Peru is an amazing country in South America, filled with fascinating history and archaeological sites. Cruises traveling the western coast of South America often stopover in the Peruvian capital city of Lima or one of the other coastal cities. In addition, cruise tours to the Galapagos Islands usually include a visit of several days in Peru as an add-on. The most famous site in Peru is the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. If your cruise is embarking or disembarking in Lima, the cruise ship probably offers a tour of either one or two nights at Machu Picchu.
I had visited Peru twice on cruise ships, but never had the opportunity to go to Machu Picchu, Cusco, or the Sacred Valley. Since these sites were all on my "bucket list", I decided to do an 11-day "Real Affordable Peru" land tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) that covered these three destinations. OAT is part of the Grand Circle family of travel companies and features land and sea tours with small groups of 10 to 25 travelers. I had sailed with Grand Circle on a Russian waterways cruise tour and knew the company provided great guides, good accommodations, and interesting sites at a good value.
Join me on a tour of Peru. Click on each photo of Lima, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, or Cusco to enlarge. All photos (c) Linda Garrison.
Getting Acquainted with OAT Tour Group
Ocean view from Miraflores near Lima, Peru
We arrived in Lima at 4:30 in the morning, having flown overnight from Miami. Our guide Carmen met us at the airport, and we arrived at the hotel about 6 am and checked into our rooms. Our hotel, the Jose Antonio in the Lima suburb of Miraflores, was in a good location and had free WiFi in the rooms, along with an excellent shower and free breakfast. Our room was on the third floor, and we could hear the noisy traffic outside. One oddity in Peru -- we were told to not put toilet paper in the toilets of any toilet in the country. Evidently the sewer infrastructure is terrible. So, all the bathrooms (including at the hotel) have a small trash can to put the used paper in. They empty it twice a day. We also used bottled water to brush our teeth and to drink at the suggestion of our guide.
After a short morning nap (didn't sleep much on the plane), we had a group meeting at the hotel at 11:00 am. Fifteen were in our group--four couples from NJ, CO, OR, and PA, two women from NJ, and three single travelers--women from Washington, DC, Illinois, and Puerto Rico. Group was mostly in 50's and 60's. At our meeting, we had the first of many pisco sours, a wonderful drink made with pisco (a Peruvian brandy made entirely of grapes), lime juice, sugar, and whipped egg whites. Delicious.
Walking Tour of Miraflores near Lima, Peru
Statue of kissing couple in Miraflores, Peru
After our get acquainted meeting, we did a walking tour of the Miraflores district where we were staying, ending up at the Cafe de la Paz on Kennedy Park. We at outdoors and had the first of several good meals. Julie had a mixed veggie salad (we are only eating cooked veggies and peeled fruits) and the grilled fish, and I had a Peruvian chicken soup and the fish. Potatoes were first grown in Peru, so we had a lot of potatoes. The mashed potatoes were very good, as was a potato dish (causa) that is mixed veggies rolled up in cold mashed potatoes. (Tasted much better than it sounds.)
A walking tour from the restaurant down to the ocean followed lunch, and we walked along the sidewalk overlooking the ocean, ending up at the Laromar shopping center, which was very nice. We passed by the famous stature of the couple kissing that has become one of the symbols of Lima. The shopping center had all the nice American shops, plus some Peruvian ones. Laromar also has a Chili's restaurant and all the fast food ones.
Peruvian Dinner and Folk Dancing Show
Dancing with scissors in Lima, Peru
We returned to the hotel about 5:00 pm, rested a little, and then went to dinner at 7:30, walking back down to Laromar to a nice Peruvian buffet dinner, followed by a dancing show with about 15 dancers. The food was much better than we expected. We especially liked the fava bean, hominy, onion, tomato, and mozzarella cheese salad and the fish ceviche (fresh raw fish pickled in lime juice). I also loved the roasted corn, which looked like salted soy nuts, but tasted like popcorn. We had pisco sours to drink, plus a traditonal Peruvian drink made from purple corn called Chicha morada, which is not fermented. It is usually made of ears of purple maize (choclo morado) which are boiled with pineapple rind, cinnamon, and clove. This gives a strong purple-colored liquid which is then mixed with sugar and lemon. Very tasty, but a little sweet.
