Altiplano – the Peruvian high plains
Anther day, another early morning. I am going to need a vacation from this trip!
To cover the 400 km (250 miles) from Cuzco to Puno, we opted for a bus with a guided tour of some of the most notable sights along the way. This was by far the longest option – it was going to take us 10 hours to cover the distance with all the stops – but flying into nearby Juliaca was expensive, and taking the train would have not provided us the opportunity to sightsee along the way. Some of the places we saw were more obscure and not on most tourists’ radar, but we enjoyed our tour of the Peruvian High Plains just the same.
Our first stop was Andahuaylillas. Referred to as the Andean Sistine Chapel because of its magnificent frescoes, this church was originally built by Jesuits in the early 17th century. We marveled at the ceiling of carved panels covered with gold leaves and the altar, which was also covered in gold.
Our second stop was Raqchi, also named The Temple of the God Wiracocha. 121 kilometers (75 miles) from Cuzco, this Inca temple is monumental: 100 meters in length, 26 meters in width and 14 meters in height. Divided in two naves, each of these still retains the bases of eleven giant columns and is the only Inca temple to feature circular columns. The base of the walls consists of Imperial Inca stonework with a top section of adobe. Adjacent to the temple, there were many storehouses used for various purposes: social, religious and military.
After that, we had lunch in the village of Sicuani. We enjoyed a delicious lunch buffet while listening to traditional Peruvian instrumental music performed by a band.
Our second to last stop was La Raya – the highest pass on the route between Cuzco and Puno, and the highest elevation we were going to reach on this trip. La Raya is 4,335 meters (14,218 f.) above sea level – kinda hard to believe I went skydiving from that altitude. This is a region situated between two cultures, Quechua and Aymara, as well as a composite of two terrains: the dry and arid Altiplano and the more verdant Quechua valleys and rivers. We enjoyed views of the glaciers, and once again I couldn’t resist to take a photo with a group of locals and their alpacas.
Finally, we visited Pucara, the town of talented ceramicists where the famous Little Bulls of Pucara are crafted. It is also home to the Museum of Lithics Pucara, which displays stone sculptures such as well as ceramics and other objects.
When we finally arrived in Puno, the sun was setting, and we got our first glimpses of the blue waters of Lake Titicaca. Tomorrow, we will tour two of its islands on the Peruvian side.
After getting to our hotel, we grabbed a quick bite at a restaurant called Balcones de Puno – in addition to great food, it also featured traditional Peruvian dances and music. Since we are in the folklore capital of Peru, it seemed fitting. We are at a higher altitude than Cuzco, so it’s even colder here at night – the temperature will drop to the upper 20s Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius) tonight. Brrrrr. I hope the sun warms up everything quickly tomorrow, or our tour of the islands will be off to a very, very cold start.