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Peru: A country where culture and nature vie for attention

b.caral1Part 1 of 3: Lima, Iquitos and Amazon, Trujillo, Chaparri Nature Reserve

 

By Marga Hart

 

Here I am, listening to the pouring rain in the Amazon jungle. Just a roof of intricately woven reeds covered by palm leaves and a mosquito screen are between me and the rain. Nevertheless, I stay completely dry in my comfortable bed. But let’s go back to the beginning of our Peru tour.

 

After our wonderful voyage from Antwerp to Lima on container ship Sambhar, which I had written about earlier, we arrived at Hotel Kamana in Lima almost at the same time as my brother-in-law and his wife, who had flown in from The Netherlands. We had planned most of our tour during our stay there and were going to use the few days in Lima to get adjusted to the culture and finalize things.

 

After breakfast the next morning, travel agent Pocha Cruz, who works for the hotel, approached us, listened to what we still needed and offered to arrange everything for a very reasonable price. As it would save us a lot of time and travelling through Lima, we accepted her offer and went off to get the money from the ATM. In every country we had visited so far, we never had any problems, but here the money didn’t come out with any of the cards we used. Fortunately, we found a bank that would give us cash on the credit cards, and we didn’t have any problems with our ATM cards at shops and restaurants.

 

Lima is a crazy, rather dirty city with about 11 million inhabitants. Traffic is a nightmare and the rides we had in taxis were rather scary, as all drivers wanted to get in that one slot at the same time. They would pass left and right, blowing their horns if things threatened to go wrong. Our hotel was in Lima’s pleasant Historical Centre, where you can see some beautiful churches and buildings and the Changing of the Guards at the Presidential Palace at noon every day. The latter is quite a spectacle with a lot of music. There are many good restaurants and it is also a nice place to shop.

 

On Pocha’s advice, we decided to visit the ruins of a settlement of the Caral Indians about 150 miles north of Lima the next day. The site was discovered about 20 years ago and excavation and research are still going on. The settlement has been dated at 5000BC. Pyramids and foundations of houses have been excavated in the desolate hills. The Caral probably settled there because the valley below the hills was very fertile and they could farm there.

 

On our last day in Lima, we visited Museo Larco, which has an interesting collection of pre-Inca and Inca pottery, weavings and gold and silver ornaments. And there really is a beautiful garden in which the restaurant is situated. Great for a meal or just a pisco sour, Peru’s famous drink.

 

Next day, we flew to Iquitos in the north-east of Peru. The city is situated on an island in the Amazon area. We stayed in the city, which seemed to be flooded with motorcars (tuk-tuks), for one night and then were picked up from our hotel and transported to the jungle lodge in a thatch-covered water taxi. The lodge was situated along Sinchicuy River, a tributary of the Amazon. I had watched the thatch-covered roof of our lodge warily when we went to sleep, but in the middle of the night, when the tropical downpour started, found it was completely waterproof.

 

With a guide, we made a few walks through the jungle, visited an authentic Indian village and made motored canoe trips along the Amazon and some other tributaries. We saw lots of colourful birds and fished for piranhas, but only managed to catch a small one. After two nights, we returned to Iquitos and flew back to Lima.

 

After a day’s rest, we took the bus to Trujillo, a nine-hour drive to the north. A taxi was waiting for us at the bus station when we arrived and took us to our hotel in Huanchaco, Trujillo’s seaside resort. We were going to visit the Chan Chan ruins the next day; but unfortunately, my husband and I had caught a bad cold, so we stayed at the hotel and walked on the boulevard while our family went on the tour. When they were back, they told us it had been very interesting, but also tiring, so it had been wise not to go in our condition.

 

We travelled on to Chiclayo further up north by bus the next day, where we were picked up at the bus station by a guide from Chaparri Eco Reserve. After a two-hour drive, of which the last hour was rather bumpy, we arrived at the nature park, set up by two local families who owned the land and wanted to preserve it and at the same time save the indigenous spectacled bear that was threatened with extinction. The community profits from it as well, as the Reserve provides many job opportunities.

 

In this dry forest area, there are llamas, deer, pumas, foxes, peccaries and hundreds of birds. The bears have their own, extensive fenced-in area. There are two that can almost always be seen near the fence, as they had already adapted to humans before they were set free in the area.

 

Our lodge, to be reached via a hanging bridge across the now almost dry river, was very comfortable and built from natural materials: adobe walls, woven reed and thatched roof. We did some hikes in the area with our guides in the mornings and evenings, when it was cool. We spent a lot of time watching the birds from the lounge or at the little pool, where the hummingbirds came to bathe in the waterfall early in the morning. After three wonderful days, we flew back to Lima, where we were picked up from the airport and immediately transported to the bus station for our next adventure.

 

Info: We planned the trip using Lonely Planet’s travel guide and the Internet, and booked the flight and trip to Iquitos ourselves. We also made the bookings for Chaparri Natural Reserve (www.chaparri.org). The other bookings of transfers, buses, hotels and tours for the first part of the trip, from Lima to Arequipa were taken care of by Pocha Cruz (www.exploringperuandservice.com). The tours, hotels and bookings for train, bus and flight for the second part of the trip from Arequipa back to Lima were taken care of by Riksja Travel (www.peruonline.nl). We can certainly recommend Hotel Kamana in the Historical Centre of Lima – Excellent service and very affordable (www.hotelkamana.com).

Copa Airlines flies from St. Maarten to Lima via Panama.