended the Andes Mountains, stopping for a break in one of the highest villages in Peru (13,000 feet), then descended to the Spanish colonial village of Paucartambo. As evening approached we entered a
cloud forest near the entrance to Manu National Park. The temperature dropped, the vegetation became lush and exotic, and a light, steady rain began to fall.

 

That night we stayed in an open-air lodge just inside the park’s entrance. It was rustic, but comfortable, with private rooms, clean detached bathrooms, running water, and flush toilets. Dinner consisted of soup, rice, and vegetables. We slept under mosquito netting – falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

 
About Manu National Park
Manu National Park is located on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains about half-way between Cuzco and Puerto Maldonado. It was established as a national park in 1973, declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1977, and named a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.

 

The park is huge (3.7 million acres), and includes a range of altitudes, from 1,200 feet at the mouth of the Manu River to over 13,000 feet in the cloud forest. It is home to a variety of animals and also more than 20,000 kinds of plants, 1,200 butterfly species, and 1,000 different birds. Monkeys are plentiful, jaguars are frequently sighted, and the park has rare creatures such as giant otters and primitive birds. It also includes indigenous tribes of people, some of whom have never made contact with the outside world.

 
Cock-of-the-Rock Mating Dance

The next morning we got up early to see the Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruviana) birds perform their mating dance. Each morning as many as several dozen of these parrot-sized birds perform an elaborate mating dance. The vibrant reddish orange males display their crest, showing off and posturing for the females. The females, fewer in number, watch, then choose the most suitable males. When selections have been made the pairs go off together and the rest fly off to look for food.
1ccbd81f0
Farther down the road we spotted a family of capuchin monkeys who came down a tree for a look at us. One had a baby clinging to its back. After some coaxing, a couple of the braver ones ate bananas and passion fruit from our hands.

 
Biking and Rafting
After breakfast, we rode mountain bikes through the jungle on a park road. This incredibly tranquil ride took us through lush vegetation, including ferns with man-sized leaves. Thousands of butterflies floated around us, some iridescent blue and as large as our hands.

 

We stopped at a coca plantation, where our guide explained it is legal to grow coca in Peru. Coca grows on small shrubs (3-4 feet tall). Ripe leaves are picked, dried in the sun, then ground up and chewed or brewed into coca
tea, which helps alleviate altitude sickness.

 

The bike ride ended 20 miles later at the banks of the Kosnipata River. We helped our guides carry two large rubber rafts to the water, climbed aboard, and floated down the river. There were enough rapids to get our adrenaline
flowing, and the splashing water was invigorating. At the end, we jumped into the river for a cool, refreshing swim.

 

Covered motorboats were waiting to take us to Erika Lodge, our home for the next two nights. We cleaned up, had drinks under an outdoor canopy, and were treated to a jungle rainstorm with fantastic thunder and lightning.

 

For dinner our cook, Luc, prepared a local meal of rice, chicken, saffron and eggs steamed and served in banana leaves. When we opened the banana leaves, we inhaled a wonderful, pungent steam. It was a perfect
feast after an exhilarating day!

 
Into the Jungle – Exploring and Zip-Lining

The next morning we put on high-topped rubber boots and headed into the jungle. Our guide pointed out medicinal plants and exotic trees, including “century plants.” These tall, thin trees are filled with poisonous ants, which stream out to attack anything that threatens their nest. The natives reportedly punished thieves and other miscreants by lashing them to these trees then pounding on the trunk with machetes.
1ccace5b0
We reached a series of zip lines (also called traverse lines), which had been strung above the jungle trees. Zip lining is a relatively new sport, and this is the only one in Peru and one of just three in South America. The zip line consisted of a series of cables (similar to ski lifts, but without the chairs), which had been strung across the jungle just above the treetops. At the end of each cable a platform had been built onto a tree. The objective is to glide down the cable, going fast enough to get to the next platform but not so fast that you run into the tree at the end.

 

We climbed up to the first platform (about 10 feet off the ground), and were fitted with harnesses around our waists and thighs and a metal handle. The harnesses and metal handle were attached to the cable. There were four cables, varying from 100 to 400 meters long. Stepping off the first platform was hard, but the thrill and views while sailing above the jungle were awesome! At the last platform, we repelled to the jungle floor and made our way back to the lodge.

