Peru Travels

A collection of reviews from my trip to Peru

Inca Trail (Part 2) - Iconic Hiking Trail

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by beckyX on November 15, 2009

...Part two of the Inca trail. Part 1 covered background of the trail, plus a general review of some of the experience. Part 2 continues with a day by day review.

===The first day - 6km, flat===
On our first day, we set off walking right after a full cooked lunch, stopping to pose for a photo next to the famous trail start railway sign. The map said our afternoon was a gentle 6km flat walk. At the checkpoint to the start of the trail, we had our passports stamped and made our way across a suspension bridge, which truly felt like the point of no return, only bouncy. We only jumped our way across a little bit, however, since we didn't really want to be expelled from the trail before we had started it!

Then we climbed. And climbed. This was when we learned the concept of "Peruvian flat" - which means that if the uphill and downhill averages out to nearly flat, and the steep parts aren't steep for very many kilometres then it doesn't count. In this case, it wasn't for very long, so we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Although most of what we think of as "The Inca trail" is paved and does not permit vehicles or pack animals, for the first day or so of walking, there are settlements. This meant we did have to dodge many bicycles and animals being herded. We also saw small children hurrying home - apparently they have to walk many miles each day to get to school.

A few hours later, we arrived at our first camp site, which was below the ruins of Llactapata. After a restless night of sleep, we were awoken bright and early with a cup of tea in our tent. A quick repack and a cooked breakfast left us ready for day two.

===Day two - travel 10km, mostly steady uphill===
The day started with a steep downhill climb so we could cross a river. This was the first point that I welcomed having walking poles. But then, what goes down, has to go back up again, and a steep 20 minute climb followed, leading to spectacular views over the Llactapaca ruins.

Most of the first part of the morning was spent walking gradually uphill at a fairly easy pace. We passed several settlements and stopped for many flowers. I paled slightly at the sign showing a cross-section representation of our walk (i.e. altitude versus distance - it looked very steep!) . That morning, we got to the last settlement for two days. This is the last place to buy gatorade - a violently coloured sugary salty sports drink (that sadly also has lots of tartrazine) which is the drink of choice of hikers who aren't asthmatic.

The rest of the morning featured an extremely hard uphill slog. By this point, the group had started to splinter and spread out over the trail, and I started to be able to take sneaky little 30 second rests every few tens of metres climb with nobody else noticing, because they were either 5 minutes ahead of me, or 5 minutes behind!

Our guide cheerily told us we would be walking until 1pm before breaking for lunch. After a while of gruelling uphill climb, I started to fear that I would never be able to carry on walking until lunch. Then, suddenly, I came across the front of the group who were stopped next to an area with a tent that looked very much like our dinner tent. Since it was about an hour before we were due to stop for lunch, this confused me greatly; it turned out that we had just done the morning's walk in about an hour less than the recommended time, so no wonder I was feeling so tired! But because it was just high altitude tiredness (we hadn't walked very far) after a hearty meal, we were ready for more and I knew I could take it at a much gentler pace and stop for breaks, to look at a view or take pictures whenever I wanted.

The afternoon took us through the cloud forest layer - subtropical type of forest only to be found at certain altitudes in tropical countries. It is a lush, green but misty world that would probably be described as glorious by anyone not currently trudging through it.

Eventually, we broke free of the cloud forest and reached the pampas region - a grassy plain forming a hanging valley. Our camp site that night was found there at Llulluchapampa.

===Day three - 15km steep up and down===
Day three is arguably the hardest of the four days, at least on the knees - walking poles or a staff are essential! It is an exhausting 8 hour trek up that for the first two hours takes you first to the highest point of the trail (4200m) - this part is a 450m ascent in only 2km! This is the famous Warmiwanusca, or Dead Woman's pass - so named from the shape of the mountain from the valley - it looks like a woman lying down. Personally, I couldn't see the resemblance!

