Monthly Archives: October 2013

Chivay, Peru

Leaving Arequipa, we took a bus up to Chivay, a town just upstream of Colca Canyon. We had thought we might travel further up past Chivay the next day and do a hike/overnight down into the canyon, but we were still pretty exhausted from our Andes trek near Machu Picchu, and decided to instead relax a bit in Chivay. We also learned that the section of the canyon you can access hiking is not nearly as deep as the deepest sections that make it unique.

So instead, we roamed a bit in the area around town, explored some old igloo-like rock structures built centuries ago as way-places to stay for travelers, and enjoyed a beautiful hot springs facility with many pools. We stayed in a small hostel run by a man who runs tourist trips in the region – a very interesting man to talk with, and he had a super-cute kitten.


Area surrounding Chivay


People used to stay in these structures when traveling. There are a number of them around here, and a rock tower as well behind this one.


I did not get any pictures of the outdoor pools, which looked much nicer. Here is one of the indoor hot springs pools.

The next day, we walked around the marketplace a bit and enjoyed fresh papaya juice and alpaca meat cooked by street vendors. It was delicious, but perhaps not the best decision, seeing as I got sick the next day.

With several hours until we needed to catch our bus back to Arequipa, we decided to explore the area a bit and rented mountain bikes. We set out on a loop around through several nearby towns. Not a long loop, maybe only about 12 miles, but Chivay sits at about 12,000′ elevation, so even the smallest hill is enough to get winded. We decided part-way to split off of the roads we were following and take a hiking/mountain biking path. This was much harder, especially for me, but also more rewarding.

We passed many places where there were terraces built into the hillsides, originating hundreds of years earlier in Incan times. There were also a few old Incan ruins sites along our route. We also had clear views out to some of the nearby very tall (18,000’+) volcanoes, one of which was currently erupting (smoke and ash clouds).



The peak to the left, just behind the hill, is erupting.


Agricultural terraces from Incan days.

Taking the single track took longer than we expected, and we had to book it back into Chivay to catch our bus. Not easy to do at high elevation!

The bus ride back was interesting. On the way out, we’d passed most of the ride in the dark, so couldn’t see much, but enjoyed talking with a Canadian couple who were doing the same thing we were. On our way back, we sat next to the same couple again and enjoyed trading adventures from the last couple of days.

The road between Chivay and Arequipa goes over some REALLY high land. In that bus, we got to the highest elevation we have ever been (topping the hike the week before) at over 16,000′. From the top, which is a broad plain, you can look out and see El Misti and several other volcanoes which are close to 20,000′ elevation. Crazy high. We also passed a pack of camelids – alpacas, llamas, and others, crossing the road. Our guidebook said you could find 3 of the 4 South American camelid species here, the fourth being the Guanacos we had seen in Torres del Paine.


Alpacas, llamas, and vicunas crossing the road


I think that’s El Misti


Arequipa, Peru

Next stop: Arequipa, Peru. Also known as the “White City” and the second largest city in Peru.

Arequipa is the launching point for a number of outdoor adventures. From here, climbers have access to several very tall peaks, including El Misti, over 19,000′ and non-technical. The city is also not far from Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. We came here with a rough plan of going to see Colca Canyon and possibly hike down into it.

In the meantime, we had some extra time in Arequipa, and explored a bit of the White City. You can see where it gets its nickname:

P1010455P1010459These are both taken in the main square. We also toured through an old Dominican convent, the Santa Catalina Monastery. It was built in 1579, and accepted only high-bred Spanish girls. Tradition at the time dictated that a second son or daughter from wealthy families would enter a monastery. Many of these girls brought beautiful and expensive things with them, including many sets of fine china still on display. Though the life of a nun here was supposed to be isolated from the world (this was a cloistered community), stories of the early days include having singers and other entertainers brought in and parties. Distance from Europe and the Pope encouraged a more laid-back attitude. In 1871, the Pope sent a sister to reform the monastery and bring it back in line.

The monastery is notable for its bright colors and living quarters that must have been somewhat luxuriant for a nun at the time, but seem ascetic to us now.


Nun’s spoke to any visitors through these grills in the wall. Because they were cloistered, they were not allowed to see any visitors.




