The Great Outdoors of Peru

Evan Clark is a student at the University of Louisville. He is an ISA Featured Blogger and studied abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.

When I arrived in Cusco, Peru, I looked forward to seeing the diverse natural landscapes of the country, but I had a greater desire to visit the ancient Inca and pre-Inca sites that had fascinated me for years.  Nevertheless, just as I relished my visits to the historical sites of the Peruvian Andes, I gained a deep appreciation for the unique natural sites that stretch across Peru and range from humid jungles to chilly mountains.  In many ways, Peru’s landscapes surpassed all of my expectations through their beauty and diversity.  For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the island of Amantaní in Lake Titicaca boasts two majestic mountains that tower above the pristine lake waters below.  I had assumed that such an island in the middle of the lake would be much flatter than it was.  Instead, I was greeted with a stunning view of most of the lake on top of the island’s mountains, and I could even see the peaks of Bolivia piercing the sky in the distance.  Needless to say, the sunrise from the top of the mountain Pachatata was the most breathtaking I have seen.

This picturesque sunrise over Lake Titicaca was one of the highlights of my trip to Peru.  I was able to enjoy the sunrise after hiking to the top of the Pachatata mountain peak on the island of Amantaní.

Another wonderful natural site in Peru awaited me outside of the Andean region where I spent the lion’s share of my time abroad.  The rainforest around Puerto Maldonado offered a trove of flora and fauna, from parrots to otters and capybaras to tarantulas.  I had never seen a capybara before, and I had rarely, if ever, seen live tarantulas.  Thus, my excursion to Puerto Maldonado served as my first up-close exposure to a wide variety of tropical animals and plants.  For example, I had the unique opportunity to watch capuchin monkeys catch food from other students and even wrest a package of crackers from one member of my ISA group.  At Lake Sandoval, which was once an arm of the Madre de Dios River, I saw a plethora of aguaje palm trees that have adapted to the environmental conditions of the lake.  By the time my trip to the rainforest was over, I had stood next to a termite nest, watched an alligator from afar, and spotted a baby tarantula crawl back into its shelter.

These fascinating palm trees have adapted to the swamp-like waters of Lake Sandoval near the Madre de Dios River.  The lush vegetation around the lake offers a taste of the diverse flora and fauna of the rainforest around the city of Puerto Maldonado.

Even near Cusco and Machu Picchu, the natural beauty of Peru shone through the extensive built environment of pre-Inca through contemporary sites.  By traveling into the mountains in the rural areas outside of Cusco, I passed a geological fault on a hike that took me along a range of imposing cliffs.  At Machu Picchu, I found the mountains to the sides of the celebrated Inca site to be just as unique and awe-inspiring as those seen in standard photographs of the location.  In every stretch of my excursions, Peru never failed to impress me with its boundless natural wonder.  Thanks to my study abroad, I now consider Peru’s fascinating natural sites to be equal to any of its historical sites, for its marvelous landscapes are key to Peru’s renown as a study abroad destination.

These mountains to the side of Machu Picchu appear to rise up out of the clouds that surrounded Machu Picchu the day I visited it.  Although this view of the landscape around the celebrated archaeological site is not particularly celebrated, it excellently demonstrates the natural beauty of the Peruvian Andes.

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