From Latin America

The Colombian Myth Exposed – No Longer A Vacation Danger

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 31, 2010

Johnny Depp waits, nervously sweating in the mid-day heat of the Colombian jungle. Hovering behind each shoulder is a heavily armed guard, ready to put a bullet in him. Across the square where he’s standing two men are talking. One of them gestures in desperation, and the other one responds by putting a gun to his head, pulling the trigger and leaving a red stain on the wall behind him as the body crumples to the ground. Depp flinches as Pablo Escobar, the most powerful drug lord in the history of the world calmly turns away from the execution and strides towards him.

It’s a scene from the popular Hollywood movie, Blow, but it could be any one of a number of films featuring Colombia. Drugs, violence, corruption. Any time Colombia comes up, it always seems to be a dangerous place that the main character of the story must brave to achieve his goal. A steady stream of TV shows like Miami Vice and movies like Scarface in popular culture have repeatedly kept us under the impression that the country is run by the main players of the international drug trade and their business. Added to the mix the history of terrorism, violence and crime that has bubbled up into the news seeming every month up until the present day, and you find yourself thinking about Colombia as the last place that you’d want to visit.

Is this a true picture of Colombia? Certainly not. Lets have a look at a couple of events over the last couple of decades that can break Colombia’s unfair reputation.

• On December 2nd, 1992 Pablo Escobar was killed in a fire-fight with Colombian police. Within a couple of years all the leaders of rival cartels were either killed or imprisoned.

• Colombia's homicide rate, for many years one of the highest in the world, has almost halved since 2002.

• In the recent decade violence in Colombia has decreased significantly. Many paramilitary groups have demobilized as part of a controversial peace process with the government, and guerrilla groups have lost control in many areas where they once dominated.

• There has been a steep decrease in reported kidnappings – from 3,700 in the year 2000 to 172 in 2009. That’s a decrease of over two thousand percent.

• Lonely Planet picked Colombia as one of their top ten world destinations for 2006. When the most popular guidebook in the world encourages you to go, it should give you a bit of confidence.

• According to the Colombia Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism Colombia received 2,348,948 visitors in 2008. They say there’s safety in numbers.
Plenty of signs show that thanks to a savvy government, the dangers of Colombia are diminishing and tourists are flocking to the country to sample its diverse and beautiful attractions. If you finally kiss goodbye to the scare-stories, you could soon be enjoying the beaches and walled city of Cartagena, Medellin’s Festival of the Flowers, or any one of the country’s national parks, including the Tayrona National Nature Park on the Caribbean coast.

Nevertheless, the problems that do exist in Colombia can serve to sour your holiday if you don’t take a well-informed approach to the up-to-date state of the country. You certainly don’t want to end up in a bad place or situation through ignorance. Make sure you check your Government’s website for the latest information, or if you’re going to Colombia with a tour company, ask them what to expect or avoid to keep safe and have a happy, fulfilling Colombia vacation.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Latin America / Escaped to Peru

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Mining In Chile – The Pros And Cons

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 29, 2010

On 13th October 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped by an accident at the San Jose copper-gold mine near Copiapo, Chile was winched to safety. He had been at a depth of 2,300 feet below ground level. He had spent 69 days trapped underground with his companions after a shaft collapsed at the notoriously dangerous mine where the deaths of 8 miners had been reported over the last 12 years.

This high publicity incident was a catalyst for Chile’s mining regulation agency to bring the hammer down, closing 18 mines within days and scheduling a further 300 for closure. It’s easy to condemn Chilean mining as unsafe and exploitative, but what are the real pros and cons of the industry?

Pros
1) Mining is a great source of income for Chilean workers
Chilean copper mine workers are among the highest-paid miners in South America. However, inflated wages are used to entice workers to mines with poor safety records, as in the case of San Jose; mine workers were paid around 20% more for their troubles.

2) Generally Chilean mines have a good safety record
San Jose is an example of a smaller mine at which standards are known to slip. However, the larger mines generally owned by multi-nationals or the state copper mining company, Codelco, run a tighter ship.

3) Mining brings the benefits of a strong economy to Chileans
Currently enjoying a strong economic status, the population of Chile have good reason to be thankful for the mining industry. Over a third of government income due to exports come from copper alone. One notable benefit of the economic surplus from copper mining is the use of government funds to pay for reconstruction after the 2010 Chilean earthquake.