 
The Magical Lake
That afternoon we took a covered motorboat down the river, then hiked down a narrow trail into the jungle. We walked past a banana plantation to a clearing with a small lake in a green valley, surrounded by trees. There were several small islands in the lake covered by soft, green grass. Birds floated over the lake, calling out as they glided past. The mountains reflected on the edges of the lake.
1ccce0f50
Our guides used long poles to float us across the lake on log rafts. They pointed out several large primitive birds called hoatzins, which are found only in the rainforests of the Amazon. These strange-looking birds have a
crest of feathers that stands straight up on the top of their heads and blood red eyes encircled by bright blue skin. They also have a very eerie call, which sounds more like a heavy smoker’s wheezing than a birdcall.

 

The setting sun reflected in the water and birds sang as we floated back across the lake. It was a magical scene, and we tried to take in every detail.

 

That evening, as we lay under our mosquito nets listening to the sounds of the jungle, we realized the uniqueness of this part of the world, and how fortunate we were to experience it.

 

 

Wild Parrots
We got up early the next morning to see the parrots. We rode down the river on a covered motorboat, then walked to the high riverbanks of Calipa. Thousands of parrots were already there, eating from the clay bank. Nutrients in the clay help them digest seeds, which are the mainstay of their diets. There were several species of parrots – some with blue heads and bright green bodies, others with green heads. They travel in flocks, and a few “scouts” circled above, watching for predators. After a few minutes they flew off – with considerable screeching – to search for food.

 
Teaching School

A motorboat took us down the river to meet our bus, which would take us back to Cuzco. Near the bus an elementary school was in session. Two members of our group, who teach children in their home countries, went in to see the
school. With the teacher’s urging, they led the students in a very enthusiastic and noisy recital of the alphabet, followed by laughter and applause. They came out smiling from ear to ear . They were thrilled to have connected with children in this remote corner of Peru.
1c18640c0
The ride back to Cuzco was long, slow, and beautiful. The views of the Andes were inspiring, and stops in small mountain villages gave us opportunities to shop at Peru’s bargain handicraft markets. We arrived late at night, tired but excited. This was truly a fantastic part of a very rugged, and beautiful country!

 

 

A Rewarding Adventure
Manu National Park is a remarkable and unspoiled part of Peru. It’s not easy to get to, but well worth the effort. A four-day trip provides a rewarding adventure you won’t soon forget.
1c1973160

I had been a reluctant traveler to the Tambupata Jungle Resort of Peru, but my always curious husband insisted it would be like one of those fabulous safaris you see on the Travel Channel, and I was persuaded.  The word “Resort” and the price convinced us that it would be luxurious “roughing it.”    This was our first truly adVenturous tour to a very remote area, and we had imagined being pampered in a Tarzan setting.  Well in advance  we got all the immunizations known to modern medicine (except one) and started our malaria pills.
After a week in Lima, we boarded a small jet to fly over the Andes, a beautiful flight, but the snowy peaks seemed a little too close to our questionable plane to put me at ease.  We landed in the jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, and the plane’s engines stayed on while we disembarked. (Later we learned that the tiny airport didn’t have the facilities to restart the plane!)  Arriving tourists were divided into two groups: those who were already immunized against malaria and those who had to receive an injection before claiming their luggage (no choice!)
Our tour guide met us and threw our luggage into the back basket of a sort of motor cycle with a place for two passengers to perch behind him,     and before we could think, we were zooming away on the main dirt road to the docks.   Not knowing how far we must go before boarding first-class ship for a delightful four-hour journey up the Tambupata River, I asked our guide to stop somewhere for me to go to the bathroom.  His alarming response was, “There is no place.”  “I’ll just wait until we reach the ship,” I responded.  “The boat has no bathroom,” I was informed.  “Well, you have to find a place.  The trip is four hours!”  After much deliberation, Juan headed for what was either a small restaurant or a large, white adobe brick home arched over with brilliant, fuschia bougainvillea flowers, and persuaded the owner to let us use his facilities, which were in an outer addition to the building.
Just five minutes later the enormous  river’s swirling, brown muddy expanse came into view.  It was wider than the widest river I had ever crossed in the United States, lined on each side with dense jungle vegetation. The “ship docks” were a roughhewn platform where we and ten other tourists, were helped into a large, wooden, flat-bottomed canoe, with 18 folding chairs lined up beneath a blue plastic tarp!  For a fleeting moment I thought this was the dinghy to take us to the ship, but   I quickly realized this was it!