The dancing show was very good, featuring dances from all over Peru. Depending on the region of the country, you could definitely see either a Spanish, Indian, or black African influence (remember the Spanish brought African slaves to Peru just like in North America.) We were back at the hotel by 11 pm.
National Museum of Peru in Lima
National Museum of Peru
The next morning we were up at 7:30 and on the bus for our city tour at 9:15 am. We had a local guide named Jose, who was excellent. His English was better than mine, and he was very knowledgeable about Peru.
The tour started with a ride through the city to the National Museum of Peru (Museo de la Nacion), where we learned much about the 14,000 years of Peruvian history before the Incas, who were only in power from 1438 to 1525. Of course, most of this history is supposition since no one had a written language, but the Paleo-Indians, the first settlers of the Americas, crossed the land bridge from Asia about 20,000 years ago, and it took them about 6,000 years to reach Peru. Not much is known from 14,000 years ago until 7,000 years ago. The coastal settlers and mountain settlers developed very different ways of life, with the coastal settlers living on fish (huge schools of anchovies off the coast) and the mountain (called the highlands) people had crops about 8500 years ago and domesticated animals 4000 BC. One interesting tidbit -- the Chinchorros of the desert coast of Peru were mummifying their dead about 7000 years ago, long before the ancient Egyptians. These mummies have been found in the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. Pretty amazing stuff.
Tour of Old Town Lima, Peru
After about an hour of tracing Peruvian history in the museum, we moved to the central city, passing through the lovely San Martin square on our way to the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Lima. Traffic was horrendous, and we finally got off the bus about two blocks from the square and walked the rest of the way. We found the square blocked to all traffic, but we were allowed to pass on foot. It turned out that they had closed the square to prevent the "old retirees" (people in their 50s and 60s according to our guide) from marching and protesting. Evidently the government has been withholding money from their paychecks for years, promising a retirement check to them when they retired. However, the monies were either squandered or embezzled, and now there are no retiree funds. So, now the retirees are marching/protesting. We were just glad they let us in. Guess we didn't look dangerous.
The whole section of downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site. La Catedral (the cathedral) was first completed in 1555 by the Spanish, but it was destroyed several times by earthquakes before the Spanish finally changed the construction materials from stone to wood. The pillars holding up the church are hollow wood - a little creepy. The most interesting feature is Francisco Pizarro's crypt, which is decorated with gorgeous mosaics. It's a little unusual to have someone who is so hated by much of the country honored in the state cathedral. The Spanish descendants liked him, the Indian descendants hate him since he is credited with destroying the Inca empire. He definitely wasn't a saint, but he still is prominently featured in the cathedral.
San Francisco Church and Monastery in Lima, Peru
San Francisco Church and Monastery in downtown Lima
After visiting the cathedral, we walked past the president's home to the San Francisco church and monastery, which is run by the Franciscan monks, who take a vow of poverty. This monastery complex was quite elaborate, because many rich Spaniards of the 16th and 17th centuries donated money to the Franciscans to use only in their church and for the order, not for the poor. So, they ended up with an ornate church and vestments.
The most interesting part of the complex was the catacombs. Wow! What a surprise. They looked much like those at the Priscilla catacombs in Rome. Residents of Lima during the 16th and 17th century all wanted to be buried under one of the altars of the San Francisco church to speed up the journey from death to heaven, limiting the time in purgatory. To do so, they donated money to the Franciscans. Soon the numbers of people paying to be buried greatly outnumbered the space. The monks soon began dousing the corpses with lime, which disintegrated all of the bodies except perhaps the large femur bones and a few skulls. The process really got out of control since the only thing the monks promised was that the people would be buried under the church, not that they might be moved later. Anyway, to make a gruesome story a little shorter, when modern monks began digging in the old catacombs they found over 50,000 femur bones, meaning that at least 25,000 people (and some estimate 70,000 people) were buried. Thousands were found dumped in an underground well. Now, they have all these femurs and many skulls on display in the catacombs. Very macabre, but fascinating.
After the tour of the San Francisco catacombs, we walked to La Muralla, an outdoor cafe, for a very late lunch. I had the cooked veggies for an appetizer, followed by grilled fish topped with tomatoes and onions (delicious), and lucuma ice cream for dessert. Lucuma is a very flavorful, yummy fruit, and we all loved the ice cream. Julie had the causa (mashed potatoes stuffed with veggies) and the fish.
