Sunday, March 29th 2020.


Anja De Haen


By Anja De Haen, Teamleader MICE Belux – BCD Travel Groups Department


peru peru


In November of last year, LAN Airlines ( – in collaboration with Viajes Pacífico ( and Eurotur ( – invited a select group of Belgian and Dutch incentive and special interest travel organizers on a 10-day fam trip to Peru and Iguazu. The Netherlands were represented by Hanneke de Gier (BCD Travel Groups), Julie van der Kuil (Carlson Wagonlit Incentives), Kristi Groeneweg (FOX), Shirley van de Kamer (Levensgenieters Incentives), Loretta Boi (Kras Ad Hoc Groups) and Denise du Pont (Portman Travel Business Incentives); while the Belgian “happy few” consisted of Jeroen Cauwelier (Xperience TICE), Jolijn Apers (Master Tours) and Anja De Haen (BCD Travel Groups).


Lima Lima Lima


The trip seemed like a very strange combination, but it of course allowed LAN to get us acquainted with its intercontinental service, its domestic flights in Peru and its extensive network in Latin America.

Today, LAN Airlines, member of oneworld™ (, is one of the leading passenger and cargo airlines in Latin America.  The company and its affiliates serve over 75 destinations around the world through an extensive network that offers full connectivity within Latin America, while also linking the region with North America, Europe and the South Pacific, as well more than 90 additional international destinations through its various code share agreements.  LAN Airlines and its affiliates have a leading position in their respective domestic markets of Chile and Peru as well as an important presence in the Argentinean and Ecuadorian domestic markets.

A very comfortable night flight brought us from Madrid to Lima in about twelve hours, where we arrived around 07.30 AM local time. Outside the Jorge Chavez International Airport, gray skies and a relatively high humidity welcomed us. Not something one would expect, when traveling to a city actually situated in the tropics! But we soon learned that the Lima climate has something bizarre to it. The city only knows two seasons: four months of summer from December through March with plenty of sunshine, and eight months of winter for the remainder of the year. In the latter season, the sun disappears almost completely. The sky is the same dead grey color all day long – often referred to as “Panza de Burro” or “Donkey’s Belly” – and the “Garua”, a damp, cold mist that hangs in the air like a cobweb, cranks up the humidity in the air.

So after a quick breakfast in Miraflores, one of the upscale districts of the Peruvian capital, we were all glad to hit the road direction south, direction sun! A four hours’ drive along the Pan-American Highway, offering spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding desert, brought us to Paracas. Such a long coach transfer after a twelve hour flight was indeed a hard nut to crack, but by the time we sipped our fist Pisco Sour on the terrace of the very trendy Hotel Paracas, A Luxury Collection Hotel ( and our home for the first night, we had already forgotten all about our travel hassles...


Picnic under the stars

In the late afternoon, we were summoned for some adventure: a 4x4 excursion into one of the driest deserts of the world. Dune bashing at sunset, followed by a sparkling cocktail and a delicious picnic under the stars in the middle of nowhere, not a bad start..

After a good but short night’s sleep and a light breakfast – including motion sickness pills, one never knows... – we headed for the Pisco Airport, where we boarded a privately chartered Cessna Grand Caravan to discover the unsolved mystery of the Nazca Lines. A wise advice: if you book this flight ahead, better be honest about your weight. They do check it again before you board the plane...


Peru Peru


A smooth flight of about half an hour brought us to our destination. The plane dropped to a mere 1500 feet in order to allow us a nice view of the complex designs and tracings – some almost 300 meters long – that were discovered in 1927. Not knowing what exactly you are looking for, makes spotting the drawings rather difficult at first – but once you’ve spotted one, you certainly will see them all. And so did we. While the pilot swung his plane from left to right and back again (good thing we took those pills...) we enjoyed stunning encounters with the whale, the astronaut, the monkey, the condor, the spider, the hummingbird, the Alcatraz, the tree and the hands. Plenty of theories have been put forward concerning these mysterious drawings, from landing strips for aliens to seismographic lines. The most likely theory however, is attributed to Maria Reiche, a German lady who dedicated her life to studying the Nazca Lines and who believed them to be a monumental astronomic calendar of which the images marked the solar phases. 

