10 Best Of Peru Travel

Updated on: June 2021

Best Of Peru Travel in 2021


DK Eyewitness Peru (Travel Guide)

DK Eyewitness Peru (Travel Guide)
BESTSELLER NO. 1 in 2021

Peru

Peru
BESTSELLER NO. 2 in 2021

Peru & Brazil

Peru & Brazil
BESTSELLER NO. 3 in 2021

Lonely Planet Peru (Country Guide)

Lonely Planet Peru (Country Guide)
BESTSELLER NO. 4 in 2021

A Rude Awakening

A Rude Awakening
BESTSELLER NO. 5 in 2021

The Rough Guide to Peru (Travel Guide) (Rough Guides)

The Rough Guide to Peru (Travel Guide) (Rough Guides)
BESTSELLER NO. 6 in 2021

Brazil Power Plug Adapter Travel Set by Ceptics, Safe Dual USB & USB-C 3.1A - 2 USA Socket - Compact & Powerful - Also Use in Peru, Chile - Includes Type C, Type N Swadapt Attachments

Brazil Power Plug Adapter Travel Set by Ceptics, Safe Dual USB & USB-C 3.1A - 2 USA Socket - Compact & Powerful - Also Use in Peru, Chile - Includes Type C, Type N Swadapt Attachments
BESTSELLER NO. 7 in 2021
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Insight Guides Peru (Travel Guide with Free eBook)

Insight Guides Peru (Travel Guide with Free eBook)
BESTSELLER NO. 8 in 2021

Passport To The World: Peru

Passport To The World: Peru
BESTSELLER NO. 9 in 2021

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Peru

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Peru
BESTSELLER NO. 10 in 2021
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Review: Eric Horvath Nature Tours North Peru Trip

An account of a far-from-pleasant two week birding trip in northern (non coastal, alas) Peru.

(1) Even before that, it is necessary to establish a distinction between those who like to watch birds and "birders." I am interested in human behavior and in the behavior of other species, too. "Birders", in contrast, are primarily interested in identifying a species, checking it off their trip list and (preferably) life list of birds seen/identified and moving on to another bird (species). On a bird trip, I am happiest watching a bird go about the business of living. I consider that I am a "bird watcher" and that many "birders" are not. On one of the Dry Tortuga Islands on an earlier trip led by Eric Horvath I remember being fascinated watching a Merlin tear up and consume an Ovenbird, while the birders glanced at it, pronounced "Merlin," and began looking for a next bird.

Not quite as numerous as "birders" are "SOBs" - spouses of birders. There are single birders and some couples in which both parties are ardent birders, but there are also a substantial number of spouses who are along for the walk(s), willing to look at colorful new birds should some come in view, but mostly along because their partner wants to bird. "SOBs" retreat to vehicles earlier than the birders, or as a birding trip day or week goes on to stay back (if possible, in hotels, or in the vehicles by which a group moves from place to place).

As I have already indicated, I consider myself a bird-watcher, though others might regard me as an SOB.

(2) Speaking of my mother, a third-generation Danish-Minnesotan, she raised me to regard punctuality as a moral imperative. My culture considers making others wait for one disrespectful and reprehensible. I try very, very hard never to be late for any appointment I have made and do not like to be kept waiting.

(3) This trip was my fourteenth birding trip of five-plus night, seventh Latin American birding trip, and fourth trip led by Eric Horvath, an Oregonian with a BS in zoology who did not complete a graduate degree. When I say that the North Peru was the worst birding trip I've been on and that I saw fewer birds for shorter time, I do have bases for comparison. Of possible relevance is that the four Horvath-led tours were all under the auspices of the Oregon Nature Conservancy, and the longer two had a convivial Oregon Nature Conservancy employee, Charlie Quinn, who was very good at spotting and identifying birds along, driving a second van and probably doing more to make the trips pleasant than I noticed at the time.

(4) I am not particularly patient. Keelung, my partner is.

(5) I like to walk. Walking 4-8 miles a day is no problem for me (at least below 2000 meters in altitude any way!) My back and legs balk at standing in one place for more than about ten minutes.

(6) I like quiet, particularly out "in nature."

(7) I wanted to see the major Northern Peruvian archeological sites, Chan Chan and Chavín, and thought we were going to the Peruvian North Coast, not into the Andes. (I consider that I've "done" the Andes, both in Perú and in Ecuador and my body does not adjust particularly well to high altitudes.) I will stipulate that before paying money to go on the tour, I should have insisted on receiving and reviewing a detailed itinerary. (The only one we received, along with a 36-page bird checklist, was a list of hotel names and telephone numbers.)

