4 Week Southern Tour
We will be waiting for your flight's arrival at Lima's International Airport
and probably spot you before you see our APM board held aloft. Once everyone
is satisfied everything and everyone is present we'll be heading off to the
city's district of Miraflores. Lima is huge but once we've arrived at the
Hotel Carmel everything you are likely to want for the night is right there
or really near. 'Norkys' , a spacious restaurant with comprehensive menu (in
Spanish and English) is just across the road. The popular 'El Haiti'
pavement cafe/bar is one block away.
After what we hope will have been a good night's rest we take the same four
wheel transport out of the city and head south some 50 km to where we keep
our motorcycles. The afternoon ride takes us down the Panamericana Highway -
the main north- south route through all Peru.
We travel through the desert passing through a few small towns and
eventually turning off the highway at km 203 (from Lima) taking us into the
heart of a cotton growing area. The converted old hacienda where we stay the
night has a history that you will likely want to hear. Visit too the
catacombs where women, children and treasures hid from the British and
Dutch pirates that occasionally raided this far inland. On Christmas day in
1879 a slave rebellion broke out on what was then a sugar plantation. The
Master was hacked down by machete on the principal stair entrance.
Descendants of these slaves still populate the area and the local village of
El Carmen is almost exclusively populated by people of African origin.
Needless to say - or perhaps I 'ought to' say - the staff at The Hacienda
San Jose now are courteous and genuinely friendly (even to British and Dutch
guests) and enjoy explaining about any part of their history to anyone who
is interested. Rooms are basic but quite adequate and well tended. The real
pleasure here is enjoying the atmosphere and the facilities offered. There
are several dinning areas, a bar, billiards room, swimming pool, tennis
court and beautiful grounds.
When we leave the Hacienda San Jose we soon leave the coastal highway and
travel eastwards towards the Andes. It is a ride of 200 miles or so up to
our destination town of Ayacucho, however this road is now well surfaced and
carries little traffic. Riding this route is a magnificent introduction to
Peruvian mountain scenery. We climb up to 4,500 mts before descending into
the valley where Ayacucho lies at around 2,700 mts. At this altitude Ayacucho
has a near perfect climate.
Ayacucho has an important university and claims to be the intellectual
centre of Peru (as does Arequipa). Much distinctive handicraft is produced
here. It is the source of ornate silver works, tapestries, iron work and
those cheerful leaning tower ceramic churches crowded with figures that you
see in most handicraft markets of Peru. The artisans of these works can be
visited in the Santa Ana barrio of town. We stay a couple of nights at the
Santa Rosa Hotel just half a block from the main square. This gives us one
whole day to go around this interesting colonial style town. In the Plaza de
Armas (main square) the newly set up Tourist Office will give you brochures
and further information on any local feature that especially interests you.
The road we take to Chinchero is very different from the smooth well
engineered road we climbed up to Ayacucho on - you'll probably not get into
top gear all day. As soon as we drop down from the plain on which Ayacucho
is built the road becomes narrow and twisting with a surface alternating
between sand and earth - most of it stony. The route is very scenic and we
pass several Andean villages during the course of the day. We meet up at
prearranged points so stopping to take photos , for example, poses no
problem. Buses travel this route - perhaps surprisingly- but there's little
traffic. Few tourists get the opportunity to stop off at these places,
consequently locals can be quite curious about us. School children if in a
bunch might 'interrogate' you or run away in mock fear. We stay the night in
the small town of CHINCHERO and the next day make the relatively short run
over to the much larger town of ANDAHUAYLAS. We can check into our
accommodation early here and ride over to see Pachaca Lake and the Sondor
Ruins. Near here The Inca had an early victory defeating the war-like Chanka
Next day we head towards Abancay on another unmade road albeit better than
of the last two days travel. The distance is not great but our route takes
us zig zaging down the side of mountains in order to cross river valleys
then climbing again to cross the next one. Fortunately this slow advance
makes for spectacular views and the day's ride should be a really memorable
The Hotel de Turistas at ABANCAY is an old fashioned place with attentive
staff. Some rooms have balconies overlooking a colourful garden and one may
dine or take drinks inside or out . It really is a relaxing place to rest up
after a dusty ride through the Andes.
