This travel blog covers some of my experiences backpacking in Peru. Includes visiting Kuelap, flying over the Nazca lines, seeing mummies and more!
Backpacking in Peru
Blog post written 2005
In 2005, I spend several months Backpacking through Central and South America. During this backpacking adventure, I visited Peru twice.
This blog post is from my first visit there. If you're wondering why I didn't visit Machu Picchu, its because I visited there on the second entry back into Peru.
This travel blog post about my backpacking trip through Peru is one of the first I ever wrote on Dave's Travel Pages! In 2022, I reformatted this page, but the content I wrote when visiting Peru remains unchanged.
This travel blog from Peru includes information about visiting attractions and destinations in Peru that include:
Leaving Ecuador for Peru
Well, after a week spent in Cuenca in Ecuador not doing a great deal but eating and watching tv (i am on holiday folks!!), it was time to be on the move once more.
On Monday the 4th I caught a bus to the border town of Huaquillas, which was more hectic than the other borders I've been through so far.
Various money changers, touts and taxi drivers all clamouring for business, rubbish blowing down the streets, pot holes in the road.. the scene is set!There were three Germans also crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru, so it made sense for me to join up with them so that we could get a better transport deal, but they did fart around!!
They were only kids, I suppose, but they seemed so paranoid about being ripped off that they were oblivious to the good deals we were being offered, and they eventually decided to walk off and try to find something else.
I left them to it, and arranged a new price with the driver. As we set off, we drove through the town, and passed the three Germans who were by now wandering completely aimlessly around, and who then flagged down the taxi. So the result?? We got the same lift by the same driver at the same price as we had agreed earlier… three quarters of an hour earlier.
One of the great things about travelling alone, is that you can make instant decisions. With two people, there is a slight delay as they consult each other, and with three or more people, if there is no clear leader, the delay goes on and on. anyway, I'm now in Peru!!
First day Backpacking Peru – Bus from Tumbes to Chiclayo
I stayed the night in the town of Tumbes, where I had a meal with a coke. they hadn't got any coca cola, and asked if Inca Cola would be ok instead. I said sure, it's all the same. Wasn't expecting it to look like urine and taste like Dr. Pepper though. Very nice all the same.
Tuesday I caught the bus to Chiclayo, and sat staring at the scenery for 7 hours. It was a long bus journey!
Arrived at six thirty in the evening, and booked myself into the nearest hostel, which was relatively expensive, but which had an amazingly good shower.
Wednesday I booked out of that place, and into one which was marginally cheaper and of about the same quality, nearer the centre.
Went out to book a tour for the following day, and had something to eat. Not sure if it was that or a dodgy bottle of water, but I had an incredible bout of the squits overnight.
Day Trip from Chiclayo
On the 7th of July, held together with bananas and immodium, and feeling marginally better, I walked down to the tour office and climbed aboard our combi. There were three other English people, so we had a quick chat about the terrorist attacks that had hit London overnight.
It seems so shitty that after the positivity of Live 8, the real possibility of debt relief for Africa and winning the Olympic host contest for 2012, something like this should happen. Anyway, there's not a lot I can do about it, so back to the tour.
Museums near Chiclayo
We started off at the Museo Nacional Sican, which basically acted as an interpretation centre for the ancient cultures of the area.
I'm glad that I took the tour rather than do it independently, because without an informed guide, this and the other two museums would just have seemed like a random collection of photographs and models.
Our guide, Alfonso (bit of an unfortunate name there!), was really good, and explained that in this region, several cultures lived side by side, trading, communicating and occasionally fighting with each other.
The Incas, in a similar way to the Aztecs, only gained overall power a hundred years before the Spanish arrived. The second stop was the Museo de Siteo Tucume, which explained about the Tucume pyramids.
Tucume near Chiclayo
The Tucume pyramids themselves, due to being made of adobe, ears of erosion, neglect, grave robbers and decay, look nothing like pyramids at all. The scale of them is still enormous though, and today they looked more like badly weathered mountains.
After lunch (which I didn't eat much of, just to be on the safe side), we went onto the Museo Tumbe de Sipan. This place was excellent.
Recently featured in National Geographic magazine, the tombs of Sipan were only discovered in recent years, and contained an incredible hoard of gold and copper treasures.
Chachapoyas and Kuelap
On Friday, I caught an overnight bus to the hill town of Chachapoyas, which is a jumping off point for the ruins of Kuelap, which is a less visited site than those in the south of Peru, but is allegedly on a par with Machu Picchu.
