Category: Latin America

Machu Picchu Peru
Latin America

Peru’s Natural and Cultural Splendour

There are few places where nature, culture and history converge as seamlessly as Peru. The past was shaped by geography here and lost cultures are literally etched in the massive carved stones of the ancient sites.

Naturally, most travellers think of Machu Picchu when they think of Peru. But this warm and welcoming nation is overflowing with mysteries and wonders far beyond the heights of this legendary city. From the lush and biodiverse world of the Amazon, to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca and many staggering historical sites, when you journey to this magnificent country with Gate 1 Travel, our local Tour Managers bring them all to life for you.

Cities Awash in Colonial and Incan History

If you imagine Machu Picchu as the pinnacle of Peru, then consider Cuzco and Lima as the country’s historic and cultural foundations. Indeed, no visit to Peru is complete without exploring these two cities. Cuzco may have a decidedly colonial atmosphere – with its low-slung red-roofed houses, expansive Plaza de Armas and Gothic-Renaissance cathedral – but it began as the capital of the Inca Empire. If you need proof, look no further (literally) than the ground at your feet. When Spanish conquistadors took the city, they razed its buildings and replaced them with what we see today. But the original Inca foundations remain, making for a fascinating architectural blend.

Perhaps the city’s most distinct emblem of its Incan origins can be found at Koricancha, the Temple of the Sun. In pre-colonial days, the floors and walls of this Inca place of worship were awash in gold. Unfortunately, much of it was paid to the Spanish as ransom to save the life of Inca leader Atahualpa. Gate 1 shows you these important sites during a Cuzco city tour.

Lima, on Peru’s Pacific coast, was founded by Francisco Pizarro as the capital of the Spanish Empire. Its European ambiance makes it a delight to explore. The architectural star of the city’s main square is the Basilica Cathedral. Pizarro himself laid the first stone of this splendid neoclassical-colonial church and is buried inside. The Archbishop’s Palace is adjacent; its ornate façade features a pair of dramatic enclosed balconies.

Lima is also known for its culinary delights. Agnes Rivera, Lonely Planet Writer, describes the food scene in Lima as “hot”. “Street food superstars are keeping up gastronomical traditions that have been around for generations”, says Rivera.

The city offers up a rich gastronomy simmered in the technique and spices of all who have shaped the city: indigenous foods have been infused with Spanish flair, of course. Asian flavours were brought here with a wave of immigrants and Creole spices were introduced by Caribbean workers. Plus with Peruvian food being the flavour-of-the-month around the world right now, you’re likely to find a delicious, and popular, restaurant in Australia’s major cities these days.

To the south, the white-stone buildings of another colonial gem shimmer in the Andean sun: Arequipa. The city, nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca, or White City, was constructed from a white volcanic rock called sillar. Its bright buildings surely make for a magical visit. For a splash of colour, the Santa Catalina Monastery boasts vivid facades and the local outdoor market brims with multi-hued produce and textiles.

The astounding Nazca Lines

Mysteries of Empires

Fascinating as Peru’s colonial cities are, nothing in the western hemisphere compares to the country’s pre-colonial sites. One of its most mysterious lies in a desert far from the heights of Machu Picchu. The colossal Nazca Lines, only visible in full from the air, were drawn in the sand centuries ago. Figures of monkeys, fish, hummingbirds and lizards adorn the landscape, some of them 200 metres wide.

These massive figures on the high plateau of the Nazca Desert have puzzled scholars for generations. The mystery is not so much how they were made, but why. Many suggest a religious significance. Others believe they may have been fertility symbols or served some irrigation purpose. Or, they may have even been astronomical calendars.

Just outside Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, also known as Urubamba, holds more mystery. This fertile stretch of land, fed by the coursing waters of the Urubamba River, has hosted terraced farmland and ancient ruins for generations. Ollantaytambo is perhaps the best preserved fortress. Here, you get a truly authentic glimpse of an Inca town, thanks to its original layout, irrigation system and houses.

Nearby Chinchero holds a popular market that overflows with locals and travellers eager to find local goods and produce – such as Pima and Tanguis cotton (some of the finest in the world) or corncobs that are known to offer up the largest kernels in the world. The salt pans of Maras and the crop circles of Moray provide more insight into the agricultural tradition of this magnificent valley.

