Peru has a whole lot more going for it than Machu Picchu. Here are three more Peru UNESCO sites you should visit: watch a knitting extravaganza, fly above an astronaut, and see a mummy frozen in time!
1. Textiles on the Island of Taquile, Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca borders both Peru and Bolivia, high in the Peruvian Andes. On the Peruvian side you’ll likely stay on shore in Puno; which can best be described as a handy base.
Tourist and local boats run from Puno to many of the Lake Titicaca islands. For an authentic (if slower and not exactly luxurious) experience, consider the locals’ boat to Taquile island – simply head to the dock to catch it.
Taquile is a picture of serenity, albeit with a growing tourist trade. No roads, no cars, a couple of boat-landing points, and tiny simple houses and farmsteads dotting the slopes of the walkable island. You’ll want decent shoes to do so, but for some here shoes are a luxury – you’ll see kids and adults alike going barefoot, even at this altitude.
Culturally, Taquile is a fascinating place, especially for textile-lovers, and it’s this which has given its status as one of the Peru UNESCO sites. Unlike in Cuzco, locals wear their traditional dress for themselves, not for the tourist dollar. Men knit their own fine hats, and you’ll see boys and men wandering with knitting needles and wool in hand.
The craftsmanship of the knitted hats incredibly intricate, and the boat captain explained to me that the design of the hat signifies the wearers’ marital status – red patterned the whole way means they are married; red patterned part way then plain white means they are not. Mr Captain was very much a confirmed bachelor.
What to expect on the boat? You’ll be sharing your hard wooden seat with the island’s supplies of toilet paper and rice. Lap it up. However, you’ll also get a flavour of what life here is really like, and that reality-check in itself is worth a bit of a numb bum.
Reality check on the boat to Taquile, Peru UNESCO site
Here we go: the passenger inventory. Me, fellow visitors and a few other locals all dutifully filled out our details and signed our names.
Not for everyone though, as the captain made the rounds of many passengers, interrupting their yarn-spinning to ask their names; before carefully noting them down on the manifesto.
It dawned on me why – not everyone here has had the privilege of an education; and the ability to read and write is one not all islanders are blessed with. A scribbled “x” was the norm in lieu of a signature.
That said, Taquile is becoming more used to tourism; and the positives and negatives that brings. If you’d like more than a couple of hours there, homestays can be arranged. Don’t forget to buy a hat.
Whilst staying in Puno, you can also check out
- The (very) touristy but worth-a-visit floating Uros islands
- The Yavari – a boat manufactured in Birmingham (UK) in the 1860s, transported to the South American coast in pieces, and then transported to Lake Titicaca by mules and on foot!
- The ancient pre-Incan funerary towers of Cutimbo, way out in the altiplano (catch a locals’ combi van to get there)
- The tranquil Templo de la Fertilidad a few miles from Puno in Chucuito – a lot of phallic objects as an aid (allegedly) to help the local ladies fall pregnant
Top Puno tip: get a room with heating. Even if you’re on a tight budget, splash the cash. Trust me. At a toe-freezing 13,000+ feet above sea level, Puno is decidedly chilly at night.
2. The Nazca Lines
Nazca is a place surrounded by mystery, with miles of desert plains devoted to mammoth geoglyphs dating back 1500 years and more; preserved by the dry climate.
Who decided to make these testimonies to living creatures and plant-life in the harsh desert landscape? Why? And how did their creators make shapes so enormous, accurate and spellbinding without the benefit of aircraft or satellites? No wonder they’re another Peru UNESCO site.
Anywhere in Nazca can book you a flight over the lines, and you’ll depart from the local airfield in a teensy plane at dawn.
If you’re of weak stomach, don’t have breakfast if you’re flying over the Nazca lines. Actually, even if you’re not of weak stomach, don’t have breakfast.
As the sun comes up over the horizon, the dawn light gives the murals an even more mysterious air. A monkey, a frog, birds, a tree and even – with some imagination – an astronaut. That question again … why?
I’d love to tell you how I marvelled at the mysteries of the desert as my pilot navigated his way around the desert during the 30-minute flight, determined to give me and my three co-passengers the best photo-opportunities of the lines by banking left and right. Sadly, though, I was too busy being sick.
Fortunately, plastic bags are provided, and friendly local ladies will bring you around upon landing, with smelling salts that helpfully appear – as if from nowhere – under your nose.
Nazca’s museum (“why” theories abound), ancient aquaducts, a lively market and plaza-bingo are other reasons to stick around Nazca for a couple of days. And the climate – welcome warmth after chilly Andean nights.
3. The city of Arequipa
Arequipa is a “mere” 6,000 or so feet above sea level. Surrounded by towering volcanoes, it’s a city famed for its white buildings and its Incan mummies. The former have given Arequipa its Peru UNESCO site status, the latter you can see preserved from ancient rituals by the snow-clad volcanic peaks. I’m not kidding, check out Juanita the mummy in the Santuarios Andinos Museum.
For me though, Arequipa is best remembered for the Monasterio (Convento) de Santa Catalina, a complex of colourful buildings and courtyards; and a paradise for snap-happy visitors that will keep you amused for several hours.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story …
These are just three of the many Peruvian UNESCO World Heritage sites. Pack an open mind and a healthy sense of adventure, and you’ll come away with memories that will last a lifetime.