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Hiking Through The Centuries

Aug 18, 2007
Wandering on the top of the world, in the footsteps of the Incas, looking out over the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Andes and a glorious land of mystery and mysticism, where centuries past and present are seamlessly intermingled.

Peru's layer upon layer of great civilizations are spread like patchwork across a country that is a masterpiece of diversity, parched coastal deserts, farming oases, quaint fishing villages, tropical jungle and colonial cities that echo the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors.

Amid the sands of Peru's arid coast, the hectic metropolis that is Lima, the conquistadors' city of the kings, is a culturally rich but modern city on the rise. The center of Spanish power in the New World for three centuries after Pizarro's conquest of Peru, the capital is awash with a considerable legacy of colonial art and architecture, while its museums are bursting with artifacts of gold, ceramic and weavings unearthed from the country's ancient settlements. And with enough ornately decorated churches to get churched-out, there's nothing more rewarding than a Cusquena beer or a frothy Pisco sour in the midst of the upbeat and electric pulse of Lima's artsy, bohemian suburb Barranco.

South through the endless sandy dunes that huddle against the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, the rather unremarkable town of Nasca, a dusty outpost in the San Jose desert, belies an incredible and mysterious memento of ancient culture. Etched into the dry desert outside of town is a mysterious masterpiece of doodles. Appearing as little more than more than a confused jumble of shallow ruts in the sand and rock from ground level, a bird's-eye-view reveals immense creatures, shapes and forms spread out for miles across the desert floor, which remain bafflingly clear of sand.

A short flight up into the majestic heights of the Andes offers a modern Mecca of tourism that'll take your breath away not only for the altitude. The narrow streets of Cusco are lined with a mind-boggling mosaic of Inca stonework, which shows no sign of aging even after hundreds of years. Melded right onto these mortar-less walls is the elaborate colonial Spanish architecture, reflecting just a little of the mixed and colorful local culture.

Even higher still, above the city, the jagged teeth of the fortified walls of the sacred Sacsayhuaman offer the first chance to truly feel transported back in time to the realm of the Incas. But it's merely a taste of what is still to come.

Heading over the pass, admiring breathtaking vistas of the noble Andes, and down into the fertile sacred Urubamba Valley is the first leg towards the unrivaled journey along the Inca Trail. Leaving behind the gentle riverside trails is a commitment to stride in the stead of a magnificent people. The stouthearted trudge up into the midst of the rugged snowcapped peaks to almost 14,000 feet, where they're liable to become engulfed in clouds as they reach the infamous Dead Woman's Pass.

From there the climate shifts along the hike, and there's no telling what will be around the next turn. Dense highland vegetation gives way to steamy twisted vines and jungle flora until the trail turns sharply left and then heads through a stone archway, the sun gate, and the magical city of Macchu Picchu appears like a mirage, spread out across the hillside ahead, appearing and disappearing from a veil of clouds.

Even after days of hiking, the extra effort to reach the top of the nearby peak of Huayna Picchu is rewarded by a unique perspective on the magnificent beauty of the Incan city that managed to remain hidden from the Spanish conquests.

A pleasant train ride back through the sacred valley from the steamy town of Agues Calientes, at the foot of Macchu Picchu's mount, offers some well-earned respite to the weary hiker, and an easier route back to Cusco.

Another unique and rewarding train adventure climbs up out of the bustle of tourism in Cusco to higher and cooler altitudes, dotted by mountain villages, where entrepreneurial locals appear from nowhere to offer up colorful array of food, drinks and local handy crafts at every stop. At first dominated by the magnificent Andes that tower over the deep, meandering valleys of the Huatanay River, the train chugs its way back down onto the rolling Andean plains, home to herds of alpaca and the endangered vicuna, to finally reach the shore of Lake Titicaca and the welcome site of the captivating city of Puno. Amid the barren mountains, the cobble-stoned streets, shy campesinos in traditional dress and the tricycle taxis are the true charm of this somewhat grey city.

The waters of Lake Titicaca shine iridescent blue through the clear sunlight in vibrant contrast to the red and brown-hued hills of the altiplano. Among the waves of this mountain ocean are islands that take you back in time and remind you once again of the rich, mixed culture of this stunning country.
About the Author
Carlos Cuzme has publish this article on behalf of Lindsay Carswell is a passionate adventurer and explorer. Having lived on three continents she has currently settled in the world's original cultural melting pot, New York City, where she works as a television producer and freelance writer. For more information visit holidays peru
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