Dave and Ann Brierley travelled to Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos
At Mindo Cloudforest Reserve, the peace was only broken by the buzzing of the birds' wings
'This is it!' I thought as our plane began to land at Cuzco airport. But our touchdown had been aborted and we climbed back up into the clear Peruvian sky. Below stretched the snow-capped Andes, hill-top villages and lush valleys. Pretty, but to my relief we circled, made another attempt and, this time, landed.
Cuzco sits at 3,395 m (11,138 ft). After acclimatising under the watchful eye of our guide Silvia (with the help of copious cups of coca tea), we set off to tour Cuzco and the surrounding area: the Sun Temple, the Plaza de Armas; the Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman; the huge stone carved with etchings at Qenqo. Next, the Sacred Valley, then a train journey along the mighty Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu. We explored these unique ruins with our guide, watched over by the foreboding peak of Huayna Picchu.
Back in Cuzco we boarded the Andean Explorer train to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, where we explored by boat. First, the floating Uros Islands, then Taquile Island, where we had lunch with a local family.
Now, the second leg of our journey: Ecuador. From our colonial hotel in Quito’s UNESCO-listed Old Town, we could easily access the landmarks — helped by our knowledgeable guide Antonio. From Quito we’d planned two quite different day trips. On the first we headed north, leaving for Mindo Cloudforest Reserve, home to 400 species of bird. At the butterfly breeding station, we watched as pupae turned into adults; at the hummingbird garden, the peace was only broken by the buzzing of the birds’ wings.
Excursion two took us to Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, keeping a look out for the rare species that live here, including the Andean condor, puma and spectacled bear. Mainland Ecuador was a revelation, but the third — and final — leg was perhaps the most mouth-watering. After a short flight, we landed on the Galapagos Islands, where we were whisked aboard the MY Flamingo I, a ship equipped with all the necessities for a week’s cruise around the archipelago.
We sailed to the islands, venturing ashore — either by dry or wet landing — from reliable pangas (small motorboats), captained by the skilful crew. The islands are a living laboratory of evolution, with many endemic animals that have no fear of man. We saw great land tortoises, watched marine and land iguanas, and witnessed the courtship display of blue-footed boobies. We also donned wetsuits to explore the islands’ undersea world and swam with sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, white-tipped reef sharks and huge shoals of multi-coloured marine fish. Then, sadly, we had to leave this wonderful part of our planet and return home.
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