Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Finding Gay Peru

Peru started growing on me before I even boarded the plane.  The cute Peruvian check-in agent sensed that we were "family" and went out of his way to share his favourite spots in Lima with us:  Cafe Cafe just off the main square is his favourite place to people watch, while Cafe Haiti offers an unobstructed view of the main traffic circle in Lima's posh Miraflores neighbourhood.
Arriving in Lima we met our group of nine; four Americans, three Canadians, a Brit and a Peruvian (our gay local leader, Sebastian). The benefit of travelling with a gay leader is that we not only tour the fabulous areas of Lima but also have an insider to show us the gay hotspots such as Lola Lounge (various theme nights for Lesbians and Gays) and Downtown Club (formerly known as Valetoto) where all the locals go to shake their thang, often until after 4am!
Adios Lima and on to the city of Cusco, known for its cobblestone streets and original Inca construction.  This stunning city is also a haven for adventurers and luxury travellers alike.  At approximately 3300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level, Cusco serves as a main hub for trekking trips and tours to the famed Machu Picchu.  The history of Cusco is an interesting one. Once the capital of the Incan Empire it was conquered by the Spaniards beginning in 1533.  However, demolition proved impossible for the Spanish, leading them to construct a new city on the very foundation of the Inca ruins. 
Modern-day Cusco has something for everyone.  From quaint cafes and hidden plazas to great restaurants such as Baco (Ruinas 465, Cusco) specializing in wine and modern Peruvian cuisine and the well-known Fallen Angel (Plazoleta Nazarenas 221, Cusco). This gay owned and operated resto-lounge features modern art and decor including glass tables supported by bathtubs filled with goldfish.  The wait staff aren't too hard on the eyes either!
After exploring Cusco, it's on to the Lares Valley where we start a challenging 3 day trek through the Andes.  Early on day one we are joined by a mountain dog who we think has wandered from home.  We nickname him Pumpkin and he follows us along the entire trek, only adding to the comradery.
Our journey peaks at 4,400 meters (14,500 feet)  above sea level on day two of the trek.  The views are spectacular, the sense of accomplishment huge.  Our local guide David (not gay but VERY welcoming) has us participate in a ritual to pay tribute to the Andean gods. Followed by group hugs, this is a "heart to heart" as David says, and for myself a silent moment to reflect - and tear up a bit.
Most travellers only know of the Inca Trail, but the Lares Trek offers a different perspective of this wonderful country.  On the less-touristy Lares Trek, hikers are given the opportunity to see how the Quechua people of the countryside live - which is in many ways no different from hundreds of years ago!  They survive on the land, live in homes built of stone or mud and even wear somewhat traditional attire.  Children often greeted our group looking for an apple or a pencil (outside of school hours) which we are recommended to carry along the trek.  This is a truly unique opportunity that hikers on the more crowded Inca Trail do not experience.  Simply amazing.
We camp under the stars, and stars there certainly are. I stretched out on a large boulder by the river one night with a fellow traveller to reflect and discuss the trip thus far.  Within a half hour we spotted five shooting stars - one so bright that it lit the sky, enabling us to see the silhouettes of the surrounding mountains.  After making our wishes (I'm a bit superstitious), we bundle up and hunker down in our tents for the cold night.
Our Lares journey should have come to an end mid-morning on day 3, but a peaceful local farmers strike blocked some nearby roads, forcing us to trek along a highway for a few additional hours. All part of the adventure, this ended up becoming a highlight of the trek with Pumpkin (our fearless canine friend) defending the group by chasing passing motorcycles along the way.
We eventually made it to Aguas Callientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu where we boarded a bus to take us along the winding 25 minute ride to our final and ultimate destination - Machu Picchu, or "Old Peak".  This is what we came for.  This is it.  There is but one cloud in the sky, smiles are contagious and cameras start flashing.  Everyone has their ASKMEOUT shirts on, courtesy of OUT Adventures and there is an electric buzz in the air.  Pictures just don't do justice to this magical place.  Once home to an estimated 500 Incans, Machu Picchu took over 100 years to build - and was not even complete when it was abandoned.  Like much of this region the grounds today are still maintained by Alpaca, an animal that resembles a small llama.  After fully exploring the citadel, we have the opportunity to climb Wayna Picchu, or "Young Peak", for an almost aerial view of the sacred site below. 
Back to Cusco with smiles on our faces, still in awe of the 9 days just behind us.  A great group of travellers, a dynamic country, mouth-watering food, famous sights and most importantly the opportunity to  make friends and experience a new culture.  What more could a gay traveller ask for?
For gay Peru tours, OUT Adventures is a Canadian based operator with both trekking and touring options (www.out-adventures.com) and for mainstream tours visit Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com).
Robert Sharp is a responsible travel advocate and Co-Founder of OUT Adventures, a Canadian based gay tour operator.

1 comment:

  1. i loved ur article...its very cool. i can relate to it completely since i visited this beautiful country too....well written!