THE TRIP

Frustrations began before getting off the ground. We were scheduled on a 6 AM American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Miami with a three-hour layover before the Miami-Lima one. When we arrived as required at 5 AM at SFO, the estimated departure time had been moved back to 8. Around 7 is was moved back to 10. I don't know if or when it finally flew to Miami. We were rebooked through Los Angeles, losing my business-class international seat, while the ratio of international to intranational air time changed from one-to-one to eight-to-one.

Not only did we arrive in Lima hours later than scheduled, but cramped into coach for 8.5 hours when I was supposed to be in business class.

The queue for Peruvian immigration in the Lima airport just around midnight consumed another 1.5 hours, followed by a half-hour taxi ride to Miraflores.

When finally we reached the hotel at 2 AM, we were informed that (1), despite our reservations, there was no rooms available with two beds and (2) we would be leaving to go back to the airport at 6 AM. Even before seeing Eric I was tired and frustrated, not only at American Airlines, but at him for not making sure our requested room arrangement was waiting for us and for not staying somewhere close to the airport.

I met the other two paying members of the group, an Oregon couple I will call Oink and Ooie, en route back to the airport, where Eric's wife and daughter had arrived on a red-eye flight through Miami. We had breakfast in the airport and then flew to Cajamarca.

After a grueling trip to Cumbe Maya, allegedly a pre-Inka site, though predominantly a birding site. After some more jolting in the van, we visited the niches in a sandstone cliff called Ventillas (windows), where I became sick.

The group returned to Cajamarca for lunch. I went back to the hotel and missed the afternoon excursion to the hot springs. (The group did not go to the room that the last Inka emperor, Atahualpa, had filled with gold to ransom himself from the conquistadors, who tried and strangled him after they had the ransom.)

I was taken aback to hear Eric say "No one got sick," and pointed out that I had. I see this as an early indication of insensitivity to what was going on. Remember, this is a group with only four paying members.

After that, the trip continued to consist of early departures and late arrivals, Except for some brief roadside stops, the birding stops went on long after the other Horvaths, Ooie, and I quit and returned to the van, and often after Keelung had also.

The uxorious Ooie may have been perfectly happy to wait hours each day for Oink and Eric. Keelung wanted to get to the night's lodgings before dark to settle in. Keelung and I paid as much as Oink and Ooie, and Eric never once indicated awareness that there was anything amiss with three of four or even four of four members of the group waiting (cumulatively for many hours).

The road down and up the "grand canyon" or Perú, the Marañón is rough and narrow with huge dropoffs. Passage on it is regularly blocked by derrumbes (landslides--a word providing occasions to demonstrate that I can roll my r's).

About three-quarters of the way up to Leyembamba, a road crew was dynamiting cliffisde onto the road. "Hysterical" is the only possible description for Eric's behavior in the van. Rather than doing anything to calm our anxieties, he went on an extended rant that makes the "mad scenes" in Bellini operas seem mild in comparison. He wanted to turn around and go back to the bottom, the town of Balsas, which the guide book describes having extremely questionable accommodations ("what might pass as 'a room'"). Everyone else remained calm and willing, if necessary, to spend the night in the van at an elevation of 10,000 feet rather than go down and then back up the next day.

The mad scene at the derrumbe showed not just a lack of calming leadership but lack of even a modicum of common sense. In contrast, Keelung extrapolated the progress at clearing the road and predicted that it would be passable at 6PM. That turned out to be almost the exact time that the caterpillar drove across (and then spent another ten minutes cleaning up remaining debris).

We spent three nights at the new bungalows at the Estacion Biolgica Lechucita Bgotona, on the Bra Patricia Reserve, which enabled me to skip pre-breakfast birding. On the last full day there (the eleventh of the trip), I was frustrated at the low ratio of time watching birds to time standing hoping something would appear (see #5 in the preface). I estimated that I was seeing birds for about one second out of every three minutes of standing around. (I forbade thinking about including the hours of rough roads in the denominator!) Oink and Keelung are better at spotting (finding) the birds than I am, but I greatly doubt that except at the hummingbird feeders their ratio could have been above a second out of each minute of standing.

I was also fed up with Eric and Oink (mostly Eric) playing recordings to try to lure "target birds" out (see #6 in the preface). Territorial birds respond to what sounds like intruders to their territory, which means that the birders have a better chance of glimpsing them. I find the repetition of recordings (and even without any response, Eric was not inhibited by concern about literally upsetting the birds by more than half a dozen iterations) noxious, as well as harmful to the birds. They are distracted from getting food or rest, and the instinctive emotional responses probably shorten their lives.