Riding on towards Cuzco takes us through a variety of landscapes on an
asphalt road with little traffic (also read 3 Week Southern Tour - Abancay
to Cuzco ).
This most famous of all Peruvian cities deserves its reputation as cultural
jewel. Capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco still has much in evidence of its
past - both from Colonial and from Inca times. Everywhere there is evidence
of Inca building, incredible masonry work and the remains of temples and
fortresses nearby. We spend several days based at The Hotel Emperador Plaza
, near to the main Plaza and Cathedral. A full day exploring the colonial
centre will not exhaust Cuzco's treasures. As you can imagine this is a good
place to find quality Peruvian souvenirs , alpaca clothing, Cuzquena style
religious paintings etc., and a wide range of restaurants and of course a
lively nightlife scene. Pick up any guide book on Peru and you will find
pages on Cuzco's history and essential places to visit. As motorcyclists
you'll no doubt be curious to visit too the ' Nortons Rats' bar/cafe. The
owner Jeff Powers is an American who has a passion for British bikes and for
travel. Apparently Jeff recently brought a Triumph Triple down from Colombia
to join his fleet of - at least - a Norton Commando and .. ahem.. a BMW. (OK
so it's not British). Four days
allows us time to also make excursions to The Sacred Valley, Pisac,
Sacsayhuaman ruins and the train excursion to Machu Picchu.
Cuzco to PUNO is a fair way but there are no mountains ' blocking' our way
such as on our route between Andahuaylas and Abancay and we can roll along
in top gear most of the time once away from Cuzco. You'll catch sight of the
railway track linking Cuzco with Puno quite frequently although actual
trains are scarce. By early afternoon we'll be coming onto the Altiplano.
You'll see grazing llama, alpaca and sheep and probably some very shaggy,
mean-looking, dogs trotting along parallel to the road. No owners or herds
in sight they are no doubt looking for something to eat and likely are feral
beasts. It is surprising how similar one looks like another.
PUNO is a cold town (Peru classifies it as 'a city') and architecturally
dull, especially having come from Cuzco, but in other aspects it is most
interesting. Both Aymara and Quechua speaking Indians live in the area and
hardly anyone who has come to see Puno will miss a boat excursion to see the
Uros Indians on their floating reed structures out on Lake Titicaca. These
'islands' are about half an hour out from Puno and the local guide that
accompanies us will tell you (in English or Spanish) all about the history
and existence of this independent ethnic group. Considerably further out in
the lake the island of Taquile is home to an isolated Quechua group that
have adopted Aymara customs. These people have little contact with mainland
folk and control tourist visits. There is no electricity or running water
out here and although it is possible to spend a night in one of the
islander's homes we would return to Puno by boat late the same day.
Leaving Puno heading south the route stays
close to the lake although losing sight of it at times. Twenty kilometres or
so down the road you may care to stop a while and check out the stone art of
Chucuito - a small Aymara village beside Lake Titicaca. I did say ' may'
wish to. Chucuito's main claim to fame is its fertility temple the ' Inca
Uyo'. This genuine Inca structure houses dozens of stone phallus, the
largest of which, 8 foot tall, supposedly could indirectly bring women a
healthy male baby if she would sit upon it for one quarter of a day. However
we really do not recommend this for several reasons, not least of which
you'll be having a super hotel room and a swimming pool awaiting you in the
warm evening air of Moquegua that day many miles yonder.
Further along still beside the lake the Baroque churches of Juli and Pomata
are rather different. Nearing the Bolivian frontier we cut off west out
across the altiplano on a road with little traffic.
It seems strange that a road so little used has an almost perfect surface.