3f3c7810The 35 horsepower, outboard motor whirred reluctantly, and we were off on our four-hour journey upriver.  The boatman explained that the river had already risen forty feet in the last week, beginning its swells because the rainy season had begun upriver.  This would slow our progress against its swirling, brown currents.  For about an hour we puttered along, staying too far away from shoreline to suit me because I’m not a strong swimmer and  there were no life jackets aboard.  We stopped to pick up several local passengers and part of our food supply for the Resort.  Eight open, cardboard flats, each containing three dozen eggs, were stacked on top of each other in front of our young, bronze “captain,” who was dressed in khaki shorts, a torn tee-shirt, and thongs.  (At several points along the journey he hopped over the eggs to reach a tool as we held our breaths.)  While the motor sputtered quite reluctantly in restarting, we were zipped down-river with the current at lightning speed.
We journeyed another two hours upriver in the hot summer afternoon sunlight, never passing any sign of human civilization, only a thick wall of verdant palms and other exotic vegetation on each side of the enormous river. The  peacefully  beautiful scenery moving by and the cool breeze lulled us to semi-sleeping state of peace, in spite of the alligators (caiman) we were passing on the mud shores and the huge logs we were dodging in the raging waters.  We were jolted fully awake by the screechy microphone announcement above the motor’s noise that we would be stopping for a Terrorist Check Point.  “Are we being captured?” I  and other tourists asked, alarmed.  “No.  We have to give all the names of our passengers to the Army here, in case anyone is missing later. There is Terrorist activity everywhere up here,” was the matter-of-fact response.  We looked around for a city to possibly escape to and abandon our journey, but the stop and check point was only a small wood dock with a solid wall of jungle vegetation behind it.
Two guerilla army Peruvians took our names and said a few words to our “captain” in Spanish, looked over our cargo of eggs and fruit and vegetables, and waved us on, releasing the small, single rope which held our boat to the dock.  We were swiftly shot down-river and out of sight by the powerful, raging current, asJuan pulled the motor’s starter cord.  The engine coughed and nothing happened.  He repeatedly yanked the cord as we regressed at about three times the speed we had been making the intended passage upstream.  For a moment I expected Juan to pull out a radio or telephone and call for help, when it was evident that the motor would not start.  He appeared alarmed and stood back and began to make a piercing whistle with his mouth. Repeatedly he whistled loudly, directing the sound toward the impenetrable palm forest.  Then we passed another tiny outboard motor boat and saw a man starting his engine to rescue us.  We sailed swiftly past him, but he finally caught us a few miles downstream.
Our “savior” wore an unbuttoned white shirt flapping out behind him and exposing his enormous brown belly hanging over his dirty, baggy jeans.  His wide-brimmed, cream-colored Panama had was crumpled and stained from years of service.  He clamped a stubby, fat cigar tightly between his teeth to the side of his mouth.  As he spoke in Spanish it bobbed up and down.  He tied onto our boat and cut his motor.  With one thonged foot astride each boat he leaned over to work on our motor while his brown backside nearly popped out of his low-slung jeans.  He beat on our motor with a hammer and turned something with pliers repeatedly.  After a few minutes it began to sputter and burst into life.  With a grin and a handshake, the man was gone, and we were on our way upriver again, having lost many miles.
We had to make two more stops for locals to get on or off at “nowhere” in the middle of the jungle, and we passed a few cane huts here and there, but Juan wisely never stopped the motor again.  Finally about six o’clock, he announced that we had reached our destination, and he docked at another wooden post.  Two friendly men in khaki shorts and thongs greeted us and held our hands as we disembarked precariously onto the mud bank, each of us carrying his own luggage.  As I looked up the forty-foot high river bank, into which mud steps had been machete cut, I was thankful that we had wisely been advised to leave our big suitcase at the airport and take only a small bag of necessities.  We trudged up the steep embankment, relieved that our luxurious Resort was awaiting us above.

