Sea Princess made two ports of call in Peru, a country that encompasses the arid Pacific west coast to the towering peaks of The Andes and Amazonian rainforest, and both of these places had us wishing we could stay longer and explore more.
The port of Callao was our stepping off point for Lima, and a shuttle bus was available from the port for anyone wanting to go into the city.
Lima is home to more than 10 million Peruvian’s and we were told that the country’s top three industries are mining and fishing followed by tourism.
Callao was also the stepping off point for the passengers who were setting off on a three day trip to Machu Picchu.
They would reconnect with the ship at our second port of call in Peru. This ship’s excursion utilising flights, coaches and trains was a very popular Princess tour, and when we spoke to people they were full of enthusiasm, and loved the tour.
They also mentioned on their return that around 10,000 other tourists had visited that day! Wow, how things change. This seemed a far cry from the time in 1985 when Dave walked the Inca Trail to get to the ruins and only a handful of people were visiting.
Overview of Lima
We had a ship’s tour arranged in Lima to see some of the city’s sights, and because these sights are spread across the city our tour provided us with a really good overview of the city landscape, from the port town of Callao and then though various historical districts into suburbs that stretch up into the hills.
We became acutely aware of the disparity between the have’s and have not’s in Lima – as is plain to see in much of the developing world.
In the foothills we saw the rickety looking structures of the pastel coloured Young Towns or New Villages, the nickname given to the vast shanty towns that surround Lima. The towns are mostly composed of poorly constructed shacks.
Since the 1940s there have been great waves of migration from Peru’s countryside to the city in search of economic opportunity. Many of the inhabitants of the Young Towns also came in order to escape terrorism during the 1980’s.
The Young Towns are cut into the limestone cliffs, which are devoid of any vegetation and seem covered in grey dust. Not too far away, with similar vertical cuts made into the same foothills are some of the most prestigious suburbs of Lima with soaring condominiums and shiny new apartment blocks.
Criolla and Pisco Sours
The first stop on our tour was for lunch 🙂
We enjoyed “criollo” cuisine at a local restaurant.
I particularly enjoyed the Caosa, which consisted of mashed potato, stuffed with yellow pepper, key lime, chicken and avocado, washed down of course with a Pisco Sour!
We also tried Tamal, mashed corn with chili peppers, stuffed with chicken.
We motored on and passed some ancient pre-Inca pyramids (900 – 1200AD).
“They were founded by Mateo Salad, the first Jew executed by the Inquisition in Lima,” our guide Renato said.
Although there are many historical sights in Lima of archaeological significance, most are covered by urban sprawl.
The next stop was at Plaza Mayor, the historic centre of Lima and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The square is lined with some of the city’s most important buildings including the Government Palace (below).
The Plaza is girded on one side by the Cathedral of Lima where we saw a collection of religious art and Francisco Pizarro’s tomb as well as ancient catacomb’s still complete with eerie bones.
Renato pointed to the bell tower and said, “See the crack in it? That’s an original bell, and the damage you can see was caused during the earthquake.”
As if on cue the bells tolled. Sombre, onerous and orderly on this grey day with a chill in the air.
San Francisco Monastery
Then it was on to San Francisco Monastery, a neoclassical cathedral with a quiet, contemplative courtyard.
….. and a magnificent library showcasing centuries-old texts – one book on show dates back to 1535.
“This Dominican Monastery was the first monastery to be built in Lima in 1535,” Renato told us. “It took 200 years to build and has one of the most beautiful cloisters in South America with Moorish art and tiling dating back to 1606. It was re-constructed in the 17th Century and is famous for it’s library and catacombs.”
“Notice the eclectic 17th – 19th century elements in the square. Much of Spanish Lima, the Spanish colonial town, was destroyed during an earthquake in the 1700’s and in fact the Cathedral is the third built at this location,” Renato told us. “But once all this land was owned by the Incas.”
Then we headed out of the city to the Gold Museum located in one of Lima’s most prestigious suburbs. We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum.
It’s an amalgamation of four private collections put together by Miguel Mujica Gallo and other businessmen, and well worth seeing if you’re in Lima.
The museum contains some 20,000 samples of Peru’s most treasured Incan and pre-Columbian treasures, including; silver and copper artefacts, pre-Inca jewellery to military-wear, armour and weapons, mummified remains, pots, idols, crowns, and sceptres, filigree figures and more.
The mummified remains were particularly spooky, not to mention mind-blowing – we were looking at people who lived thousands of years ago – I wondered what they were like, what did they look like in real life, what did they sound like?
Then the tour headed perceptibly slowly through Lima’s notorious rush hour traffic to the Indian Market.
“Rush hour is not very romantic,” Renato told us, “you travel cheek to chicken!”
At the Indian Market there’s a kaleidoscope of colourful stalls selling traditional Peruvian knitwear, silver, weavings, woodcarvings, bags, paintings, Inca handicrafts and ceramics.
We had fun buying alpaca knitwear for gifts, and it was then, that I knew … I’ll need another suitcase to take everything home!
Parque del Amor
Our final stop at around 7.30pm was at Miraflores along the coastal cliffs at Lover’s Park – you could say there was a glow of romantic love at the Parque del Amor overlooking the Pacific Ocean with it’s fairytale lighting and colourful mosaic walls inspired by Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona.
The mosaics include text from Peru’s leading authors.
Dave and I walked hand in hand along the clifftops and looked up towards the namesake sculpture, two lovers entwined, and I thought to myself how lucky I am.