High above the valley, Machu Picchu straddles a saddleback mountain. The ancient site is accessible only by foot or by train; remarkably, the rail journey traverses as many ecological zones as you would experience on a trip from the North Pole to the equator. Upon arrival, there are 100 acres of meticulously built buildings, terraces, and stairways, all gloriously preserved. Each building was constructed with an inward inclination, a design intended to help cities withstand earthquakes. You might also see some of the 425 types of orchid that grow in and around Machu Picchu; Peru as a whole is home to 1,624 species!

Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca

Unrivaled Natural Splendour

Cultural, historic, and architectural wonders aside, Peru’s natural world is one of the most dramatic on the planet. Consider this: The mightiest river in the world flows through the northern reaches of the country, moving some 150,000 cubic meters per second through the largest forest in the world. The Amazon and its namesake river, in fact, cut such a huge swathe through the continent that they play host to the greatest variety of fauna and flora on earth, the latter of which often holds the key to curing disease.

It’s a privilege to explore this magnificent place and a thrill to experience it all from a forest lodge that we can only access by boat. Visits to riverside villages, sightings of pink dolphins and thrilling walks on rainforest trails bring all the magnificence into sharp focus. What’s more, the birdlife here is unrivalled; all told, Peru is home to some 1,700 species in total, the most of any country, and many of them take wing in the Amazon.

To the south, Lake Titicaca serves as a natural border between Peru and Bolivia. In the shadow of the Andes – the world’s longest mountain range – this unique body of water is the highest navigable lake known to man at 3,812 metres above sea level. Like the Amazon has its tribal cultures, Titicaca has the Uru people. Some members of this ancient tribe still live on floating islands, sturdy platforms they’ve woven together from the tortora reeds that grow in the lake. Entire communities exist on these islands, which were originally constructed so that tribes could escape from invaders simply by floating away.

From the highest heights to the lowest depths, another body of water, the Colca River, has carved one of the world’s deepest canyons into the Peruvian plain. At 4,160 metres, the Colca Canyon is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. But it’s not indigenous people that grab our attention here – though our spectacular drive often passes shepherds tending to their sheep. It’s the Andean condor. These rare birds ride the thermal air that rises up from the canyon floor and they are a breathtaking sight!

The Sacred Valley

Explore Peru Your Way with the Gate 1 Travel Family

No one knows Peru like Gate 1 Travel, with expert Tour Managers hailing from the very country they’re introducing you to. Their insider knowledge and connections are invaluable in ensuring you get the most from your visit, whether they’re taking you to meet locals in their homes or sharing bargaining tips with you as you explore Peru’s rich and lively markets. What’s more, our 30 years of experience in the region lets us offer you more ways to discover the magical wonders of Peru.

Discovery Tours by Gate 1 gives you the small group advantage. These feature-packed adventures are more active, allowing you to spend more time getting up close to Peru’s natural wonders. And because there are so few of us, you can spend more time lingering at the country’s most spectacular sites like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, while connecting with the locals on a more personal level. We invite you into the more intimate world of small group travel on our Peruvian Legends tour.

If it’s luxury you crave in Peru, experience the Signature Collection by Gate1 Travel. You’ll witness all the wonders of Peru in classic Gate 1 style, with a touch of elegance at deluxe accommodations. Enjoy premier first-class, five-star hotels and lodges, from the JW Marriott to a beautifully restored monastery, each offering the perfect balance of comfort, service and ambiance, and savour the finest cuisine, locally sourced and meticulously prepared. So go ahead … pamper yourself with our Deluxe Peru itinerary.

Join Gate 1 Travel in Peru!

If you thought Machu Picchu was the only reason to visit Peru, think again. From rich cultural centres, to remarkable Inca sites and breathtaking natural spectacles, there are endless wonders to explore. And many ways to explore them! Best of all, Gate 1 Travel introduces you to this rewarding region in the most affordable way.

Learn more about our value-packed Peru tours here. Then call us if you have any questions!

Gate 1 Travel Tour Manager Albano Garibaldi
Latin AmericaRegions

Local Foodie Tips For South America

Albano Garibaldi has been a Tour Manager with Gate 1 for over 4 years, and one of the things he loves to share most with our travellers is where to find delicious food and enjoy local dining experiences.

“Travellers to South America are often surprised by the beauty and diversity of our landscapes, the way we care about our environment and how much we love our food! Gate 1 visitors are also pleasantly surprised by the quality of hotels and their great locations, as well as the restaurants where we offer our included meals.