Up to the pass, we were travelling through the grass land of the pampa. Up to the left of the trail is steep mountains, to the right was the wide valley, which also had steep mountains at the far side. Because the trail zig zagged so much, even though it was wide open land, I often could not see another soul, but was wandering around by myself in the wilderness, which was fantastic. It was less silent than it might have been because I was listening to the Lord of the Rings radio play: what more can one want to listen to when one is doing an arduous trek than listening to others doing an arduous trek!

After the stunning views at the peak of the pass, the path then leads down steep steps (600m descent in 2km) into a valley, then up over a second pass (Abra Runkuraqay), taking in the egg-shaped ruins of Runkuraqay (once a rest point for Incan travellers) on the way. The second pass was easier to do than the first, but of course we were tired by that point.

What goes up has to come back down. More irregular steps took us steeply down, through an Inca tunnel. Those of us who were slightly faster took a detour up to another set of ruins, called Sayacmarca. A few hours of "Peruvian flat" brought us to the top of the third pass, Phuyupatamarca, and our camp site for the night. I think I have never been so happy to stop and put my feet in a bowl of hot water as that day!

===Day four - 11km===
Day four started pre-dawn with a scramble to a nearby peak to view the dawn over the snow-capped mountains. From here, we could see down into the Inca's sacred valley. After a farewell and gift giving to the porters, we set off on our final day, by now dosed up on ibuprofen gel and all hobbling wearing knee supports. The journey that day was through the forest, frequently with a steep drop of hundreds of feet to one side - I would not want to be afraid of heights!

On this final day, the route joins up with the one day trail, which leads past many sets of ruins - including some very well preserved ones at Winay Wayna (a name meaning "Forever Young") - a location with a unique orchid found nowhere else in the world. We also had our first contact in days with civilization - the route goes past a small town, before it heads steeply back into the middle of nowhere, scrambling up slippery steep steps to the famous Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Or, as we called it, the "throwing it down with rain" gate - sadly, thick cloud covered the iconic panoramic view over our destination. This gave the city a spooky, mystical feel to it as we walked down through its twisty maze-like passages.

Finally, we had arrived! All of us had reached our destination in one piece and uninjured. True, we were footsore and exhausted, but what an experience! It is one I will never forget as long as I live.

===Our destination===
Machu Picchu is far too important a destination to leave to one small paragraph in this review - we spent two days exploring this region (thankfully with improved weather) and this will form a second review of its own.

This trek was the highlight of my holiday in Peru and forms one of the defining experiences of my life. To this day, I cannot believe how exhausting it was for only 42km! It is well worth a visit, but train hard and make sure you acclimatize first.

Review is cross-posted,
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Iconic Hiking Trail (part 1)

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by beckyX on November 15, 2009

During the peak of the Inca Empire, many steep paved routes were built as a system of highways throughout the empire for the chasqui runners of its ruler (the eponymous Inca) to travel on. If people mention "the" Inca trail, they are referring to the most famous one of all - the paved path leading to the famous Machu Picchu, an Incan city perched on a mountain top high in the Peruvian Andes.

Since I was a child and heard of Machu Picchu, I wanted to hike along its famous and difficult trail. The city has a mysterious appeal to it - having remained hidden from the Spanish conquistadores, it was unknown to Europeans (though not to locals!) until 1911 when Hiram Bingham "discovered" it. Even today, the city (and its neighbouring modern town Aguas Calientes) are extremely isolated - you arrive there by train or on foot, not by road. Finally, a couple of years ago, I was able to achieve my lifelong ambition. This was an amazing trip, but it was a good few months after I got back before I even wanted to climb a set of stairs ever again! My journey was in November, which is the start of the rainy season in Peru (which is in the tropics of the Southern hemisphere) - we certainly managed to get a lot of rain on our walk!

===The Classic Inca trail===
There are several variants of the Inca trail that take a varying amount of time from one to five days. The one I did was the most popular variant called the classic trail, which takes four days and can be started from either the km 88 or the km 82 marker. These markers refer to the distance out on the railway from Cuzco, a Peruvian city which was once the capital of the Inca empire. The Inca trail takes you over several passes, the highest of which is 4200m high - plenty high enough for bad altitude sickness, but we had spent a week acclimatizing by that point, so most of us had got over the worst of the altitude sickness.

We took the 42km long route from km 82, which lasts four days. That might not sound far, but that represents four long days of extremely arduous hiking.

The trail itself is paved for most of the route with stones ranging in size from small brick-sized stones to large slabs. Much of this is the original Inca work. For the most part can only be travelled on foot, with no pack animals available (the wheel was not invented in the Americas and only llamas were used for pack animals). Erosion is a serious problem on the trail; because of this, only a restricted number of permits are issued each year. Only about one third to one half that number of tourists can go on that route, plus porters and guides. This means you have to travel with an organised tour, who arrange the permit and all the accommodation and food on your behalf.

Make no mistake - although you are completely taken care of (almost to the point of being pampered), hiking the trail is not an easy experience - even the most independent of my group were extremely glad of being looked after by the end of a long day's hike!

===The preparation===
As the trail is at very high altitude, the oxygen levels are much less than at sea level, meaning that the level of exertion is much higher than an equivalent route at sea level. So it is definitely worth while trying to improve fitness levels! In preparation for the trail, I took up jogging six months beforehand and went three or four times a week, building gradually up to 5km each time. This level of activity strengthens the lungs and helps you to get used to the intense levels of activity which you experience on the trail. To give you an idea of the intensity, imagine how out of breath you feel sprinting as fast as you can. That's how you feel just putting one foot in front of the other! Now remember the route is very steep, and you'll realise how a 42km walk can take four long days!

People do find it differently difficult - being in my twenties, I was one of the younger travellers in my group, but that was counterbalanced by my having asthma, so I was about midway in ability and so probably represent a fairly "typical" level of fitness.

===Meeting the porters===
After breakfast following the first night, we had an introduction session with the porters, with a fair bit of translation going on for those who know no Spanish. Up to a certain age (40ish), the porters look much older than they actually are, because of exposure to the elements ageing their skin, but the older porters looked much younger than their years (keeping fit appears to be good for you!).

The porters carried all of our luggage (limited to 7kg!) and our tents, meaning we had only to carry our small day packs containing our waterproofs, sweaters, water bottles and chocolate. The packs were bundled up into enormous packages that the porters would lift onto their back and shoulders as if they weighed nothing; then they would run along the trail and overtake us as we slowly shuffled along. This meant that although we set off first, the porters still beat us to the next rest stop and had tea and hot food prepared, in spite of the fact that they had to put all the tents down and pack up after we left.

===The food===
The food was plentiful and tasty and every meal featured a selection of teas and powdered milk. Every meal had a vegetarian option, although it did have a tendency to feature eggs nearly every single meal. We had hot food for breakfast, elevenses, lunch and dinner and a cold afternoon tea and trail mix and other snacks for the journey. We were given as much boiled water as we could carry each day - the local water is generally considered safe only once it has been boiled and sterilised.

===The toilets===
One of the questions people regularly asked me is what were the toilets like on the trail. There are generally toilet facilities at all of the camp sites en route, but not necessarily ones you would want to use - some of them were filthy and others were "footprint" style holes in the floor. In addition, our group had use of two chemical portaloos during the frequent rest stops, which the porters carried with the rest of the luggage. Other than that, if you can't hold it, there are always convenient bushes along the route. Never did I think I would find a chemical toilet a great luxury until I hiked the trail!

===The accommodation===
The accommodation on the hike was at camp sites along the route, staying in three person tents shared between two people. The tents were put up for us in our camp site each evening by the porters. We had thermarests - padded air mattresses which made the ground a little more comfortable; these helped to reflect your body heat to keep you warm. Beware though - it still gets very cold, even through a four season sleeping bag! My tip is to take a metal water flask with a screw top - that doubles as a hot water bottle at night. When we arrived at the camp site at the end of a hard day's hike, we got a washing up bowl of hot water to wash in and soak our aching feet - which was bliss and a wonderful little luxury! Sadly, there were no showers at the camp sites we were staying in.

...Part two yet to come! Review cross-posted
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

Arequipa - Peru's White City

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by beckyX on October 10, 2009

Arequipa is a Peruvian city in the far south of the country that is nestled 2380m above sea level in the Andes, about a half a day drive from the coast. Known as the "White city", from its white stone buildings of unique architecture dating from the Spanish days, it has a very strong European feel. The city is Peru's second biggest city after Lima. We arrived here by bus from the coast which meant it gave us our initial experience of high altitude - take it easy and acclimatize gradually before you attempt to do anything!

===Plaza de Armas===
The heart and main square in the city is the Plaza de Armas and is probably the most beautiful of any city that we visited in Peru. During our stay, we saw a concert taking place there in the evening, and a demonstration during the day. Shops and cafes adorn the square and are a good place to take a leisurely breakfast. On the square is the city's colonial era Cathedral - an imposing site that is a definite must see. It is hard to give a precise age for the cathedral, since was damaged in earthquakes and fires several times in the 16th and 17th century.

We stayed in the Conquistador hotel. This was a three star hotel that was about 5 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. It was comfortable and clean and had internet acces and televisions in the hotel rooms. The rooms currently cost US$49 per night for a twin room according to their web site and the hotel had a restaurant that served a passable breakfast that was included in the price.

We visited several restaurants during our stay, but only one stuck out as a bit different - restaurant Zigzag. It is a two-tier restaurant close to the Plaza de Armas. Meat eaters can tuck into a trio of stone-grilled ostrich, alpaca and beef steaks, and get given a stylish bib with a cartoon animal on representing the animal being eaten. Vegetarians should try one of the quinoa dishes - this is a staple seed of South America which is highly nutritious and tastes a little like cous cous. Dinner here cost about US$25 including wine.

===Night life===
The night life here is extremely varied. Live music was easy to find, as were bars and clubs. The restaurants are open very late, so a relaxed late dinner is another option. The busy streets felt a little overcrowded, though, and we were warned about crime against tourists in the evening - mainly pick pocketing rather than violent crime.

This is a good place to buy souvenirs, but the city of Cuzco is better, if you are visiting. Alpaca wool clothes are extremely cheap in comparison to the UK, but make sure your luggage allowance is sufficient - they are heavy. I came back with nearly twice as much luggage by weight as I went out with!

===El Mirador===
If you have the opportunity, do take a taxi out of the city to the viewing tower at Sachaca in time for sunset. From here there are unrivalled views of nearby El Misti, a snow-capped volcano that is over 5800m high. At dusk, the mountain was coloured a bright red colour, which makes for spectacular photographs. The viewing tower (el Mirador in Spanish) is a five storied high white tower located in a small village in the middle of vast flat fields, making for a stunning panorama. If you are newly arrived at this altitude, take care to take it slowly as you climb the tower - it's a fairly strenuous climb if you can't breathe as easily because of the reduced oxygen levels.

To get there, we piled four deep into the back of a taxi (and one in the front), then started a hair-raising experience that made us glad we were so tightly wedged in, since there were no seatbelts. The driving style involved veering between mini-gaps in the traffic to make progress - I'm sure they must have teleport technology installed in the cars to make such navigation possible. The driver then waited around for us and picked us up after sunset. The trip back to the city was even more alarming because the taxi had no lights after the electrics caught fire and billowed smoke from the bonnet and air vents. This excursion cost us around $15 per person.

===Juanita, the Ice Princess===
Arequipa is the current resting place of Juanita, the Inca Maiden and ice mummy. She was a young girl who lived during the Inca period around 560 years ago and who was selected as a sacrifice on behalf of her people, a ritual called capacocha. Child sacrifices occurred during important or difficult periods (e.g. crop failure) and were of the most perfect children. These children were fattened up before being taken up high into the mountains, given calming drugs and then sacrificed. Their bodies were reverently wrapped and buried or placed in sheltered places near the summit, together with many burial goods, such as dolls. This was Juanita's fate, and the year-round snowy climate can caused excellent preservation of the body in a natural mummification process. Then, centuries later in the 1990s, she was discovered by climbers. After intensive study, she was put on display in the Museu Satuarios Andinos museum in Arequipa, where I visited her. Visiting this museum costs US$5.