A short bus ride brought us back to the hotel, where our next discovery was already waiting for us. By speedboat, we traveled to the famous Candelabra (although it looks more like a cactus...) – a giant figure etched into a desert sandy hill, similar to the Nazca Lines – and further on to the Ballestas Islands.


Peru Peru


The Ballestas Islands are sometimes described as Peru's mini-Galapagos and although they don't match the splendor nor the variety of their northern cousins, they are quite spectacular in their own right. The islands have been eroded to form countless natural caves and arches, offering shelter to hundreds of sea lions and thousands of birds. Birds indeed are the main attraction here: penguins, pelicans, boobies, cormorants, turkey vultures, gulls and bizarrely mustachioed “Inca terns” cover every inch of jutting rock. Another advice: bring a hat - there are so many birds flying overhead that a direct hit is unavoidable!

This seamlessly brings us to another important meaning of the Ballestas Islands: “guano”. The islands indeed are famous for bird droppings, which for centuries were used as a natural fertilizer. In the 19th century, when the Europeans discovered its agricultural value, it even became Peru’s prime export product. The guano economy suffered a major setback in the 20th century, but it recently started to boom again, now that demands for organic fertilizers are rising.  Remnants of the old guano industry can still be seen on the many of the Ballestas Islands, while some modern day factories can be spotted on other islands in the area…


Back to Lima

After a nice lunch and a quick site inspection of the fabulous Hotel Paracas, we headed back to Lima. Another four hours’ transfer! Our guide Miguel tried to entertain us by playing the Peruvian flute, but his efforts led to little... We pretty soon all dozed off!

By the end of the day, we checked in at the Westin Hotel and Conference Center in Lima (, a nice business hotel located in the San Isidoro district of the Peruvian capital. There was nothing else on the program anymore, so after some Pisco Sours and a nice meal at the hotel’s restaurant it was time for that Westin Heavenly Bed!


Lima Lima Lima


The next morning, there was no time to waste! We had a plane to catch – direction Iguazu! Unfortunately enough, we did lose some time... a complete day to be more precise! We left the hotel in Lima at 10.00 AM, only to arrive at the Iguazu Airport at 08.45 PM. But hey, that’s what happens if you travel 4 hours from west to east and cross 3 time zones by doing so!

The following two days of our trip were entirely devoted to the discovery of Iguazu and its surroundings.

We started our exploration with a site inspection of and a dinner at the Iguazu Resort Spa & Casino (, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World Consortium, located on the Argentinean side of Iguazu. The hotel is the only full-service resort and casino on either side of the falls and it is regarded as the most luxurious hotel in the area. It is located just 10 minutes away from the entrance of the Iguazu Falls National Park and sits on fifteen acres of semitropical vegetation. A beautiful setting indeed, but the classic and heavy interior will probably be more appealing to Americans and Japanese rather than to Europeans.

We then checked in at our own hotel for the next two nights, the Sheraton Iguazu (, one of the accommodations that represent the epitome of “Location, Location, Location.” It actually is the only hotel located inside the National Park on Peruthe Argentinean side of the falls and not only offers stunning views of the falls itself, but literally also offers its guests a back door and exclusive entrance into the park, even before and after official park opening hours. Absolutely ideal to beat the crowds! Great location indeed, but that’s about all there is to say about this hotel. In its current state, it does not meet Sheraton standards at all. It definitely is urgent need for some major renovations!

What a contrast compared to the Loi Suites Hotel (! This breathtaking contemporary hotel stands in the subtropical jungle of Iryapu, only a 15 minutes’ drive away from the main entrance of the National Park. It was built with extreme respect for nature, preserving most of the jungle, and offers beautiful rooms and ditto public areas. Only our dinner at the hotel’s main restaurant was a weak point: the staff lacked accuracy and the quality of the food was far below expectations... (So when you take a group: check, double check and triple check!)

