Contrasts of The Peruvian Landscape
Guest Post by Jon Algie of Jon is Travelling.
Peru is home to so many beautiful and diverse landscapes. Golden sand dunes, desert beaches, rugged canyons, snow-capped mountains, melting glaciers and so many more natural wonders await visitors who are willing to look a little further than Cusco and Machu Picchu. Those places are amazing and definitely shouldn’t be missed, but there is so much more to Peru. Need more convincing? Here are some examples of the diverse landscapes that Peru has to offer.
Pretty much the whole coastline of Peru is desert. We drove past a lot of flat, uninspiring nothingness but there are also some really nice desert landscapes to explore. Huacachina is a tiny oasis town surrounded by golden sand dunes and is the best place to go for desert adventures. From town you can walk up the steep dunes (you might want to avoid doing this during the mid-afternoon though) and explore the desert on foot. You can also take a dune buggy tour further out where you’ll get to sandboard down some of the highest dunes. Mountains, lakes and glaciers
A lot of people fly into Lima and head straight to Cusco, never venturing north of the capital city. This is a huge mistake…an overnight bus ride north will take you to the jaw-dropping landscapes of Huascaran National Park. This is my favourite area of Peru, even though the gateway town, Huaraz, is a bit rough around the edges. Laguna 69 has to be one of the most picturesque places in the world and the 7 hour round trip hike there is a highlight of any trip to South America. The dramatic mountain scenery eventually leads to small lake full of bright blue water. The lake is surrounded by sheer grey cliffs and snow covered mountains – seeing it is one of those “wow” moments that you remember forever.
Pastoruri Glacier is receding fast and will apparently disappear in the near future. Located at over 5000 metres above sea-level, the glacier sits behind a small lake full of big chunks of floating ice. There are snow-capped mountains all around and the van ride there is something special as well.
Islands full of birds and sea lions
The Ballestas Islands (Islas Ballestas) are located a short distance from the coast and you can get there on a cheap tour (it cost us around $10). You can’t set foot on the islands but you can get close enough to see all kinds of wildlife – from pelicans and penguins to hundreds of lazy sea lions. The islands themselves are unique; the red rocks and natural arches make for a great backdrop to the wildlife action.
Peru is home to some of the world’s deepest canyons. Colca Canyon is the most accessible and is becoming a popular trekking destination. A typical trek takes you down into the canyon, over a fast-flowing river, past lots of farmland and eventually into a small oasis full of hostels. It’s a pretty amazing place – the barren, rocky canyon contrasts with the lush green oasis to create one of the most eye-catching scenes in Peru.
On the way back to Arequipa from Colca Canyon (if you take a tour) you’ll stop off at a viewpoint overlooking a mass of agricultural terraces – some of these date back to before the Incas. You can see lots of terraces all over the Sacred Valley as well – the Inca ruins are full of them!
The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is full of historic Inca cities and fortresses surrounded by stunning scenery. The dry landscape is broken up by a patchwork of farms and terraces, while massive snow-capped mountains loom overhead. Some of the best places to see the scenery of the Sacred Valley are the ruins of Pisac and Moray. Pisac is a sprawling ancient city looking out over the valley while Moray is a unique set of circular terraces which look a bit like crop circles (the photo at the top of this post is on the road heading to Moray). At the end of the Sacred Valley lies that wonder of the world you might have heard of…Machu Picchu!
No article on the landscapes of Peru would be complete without mentioning Machu Picchu. It really does live up to the hype and is the kind of place that I think everyone should make an effort to see. The jagged green mountains combine with fine Inca stonework to create one of the world’s most iconic vistas.
Peru’s barren coastline is home to some great beaches. Mancora was our entry point into the country, via and overnight bus from Ecuador, and it’s a laid-back little town with desert on one side and beaches on the other. The beaches are pretty good (although not as nice as the ones I saw in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama) and the sunsets there are a real highlight. Playa Roja, in Paracas Natural Reserve (close the Ballestas Islands) is a surreal red sand beach surrounded by desert. It’s one of the most eye-catching beaches I’ve ever seen.
Lake Titicaca is the spiritual home of the Incas and is the highest navigable lake in the world. The Peruvian side of the lake isn’t quite as picturesque as the Bolivian side, which features Isla del Sol, a small island that wouldn’t look out of place the Mediterranean Sea. It’s still worth checking out the floating reed islands on the Peruvian side, although you might want to take a longer tour than I did. I went for the quick-fire 2 hour tour and it was a disappointment – the scenery was still nice though. You can also check out the lake on the Bolivian side.
I spent just over a month in Peru and saw some of the highlights of diverse Peru Landscapes, but there’s so much more out there. I didn’t make it to the Amazon, as I did a tour there in Ecuador, but I hear it’s a good place to see it. You could spend months travelling around Peru, seeing amazing scenery and cool colonial cities. Oh yeah…colonial towns and cities! Spo many great places to see in Peru! That’s another awesome thing about Peru, but that’ll have to wait for another article.