Cuy on a stick: Well, lets start off by eating a guinea pig. Have you ever seen a Garfield with suction cups stuck onto a car window? Imagine that, minus the suction cups, but with third degree burns, a stick up its arse, and a shocked/amazed expression on its face as the stick comes out of the top of its head. On a plate of rice and vegetables. I found the meat quite alright eating, but it was a bit fiddly to get at. Perhaps not everybody's taste, but you've got to try these things!
And so..10th July, was the tour to Kuelap, which is one of the major sites of the north yet to be added to the tourist route.
Although it's only 75km from the town of Chachapoyas, because of the rough road (as in it's roughly a road), it takes three and a half hours to reach by car. (Note, I would return a few years later when cycling from Alaska to Argentina and visit Kuelap again, this time from Tingo Viejo).
The citadel is set 3100 metres high on the summit of a steep sided ridge, and to convert this into a fort, it's estimated that over 40 million tonnes of stone and earth were used.
What it lacked in the architectural and religious elegance of the Mayan cities, it more than made up by the sheer scale and commanding position that it held. The walls were 6-10 metres in height, and access to the inside was via three clefts (i love that word!!).
Kuelap in Peru
The combination of walls, access and location must have made the fortress virtually impregnable, and it's designers must have been really worries about being attacked to go to that much trouble. And all that nearly 2000 years ago!
Inside, there were three tiers, and on the top two, the remains of large, stone roundhouses were still in pretty good condition. Again, security must have been of concern, because some of the houses were built with their entrances six feet off the ground.
All in all, a remarkable site, and it's one of those that more people should see, but at the same time, it's good that they don't, because it feels that more special when so few tourists are there at the same time.
On Monday, I got another overnight bus to Trujillo, and spent the day getting my finances into order, along with phoning home, and other admin stuff. I've currently got 15 dollars a day left (ultra budget traveler, me!), but will bump that up to $20 a day after transferring some money.
I figure that I won't be able to do the Machu Picchu Inca Trail trek, as it's too expensive plus you have to book four months in advance, so I'll see it by train instead. For me, it's going to be more important to have more spending money on Easter Island, as that's my personal ‘must see'.
Accommodation is averaging at 7 dollars a night, with meals costing a couple of dollars each and the rest going on transport and trips. I'll definitely be abusing the visa card towards the end of my Peru backpacking itinerary!
Campina de Moche
Tuesday, a bit knackered after the all night bus ride, I got a taxi to a hotel that my ancient guidebook recommended, and miraculously, it still existed, although in a slightly more dilapidated state. Got some money from the bank, and booked a trip for the following day.
Weds 13th, I went on a day long tour, which was really outstanding. In the morning, we visited the Campina de Moche, which basically means the area of the Moche, who were a dominant tribe on this part of the coast.
There were two adobe pyramids, and whilst the Huaca del Sol is by far the largest, the Huaca de la Luna contains all the interesting things. In a similar way to the Mayan structures, they had different layers like a Russian doll, built over by successive dynasties.
There were six known layers to the temple, and only certain sections of these have been exposed by the archaeologists. There were many frescoes and carvings with their centuries old colours still vibrant, and they are still discovering more, as the site is an ongoing one.
The way they are running the site is really good as well, as they are restoring rather than reconstructing, the difference between the two being that restoring involves fitting together any obviously broken or fallen pieces, a little like a jigsaw. If the pieces are not there, then it is left alone.
Chan Chan Peru
In the afternoon, it was off to Chan Chan, which was the capital of the Chimu empire, who emerged some time after the Moche and were dominant in this area during the early stages of the Inca empire, before eventually becoming swallowed up by them.
At one time covering more than 28 square kilometres, Chan Chan was the largest adobe city the world has ever seen. Although the site has now been partially reconstructed, the sheer scale of it was amazing.
There was a reservoir, which had apparently filled via an underground stream a few years after a heavy El Nino related rainfall in the mountains, which made me wonder how much the climate had changed since the city was built.
Thursday, I left Trujillo, and caught a bus to the city of Chimbote, which is described in my guidebook as the nastiest city in Peru. I have to say, that it was quite vile looking, with rubbish blowing around everywhere and a weird coloured smog overhanging the shanties.
Fortunately, the main bus terminal was on the outskirts, so the combined smell of faeces and fish was only mildly overpowering.
Got onto another bus and arrived in Casma, where I've booked into Hostel Gregori, which is nicely situated two doors down from a coffin shop. It's a lovely, clean room, and I booked in for two nights.
