Escape from Lima: La Punta
When the hustle and bustle of Lima’s chaotic, crowded, and cough-generating streets have you feeling like you need a break, there is reprieve just a few minutes away in La Punta. If you visit the smallest of the six districts that make up the Constitutional Province of Callao, you’ll soon see why, for most visitors, it is by far the most memorable.
Usually La Punta is a place for summertime fun, where you can bare some skin and escape from the noise and pollution of the city while relaxing on the beach, having a picnic or celebrating in an open-air nightclub. During the winter months, there is also a lot to do.
The area was first settled by fisherman who lived side by side with the Spanish colonists until the middle of the 19th century when Italian immigrants came to the region. They organized the small town as we know it today and their more than 100 mansions are still visible and offer a great walking tour around Plaza Galvez.
One site that’s easily accessible from La Punta is the Real Felipe Fortress, the most prominent historical landmark in Callao. It was built during colonial times to defend Spain’s most important port in the Americas against pirates. Today the fortress is a tourist attraction that is run by Peru’s Army.
You can take a two-hour tour of the fortress, which includes a Spanish-speaking guide. The tour is worth your time because it takes you through the museum of military history and includes a tour of the watchtowers and a visit to the dungeons, where they used to hold the most dangerous pirates.
After seeing the fortress you should head back up to the plaza toward the end of the boulevard. From there you’ll see a number of beaches and ceviche restaurants.
One of the many good spot that offers delicious food at affordable prices and a stunning view of the local port is Cabos Restaurante del Puerto. They have an excellent selection of wines to accompany their fish and seafood.
Though it’s currently winter in Lima, you can still head down to Cantolao, the most famous beach in La Punta. It’s known for its pebbled shore and cool water. From there you can ask about taking a tour of the local islands.
The first island you’ll pass is El Frontón, which was originally meant to hold terrorist prisoners from the Shining Path days. In the late 1980s this island turned into a battleground when the guerillas successfully took over the prison and took the guards hostage.
After passing El Frontón, you’ll continue around the back of the islands and approach San Lorenzo. The large island has become a refuge of nature with colonies of 60,000 sea lions calling it home. The mammoth beasts don’t concern themselves with the boats and an adventurous captain will be able to go right up to the rocks without them taking any notice of it.
Though the stench of the sea lions is strong and the males often fight one another for the best spot to court the ladies, a visit to San Lorenzo is a great experience to see wild creatures up close.
San Lorenzo is also the best spot near the city to see the playful Humboldt penguins.
Though La Punta is traditionally a place to visit in the summer months when the temperature is hottest and the sun is out, this unique former fishing village offers a perfect Saturday or Sunday excursion in the winter months.
A beach ride on a Peruvian paso, the world's most comfortable horse
Put your foot in the stirrup, get steady on the horse, take the reins and ride. This is no ordinary trip, because riding a Peruvian paso horse is a totally unique experience, even more so if you are able to ride with a beautiful view of the ocean and nature.
The qualities of this type of horse make it so that the ride is well suited for people of any age. From children to seniors, everyone can enjoy this attractive route that begins at the Peruvian Paso Horse Center, part of the Universidad Científica del Sur (UCSUR).
You can choose a ride of one or two hours. As soon as you arrive at the place where the horses are kept, you can feel the ocean breeze and hear the sounds of the Conchán beach, located at Km. 19 of the Panamericana Sur, where the route will continue until you reach the border of Pantanos de Villa.
The view allows you to really appreciate the natural beauty of the place. There are a number of different species of birds flying through the marine setting, and around Pantanos de Villa you can see a plenitude of wildlife.
A unique horse
Riding a Peruvian paso horse is completely different from riding any other type of horse.
“It has a movement that is very smooth and unique to its race,” said Paola Quintana, chief if the equestrian unit of UCSUR.
An angled back, sloping hindquarters, and a low tail are some of the characteristics of this type of horse. It moves smoothly at a moderate pace, when other races move at what would be called a “trot” at this speed. The unique movement makes this a relaxing - and not a tiring - experience.
“It walks side-to-side, moving the front and back leg of one side at the same time,” Quintana said.
Its smoothness has made this the most comfortable horse in the world to ride. Because of its rhythmic walk, body temperature and three-dimensional movements, it creates a sense of wellbeing for the rider. This sensation is enhanced by the sea breezes that accompany you on the ride.
Riding a horse is not something difficult that should be feared. With some prior instruction, you can ride a horse without complications on the first attempt.