Local cuisines are such an important part of each country’s culture and the history and geography are reflected in our regional specialities. I love Patagonian lamb, the tropical fruits of Brazil, Chilean fish, seafood and ceviche, but above all my favourite is the traditional ‘asado’ of Argentina. This barbeque is not simply a way of cooking the meat, it is a kind of ceremony that everyone must experience at least once in their life.

Similarly, no one should leave Buenos Aires without stopping at Cafe Tortoni. It’s the city’s oldest cafe that has witnessed many great moments, felt like a friend for famous writers and inspired music composers. I highly recommend coffee cortado (with a little milk) and the mouthwatering churros with our traditional dulce de leche!”

When’s the best time to visit South America?

“I consider the best time to travel to South America is end of spring (November/December) and the beginning of autumn (March/April). The temperature is mostly nice and mild and also the main tourist destinations are likely to be less crowded than you’ll find in the summer months.”

From the summit of Rio’s famous Corcovado Mountain, to miraculous Machu Picchu, South America is a continent packed with astounding sights and unforgettable highlights! Take the journey with Gate 1 Travel for your choice of escorted tours or independent packages.

Mexico City
Latin AmericaRegions

10 Things You Might Not Know About Mexico City

A major cultural Renaissance is overtaking Mexico City, Mexico’s unsung capital. Public spaces have been revitalised. Mexican cuisine is gaining international recognition. Innumerable museums celebrate its long history and burgeoning arts and culture. And traditional cantinas are opening their doors with a warm welcome.

It is a surprising city in so many ways, with the magnificent historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at its heart. We invite you to uncover some of its countless surprises in a small group with Gate 1’s Discovery Tours.

  • 1. The major cultural centre of Mexico, Mexico City is home to 160 museums, the greatest metropolitan concentration in the world. More than 100 art galleries and 30 concert halls host a vibrant arts scene.
  • 2. Mexico City’s setting is stunning. It rests at an altitude of 2,240 metres (7,350 feet), on a high plateau in the Valley of Mexico. Dramatic mountains encircle the city, which lies at the geographic centre of the nation.
  • 3. No city, not even those in Spain, is home to more Spanish-speaking residents.
  • 4. It is the oldest capital city in the Americas, founded as Tenochtitlan on an island in Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325. When the Spanish arrived in 1519, it was the largest capital in the world.
  • 5. Teotihuacán was the political and social capital of Mesoamerica before the Aztecs arrived. The twelve-square-kilometre city, built between 100 BC and 250 AD and preserved today as historic ruins, is home to the second largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramid of the Sun.
  • 6. In the mid-19th century, Austrian Maximilian I ruled the Mexican Empire. Today’s Paseo de la Reforma, the long and elegant boulevard lined with embassies and monuments, was fashioned by him after the Champs Élysées in Paris.
  • 7. The capital’s enormous zócalo, or main square, is the second largest in the world after Moscow’s Red Square.
  • 8. The magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, was built upon the ruins of a major Aztec temple.
  • 9. The modern-designed National Museum of Anthropology is home to the Aztec Calendar Stone. A 24-ton circular stone more than 3 metres in diameter. The most recognised piece of Aztec sculpture, it is believed to have been carved around the turn of the 16th century to serve a religious or political purpose, or to simply track the passing of days, weeks and months.
  • 10. The splendid murals within the 17th-century National Palace were painted by renowned Mexican painter Diego Rivera. They depict Mexican civilisation from its ancient Aztec origins to its post-revolutionary period and took the artist 22 years to complete.
Tiwanaku ruins of Bolivia
Latin America

Bolivia: Straddling Past and Future

Deep in the historic centre of La Paz, Bolivia’s bustling and thriving capital, the Mercado de Brujas, or the Witchcraft Market, clings to centuries-old traditions. Its herbal tea infusions, coca leaves and colourful alpaca jumpers place it on par with many other Andean marketplace. But closer inspection reveals the more peculiar items that have helped to give this unusual emporium its name.

Dried toucan beaks and snake skins might help the buyer cast spells. And sullus, dried llama fetuses, can be purchased as traditional offerings to the earth goddess Pachamama. There’s a reason this most unusual of markets still thrives after centuries of calming the spirits. Bolivia, though moving ever-forward into the 21st century, holds fast to the history and traditions that have helped shape its cultural identity.

