Traveling on a bus through Peru may sound like a harrowing adventure, but before you start imagining us on an old rickety bus packed with people, chickens, and goats, I should make clear the buses we rode on were actually the nicest buses I have ever been on; with reclining seats, movies, and beverage service!
Cusco to Puno
We got up early and said farewell to Cusco, our home for the past three weeks. Our family has never been morning people, and we were all feeling the same way that morning…none of us were going to miss early morning flights, train, and bus rides when this trip was over.
I was a little nervous about doing this stretch of the trip without Jeromy. I was comfortable in Cusco and felt very safe there. I wasn’t as confident with the rest of the areas around Peru though. Parker told me I had nothing to worry about. He (and Tyler) were bigger and taller than almost any Peruvian! They could keep me safe! While that’s true, I was a bit more on edge during this leg of the trip until we met up with Jeromy.
After about 8 hours we arrived in Puno, Peru. We didn’t see much of the town, it was just a jumping off point for our exploration on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. And it was high! Over 12,000 feet above sea level!
We started our two day tour of Lake Titicaca from the docks in Puno. Our first stop was at The Uros Floating Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca. They explained that for protection the original people left the mainland and took to living on reed boats. Over the years, the boats grew in size and scope and eventually turned into floating islands. If you are interested in how to make a floating island, here is a short tutorial.
- Start with a base of the root system from the reeds. These will float and form the base of your floating island.
- Connect the roots together to form the size of the island you desire.
- Place a layer of reeds on the island.
- Place another layer in the opposite direction.
- One more layer the other way again.
- Anchor it down with large rocks, and start building structures.
- Every three months a new layer of reeds needs to be added. Each island can last for about 30-40 years before having to build a new one.
- You have your floating island! In this last picture you can see they placed themselves and in the middle a tourist. If you look close you will see how tall the tourist is compared to the locals!
We had a great time visiting the islands and learning more about the people who live there. As of 2011 about 1200 Uru lived on the archipelago of about 60 artificial islands. The islands have anywhere from about 3-10 families on each one depending on the size of the island. They cook their food with fires placed on stones and tiny “outhouse” islands are nearby where the ground root absorbs the waste.
Tourism is the main industry today and helps supplement their hunting and fishing to survive. One benefit to a floating island is that if you are getting sick of a nieghbor, you can just cut their section of island off and solve your problem!
After visiting the floating islands we headed back to the boat and rode further into Lake Titicaca to Amantani Island where we had arranged a homestay with a local family there. Amantani is populated by about 4000 people and is a roughly circular island of about 6 sq miles. There are no cars on the island and since no machines are allowed, all farming is done by hand.
Our stay started off rough when Parker, who had a stomach bug and had started vomiting earlier in the day, threw up all over their courtyard. He was on his way to the bathroom, but didn’t quite make it. We got it all cleaned up and he headed back to bed not showing his face again until the next day, when thankfully, he felt much better.
Since Parker was feeling sick, we didn’t venture too far from the home, but Tyler and Luke had a great time playing with the daughter, Caterina, of the the family we were staying with. They spoke no English and only a little Spanish (The people on this islands main language is Aymara, the third official language of Peru). We spoke no Aymara and only a little Spanish. So while we weren’t able to communicate a lot with them, they were great hosts, preparing delicious meals and surprisingly nice accommodations (flush toilets and comfy beds!).
Tyler and Luke spent the day playing with 7 year old Catarina. They played with the sheep, caught butterlies, and met her donkey. They didn’t have any common language, but still managed to have a great time together.
The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and headed to explore the nearby island Taquile. We were able to walk across the incredibly hilly island, along the way learning from our guide about what life is like for the local people who lived there. In Peru everything is hills and at over 12,000 feet above sea level, it was a bit of a hike, but the views were great and the people so welcoming. The people of the island live in a society of community collectivism following the Inca moral of do not lie, do not steal, do not be lazy. As with Almantani island, the economy is based on fishing, tourism, and farming on the pre-incan terraces still in use today.
Puno to Colca Canyon
On the ride from Puno to Colca Canyon we had a variety of stops along the way. We saw many llamas, alpacas, and vicuna’s. This baby vicuna was so cute, although it was a bit of a workout trying to get a selfie with it!
But the best part of the ride was that half way through we were finally able to meet back up with Jeromy! He had flown down to Arequipa and taken a bus from there. After 2 1/2 weeks apart, it was so great to be together as a family again!
The Colca river runs through the Colca Canyon and was a beautiful backdrop to our stay there. The canyon itself is one of the deepest in the world at 10,725 feet (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). We stayed in the small town of Yanque. While there wasn’t a ton to do there, we enjoyed relaxing and exploring around our little village.
- Horseback riding
- Hot Springs (look the other way boys…the locals don’t always wear swimsuits!)
- Pre Incan Ruins and terraces
- The main square with children dancing
- An active volcano
On our last day there we started our bus ride by traveling further into the canyon to a popular viewing point that goes by the name of Condor’s Cross. While the canyon itself is impressive, many people come to this area to get a good view of the Andean Condor, the largest bird in the Western Hemisphere. We were able to see at least 10 while we were there swooping over our heads and even sitting on the rocks near us.
Colca Canyon to Arequipa
Our ride from Colca Canyon to Arequipa went quickly and we spent our first dinner in Arequipa at TGIFridays. The boys were in heaven as they scarfed down the familiar tasting food! After that, we went back to eating the amazing Peruvian food that gives Peru the reputation of having some of the best food in the world!
I was surprised by how different the architecture in Arequipa was to that of Cusco and the other areas I had been in Peru. It definitely has a more European influence evident in the architecture and the colors.
We toured The Monastery of Santa Catalina that was built in 1579 from the ash of these volcano’s past eruptions. It was so interesting to learn about how a cloistered nun lived during those times and the changes that have occurred over the years, where it still functions today.
While monasteries are interesting to Jeromy and I, they aren’t on the kids list of most exciting places. So, one afternoon we were delighted to find a bouldering gym right near our apartment! The boys had a great time shaking off some of the cobwebs of their rusty climbing skills, and it got them even more excited about returning home to their climbing gym there.
I was really happy we took the time to take the bus through Peru and see some of the more out of the way places there. It was a great way to travel and see the more of this enchanting country!