Another wonderful hotel in the area is the Das Cataratas Hotel by Orient Express ( It is the only hotel inside the Brazilian Iguazu National Park, located right alongside the falls. The elegant, Portuguese Colonial-style hotel underwent an outstanding transformation and is, without any doubt, the best option for travelers that want to reside at the Brazilian side of the falls. And the food is excellent!

But of course there is more to the Iguazu Falls than just the hotels! And the DMC Eurotur made sure we covered it all!


Ecological and adventure tourism

Our first day of exploration started off in Argentina, where we took the Iguazu Forest Tour, a special program to discover a new concept of ecological and adventure tourism – offering a number of activities that placed us in direct contact with nature. We enjoyed some jungle trekking, tried our best at exciting canopying and (some of us) got soaked during the “Wet Rappelling” – descending 15 meters of a crystalline waterfall.

Following, a surprise buffet lunch was waiting at the view point of the “Salto Dos Hermanas”, the Two Sisters Fall. A rather decadent first encounter with the falls, but that didn’t make the caipirinhas less tasty!

In the afternoon, we walked the Lower Trail to admire the falls up-close. It led us down to the Iguazu River, where we boarded a zodiac for a 30 minutes’ navigation into the falls. A thrilling adventure that allowed for a true up-close encounter with, amongst others, the San Martin and Bozzetti Falls. (Caution: You will get wet!) Once back on dry land, we boarded a 4x4 vehicle – especially designed for touring the rainforest – and enjoyed a guided drive along the 8 km long Yacaratia Trail.


Peru Peru Peru


Later that evening, we visited La Aripuca (, some kind of theme park attempting to make visitors become aware of the effect of deforestation, to try to convince them to take care of the environment and to offer an insight into the culture of the indigenous people of the Iguazu region, the Guarani. The word “aripuca” derives from the name of a small trap, built by the natives of the area, to capture small animals without harming them.

The main attraction of this theme park is a giant aripuca, a log structure combining 28 species of endangered native trees, reaching 17 meters of height and featuring a 30-meter diameter. Most of the trees that make up this “monument” were purchased at sawmills where they were about to be turned into timber. Others were recovered from farms where they had been beaten down by storms or else had already finished their life cycle. A giant Aripuca, not to capture small animals, but man’s conscience... An interesting concept!

Our visit started with a special welcome by a handful of native Indian children, who looked like they were being forced to sing for us. They did not seem to have fun at all... It was a sad shame. We then were invited into the aripuca itself for a drink, after which we walked through a thatched-roof village and stone structure, where we were supposed to learn more about local traditions. Unfortunately, there were more gift shops than anything else to see. La Aripuca, a trap... for tourists!

An early walk along the Upper Trail was the kick-off of our second day in the area. It allowed us to admire the same falls we saw the day before, but from a different angle and... with no other visitors around. A great bonus!


The Devil’s Throat balcony

Next, we took a short hike to the Cataratas Station, where we boarded an open train for a 15 minutes’ journey towards the Garganta del Diabolo Station. (Be early, the lines do get very long!) From there, we followed a 1200 m long walkway to arrive at the Devil’s Throat balcony, offering a perfect view of one of the greatest shows on earth! The thunderous roar of millions of tons of rushing water cascading hundreds of meters down into an abyss was absolutely awesome! And the rainbows forming at the base of the falls, curving up toward the top and down again added a sensational extra dimension to the experience. Simply breathtaking…  


Peru Peru


A short coach drive – crossing the Juan D Peron and Tancredo Neves Bridge – brought us from Argentina back to Brazil, where more surprises were waiting.

First, a walk along the paths opposite the Das Cataratas Hotel, to enjoy a startling panoramic view of the largest complex of waterfalls in South America – in total 2.7 km wide and consisting of 270 to 300 waterfalls, depending on the amount of water flowing through the Iguazu River.