Simple living quarters. Some were more ornate than others, with many having fine china and other expensive gifts or heirlooms from home.

Another favorite of ours in Arequipa was the many rotisserie chicken restaurants. Rotisserie chicken is a favorite dish of Peruvians, kind of like a not-quite-so-bad-for-you fast food. We enjoyed some great chicken here at several places in our short stay. 🙂


Machu Picchu

After our arduous trek through the Andes and a two hour hike in the dark along the railroad line, we arrived at Aguas Calientes. This tourist trap of a town sits below Machu PIcchu and is the access point for travelers all over the world to see this Incan marvel. The town was a shock after 5 days in the mountains: a bustling little place chock full of overpriced western-style restaurants and loud tourists.

The next day after a nice big breakfast, we caught the bus up to the ruins. We decided to climb up first to get a good panoramic view of the site:



One of the most impressive things about Machu Picchu is its setting. Set atop a small mountain and surrounded by taller peaks with a river running below. Very picturesque. Another impressive part of the site is the tight-fitting stonework, found especially at the Temple of the Sun (pictures farther down).

It is unknown now what the site was originally constructed for. Theories include defense, religious, and a retreat for the Incan king. It was never discovered by (and thence not looted by) the Spanish, which is why it is so well-preserved today. The site was built in the 15th century but abandoned in the next century when the Spanish invaded Peru. It only became known to the wider world in 1911 as the result of work by the American Hiram Bingham. When he “discovered” it, the site was completely overgrown by jungle. Must have been quite a challenge to uncover everything!

Some obligatory standard pictures of Machu Picchu:


Other interesting views:


And a few interesting features:


A ladder of sorts between terrace steps


I think this was used for sacrifices?

Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun – some of the best stonework of the site is found here


Closeup of the curved portion of the Temple of the Sun. Built on a bedrock, you can see how tightly the stones are fitted together for this building. No mortar.


For contrast with the Temple, here’s some poorer stonework. Most stonework at Machu Picchu is somewhere in between these in quality.


Water running through the city in a stairway of fountains. We filled (and treated) our water bottles at another stone fountain nearby.


A sundial-like stone table on a high point. Apparently not actually a sundial.


A massive rock carved to look like the mountains in the background (if you could see them).


Buildings on top of Wayna PIcchu (the tall spire in the background of the first images)


Steps carved into the stone

We spent several hours wandering around the site and admiring the views. I was charmed by the location and definitely enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu. Jeff thought it was nice, but maybe not worth it – overpriced and overrun with tourists (even on a slow day like we had), and not hugely better than other sites we had seen. On a peak day, the site will see 2500 people. A little different than having the Choquequirao site all to ourselves.

The next day, we took a Peru Rail train out of Aguas Calientes, headed back to civilization. The only ways into Aguas Calientes (and therefore Machu Picchu) are walking or rail (and maybe helicopter). There are no roads in. Pro tip if you go: train tickets from Aguas Calientes to Cusco are quite expensive; you can cut the trip cost in half or more by only taking the rail to Ollantaytambo and catching either a shared taxi back to Cusco (remarkably cheap), or taking buses to Urubamba and then to Cusco.


We had one more adventure before flying out of Cusco. We arrived in Cusco a few hours before our flight, had lunch, and went to collect our stuff from the hostel to head to the airport. At the hostel, we couldn’t find one of the bags we had left. The only person on duty did not speak any English and it took a while to sort out what had happened to the bag…

Short version: the hostel had flooded again in our absence and the storage room had flooded, getting several bags (including one of ours) wet. I’d placed the bags high just in case this happened, but it must have been moved lower. Since the bag had been soaked in sewage water and everything in it was wet, they sent our stuff out to be cleaned and it was currently at the laundromat. Which was a problem, since our flight left in an hour and a half and the laundromat was half an hour away. Once we got this point across, they rushed our clothes and bag back to us and we took a taxi to the airport, barely making our flight. I discovered later that all my toiletry items were in the flooded bag. Most of them had to be tossed. Jeff’s nice new down jacket was also in there and was laundered along with everything else which was nice of them, but very bad for the jacket. He was not pleased. 🙁