Hiking through Peru is an epic adventure, given the rugged terrain and indigenous culture you’ll experience there. With every type of landscape an outdoor lover could dream of, plenty of opportunities exist for all levels of walking, climbing and trekking – whether hiking steep Incan ruins, the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, or walking tours through colonial cities, Peru really has it all.
One of the more scenic yet challenging hikes I made in Peru was on the island of Amantani in Lake Titicaca, the largest, highest navigable lake in the world. We stayed there for several days with a local Quechua family as part of a popular homestay program.
Amantani is a small island about an hour’s boat ride from Puno in southern Peru, with an elevation of nearly 13,300 feet. Life here is rugged. There are no paved roads, no cars, hotels, and electricity is limited and most families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries or hand-cranks. Locals farm the fields and terraced hillsides that rise up from the lake, and some open their homes to overnight visitors like us.One recent addition to the island in recent years, in an effort to foster sustainable tourism, is a series of wide stone pathways that connect the island’s communities with the two mountain peaks of Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth), and the ancient ruins on the top of both peaks.
On our first night there, a hike was planned to the top of the island and the temple of Pachamama to watch the sun set over neighboring Bolivia and Lake Titicaca below. We started off with a visit to a local school, just a few hundred yards up the hillside. I was completely winded. Not only was the ascent steep up the hillside, but the air was getting cooler in the late afternoon, making breathing more strenuous.
We left the school, winding our way over some light, rocky terrain to the steps at the base of the stone walkways. The paths are wide and well-constructed, and the lack of much vegetation or trees on the island allows for great views of the pathways winding their way around the entire island. You can see for miles in every direction.The sun began to set as we slowly made our way up the side of the island, stopping very frequently to sit and catch our breath. Every step became more deliberate, breaths deeper. It was cold and getting colder as dusk settled in and the last sun ray stretched from behind the clouds.
Several locals, including a young boy I met at the school, accompanied us as we hiked. Christian, my new best friend, was enamored with my camera, and he trekked alongside me, never once uttering a huff or a puff the entire ascent. I, on the other hand, was wheezing from the lack of oxygen and the cold air.Our host Martina was also along, carrying her young daughter on her back the whole way up and back down again. While we wore hiking boots, warm socks, and layer upon layer of hiking clothes, she wore open, black rubber sandals on her feet with leg warmers under a bright wool skirt. As we hiked around the island those few days, I was constantly amazed at how she never once broke a sweat or breathed hard enough for me to hear. Her level of cardiovascular fitness was amazing.After nearly an hour of hiking, the top of the mountain was in sight, and the sun had long since set. There was a quiet reverence as we entered the arch to Pachamama one by one. Though the temple is closed to visitors, and only accessible by locals during special times of the year, we gathered at the mountain top, pausing long enough to snaps some pics and catch our breath for the last time. The hike down would be much easier.
The air was cold and still, the sky dusky blue in all directions – over Isla Taquile right next door, and Bolivia clear off in the distance. It was so quiet I thought my ears were muffled from the altitude. Everything was surrounded by the lake below, a constant reminder of our place here. And we gave thanks to Pachamama for the gifts – for this view, for new friends, and for another chance to celebrate this wondrous place of hers.