We cruised overnight to our second port of call in Peru, San Martin. This port of call is the gateway to Paracas, and also Pisco (30 minutes drive) which sits on the Paracas Peninsula in southwest Peru, 150 miles south of Lima.
The port of San Martin is situated on the fringe of the Atacama Desert and consists of a single lonely berth on the desert’s edge watched over by thousands of pelicans on a nearby promontory.
Several hastily erected craft stalls stood below to welcome our tourist dollars.
Although the port provided a somewhat bleak welcome this in fact is an exciting gateway to visit Peru’s Galapagos Islands, the Islas Ballistas, located a few kilometres off shore.
Galapagos of Peru
We caught a coach to Parecas through the desert with its shifting sand in pinks, sandy greys, ochres and yellows.
We spotted some Chilean flamingos and learnt about the Parecas ‘storm sand’ which looks like a very fine mist that blows in from the desert and coats everything in sight.
From Parecas we caught an open custom-sightseeing boat out to the islands – a Princess excursion.
Boat trip to the islands
We set off from a picturesque small fishing harbour with its brightly painted fishing boats bobbing gently in the water and whizzed towards Islas Ballestas.
The boat hadn’t gone far before we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming around a returning fishing vessel, which was also stalked by a flotilla of pelicans and other sea birds.
We continued to head out to sea and passed a coastline carved by millennia of erosion into really interesting rock formations, which are home to colonies, or rather tens of thousands of marine birds.
We stopped just off the coast at an imposing headland to view the massive and impressive geoglyph etched into the desert sand called El Candelabra a 1,500 year old three-pronged geoglyph.
It stands 500 feet high and 164 feet wide, some say it has connections to the Nazcas, others say it was a navigational guide for sailors.
Scholars connect this manmade mystery to the mysterious Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site created between 200BC and 500AD. It covers 170 square miles and includes hummingbirds, foxes, condors, a 100 foot tall man with owl like eyes, spirals, zigzags, triangles and a thousand miles of long straight lines carved into the vast, empty desert plain by the Nazca, an advanced culture which established itself along Peru’s southern coast (200BC – 800AD) long before the Incas arrived in Peru.
Bobbing close to the cliffs in the lea of these enormous drawings I wondered who in particular had etched these enigmatic drawings into the desert? Again the thought turned over in my mind … What were they like and who were the people who followed the Sun God into Peru around 1100AD and founded one of the world’s greatest civilisations, a reign which was crushed by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1528?
Our trip took us further on and off shore, the cold wind in our hair, around a series of rocky islands with natural carved arches and rocky spires rising from the ocean.
The Islas Ballestas are home to huge colonies of birds including guanay cormorants, Peruvian boobies and the beautiful black Inca terns with their red bills.
Some islands apparently have colonies of up to 600,000 birds flying in and out at any time. I looked up to see the sky filled with lines of birds flying in formation, as if in migratory packs, and the sky looked sketched by thick black pencil lines.
The Islands are also home to the endangered Humboldt penguins and we were lucky enough to see some waddling comically over the rocks and others bobbing in the sea alongside us.
“There are over 160 different types of fish and lots of anchovy in these waters,” our guide told us. “Anchovy are an important food for penguins.”
Also, we saw many sea lions, in comical poses, sunning themselves on rocky platforms.
We peered through huge natural arches and into dark caves carved by the hand of nature with the help of winds and waves. We listened to the barks of sea lions and looked down into clear waters where pelicans, cormorants and terns dived for fish.
All to soon it was time to run around and head back to Parecas.
Our heads were filled with the mysteries of civilisations that flourished centuries ago, and of Mother Nature’s beautiful creations which exist side by side in what seems to be an impossibly harsh environment.
Yet the contrast is beguiling and invigorating and we finally jumped back on the coach, bound for Sea Princess absorbed in our thoughts, but we all agreed what a wonderful trip this had been.
Fast Facts – Peru
- In San Martin, Sea Princess arranged a shuttle service that runs approximately every 30 minutes from the ship’s pier to Paracas (El Chaco square) Journey time is 30 minutes.
- San Martin receive only around 1.9 ml rain per year.
- Ceviche is Peru’s national dish – raw fish marinated in lime juice, garnished with fresh cilantro (coriander) and chill peppers.
- Pisco Sour is Peru’s national drink, made of pisco brandy, lemons, simple syrup, egg whites, ice and bitters. It originated in Lima, Peru in the early 1920s by bartender victor Vaughn Morris, an American who had lived in Peru.
- The Incas were a naturalistic and ritualistic people who worshiped Inti, the sun god and Pachamama the earth goddess as well as the moon, thunder, lightning and the rainbow. Inca emperors were thought to be direct descendants of the sun god.
- Two thirds of Peru is covered in Amazon Rainforest.
- Peru grows more than 55 varieties of corn, and there are about 4,000 native varieties of Peruvian potatoes.
- Lima gained its independence in 1821.
- The Miraflores neighbourhood in Lima means “look at the pretty flowers” and it’s a great district for shopping.
- Lima is the fifth largest city in Latin America and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. and was once known as City of The Kings by the Spanish conquistadors during imperial Spanish Power.
- Despite being situated in a desert, Lima is also know as the Garden City and offers some stunning coastal views, as well as being a bustling city with historical intrigue.
- Lima has 43 districts each like its own little city.
- “In 1746 there was an earthquake, the worst in the history of Lima, 8.6 on the Richter Scale which destroyed most of the Spanish architecture in Lima, and the the following Tsunami destroyed Callao,” our guide Renato told us. “Old architecture can only really be viewed in the main square of Lima.”
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