So Lima’s got a pretty bad rap in the travel world. People say its boring, dangerous, not much to do, etc. etc. etc. These people are just wrong, I tell you!
Like any city, its got its rough neighbourhoods, but generally speaking, Lima is a lovely cosmopolitan city with lots to offer. The architecture in spots is extremely European, thanks to the Spanish Colonialists. They’ve got lots of lovely little churches, like this one:

The Church of San Francisco was really cool, because underneath is a giant crypt full of bodies. They are arranged by body part, so for example – the femur section, kneecap section, and skull section. You’ll have to take my word on how cool this was, because there were no photos allowed, unfortunately.

The Church la Merced was the very first church in Peru:

Oh wait, have I just stepped into Paris?! Nope, still in Lima! Another gorgeous building. Upon closer inspection however, it is really gotten quite shabby.

Lets hope the government puts some cash into preserving these amazing structures!

Wait a minute, are we in Spain now?! Nope, still in Lima! This is the stunning Plaza de Mayor. We saw a workers protest here on the final day of the trip – what is with all these protests?!

This gorgeous square is also home to the very first Pisco Sour. Now that is a little bit of information I can get excited about!

The Lima coastline is also incredibly stunning. It is very clear that the government is investing in this area to make it a hot attraction. It is lined with gorgeous new condos, parks, and even a shopping mall in Miraflores that has cleverly been built into a cliff, so as not to obstruct the views.

I could definitely see this area of Lima becoming a playground destination for rich travelers and retirees, much like Panama.

I guess this title is a little deceiving, as we didn’t really get to see too much of Puno at all.  By the next afternoon the sickness had dissipated enough to warrant heading outside in search of snacks, and to also catch a glimpse of Lake Titicaca.

Most of the tourists depart early in the morning to see the lake tribes and return late in the evening.  This means that most of the shops nearby are closed the rest of the day.  We took a  couple photos, grabbed some bananas and dinner rolls, and headed back to the hotel.  On the way we caught an example of globalization initiatives by one of Canada’s finest brands:

After our tour mates returned to the hotel, we got together to head out for a traditional Peruvian dinner: Guinea Pig!   It seems so interesting to me that these little fellows are kept around the house as pets, until one night you can’t decide what you’d like for dinner, and your pet’s cute furriness suddenly begins to look…delicious!

Here is a photo of one of our friends demonstrating the typical spread – the guinea pig is flayed out on a plate – claws covered delicately in tinfoil.  This restaurant was first class, and they gutted the beast for you – covering its empty body with a fresh and tasty salad.  Also notice the side serving of Peruvian tater tots with cheese sauce?!  SO GOOD!

Notice the head and teeth are intact.  Our guide Alim showed us the traditional way of eating this part of the head, and the neat crafts you can do with it afterward:

Notice it is in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird of the Incas!  Guinea pig looks very unappetizing, but its really just like dark meat with a fried skin.  Not quite like chicken, but not really unlike it either.

So what the heck is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?  Are they even different?!   They sure are, but not by a lot!  They are both members of the camelid family, however the llama has a longer neck and bigger head.  We were told that historically (and still today) llamas were used as beasts of burden to assist farmers and Spanish conquistadors.  They refuse to carry more than 40 lbs.  I am not sure if this is scientifically true, but we did hear it more than once on the trip!  In any case, check out these llamas we saw grazing at Machu Picchu:

Alpacas on the other hand, remind me more of sheep, in terms of their matted, thick hair.  Its smaller than a llama.  Their coat is the thickest of all camelids.

For the record, alpacas are also delicious, particulary when dressed with some tangy Andean cheese!  Yum!  Interesting fact: Alpacas use communal dung piles, so they never, ever, eat where they poop.  This helps prevent illness and intestinal issues in herds, as well as allows them to be housetrained!  Neat!

To complicate matters between these species further, you also have the Vicuña.  The Vicuna is a relative of the llama, and the wild ancestor of the alpaca.  In my opinion, it is also the cutest.  Of the three, their wool is most expensive, as they produce the least of it, and it is the most delicate while being extremely warm due to its unique composition.  They were declared endangered in the 1970s, and are protected by law.  They are also the national animal of Peru!  We did see a few, however I didn’t manage to get a good photo.  I will instead use the magic of the interwebs to procure one for you:

I just wanted to share a few more of my most favourite pictures from Machu Picchu…

Check out the amazing stonework of the temple pictured below – the artisan masons have actually perfectly fitted stones into the crack of the cliff…its almost Tim Burton-esque in its shape and form.  This is considered one of the most precious places in the whole complex, and lots of time was dedicated by the people in constructing it and making offerings to the gods.

This final picture will give you a pretty good idea about the state of the site.  Archaeologists are constantly working to stabilize and reconstruct many of the sections that have crumbled over the years.  Its a difficult task that will surely take decades more.

Machu Picchu was unquestionably one of the trip highlights for our entire group, and I know it will be tough to beat for any future trip.  It’s sheer size, history, setting and breathtaking beauty really have earned it a place on top 10 lists everywhere.  For me, its probably closer to #1.

Our wonderful and fabulous GAP guide Edwin (who somehow managed to get me through the Inca Trail in one piece) was a wealth of knowledge on Inca culture and history, as well as on the site of Machu Picchu itself.  While he knew many facts and details on its construction, what was most impressive was his incredible passion in retelling us this history.  You could tell he genuinely loved sharing his culture with us.  He told me that no matter how many times he had visited Machu Picchu, he was constantly impressed, and each time noticed new things.  He was phenomenal, and his eagerness translated to each of us.

In this picture you can also see a row of houses in the background.  What you’ll notice is how they are very stone-y.  This is because these buildings were for average people doing average things – living, eating, sleeping, storing food etc.  The Incas saved the majority of their time, energy, and construction might to be used on their temples, which incorporate classic Inca construction – seamless joints, large stones, and stunningly complicated angles.  The image below is from a street in the city, with the left side being a rough-hewn building, and the right side the back of a temple – it really shows how construction methods varied depending on the purpose.  Can you even believe those seamless walls!  Seamless!  No mortar!  You couldn’t even fit a sheet of paper in between those joints!  And of course, they are angled in the typical style to withstand earthquakes.  So, so, impressive.

And how do they keep the grounds so neat and tidy?  Why, llamas, of course!

We made it!

Machu Picchu is literally breathtaking, stunning, amazing, wonderful, mysterious and completely incredible.  Surrounded by mountains, it is a feat of engineering, a marvel of construction, and something we’ll never forget.

Built by the Incas between 1450 and 1540, it was abandoned when the Spanish arrived in an effort to preserve it from destruction. Luckily, it was never discovered and remained as it was built until the 20th century.  Local peoples knew of the site, and one family was even farming its terraces when American historian Hiram Bingham discovered the site in 1911.

It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and was named one of the seven New Wonders of the World in 2007.  2500 visitors descend on the site daily.  Despite this, it never felt busy or overcrowded, and there were many corners and buildings to look at where you found yourself completely alone.  There are many sections to Machu Picchu: temples, residential buildings, farm buildings, storage facilities, farming terraces, and many other buildings whose original uses have long been forgotten.

We woke up at 3:30 am the final day to finish the trail and be one of the first people at the site, ready and waiting for the sun to rise.  Now, getting up at 3:30 really isn’t my idea of a good time, but it had already been 3 days without a shower or a change of pants, so I was kinda over it.  I just brushed my teeth, put a hat on, did a quick clean with some baby wipes and went on my way.  There were a few girls at another campsite that were applying their makeup – at 3:30 am!!!  Totally nuts, if you ask me.  In any case, we rose, got ready as quickly as possible and headed for the entrance.  We were quite near the front of the line, so when the gates opened at 5, we were running to finish the final 2 hours to the Sun Gate.  It was totally like the Amazing Race, and we finished in only 1 hour and 2 minutes!  Here is a picture of our group at the Sun Gate, just before sunrise:

The best thing about the Inca Trail is it is the only trail with an access point that will take you to the Sun Gate, where as the sun rises and sweeps the mist away, you have the most incredibly stunning view of Machu Picchu from a distance.  Theoretically.  Sadly, in our case, the mist never really cleared, but at one point it thinned enough to get a quick glimpse of what was to come: