Golden fields, snow-capped volcanic peaks, and the most luminous blue skies I’ve ever seen; the Andean Plateau, or Altiplano as it’s known in Peru, is a land of extremes. Its altitude averages above 12,000 feet (3,750 meters) and is characterized by year-round cold, arid air and strong winds. It’s the widest part of the Andes mountain chain and is the second largest high plateau on the planet, outside of Tibet.
The journey from Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, to Puno, a city on the banks of Lake Titicaca near the frontier of Peru and Bolivia, cuts through the Altiplano and can be made by train or bus. The 240-mile (386 km) trek takes upwards of six hours, but the otherworldly vistas are well worth it.
If you look closely at the top photo above, the specks dotting the landscape are actually dozens of wild alpaca, llamas and vicuñas, feeding on highland grass.
Below are more photos from my adventure:
The highest point on the voyage through the Andean Plateau is at Abra de Raya, at 14,232 feet (4,338 meters) above sea level. Local artisans brave the bitter cold and harsh winds in order to sell their handicrafts to tourists at a turnout on the highway. This is the highest in altitude that I’ve ever been, besides in an airplane.
At this altitude, pretty much the only vegetation that grows is highland grass, a dietary staple for llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas.
The Altiplano is characterized by craggy mountaintops of reddish-black basalt or lava rock. In fact, there are several active volcanoes located in the Andean Plateau.
Have you been to Peru before? Would a trek through the Andean Plateau interest you? Feel free to comment in the section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author