I felt that between the vast stretches of time in the van and standing around, I was not getting enough exercise on the trip, and set off down the road (suitably sunscreened, but not carrying water or rain cover). I went at least a couple of miles (5 km?).

The next day, between Jaen and Olmos, just over the continental divide (finally, at least on the Pacific slope, rather than on drainage to/through the Amazon), I again tired of standing around torturing and/or waiting for birds and walked up. I had my most extended conversation with Peruvians other than our two drivers. They were walking home, carrying things and/or pushing a bicycle. They all told me that if I wanted to see birds, I should go down and west.

I was fetched by the second-string driver who said that it was time to go. When I got back to the group, Eric said that the driver had gone to get me on his own initiative and that there was nothing to do in Olmos. I decided to go down the dirt road (avoiding the bumpy ride) to the highway. It was about 4 PM. I decided to leave my jacket in the van, but carried water.

I saw both the supposed "target birds" for the stop (two of the flycatcher, at least half a dozen of the local variety of Inca finches) on the way. The young Peruvians with whom I had talked were right.

I thought I'd be overtaken before getting to the highway, but wasn't. I decided that if it rained, I'd get wet and headed down the highway. According to the road markers, I went another 3.5 km on the highway before being picked up.

By arriving late in Olmos and leaving early, Eric made sure that no one could find out if there was anything in Olmos.

At the end of dinner (I've failed to mention that Eric and Oink went through the bird checklist almost every dinner; Keelung kept his own and ceased to participate, having his own irritations with the two of them and their field manners), Eric designated getting out at 5 AM the next morning.

I asked for a firm departure time. Leaving the Choctmal Lodge (where we did not have electricity, because the power plant in Chachapoyas had some broken belt and Eric had a less extended "mad scene" flailing for alternatives that did not exist) was supposed to be at 6:30 AM. Instead of leaving on time, Eric took Oink off to show him something and we did not leave until almost 7. He designated a 9 AM departure from Abra Patricia and was the last to arrive at the van, so that we left at 9:30.

The target bird that morning was an adult male Marvelous Spatuletail. We had seen juvenile males with their extravagant (mot-mot-like) tales. After climbing up a trail that was alternately mud and loose rocks, we waited for more than an hour before I gave up. The only bird I saw on the way up other than domestic chickens was one black vulture in the sky. Oink and Ooie did get brief glimpses at the target bird. Then we had lunch back by the bird feeders at which we again saw juvenile male Marvelous Spatuletails.

There are 1300 some birds documented in Perú, and I totally fail to appreciate spending three hours (and some difficult climbing up and down) to see a better example of one of them. (Actually, this would be abhorrent even to hardcore birders eager to increase the number of species seen!)

I did not want to get up at 5 AM and wait for him again. Eric claimed that those who went birding that morning left at 5:15. However, he had not communicated that bags were going to be put on top of the van later, so that after being careful to get ready and out without waking me, Keelung had to knock on the door so that I could open it for him to put the bags back. And for our real departure from Jaen, the four paying members of the group were also waiting in the hotel lobby for him.

I said that my purpose in asking was not recrimination but to decide the time at which to set the alarm clock, but he could not (would not) give me a firm departure time. He reiterated that the best time to see birds was at dawn. Vital as it was to get to the birds when they were waking up, coffee for Oink and Mrs. Horvath was more important. We could not leave before they got their coffee, so he could not give a firm departure time.

The White-Winged Guan (a wattled bird that looks like a small black turkey) has been reintroduced into Quebrada Limón, an hour and a half drive northeast of Olmos (70 of the 90 minutes on rough unpaved road). The White-Winged Guan is also found at the Chaparri Conservation Reserve that is east of Chiclayo on a paved road. (That is, instead of being trapped in Olmos or along for that rough ride, I could have gone to some site near Chiclayo while those who wanted to look for the semi-wild guan did so. I've seen genuinely wild guans and I've seen other kinds of birds that have been born/raised in captivity and released.)

If the Olmos hotel (where, incidentally, we were not expected, so that rooms had to be made up after we got there, which was after sunset) had had a swimming pool, I would have stayed and been picked up on the way back through Olmos before driving to Chiclayo.

As it was, there was another extended wait by 3 of 4 (and 6 of 7) in the van for Oink and Eric to deign to let us depart).

On the final full day (before a 5 AM departure for the Chiclayo airport followed by a 16-hour layover in Lima), the usual 3 of 4 did not want to get up early and go birding with Oink and Eric.