Cons
1) Inadequate government resources are available to monitor the industry
Between 2004 and 2010, the San Esteban Mining Company (owner of the San Jose mine) received 42 fines for breaching safety regulations. Why was the San Jose accident allowed to happen? Due to budget constraints, there were only three inspectors for the Atacama Region's 884 mines. Despite a very immediate public response to correct the problems that led to the San Jose disaster, the government still has much to do to bring the industry under control.

2) It isn’t all wine and roses economically
Copper is a highly volatile commodity on the international markets, experiencing increases and decreases in value of up to 50% during the 1980’s. The Chilean government have established a Stabilization Fund to put aside the surpluses of good years to cover the shortfall of others, but the unpredictability of such a core element of the entire country’s economy is a great source of risk.

3) Environmental concerns
Copper mining produces 99 tons of waste for every ton of usable material. When you consider the usable copper output of Chile, that’s a lot of waste.

It isn’t often that Latin American countries get to reap the benefits of their natural resources, and Chile is a good example of a country that turns it’s rich mineral deposits into benefits that reach the population. However, in the rush to make the most of what it’s got, Chile has lost control of the smaller players in the mining industry, and it’s any one’s guess if they will be able to rein things in to the point where accidents like San Jose are a distant memory.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

4 Peru Souvenier Ideas To Delight Your Friends and Family

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 27, 2010

 

A Peru vacation may seem like a nice time, but really it's a high pressure situation. Waiting for you back at home are your loved ones; you know if you return empty-handed you'll be confronted by ill-concealed looks of disappointment. Friends and family need souvenirs. Fact. But they don't just want something to put down amongst all the other foreign trinkets that they've been given, they are after something special. Something that they proudly show every time they invite guests over.

You're in luck; Peru has some incredible treasures waiting to be plundered, and you can take heart that your approach will be much nicer than the Spanish 500 years ago. Here are some of your options for impressive Peru souvenirs to delight your friends and family.

Peru pottery souvenirs
One of the most popular products in the world of crafts is pottery. Pottery is the main activity of Quinua, a town that is found 25 miles from Ayacucho. The uniqueness of these works is in the quality of the red and cream colored clay that makes for highly expressive pieces. The best-known pieces are small churches, houses, chapels and bulls called the Toro de Quinua. You can also find pieces that are figures of peasant farmers or have a variety of religious themes.

The 'Chulucana' pieces of the northern jungles by the Arabelas communities are created using particular methods such as beating the clay with a paddle that give it a special appeal. They make heavy use of the black color in their jars and also create characters such as dancers and magicians as well as animals that come alive in the hand-worked clay.

Another area of Peru that is famous for its pottery is Puno, known for its pottery bull figures (toritos de Pucara). The figures were originally used during cattle branding ceremonies as a ritual element, a flask that was used by the high priest to drink a special mixture made with the blood of the cattle. Churches, country chapels and homes are also feature items made by the potters of Puno, and pieces feature images of dancers, musicians and various types of flora and fauna from the area of Lake Titicaca.

Peru stone carving souvenirs
Materials found in Puno such as basalt, granite and andesite are used for stone carvings as well as a white alabaster more commonly called Piedra de Huamanga which is found in Ayacucho. A shortage of marble and porcelain caused the birth of the Huamanga stone carvings in colonial times. At that time, the carvings were mostly of the infant Christ and other religious themes but later on, artisans found the stone to be an excellent material for carving and started creating other religious motifs as well as Nativity scenes. Figures that are rougher in nature are carved primarily as souvenirs for visitors.

Peru mask souvenirs
Masks can be purchased from the southern Andes where they are created and are used in conjunction with a dancer’ s costume. They are used primarily during festivals and depict angels, demons, Spaniards and various kinds of animals. Plaster, leather, wood, wire sheeting and tin make up the materials of masks and are as varied as their place of origin.

Peru wood carving souvenirs
The town of Molinos near Huancayo is one of the Peru’ s current wood carving centers. The primary products include utensils, decorative pieces and toys as well as animals such as dusks, horses, roosters, lions and a variety of mythical beasts.

Bring back one of these from your Peru vacation, and you'll be greeted with squeals of delight. Happy hunting!