People of the Gods

Though Bolivia has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years, the first society emerged here with the arrival of the Aymara people in 1500 BC. By 300 AD, these settlers had grown into a regional powerhouse as the Tiwanaku Empire. Because they had cornered the llama market and controlled the flow of food trade, they were able to bring dozens of indigenous cultures under their rule. Its capital city, also named Tiwanaku, was home to 30,000 people at its peak.

You may still see evidence of that era’s grandeur in La Paz, where an open-air museum reveals some of the highlights of the Tiwanaku. Chief among these is the 10-ton Gate of the Sun, an impressive arch carved from a single slab of stone and etched with condor heads and the mythic Lord of the Walking Sticks. Here, it’s easy to sense one of the earliest expressions of Bolivia’s belief in the spirit world. But even as Tiwanaku fell, otherworldly beings maintained their influence.

In the late 14th century, the Incas wrestled control of the region away from the Aymara and Bolivia became part of the Incan Empire. Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca is perhaps the most memorable place to soak up the spell of that time. Crossing the shimmering water by boat to the Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun), you can discover the spot where, according to Inca legend, the creator of the universe rose from the lake and threw the sun into the heavens. The island, unpaved and wild, remains dotted with mysterious pre-Columbian ruins to this day.

Colonial Highs & Lows

The Inca period didn’t last long. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century led to a European-style building boom, as salt and silver mining yielded great wealth. The epicentre of the Spanish heyday was Potosi, perched at 13,400 feet above sea level. At one point, Potosi produced 60% of the world’s silver, had its own mint and boasted 200,000 residents. A saying that spread across South America spoke to the growing city’s prosperity: “to be worth a Potosí” meant to really be worth something. Seeing its grand churches and ornate colonial architecture now, it’s easy to imagine the era. The same may be said of elegant Sucre, Bolivia’s original capital city. Here, all buildings are whitewashed by government decree and stone patios call to mind the architecture of Catalan.

Sadly, the wealth of Potosi and Sucre flowed only into the coffers of Spain and Spanish descendants. Indigenous people reaped no wealth from the fruits of their land. You might think the brujas from the Witchcraft Market would have cast an evil spell on the colonialists. Instead, the indigenous people turned to Simon Bolivar, the American revolutionary who led the battle for independence in 1825. Their sovereignty won, the people named the country for their national hero. In Sucre, the 17th-century Liberty House preserves the signed independence documents which you can still view today. As for Bolivar, he didn’t stay – the newly free people offered him the presidency, but he was already president of Colombia.

Bolivian Tradition Lives On

Today, Bolivia is a democratic republic, ruled by its first-ever indigenous President, Evo Morales. As you can tell from its Witchcraft Market, the nation continues to embrace its many cultures. Thirty-six languages are officially spoken here. Other traditional goods are on display in the village markets of Candelaria and Tarabuco.

In a small group, we can fully experience the singular story of Bolivia, from remote ruins and witches’ stalls to colonial-flavoured towns and modern cities. Explore the cultural and historic wonders of Bolivia during our Bolivia & Peru: Andean & Amazonian Culture trip.

Cuzco women
Latin America

The Other Side of Peru

Andean Vistas, Unspoiled Cultures & Seldom-Seen Ruins

Snow-capped Andean peaks scrape at the sky. A patchwork of chequered farmland – neat squares of emeralds, olives and browns – stretches over vast valleys, then climb hillsides to altiplano plateaus. Pristine alpine streams race through fields. There is something ethereal at work in the tranquil countryside of Peru. And once you lay your eyes on such sublime beauty, it may come as no surprise that in the religion of the ancient Inca (and many of their modern-day descendants), these forces of nature – mountains and streams and valleys – are revered as apus, or spirits.

For today’s traveller, the most profound way to get in touch with the Inca’s spiritual side is to venture beyond the typical sites and head deeper into this unspoiled country. Don’t get us wrong – we know that no trip to Peru is complete without explorations of Machu Picchu and the Incan capital of Cusco, and we’re sure to bring you to these magnificent places. But behind these cultural treasures, away from the well-trodden tourist paths, another side of Peru beckons… a side embraced by apus, and graced by a history rich in colonial and indigenous heritage.

