The Peruvian Andes just have their own unique flavour that I’m not sure any other mountain range in the world has. From the valleys to the highlands and the snow capped peaks, the diversity is simply immense in such a relatively small area.
What is so great though is there is still so much more depth to the region. Combine those landscapes with the strong native culture that still exists, the beliefs and mysticism that comes with that culture, and the history from the Inca and pre-Inca civilisations found throughout the area — and you have a fascinating place to explore on so many different levels.
I have been working with Andean Photo Expeditions for over a year. It’s funny how things work out. I fell into this after a chance meeting. I got chatting with a stranger on the plane on my first visit to Peru. It turned out that stranger had a friend who had started this company in photo tours which led me to meet one of the owners: Dan.
Dan invited me to come and try one of the tours to which I jumped at the chance. I found myself spending a night in a remote Andean village with a family in their home. I carried on travelling throughout more of South America but with an imminent return to the UK looming, I was desperately searching for a way to stay away and live somewhere else.
This opportunity presented itself in the form of a message from Dan out of the blue. One day he invited me to come and work for him in Cusco and one month later I was there. At Andean Photo Expeditions we focus on photo tours here in Peru. We have developed some close relationships with local people in both the Andes and the Amazon.
These people welcome us to have an insight into their lives, to spend time with them, learn about them and photograph them. We pride ourselves in giving people a taste of the real Peru. There’s so much more than the regular tourist sites.
3 Amazing Destinations in the Peruvian Andes
Many places are special in the Peruvian Andes for different reasons. One of the places I return to regularly is Ausangate. This is one of the great mountains in the Cusco region where there is an awesome village at the base of the mountain called Pacchanta. The landscapes are incredible.
I spend a lot of time in the village of Pacchanta, close to the mountain Ausangate. Here you will find some great places to explore and as an added bonus there are natural thermal springs in the middle of the village!
I’ve been lucky to make some friends here too, despite the language barrier. It’s a nice feeling to be out for a walk and bump into a Andean lady who lights up at the sight of me and starts chatting happily in Quechua. I have no idea what she is saying but it’s always the warmest of greetings and joined with a big hug.
The Calca area of the Sacred Valley is special to me too. I have some dear friends in one of the villages close by who I visit regularly. I have had the pleasure to spend time with them, watch the children grow up and be a real part of the family over the last year.
It’s something really special for me to spend time with them, hang out with the kids (4 sons and a daughter so it’s always a bit crazy!) and learn about the Andean way of life from the father of the family.
I would have to mention the Paccoyo area as well! This place is becoming popular for its rainbow mountains as an alternative to the traditional rainbow mountain. But it’s actually the area leading to those mountains and the community that win my heart.
There are so many places in the Andes that could be described as “idyllic” and this is a prime example. The valley leading toward the community has this perfect, tranquil, unspoiled beauty. You have to drive slowly because it’s a regular occurrence to find a herd of llamas just hanging in the middle of the road.
Up the mountainside you will also see a couple of local ladies in their colourful clothes relaxing by the river in the shade of the eucalyptus trees. When you get to the community itself the people are extremely friendly. It’s all waves and smiles as you drive through. I find that it’s always a pleasure to visit.
Recalling some Great Peruvian Adventures
I have many great stories about exploring and photographing but probably my favourite adventure to date happened quite recently. I have a habit of spotting glacial lakes on maps and then going on missions to find them. This particular jaunt was exactly that. I let a buddy of mine into my idea and he was up for doing it.
I jumped on the back of his motorcycle and we went off in search of this lake without any real planning or idea of where we were going. There were many times on the journey that we really thought we wouldn’t make it to the lake, but neither of us wanted to give in so we kept pushing forward.
The road led us from high Andes down to high jungle and back up again. We found ourselves riding through valleys on roads we had no idea existed. We rode into thick fog where we could barely see a few metres in front and kept going in the vague direction we knew the lake was in until there was no road left. When there was no road left we took our things and walked.
Anyway long story short the adventure culminated in an early morning to get to the lake we were searching for. We scrambled up a high ridge overlooking it and watched maybe the most beautiful sunrise I have seen.
There was a thick ocean of cloud below us that rose from the jungle at the bottom of the valley. This cloud gave the lake the most ethereal feel as if it were this strange floating rocky bowl of glacial water, disconnected from the land below. I think what made this experience so unique was the combination of uncertainty and pay-off.
For a good adventure you should never go into it knowing what the outcome will be, otherwise it isn’t a real adventure! The true experience lies in the uncertainty of how things will end. Sometimes that leads to it not quite working out, those are called misadventures! But when it does all come together perfectly the reward is unparalleled.
The Best Mountain Ranges in the Peruvian Andes
I love the Vilcanota range of mountains in the Peruvian Andes. There are so many great places to hike and explore and so many beautiful glacial lakes around. It’s also easy enough to get to remote places that no tourists go!
Actually, I make a point to not share any great secret locations in Peru. If I go to an unknown spot and post the image on Instagram I deliberately don’t tag location or publicly share how to get there. It’s a tough one though.
I am constantly torn as I can see the benefit tourism could bring to a small village and the economy. But, at the same time, I want to preserve places from getting too crowded (see rainbow mountain and Laguna Humantay). I think there is a very fine line between respectful tourism that benefits and overcrowding that spoils an otherwise incredible location.
If there is one kind of secret spot I could share though it’s one I visited recently. There is an Inca ruin close to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley called Perolniyoc. It is a site built on top of a waterfall and is completely amazing! It’s easily accessible (you can almost drive right to the base of the site) and you’re guaranteed there will be almost nobody else there!
Getting to Know the Amazing Andean People
I have a very special place in my heart for the Andean people. It is a culture strongly connected with the earth and the natural surroundings. The people of the Andes are usually pretty quiet and stoic. People of few words but they mean what they say.
It’s a tough life when you live in some harsh environments. The people in the mountains are incredibly strong. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a little old lady walking miles uphill on little dirt trails carrying a load on her back bigger than she is. Often she will have nothing on her feet but the simple rubber sandals that are typical here.
I mention the Andean people specifically as these are the people I spend most time with. But it’s important to note that Peru has a huge diversity of people. The jungle alone has many different areas and people in those places, all who differ from one another. I think the main point is Peru is so richly diverse in everything!
As I mentioned before I am very close with a family in the Sacred Valley. They are wonderful people and I feel very lucky to be a part of their lives.
What you Need to Know Before you Visit
I think the main thing to know is that there is so much more than just Machu Picchu. I meet a lot of people who only schedule 3 days in Cusco. They come, do Machu Picchu and leave. Often by the end they realise how much more there is and wish they had allowed more time in the area.
So my recommendation is to allow more time to really get to know the Peruvian Andes. There is so much to delve into, places to explore and culture to learn about.
Another tip would be to research tour operators first if you are looking to do some tours. There are a lot of operators in the streets of Cusco selling the same products as everyone else. You can find some cowboys around so to avoid getting caught in a bad or unsafe tour definitely do the research, check reviews and make reservations beforehand.
Thanks for reading and I hope my guide to the Peruvian Andes has inspired you to visit Peru one day!