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True Peru: pet llamas and roasted guinea pigs

12:00 AEST Fri Nov 11 2011
Colca Canyon in the south of Peru is twice as deep as the United States' Grand Canyon. The colourful Andean Colca Valley has pre-Inca roots and towns founded 1500 years ago in Spanish colonial times are still inhabited by people of the Collagua and Cabana cultures. They maintain ancestral traditions and cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces, one of the world's most intensely terraced landscapes.

Most tourists understandably head to Machu Picchu or Lake Titicaca, so the Intrepid Travel off-the-beaten-track tour Jules joined was blissfully non-touristy. Roads have been improved to make the Canyon easily accessible.

The tour was all about scenery, wildlife and spotting the giant Andean condor. They are the largest flying land birds in the western hemisphere with wingspans measuring up to 3.2 metres.

The majestic large black vultures have a ruff of white feathers at the base of their necks and white patches on the wings. They are scavengers, feeding on deer or cattle carcasses.

They like to nest at elevations of 5000 metres or higher, and carefully select inaccessible rock ledges. They enjoy a lifespan of up to 100 years.

The Andean Condor is the national symbol of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador and plays an important role in folklore and mythology. Sadly, they are a threatened species and breeding programs have been instituted in several countries.

Cruz del Condor is a popular stop to view the birds, soaring on rising thermals. They are best seen in the early morning or late afternoon when they are out hunting.

Part of the Intrepid Tour is a home stay — surely the best way to enjoy an authentic cultural experience.

Jules stayed with a family in the little town of Chivay. It has a central town square and a busy marketplace where Jules purchased a gift for his host family. He bought them a llama — as you do!

Homes are not luxurious, but hosts are very welcoming and proud to have visitors sharing their homes and traditions.

When it comes to meal time, be prepared to be served roasted guinea pig, but before you tuck in, there is an important tradition. Making payment to Pachamama to ask that their visitors are kept safe.

The open armed figure of the Pachamama volcano is an ancient symbol in Peru. She is the Earth Mother, source of all life and generous provider to the indigenous people of the Andes.

There are thermal springs and heated pools just out of town. They are reached by crossing a stone Inca bridge crossing the Colca River. If you forgot to pack your bathers, don't worry. They sell them at the markets.


Travellers can fly from Lima to Arequipa and travel from there to Colca Canyon. It is a full day's drive.


Intrepid Travel has 21-day tours of Peru departing Lima for $3400 per person twin share. They include a homestay, trip to Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu, all accommodation, some meals and activities, ground transport, internal flights and an English-speaking guide.

LAN Airlines has flights to Lima via Santiago from:

  • Sydney $2631
  • Melbourne $2756
  • Brisbane $2757
  • Adelaide $2967
  • Perth $3157

Fares are return and are valid for travel between February 2 and November 30, 2012.

Conditions apply.

Prices correct at November 12, 2011.

For further information

LAN Airlines
Ph: 1800 558 129

Intrepid Travel
Ph: 1300 018 871

Visa: Australians do not require a visa to enter Peru. They do need a passport and return ticket.

Electricity: 220V, 60Hz using plugs with two flat prongs.

Time zone: GMT -5 hours.

Currency: The sol.

Telephone code: +51.

It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for areas you will be visiting. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit and

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