Before the end of the day however you'll have probably noticed one or two
big trucks with Bolivian plates and if you got your GCSE certificate in
geography or equivalent - or nearly got it - you'll remember that Bolivia
has had no coastline for over 100 years and this road is one of Bolivia's
main ways to receive imports from non neighbouring countries (via the
Peruvian port of Ilo). Hopefully you are going to have plenty of camera
capacity for more shots because this day you'll see more alpaca and llama
than you could eat. You'll likely see vicuna too - although I may not
include vicuna in the presceeding statement. But if I may say, the main
attraction for me on this part of the ride is the isolation from all things
modern (albeit apart from our mode of transport), a feeling of of space and
desolation, a place beyond where man has occupied almost. This desolation
continues when we descend the western Andes slopes but the surroundings
become totally arid. It seems like a long ride because we see the country's
geographical features change so much during the day. The last few miles
follow the Moquegua River , lined by fruit orchards. One can see how
different this territory would be if it only rained occasionally here.
In fact MOQUEGUA is one of , if not THE driest town in Peru. There's not a
lot to see in town although the main plaza is attractive. Our hotel is three
kilometres away from the centre and situated on a hillside. Here is a
swimming pool , restaurant and great views. Moquegua is not on most
tourist's itinerary and you may well have the whole hotel to yourself (ie
ourselves). However if the 5 Soles for small beers begins to irritate you
can always invest one Sole for the taxi ride down into town.
Next day we connect with the Panamerican Highway and ride through the desert
but crossing some river valleys, cultivated out to the extent that
irrigation will permit.. We pass beyond the Arequipa city turn off to
another junction thirty miles further on.. Heading in a northerly direction
towards the Colca Canyon this road is very little travelled - most tourists
would approach the canyon coming from Arequipa and returning the same way.
For the 90 miles or so before reaching Huambo we advise you to ride together
or at least keep our mobile group in sight. Eventually you'll come to Huambo
and on from there another 28 miles (45 kilometres) to the small town of
CABANACONDE, named after the people that occupied the area before the Incas,
has an interesting new hotel owned by a couple from Lima. The charming lady
owner of the Hotel Kuntur Wassi, the hotel facilities and the attentive
hotel staff would make it a shame to move on after only one night - so we
Next morning instead of pulling on your motorcycle boots and gear we suggest
you dress more casually and take a walk with us through town and across a
couple of fields to the edge of the canyon. Not until the last 100 yards or
so might you sense the presence of this big ' drop'. From the edge of the
field down to the Colca River is about one mile. Needless to say not
everyone seems to enjoy this view. Find a fat rock to position yourself
beside if this should be the case and check out the scene in no hurry.
Across the canyon slightly further to the north you'll see the village of
Tapay. It's not the kind of place you'd want to realize you'd forgotten to
buy the sugar. Back to Cabanaconde means a two hour descent to the river and
another 3 hours climb on a zig zag path up the other side. Continue along
the cliff path just a little way our side of the canyon and you'll get sight
of a tiny green oasis beside the river. A hacienda is located there. Not a
good place to be when the Earth shakes, which it certainly has done
periodically. Why would anyone want to live there ? Any guesses ? The answer
lies with the fact that the whole area is subject to micro climates. Whereas
maize, barley, potatoes are cultivated around Cabanaconde down there a mile
away it's semi tropical. Bananas, mangoes anyone ? Yes, just a mile down the
road - literally.
The area surprises and fascinates but better to see it than read about it.
Incidentally the most likely place to see condors flying is 10 kilometres on
from here towards Chivay at the Cruz Del Condor look-out point. The best
time to be there is before 10 am but we'll get two chances at this.
Later back at the Kuntur Wassi Hotel relax if you wish but come nightfall a
couple of us will likely be walking over for an alpaca steak and beer at El
Valle De Fuego bar. The sons Jamil and Pablo of this family run business are
very hospitable and knowledgeable about their area. The place is rustic,
usually only lit by candlelight and smokey (wood smoke mostly)..... make
that one more steak?
