Rural Peru has incredible natural scenery mixed with ancient and modern manmade designs. It’s an immersive experience not to be missed.
This summer I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with my best friend Colina, our guide Jhon, and a cadre of porters. As part of the package deal, we also spent a full day driving around rural Peru exploring Inca sites from Cusco throughout the Sacred Valley. It was a fun mini road trip filled with delicious food, ancient Inca ruins, rustic open air markets, and tiny colorful taxis.
But the drive itself was probably my favorite part of the day. Here’s three things that made the experience unforgettable:
This is what speed bumps are colloquially called in the mountain towns of Peru. It literally translates into something like “axle breaker,” and that’s exactly what they feel like.
After we got out of the Cusco metro area, I didn’t see many posted speed limit signs and even fewer traffic lights. Instead, the speed was largely determined by the dreaded rompemueles. Our driver was an expert, we were in a high clearance vehicle, and whether we were on dirt, gravel, or pavement, we still caught air going over them slowly! It felt like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I loved every minute of it!
2. Incredible scenery
One thing I loved about the rompemuelles was that it forced our driver to slow down for a minute and let us appreciate the scenery. Of course there were lots of grand views of Andean mountain-scapes, snaking rivers, and pastoral valleys filled with crops of quinoa, fava beans, and giant-kerneled corn.
But it was actually the tiny non-touristy roadside towns that caught my attention most. They featured eclectic mixes of new and old brick buildings, some covered in stucco, some displaying red flags hanging from sticks. Many buildings and walls exhibited fading murals from the recent presidential election: large letter “K”s inscribed in red circles for Keiko Fujimori (who lost), and PPK for Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (the recently elected). It opened up an interesting dialogue with our guide about politics in Peru. I learned that Peru has compulsory voting and that those who do not vote are fined!
One of the more curious sights in the towns were these bizarre mossballs clinging tenaciously to power lines along the road.
3. The radio
One of my favorite parts of the road trip was listening to the local radio. Our driver spoke mostly Quechua and only a little Spanish. He chose the music: Cumbia. It’s a widespread music genre in Latin America with roots originally in Colombia. It’s energetic and the songs all kind of melt together into one continuous string of music.
If you’re planning a trip to Peru, or want to bring back memories from your previous travels there, check out over 50 Peruvian radio stations’ live streams here. Bachata and Cumbia will definitely get you in the mood.
— Laura Rowley