Before you begin, you will be taught to turn, hold the reins, and come to a stop. It’s simple. You just have to pull the reins to the left or right depending on what direction you want the horse to move in.
The reins should be held with both hands, at the height of the naval, and you shouldn’t lean on the saddle.
If you want the horse to stop, you pull in the reins, but not abruptly, because the reins are attached to a metal piece that fits into the horse’s mouth, and pulling too forcefully could cause it discomfort.
On the trip, you will be accompanied by an instructor and a professional horserider, who will choose the horse for each rider based on the temperament of both. For example, a nervous rider will get a calm horse.
Comfortable pants, a hat and closed-toed shoes are all that is required to enjoy this unforgettable ride.
Camping in the mountains of Ancash
Located in the central and western part of Peru, the department of Ancash holds an important heritage which includes the archaeological sites of Chavin de Huantar and Sechin. But beyond its pre-Hispanic legacy and carved by natural forces over millions of years, Ancash presents a fascinating landscape for camping that is full of mountains, glaciers and rivers.
The two formations that stand out the most--the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash-- contain the most exciting scenery in all of Peru. Visiting these remote places not only provides the possibility of connecting with the wildlife and appreciating the simplicity of camping in the mountains, but also gives the you the chance to interact with the local population, who in general are friendly and hospital people.
Camping in some places demands special planning, which might be a problem for some travelers. However, the most essential part of planning is the equipment that you rent or purchase. Luckily, the markets around the city of Huaraz currently offer modern equipment to help you deal with the cold along with cutting-edge technology for greater security.
Another very important thing to consider, thought not essential, is to count on good physical health so that you can enjoy hiking and are not tortured by the challenge. Keep in mind that many of these camping sites are located at 4,000 meters above sea level and those elevations require a greater effort.
Don’t let this prevent you from venturing out to the Ancash region. If you feel like you’re out of shape, try running for half an hour or walking for an hour a few times a week in the weeks leading up to your trip.
Camping near Cordillera Blanca (photo: El Comercio)
Cordillera Huayhuash is the place where Ancash and Huánaco meet. This range offers some of the best trekking in the world. Covering three regions (Lima, Ancash, Huánuco) and home place of the second highest mountain in Peru, Corona de Yerupajá (6,634 m), this part of the country is known for its beautiful lagoons.
Please note that it can sometimes be a hazardous terrain, so it is recommended to take a donkey or mule to load equipment. The climate may be extreme in some sections, so it is necessary to wear special clothes for this kind of weather.
Next on the list of camping sites is Quebradalshinca. It’s an area relative close to the city of Huaraz and has one of the most famous walks in the Cordillera Blanca section. The camp is located at the foot of the snow-capped Tocllaraju and Urus. Just note that to enter the Huascaran National Park you must register and pay an entrance fee.
The starting point is a little town called Pashpa, which is located to the north of Huaraz. From there, you must walk five hours to the main camp.
Taullipampa is one of the most exciting routes in Ancash and it is found on the Santa Cruz- Llanganuco circuit, one of the busiest areas of the Huascaran National Parks. Taullipampa camp is named to after the number of taullis, flowers of blue-lavender, which grow in shrubs in the high altitude.
When camping out there, the tents are placed at the foot of the snow-covered and imposing Taulliraju Nevada (5,830 meters) and the snowy Patia, Ririjirca and Artesonraju. Those who know the area say that from there you see one of the most beautiful sunrises in the Andes. After a short walk, you can also see Alpamayo mountain.
To reach Taullipampa you must first stop by Huaraz. From there it is an hour and a half trip to the Cashapampa where you can rent a mule and begin the adventure.
Laguna Puhuay in Huari is a perfect place for families to enjoy the mountains. With its blue waters and lush greenery, Puhuay is an ideal place for a boat ride and for high altitude fishing. The laguna is also a great place for hiking and bird watching.
There is another laguna for camping nearby, Ichic Potrero. This laguna is located near the Carhuascancha ravine to the east of Cordillera Blanca in the Conchucos region. Only a hand full of tour companies go to this region and it is not recommended that you attempt this route without a guide. The best advice we can give is to find a guide and mule drivers in Chavin.
On the route you will find beautiful polylepsis trees and circulating streams of crystalline water flowing from the mountains.
To reach the Laguna Ichic Potrero it’s best to leave from Chucos, a small town about five kilometers from Huantar.
We can’t stress to you enough how important it is to have quality equipment and knowledgeable guides. This might be the difference between a remarkable trip and a regrettable one.