Continuing our journey further up alongside and above the Colca river the
canyon gradually becomes less deep, but the terraced lands and simple
villages keep the whole area interesting and picturesque. After 'Maca' we
can choose to ride on either side of the canyon because both roads lead to 'Chivay'
, the regional capital. Serious climbing up from this town takes us up to
4,900 meters in a short while and again expect to see herds of llama, alpaca
and a few vicuna. The descent from the altiplano into Peru's most beautiful
city - Arequipa, an hour and a half later, is relatively quick because the
city is situated at 2,400 metres above sea level. You really wouldn't know
it though with distant mountains (actually volcanoes) to the east and north
and from the arid surroundings and the climate Arequipa feels more like a
Peruvian coastal town in the desert than a city in the Andes.
The colonial centre is largely constructed with white silca volcanic rock
and there are many fine buildings to visit. The main Plaza has several
quality shops selling Peruvian handicraft and terraced restaurants that
specialize in regional cuisine. It is an ideal place to take a break from
riding and learn something about Peru's colonial past. The famous ' El
Misti' volcano, of which Arequipenos are very proud, is visible from most
points and makes a nice backdrop feature for photos taken in the city,
especially when the top is covered with snow. (see more on Arequipa in the 3
week southern tour text).
From Arequipa we head towards the coast to meet up with the Panamericana to
travel in a northerly direction. Sizeable towns along this southern stretch
are few and far between. You will cover several miles following the contours
of oceanside cliffs, with sea birds as the only lifeform apparent. Traffic is
scarce but watch out for sand slides partially blocking your path.
We rest the night at CHALA. There really isn't a lot to do here. You could
perhaps ponder life's meaning whilst listening to the sound of waves
breaking on the beach ! - or - complain to the hotel management (about the
sound of waves breaking on the beach) - or - have a drink, plug your ears,
and go to bed.
Famous for the lines and drawings that aliens left in the desert sand to say
'we were here' then left to go elsewhere leaves us now to wonder who in fact
they were. Of course there are some sceptics that have other theories. Some
think that a past culture of man marked out these gigantic figures. The
Paracas and Nazca cultures possibly. Anyway check it out - either from the
lookout tower right beside the highway just north of Nazca (you can't see
many figures from there) or let us fix you up with an excursion flight from
Nazca'z own little airport. Be warned that those little planes get to do
some pretty agile manoeuvring and whereas your eyes will appreciate the
pilots obvious skills your stomach may not.
The figures are still noticeable after
centuries because of a number of factors. Firstly it rains here hardly at
all in the desert. Secondly, now that man is more active in the area and
that the zone has become a protected national site vehicles and walkers may
not approach anywhere near them. Most significant though, during the
creation of these art forms the abundant natural stone found on the pampa
was removed and laid along the sides of the shallow trench work thus
accenting the design form.
For a serious presentation of the Nazca lines,
which incidentally do include straight desert markings many kilometres in
length as well as figures, one can attend a lecture given most evenings at
the Maria Reiche Planetarium. Nazca also has the Museo Didactico Antonini
where you can learn something about the Nazca culture and see the relevant
textiles and ceramic finds.
After a two night's stay in Nazca we continue on up the Panamericana until
we reach PARACAS. Here we can see a great variety of coastal wildlife as the
area is protected from hunting, commercial fishing and development. We are
permitted to enter the Paracas Wildlife Reserve with motorbikes and can also
take a boat to the Ballestas Islands. Apart from seeing a multitude of sea
birds - which will include Humbolt penguins, pelicans, red foot boobies and
pink flamingo's - you may catch sight of a sea otter and for sure many many
When the time comes to leave Paracas we take a leisurely ride up to San
Bartolo, near to Lima.
This is a surfing resort popular with folk from Lima over weekends.
After a night here we will take you in our 4x4 to make your international
flight connection back home.
If you can spend another week in South America why not fly to Iquitos in the
Iquitos has no road connections with he rest of Peru so it's fly or go by
riverboat - which is kind of SLOW !