Ticking off wildlife, culture and foodie bucket list experiences on a new escorted group tour of Peru with Latin Routes
A tear forms slowly in the corner of my right eye, then another pools in the left and suddenly I am weeping tears of joy. Maybe it’s the altitude, or perhaps it’s just sun cream, but the vista is making me teary-eyed.
I am standing on the precipice of Colca Canyon in southern Peru watching a flock of majestic condors swoop from the heavens and then glide effortlessly between rock faces. “We have been so incredibly lucky,” marvels my guide Gaudi as she gazes at the nine or 10 birds performing a spectacular aerial show. “Some days you can wait here for hours and see only one, but today they knew we were coming.”
On 18 September this year, operator Latin Routes started rolling out its new escorted group tours for a maximum of 16 people to complement its tailor-made individual trips, with Peru being used as a pilot destination. I am lucky enough to be one of the first to experience it.
“Peru is the number-one destination for Latin Routes since we launched it around five years ago,” reveals Martin Johnson, Latin Routes’ director and co-founder. “It’s one of the most stable countries in the continent, with good infrastructure, and it offers fantastic value for money. It’s also a country that combines stunning scenery with a rich culture, and it’s growing in popularity thanks to a thriving gastronomic scene.”
Smarter: Agua Florida is a “magic potion” recommended by local guides. A few drops rubbed between the hands and inhaled deeply eases altitude sickness, as does tea made with coca leaves.
Better: Tailor-made extensions are available pre- or post-tour so that clients can maximise their sightseeing. Latin Routes’ sales consultants can make suggestions at the time of booking.
Fairer: Latin Routes adds an optional £5 donation to bookings to support The Sacred Valley Project near Cusco, which helps educate local indigenous girls. Clients can make a further donation if they wish.
A day’s journey takes the group to Puno, a city on Peru’s famed Lake Titicaca and a gateway to the Uros floating islands. Populated by the indigenous Uros people, the islands are constructed from the local reed, totora, which is woven together up to two metres thick and anchored with large sticks to the riverbed.
A short demonstration explains how the islanders live, with small family groups inhabiting their own separate floating home. For a small fee, we ride one of the impressive boats, also made completely from reeds, across to the larger main island to receive a special Uros Islands stamp in our passports.
Nearby is the island of Taquile, which has also retained much of its unique cultural heritage. Trekking up the steep inclines is tiring but worth the panorama from the top, both of the lake stretching out towards the horizon and of the grassy foothills of the island itself.
A warm welcome awaits us at a restaurant near the water, where the ground is carpeted with reeds. An orestias fish, native to the lake, is served up alongside warming quinoa soup. Although outsiders are welcome as visitors, with the possibility of a homestay, they can’t become Taquile residents or citizens, our guide explains, as a way of preserving local traditions and culture.
While sadly it’s time for me to return home, the rest of the group departs for Cusco to visit Machu Picchu. “Because it is such an iconic destination and a dream for most travellers, Machu Picchu undoubtedly is the highlight for most clients. We have created the trip so that this is the last place they visit, to build anticipation,” explains Johnson.
“Nonetheless, all destinations are very much appreciated and loved. From the colonial cities to the breathtaking scenery of the Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca, [travellers] often list several highlights along with Machu Picchu,” he adds.
I’m inclined to agree with him. Halfway through the tour, as I’m submerged in a local hot spring, sizzling away while the air temperature is a cool 13°C, I have a moment of disbelief at all the bucket-list experiences I’ve ticked off on this itinerary, from frolicking in hotel grounds with guinea pigs and alpaca to wandering through the painted chamber in the Church of the Jesuits. Despite realising that I don’t have a head for heights, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
BOOK IT: A 15-day Peru Land of the Incas tour is priced from £3,399pp. Includes optional tours, a tour leader throughout plus local guides, all entrance fees and excursions, transport and meals. Departures on 2 May, 6 June, 6 and 27 August and 15 October 2020.
Currency: The nuevo sol.
Climate: The coast is dry and hot; the Andes are cool to cold with rainy summers and a very dry winter; while the eastern lowlands have year-round hot weather and rainfall.
Language: The official language of Peru is Spanish but many indigenous languages are also spoken.
Flights: British Airways flies non-stop from Gatwick to capital Lima in around 12-and-a-half hours.