===Some other activities nearby===
We weren't feeling up to it because of the altitude, but mountain biking is a very popular activity around Arequipa. For the real hiking enthusiast, there are some very strenuous trails in the mountains, including up El Misti.

Deserving entire reviews in their own right are Colca Canyon and Santa Catalina convent. In brief, Colca canyon is one of the few places in the world to go to see Andean Condors (which inspired the tune El Condor Pasa, a tune that soon annoys with its omnipresence in all the cafes and hotels in Peru). The canyon is deeper than the Grand canyon, and requires a good head for heights to visit.

Santa Catalina Convent is located in the city centre and is a cloistered convent that is open to tourists to see how the nuns lived and worked in their sheltered world.

Arequipa is a beautiful and unique city that is nothing like the rest of Peru. If you visit Peru, you must come here for a few days to look at the colonial era architecture.

Review will be posted elsewhere

Sand Boarding Near an Oasis in Peru

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by beckyX on October 3, 2009

Huacachina is a tiny village in Peru, containing a famous oasis and for which tourism is the main industry. It is located in the coastal region of Peru, close to Ica, after which the region is named, and is most of a day's drive by bus South of Lima, a similar distance North of Nazca, and is not far from the Pan-American highway, the main route through Peru.

The coastal region of the South of Peru is a vast desert. The deserts in this area have several names, depending on the location, but they are all a continuation of the same desert of which the Atacama in neighbouring Chile is the most famous part (famous for being the driest place on the Earth). So the Oasis at Huacachina is a spectacular sight - a very rare place of greenery in an otherwise relentlessly bleak landscape.

It is a tiny location, although it does have a few restaurants, bars and clubs; these are very cheap by UK standards (but expensive for Peruvian) - we ate for less than £10 per person for a lunch with wine. Vegetarians here will generally get a dish of rice and beans (you'd better get used to that if you are veggie in Peru!), but meat eaters should try the coastal fish dish ceviche (don't eat this outside of the coastal regions - it's raw). We passed through here en route South, but you can stay here - tourism is the main industry here.

As well as palm trees and a lake, it is home to a thriving adventure sport industry - people come here for the sand buggy rides and to try the sand boarding, which cost about US $65 (about £30). Most of our group opted for the adventure tour, but a couple stayed to look at jewellery and to visit a nearby museum.

===Sand buggy===
The sand buggies are like skeletal jeeps - all of the doors, roof and hood are missing, replaced with a brightly coloured roll-cage. The tyres are more or less slick. The buggies contain three chairs up front and three raised rear seats, with high head rests and full body harnesses to keep you secure.

You start the exhilarating trip in a much calmer manner by driving slowly through urban roads: the sense of poverty here amongst the majority of the population outside the immediate tourist hotels was very tangible. Then you turn off-road and take to the dunes and the adrenaline adventure starts as the driver hurls you around, doing fast turns, taking you up and down what feel like impossibly steep hills (giving you the feeling you are about to roll!) and hurtling towards what appear to be cliffs, but are just the lip of another steep hill. It is a breathtaking experience.

These steep and high dunes shift over time, so the trails you follow are only occasionally visible in front of you, and not well-carved. Once you have lost sight of the town, it feels like the dunes go on for ever - it would be extremely easy to get lost here were the vehicle to break down. For the most part, the sand is firm enough to drive on - it does not feel like cycling on the beach does.

Then, when you reach a particularly tall dune, the driver tells you about the other half of your trip: "who wants to go sandboarding?"