Second, a helicopter flight, offering a completely different and new perspective of the falls and its surroundings. A perfect way to say goodbye to this gorgeous wonder of nature.

Our visit of the Iguazu area came to an end with a walk through The Bird Park, which describes itself as “a World-class Bird Park, situated on 12 acres of native subtropical forest, offering its visitors an opportunity to enter huge 8-meter high forest aviaries to study and photograph 160 species in their natural habitat without the restrictions of netting and Perucages”. Not bad... Although a longer walk along the Brazilian trail towards the outlook offering more astonishing views of the falls, would have been a nicer way to kill time before heading for the airport!

Once back in Lima, it was time for some culture again. So we headed out on a discovery of the Peruvian capital.

Lima was founded on January 18 1535, by the Spanish Conqueror Francisco Pizarro. It soon became the most important city in the Americas and later, after the Peruvian War of Independence, it became the capital of the Republic of Peru. In the mean time, over 7 million people are living in this bustling city, who represent about a third of the entire country’s population.

Our tour started with a drive through the San Isidoro district, also referred to as “Lima's garden district”, as it stands out for its green zones and exclusive residential areas. San Isidro also features many of the city's finest restaurants, hotels and concert halls. In recent years, the district has become a major financial quarter as many banks and businesses have left downtown Lima to set up their headquarters in the modern office blocks of San Isidoro. The district also features a pre-Hispanic temple, Huallamarca, where concerts and exhibitions are held occasionally.

A short coach ride brought us to the historical centre, a World Cultural Heritage Site, with splendid samples of colonial architecture. Time for a walk! At the Plaza Mayor – previously known as the Plaza de Armas – we admired the Government Palace, the Town Hall and the Archbishop's Palace, adorned with beautiful balconies. And of course we paid a visit to the Cathedral and the 15 chapels, one of which holds the remains of Francisco Pizarro.

Next stop on our list was the San Francisco Convent with two main attractions: the very intriguing “Harry Potter style” library on the upper level, with thousands of antique books and documents; and the extensive system of catacombs that lies beneath, containing the bones of tens of thousands of bodies.

The historical quarter of Lima is not only dotted with churches and convents, it holds a wide variety of colonial mansions as well. An absolute jewel is the Casa Solar de Aliaga ( The house dates back to the 16th century and was built by Don Jeronimo de Aliaga, a co-founder of Lima and the founder of the first university in the Americas. This stunning property, beautifully decorated in the old colonial style, is still lived in by his descendants, who invite locals as well as tourists to immerse themselves in the living history of colonial Lima through various activities and services they offer, like guided visits, lunches and dinners or corporate events.

Our lunch was served on the terrace of the Larco Museum (, housed in an 18th century mansion built on top of a pre-Columbian pyramid dating back to the 7th century.  It showcases chronological galleries that provide a thorough overview of the Peruvian pre-Columbian history and boasts one of the world's largest collections of pre-Columbian art. But for some strange reason, our attention was mainly focused on the gallery dedicated to ancient erotic pottery…

Our city tour came to an end with a drive through the Miraflores district, where we paid a short visit to the Huaca Pucllana, a great adobe and clay pyramid that dates back to 500 AD and was the Administrative and Ceremonial Center of the Lima Culture, a society that developed in this area between 200 AD and 700 AD. The complex consists of the archaeological ruins itself, a small site museum, an area for workshops, a small souvenir shop and a restaurant (, offering wonderful views over the complex.

We concluded our Lima experience with dinner at La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant set in a Victorian-style building located at the end of Pier 4 of the Lima Beach Circuit, overlooking the Pacific Ocean ( This venue – consisting of 4 dining rooms, a large event room and a bar – is supposed to be one of Lima’s best restaurants, but most of us were not really impressed. True, the location offers wonderful views (if you go during the day, that is!) and the interior is not bad – but the food and the service did not really meet up with our expectations. Apart from the bar maybe, where we enjoyed delicious after dinner drinks while the band played on…


The final

And then it was time to commence the final leg of our trip. On to the Sacred Valley…

In little over an hour, LAN’s flight 2073 took us from Lima to Cuzco from where we continued our travels towards the Sacred Valley by minibus. Beautiful views over the mighty Andes mountains accompanied us on our journey. By lunch time, we reached the isolated cathedral of Tiobamba, seeming lost and forgotten by time and modern civilization.