Author: Jackie Masloff – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

 

Peruvian Soap Operas – 3 Of The Worst

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 25, 2010

 

Televised soap operas are popular in Peru, even though they are often not produced there. Shown in the evening, they come primarily from Venezuela, Mexico and India and attract a wide following. Get in touch with the trashy side of Peru – pick up a remote control and start flicking channels for one of these three Peru soap operas.

Popular Peru soap opera #1 – Winter Sonata
A Korean soap opera, “ Winter Sonata” , whose story line is almost as complex as a Shakespearean play but nowhere near as well written, follows the blossoming of the relationship of former childhood sweethearts Joon-Sang and Yu-Jin.

Joon-Sang began his life as an introverted music student who was born out of wedlock which causes him great distress. However, one day, Joon-Sang and Yu-Jin meet on a bus to school and Joon-Sang quickly falls in love with Yu-Jin, who opens up her heart to Joon-Sang. He then gets into a car accident which causes him to suffer amnesia and erase his memory of Yu-Jin (of course). He moves to the United States with his mother and changes his name (as one would). In the meantime, everyone in South Korea is, including Yu-Jin has been told that he died.

The story (unfortunately) continues ten years later when Joon-Sang returns to Korea as a successful architect. It turns out that he works for the same firm as Yu-Jin, who is now engaged to someone else. Yu-Jim notices him and decides to postpone her engagement. The plot deepens as she tried to find out if Joon-Sang is really her lost lover…

Popular Peru soap opera #2 – Amores de Barrio Adentro
“Amores de Barrio Adentro” which is translated as “ Love Inside the Neighborhood” is a popular Venezuelan soap opera which portrays the life and political reality in a poor neighborhood.

The plot is basically a love story between a young pro-Chávez woman and a young man who is politically neutral, that is he is neither with the government nor its opposition, in a Venezuela that is highly polarized. The story depicts on the screen what has become popular in Venezuela, which is the lies of the opposition and the truth of the about the revolution, which refers to the peaceful social movement that Chávez has brought about and the opposition movement that has worked hard to remove him. The title of the program is similar to the name of the Barrio Adentro plan that Chávez undertook in 2003 to bring primary health care to the slums and poor neighborhoods of the country. In this program, close to 10,000 Cuban doctors have played a role in tending to the patients in Venezuela’ s shanty-towns.

If you want to see some creaky acting combined with shameless political propaganda, here's your winner.

Peru soap opera #3 – King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo
Inexplicably, Peruvians go potty for Korean media. This other offering, otherwise known as “ Bread, Love and Dreams”, this is South Korean drama that tells the story of how a determined young baker decides to become the best baker in all of Korea. The dreams of youth, eh?

As the eldest son of Goo Il Jong, the chairman of Geosung Food Enterprise, a company well known in the baking industry, Kim Tak Goo finds himself to be a talented baker and to be destined to succeed his father as President of the company. However, because he was the son of Il Jong’s mistress, the family plots against him so he cannot rightfully take over his inheritance. The story revolves around Tak Goo’ s resolve to become the best in the industry as he has to start his career from the beginning. Naturally, he has to overcome many trials blah blah blah.

So there you have it – 3 of the best options for watching hours of your life slide by as Korean bakers, politically indifferent (and thus probably evil) Venezuelans and conveniently forgetful architects wander in improbable and highly dramatic circles. Don't say I didn't warn you…

Author: Jackie Masloff – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Traveling Checklist – 7 Things To Do Before A Vacation To Colombia

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 22, 2010

The tickets are booked; you’re finally going to Colombia! Who knows what lies in wait, but make sure you’ve done all those niggling preparations before you leave. Avoid that sinking feeling at the start of your vacation and use this useful checklist with tips to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

Vaccinations ( )
Colombia vaccination requirements may vary from person to person depending on age, allergies and other medical conditions so contact your doctor or travel clinic for the most up to date advice. If visiting the Colombian jungle you will also need a course of medication for malaria prophylaxis.

Visas ( )
Colombia visa requirements can, and do, change at short notice, so check with your National Government’s website after booking and then a couple of weeks before travelling to make sure nothing has changed.

Travel Insurance ( )
This should be included with your Colombia tour operator, but if you are travelling independently your best option is to visit an insurance comparison website to find the best deal that covers your destination and holiday requirements. Check the small print thoroughly to make sure you’ll be covered for all aspects of your holiday for the duration.

