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TRAVEL : QUIXO PERU : Favorite Places in Peru

The Southern Highlands:
Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca & Beyond

Your Guide: Catherine Criolla
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These areas of Peru are less well known, and less visited, than areas such as Cuzco and the North and South Coasts, but they, like so many areas of Peru, also feature spectacular landscapes and fascinating archaeological sites. The tourist infrastructure in both Arequipa and Puno is relatively good, although variable. In both places, the emphasis at most travel agencies is on selling inexpensive package tours. You can, however, reach some areas on standard buses. Otherwise, if you want to deviate from standard itineraries, you'll need to hire a car or a taxi.

Arequipa is Peru's traditional second city, following Lima in population and in economic importance. It is the focal point of economic life in the South. Arequipa has a rich colonial heritage, distinctive architecture, a strong tradition of regional pride, and a conservative social and economic elite.

Things to see in Arequipa:

  • The Santa Catalina Convent — An extraordinary city within a city where a large order of nuns and other women lived during the colonial and republic eras.
  • The Plaza de Armas (main square) and buildings and complexes in the downtown area such as the Compania. The downtown core, the original part of the city, contains many colonial and republican buildings built in traditional style.
  • The Museo de Santuarios de Altura (the museum where the famous Inka mummy known as "Juanita" is on display) across the street from Santa Catalina. The website is only in Spanish.

From Arequipa, try to get to the Colca Canyon and if possible, do more than the package tour with a single night in the canyon. Standard attractions in the Colca include glorious landscapes, prehispanic agricultural terraces, women in beautiful and unique traditional dress, archaeological sites, picturesque colonial villages that have been continuously occupied since the Spanish forced local residents into them, and a good opportunity to see condors. Cabanaconde, one of the largest towns in the Colca, is close to the Ampato volcano, where the now famous mummy from Inka times — nicknamed Juanita — was found.

From Arequipa, head south to Chile, up to Puno and Lake Titicaca, or back to Lima.

If you are on your way south toward Chile, consider a stop in Moquegua. Although this relatively small city had its heyday during the colonial period, when it was one of Peru's major wine producing areas, there are some relatively newly developed attractions here that make it worth a visit. The Moquegua Valley, like most of Peru, has been occupied continuously for more than 10,000 years. Recent archaeological research has produced a tremendous amount of new information on the region, ranging from both Highland and Coastal Preceramic occupations thousands of years old, Formative occupations to Middle Horizon Wari and Tiwanaku occupations, Late Intermediate period Tumilaca, Estuquiña, and Chiribaya occupations, and Inka and colonial occupations. Results of archaeological research are on display at the Museo Contisuyo, just off of Moquegua's Plaza de Armas (not located properly or described correctly in the current edition of the Peru Handbook, by the way). The museum offers archaeological tours to such local sites as the Wari citadel of Cerro Baul (a good 1 to 2 hour uphill hike), and more extensive regional tours to places such as Carumas, one of the increasingly rare areas in Peru where men as well as women wear traditional dress.

Another local museum that is well worth a visit is the Museo de Sitio El Algorrobal, featuring mummies and archeological material from the pre-Inka Chiribaya culture. The museum is located in the Moquegua (Ilo) Valley outside of the coastal town of Ilo.

Continue by land to Tacna, and cross the border into Chile. In Arica, be sure to visit the archaeological museum in the Azapa Valley.

Puno and Lake Titicaca — Puno is generally the best place to stay for those visiting Lake Titicaca. It is not, in itself, a wonderful city, but it has basic tourist services and it is a much more pleasant place to stay than the larger and more industrial town of Juliaca. There are a number of more quaint villages surrounding the lake, but few have many services for tourists. Food in Puno is so-so, and the music played in the restaurants tends to be noisy and bad, but, Lake Titicaca is spectacular.

Highlights of the highlands around the Lake include:

  • Sillustani — A remarkable archaeological site consisting mostly of Inka and Pre-Inka funerary towers overlooking a section of the Lake. A magnet for new-ager visitors as well as others.
  • The Floating Islands — A tourist trap if there ever was one, but well worth the visit anyway. This is where you can see people using traditional reed boats, dressed in traditional dress. It is picturesque and certainly unique.
  • Taquile Island — Less visited and farther from Puno than the floating islands of the Uros, Taquile has archaeological ruins and traditional textiles for sale. Also a tourist trap but with more good traditional wares for sale.

Cross the border into Bolivia at Desaguadero, go to Copacabana and get a boat to the Island of the Sun, the city of La Paz and the ruins at Tiwanaku are also highly recommended.

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