Viajes Pacífico definitely did not want to let this visit go unnoticed! When we approached the cathedral, an enthusiastic children’s choir popped out from nowhere to greet us with a beautiful song. After their little concert, the children took us by the hand and led us inside the cathedral, where we were asked to offer a candle to the Virgin Mary. A very moving moment...  Following, we were introduced to the local lady who devotes her life to the conservation of church. She turned out to be an amazing woman with an astonishing story to tell. We finally left the cathedral to the sound of Perusinging children and took a seat at the big picnic table that was waiting for us under an open tent on the lawns in front of the church. Despite the strong wind, lunch – a variety of local specialties – tasted delicious!

A poorly maintained dirt road brought us to the area of Maras, where we paid a short visit to Las Salinas de Maras, the area’s famous salt pans, that have already been mined since pre-Inca times. The view of this complex is quite stunning, and not in the least when sunlight is reflected in the millions of crystals that lie out to dry.

Maras itself is a charming colonial village that is home to the Temple of Saint Francis of Assisi, an adobe church that is worth a visit not only because of its collection of Cuzco School paintings, but also because its lawns offer unforgettable views over the valley and the Andean mountains.

By the end of the afternoon, we checked in at the Hotel Libertador Tambo del Inca Luxury Collection (, a spectacular resort & spa in Urubamba and the perfect base for excursions in the vicinity of the Sacred Valley and to Machu Picchu.

A nice and less expensive alternative could be the four star Hotel Sol y Luna Hotel & Spa (, a charming property located just outside the town of Urubamba and offering bungalow-style accommodation, where we were invited for a delicious BBQ dinner at its Wayra Ranch (, in combination with a horse show and a demonstration of the typical Marinera Nortena, a folkloric dance.

And then, finally, came the day we had all been waiting for with great anticipation...  A trip to the Lost City of the Incas, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to walk the Classic four day Inca Trail or the shorter 2 days version, so we travelled by rail.

Our journey started at the train station of the little village of Ollantaytambo, where we were greeted by dozens of cheerful street vendors. It was absolutely impossible to resist the colorful bags and typical souvenirs. We undoubtedly made their day – and it had only just started!


The Machu Picchu

PeruA short time later, our PeruRail train rolled into the station and we boarded our wagon – marked with a "Special Service" sign – and soon discovered that this Special Service just adds that “little something extra” to the Machu Picchu train ride. It allowed us to travel in a beautiful carriage, exquisitely decorated in style of the 1920’s Pullman trains, while enjoying refreshing towels, a served Andean breakfast and soft back ground music from the area. A nice little bonus on top of the stunning scenery along the way!

The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the little village that sits at the foot of the mountain of Machu Picchu, took about two hours. Here, we transferred to a minibus for a 20 minutes’ ride to the entrance of the Lost City. The ride was spectacular, as the narrow track winds its way up the mountainside through lush cloud forest with great views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Almost an attraction in itself!

A quick ticket and security check and a nice passport stamp later, we were actually there, on the grounds of the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu! And just like many photographers and painters who walked the paths before us, we were overwhelmed by the amazing views over the once thriving city and the surrounding green mountains of the Urubamba Jungle. The ominous storm clouds between the mountains and over the valley made our experience even more dramatic. We stood there and gazed… and could only but agree with the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who once wrote: “Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to eternal fusion with the cosmos; there we feel our own fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies at the epicenter of the great circle of life. Another miracle.”

Back down in Aguas Calientes, a late lunch was served at the Inkaterra Hotel (, a luxury boutique hotel, built in the style of an Andean village and offering 85 cozy cottages set in 12 acres of beautiful nature. The ideal location for an overnight stay in the area!