Local currency in cash ( )
It is a good idea to carry as many US dollars cash as your insurance limit will allow – it is easier to change into Colombian pesos than travelers checks and you will receive better rates of exchange. Small denominations are easier to change. Don’t get caught out by money changers, and write down or memorize a couple of simple conversions to make sure your transactions are in the right ball park and you aren’t getting ripped off.

Country safety ( )
Colombia is, contrary to popular myth, a very safe country. However, just as for anywhere in the world problems can happen, so stay informed up until your departure date by checking the US State Department or UK Foreign office websites.

Language preparation ( )
A few choice phrases will go a long way in Colombia to providing you with a unique travelling experience, so purchase a phrasebook and memorise a couple of phrases, attend a few weeks of language Spanish courses or search the Internet for a few suggestions.

Confirming your flights ( )
You’re almost ready to leave home, but don’t turn up to the airport without checking the flight to Colombia that you booked months ago! Changes happen all the time, and you can’t expect your airline to notify you. Make sure you call them 48 hours before departure to avoid a disappointed trip to the airport. If you’re travelling on various connecting flights, make sure you get confirmations for all flights to avoid being stranded mid-passage.

Done? Excellent! Pick up those suitcases and head out of the door, confident that you are prepared; next stop Colombia!

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Latin America / Escaped to Peru

4 Ways To Impress A Peruvian In A Cultural Conversation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 21, 2010

With the recent award of a Nobel Prize to Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer, the arts and culture of Peru are now getting more attention than ever. If you are going for a vacation in Peru, there's never been a better time to impress the locals with your knowledge of Peru’s modern culture, so here are 4 of Peru’s more well-known photographers, writers and painters to get the conversation flowing.

The celebrity portrait photographer
A famous Peruvian fashion photographer is Mario Testino, who was born in 1954. Testino has done a great variety of photography including fashion narratives for Vogue, Gucci and Vanity Fair as well as celebrity shots of such people as Diana Princess of Wales along with her sons; actresses including Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Platrow; models such as Elizabeth Hurley and Kate Moss and performers including Madonna, Lady Gaga and Janet Jackson. Since 1982, Testino has been living in London and frequently photographs the British Royal Family in addition to his work being exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London as well as in many galleries and museums around the world. Most recently his work is being shown in London at the Phillips de Pury & Co auction house.

The indigenous photographer
Considered the only major indigenous Latin America photographer of his time, Martín Chambi Jiménez lived from 1891 until 1973. His photographs were prolific and covered the towns and countryside of the Peruvian Andes revealing their social complexity and giving his photographs profound historic and ethnic documentary value. He photographed almost anything from weddings and fiestas to the poverty of the poor along with the public events shared by both. He was a major portrait photographer in Cusco as well as a photographer of many Peruvian landscapes which he sold primarily as postcards, a format he pioneered in Peru. The New York Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work in 1979 and it later traveled to other locations around the world and inspired more international exhibitions of his work.

The Nobel Prize winning author
Born in 1936, Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, recent winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is a Peruvian writer, journalist, essayist and politician. He is one of the leading authors of his generation and one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists. He gained international recognition as a writer in the 1960s with his novels such as “The Time of the Hero”, “The Green House” and “Conversation in the Cathedral”. He not only writes novels but across other literary genres such as journalism and literary criticism. Themes for his novels include comedies, murder mysteries, political thriller and historical novels. Several of his novels have also been made into feature films.

The painter famous for "pin-up" ladies
Famous for his paintings of pin-up girls is Alberto Vargas who lived from 1896 until 1982. He was born in Arequipa, Peru but moved to the United States in 1916, after studying art in Europe before the First World War. Early in his career he worked as an artist for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as many Hollywood studios. His fame as an artist of pin-up girls came during the Second World War when his pictures for Esquire magazine became known as the “Varga Girls”. Many World War II aircraft adapted their nose art from those Esquire pin-ups. The “Varga Girls” reappeared in Playboy magazine in the 1960s, leading to a flourishing career with major exhibitions all over the world. Vargas painted mostly with watercolor and airbrush and is considered as one of the finest artists in his genre.

You're ready! Get out there and let your Peruvian hosts know about your appreciation for their culture. Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel Prize has created a huge amount of national pride, and your knowledge is bound to make you a few foreign friends.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

7 Things To Avoid On a Chile Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 20, 2010

A Chile vacation is a good idea. The long, thin country stretches through an incredible range of variety from the bone-dry desert region of Atacama in the North to the blue-white glacial walls of Patagonia in the South. You’ll be guaranteed a wonderful, memorable experience if you take a Chile tour, or travel independently. But just like anywhere in the world, Chile’s got a couple of things that you should stay clear of. Here are some Chilean warning flags.