The following day I caught a rickshaw to the ruins of Sechin. Apart from a junior school group, I was the only person there, as although this place is on the main highway, it doesn't really feature highly on the ‘gringo trail', (which is basically the Lonely Planet Way of Doing Things!).
The site was set at the base of a rocky hill, and you sort of walk up and around it first of all, before walking through it. The area was tiny, in fact probably one of the smaller ones that I've visited, but very interesting all the same.
It was a small, adobe centre, but the outside wall consisted of many carved stone slabs, which reminded me a lot of the ones at Monte Alban in Mexico.
I wasn't sure about the unconvincing reconstruction job they were doing though. It's like they had an idea to build it one way, and then changed their minds because it looked rubbish.
Still, glad I visited. When I got back into town, I booked a bus ticket to Huarez.
By the way, does 21.39 strike you as an odd time to be parading a religious icon through the streets, accompanied by a band whose instruments , uniquely, are exactly out of tune with one another?
Buses and Bridges in Peru
Saturday turned out to be a long day in the end. The bus was late, so I got chatting to a Peruvian called Elias whilst we waited. He turned out to be a driver too, so we had a lot in common. He could tell me about delivering water, and I could tell him about delivering ice cream.
My Spanish managed to cope with the conversations we had, but it would be nice to know some more. The bus journey turned out to be one of three halves (work that out Mathematicians!).
The first leg of three hours led us through the mountains and to a small village, where we stopped for lunch. I can't remember what the main course was called, but parts of it tasted like shepherds pie.
The second leg took us to a sort of bridge which the bus couldn't cross due to the fact that it consisted of two large tree trunks and a few crooked planks and rocks laid haphazardly over the top.
So, we took our stuff off the bus and crossed the bridge to the other side, where we waited for a connecting bus. There was a wait of about two hours, which was broken up by one of the passengers playing his harp, which was a bit surreal.
Just before we left, a four wheel drive arrived at the bridge, and attempted to cross. I rushed to get my camera out, as I didn't want to miss it nose dive down into the chasm, but fortunately for the driver, he made it over, although the bridge looked very unsteady afterwards.
The third leg took us into Huarez for 9.00 at night. Was met off the bus by a tout trying to sell me tours and a hotel room. I let him lead the way to the hotel, and managed to get myself a bargain at only 10 sols a night (about £1.60)… cheap as chips! Will probably stay here for three nights, and do Chavin as a day trip, before heading down to Lima and then south to the Nazca lines.
Chavin de Huantar
On Monday the 18th, I went on a tour to Chavin de Huantar. I got talking to a Ukrainian girl along the way, who was yet another born again Christian type on some sort of exchange. They must think that a lot of souls need saving in South America!
She was a nice enough girl, but so earnest it was almost false. Each to their own I suppose, but for me, religious belief on that level is a bit like football.. I get the rules, but I can't see what all the fuss is about.
Anyway, we arrived in the town of Chavin where we had lunch, (sitting with the born-agains, I declined their offer to join in grace, as it was all a bit weird for me, especially when they then went on to complain about the food and service.) After lunch, we visited the site, which in many ways reminded me a lot of some of the older sites I had seen back in Mexico.
Every site I've visited has had it's unique points, and this one was in labyrinth system concealed underneath the main stepped pyramid.
Dating for the complex seems to vary from 1400bc to 800bc. There were a couple of carved stelae (reminding me of the Mayas again), and quite a few figures and animals carved into two cylindrical pillars. When I got back, i picked up my laundry (clean clothes smell SO nice!), and withdrew some money.
I spent most of the next day on the bus to Lima, and arrived at 7.00p.m. Fortunately, there was a hotel close by, and although expensive at 40 sols a night, it was really nice, and i booked in for a couple of nights.
Wednesday saw me book a bus ticket for the following day to the town of Pisco, and go wandering around Lima for a bit. I'm saving the museums for when I return before i fly back home, so I just had a general, aimless look around.
I went into the LanChile office, and tried to reconfirm my flights, which turned out to be a bit confusing. Firstly, she said they were reconfirmed, then she said there was no need to, and finally, she gave me a telephone number to call and reconfirm just to be on the safe side, so I considered that a good half hour of my life wasted!!
Pisco in Peru
Thursday 21st, I caught the bus to Pisco, which dropped me off on the main highway 6km from the town, so I shared a taxi in at 4 sols.
I booked into a hotel for two nights, and had a look around the town, which inexplicably reminded me of Hemsby near Great Yarmouth, but I don't know why!