Visit Chachapoyas while you still have it to yourself
Below us, the Cañón del Sonche spread out green and deep. My wife and I counted the waterfalls that dangled from the canyon walls like loose white threads. There were no other visitors with us that day at the Mirador de Huancas, a few minutes north of Chachapoyas; just a dog and the guard.
That kind of solitude was constant during our four-day exploration of the area around Chachapoyas. There were, at most, 20 people picking their way through the trees to explore the ruins of Kuélap. Eight people joined us to see the sarcophagi of Karajia, erected eight-hundred years in the niche of a sheer cliff face. At Gocta Falls, the world’s third-tallest (or fifth, or sixteenth, depending on who you ask; it turns out that measuring waterfalls is a lot like ranking colleges), fifteen people hiked through the cloud forest to reach the base of the upper falls.
At any given moment, there were fewer tourists in Chachapoyas than in a single mid-sized Cusco restaurant. That is despite the fact that Chachapoyas’ attractions are, perhaps, the most compelling anywhere in Peru. The difficult access to Chachapoyas keeps tourist away, which is why you should visit now.
Llamas atop the ruins at Kuélap
What to see
Original and reconstructed buildings at Kuelap
Karajia is an amazing site. It’s as if someone took the moai from Easter Island and put them half-way up a cliff. The wooden figures, erected in the fifteenth century, were used to house the mummies of important Chachapoyas leaders. I’d say there’s nothing else like them in the world, but that wouldn’t be quite true; the Chachapoyas built a number of such sites on nearby cliffs.
The sarcophagi of Karajía
Gocta is another must-see. The waterfall was “discovered” less than a decade ago. Of course, the residents of the villages located just seven kilometers away knew about the place, but beliefs that the area was haunted and the dense vegetation kept them from exploring it. Today, a path winds from the village of San Pablo de Valera through coffee fields, river valleys and cloud forest before reaching the base of the upper fall. I was proud that I was able to will my out-of-shape, city slicker body along the six-kilometer trail, until I saw that small children had also managed it. If you don’t feel that you could handle the five-hour round-trip, there are horses for rent.
Gocta Falls, as seen from the trail to San Pablo de Valera
The Cañón del Sonche is not a major tourist destination, but it’s beautiful. The mirador in the quiet village of Huancas provides panoramic views and provides a great spot to watch eagles soaring above the canyon. The village of Huancas is also well-known for its pottery and other crafts.
We missed two major tourist destinations in the area: the cliff-top mausoleum of Revash and the museum in Leymebamba, which houses hundreds of Chachapoyas mummies. They can be combined in one long day. If you can’t make it down to Leymebamba, you can see some mummies at the Regional Culture Office’s small museum on the Chachapoyas plaza.
Where to stay
Where to eat
How to get there
How to get around
One note: the rocks near Chachapoyas are unstable, and when it rains, they often become displaces and block the roads. Therefore, the best time to visit is during the dry season, from June to August.
A tour of the flower varieties that give color to Lima
I love flowers and so does Lima. The fragrant scents, the wild colors, the unusual shapes and sizes all draw my attention wherever I see them. I have always enjoyed taking photographs of flowers. Here in Lima, it’s a photographer’s paradise. Back in the United States if I wanted to see or take pictures of exotic flowers in bloom, it required a trip to the Botanical Gardens. The one nearest to me was located in St. Louis, Missouri and the drive there took a couple of hours. Here in Lima, a walk in my neighborhood will get me the same thing. Before moving to Lima, I lived in the northern part of the U.S. and the winters there, although beautiful in their way, prevented even the trips to the Gardens. I always missed the color of flowers in the winter.
I am not a botanist or even an avid gardener, so we had Dr. Jillian Stansbury, an esteemed botanist working here in Peru, help us with the names of the flowers in these photographs. Dr. Stansbury pointed out that some of the photos are not really considered flowers but colored leaves. For me, the beauty of the colors and shapes is the most important aspect. The extravagant variety of flowers you will see here were photographed either within a few blocks of my apartment in San Borja or along the malecon in Barranco and Miraflores. Depending on the season you will find Canna Lillies, Plumeria, Oleander, Roses, Egyptian Lillies, and many more.
I see flowers in every part of Lima as I travel to various destinations. Whether rich or poor, you will always find a carefully tended burst of color somewhere. It seems to me that the residents of this great city have an affinity for their flowers. In all my travels around the world, I have never seen so many vendors selling cut flowers in such stunning arrangements. Every market that I have been in has at least one stall selling flowers and you can find entire market dedicated to flowers alone. Having a bouquet of fresh cut flowers in your home is very reasonable here.
