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Travelojos’s Steve Roll interviews Ben Box

by Steven Roll | 25 March 2010 No Comment

In this interview, Steve Roll of Travelojos talks with Ben Box, author of the South American Handbook, about Peru’s struggle against the perception that Cuzco is all there is to Peru. Ben points out some interesting alternatives to Machu Picchu and shares why he thinks it’s safe to visit certain regions of Peru and Chile that remain unaffected by the recent natural catastrophes.

STEVE ROLL – The area surrounding Peru’s main attraction, Machu Picchu, was hit hard by floods last month and won’t be available to tourists until April. Even before the flood, I’ve heard some people say that Machu Picchu was “over-hyped.” Do you agree with this sentiment?

BEN BOX – I don’t think “over-hyped” is the right word. Machu Picchu is definitely worth seeing, but I think that it and the Inca Trail have, in tourism terms, grown out of proportion to the context in which visitors will find them. They are part of the entire rich Inca heritage which we are fortunate to see so much of today. That heritage exists in Cuzco city and all the other sites of the Sacred Valley and elsewhere in Peru. The other problem is that Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail have become almost synonymous so that people think that if you can’t experience one, you can’t experience the other. But there are many other trails to hike, mountain bike rides, etc, with or without an archaeological site as the goal. Likewise, there is a certain view that Cuzco IS Peru and that if you can’t go to Cuzco you are missing Peru (or conversely, if you have been to Cuzco you have been to Peru). Peru’s tourism authorities recognize this and are promoting other areas, but it is a perception that is hard to shift.

SR – Could you recommend some alternative sites in Peru?

BB – There are hundreds: it depends on what interests you but obviously if Machu Picchu was your destination of choice then archaeology is what you’re looking for. In the Cuzco area, the city itself has Sacsayhuaman, Qoricancha, as well as the colonial buildings erected on top of Inca foundations. But do check before going that it is appropriate to visit now. An increasingly popular, and tough trek is to the Inca city of Choquequirao. And you can also find out whether sites in the Sacred Valley are open for visiting. Don’t forget that the Incas were the last in very long line of cultures in Peru.

On the South coast there are the Nazca Lines and nearby are the popular tourist spots of Ica and Paracas. Also in southern Peru is the city of Arequipa and, not far away, the tremendous Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons.

In the Cordillera Blanca (one of Peru’s prime hiking and climbing destinations) is the important and formative culture at Chavín.

On the North coast archaeological sites stretch from Caral, one of the earliest urban sites anywhere in the world, to the Moche and Chimú cities near Trujillo, to more Moche sites and Lambayeque cultures near Chiclayo. Further north still are the beaches around Máncora. In the northern highlands, the city of Cajamarca is a good starting point for the fascinating archaeological remains around Chachapoyas. And in all areas you can enjoy activities such as trekking, horse riding, surfing, biking and birdwatching.

That’s just a few suggestions based on historical tourism, but to that you can add the northern jungles around Iquitos and Pucallpa and the southern rainforest national parks at Manu and Tambopata. And that is without mentioning Lake Titicaca, the train ride to Huancayo and the Central Highlands – here again, though, the rains have caused problems so you would need to verify that transport and other services are back to normal.

SR – Have you ever experienced a situation involving a natural disaster in South America? If so, how did you handle it?

BB – No, I have never experienced a natural disaster. Occasionally there have been delays caused by the weather or by industrial action, but with a little patience and flexibility, most inconveniences can be overcome. But my experiences are nothing like the hardship suffered by those who are currently affected.

SR – Peru and, to some extent, Chile, must be experiencing sharp declines in tourists. How would you suggest that travelers gauge when it would be safe to visit either of those countries?

BB – I don’t see why they are unsafe now. Both countries have areas that are unaffected by the catastrophes that have hit the headlines. With respect for those affected areas and the strain that is being put on some parts of the infrastructure, there should be no problem in visiting other parts of the two countries. Peru I have dealt with above. Lima airport was not flooded so you can fly anywhere in the country. Also the coastal Panamerican Highway and many of the road routes into the Sierra should be OK (once again, ask before setting out what conditions are like).

You can combine northern Chile with southern Peru and Bolivia (but note that parts of Bolivia have also suffered from flooding). North from Santiago, you can visit La Serena and Elqui Valley and, further north still, the Atacama desert and the altiplano. The far south, Patagonia and the southernmost Lakes are also OK to visit. It may be best to look into crossing from Argentina to these parts rather than flying into Santiago. Above all, show support; if practical take donations and try to get them as close to those in need as possible. Buy Chilean wine, as the main grape-growing areas have been severely damaged.

SR – If you could pick any place in South America to be right now, where would it be and why?

BB – It would be good to be in Curicó in Chile, helping friends. Or likewise in the Peruvian highlands… Failing that, I don’t mind. It would be great to be in South America instead of stuck in front of my computer. Anywhere will do…

Find out more about Ben Box’s South American Travel Handbook on www.footprintbooks.com – look for the redesign and upgrade of Footprint’s digital presence (if not immediately then very soon).

Written by Steven Roll

Steven is the guy behind Travelojos: A blog about traveling to and living in Mexico and other destinations in Latin America. See all posts by

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