Mentioning where Pisco sour came from
If you’re in a Pisco growing region like the Elqui Valley, be careful what you say to proud nationalistic Chile vineyard owners. There’s been a bitter feud between Chile and its neighbour Peru for centuries as to the origins of the drink, with each country claiming that the other stole it. In fact, history indicates that Peru was the first to begin Pisco production when vines were brought over by the Spanish viceroy, but you’d do well to avoid mentioning this.

Talking about Pinochet
Ruling Chile with an iron fist in a dictatorship that ran between 1973 and 1990, General Augosto Pinochet replaced the democratically elected Salvador Allende. Human rights violations on a terrified population ensued for decades. According to Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation;

“He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,200 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex."

The Chilean population is still in shock from what happened only a couple of decades ago. If you want to talk about it, it may be best to wait for them to broach the topic.

Mining
An excellent prop for the strong Chile economy, mining is bringing home the bread to many tables around the country. However before you rush down a mine shaft to see what it is all about, you should check out the safety record of the mining company. On August 5th 2010, the Copiapo gold-copper mine collapsed, leaving 33 Chilean miners trapped 700 metres (2,300 feet) from the surface. The miners were eventually reached by a 624 metre drilling operation into a side-shaft, but this incident served to illustrate the poor safety record in Chilean mining, which on average costs the lives of 34 people a year, according to state regulatory agency SERNAGEOMIN.

Surfing at El Buey, Arica
Unless you are an expert, stay watching from the shore at Chile big-wave surfing break El Buey. Surfers deem it one of the most dangerous waves in the world, breaking onto an exposed sharp rock reef with strong rip-tides ready to pull you out to sea.

Avalanches at the 3 Valleys ski resort outside Santiago
Chile Skiing enthusiasts will love making fresh tracks in the back-country slopes around La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado in the 3 Valleys resort network a couple of hours outside the capital. However, there is a drawback to the Chilean Andes’ great snow record; large quantities of snow bring thundering avalanches. To avoid getting trapped, check out the avalanche-prone areas with resort staff and if you are going out of bounds, always ski in a group in which everyone has their own avalanche detector and rescue equipment.

Tap Water
A welcome change from other Latin American countries, tap water in may locations in Chile is actually drinkable! However, it doesn’t taste too good and is not recommended as it is heavily chlorinated. Added to this the fact that in some rural areas the water is untreated, and you’re probably best sticking to bottled water, and avoiding ice and foods probably washed in tap water such as salads and un-skinned fruit. If you’re unsure, you can always ask the locals what to do using either your Spanish or your best miming skills.

Earthquakes
On February 7th, 2010 the central region of Chile was shaken by an earthquake that measured a massive 8.9 on the Richter Scale. However, before you get too worried about Chile perpetually shaking, such extreme phenomena are rare. The last big quake before 2010 was 50 years previous.

If you are unlucky enough to be caught in an urban area during an earthquake, the following advice is issued by the US Department of Homeland Security website:

“DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. If outdoors, stay away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires.”

None of these things should be reason to put you off your Chile vacation. When you step off the plane or cross the border, you’ll be starting the adventure of a lifetime. With a bit of awareness and planning you can avoid these 7 things, or at least be ready to deal with them when they happen.

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Mario Vargas Llosa – Peru's Nobel Prize Winner

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 17, 2010

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has long been regarded as one of the most acclaimed writers, playwrights, essayists and literary critics in Latin America. Recently this reputation was confirmed by the prestigious 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. This makes him one of two Latin Americans to have won the prize, alongside Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Born in Arequipa, Peru, Vargas Llosa stays true to his roots. Most of his novels take place in Peru and follow the traditional Peruvian fiction regarding social protest that exposes political corruption, violence and racial prejudices. Despite dealing with such passionate and personal topics, he is known for maintaining a lack of preaching or having to reconcile ideological propaganda with artistic aims.

After being born in Arequipa, Peru in 1936, Vargas Llosa moved to Bolivia after his parents separated, with his mother and maternal grandparents. The family returned to live in northern Peru in 1946 and then moved to Lima, Peru. He first attended military school and then studied literature and law in Lima, and afterwards Spain. During this time, he wrote several books on literary criticism as well as fiction and started to become a famous writer whose ambitious goal was to rejuvenate the Latin American novel.