When you are out, touring the city or taking a walk, take the time to notice the beautiful array of flowers. Beauty always surrounds you as long as you take the time to see it.
Since 2009, Rodney has been living in Peru and writing about travel, archaeology and more. He is a true Lima enthusiast. He chronicles many of his experiences in Lima on his blog. He is also the co-author, with Larry Pitman, of the book Sacrfice: The Prince Charming Murders, which takes place in Peru. Click on the title to take you to Amazon where it can be purchased for your Kindle or Kindle Reader.
Cusco museum showcases the fascinating history of Peru's plants
It was the second half of the 17th century and malaria was killing thousands of people across the Americas and Europe. It was then that, in remote Peru, the wonderful properties of quinine, an alkaloid taken from the cinchona tree that had long been used by indigenous peoples to cure illness, were discovered.
It is said that the countess of Chinchón, wife of the viceroy Luis Fernández de Cabrera, fell victim to malaria and her death was immanent. She was treated with infusions of quinine by a local witch doctor, and it was then that there was a miracle: the patient survived.
It was the year 1638 and, since then, quinine has been exploited and commercialized as the new gold of Peru. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, this alkaloid helped stop the spread of one of the most deadly epidemics that the human race has ever known. In honor of this, the cinchona tree now occupies a special place on the country’s national coat of arms.
This is one of the many stories that have been preserved by the Museum of Holy, Magic and Medicinal Plants in Cusco. Located in an old mansion on Santa Teresa Street in the center of the city, this place houses in its nine rooms an abundance of historical and scientific information about the hundreds of “holy, magic and medicinal” plants of Peru. It is an important part of this country’s heritage that rarely gets much attention.
The museum opened its doors in July of 2011 and one of its most enthusiastic managers is anthropologist Alejandro Camino Diez Canseco.
“This place was created to explain the history and the problems of the coca leaf to visiting foreigners,” he explains.
For that reason, one of the museum’s most important rooms is dedicated to showing the value of this emblematic plant, which was discovered over 6,000 years ago by pre-Columbian cultures and can be found in many burial sites and objects from over the millennia.
The year 1860 is key in the history of the coca leaf. At that time, the German chemist Albert Niemann isolated cocaine, one of the 16 alkaloids that are present in the leaf, which was considered holy in ancient Peru. Another alkaloid found in coca is globulin, which regulates oxygen, which is why the plant is good for circulation and is often used to counteract the effects of altitude sickness.
Since Niemann’s discovery, coca began to conquer Europe. In the 19th century, its use for medicinal and energetic reasons was expanded, promoted by important people in the field like Sigmund Freud and Angelo Mariani, who mixed it with grapes and created one of the most surprising drinks of his time: Mariani wine.
In this Cusco museum, one can see the advertising posters that once promoted this product, which was sold as “the wine of the Incas.” In one of the announcements, the French text reads: “What does the lady do to be so beautiful every day? The only thing she does is drink the coca of the Incas.”
Mariani wine was marketed as a product that provided energy and was also nutritional and medicinal, and its consumption expanded in Europe and the United States. Among those who recommended it were writers Émile Zola, Paul Verlaine, Jules Verne, José Martí, Alexander Dumas and the inventor Thomas Edison, as well as Queen Victoria, Czar Alexander II of Russia and Pope Leo XIII.
With the success of Mariani wine, producers in the United States didn’t want to fall behind so they began to look for ways to create a new beverage with Peruvian coca as one of its components. Over time, Coca Cola was born, and in the formula was coca mixed with the kola nut. It was sold for five cents and soon its low price and tasty flavor would conquer the planet.
As Alejandro Camino says, the history of coca is the history of Peru in relation to the rest of the world.
“It is one of the primary products that has been promoted for export by the Peruvian government,” he said. “Something that is not common knowledge, but that should be known, is that the National Coca Company (Enaco) doesn’t just export coca leaves, but it also produces cocaine for some German, Japanese and North American laboratories that still use this alkaloid for certain pharmaceutical products.”
When you finish a tour of the museum, you notice something that you never would have imagined before: that Peruvian history is so tied to the use, commercialization and exploitation of the country’s native plants that it is difficult to understand, for example, the situation in the Amazon with first understanding the exploitation of rubber at the beginning of the 20th century.
Peru has over 7,000 plants to be investigated, preserved and, above all, defended. This is something that this Cusco museum is, thankfully, trying to do.