The driver had caught the cold Oink had had earlier. It might be too much for Eric to consider not going birding just because three-fourths of his group did not want to go, but to force the sick driver to get up at 5 AM, knowing that he would have a six-hour drive after the end of the day's outings strikes me as profoundly inhumane.

For repeated failure to consider the majority of group members I blame Eric, not Oink. Oink wanted to bird and apparently Ooie was Oink's doting enabler. I do think that Oink is culpable for what I regard as the abuse of the driver, Juvenal, on the last morning in Chiclayo.

After my Olmos demand for a firm departure time, even the oblivious/insensitive leader (Eric) was aware that I was very resentful at being kept waiting. He said he would return to pick up those who stayed back (three-fourths of the group) at about noon. I don't know when Oink got his coffee in the morning and the group of one paying group member left, but they had not returned at 12:30 PM, at which point we set out by taxi to the Museum of the Lords of Sipán.

When we returned, I left a note for Eric asking him to put our boarding passes, reimbursement for the Sipán Museum entrance fees, and modest amounts for lunch and dinner that day and the last one (when he was going birding somewhere north of the Lima airport) at the front desk. We made our own arrangements to get to the Chiclayo airport and to eat, and felt much relieved not to have any further group participation.

CONCLUSIONS

Had I known that the trip was going to be almost entirely in the Andes and not go to either of the capitals of major north Peruvian pre-Inka civilizations (see #7 in the preface), I would not have gone on it. I have to accept responsibility for accepting the vagueness about where we were going, but I do not think that a reasonable, even moderately competent tour leader continues day after day to stay out with one member of the group while the others have to wait in a van.

On previous Latin American birding trips, the leaders (who have all been natives of the country we were visiting) would return to those waiting when (or very soon after) a majority voted with their feet not to continue at a location. On a Panama birding trip that had 13 members, I was in the happy position of usually being the swing "vote." (That is, if I turned back, there would be only six going forward.)

Never, ever, ever before have I had to wait for the leader of a birding group, either at the start or at the close of a day of travel and/or birding (see #2 in the preface). Nor have I previously been on a birding trip in which the leader persists in birding at a stopping place with 1/4th or 0/4ths of the group.

I saw some rare, endemic birds and a few birds that I could actually watch (some flycatchers, including a torrent tyrannulet that I watched for a long time; orioles, and the usual immobile trogons), but I can without any reservation say that I saw fewer birds and fewer kinds of birds on this trip, even though it was longer (both in days and in hours in the field) than any of the previous ones. I think that Eric is good at spotting and ad identifying birds, though he has not spent much time birding North Peru and I think knows less where the birds are than the native leaders of the other Latin American birding trips on which I've gone. It seems to me that the birds of the northern Peruvian Andes are particularly reclusive. I mean even the jays (the "green jay" which looks yellow to me) are reclusive!

I think that over time Eric has become less sensitive to the needs of his customers other than the hardest-core ones - in this instance, one. He has become like a teacher who pitches exclusively to his favorite student, not caring about the boredom or perplexity of the rest of the class (birding group).

If you are willing to get up very early, have 16+ hour days day after day after day, never tire of waiting for birds, are able to avoid getting sick (throughout the trip, I wondered what would happen if anyone got sever diarrhea, as US visitors to South America regularly do!), perhaps you might consider an Eric Horvath Nature Tour. I have no doubt that Oink was happy having own guide(s) to himself.

Although I was a returning customer (I think we had been on more previous trips with him than Oink and Ooie, and Keelung had been with them on his Amazonian Perú/Macchu Picchu one in addition to the three intranational ones I'd enjoyed), and, as I have written paid as much as Oink for the dubious pleasure of being on this trip, I felt that I was subsidizing the Eric and Oink birding trip that went beyond trying my patience to outright abuse of the native driver (whom I thought was ill-treated/exploited in other ways during the trip - and I am sure that rather consideration for his getting home, the reason he was relinquished before taking us to the Chiclayo airport was to avoid paying for his room and board for our last night in Chiclayo).

We (not just I!) were so frustrated by Eric's "leadership" of the North Perú trip, his (mis)treatment of customers, local people and even local birds makes it is certain that it will be the last Eric Horvath Nature Tour for either of us. I think that it has alienated me from any birding trip in the future and very nearly destroyed my interest in watching birds (remember the distinction between "birding" and actually watching birds from the start of this long posting!). So, perhaps, it can be considered a cure for any interest in going on birding trips: hence my title.

The bottom line is that I 'shoulda stood in bed' -- or at least home, and certainly should not have signed up for a trip without an itinerary that would have told me that this was not where I wanted to go in northern Peru.