3f6d2870At the top we entered the constant twilight of the dense jungle where sunlight cannot penetrate.  We carried our bags down a brief trail to a large clearing.  There before us stood our amazing Resort, the scientific research station of the Tambupata Jungle, where erudite botanists come to study native plants and remedies to make pharmaceutical wonders for the world.  One large, circular structure of canes and screen with a peaked, round roof of more canes, formed the dining room and bar.  Ten smaller huts just like it were lined on either side of a torch-lit path.  We gathered in the open-air meeting area of the bar to receive hut assignments.  To their dismay, Jane and Bob, on their honeymoon, learned that all the huts were double and they were assigned to the same one with us.  Our hut was the farthest from the dining area, but the “best” because it sat at the back edge of the clearing, only about five feet from the dense jungle.
The four of us entered the screen door of our shared cabin and discovered it was a double, partitioned by a bamboo screen six feet high, with another open six feet of air space before the peak of the straw ceiling.  Each side had its private bathroom with a small ceramic sink, a flush toilet (no paper allowed in it), and a tin-lined shower stall with plastic curtain and cold running water.  The two bathrooms backed up to each other.  Our bedrooms consisted of bamboo walls with screens at shoulder height, twin beds made of wood poles and a mattress made up with clean sheets.  Each bed was draped with a tent of thick mosquito netting.  The small wood table held two clay candlesticks for lighting.  We felt like children at camp, and I was immediately frightened of what creepy-crawlies would emerge after dark.  I looked carefully and saw none and no snakes inside, but in my mind’s eye I could see every corner wiggling!

2b6b77d0We hurriedly returned for supper in the dining hut.  We gathered in the bar for drinks and instructions and to meet the resident ocelot, who sleeps in the bar. Only a few brave men petted him.  He yawned and growled and bared his sharp fangs, and we declined the offer to feel his stiff fur. Dinner proved to be a wonderful affair with excellent, freshly prepared food and delightful service by several native men, dressed in shorts and Hawaiian print shirts.
The added attraction was the largest porcupine we had ever seen persistently gnawing his way through the ceiling bamboo overhead.  We had wondered about trash service in the jungle, but noticed that all left overs were just tossed out the door in back of the kitchen, where vultures swooped down in delight!

3f5ba620This was our only opportunity to get to know the other tourists who were leaving before dawn to go to a place famous for butterflies.   We learned that our cabin-mates had been sent on a pre-honeymoon to this place by her father who thought they should test their relationship before marrying.  They too had thought that “Resort” would be five-star accommodations!  None of us had realized that the luxury price was because most of the money funded the research of this station.
By the time we all dispersed for our cabins it was pitch dark, and none of us had brought our flashlights to dinner. In the jungle dark is total blackness! We were grateful for the few blazing torches which lined the little path, but we could barely see our feet.  We had many ideas, but no way to verify, what creatures might be on our dirt walkway.  Entering the hut was entering the Void, and we fumbled around trying to remember where the candles and matches lay.  With one tiny candle in each bedroom, we could barely make out that there were no immediately evident varmints cohabiting with us yet, and we hurried to shower.  There was no place to put the candle, so we had to take turns showering while we held the light for each other.  Laughing about our spoiled city ignorance, I stepped into the stream of cold water and immediately shuddered loudly, almost simultaneously with the giggles and shudders totally audible from the other side of the thin tin shower wall.  We felt so sorry for the honeymooners next door.  We all tried to be silent and private, but there are no secrets in grass huts!!!
We bedded down in our respective mosquito nets, hoping we wouldn’t have to make a bathroom run before dawn.  The jungle was silent, and we quickly drifted off to sleep.  About midnight we were awakened with screeches, chitterings, squawks, quacking, scampering, and constant noises louder than New York’s Times Square!  I heard scurrying and scraping across the wall just on the other side of my head and prayed the furry feet were on the outside. I screamed and four people were instantly awake, probably more in other huts. Terrified, I ordered Bill to turn on his flashlight and see what it was, but nothing was inside.  We settled down more calmly and tried to sleep while listening to what sounded like a flock of screeching geese in the jungle just past our screen, and more heavy scuffling overhead, and some loud gnawing.  Cringing, I covered my ears with my pillow and finally fell asleep.  It’s amazing what an illusion of protection a heavy mosquito netting can give.
At breakfast the next morning I commented about the geese or ducks I had heard all night.  Luis, our jungle guide, laughed.  “Those are not ducks. They are capybara, the world’s largest rats.  They are the size of pigs.  That’s what you heard.  Most of the jungle animals are nocturnal.”  (Wonderful!  And I have two more nights to sleep in this place!)  The first night was filled with apprehension and dismay, but by the last night we mourned that we would have to leave. That little haven in the world of Nature became the wonderful resort it truly is, and we return to it often in our favorite memories.