Sandboarding, like the name suggests is where you take a board (like a snowboard) and ride it down one of the steep dunes. Then when you get to the bottom, you go back round and start again. There are several ways that you can ride the dunes, but the easiest for beginners is to lie on your stomach on the board and go down head first down the steepest part of the dune. This leaves you streamlined and with your weight positioned so that you don't "dig-in", meaning you can pick up a fair bout of speed by the time you reach the bottom a hundred or so of feet below - we had a bit of a competition to see who could get furthest without falling off (which many people did). As this desert is close to the equator, the sand here is extremely hot, so a few people got burns when doing this.

Much harder to do, but just as much fun, is riding the board standing. Only about half the group braved this option, most of whom were experienced skiers. This kind of boarding requires careful waxing of the board before you start (with a candle of all things) to enable you to smoothly ride the snow. I was very worried when I tried this that I would not be able to stay standing at the speeds I had reached when travelling head first on my stomach. As it transpired, this was not an issue - my balance was absolutely terrible and so I kept sliding down only twenty feet or so before the board dug into the sand and I had to dig it out again with my bare hands - not the easiest thing to do when the sand is so hot! But on the plus side, it meant I got the whole way down without falling off once.

===Back again===
After this, we raced down on foot back to the oasis for a well-deserved lunch. That's when I discovered that running in sandals in a near-equatorial desert is a very bad idea - the sand gets between your feet and the sandals and burns the soles of the feet - so make sure you wear shoes that cover your feet if you do this!

In conclusion, this is a great place to go for a spot of rest and relaxation, but even better for adventure sports.

May be reposted elsewhere
Lake Huacachina Oasis
Lago Huacachina
Ica, Peru

Visiting Lake Titicaca

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by beckyX on October 8, 2009

Lake Titicaca is situated on the border between Peru and Bolivia and is famous for being (arguably) the highest navigable lake in the world (3812m above sea level). Even though that definition may be subjective, (there are higher lakes in the world and some boats can navigate in only a few inches of water), you shouldn't question that claim too loudly - this lake is home to the Bolivian Navy (pretty impressive, given that Bolivia is landlocked!). Either way, the lake is visually very impressive and immense, with a surface area of over 8000 square kilometres.

My review is of my travels on the Peruvian side, since that was where I visited.

===Getting there===
The main city in this region of Peru is Puno, which is located on the Western shore. We arrived here by road from Arequipa - if you take this route, then do not underestimate how high the Andean passes are on this route - they are physically challenging even by bus. The other main arrival route by road is from Cuzco, which was our onward route. The nearest airport is about 30 miles north of here in Juliaca, although you would have to connect via Lima.

When visiting the lake, you can take a ferry to stay on one of its several islands; you leave your luggage behind in Puno and just travel with a swimsuit, any medicine, plenty of money and an (optional) change of clothing. Many of the ferries also stop at the Uros "Islands" en route.

===The Uros Islands===
The Uros islands are the famous floating islands on Tititcaca. These islands are anchored in place and are constructed from mats of tortora reeds and are home to the Uros people. As the reeds are very biodegradable, the islanders have to constantly rebuild their islands from the top down - our guide told us that without this, the islands would rot and break up in only a few months.

We arrived on the islands by motorboat and were greeted with a miniature reed sculpture of a boat and freshly baked flatbread and cups of the ubiquitous Peruvian tea. These had been prepared on a clay stove, which was used directly on the (probably highly flammable) reed island. Walking on the island is a strange experience - it feels very springy, but reasonably secure, so I didn't feel I was about to put my foot straight through!

We were then shown around some of the islands and chatted to many of the islanders in Spanish (apparently the Uru language is no longer widely spoken as a first language). The houses were extremely small and were also built from tortora reeds. The elementary school on the islands though was a little more rugged, made from corrugated metal; inside here was a very simple classroom, with little more on the walls than a map of the world. Tourism is now the main industry here, and everyone, young and old made us feel very welcome, although there was an inevitable undercurrent of salesmanship and the knowledge that people feel the urge to reciprocate. One thing that you must do if you visit is bring gifts for the young children - pens and pencils are recommended although, naturally enough, what the children really want are sweets and they aren't shy about asking you for them!