Peru Peru


For the journey back to Cuzco, Viajes Pacífico had yet another surprise in store for us: a ride on the Hiram Bingham train, named after the explorer who discovered the fascinating remains of Machu Picchu on July 23rd 1911, and most definitely the most luxurious way to travel between the remains of the old Inca citadel and Cuzco. On the outside, the train carriages are painted in distinctive blue and gold colors, while the interiors offer a luxurious, warm and elegant decoration in the style of the 1920's Pullman trains. The train can carry up to 84 passengers and is composed of two dining cars, a kitchen car and a bar car with live music. Time to party? You bet! So, by the time the Hiram Bingham left the Aguas Calientes station, we had already taken over the lounge and we made sure our presence did not go unnoticed, to both passengers and crew. Boy, did we rock the boat – or rather the train, that is!

Upon arrival in Cuzco, we checked in at the Libertador Palacio del Inca (, located directly across from the Inca Temple of the Sun and just a few blocks from the traditional center of the city. Although we all enjoyed our stay at this so called “one of Cuzco's top hotels”, it could do with some general renovations and more particularly with new bathrooms...

Another hotel boasting the reputation as one of the finest hotels in Cuzco, is the Monasterio (, a first class 17th century museum hotel, housed in a former monastery dating back to 1592 and classified as a national monument. Apart from a wide variety in services, the hotel offers three types of rooms: deluxe rooms, junior suites and suites. Rooms in the same category, however, are not comparable. They differ in décor and size – some of them even are quite tiny and do not offer any direct daylight at all. But they all are quite comfortably equipped according to the high standards of the Orient Express hotels and they do breathe the right atmosphere for a stay in the ancient Inca capital.

Travelers with less money to spend, may enjoy the 4-star Novotel Cuzco (, located in a 16th century building in the historic city center, with 99 rooms, a restaurant, a café and a bar.

We spent the last two days of our trip exploring Cuzco, aka “the world’s bellybutton”. The story goes that in the 12th century, the ancestral sun god ordered the first Inca to find the navel of the earth – qosq ’o in the old Quechua language – the spot where he could plunge a golden rod into the ground until it disappeared. When he at last discovered such a place, he founded the city that was to become the thriving capital of the Americas’ greatest empire, Cuzco. In 1983, UNESCO placed the city of Cuzco on the World Cultural Heritage List, and with reason! It is, without a doubt, one of the top destinations, not only in Peru, but in the whole of South-America.

The city offers a unique blend of Incan and Spanish culture and brings together past and present in a rather intriguing way. We all very much appreciated the stroll through the cozy cobble-stoned streets while discovering  the Plaza de Armas with its imposing Cathedral and the beautiful La Compañía church, the Korikancha temple, the Santo Domingo Church, the MAP (the Pre-Columbian Art Museum) and Hatun Rumiyoc street with the famous Twelve Angle Stone. But our most favorite part of the city was, without a doubt, San Blas - the artisans’ neighborhood, characterized by its narrow streets, colonial architecture and an abundance of unique stores, galleries and workshops.

In the evening we discovered that Cuzco also boasts an exciting nightlife with cafes, bars, restaurants and nightclubs for all tastes. We of course tried a few!

And only about 15 minutes away from the city center, the hungry for culture can explore the ancient Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, as well as the Inca shrine Qenqo with its sacrificial altar embedded inside a rock cave.

We concluded our visit of Cuzco – and the entire trip actually – with a private farewell dinner at the Colcampata farm, a magnificent colonial residence built on ancient Inca grounds and offering a spectacular view over the city. Apart from the obligatory – but delicious! – flow of Pisco Sour and the exquisite dinner, Viajes Pacífico had enhanced the evening with typical live music, local dance groups and personalized fireworks! An unforgettable evening and a magnificent ending of an amazing trip.

Thank you LAN. Thank you Viajes Pacífico. Thank you Eurotur. And thank you fellow travelers!


Peru Peru



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