My journey started in Lima, a beautiful historic city that I've visited many times.
My hotel was in the Miraflores district so I had to take a cab into the historic centre with its important colonial monuments, the Plaza de Armas (Main square), the Plaza San Martin (San Martin Square), the Cathedral (Cathedral Basilica) and the San Francisco Church (Convent of Saint Francis), which displays the biggest collection of religious art in America.
The recently opened Larco Museum has the finest gold and silver collection from Ancient Peru and the famous erotic archaeological collection. The galleries provide an excellent overview on 3000 years of development of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. The museum is located in a unique vice-royal 18th century mansion built over a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid and it is surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The best hotel ever?
A few days after my arrival in Lima I drove 3 1/2 hours south to the Paracas peninsula and stayed near Pisco. Here I can recommend one of the most luxurious hotels ever: the Hotel Libertador. Strategically located in the bay, in front of the Nature Reserve of Paracas, the hotel is a great place to relax and visit the area: the Ballesta Islands, which the locals say are the Galapagos islands of Peru, the Huacachina Oasis and the well-known Nazca Lines. The hotel is probably the most luxurious resort spa in the Peruvian coast. We had great food and service.
From there we took a boat early in the morning to the Ballestas islands. The islands appear black from far away, but when you get close you see that it is millions of sea birds, and the beaches are covered in sea lions. It takes six years for the guano to accumulate to about half a metre thick, and then it is harvested as organic fertiliser.
I then went back to Lima to fly for an hour and a half north to Chiclayo, on the coast, to visit the archaeological museum and the artefacts from the burial site at Sipan, a centre for the Moche civilisation. They practised human sacrifice, and the rulers were buried with all their treasures; the bodies of their wives and concubines, and warriors whose feet were severed so that they could not run away.
My last stop was Iquitos, which I flew too from Lima. The European town architecture dates from the 1900 rubber boom. Even now petrol and building supplies arrive there by boat 4,000 miles from the Atlantic up the mighty Amazon.
Here I boarded the ship Aqua that can only carry 23 passengers, with up to three guides. The group are divided into three small boats to explore the river. We went out at night, picking out caimans by torchlight, and even seeing piranhas.
The highlight was bottle-feeding a three month old manatee baby by hand. It weighed 80 kilos!