During the 1960s, the country of Peru suffered from problems in the publishing industry and many Peruvian writers suffered as well. Vargas Llosa moved to France and was a Spanish teacher, journalist and broadcaster in the early 1960s. During the late 1960s, he served as an adjunct professor at many European and American universities.

It was in 1962, however, that Vargas Llosa primarily became known as a novelist with the book, “The Time of the Hero”, which takes place at one of the military academies where he had been a student. It won immediate international recognition although it was considered controversial in his own country where 1000 copies were publicly burned by Peruvian military officials.

Since then, he has written over thirty novels, plays and essays including “Conversation in the Cathedral” and the “The Green House”. He was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Hispanic world’s most distinguished literary honor in 1995.

In addition to novels, Vargas Llosa has published a great deal of criticism and literary and political journalism. He has been a writer with an international following and has written for The New York Times, Le Monde, The Times Literary Supplement, El País, and other well-known newspapers. The book, “Diary of Iraq”, published in 2003, is a collection of his articles for El País magazine about the war in Iraq. In 2005 he travelled to Israel and Palestine with his daughter to record his impressions in the book “Israel/Palestine: Peace or War”. The Jewish community in South America had mixed reactions.

Entering the political arena, he ran to become president of Peru in 1990 but lost to Alberto Fujimori. In 1994, he was the first Latin American writer to be elected to the Spanish Academy and he took his seat there in 1996.

If you are planning a vacation to Peru or would like to get to know the country better, be sure to check out some of Mario Vargas Llosa's varied works for a unique and intimate view of the Peruvian psychology. It might help explain some of the strange things you encounter when travelling!

Author: Jon Clarke- Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Vacation Spots in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, Peru

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 16, 2010

If you are looking for places to visit in Peru that have been relatively unaffected by modern development and are not too far from main tourist destinations then one of the best places to visit is the Sacred Valley. This lovely valley only 45 minutes from Cusco was an important area of settlement for the ancient Inca Civilization. If you are short on time, try prioritizing some of the following spots.

Sacsayhuaman, a military fortress
Sacsayhuaman, located just north of Cusco, is part of the Sacred Valley and demonstrates the tremendous construction skills of the Incas. Stones of up to 125 tons make up many of the buildings found in the area. Some believe that Sacsayuaman was some kind of military fortress with its shape as a zigzag resembling the open jaw of a Puma. The layout of the city of Cusco formed the body of the Puma with the Plaza de Armas being the center of the world according to Inca beliefs.

The ruins of Sacsayuaman are still impressive despite the massive destruction of the complex by the Spaniards. Many of Cusco’s style of colonial churches and mansions use stones taken from the ruins. Tourists are rewarded from the site with a good view of the city of Cusco in the valley below.

Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay
About four miles from Sacsayhuaman is Quenko, an amphitheater and temple. Quenko was carved from huge limestone formations and the ruins are well preserved with a series of underground tunnels, galleries and carvings. The amphitheater is in the middle of the ruins and features wide seats or thrones, once thought to be used by royalty. Puca Pucara is a smaller fortress, most likely used to defend Cusco. The sacred bathing place for the rulers is located at Tambo Machay. The use of hydraulic engineering still functions and provides crystalline water from a hidden spring. The exquisite stonework of Tambo Machay counters the basic stonework of the nearby Inca farming terraces.

Pisac: Impressive Ruins and an Indigenous Market
Located about a 45 – minute journey from Cusco, the ruins of Pisac are the most impressive of all sites in the Sacred Valley. Quite a bit of hiking is required if you plan to see the entire site. There are intricate farming terraces and impressively detailed examples of stonework used in creation of some of the temples. Fitted with incredible precision, the stonework in the temples indicates the importance of the site. The city still has fully functioning irrigation systems channeled from its heights, and from here you can get a thrilling view of the valley below.

Pisac is also known for its Sunday market which is a mix of items of interest to both tourists and locals alike. Products range from wall carpets and flutes to colorful spices and fruits. Prices may be a bit higher than those you would pay in the markets of Lima so be prepared to bargain hard.

With a bit more time try to include some of the following which are very interesting indeed; Ollantaytambo ruins, Moray Inca crop circle complex and the ancient salt pans at Maras.

A short trip out of Cusco with a reputable travel agent will provide the diverse offerings of the Sacred Valley and many visits are achievable in a day-trip, so be sure not to miss them on your next Peru vacation.

Author: Jackie Maslow – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

10 Things to do in Peru besides Machu Picchu

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on October 15, 2010

Although Machu Picchu is one of the best known and most popular tourist sites in the world, it is not the only attraction worth seeing in Peru. To add diversity, fun and a great deal of cultural wealth to your vacation, try some or all of the following ten alternatives added to Machu Picchu if you have the time and energy!

1) Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is known as the “White City” because of the white volcanic sillar stone used to build its churches, monasteries and beautiful homes. Marvelous semi-desert countryside surrounds its city center which is a few hours drive from the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon, reputedly the deepest of the world at 9,842 feet. The area is known for its natural beauty, outdoor adventure and flights of condors, which are the world’s largest land-living birds.

2) Chiclayo – Calling All Archeologists
Chiclayo in colonial times was a simple village that sat incongruously on the road between Lambayeque and Zaña. Recent archeological discoveries of the pyramids of Túcume, the Lord of Sipán from the tomb of the Huaca Rajada and the Lord of Sicán in Batán Grande are now housed in the Sicán National Museum, making them available for all to see and marvel at. These discoveries have made Chiclayo Peru’s second destination after Cusco for archeological and historic interest.

3) The Sacred Valley – travel experiences with a spiritual twist
The main stretch of the Scared Valley of the Incas lies between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo and rewards visitors with a wealth of well-preserved Inca ruins, having once been the heart of the Inca Empire. Because the esteemed Urubamba River flows through the valley, you are rewarded with stunning vistas of the Andes, charming towns and many opportunities to enjoy the countryside. Those seeking adventure can go white water rafting, mountain biking or hike one of the many ancient Inca Trails in the area.

4) Huaraz and the Cordilleras
The Cordilleras are known as the White Mountain Range and sometimes the “Switzerland of South America” for their snow-capped summits, turquoise blue lagoons and spectacular Andean landscapes. Huaraz, the nearest town, is one of Peru’s oldest civilizations and is home to the splendid Huascarán National Park. The area is known to travellers for its wide range of adventure sports.

5) The Amazon River
For those who love nature and biodiversity, the virgin nature of the Amazon forests and jungles offers a full range of exuberant flora and fauna. The area has been well preserved to offer some of the richest varieties of birds and mammals on the planet as well as an abundance of amphibians, insects and reptiles. Visit the jungle in either Tambopata, Manu or Iquitos depending on your budget.

6) Lima—The Capital of Peru
As the gateway to the country, Lima is a bustling metropolis. It's historical center is filled with colonial constructions and is home to one of the best museums in South America, the Larco Herrera. Lima also offers a great variety of cultural shows, luxurious casinos and game houses and has a mouth-watering culinary tradition.

7) The Nazca Lines
The Nazca lines consist of wonderful forms of immense figure and lines that are the work of an ancient Peruvian civilization and set on a high plain in the barren desert. You must see them from the air to fully enjoy their spectacular geometries on a short flight in a light aircraft.

8) Paracas
Paracas is the destination in Peru for nature lovers and bird watchers. There is much history in the town to attract visitors in addition to the nautical sports of windsurfing, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. The nearby Ballestas Islands are not to be missed and are known as the "poor mans Galapagos islands" as the trip out is quite cheap!.

9) Trujillo
For those interested in archeological and historical tours, Trujillo offers pre-Inca locations such as Huaca de la Luna, Huaca del Sol and the ancient mud built city of Chan Chan which enable you to explore the ruins and pre-Columbian civilizations that once flourished here. Jumping forward in time, visitors can admire the downtown mansions that remind one of the profitable colonial period. Although Trujillo is Peru’s third largest city located in the northwest part of the country, it still manages to maintain its small town colonial charm.

10) Puno and Lake Titicaca
Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world containing the Uros, Taquile and Amantini Islands. As a folkloric capital of Peru, Puno offers alternatives to the tourism of archeology, living culture and nature and biodiversity tourism of Peru. Peru shares the lake with Bolivia and many people combine a visit to both countries while in the area.

When considering options for your upcoming Peru vacation, resist the temptation to just follow the crowds to Machu Picchu. Consider one of the suggestions above to have a more unique experience!

Author: Jackie Maslow – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America