Shadowed by three dramatic volcanoes, Arequipa’s setting is about as glorious as you can get. Much smaller than Lima and far less touristy than Cusco, Peru’s second-largest city has just as much cultural significance – and arguably considerably more beauty. Arequipa’s centre gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000, and the city’s vistas, with the El Misti volcano looming behind, are magnificent. The iconic white baroque buildings are made from local white volcanic sillar rock and give the centre a grand and markedly European flavour.
Deep in a highland valley in the South American Andes is the city of Cusco, Peru’s most popular travel destination. Once the beating heart of the mighty Incan Empire, today Cusco is a launchpad for tourists to explore the historic villages and relics of the Sacred Valley, most notably the “lost” city of Machu Picchu. But while the area surrounding Cusco offers a dizzying array of cultural excursions, treks and outdoor activities, the city itself is a joy to discover. Designed by the Incas in the shape of a puma, at Cusco’s centre is the splendid Plaza de Armas, around which labyrinths of colourful cobbled streets beckon for exploration.
Lima, Peru’s sprawling and chaotic capital, has long been overlooked. Less picturesque than the country’s second city Arequipa, and less steeped in Inca history than Cusco, many travellers would often bypass Lima altogether. But things have changed. In recent years Lima has been steadily carving out a reputation as not only the gastronomic capital of South America, but also as one of the coolest cities on the continent.
(Check out Part I of this blog entry HERE) Inca Trail Day Three: Winay Huayna & Intipata So, day three of the Inca trail. After the challenge of Dead Woman’s Pass, we were told that day three would be both easier and more enjoyable. It certainly started well: we were treated to a lie-in until 6:00am! As a troubled sleeper, I was definitely feeling the previous 3:45 and 5:00 am starts, but it was still hard not to feel upbeat on what was widely rumoured to be the best day of the trek.
Out of all the things I was most excited about in South America, hiking the Inca trail was number one. This isn’t original. As Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, Machu Picchu has around 1.2 million visitors a year, although most of these get the train up from the nearby town of Agua Calientes. But for many backpackers, trekking to Machu Picchu is the only way to get there.