Exploring Peru With Free Walking Tours

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Another tip to enjoy Peru to the max

In my last post I mentioned how Peru Hop can help you have a wonderful experience getting around Peru. That’s great for going from city to city, but once you’re in a city, getting to know a place more in depth is probably on your mind. Though you can walk around on your own, it’s so much more rewarding to learn about local history, while you’re walking around, locally. 

The corn in Peru is simply amazing. It’s like supernatural corn.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

Walking tours may bring to mind high fees, but Peru was my first experience with a Free walking tour. The concept actually started some time ago, but is rapidly spreading across the globe. If you aren’t familiar with the concept – a local guide will bring you around their city for a couple of hours, showing you the highlights, explaining the history, and offering recommendations of places to go and things to do. All of this is done free of charge. All they ask is that if you like the tour, you give them a donation and a good review. Because I thoroughly enjoyed all three tours I did in Peru, I wanted to highlight my experience on my blog because I love helping awesome businesses grow!

A fabulous way to see the world, one city at a time.

Arequipa

In Arequipa I learned tales of the White City – because of the color of the stones the city is built with and because of the Spaniards that settled there. There is the town center, and then, if you cross the river, it’s like entering into a city with a different feel. Of most interest is that not far from the city (16 kilometers) is a volcano, Misti. It has destroyed the city, but people love it so much they returned just the same. In fact, between earthquakes and volcano eruptions, I learn that these are just part of life for the average Peruvian and they take both in stride. We got to visit the local market and learn about great places to eat cheap, try ice cream and get chocolate. We visited llamas and got an education on buying alpaca sweaters (if you want the real thing, don’t bother buying from anyplace except the authentic stores or you’ll be ripped off and get synthetic wool.) I think my favorite part of the tour was when Jonathan, our guide, took us to the roof of a building on the square that I likely would never have noticed, for a pisco drink and the right to return at sunsest for a spectacular view. Not only did I, but I ended up eating at the pre-Incan restaurant that’s just below the rooftop and had a magical experience.

Cusco

In Cusco the first thing I did was to join a free walking tour. When you Google “free walking tour” you will find a few options, and you’ll be warned not to get confused with people wearing a similar jacket color, usually yellow! I chose the Inkan Milky Way tour. Elvis was my tour guide, and he was great. He not only took us around Cusco, but into the market, and to the vendors he recommended over others. I also asked him to recommend a Shaman, and his suggestion ended up one of the best experiences I had in Peru. Elvis painted pictures for us with his stories, and we even got some stellar llama selfies. 

I learned that Cusco was the capital of Peru, founded in 1050 by the Incans, though originally called “Cosco.” Peru was also called “Beirou.” I also learned that the people who found it were called Kechua and that Inca is the name for the king, only. In 500 years there were 15 Inca kings. Agriculture was the main industry. there was no money, only trade. When the Spaniards conquered Peru, they changed the names of the cities and country because they couldn’t pronounce the Kechua names. Elvis let me know that his brother runs the free walking tour in Lima, so guess what company I used again? 🙂

Lima Again – Barranca and Downtown

While I wasn’t too fond of Lima on my first stay – it seemed cloudy, subtly dangerous, and I was staying in a quiet part of Miraflores that made me feel the need to return by 8pm – I came to like it much better on the second.  I changed my reservation to a lodging two blocks from Kennedy Park and felt safe at all times, and I explored other parts of the city.

Barracas turned out to be an amazing display of artistic murals and beautiful streets. Expression was literally written on the walls as we walked along. There were art galleries and fabulous restaurants, and one of the most delicious proved to be a more hold-in-the-wall diner-looking one with some of the best seafood I had while I was in Peru.

Downtown Lima was a surprise. First, I simply had no idea how big Lima was! The cab ride to get there from Miraflores was almost 30 minutes. There were so many of us for the free tour we were divided into three groups. Guess who I got as a guide? Elvis’s brother! He was also a wonderful guide.

I learned that the Spaniards, after they conquered the Inca king, moved the capital of Peru from Cusco to Lima because there was a port from which they could move the gold they stole. I will say I felt somewhat heartbroken seeing gaping holes carved in ancient stones where gold had been. I felt like I was experiencing the rape of a culture. As I mentioned, the kings of the Kechua were called Incas and there were 15 Inca kings over 500 years. Spain controlled Peru for 300 years and had Viceroys manage the Americas. In that 300 year period, there were 40 Viceroys.

In 1821, Peru got it’s independence from Spain after the 15-year war. Simone Bolivar and Bernardo Higgins and San Martin freed the Americas. I learned that Higgins was the father of Che Guevara! It was interesting to hear how San Martin, who is everywhere in Argentina, fit into the story.

15 Inca Kings over 500 years, 40 Spanish Viceroys over 300 years, and since 1821, there have been 61 presidents of Peru! This is because of so much corruption. Most ex presidents are in jail (which is apparently more like a fancy hotel.) Most recently, though, the police went to arrest Alan Garcia Perres, and he shot himself. To be a politician in Peru you have to open offices in every district, and there are a lot of them. Since you can’t afford all the offices, you have to get money from wealthy people, and then the corruption starts.

Of the 11 million people in Lima, half a million of them are unemployed. The  minimum salary for a Peruvian is $300/month. The average Peruvian reads 1.5 books per year. One Peruvian has won the Nobel Peace prize. He married his aunt, then married his first cousin, then he separated from her and was with the mother of Ricky Iglesias. He’s the author of “Dead on the Andes,” which I’m told is a great book.

While I was on the Downtown Lima tour, I messaged Elvis and told him I was with his brother. He told his brother to take good care of me. 😉 In the end, I’m left feeling these free walking tours are a real treat. Not only will you see neighborhoods that will impress you, and learn live history, you’ll also get fabulous stories, great recommendations and have a really special experience. Even better your tip is your payment. Yes, it’s a free tour, but tips are how they live and run the company. You will love giving them tips because the tour guides are passionate about what they do, and they do a great job. If you’re in Peru, check out the Inkan Milky Way tours, and for other countries, Google “free walking tours.”  

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