A Look Inside ISA Cusco Excursions 

Latin America Site Specialist Alan Thompson visited Cusco and Lima and experienced student excursions firsthand. Read about his experience below.

Arequipa's Plaza de Armas
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas

Architecturally Amazing: Arequipa  

Also known as “The White City”, Arequipa is best known for its historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, constructed from volcanic rock known as sillar. I walked along cobblestone streets and absorbed the city’s history from a local guide. Then I contemplated the majestic Basilica Catedral, which stretches the length of the Plaza de Armas. The optional excursion also includes a visit to the Museo Santuarios Andinos and the famous Monasterio de Santa Catalina. I watched the sunset from the sillar arches of the Yanahuara Lookout and had a perfect view of the Misti Volcano. That’s when I met a family who insisted I try queso helado, a yellow ice cream made from sweet and condensed milk, cinnamon and coconut. Students will also take a cooking class in Arequipa, which is known for dishes with a kick such as rocoto relleno, a stuffed pepper.

Check out ISA student Natasha Pate’s blog, A Weekend in Arequipa, to learn about her experience.

Culturally Captivating: Puno & Lake Titicaca  

After arriving to Puno, about 12,500 feet above sea level, I stepped on the boat and gazed upon Lake Titicaca. The first stop was to visit Los Uros, the indigenous people who greet you with enthusiastic waves. I stepped off the boat onto a small island where two families lived. We learned how Los Uros use totora reeds to build their homes, fishing boats, and keep the island itself afloat by continually placing reeds atop one another.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca

Upon arriving to the island of Amantaní, I was greeted by the family who’d be hosting my new friends and I that night. I then trekked with the guide and others to Pachamama, the highest point of the island. Both the hike and the views were equally breathtaking, but the seemingly never-ending panoramic blue water made it more than worthwhile. I took a minute to catch my breath–I was, after all, on the highest navigable lake in the world. That night the family took us to the dance hall, where we enjoyed typical music and danced with the locals. The following day, we visited the traditional island of Taquile, where we hiked, enjoyed trout for lunch and learned that the men of the island knit while the women weave. While many handmade garments are for sale, one thing that can’t be purchased is the colorful belt, only worn by the men of Taquile.

View ISA student Tim Hofmeister’s blog, Snapshots of Nature: Lake Titicaca.

ISA excursion to the island of Amantaní.
New friends and I were invited to dance with locals on the island of Amantaní.

Historically Significant: The Sacred Valley

Pisac, Peru
The picturesque Inca village of Pisac

I was also fortunate enough to visit an increasingly popular tourist destination—The Sacred Valley, which is home to charming Peruvian villages and archaeological mystery. After feeding alpacas, llamas, vicuñas and guanacos, I contemplated the Inca citadel of Pisac and impressive mountain landscapes before making my way to Machu Picchu. Upon my return, I walked down the Inca-laid stone streets of Ollantaytambo before visiting archaeological sites Moray and the ruins in Chincheros. I learned more than history; I met local weavers who showed me their handicrafts, I tried choclo and even made some Peruvian friends.

The archaeological ruins of Moray.
The archaeological ruins of Moray.

Surprisingly Reflective: Machu Picchu

Many students choose to study in Cusco because they want to visit Machu Picchu, which was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The famous Inca ruins were also on my bucket list, so I decided to make the trip, too. Once I heard that up to 5,000 people visit Machu Picchu each day during the busy season, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make the experience my own. After taking the train from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes, I rested the night before because I wanted to have plenty of energy for the following morning, when I took a bus to the entry of the ruins. As the local guide explained the history of Machu Picchu, I marveled at the Inca-cut and laid stone foundations that have successfully weathered many earthquakes over the years, a testament to the architectural genius of the Inca.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

After the guided tour, I was able to freely explore the ruins, and I walked to the Inca Bridge. While you can’t cross the bridge, I was able to make new friends along the way and take in some incredible views of the Peruvian landscape. ISA Cusco students can hike to Huayna Picchu, from where they can observe the Temple of the Moon. Students also have the chance to visit the Mandor Waterfalls and garden. Before departing Machu Picchu, I found a place to sit and simply reflect upon the experience, which was one of the highlights of my trip.

Incredibly Biodiverse: Puerto Maldonado

While I didn’t make it to Puerto Maldonado, past ISA students have added this excursion due to its firsthand look at Peru’s biodiversity. Students will visit the Tambopata-Candamo Reserve in the Madre de Dios department, which is considered the entrance to the southern Amazon jungle. This excursion also includes visits to Monkey Island and piranha habitat Sandoval Lake, the opportunity to kayak and canopy walk across the Madre de Dios River and the chance to observe endemic species such as alligators, butterflies, monkeys and parrots.

Read ISA student Maya Bingaman’s post Tips to be an Ethical Traveler before you venture to the Amazon.

Puerto Maldonado
ISA students on a jungle cruise in Puerto Maldonado. Photo by ISA alum Matthew Wunderlich

Experiencing ISA Cusco’s excursions firsthand gave me an inside look to Peru’s culture, traditions and natural beauty. Now it’s your turn!


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