Behold a Gleaming City of White
The southern outpost of Arequipa is the perfect starting point for deeper Peruvian explorations. Its geographic isolation has allowed it to evolve with little outside influence; today, the city remains a unique and fascinating mix of Spanish and indigenous descendants. In fact, when UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on Arequipa, it called the city’s historic centre “a masterpiece of the European creative coalition and native characteristics.”

This praise owes much to the beauty of the city’s architecture. Its pearl-white colonial buildings gleam in the Peruvian sun; Spaniards built their city from the sillar – cream-colored volcanic rock – that carved this Andean region over millennia. The striking cityscape has earned Arequipa the nickname, “Ciudad Blanca,” or White City. You can almost imagine that its buildings literally rose out of the earthen rock.

From the Depths of Colca Canyon to the Heights of Lake Titicaca
The landscape surrounding Arequipa, formed by a string of 80 volcanoes and epic tectonic shifts, is at once peaceful and dramatic. Andean peaks are everywhere, as we’ll discover during magnificent drives past pre-Inca farming terraces that climb fertile slopes. But one of our most memorable stops won’t have you looking up at mountains, but down into the yawning crevice of the Colca Canyon. This impressive crag in the earth is more than twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon; its walls, though not as steep, drop 13,650 feet from the rim. We keep our eyes open for the Andean condor as it rides air currents wafting up from the canyon floor.

Our route traverses the beauty of southeastern Peru. It’s not uncommon to come across shepherds herding their sheep or alpacas across these immense plains. It is a classic Peruvian tableau, despite that the horses they ride are not Peruvian at all, but were brought here by the Spanish. But on the lake known as Lagunillas, plenty of indigenous flora and birdlife hug the shores – no imports here! It is a startling pool of blue amidst a solitary landscape.

Despite Lagunillas’ undeniable beauty, another body of water captures our interest, the highest navigable lake in the world: Lake Titicaca, which straddles the Peruvian and Bolivian border. The small city of Puno is our base for exploring the home of the legendary Uros people, a resourceful tribe that centuries ago built vast rafts from the lake’s tough totora reeds so they could escape the wrath of an approaching enemy. On their newly made flotilla-homes, they cast off from shore to avoid decimation. As threats grew on other shores, they simply relocated their Islas Flotantes, or Floating Islands, to another part of the massive lake. The Uros were eventually conquered by the Inca, but their reed-island cultures survived. Today, they no longer have reason to move around like lake nomads. The threat of marauding tribes is gone, yet 44 of their islands – a rich and revered part of their heritage and lifestyle – remain.

Beyond Machu Picchu: Uncovering an Ancient Past
Near Puno, the fascinating Peruvian burial site of Sillustani comes into view amidst a barren landscape. It might at first appear to be a series of smokestacks. But these stone towers were actually funereal chambers for elite members of the Aymara people. An entire family was placed into each tower, called “uta Amaya,” or “houses of the soul” by the Aymara. Openings on the tombs all faced east, where the sun was reborn each day. The more remarkable features of Sillustani are the carved stones that comprise each tower. With their cut rectangular edges and uniform size, the craftsmanship behind them is considered more complex than that used by the Inca, even though the Aymara pre-dated them.

Of course, the Inca were brilliant engineers too, as we see at the seldom-visited complex of Raqchi, one of holiest sites in the Inca Empire. This temple was enormous, more than 25,000 square feet and covered by what was perhaps the largest single roof of the empire. Priests lived in adjoining quarters, and 100 round granary houses held corn and quinoa that were likely used in ceremonies. Incas worshipped here by the thousands.

We can be thankful that even the conquistadors saw Raqchi fit to at least partially preserve. But the contributions of the Spanish throughout Peru are also breathtaking. Off the beaten path, 30 miles from Cusco, the 17th-century church of Andahuaylillas stands as testament to their artistic and religious heritage. Don’t be fooled by the nondescript exterior of this cathedral. Inside, the artwork is dazzling. A rich mix of red and gold hues surrounds a gilded altar. Its painted ceilings and frescoed walls have inspired some to compare this church to the Sistine Chapel.

Untouched cultures … spectacular natural beauty … little-known pockets of rich history. This is the other side of Peru, and our small groups allow unfettered access to its glories. Read more about our Peruvian Legends tour and our Bolivia & Peru: Andean & Amazonian Culture tour, and call to find out more today!