As a part of our tour, we were given a ride on a twin-hulled reed boat, which had a platform which we stood upon and relied on paddlers below for propulsion. Then, sadly, it was nearly time to go. But we did have time to shop before we left and bought plenty of the small reed sculptures (of boats and of people) as well as woven and embroidered items, such as cushion covers and ceramic bowls (which I suspect may have been fired on the mainland). As in the rest of Peru, haggling is an important part of the buying process, although after such a warm welcome, we didn't haggle too hard!

===Taquile Island===
Our lakeward journey then took us on to Taquile Island, a hilly island located in the middle of the lake. Tourists who stay here as we did do not stay in a hotel; instead we are accommodated in someone's home. The accommodation was fairly basic by tourist standards (although luxurious for local standards), but the beds were very comfortable. The house we stayed in was very reminiscent of a youth hostel - many beds crammed into tiny rooms in barns and outbuildings. Dinner was in a canteen-like hall, which was the only place that had electric lighting - our bedrooms were lit by candlelight. The other facilities were similarly rustic - no showers and only outdoor toilets which were, thankfully, of the Western style (and not the hole in the ground that you find most places), which were supplied with water via a big water butt. Sadly, only one of these actually had a door, but I'm sure the view out of the second out onto the lake must have been superb!

There is no transport on the island, so you have to walk everywhere. As we were still adjusting to the altitude, this is an extremely slow and painful process, particularly since this place is very hilly. We wandered around slowly being shown the sights and spent sunset visiting pre-Columbian ruins of local religious significance. As in the rest of Peru, the religion here is a mixture between Catholisism and the old ways. When you reach high places, you often find small rock piles, which are religious offerings and show that that place is sacred.

Another expedition that we made was down to the beach for a swim. With the waves lapping against the beach, the lake really had the feel of a sea to it, although the water was sweet, not saline. When swimming, I found that it was hard to imagine with the glorious blue skies and clement weather that I was nearly 4km above sea level. The trek back up hill soon brought it home to me though!

The main village on the island has an art exhibition centre, where you can view work that has been produced by the people of the island. These people are Aymara, which is both the name of the people and of the language (it is one of three official languages of Peru and is very distinct from Quechua and Spanish, which are the other main languages). The Aymara spoken here is a subtly different dialect from that which is spoken on the mainland of Peru and of Bolivia, and the culture here is correspondingly also different. Weaving and knitting are culturally very important here and are only done by the men. The woven goods are a main source of income here - you can buy the sashes and the hats that the men wear, although be careful, because the patterns and the colours apparently indicate your marital status and availability!

Sadly, the time came all too quickly to depart from the island. The way off the island involved a tiring trek up over the hill and down a steep set of steps to the harbour. Then once again, a boat took us back to the mainland, to leave behind the stunning lake and continue on our onward adventure.

===Handling the altitude===
I can report first hand that at 3812m above sea level, this lake is indeed extremely high. That's high enough that you have a pretty good chance of getting altitude sickness (as indeed I did have by that point). But the good news is that you can get diamox (an altitude sickness medicine) over the counter at pharmacies in Peru (in the UK you have to get a private prescription). This pushes the cost right down - it cost about 20p per tablet there, as opposed to £4 per tablet from the travel clinic. All my travelling companions (who included medical doctors and many seasoned travellers of high altitude) warned me against the medicine as they said it had horrendous side effects. This meant I didn't take it in advance like you are supposed to; BIG mistake! Altitude sickness in the lungs is truly awful, so do take the medicine before you get to altitude!

Other than one curious property, I didn't notice any effect of the medicine other than it making me feel better (in the interests of neutrality - this would have happened anyway, it just speeds up the process). The curious property is that it makes carbonated drinks taste flat. I had heard about this, so I tried this out with a bottle of carbonated water, not really expecting anything, and it was true! I could tell from the flavour that it was acidic, but it didn't feel fizzy in the slightest.

===In conclusion===
This is a truly stunning place to visit. I can't recommend it highly enough that you come here if you visit Peru.

NB: Review will be posted elsewhere
Lake Titicaca
Near Puno

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