Huaca Pucllana Archaeological Site in Lima, Peru
Huaca Pucllana in Lima
After lunch, we rode to Huaca Pucllana, a large ancient temple in Miraflores near our hotel. This huge pyramid dates back to 700 AD to the Lima culture (700 years or more before the Incas) and has been protected since 1981. Our local guide said he used to play on the site as a child, and that everyone knew that something was buried there, but never took the time to excavate. The large mound would be hard to mistake for anything other than some type of ancient building site. It is constructed entirely of adobe bricks, which are stood up vertical rather than horizontal like we do them. The vertical placement allows more swaying during earthquakes. The pyramid has been somewhat reconstructed, but you could tell the difference. Interesting, especially as we compare the various Peruvian cultures.
Near the pyramid was a very fancy club, and there were tables of women playing cards outside on the porch. Quite a contrast to the ancient pyramid! We returned to the hotel about 530 pm, and went to dinner at 7:30 at a nice restaurant called Ose. After our obligatory pisco sour, I had broccoli souffle, Florentine chicken with vegetables, and a chocolate brownie with lucuma ice cream. Julie had the causa potatoes, the chicken, and homemade fried Peruvian donuts with a caramel ice cream. We also had a complimentary glass of wine. Very good. We returned to the hotel at about 9:00 pm.
Pachacamac Ancient Religious Center near Lima, Peru
Temple of the Sun at Pachacamac near Lima, Peru
The busy pace continued the next day. We left the hotel early for a combination tour of the archaeological site of Pachacamac, which is about 15 miles south of Lima and two "shantytown" areas--Oasis (about 4 years old) and Villa El Salvador, which was established in 1971 during the height of the Shining Path terrorist activity, in which over 70,000 Peruvians were killed. Hundreds of thousands of citizens who lived in the countryside fled to Lima to avoid the terrorists. Since most left all their belongings behind in their villages, they came to Lima with almost nothing. Many tried to re-create their villages on desert land owned by the government near Lima. These illegals were squatters, but citizens. The police tried to run them off, but with tens of thousands occupying the land, it was difficult. So, they took them to court, which took about a dozen years. Some lost their cases, but many got to stay on the land since the government did very little to protect them in their homes. It's a very complicated story.
Before we visited the two different shantytowns, we went to the archaeological site at Pachacamac. Mom and I had visited Pachacamac
from a marvelous cruise along the west coast of South America
on the Silversea Silver Spirit
, but this time it was much cooler and overcast. The site has numerous temples, including a very large temple to the sun, which we climbed to the top. Then, we saw the restored temple of the moon. Both were interesting and increased our understanding of the Incas and the Lima tribes.
Desert Shantytowns of Lima
Shantytown near Lima, Peru
We next visited two "shantytowns". The first was named Oasis, and it had only been inhabited for four years. The residents are still "squatting" on the land illegally, but it is doubtful that anyone will try to move them, although their cases are now moving through the court. The few thousand families living at Oasis built their village on a garbage dump, so the land is not considered desirable by anyone else, so it is doubtful they will be forced to relocate. Most of these residents were living in another more highly-developed shantytown and many are second-generation shantytown residents. We were amazed at the organization they have and the number of committees who control this very organized antbed. Next we went to Vllla El Salvador, the original shantytown. The residents have a fully developed government structure and are even recognized as an official neighborhood. I don't want to fill up the space about this phenomenon, but just need to say that I'm glad to live in the USA.
After the busy morning, we went to eat lunch in a local cebichiteria in Miraflores named Lobo de Mar Otani before having a free afternoon. I really enjoyed the flounder ceviche, which is raw fish soaked in lime juice with onions and cilantro. It's very good. Some in our group got the mixed seafood; others had other fish dishes.
Magic Fountain Show at Parque de la Reserva
Magic Fountains in Lima, Peru
That afternoon we had free time. Julie went off shopping while I downloaded my photos. Then I went for a short walk and hit the ATM for some more Sols (Peruvian money). We rendezvoused at the hotel before going to the "magic fountain" show at the Parque de la Reserva at 6:15. It was optional, so only eight of us went in two taxis. We got to the park about 6:45 and really enjoyed watching the dancing fountains with the accompanying laser show.
Julie and I grabbed a snack at the little store after the show and were back at the hotel by 8:30. The next morning we flew to Cusco.