It's definitely a tourist spot, with prices being a little higher than elsewhere, touts trying to get you to eat in their restaurants, and more Western tourists than I've seen on my whole trip combined!
Ballestas Islands Peru
The following day, I got up early and caught the tour bus which was taking us to the Ballestas islands, which are often described as the poor mans Galapagos (that's why i went folks!).
We swapped from the bus to a boat, and chugged along at a steady minus 5 miles an hour whilst all the other tours speed boats zipped by at warp speed. Actually, I think our slower boat was the better way to see everything, as there was more room on board, the seating was better, and you could stand up if you wanted.
On the way over to the islands, we saw the mysterious Candelabra, which is a huge pattern dug into the sand, reputedly over two thousand years old. I've always wanted to see it since reading Erich von Danekins books, and now I have!
Not sure i would attribute it to space roving aliens, although it did make me think of crop circles. Theories range from pirates to the Nazca civilisation, but as it's impossible to date, and there are no written records, you can make your own theory to fit!!
On Saturday 23rd, I caught the bus to Ica, which was ridiculously cheap at three sols (60p for an hour and a half), and booked myself into a dirt cheap hospedje for a couple of nights.
Had lunch, and caught an autotaxi over to the museum, which has some fascinating exhibits such as mummies which had been kept preserved by the desert, and skulls (similar to the Mayan ones) which had been purposely deformed at birth so that they were elongated to such an extent that they barely looked human. I bought some films to watch on the laptop, and Sunday I had nice relaxing day.
Seeing the Nazca Lines in Peru
I caught the bus to Nazca on Monday, and sat next to a Peruvian girl for half the journey. My Spanish must be improving, because we were chatting for quite a bit, and found out that she worked in Chimbote (that's the town that smells of fish.. her words not mine!!).
There were loads of touts at the bus terminal when I arrived, so I eventually ended up in a cheapish hotel, and booked a flight over the Nazca lines for the following day.
As it turned out, due to bad weather, that was delayed by a day, so on the Tuesday I made new plans.
Breakfast on the Tuesday consisted of bread, jam, coffee and a minor earthquake, but don't worry folks, I didn't spill my coffee, and the walls of the hostel only wobbled for ten seconds or so.
I booked an overnight bus ticket to Tacna for the next day, and in the afternoon, went on a tour to see the Chauchilla cemetery.
The days when mummies were still scattered over the desert floor to be photographed with are now over, but in the official areas, there are still some mummies, bones and skeletons with the hair intact. The arid desert air keeps the bones in good condition, but the sun bleaches the bones white from their original yellow.
Flying over the Nazco Lines in Peru
Wednesday the 27th was the flight over the Nazca desert to see the famous lines… Yes!! Another ambition fulfilled!! The plane itself was tiny, but good for me, because I got to sit next to the pilot.
The cockpit was a bit pokey, and I had to be careful where I put my knees in case I flicked or pushed something in that i shouldn't do!
The take of and landing were no problem, however, and the flight itself was smooth, although when the plane banked and turned it presented some pretty steep angles!!
As for the lines themselves – some I couldn't see, and others were so clear it was amazing, although I'm not sure my pictures did them justice, as it's difficult to get an idea of the height and sheer scale of them.
Related: Taking a powerbank on a plane
Nazca Animal Patterns
Apart from the more obvious designs themselves, such as the spider, monkey, bird, whale etc, there are literally hundreds of other straight lines, triangles and trapezoids criss-crossing the desert floor.
The fact that most of the drawings can only be seen properly from the air only lends further mystery as to why they were drawn out in the first place.
Another thing unique to the area is a massive mountain of pure sand nestled between mountains of rock, which is the largest sand dune in the Americas, and it must also have had some significance to the ancient Nazca culture.
After the flight I had lunch, and used the internet for a while before waiting for my overnight bus. It was due to pick me up at 5.30, but didn't arrive until 7.00.
Then, after I eventually got on, a policeman came on board to check everybody's id's which took another half hour. And then finally, we were off… Fifty metres down the road, where the bus stopped for dinner for half an hour. Incredible!!
Getting ready to take a flight to Easter Island
It was a long trip to Tacna, but I'm here now!! I stay here for four nights, and then catch a plane back to Lima, another one to Santiago in Chile, and another one the following day to Easter Island.
If all goes to plan, the next update should come from Bolivia in a couple of weeks time. That's all for this section now, so follow the Easter Island one for more updates.Ta ta for now folks!
South America Posts
You might also be interested in checking out these other posts if you're planning to go to other countries in Latin America after you visit Peru: