It's Time To Go Back to Peru with the Andean Explorer

Heidi Hoehn in Peru with Alpaca
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Like for many of you, Machu Picchu, Peru was for me a ‘bucket list’ trip.  As a kid reading National Geographic magazines in the 1960s, I was amazed at the beautiful city and rugged mountains, so in the mid 1980s I enjoyed a magical trip to Peru, visiting this and other amazing Incan ruins, and enjoying the sweet people and colorful arts and crafts.

I knew that there were a lot more tourists going there now, that the lines could be long and certain sites are more crowded and more restricted than when I went the first time, so I counted myself lucky to have seen it when I did, and I really didn’t think I wanted to go back… However, I do love mountains and unpopulated regions, so when Belmond opened up a new train journey thru the high Andean passes, I knew I had a good reason to go back.

And I enjoyed another magical journey and kept kicking myself for waiting so long to return…  Peru is so much more than just Machu Picchu!  So even if, like me, you have been to Machu Picchu, please take another look at Peru and I think you’ll find there are reasons to go there again.

We now have non-stop flights from LAX, and it’s only a one hour difference in time zones.  The luxury hotels that cost $800 or more per night in Europe, are much more affordable in Peru, as is everything else.  The scenery is spectacular, the culture is authentic and different enough to be interesting, gastronomy has exploded, probably because this region is responsible for being home to many of humanity’s most common foods.  While Spaniards went to the New World looking for gold – the real richness was what they found in nutritious, cultivatable crops, and new varieties and grains are still being introduced to humanity from the Andes.

Belmond’s new Andean Explorer is a wonderful trip.  The train traverses areas difficult to reach by car in great comfort, and links together parts of Peru which can require additional flights and long drives.  Originally the train was built for Australia rail trips, and I love the image of an entire train being shipped from Australia to Peru, being updated and tweaked to represent the style of another New World in South America. 

The sights included wild vicuna and flamingoes at the highest altitudes, herds of alpaca and sheep tended by hardy villagers, small villages and towns, and Lake Titicaca, where it's always a highlight to visit the floating reed islands on this lake, shared by Peru and Bolivia, as well as some actual islands inhabited for centuries. 

This land is so rich in history, most notably the Incas who followed three simple rules:  Don’t Lie, Don’t Cheat, Don’t be Lazy. Today their descendants are industrious and helpful, many speaking English and Spanish as well as their historical languages, and following customs from their home regions. 

Many villages wear specific hats or decorate hats in ways which indicate a woman is married or unmarried, or lives on one side of the river or the other – a whole unwritten communication which Peruvians can read but which we don’t see.  Some towns have whole outfits they wear, some just hats, but you feel they dress this way regularly and not just for tourists.

The immense wealth of this region can be seen in the colonial monasteries, churches and the decorative arts.   Belmond has some world class hotels which make use of these historical buildings, and shopping continues to be popular for high quality weaving, as well as design, both fabrics and metal.

Cultures older than the Incas are still being discovered – ancient mummies, pottery and lost cities.   Even if you visited Lima and Machu Picchu in the past, you can find many reasons to go back to the jungle lodges in the Amazon or an Amazon river cruise, coastal regions rich in sea life, cultivated valleys and mountain lodges and retreats.

I can promise you that I am not waiting so many years before I return again to this beautiful country! In the meantime, let me help you create your own magical trip thru this very fascinating country.

Heidi Hoehn